Welcome to my first video blog here at teacherscount.org. This is an experiment and I appreciate your thoughts both in terms of the content and in terms of your take on posting video versus text. Please let me know. Thanks for watching! dven.
I found a national job posting for a “Master Teacher – Middle School” for a New York charter school. Salary: $125,000 with bonus potential of $25,000 per year. Tempting as it was, I can’t see myself transplanting to NY from NC with a book coming out in a year.
But I got to thinking: Just imaging the surge of applicants! Just imagine how choosy the school could be from such an applicant pool. And, most importantly, just imagine the quality of the faculty they end up with. Sure, the school is located in the tough neighborhood of Washington Heights, but with a faculty (and presumably administration) like that, everything is possible.
The posting was very transparent about the motive: “The Equity Project (TEP) Charter School believes that teacher quality is the most important factor in achieving educational equity for low income students. Spurred by this belief, TEP reallocates its public funds by making an unprecedented investment in attracting and retaining great teachers.” And there are host of interesting things they’re doing in addition to high teacher salaries, such as mandatory daily peer observations and co-teaching interdisciplinary classes.
I’ve posted about teacher salaries before, but this job posting has caused me to feel compelled to restate my position that when teachers are paid comparably to primary care physicians, veterinarians, engineers and district managers, the game changes. The teaching profession is suddenly attractive to young, bright college students who could be inspiring, dedicated teachers but in whose radar teaching as a career never enters.
The impact of such a change would be incalculable for our children, our economy, and our nation.
Thank you, TEP charter school in NY, for having the balls to make a difference for your kids in your corner. You are spot on in what you’re trying to do. dven.
This past Friday (1.8.10) marked the 8th anniversary of Bush signing NCLB into law. Now, I’m the first to agree that NCLB is riddled with problems, some of which have been mentioned by other authors of this blog in recent posts (I myself have two related posts: NCLB (as long as he has a chance of passing) and NCLB & the Gifted Kids).
But NCLB is a complex law and it’s easy to damn the whole thing because aspects of the law haven’t worked as planned or have created a host of bad things in its wake. For instance, I like that school accountability has increased, albeit by enacting some dumb ideas to measure it. I like the idea of teachers having to be highly qualified and know their content, even though how we’ve assessed “high-quality” seems to have missed the mark. I like that there are now state curricula, that schools a town apart aren’t teaching drastically different things, but if I had my way, we would have a National Curriculum – like every other leading country. If we’re going to have a national law (NCLB), why not have a National Curriculum and national standards with which to measure compliance with the national law? Why should a public high school diploma be worth more from Connecticut than, say, one from Alabama?
No matter what we’d like, it’s pretty clear that NCLB isn’t going away. I have my hope for NCLB 2.0, as do many educators, but we’ll just have to wait and see what Obama and Duncan do with this. For a recent and interesting Washington Post article on the subject, check this out. dven.
Single gender classes have become more common since districts in California started doing this a few years back. The issue has staunch supporters on one side, as well as detractors on the other who believe it is a bad idea. Some early research supports the idea of single gender instruction, finding that both boys and girls do better. Other research has proven inconclusive (meaning that no statistically significant improvements were shown by either group). I know of no research that showed a decrease in student achievement due to separating the boys from the girls. Research in this area tends to be spotty and likely to be inconclusive – not because single gender classes aren’t a good idea – but because it’s really hard to gather data that teases out the influence of single gender instruction specifically.
It seems to me that single gender classes make the most sense in middle school (grades 6 – 8). This is the age where students become ultra-aware of and equally obsessed with how they are perceived by the opposite sex. That perception causes a big distraction in classroom learning, as any middle school teacher would attest. This factor is virtually non-existant in elementary school and, though its influence continues into high school, high school students generally have a more defined self-identity and the influence of opposite-sex perceptions seems to me to be at least slightly assuage by then. There are still significant social distractions, but the distraction of extreme self-consciousness is less controlling by high school.
Additionally, middle school boys and middle school girls are distinctly different beasts. Their maturity level, attention spans, learning styles and interests are markedly different. By separating the genders in their core subjects (math, language arts, social studies, science), classroom instruction can be designed to better suit their different needs, all to the betterment of their respective learning.
The argument most often presented against single gender classes is that separating the boys from the girls in school is not the way the “real world” operates. I would retort that nothing about middle school mimics the “real world”. Even if genders were separated in the core subjects, kids will always have opportunities to mingle with the opposite sex. There are opportunities in the other subjects (art, music, PE, etc.) as well as opportunities after school, at home and on facebook.
