Tag Archives: teaching

Ming’s Musings: 10/5-10/9

Monday: Duggan steps into the breach to save Detroit schools

Article touches upon the mayor of Detroit’s plan to do his part in helping Detroit schools. I like the approach that he expresses in that he will lobby for the schools but will not take them over; he will leave that in the hands of people better qualified to run the schools. I also like that he recognizes that Detroit is a powerful test subject and that if we can get things right with DPS then we can apply those same principles to other struggling school districts. The part that I am not on board with is written between the lines. I am not in favor of legislation that would require other areas around the state to pay for the debts created by the EAA and DPS.

Tuesday: How much do big education nonprofits pay their bosses? Quite a bit, it turns out.

This article questions the tax exempt status of major testing corporations such as those responsible for the SAT and the ACT and the overall salary of the top executives. The numbers are eye-opening though, especially in light of the big state contracts that these companies have and the pseudo-monopoly they have in the college admissions process.

Wednesday: We must despise our kids: Our ugly war on teachers must end now

13% of teachers leave the job field every year. Why, you might ask? The rise of charters, the elimination of collective bargaining, and the constant denigration of being failures has turned a once noble profession to one of attrition and defensiveness. The author of the article points to the above examples as reasons why the profession is losing its workforce and warns that reformers are doing more harm than good which we may not see the result of until these children are older.

It is a sad state of affairs, but the author has hit some points that resonate with me. I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t had some tough, demoralizing days in my career that have made me question staying in the profession. The most difficult part is not necessarily financial, however, it is that the acts of the “reformers” have create this stigma around education that has eroded the once strong trust relationship between teachers and parents; a relationship that used to bridge the education of a student from school to home.

Thursday: Feeding and Fertilizing School Athletics

This article was written by the head of the MHSAA, Jack Roberts, and focuses on the importance of expanding opportunities for middle school athletics in order to interscholastic athletics to be successful. The article focuses on two major premises; that 6th graders should be permitted to participate in school sports and that we need to lift the cap on the number of contests permitted at the middle school level. These two factors will help to keep interscholastic sports competitive with outside clubs and groups.

I agree with the authors thoughts on the matter and am concerned about one particular set of comments that had the message that some school administrators believe sports take away from already limited resources. As an assistant principal and athletic director I see everyday, firsthand, the influence of sports on education. Many of the students that roam the halls of my school do so during the day because they know that they won’t be permitted to play their sports if they don’t. Sports teach important lessons about life that cannot be learned elsewhere and having a school-based system ensures that athletics remain educational.

Friday: Bill would get retired teachers back in the classroom

Proposed legislation in both the House and the Senate would allow for the return of retirees to the classroom without hurting their benefits and the hiring of non-certified teachers in areas of need.

I have very mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, there is a very real shortage of teachers in many areas of need and ultimately students lose in this scenario. On the other hand, bringing back retirees brings up a different problem, a generation difference that is exacerbated by the increased demands of today’s teachers. In most other professions, if you have a specialized job that has a limited applicant pool, employers will incentivize the position to make it more attractive. This is where education may be missing the mark. Pardon my crassness, but recycling retired teachers does not solve the long-term need.

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Life Skills learned in school

In my last post I talked about the busy time in schools I called March Madness. Clear evidence of that is the fact that I wrote that post 4 weeks ago and am just now returning to type my next thoughts. It is during this frantic last month that it occurred to me that the most important skills that I use daily in my career are critical thinking, problem solving, and time management.

Critical thinking, problem solving, and time management are not classes that I took in high school or college. Rather, they were embedded by my teachers in the lessons taught in trigonometry, creative writing, and chemistry. While I look back at my schooling and feel that it was strong overall, I can honestly say that I do not remember every fact and function from those (or any) classes. In fact, I can claim to be one of those people who did very well in high school but struggled in making the adjustment to college. By today’s vernacular, I don’t think that I was college and career ready.

