Friday, December 23, 2011

Twas The Night Before Testing...

Twas the day before testing, when all through the school
Not a student was learning, not even the fool.
The pencils were sharpened and laid out with care,
In hopes that learning soon would be shown there.

The children were crowded all cramped in their seats,
While visions of bubbled answers danced on the sheets.
And teacher in their desk, and student their chair,
Both settled their brains for a long blank stare.

When out in the hall arose such a noise,
Students sprang from desks, the girls and the boys.
Away to the door they flew in a flash,
Tore down the testing sign and left in a crash.

The hallway lit with the glimmer of neon light,
And students called back to seats with fright.
When, what to their wondering eyes should appear,
But endless questions and answers to fear.

With children back in their seats,
They settled for testing feats.
More quickly than lightning, directions were read,
As teachers spewed and spit words of dread.

“Now fill in the bubbles with pencil number two!
Use your time wisely for the minutes will be few.
Do your best and show what you got,
There may be pressure but perform on the spot."

Kids said not a word but tried their best,
And worked continuously without rest.
Some were finished and some were not,
Regardless all were done when clock hit the spot.

Kids sprang to the door and down the halls,
Answering their texts and taking their calls.
Teachers collected the tests in a nice neat pile,
Brought them to the office, heels clicking on the tile.

As all tests were collected and locked up so neat,
Teachers and students both happy it complete.
A day without these tests both are yearning,
They wish to say, “it’s about the learning.”

Happy Testing to All and To All a Good Score!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Holiday Break Sucks

Christmas Break.
Holiday Break.
Winter Break.

In the immortal words of New Kids on the Block, “call it what you want”. Bottom line is many of us look forward to the time of year when we get a bit of time off to relax, recharge and spend time with loved ones. However, it is at this time of year I am always reminded how much these break suck for many of our students. I can name a handful of my students who are dreading the upcoming time away from classes and their behavior is a clear indicator of this fact. Is this because my class is that awesome? Not a chance! Do these kids love homework and extra credit projects? Not even close! These particular students simply have nothing at home worth looking forward to. 
  • Many will be heading to a break filled with fighting, yelling, and domestic unrest.
  • Some will attempt to hide in a home where divorce has wrecked their “normal” lives.
  • Increasing numbers of students will experience less than bountiful loot left from Santa under the tree.
  • Some students will spend their breaks parenting siblings while their parents work.
  • Others will be working themselves to help support their families.
  • A few of your students might not get to read a book because they have none of their own.
  • Many will head to homes not able to pay the heating or electric bills.
  • Some may not even have homes to go home to.

We often take for granted these breaks and cannot possibly imagine why anyone would fear them. For those about to head on break, remember when those students start acting out there might be a reason behind it. They might be afraid of leaving the safe, calm, and loving environment that is school. Many students view schools as their safe haven and impending breaks from school are scary and potentially anxious times in their lives.

The Only Standard We Ever Need

I have often been accused of over-simplifying things or making things more black and white than they should be. When it comes to the increasing number of standards being imposed on our students, I am beginning to feel rather frustrated. As a country we are concerned that our students are falling behind in the sacred tests to other countries. Yet, as I sit in my desk helping students do math during study hall, I have a tough time believing that. These 6th grade students are tackling concepts that I am confident I was not introduced to until late junior high or early high school. More and more content is being pushed down in an effort to help kids get ahead. So what gives? Why are the test scores not going up if kids are getting “smarter” earlier?

For me, I wonder if it is simply a matter of breadth over depth. We are exposing our students to as much content and curricula as inhumanly possible in the time we have them. Yet, due to the sheer amounts of standards and content, teachers cannot hope to go into any true depth. How can teachers deepen understanding when they are given such a laundry list of standards to teach in one school year? Students are certainly being exposed to more content today than in the past, but at the expense of what? True understanding and depth of knowledge?

The other day I spent some time playing and learning with my son in his preschool classroom. In one of the classrooms the teacher had hung the multitude of learning standards each child was expected to master by the end of the year. It struck me funny as a parent to think my child would be exposed to all that content in one academic year. Honestly, I was blown away by how many there were. As I looked them over, one caught my eye.


This standard truly does sum up my beliefs on learning. How would your teaching change if you put this standard in your list? What if this was the only standard that drove your teaching? In my opinion we move too far away from “active exploration” in lieu of rigid curriculum coverage. Is it possible that this is the only standard we ever need? 

Social Media is not the Problem

I recently came across an article in the New York Times on social media. The basic premise behind the article is laws and boundaries are being put in place to protect both teachers and students from inappropriate relationships or interactions as a result of social media use. My initial gut reaction was not positive to be honest. A few statements stuck out at me specifically.
“Some teachers have set poor examples by posting lurid comments or photographs involving sex or alcohol on social media sites. Some have had inappropriate contact with students that blur the teacher-student boundary.”
Yes, this is a true statement. Some teachers have used poor professional judgment in what actions they have taken in regards to student relationships online. Due to discretions of the few, why must we mandate for all? Should we ban all youth football programs from universities due to the infractions of a few? I believe whole heartedly that educators using social media sites for inappropriate means should be dealt with and prosecuted as such. To say that social media causes these negative things to occur is ignorant at best. If anything, social media brings to light such behaviors that could easily remain hidden behind closed doors. Poor decisions cause problems, not social media. In addition, when brought to light via social media, those instances have to be dealt with and not swept under the rug.
“School administrators are also concerned about teachers’ revealing too much information about their private lives.”
This is another statement that I took a certain degree of issue with. Many teachers are not comfortable sharing personal information with their students in any form. That is fine. However, some of the most influential teachers are those that are able to walk that line between professional and personal. Parents and students alike, respond best to teachers that are “real” human beings and part of that is sharing personal information. I tell my student’s parents that I have children of my own and often share stories and relate to them. Is that not a good thing to do? When talking to my students I often share personal stories about my life experiences as they pertain to them. Does that not help me build rapport and better connect with my students? How about helping teachers negotiate those lines rather than removing the line completely?
“What worries some educators is that overly restrictive policies will remove an effective way of engaging students who regularly use social media platforms to communicate.”
I agree with this statement completely. If we remove a viable option for parent/teacher/student communication we are just shutting doors. In the current economic and social realities of the world we live in, teachers need to use whatever means at their disposal to connect to students and parents. Social media is just another option on the table that if used properly can be highly effective.

Yes, we need to protect our students as well as our teachers. However, as history has often proven, banning never has the desired outcome or intended results. Let’s instead use a policy of guidance and education to help both our students and teachers use these powerful tools for good. Oh…and most teachers are already doing this!