Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

 I deeply apologize to all of those who have read this blog and found my thoughts to be of some value in improving your teaching skills. It is all wrong. My kind of teacher is being eliminated. The teacher in today’s classroom must stifle creativity and be in a constant control of the “adventure.” The student will not be allowed to lead this adventure. Successful teachers in today’s classrooms must instruct their students to take a test successfully.

 Today’s teacher is expected to teach a student how to take a standardized test. All else is now secondary. Creativity, thinking, challenging, questioning – these are a few of those important aspects that a pupil needs to become a student. A pupil repeats the facts and dates and follows the textbook information. The student assimilates facts into a sphere of knowledge. Today’s concept of a scholar is one who can “perform” on a standardized test. The powers-to-be in education today are less interested in learning them they are in training. The teacher in today’s classroom is expected to “train” their pupils to choose a “correct” answer when given a choice of four.

  As a science teacher I expected my students to question the facts. I used reading as a tool to learning. I encourage my students to challenge the facts. Today’s science teacher is a reading teacher. The value of the teacher (evaluation) is now being tied to a student’s success on a standardized test. Successful teachers are those that produce students who do well on standardized tests. The fallacy of standardized testing is grown out of this concept of accountability.

 I am one of those students who never did well on standardized tests. In fact, my test scores were so poor that I should never have considered going to college. My test score indicated that I would be a successful dishwasher! I did want to college. I did get a masters degree in biology. I did work as a naturalist for several years. I did go on to become an extremely successful high school teacher. I even went on to teach on the college level. I even offered workshops to other teachers on how to teach. I never learned to wash dishes. Ty wife demanded on a machine dishwasher. My wife was a wise person.

 One year I taught a class of students who were, in the politically correct words, language challenged. They were mostly students who had fled their country (Palestine) in order to seek protection in this country. I had 37 students in the class. After a month or two, I decided to check on their test results from the previous year. By this time I had become to know the abilities of the students rather than the numbers limiting the student. This was an eighth-grade class and they were performing at the fourth grade level. I knew from work we did in class that their work was better than what the test results showed. These students took that year’s test in April and showed an average increase of 2.5 years. I became the hero of the school. I was given credit for improving the students test scores by over twice what was expected. I received accolades and recognition all over the place. I was a fraud and I expressed that every chance I had. My students were always smart and it just happened that I was there teacher when they developed a grass on the English language. They did this all by themselves. I had very little to do with it. They learned from experiences of interacting with other students. This is how distorted standardized tests are.

 The present movement to tie the quality of teaching to the quantity of the test results is in the use of the concept of accountability. Imagine a physician whose quality of being a doctor is measured by how well his patients do on blood tests. There are so many factors that are out of the control of a doctor there would be considered totally and completely unfair to base the abilities of this doctor on those tests. Uses standardized test results is as unfair as using the blood tests

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September 26, 2012 at 10:25 pm Leave a comment

It Takes A Village

We may seem lost in space but…

There are few who would disagree with this statement: Parent involvement in their children’s education is crucial to a successful educational program. A reform plan to improve education must incorporate the issue of parent involvement. This issue involves a number of aspects. Many reformers look at only a single aspect of this issue, that of the school/home relationship. A modern reform plan must also consider the impact of the home/business relationship. Other aspects that need to be considered are school/government, parent/government, school/community, parent/community and business/community.

It takes a village (referring to Hillary Clinton’s best-selling 1996 book) is the basis of this aspect of educational reform. The school is not in isolation. It exists in a community. The nucleus of this community is the school composed of the students, teachers, school staff and parents. Like a living cell, the nucleus is surrounded by many functioning parts. The local community, the business world and the government interact with this new clear community of the school. It takes the village to provide an education for its children.

Continuing with the analogy of a living cell, the school community is the nucleus. Within this nucleus (the students) reside the future of society. It is the purpose of the school community to pass the traditions of culture and society to the future (students). The knowledge, wisdom, and morals of what we expect for a better future is modeled within this school community. The role of the school community is to continue civilization.

The school community exists in a larger setting. All aspects of this “village” must be involved in the maintenance of a sound educational program. Parents are the first line of involvement in the child’s education. There are few who would argue with that statement. However the parent needs the support of the rest of the “village.” Today’s family structure is most commonly composed of a single working parent or two working parents. Many of these parents work outside the community. Parents are concerned about losing time from work for fear of reduced wages and/or loss of employment. Many parents feel trapped. They would like to become more involved but are unable.

