Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Looking for a Job

I find it interesting that last week this site listed the job openings for almost every school in Lake County Illinois.

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 14:  Monica Ratlift, a...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

This week as you can see it only lists 9 schools in Lake County. I believe it listed openings for every school on this list.

How did I notice the change? I spent all of last year looking for work, then last week my school district sent out RIF letters to every non-tenured teacher in the district. So yeah I noticed the change.


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Saturday, March 27, 2010

What Would You Do

Enlightenment must come little by little-other...Image by ZEDZAP>Nick via Flickr

Allegedly a superintendent said something to the effect of, "I'm not doing missionary work. It's part of my contract" when asked about his 4% raise and leased car.

What would you do if he said this at the same board meeting that they decided to RIF all non-tenured teachers?

I'd love to get the minutes of that meeting, but I can't seem to find them anywhere.

Ella ... EllaImage by Giorgio____is_Off_Auguri via Flickr


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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How to destroy the morale of your teaching staff!

It seems everywhere in the state schools are talking about money or the lack thereof. With Governor Quinn claiming we need to raise taxes and cut education funding. Schools are getting worried. Home prices have been down for years, so this Illinois model of funding schools through property taxes is really taking a big hit. The last few weeks it seems all the headlines I see are talking about the number of teachers that are getting laid off.

Here in our district the teachers have been fretting for weeks, only to find that their worst fears are coming true. Not only are all non-tenured teachers expecting pink slips in the next few days, but a few dozen tenured teachers are also staring down the axe-head.

Each school and each teacher takes the news differently. Some teachers expecting to lose jobs are busy cornering union stewards and asking for advice. Others are fighting the depression or trying to come to grips with the harsh realities. All are or should be refining their resumes and looking for openings. I myself have completed one and am working on essays for another.

The worst is the school that has more teachers than classrooms. There all the newest teachers are in the same room when not teaching. Last month it was a lively room with new teachers discussing or sharing teaching tips and ideas. Now with most of those teachers fearing for their futures the quest for better teaching practices is gone. Replaced with discussions of “what will we do”. Soon even that has stopped as teachers avoid getting caught in the room. I suppose each is trying to keep their spirits up and trying to avoid discussing the uncertain future.

The job market will be saturated soon, but I don’t think it will stay that way for long. Smart school districts will take the opportunity to lock in the quality talent that has been freed up this summer. While other districts will lose their best people and be forced to hustle for leftovers as the next school year approaches.



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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

10,000 hours

They say you need 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. I guess the idea is we need enough time to make our mistakes and learn from them.

Today I’m thinking about conversations with teachers at school. Most teachers these days are worried about their future, especially new teachers. So why is the district wasting money on raises for everyone else? Why are they leasing luxury cars for high-level administrators? Why are they buying new computers?

Wait a second hold the phone. Why are they buying new computers?

Jewish Children with their Teacher in Samarkan...Image via Wikipedia

Getting past all that what is the justification for me to have a computer. Can I not do my job without a computer? I can keep record on a notepad, I can teach without the computer. I’d love to use a projector and Smartboard and stuff, but I don’t have those. I don’t teach the entire class anyway.

No what I need a computer for is to deliver some of the interactive intervention programs we are buying.

What you can’t teach you just put the kids in front of your computer?

No, but there are times when I will bring one or more students to my computer and we can work as a small group using some excellent programs like Geogebra.

Ok why not go to the computer lab?

Well other than the fact that technically I am not supposed to remove the students from the core classroom, but rather augment the learning that goes on. I also use the computer for other purposes.

Why we connect, was a post that was hot this week (can't find it now). So why do we connect? We connect to get those 10,000 hours in of course. We don’t think about it that way naturally, but we are doing it.

For some teaching is a job. They spend a few late nights writing lesson plans and jump into the classroom to teach. At the end of the day they complain about the amount of paperwork they have to do, but that really has nothing to do with teaching. Rather it has to do with administration. So these teachers spend on average 10 hours a day working their craft for the first year or two then they find their groove and they can cut back the hours to maybe six and a half hours of actual teaching a day for the next 28 years. Maybe less if they start just going through the motions. Really, if a teacher is just reteaching old lessons without thinking about how to make it better is he actually improving?