The funny thing about this term college and career ready is that it came about as a result of colleges and workplaces looking at our graduating students and their own expectations and deciding that what they were receiving from high schools wasn’t exactly what they needed. This evaluation of the product and the corresponding response of introducing standards that reflect a need for more critical thinking and problem solving is a process of evolution. This need for a better individual to start college or in the workplace has driven to the development of the expectations for schools and what they are to teach students to properly prepare them for life after high school.

Here’s the kicker: educators and schools have listened to the needs of post-secondary institutions and employers and have put together learning targets of “success” that fit what is being asked for. We call those the Common Core State Standards. Please understand that these are markers of success that have been established by educators and departments of education in response to the changing needs of colleges and job-providers. The plan for getting students to these learning goals is curriculum, which is very much shaped by individual states and local districts and put into place in the best way possible by talented teachers. The Common Core State Standards are not an infringement by the federal government on local control; in fact they don’t provide the structure necessary for instruction. They simply provide the finish line that needs to be crossed in whatever way is most effective for each teacher to their own students in their own little corner of the country.

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March Madness in Schools

We have made it to March and the smell of spring is just starting to hit the air and melt the winter away. NCAA College Basketball Playoffs excitedly start this week what has widely been named March Madness, the frenetic, crazy, fun, and exciting culmination of the college basketball season. In schools across the country, March Madness has a whole different meaning.

The Madness that March brings to schools is quite tangible and is created by a number of factors. Here are just a few of the many realities that schools face during March:

  • State and federal standardized tests
  • teacher and administrator evaluations
  • school report cards
  • budget proposals for next fiscal year
  • ACT/SAT
  • student scheduling
  • AP testing
  • end of year band/choir/drama performances
  • next level orientations (5th and 8th graders)
  • award ceremonies
  • graduation
  • Spring Sports
  • interviewing and hiring
  • retirements
  • building master schedules
  • student anticipation of the pending summer

Added to that ever-growing to-do list this time of the year is the pressures that the results of these tasks will bring. Politicians at the local, state, and federal levels licking their chops at the idea of cutting this or axing this due to dips in numbers. Families eagerly sifting through the data to find the best possible schools to send their students. Employees worrying about whether they will have a job the following year and, if they do, what that job will look like.

It is very important at this very busy time of the year to step back from the pressures and the to-dos and reflect on the primary purpose of all of this stress. While everyone from the parent, to the teacher, to the administrator is stressed to the point of breaking this time of the year it is important to remember that the reason that we are all in this is for the students. Regardless of what any politician says, or what the results of a standardized test show, what educators do now needs to be with students as the focal point. It is far too easy for people to lose that focus of this simple point in the face of all the stress agents at this time of year.

To all of the educators out there from administrators, to teachers, to coaches, to parents keep persevering and doing what is best for kids. Put aside all of the pressures, checking them off one at a time, and all the while keep your eyes on the prize that is our kids. Take in the Madness and make it marvelous.

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A Lesson from Finland

If someone were to ask you what kind of career requires an advanced college degree, a 40+ hour work week, constant research and development, and demanded critical thinking, constant adjustment, quick decision-making, and management skills most people would be inclined to guess a doctor or a lawyer or some other prestigious high salary job. Few would probably guess that you were asking about the education profession, at least not in America. In other parts of the world, teachers are seen in a much different light then they are here in the United States.

I don’t usually like to reference back to articles that are over a year old, but one of the powerful things about Twitter is that relevant information has a way of getting recycled back into the mainstream. In the article linked below a Finnish education expert, Pasi Sahlberg, discusses some of the differences between highly ranked countries in education and the United States. In reading the article, several points jumped out to me that I highlighted in the article and will discuss here.

What if Finland’s great teachers taught in the US

From previous posts, I hope that I have made it clear that I am not a big fan of comparing the education systems of one country to those of another. It always seems to be the case that there are too many variables to develop clear conclusions. Anyone that has worked extensively with data will tell you that you can make the numbers say what you want them to if you look hard enough. I have found that to be the case with comparison studies in the past; the study conducted makes certain assumptions and inevitably apples are compared to oranges.