Business must step up and become involved in school reform. Encouraging parents to participate in school activities can be accomplished by providing paid “loss of time” for workers who attend school functions such as parent/teacher interviews, schools/parent meetings and child/parent school presentations. Business productivity due to loss of employee work time might well be offset by the improved morale of employees.. The business world is very quick to criticize schools and educational systems. They criticize the preparedness of prospective employees and, in some cases; they use this as an excuse to transfer operations to foreign countries. Providing time for employees to attend school functions will only benefit the business in the long run. Business is part of the “village.”

...but we are together...

Local politicians and the government need to be supportive of the school community and the business involvement in the schools. A great deal of rhetoric about school reform has been the subject of political discussions. The rhetoric of politicians usually evaporates at the end of the campaign. Schools require funding to support reform. This funding is needed to provide for change in the infrastructure of schools and improvement of school programs. This funding comes from the citizens that elected politicians. These citizens are convinced by the politicians who are eager to damn schools and teachers for producing poorly prepared pupils. These politicians point to the failure of schools, the ineptness of teachers, the failure of students, the loss of moral strength… When these politicians become elected they pass legislation that sounds fundamental to what the “village” believes. No Child Left behind is a prime example. No one argues with the basic premise. It’s an excellent concept. However, its expectations are beyond reason. The demands put on school systems around the country increased costs at the local level but no additional funding materialized. In fact educational funding was cut. The “village” needs the support and encouragement of political leaders and government officials to participate in school reform in several ways. First, they can endeavor to provide the necessary funding to provide for excellent schools. Second, they can remove education as a political plank in a political platform. Third, they can begin to speak positively about the quality of education that can be provided. Fourth, government can be instrumental in influencing the business world with involvement in the educational reform. Fifth, government can improve education by improving the licensing requirements and continued education of teachers and administrators.

 

... even as we developed we are still..

The “village” needs the local community. It is vital to the success of any school reform program. Pupils need to feel safe walking to and from school. The people of the community need to be watchful that the children can safely pass in front of their homes. Local businesses need to be prepared to offer jobs to members of the community. Community businesses need to be supportive of school events. Sponsorship of various school programs through financial or visual support would be on means of assisting a school. The continuing problem of gangs and the effect they have on the children that attend school is an issue that needs to be addressed. This is not just a crime against children in school. It is an attack on the community at large. It is a corrosion that will destroy the community and with it the education of the children within that community. Community organizations need to offer support to the local schools. Pride in family and community will be reflected in the schools

It takes a village to educate its children. The villageis made up of many people. It is composed of you and me and the person next door. It relies on the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker. It relies on the policeman and firemen and the mailman. School Reform is an issue that concerns all of us.

... watching out for our children!!

 

October 26, 2011 at 9:36 pm Leave a comment

Teacher Preparation

One aspect of school reform needs to be a reform of teacher preparation programs. A solid teacher preparation program should include the following aspects:

  • General Coursework
  • Education coursework
  • Internship
  • Student teaching
  • Supervised probationary teaching.

In order to create good teachers it is necessary to develop these teachers over period of time. It requires the support of the educational community both within the school and on the University level.

General Coursework:

A successful teacher must be a successful learner. Good teachers are good learners.General Coursework is offered as part of a liberal arts core program. It includes such courses as Composition Writing, History, Sociology, Science, Math, etc. These general studies offer the student, future teacher, an opportunity to develop learning habits that their experience as a learner can be used to help their students.

Educational Coursework:

There are certain courses of study that are useful for students to learn the theoretical aspects of learning and teaching. These courses would include courses that any grade level teacher would be able to use. History and Philosophy of Education, Classroom Principles, Classroom Management, etc. All teachers plan, execute and evaluate a lesson. Part of the coursework needs to be a study of state standards and how to use them in a classroom.

Internship:

What a student is accepted into the college of education, in the internship should become a regular part of the students program. This internship should involve a few hours a day working in a classroom with an experienced teacher. It should involve interaction with students, teachers, staff and extracurricular events. It is important that this be a limited involvement. Hour or two a day should suffice. Internship should be given college credit at should involve various aspects of the school. Internship dealing with students. Internship dealing with learning how to plan. Internship learning classroom management skills. Internship learning to deal with disciplinary problems. Internship dealing with identification of learning disabilities. Internship dealing with extracurricular events.