The other teacher learns to leverage technology to continue learning about teaching. We use computers and internet access to follow other teachers. We spend our evening talking or listening to teachers from around the globe talk about what they taught and how they taught it. They go to conferences on line. They reflect on their lessons and sometimes even put the lesson out there for the world to see.


The other teach might get to 10,00 hours in just a few years. What can you do if you are a master after only 3 or 4 years? How much better can you be?

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Teaching A Series of Techniques?

I've read this story twice now. At first I thought oh it sounds pretty good. Let's examine quality teachers and see if we can spot some common characteristics. Unfortunately we have two problems.
  1. The common characteristics are opinions based on anecdotal evidence.
  2. They are teaching techniques not teaching methods or strategies.
Yes, yes I know there is no one right teaching method and classroom management is very important, but I hate to burst your bubble but there is no one right method of classroom management either. Some very effective teachers would take the 49 techniques and throw them out the window. On the other hand I do know some teachers who could use a good lesson or two on how to manage a classroom.

With that thought in mind here are some selected quotes from the article and some comments by me.

The classes were small. The school had rigorous academic standards and state-of-the-art curriculum and used a software program to analyze test results for each student, pinpointing which skills she still needed to work on.
But when it came to actual teaching, the daily task of getting students to learn, the school floundered. Students disobeyed teachers’ instructions, and class discussions veered away from the lesson plans.
So the question begins: what do we do when children don't listen?

That belief has spawned a nationwide movement to improve the quality of the teaching corps by firing the bad teachers and hiring better ones.

The belief that good teachers are born not made means we fire all of them and only hire back the good ones?

Yet so far, both merit-pay efforts and programs that recruit a more-elite teaching corps, like Teach for America, have thin records of reliably improving student learning. The smarter path to boosting student performance, Lemov maintains, is to improve the quality of the teachers who are already teaching.

...what looked like natural-born genius was often deliberate technique in disguise.
He isn't describing teaching, but rather classroom management techniques


No professional feels completely prepared on her first day of work, but while a new lawyer might work under the tutelage of a seasoned partner, a first-year teacher usually takes charge of her classroom from the very first day.
No real mentoring in any teacher education program. Why not first year with daily one on one mentoring and second year maybe 5 on one mentors with lots of time to observe and be observed?

Cook County Normal School, run for years by John Dewey’s precursor Francis Parker. The school graduated future teachers only if they demonstrated an ability to control a classroom at an adjacent “practice school” attended by real children; faculty members, meanwhile, used the practice school as a laboratory to hone what Parker proudly called a new “science” of education
Still not talking about teaching, but rather classroom management

Many education professors adopted the tools of social science and took on schools as their subject. Others flew the banner of progressivism or its contemporary cousin constructivism: a theory of learning that emphasizes the importance of students’ taking ownership of their own work above all else.
Yet I don't see why this in any way conflicts with learning classroom management techniques. (Remember this one for later)

Yet schools can’t always control for the quality of the experienced teacher, and education-school professors often have little contact with actual schools.
Why the hell not?

His heartfelt lesson plans — write in your journal while listening to music; analyze Beatles songs like poems — received blank stares.
That's a lesson plan?

The official title, attached to a book version being released in April, is “Teach Like a Champion: The 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College.
The video's are all elementary students, do they work with middle school / high school students? While the techniques look nice they don't talk about how to set them up; oh wait I have to buy the training to do that. The real question I have is what do you do with the student who consistently disrupts class, but the dean has made it clear he doesn't want to see the child in the office all day everyday and you are only allowed to suspend the student 10 days per year. What happens when you call 30 different home numbers but none of them work. The parents don't care. The administration has given up. You can't get the kid suspended or expelled even when they threaten your life. Basically, nothing in your arsenal of classroom management techniques has any effect. What then? If this student puts his/her head down and doesn't bother anyone I can teach the rest of the class, but if I spend 10 minutes everyday putting out fires he/she starts how can I bring the rest of the class up? What do I do when a student transfers into my classroom two months into the school year and missed all my precious "teaching my students how to be students lessons". What is that student is disruptive and 4 years below grade level? He/She has no records and it takes 9 months to get all the paperwork done to get him/her the help they need. What if they move to a new school and don't tell anyone? That new school has to start the paperwork all over again. I can have great classroom management techniques but I also need support on all levels, parents, administration, and sometimes police.

