There is a place where teachers gather…well cyber-gather. They read two novels and vote on which will move on to the next round. This is the quarter finals, and another novel has fallen and one will rise again. To follow the exciting literary adventures visit the Mighty Smackdown. 🙂
I find myself invigorated by the idea of teaching using practices that are new and innovative. I am intrigued by the use of technology I see my colleagues using…”tell me more,” “show me how” I want to say. I am fascinated by the research on best teaching practices, and I find myself feeling like I need to look at what I do in a different way or add to what I am doing with a different technique or a different process.
I remember feeling frustrated and a bit disappointed in teachers who didn’t want things to change or felt that change was too much work. It wasn’t that I meant to be judgmental, it was just the disillusioning of a young idealist who believed that everyone would want to be at the top of their game. I believed that there would be so many people clamouring to be on the cutting edge, there may be risk of getting knocked over or left behind.
Now that I have a bit more age and experience, I realize that there will always be a new idea, a new fad, a new way of doing things. Some will be research based, and some will be put forth by charismatic, persuasive, creative thinkers, where there is little or no evidence of empirical support. These movements toward change often involve large amounts of work, and time, and resources.
When you see these fads come and go, and you know the work that is involved in implementation, it can be difficult to rush to jump on the bandwagon. Often times, change is expected to come completely at the expense of teachers. What I mean by that is that little or no time or other resources provided. Administration comes up with a ‘great idea’ and teachers are left to add the work to their long list of to-dos. This means that in addition to all of the regular planning, teaching, assessing, meeting, documenting, etc. teachers would need to find the time to implement whatever changes are needed to make this ‘great idea’ a reality.
It is easy to understand why some teachers are not always willing to spring forth with enthusiasm on the winds of change. What would make it easier to engage teachers in change making processes is to have changes thought out, research supported, and to give appropriate timelines and resource support to teachers to make those changes. Also, allowing teachers to be part of the deciding what changes are going to be made, and to help determine the time line for change would go a long way to breaking down resistance.
Some days are just like that…
I’m staying home from school today.
I’d rather be in bed,
pretending that I have a pain
that’s pounding in my head.
I’ll say I have a stomachache.
I’ll claim I’ve got the flu.
I’ll shiver like I’m cold
and hold my breath until I’m blue.
I’ll fake a cough. I’ll fake a sneeze.
I’ll say my throat is sore.
If necessary, I can throw
a tantrum on the floor.
I’m sure I’ll get away with it.
Of that, there’s little doubt.
But even so, I really hope
my students don’t find out.
by Kenn Nesbitt
“What do I do when I am unhappy with something that is happening in my child’s class or at my child’s school?” is the question I get asked most when people find out that I am a teacher. This is often an awkward conversation for me because, well to be quite honest, if I only hear one side of the issue, I don’t have all the information. But I do genuinely want to help and so, if I can see where the reality of the classroom may intersect with their expectation as a parent, then I will gently try to educate the questioner on the reality of teaching in a public education setting. However, sometimes, from what they tell me, they may have a valid issue that needs to be brought forth. I will often listen and then encourage parents to go and discuss the situation with the teacher if it is a classroom issue, or administration (Principal, Asst. Principal or other designate) if the issue is a school issue. It is better to clear the air than to stew about situation and let negative feelings fester. However, the idea of going to talk to a teacher or administrator can be difficult for some people to do. They will ask how they should do it. So, the following is basically what I tell them.
How to effectively advocate for your child:
A. Talk to the teacher directly.
1. Don’t do it while you are still mad. Wait 24 hours to give yourself time to calm down, and to see if it is still important. If you still feel the need to approach the teacher, then do it before 48 hours has lapsed. This is because issues are harder to address the farther you get from when the issue happened. Remember this is just a guideline, but has been quite effective for me.
2. Before going into speak with the teacher, know what it is that you want. What end result are you asking for? Do you want the teacher to acknowledge something? or Do you want the teacher to change something? or Do you want the teacher to monitor something?
3. Before forming a conclusion, be sure to hear the teacher out, and see if there are facts that your child may not know or has not shared with you. Also, give your child’s teacher an opportunity to investigate a situation if that is needed.
4. When you go to speak to the teacher be respectful, stay calm and polite. It may help to start with what you like about your child’s classroom experience before mentioning your concern. When you do speak about your concern, make sure that you stick to the facts, and try to leave emotion and judgement out of it. For example avoid saying things like, “well you should…” or “that little hoodlum…”
5. Focus on YOUR child and how they are being affected. Even if you believe that other children are also being impacted, remember that it is their parents’ job to advocate for them. Also, it diminishes your argument to use non-specific examples or to discuss situations where you likely do not have all the facts. Focus on what you know, see, or hear yourself, or what your child tells you. Try not to bring into the conversation what your child tells you someone else said, or what you might think about someone else’s situation. The teacher will not, for privacy reasons, be able to discuss other children or their circumstances with you.