During this internship phase, students can begin the focus on age levels that they are interested in teaching. These age levels are as follows:

  • Preschool
  • Primary level
  • Intermediate level
  • Upper grade level
  • Early High school level
  • Late high school level

Students join this in turn phase should also have an opportunity to be involved in other levels of education. It is important for the prospective teacher to he have a view of levels below and above their area of interest.

Student Teaching:

Student teaching should be the bridge between college life as an intern and future life as a classroom teacher. During the internship student has that an opportunity to observe and become involved with many of the classroom activities but without the responsibility or consequences that that involvement may have. Student teaching provides a short period of time for the prospective teacher to take command of the classroom and be responsible for all aspects. Cheering this period of time the student teacher “replaces” an experienced teacher. This experience teacher offers regular observation and feedback, advice and assistance where needed. This student teaching time should be at least one entire semester (half of a school year).

Supervise Probationary Teaching:

All schools need to participate in a program to prepare future teachers with the skills and experience teachers have developed over the years. Mentors should work with “rookie” teachers until they feel that this teacher can stand on their own. Unlike student teaching, the teacher is a pay teacher, on staff, and fully responsible for to the students and parents. Probationary certification should be provided for two-year. During this probationary time, the teacher needs all the support the teaching staff and school administration. At the end of this two year, formal observations should lead to a teaching license.

There are basically two major changes in this proposal. First, internships need to be intensified while educational coursework needs to be decreased. Many university teacher preparation programs require students to make classroom observations. Instead of observations it would be of a benefit to get the student involved on a hands-on basis. Putting prospective teachers into the classroom and letting them get involved will prepare students for the expectations of the teacher. Breaking the internship into intensified modules will be able to assist the student in preparing for teaching.

October 14, 2011 at 2:28 am Leave a comment

Philosophy

The beginning of any school reform decisions should begin with philosophy: What do the reformers believe that education or school districts or schools should be? Philosophy is the “why” of anything. Therefore, philosophy is the beginning. From the philosophy comes the reason for what schools should be doing, how they should be doing it, where they should be doing that, when they should be doing that, and who should be doing it.

Educational philosophies should act as guidelines for decision-making when it comes to school reform. When politicians, businessmen and parents clamor for change, the educators need to balance these demands for change with their philosophies of education. The overriding question – why? – has to be asked each time for each change. The guidelines are established by educational philosophies. Within these guidelines educators must implement change to continue improvement in education.

There are four aspects to educational philosophy. Schools need to be nurturing environments that are places of learning. Schools are given the responsibility of passing on the knowledge and culture of civilization from one generation to the next. Schools produce lifelong learners who finds fulfillment in their lives. The development of philosophy should incorporate as many different views as the community offers. Philosophies should be relatively simple to provide for the flexibility needed in the modern changing world.

When the philosophy has been developed, it should become a working instrument. When calls for change or a changing world begins to affect a school, the decision on what changes need to be instrumented and how they should be incorporated within a school environment can be made based on the school philosophy. For example, there is a major movement to increase the length of the school day. Philosophy requires us to ask “why?” Many of those that support this change hold to the belief that the school is little more than a daycare center. Philosophy tells us that a school is a place of learning. How then do we offset the length of the school day to fulfill this obligation of the philosophy? More time in school can often be beneficial in today’s world. More is not always better. In some cases the school day is so long that it serves diminishing results. Young children – primary grade level – did not benefit as much as older children – secondary school. The decision on the school’s part to lengthen the school day must meet the demand of the philosophy. What purpose does a lengthen school day served? How will it be implemented? How will programs within the school be affected? These are just to name a few of the questions that are faced by school administrators and school board members. Decisions such as these also impact other aspects of education. These include budget considerations, resource management, and personnel costs.

Some school systems it will philosophy that their services are more of a daycare center in a learning institution. When faced with a decision concerning length of the school day, the decision becomes very easy. “How long do the parents work?” becomes the major concern. The quandary in today’s world seems to the drive to “improve education.” The means from the political circle is to increase the school day. There philosophy seems to be based on the “more is better” concept. Working parents often are willing to accept this to solve the problem of child care either before or after school. This one issue is just an example of the difficulties that school boards and administrators must face when confronted with a changing world.

 

The mission of education is to provide an opportunity for learning. From this mission grows the philosophy. From this philosophy develops the educational structure of the school. Unless a philosophy is established, school reform will only result in chaos.