The romantic objection to emphasizing it is that a class too focused on rules and order will only replicate the power structure; a more common view is that classroom management is essential but somewhat boring and certainly less interesting than creating lesson plans. While some education schools offer courses in classroom management, they often address only abstract ideas, like the importance of writing up systems of rules, rather than the rules themselves. Other education schools do not teach the subject at all. Lemov’s view is that getting students to pay attention is not only crucial but also a skill as specialized, intricate and learnable as playing guitar.
So what you are saying is all other education schools suck. Teachers should learn classroom management first and in some cases only.

Is good classroom management enough to ensure good instruction?
Finally, and yes the answer is no.

One of those researchers was Deborah Loewenberg Ball, an assistant professor who also taught math part time at an East Lansing elementary school and whose classroom was a model for teachers in training.
These videos seem to be more about allowing students to think and discuss concepts and very little about classroom management. It's all about letting students use their brains. This looks suspiciously like a teacher who cares about quality education first and classroom management second, but yet still manages to do both. Note that the "Sean" numbers lesson was actually a lesson that went off track, an action that is frowned upon at "Uncommon Schools"

Teaching, even teaching third-grade math, is extraordinarily specialized, requiring both intricate skills and complex knowledge about math.
What teaching is specialized and requires intricate skills and complex knowledge?

Mathematicians need to understand a problem only for themselves; math teachers need both to know the math and to know how 30 different minds might understand (or misunderstand) it. Then they need to take each mind from not getting it to mastery.
Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching
  • which visual tools to use to represent fractions
  • sense of the everyday errors
  • “Teaching depends on what other people think,” Ball told me, “not what you think.”

She had been teaching for only two months, yet her fifth-grade math class was both completely focused on her and completely quiet.
Why do we assume this shows proof that she is a good teacher?

advanced to a technique
techniques are not teaching.

We almost had some good writing in the middle there, but we ended on a sour note. Really this articles seemed more like a 9 page advertisement for "Uncommon Schools" and their new book coming out in April.





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Sunday, March 7, 2010

From This Tweet Comes This Post

@chrislehmann: #tedxnyed How do you create a centralized outcome from a decentralized process? @gsiemens

I'm not sure of the best answer, but here's my first thought.

Napoleon on Project Management

Jerry Manas

Page 144 – 145


“First, he made sure his troops were adaptable. … They were also ready for change at a moment's notice and were well trained in the ability to swiftly regroup to meet any given situation.


Second, he made sure they were empowered. By arming them with knowledge of the mission's concept and structuring them so they could operate independently, he was able to give brief, simple instruction to his commanders and know that the mission would be followed through. And by receiving regular communications from his commanders as to any variations, he made his army contributors to the plan, not just followers of a rigid process that didn't take reality into account.


Finally, he made sure they were unified. His armies operated under a common doctrine and were integrated through centralized planning and administration. ...”


I'd like to see teachers working together as teams focusing on the problem of engaging students in learning. Changing plans at a moments notice to follow student lead learning, but in general working towards predetermined learning goals.

I'd like to see principals be actual principal-teachers. Communicating regularly with the teachers and working together.

Finally a school board working with superintendents to set out clear long term goals that don't shift with the wind, but hold steady to allow schools to actually collect data over years of consistant instruction.





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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Field Trip

For thirty minutes I have been listening to a teacher try to set up a field trip to a mall. Called Math in the Mall. She wants permission for the students to come to the mall and take some pictures of the floor and find the parrallell lines. The malls won't let her because they don't allow photographs. huh?

The sad part is she has done this in the past, but the person on the mall end who usually helped he organize decided to retire. I guess allowing 7th grade students to wander the mall isn't acceptable in polite society anymore. So much for trying to engage students in education.
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