One of the points that Sahlberg states is that in top performing countries, specifically China and Finland, there is one very rigorous and selective problem for teacher certification in comparison to over 1,500 different teacher certification programs in the US. In America we are searching for ways to entice the best and brightest into the profession through talks about increasing starting salary, performance pay, etc. We ignore, however, the fact that the quality and quantity of our paths to education vary significantly. In a sense this variance in certification has been the lead domino that has brought us to the point of increased emphasis on standardized testing, school accountability, and educator effectiveness. These factors, in essence, have a retroactive clean up fill to them while the programs described elsewhere seem to take a front-end approach.

The most striking aspect of the article to me is that Sahlberg acknowledges that teachers have an impact on student learning, but not as much as we tend to believe here in the United States. Teachers work as part of a bigger team of adults in a building that creates culture and leadership. The article cites that, “schools and teachers alone cannot overcome the negative impact that poverty causes in many children’s learning in school.” When the article was written in May 2013 that poverty number was around 23%. Viewed from the perspective of free and reduced lunches that number is near 51%!

The Southern Education Foundation reports that 51 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2012-2013 school year were eligible for the federal program that provides free and reduced-price lunches.

This is where Sahlberg argues that public policy must come in because, “Teachers alone, regardless of how effective they are, will not be able to overcome the challenges that poor children bring with them to schools everyday.”

American teachers work very hard to hurdle great odds. They face a lot of criticism, yet find a way to overcome, persevere and get a lot of children to amazing heights. They cannot, however, change the baggage that comes with students when they enter the classroom, nor should they be held accountable for what happens to a student between the end of one school day and the start of the next. 70+% of the time of any regular school day is spent outside of the school and thus outside the influence of the classroom teacher, maybe it is time that we stop restricting and penalizing the hard-working front line teachers and start addressing the root cause of student struggles.

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Education in the Cross-hairs

I’ve been in education for 10 years now, the first 7 in the classroom and the last three as an administrator. In that time I have seen a lot of initiatives and new programs come through; some lasting longer than others. One change that has happened during that time, and one that has been getting progressively more concerning, is the negative image of the education by the public. I asked a peer about this the other day and was surprised to hear that it hasn’t always been this way. There was a time when people trusted professional educators to do right by their children. While they didn’t always agree with every decision, people at least respected the work that was being done in our schools. I was relieved and surprised to hear this as I reflect on my time in schools.

When NCLB rolled around toward the end of my college days it was touted as being a positive change meant to increase the quality of our education system. In many ways, the guidelines and stipulations of NCLB have done just that, but in one big way it put education firmly within the cross-hairs. NCLB brought the education conversation into the houses of the everyday person. As a result, teachers and schools became targets for all of America’s ails and everybody that has ever been in school somehow became an expert on what is best for children. Lost in the conversation were the voices of the professionals tasked with carrying out the day-to-day hard work necessary to educate America’s youth.

Today, I make the decision to look at the glass half-full in regards to the public’s scrutiny of education. Lemons to lemonade; and scrutiny to the fact that the public is genuinely concerned with the education of our children. I ask that the public continue to ask questions and draw attention to the problems that we face. In return, I ask for support for educators as we continue to put our expertise to action and work with children. If the public truly does care about education, they need to understand that we are at a cross-roads in our work. We are now being asked to prepare students for a yet-to-be-determined future all the while facing naysayers, reductions in budget and salary, government intervention, unfunded mandates, and a general lack of support. We will keep doing what we have been trained to do and we will keep challenging our students. Please join us and help us rather than cut us down. We got into education because we care; we care about the well-being and learning of children. We want the same things for your children as you do, so why are we on opposing sides?

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Cultivating Curiosity

I pick my daughter up from school most days. My schedule doesn’t always allow me this pleasure, but whenever possible I like to be the first one to talk to her about her day. I treasure the 5 minute drive home because that is the time with just her when I can hear the excitement in her voice about what she did and learned in school during that day.  I value this time for all of the parent reasons, primarily a love and desire for my daughter that goes deeper than any words can express, but also because I work with high school students on a daily basis. It isn’t always the case, but typically a high school student does not have the same shine in their eyes and excitement in their voice when they describe their day at school. Somewhere along the line, things changed for them and the conversations that I have with my daughter keep that energy alive for me.