September 20, 2011 at 10:27 pm Leave a comment

Educator’s Thoughts on School Reform

I am an educator. My experience spans 40 years. I have seen good schools and bad schools. I have worked with good principles. I have been involved in committees to develop curriculum, improvement school discipline, design student handbooks, in corporate technology in the classroom, and design protocols for in school research. I have taught in private parochial schools and public schools. I have taught in small schools and big schools. I have taught in single-sex to schools and coed schools. I have taught special ed kids, inclusion classes, regular classrooms and gifted children. I have taught elementary school, secondary school, college classes and graduate school education classes. I feel my experience provides me with the needed perspective to discuss school reform.

There is an attack on schools, teachers and students. The attack comes from politicians would’ve been swept into office based on promises to improve education. Unfortunately what I see is an attempt not to improve education for to create a political plank for future political programs. I fear they carry an agenda that will not benefit the students in the schools. There are issues that need to be addressed in the school and community. The general dissatisfaction with the state of education has created this atmosphere of negative school reform. Education is not cheap. Education is not solely the responsibility of the classroom teacher.

I had used this blog to offer some thoughts on how to be a good classroom teacher. Now I wish to use this blog to present my thinking on how we can improve education in this country. I welcome the readers’ comments and ideas. Improving education is a collaborative effort. School reform will need the input and help of members of the educational community, parents community, business community, political community and the student community. Sharing ideas lead to solutions that solve problems.

As a brainstorming exercise, I offer the following suggestions for school reform. I will use this outline as a guide to express my ideas on school reform.

School Reform

Philosophy

  • Nurturing Environment.
  • Pass on of Culture
  • Place of learning
  • not a daycare center
  • lifelong learners

Teacher Preparation Programs

  • improve teacher preparation programs
  • improved on-site teacher evaluation

School Climate

  • class size
  • home/school interaction
  • safe/nurturing environment

Involvement

  • parents
  • community
  • business
  • local politicians

Improved Instruction

  • technology
  • instructional materials
  • continued teacher education
  • in-service presentations

September 17, 2011 at 12:14 am Leave a comment

Class Size

Ready to Fill

If anybody wants to know about class size, they should talk to an experienced classroom teacher. Teachers in the classrooms will tell you that the number of pupils in a classroom has a distinct effect upon the teacher’s ability to provide adequate experiences for all students. Student achievement is directly related to the number of students in the classroom. This is supported by the majority of reliable studies conducted by a variety of organizations.

As a classroom teacher, probably like many other classroom teachers, I have had the experience of dealing with as many as 42 students and as few as 7 students. I am sure there are teachers who have had more than 42 students and some who have had fewer than 7. The US Department of Education claims that the average class size is 25 students per class. His school day might have 300 min. of actual instructional time. The other time is devoted to lunch, bathroom breaks or non-instructional events. Therefore in an elementary level classroom of 25 students over 300 min., the teacher has 12 min. per student in the course of the day. And a high school class or a departmentalized grade school class with 15 min. segments allows only 2 min. per student. Decreasing or increasing class size has an impact on teacher/pupil interaction time.

Teachers use nonverbal communication to interact with individual students without disrupting an entire classroom. Eye contact, physical nearness and body language are some of the means that teachers can use to communicate with students. Good teachers communicate with the students with a raised eyebrow, rolled eye, a shrug, or moving to stand near a student. As a result classroom activities are not disrupted by a single student. Some students demand attention. The students can often disrupt activities in the classroom. Being able to identify an attention seeking outbreak early, the teacher will be able to avoid the situation with the nonverbal communication. Increasing class sizes create situations in which attention seeking students evade the teacher’s watchful eye.

The present economic situation has led to decreases in school budgets, greater demands on teachers and increased pressure on school districts to perform. Politicians, legislators and parents have joined to criticize pupils, teachers and schools. Reducing state spending has been at the expense of quality education. Funding to school districts has been cut causing the local school district to fire teachers and reduce programs. The result has been to increase class size. Some school districts determine the number of teachers allowed in a school by dividing the school population by the number of students permitted per class. For example, if the school board’s class size policy is 30 students per class and the school population is 900 students then the school should have 30 teachers. That sounds reasonable. The problem in some school districts is that no allowance is made for special needs classes. State law often mandates the size special need classes. For example, students with learning disabilities are limited to 12 students in a class. Students with severe physical disabilities are limited to 5 per class. Depending upon the number of special-needs classes in a school, the class-size may be above the expected 30 per class.