But if just for a few years it makes sense to acknowledge and support their differences and separate them so that they might learn more and learn better, why not do it?
As always, I’d love to hear your comments. dven.
When people find out I am a math teacher, if they don’t tell me how much they hate math and how they were never “good at it” (this comment, BTW, usually culminates with them vomiting on my shoes), they invariably offer that they were good in Geometry and bad in Algebra, or vice versa.
I never ask people which they preferred in school; for some reason they almost always volunteer their preference. If you happen to be of this same mind – that you preferred Algebra to Geometry in school or vice versa, consider the following reason why this may be so.
Geometry is very spatial. Nary a Geometry problem is not accompanied by a figure, usually involving angles, triangles, quadrilaterals, or circles with chords and tangent lines, all chock full of capital letters denoting vertices and such. True, there may be some algebra involved in the solution of the geometry problem (which, incidentally, is why Algebra generally precedes Geometry in most high school coursework), but diagrams and figures reign dominant in Geometry.
Algebra, on the the hand, is typically void of diagrams and figures and relies instead on a student’s ability to manipulate symbolic expressions in solving problems.
Therein lies the distinction. The left hemisphere of the brain is dominant in the cognitive processes using LOGIC, SYMBOLS and LANGUAGE. The right hemisphere of the brain deals with SPATIAL, CREATIVE, and MUSICAL processing. That is to say, Algebra and Geometry are processed in different hemispheres of the brain: Algebra is a left-brain pursuit while Geometry is right-brained.
Of course, some of Geometry requires left-brain logic and some of Algebra requires right-brain spatial/linguistic processing (as in the case of solving word problems). But on whole, doing Algebra has more in common with writing an English paper than with doing an Geometry problem – at least cognitively.
I myself am a case in point. I am much more an Algebraist than a Geometer by trade and I am also a writer (not only in the case of this blog, but also for a forthcoming book I am writing that will published by Corwin Press).
I am willing to bet that those folks who liked Geometry tended to pursue artistic careers (sculptures, painters, photographers, architects and musicians) and those who liked algebra tend to pursue left-brain careers (scientists, economists, writers and lawyers).
If you had a preference, which did you prefer in school: Algebra or Geometry? dven.
So I’m driving down a country road margined with make-shift lots selling Christmas trees every quarter mile and I’m struck by a thought. The thought is motivated by the all too common experience of dressing a newly purchased tree with a string of lights and realizing that the string of lights runs out before the branches do, leaving either an obvious bare rung of base branches or me having to start all over wrapping the lights. My guess is that we’ve all done this – miscalculated the length of stringed lights with the amount of branches to cover.
What a great query for a secondary math class! I think to myself. If I were still in the classroom I would pose this holiday problem to my kids. It would go like this:Suppose you had a Christmas tree that was 7′ tall and 5′ wide at the bottom row of branches. If you had two equal strings of lights with which to adorn the tree, how far down from the top should the first string of lights go so that you had enough left with the second string to cover the rest of the tree?
This is not a simple problem. It involves surface area of a cone, the Pythagorean Theorem, similar triangles, proportions, and solving a simple quadratic. That’s what makes it such a nice problem to ponder with kids. Not only is it seasonal but, like all real-world problems solvable with math, there are many different mathematical concepts and skills embedded in it. I should point out that I would not actually do this kind of math when dressing a tree, but it is a curiosity that can be solved quite accurately using math. [For those brave enough to try it, the answer appears below.]
I suppose what drives me to write this blog entry has also to do with my concern that, in this day of state curricula and district pacing guides, math teachers just don’t get to ponder real-life math problems or use relevant, timely quandaries to teach this subject. I suspect many math teachers would not even notice a real-life application unless it was a textbook word problem or specifically suggested by the district pacing guide. In our desperate attempt to unify instructional materials (to make them “teacher proof”), we have removed original thinking from our teachers’ lesson designs. What also gets removed is the spark that can ignite a teachable moment or a higher-order educational experience for our students.
If you’re a secondary math teacher, I encourage you to try this problem with your kids. I’d love to hear how it goes. dven.
Answer. The first string of lights should last roughly 5′ 1″ down the tree, measured vertically from the top.
Having been in education now for depressingly close to three decades, I’ve noticed that educators are very careful when the opportunity presents itself to describe a student as “smart”. When I changed teaching jobs and moved from a Connecticut high school to a South Carolina high school in the mid-eighties, I was struck by how teachers used the S-word freely but almost always in a whisper, as in He’s really smart or Oh, she’s smart. I had never heard any teachers in Connecticut ever label a student as smart. But in South Carolina I heard it fairly often, as if a news flash or notice of some special case. I won’t attempt to theorize why – it’s just something I noticed.