I, like most educators, enjoyed school and still enjoy learning. Independent of the level of school I have been at, one constant has fueled that love for education; a deep rooted curiosity about the world around me. This curiosity has stayed with me in my adult life and it is one of the things that I hold most dear. Though it drives my wife nuts, it is what motivates me to have my iPad open surfing the web while watching tv at night, spurred into a quick search by a random factoid dropped in a sitcom. I see this curiosity in my daughter’s eyes after school and hear it in the questions that my other daughter asks; they want to know about the world around them. They aren’t motivated by grades and rewards, they are driven by the deep desire and hunger for knowledge.

Somewhere between the ages of my daughters (4 and 6) and high school students lose some of that curiosity. Many become content with being told how to do something rather than discovering it on their own. They have learned how to get by without having to think and process and develop. My hope and wish for each of these students is that they get the privilege of taking a class with a gifted teacher that challenges them to think and ask questions. I hope that they find someone that frustrates them by not telling them the answers but instead making them find them on their own. And I hope that in that teacher they find someone that cultivates the innate curiosity that they had when they were young and develops it into a craving for future knowledge.

Before high stakes testing, AYP, report cards, grades, and even schools there was curiosity. Though it may have killed the cat, it has also challenged conventional wisdom and done amazing things throughout history. I hope for my own children and for all of the students out there that the curiosity doesn’t die and that it is always a motivator to seek more knowledge.

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Educational Philosophy

When I was a senior at Michigan State one of the artifacts that I had to include in my culminating portfolio prior to completion of the teacher education program was my educational philosophy. Amongst all of the other pieces that comprised this compilation of what I had learned and hoped to do in the future, I struggled with the philosophy. The reason, I distinctly remember, is that it was based on a set of ideals that had no root in experience. Sure I had been in classrooms and led lessons as part of my program, but in reality I didn’t know education well enough at that point to do anything other than dream on paper.

Fast forward to now, ten years into my education career, and I am still not sure that I have enough of the requirements to philosophize on this ever-changing field. In fairness to the teachers, coaches, students, and the community that I serve, though, I think it is important to try. I have hosted a number of Coaches Advanced Program classes for the MHSAA at my building and one of the most interesting tasks that coaches are asked to do early on in the program is conceptualize their coaching philosophy. With that as the motivation behind my thinking I write this post now.

I preface my full educational philosophy (and I promise that I will get to it very soon) by saying that I have looked back at that idealistic artifact from  my youth and have smiled while shaking my head. I was naive, understandably, about a lot of things back then. An aspect that jumps out to me is how long this philosophy was; it was if I was being paid by the word (I know hypocritical in light of the growing length of this post). How did I ever expect to communicate my philosophy if it were that long?

Which brings me to the heart of the matter; an educational philosophy, or any philosophy for that matter, needs to be short and sweet and easily communicable to be effective. Essentially, a philosophy (at least in my opinion) should feel like a mantra. One of my favorite movies is “Inception” which focuses on altering dreams. In the movie, the team of good guys is tasked with implanting an idea that will change everything. The greatest challenge in doing so is that an idea needs to be stripped down and broken into its essential piece; it needs to be a seed of simplicity that the brain can then take and develop.

With this nagging quote driving me, I present my educational philosophy, simple though it may be.

CREATE OPPORTUNITIES

That’s it, simple and sweet. The way I see it, no matter the role that I play in education, be it teacher, coach, administrator. or even student is about the creation of opportunities. As a student, my education has always opened doors to future interests that would improve my quality of life. As a teacher, I taught more than just content and aimed to equip my students with the tools necessary for success. As an administrator, both an assistant principal and athletic director, the decisions that I make all have the goal of the creation of opportunities for success for students, athletes, teachers, and the community.

Education to me is about improving your quality of life. It is about creating opportunities for yourself and others around you to do amazing things.

Thanks for your patience.

-Chris

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