Look at me... Look at me

Class size is a component that contributes to good schools. When school budgets are reduced for whatever reason it often results in an increase in the number of students in the class. The resulting effects often influence test scores and abilities of teachers to achieve the goals that have been established within the school. The result is to provide the appearance of a great decline in education, the schools taxpayers who fund and the teachers that have been hired. This becomes the political fodder of future campaigns. Teachers, schools and educational funding are easy targets for those with a different philosophy of education. Politicians and too many parents view teachers as overpaid and under worked. They point to the schools as failures. They see education funding as a poor investment. Schools, teachers and educational funding become the targets of the “Balance the Budget” propagandists. It is not difficult to convince an electorate who agrees with the thought that teachers do not do their job and schools are not doing their job as daycare providers. The invariable result of this thinking and the resulting actions is that some of the best young teachers decide to move on to other professions. Prospective teachers in the universities decide not to major in education. And experienced teachers with too much invested in a school system are left behind to deal with increased class sizes, decreased budgets and their efforts left unappreciated .

School reform is a plank in every politicians platform. Failure to address the issue of class size will only result in poorer schools and less motivated teachers and a never-ending cycle of failure. If politicians truly wish to improve education they should include a sliver of reduced class size. I have found – my own experience – the ideal class size ranges between 16 and 20. There are classes that need to be smaller but generally speaking a class below 20 provides the opportunity for teachers to work at their optimum. Students benefit from good teachers working in a school environment that encourages learning.

September 13, 2011 at 12:16 am Leave a comment

Hug a Teacher Today!

I write this blog for me. It is an outlet for a retired teacher with too much time on his hands. Never would I have expected that over 16,000 people would view this blog. The most common hits are the classroom management pages.  This tells me that there are many dedicated teachers who want to improve. Teachers striving to be better teachers! How proud this makes me to be a member of this great profession.

 

Doctors heal, Lawyers argue, accountants count, scientists seek and so on. The US literacy rate is 99%. That means that 99 of every 100 person in this country can read or write. “Have you thanked a teacher today?” It is very difficult to be a teacher today. Poor test scores, social problems, promiscuous teens, decay of moral foundations and a growing list of other ills have been laid at the doorstep of the present day teacher. It is like a brush fire being the fault of firefighters or gang violence blamed on police. Firefighters and policeman are offered better tools or improved training to help job performance. Teachers face more testing, greater demands on time and a spiraling cistern of criticism. Doctors and lawyers “police” their own profession. Teachers are evaluated and criticized by failed classroom teachers (principals and superintendents) or political figures looking for someone else to blame. Teachers have become the whipping boy of society that seeks to blame anyone but “me!”

 

Teachers can’t win! Bad test scores- bad teachers. Poor schools- poor teachers. Technology decline- faulty teachers. US lacks behind TIMMS-  unqualified teachers. Sexual promiscuity- ignorant teachers. Moral decline- decadent teachers. Deficit state budgets- overpaid teachers. Let’s face it! Eve must have been a teacher! It is her fault! The Tea Cups would fire all teachers and rehire under turn of the century regulations: warm body, ugly clothing, morally sound, bring your own coal, clean up after, and be sure to be home by the time the “street lights go on.”

Education budgets are some of the greatest expenditures that a state has to deal with. Trimming  budgets are the necessary burden of today’s leaders. Before attacking teachers who are the needed components to a successful system, we look at some of the state and federal mandated programs. Testing!  Testing! And still more testing! Do we really need all this testing? Or the time spent preparing students for the test format? Or the days to administer the tests? We already know the results- “kids need to learn more.” Social programs that foster good health or daycare services drain money needed in the classroom or cut from the budget. Excessive expenses for bulky textbooks, “administrative” travel or wasted instructional time. Teachers were once revered and are now reviled. The constant stream of abuse has had its toll on the public’s perception of teachers. The public views teachers as overpaid, under worked and unqualified. They are angry about failing schools manned by poor teachers. Test scores, politicians and the news media blare this tale!


If we are serious about improving classroom education and reducing the school budgets, ask the classroom teachers. Listen and trust their advice. Our children do learn to read and write and move on to become concerned citizens. Teachers can use a knife to slice some fat from the budget rather than the politicians would rather use an axe to trim the fat.

February 22, 2011 at 5:39 am Leave a comment

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