B. Speak to administration.
I have worked with a number of professionals who would never recommend going above a teacher’s head to speak to administration. I, on the other hand, think that this can actually be a very helpful tool. Administrators often have more time to speak to parents. This allows for them to take the time to listen for more detail and to explain things in more detail. Having a person who is one-step removed from the situation can help to mediate the concern. I have seen good administrators be quite effective in getting teachers and parents to look beyond their respective feelings and work toward a satisfactory conclusion.
What to remember when you speak to an administrator is not at very different from what you need to remember when speaking to your child’s teacher:
1. You need to remember to stay calm, be polite, and be clear in your own mind, but also with the administrator, about what do you want the outcome of your meeting to be?
2. Explain to the administrator why you feel it is important to resolve the issue or concern, and let them know how you have tried to resolve the issue with your child’s teacher already.
3. Focus on how the issue is affecting your child and try to avoid speaking for the whole class or other parents. If other parents have discussed concerns with you, encourage them to discuss the issue with, first the teacher, and then with administration if needed.
4. Be sensitive to the fact that the administrator is likely not going to have firsthand knowledge of the situation. They too may need to investigate before coming to any conclusions.
C. Call the School Board or School Board Trustree (elected official for the School Board)
Every school board will have a leadership hierarchy. If you do not know who to call, call the school board directly and ask them who can help you meet your objective. The people you talk to initially may try to dissuade you, and refer you back to the school. Remember to stay calm, stay focused, and be precise. Once again tell them:
1. Why the issue is important to you.
2. How it is impacting your child.
3. The steps that you have taken to resolve the issue at the school level.
4. What you expect them to do or what a successful outcome would look like.
5. And always be calm and polite.
Effective advocacy is the responsibility of every parent, and the right of every child. Generally, the best outcomes happen when schools and parents work together and sometimes that might mean having a conversation that one or both parties are uncomfortable having. However, the goal for both parties should be creating a fair, respectful, and caring environment for your child, and all the others in their classroom and school community.
This is why I love what I do…EVERYONE deserves an education and that happens best when parents, students and educators work to make that happen.
What an inspirational father!
Let’s all agree to extend an early Happy Father’s Day to this Chinese dad who will do just about anything to give his son with disabilities every opportunity in the world.
Yu Xukang, 40, a single dad from the Sichuan Province in China, walks 9 miles every day with his son, Xiao Qiang, strapped to his back so that the boy can get an education. The 12-year-old has a disorder that has caused his arms and legs to become twisted and his back to be hunched over, and there is no public transportation available to take him to class, Central European News (CEN) told The Huffington Post in an email.
To support himself and his young son, Yu works as a farmer, according to China Daily. Since last September, Yu has woken up every day at 5 a.m., prepared a lunch for his son…
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For years I have been a strong advocate of not giving zeroes. I cannot think of single reason why giving zeroes is a good idea. As a classroom teacher I deal with behaviours all the time. I do not need to give zeroes in order to do it. Giving zeroes muddies the waters of assessment and renders the grades we give meaningless. There are better ways to motivate students to conform to our expectations, and even if there isn’t, we can’t say that a student is performing at a lower standard just to penalize them. It would be the same as giving someone a speeding ticket for driving a large vehicle. One thing has nothing to do with the other. I always appreciate educators who support and can explain why this is not a good practice. Garnet Hillman does a great job on her blog, link below.
I know that teachers are reporting difficulty with classroom management now more than ever, even experienced teachers often report having more difficulty today than in decades previous. Fortunately, I have not heard of anything quite this bad here…yet…
It is apparent that teachers are struggling to cope with classroom misbehaviour more now than in any other time. This often brings panic influenced, knee-jerk reactions to help pull students in to line.
The award for the wildest and most needlessly over the top reaction to student misbehaviour goes to this headmistress:
In a bizarre case, a strict headmistress of a UK primary school allegedly called police to thwart a students’ plan to not smile and spoil a school photograph.
Ann Hughes, the headmistress of a school in Anglesey, North Wales, found out some children were planning to “spoil” the picture and telephoned police, a professional conduct hearing was told.
It is alleged that an officer was invited into the village primary school to reprimand the pupils unwilling to pose correctly, The Mirror reported.
Hughes faces a catalogue of complaints including repeatedly calling one student “stupid” and favouring children…
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I love this time of year, when teachers invade downtown and take over for two days. I love the speed walking, the passionate dialogue of colleagues trying to cram a whole conversation in between sessions. I love milling about the trade show, and sitting in on sessions given by passionate, charismatic speakers. I love running into former colleagues and old friends. Mostly, what I love is that once a year I get the opportunity to challenge what I think about my profession, myself as a professional, and to reflect on days gone by.