Then there are those teachers who call everybody smart. In addition to cheapening the attribute, it’s just not true. This isn’t Lake Wobegon, after all, where “all the children are above average.” No one in education seems to want to admit the obvious: All kids are not smart. It may be politically correct to say they are, but it’s a lie. I guess I’d rather be honest than politically correct.
I should also point out that my premise that not all kids are smart does not in anyway lead to the conclusion that they cannot learn or that they should not be taught. Quite the opposite: All kids can learn, and it is our job to find a way and a pace that accommodates them wherever they may be on this continuum of smartness. If they’re on the low end (i.e., not smart (there, I said it)) we must work even harder to reach them so that they do learn and are successful.
Why do we have such a problem saying some kids are smart and some are, well, not smart. We immediately acknowledge without pause that some kids are athletic and some are not athletic. Or that some are creative and others are not creative. Why is smart any different? Is it that, as a society, we place more value in being smart than, say, being athletic? Not really. Look at the mean salary of professional athletes compared to the mean salary of rocket scientists.
So what’s the deal? dven.
I just spent three days consulting in a district in a neighboring state. At the end of the second day I met with an administrator , as I typically do, to debrief the first two days of my visit. During this meeting, I was struck by a comment she made. She said, “It’s not about our best teaching, it’s about how our kids best learn.” It wasn’t just a clever, pithy remark; to me, it signifies a colossal shift in thinking about teaching and learning. It’s not about our best teaching and this age-old focus is beginning to change in districts everywhere. It’s about what they are (or are not) learning.
Embedded in her comment is the notion that our kids don’t all ‘learn best’ in the same way. That’s one of the shortcomings of the ‘best teaching’ mentality: unless we design lessons that accomodate diverse learners and put into practice the oft-spoken language of differentiated instruction, our ‘best teaching’ – good as it may be for some kids – may sorely miss the mark for many other kids.
When we all as a community of educators shift our emphasis from good teaching to good learning, we begin to design different kinds of lessons, lessons that reflect “how our kids best learn.” dven.
The widespread incident of neighborhood violence and drug usage in America’s inner cities has had and continues to have a devastating impact on her urban schools. There’s no denying it. The district in which I work is the nation’s 18th largest district. Our city has the state’s highest crime rate and the neighborhood in our city with the highest crime rate includes a middle school in which I was recently stationed for 6 intensive weeks as part of LEA Improvement (since our entire district of 180 schools is currently in Corrective Action, as per NCLB legislation). That is all to say, I get to see the impact of neighborhood crime, violence, and drug use first hand.
But these are all corollary to a more fundamental problem: poverty. The number of children in the US living in poverty – both urban and rural poverty - is staggering. The graph below depicts America’s children living in as compare to the poverty rate of other countries.
How can the most economically advantaged country in the world permit so many economically disadvantaged children?
I first saw this graph as I prepared a workshop for teachers on Urban Education. The more I researched this topic, and learned about the incident of students living in poverty, the more I became outraged. How could this state of affairs have happened in our America?
I don’t have a solution – there is no quick and easy solution. But as a citizen and especially as an educator who is routinely entrenched in the mess it has caused, I am outraged and think every citizen should be likewise.
The impact of poverty trumps the impact of drugs, crime, and violence. Indeed, the latter follow quite predictably from the former. dven.
When I was in the classroom, just a few years ago, I always looked forward to Thanksgiving. Sure, it represents the first significant (and well-deserved) holiday break from school, but that wasn’t the only reason. For me, Thanksgiving represented the psychological half-way point of the school year. Once Thanksgiving passes, it seemed to me, the year starts to really fly by and before I knew it, Spring was upon me. I realize, of course, that Thanksgiving is a fair bit shy of the actual, chronological midpoint, but it always seemed like half the year was over upon its colorful and self-indulgent arrival.
But it occurs to me that this feeling could change in the event that the resurgent talk of year-round schooling becomes a reality. What gets me about all this talk is that the proponents of year-round schooling – most often people not in education – act as though extending the school year will, by itself, increase student learning and improve sagging student achievement.
I’ve read the recent NAEP report and I know we’re not doing so well, overall, as a nation in an increasingly flat world. But more of a bad thing is not a good thing. It’s just…well….more of a bad thing. That’s like going to a really bad restaurant which serves really bad food and somehow feeling good about the experience because the portions were really large.
I would like to know from my readers what you think about year-round schooling. And while you’re responding, tell me: Does Thanksgiving feel like the psychological half-way point to you? dven.