This year was particularly reflective for me. Mostly what I have been thinking about is the people who have made me the person I am today, even though that may sound a bit cliché. In the time that I have been engaged in this profession, either as a teacher or as a teacher in-training, I have met wonderful people who have shaped my understanding, my practice, and my core values. My mentor teacher, who was always so patient and kind said to me at the beginning of my practicum, “Don’t be afraid to take risks, I won’t remember your mistakes when doing your evaluation.” At the end he said, “If you want to thank me do it by paying it forward. Teaching is a busy profession, and there will be times when you are tired. You will thank me if in those moments instead of saying ‘no’ to a request, you will say ‘yes’.” That idea of paying it forward has always stayed with me. My first principal challenged my ideas of “fairness” and “assessment” in ways that seem to be un-doable. Those issues of what is fair? and how do I know what I know? guide a lot of the choices I make as a teacher. The list of people who supported, guided and shaped who I am is too long to discuss in detail here, but I will say this, I have been very fortunate in my experiences.
However, as I reflect today, in this current economic climate, it feels a little like education, and more specifically teachers, are under attack. As classroom resources dwindle and classroom sizes bloom, it is hard to not start to wonder if it is all worthwhile.
We, in our profession, spent decades perfecting a system of standardization, that would level the playing field for students, where teacher judgement could not be wildly different, and students would be compared on the same information, using uniform methods. This system was the envy of school boards across North America, who went on to adopt a similar system. We were the leaders, the front-runners. Now what we see in education is the systematic dismantling of that system in favor of ‘discovery learning’ and ‘teacher judgement.’ While this may sound like a criticism, it really is more of a cry for centrism. I believe that standardized teaching and testing can be the end of an excellent educational system, if the they are the only tools used, and if they are not properly understood.
New teachers coming into our profession, or teachers who transition to a new grade or subject area are often at a loss as to where to begin teaching. Standardization is a great starting point. From there, teachers need the freedom to move, the room to use their judgement to determine the best way to reach their students. Not every teacher has the same vision, perspective, understanding, talents, or comfort levels as every other teacher. Certainly classroom dynamics change from person to person and place to place. Teachers need to be able to honor and use what they bring to the table, while also honoring and recognizing what their students need and bring to the table as well.
I was once teaching two language arts classes. In both classes we looked at comparison writing. I took them into the computer lab, and because I like to emphasize with my classes that what we do in one class, not only can transfer over to another class, it most definitely does, I had them compare different math websites. We looked at five or six different ones, and I gave them some critieria on which to judge the sites that was subjective, for example “which was the easiest to use?” Then they had to compare two of them and write their paragraph. One class was totally into it. They thought this was the best idea ever. The other class hated it. It was like pulling teeth to get them to do any part of it. Interestingly enough when we did the short story, “On the Sidewalk Bleeding” by Evan Hunter, I was trying to engage some background knowledge by having students brainstorm with me. The class that hated the math website assignment generally had a lot of background knowledge about gangs. The class that loved the math website assignment really struggled with this assignment. Their background knowledge, generally, was lacking. This, and some other experiences, told me that I needed to treat these two groups differently, and that what was engaging to one group would not necessarily be engaging to the other. Therefore, we need to have some room to move. We cannot have a program that prescribes everything we do and say in the classroom. The curriculum should be clear, and structured, with some room for teachers to innovate.
Standardized testing gives a point of comparison, a snapshot in time, that allows us to begin a discussion. A discussion about what? Well about the students certainly. I have taught numerous students over the years, at least one or two each year, who did not perform well on classroom tasks, but would score above 80% and some above 90% on standardized tests. This allowed me to say, “this student gleaned more information than I realized and was able to capture.” When students consistently do well, or not, on standardized tests, it gives us one piece of the puzzle. If I have a student who has done really well all the way along, year after year, gets sick or suffers a traumatic loss, I have something to compare their current assessments or performance to. It is that independent standard of comparison that is important. It is not just that maybe they have a teacher who is a harder “marker” or who gives harder “tests.” The standard is the same, and therefore it allows us to make some across the board comparisons. I have had students in special education, who we were looking at moving to a ‘regular’ classroom. The fact that they could perform just as well on a standardized tests as the majority of ‘other’ students spoke volumes about whether or not the student was appropriate for a regular classroom.
Another conversation that I think is very important is one that takes place at faculty meetings. It is the one where we use the data to drive the practice. We look at our standardized test results and we compare between classes, teachers, schools and we have a provincial standard (average) to compare to. It invites us to evaluate how successful our teaching practices are, and examine whether or not we are moving in the right direction. Without standardized testing I am concerned that these professional conversations will stop or will be largely unproductive. “Well given my assessment results, my teaching practices are stellar.” Where instead of being a reflection of good teaching, results may have more to do with the assessment tasks level of difficulty in another classroom down the street, or even down the hall.
One of my frustrations with teaching up to this point is that the curriculum is so crammed full, that it is difficult to find the time to do ‘discovery learning’ and that we are so busy building basic skills and laying a foundation for knowledge, we are not doing enough to explore, discover, and invent. But I don’t think we need to throw the baby out with the bath water. We don’t need to overthrow what we have now in favor of something totally new and different. We need basic skills and a foundation of knowledge, and we need to explore, discover and invent. We need the resources, support and class sizes to do both well.
Is it worth it…to stick it out…well there is certainly a lot of work to be done.
Well worth keeping in mind!!