Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
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Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Monday, December 3, 2012

How Obama Can Help Fix Our Educational System the Next 4 Years...

President Obama's administration, which has had a sometimes-strained relationship with teachers, will face a host of K-12 education priorities in his second term of office. We asked our teacher-panelists what advice they would give him on improving conditions for teaching and learning in today's schools.


Teachers’ Advice for President Obama in His Second TermPresident Obama's administration, which has had asometimes-strained relationship with teachers, will face a host of K-12 education priorities in his second term of office. Those include issues surrounding the Race to the Top program, NCLB progress waivers and possible reauthorization, education funding, and teacher-recruitment programs.

Imagine you had a chance to sit down with the president to talk about education. What experiences would you share? What advice would you give him on improving conditions for teaching and learning in today's schools? Should the president attempt to improve his administration's rapport with teachers? In your view, what could he do in his second term to leave a positive legacy for the teaching profession of the future?

November 15, 2012

Mr. Obama, Let's Work On Teacher Working Conditions

José Vilson
Dear Mr. President,
During the presidential debates between you and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, you mentioned that you'd hire thousands more math and science teachers to boost this country's status as an economic power. Jennifer Martinez reported on your statement in The Hill newspaper:
"If we've got math teachers who are able to provide the kind of support that they need for our kids, that's what's going to determine whether or not new businesses are created here," Obama said during the debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. "Companies are going to locate here depending on whether we've got the most highly skilled workforce."
As a math teacher, I understand the sentiment. Some of us have felt for far too long that we as a country haven't prioritized competency in math. Far too many people in our country have devalued math, asserting that children only need to know the basics. If they know how to read a graph or calculate a tip, they've mastered all the math they need in life, and any advanced math above that should be left for specialists and enthusiasts.
Yet, Robert Moses, a civil rights leader and the founder of the Algebra Project, saw the connection between 21st-century citizenship and mathematics a long time ago. I understand the economic imperative of assuring that our students, especially our most disadvantaged students, have the opportunity not only to survive but prosper, with a wealth of career options in engineering, computer science, economics, and statistics, amongst other professions.
With that said, even if we reach the lofty goal of getting 100,000 more math and science teachers into classrooms, the problem will most likely not be recruitment but retention. Daniel Willingham, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, recently cited new research re-confirming what so many of us have known all along: Math and science teachers leave the profession at or around the same clip as every other teacher does. Some of this is due to retirement, but they also tend to leave for higher salaries and, yes, working conditions.
This especially affects schools like mine: high-poverty schools where the system leans far too much on them without proper compensation.
We still have too many schools where teachers spend thousands on their own supplies, where principals have to choose between firing a teacher in the classroom or a set of school aides to help with the flow of the building, where students feel less like they're learning how to be an active participant in democracy and more like automatons filling out paperwork. Much like the rest of us do.
I'm inclined to say it's not all bad, either. Teachers generally love their students and want them to excel, and do so despite the challenges and turmoil present in schools. But the barriers are high and growing. From on high, we can act like the realities of the classroom matter very little, but these little pieces add up to an issue that pervades classrooms all over the country.
If you want to increase the amount of problem solvers and doers, you need to assure that you promote the conditions for your nation-builders to come there and stay.
José Vilson
José Vilson is a math teacher, coach, and data analyst for a middle school in the Inwood/Washington Heights neighborhood of New York.

November 14, 2012

A Lesson Plan for Education Reform

Bill Farmer
President Obama, during your victory speech on election night you proudly stated that "We want our kids to grow up in a country where they have access to the best schools and the best teachers." You probably didn't hear my enthusiastic cheers from the far end of the convention hall, but I was there celebrating your reelection with several fellow Educators for Obama who share your passionate vision for an excellent public education system for all students.
As you transition into your second term, I would encourage you to engage in a reflective practice that mirrors what teachers do every day. It begins with lesson planning, a process that involves establishing desired learner outcomes, designing strategies to teach their objectives, and developing tools to assess the effectiveness of their instruction. This advanced preparation is really only the beginning because teachers quickly realize that even the most well thought out lessons can, and usually do, have significant flaws. A skillful teacher can patch up some of these imperfections on the fly to salvage the lesson, but more often than not several trials and revisions are necessary to yield an effective final product.
It would be my hope that your administration reflects and reassesses its approach to education policy reform in a similar manner to ensure that public education is moving forward for our students by utilizing best-practice research in conjunction with feedback from educators like myself. This thoughtful and collaborative approach would go a long way toward repairing the strained relationship that has evolved between many educators and policymakers.
I believe that primary strengths of your domestic policy agenda are your desired outcomes for public education. Under your leadership, your administration has sought to build and maintain a highly qualified teacher work force, been an advocate for equity in access to both early education and higher education, and pushed for the overhaul of NCLB to support struggling schools rather than punish them. These are among only a few of your objectives that should be maintained into your next term.
Teacher quality is a fundamental pillar of any education system. So let's examine your policy objective to recruit, train, and retain exceptional teachers from my critical lens as an educator. One of the primary policy mechanisms with the aim of bolstering teacher quality was the Race to the Top program. We can use your home state of Illinois, where I happen to teach, as a case study to examine the impact of this federal policy.
Dealing with a state budget crisis, Illinois was eager to compete for federal dollars by rushing through the Performance Evaluation Reform Act with minimal input from educators. One positive result of the legislation was that our teacher-evaluation system, which was long overdue for a comprehensive overhaul, received attention from state lawmakers. Unfortunately, many of the policies promoted by Race to the Top were largely untested by current research, including the linkage of teacher evaluation to student-growth measures and the expansion of charter schools. In fact, recent studies have questioned the reliability of incorporating student-growth metrics into teacher evaluations. Studies have also emerged that suggest charter schools are fairing no better than public schools.
Fortunately, Mr. President, just as with the rough initial implementation of a new lesson plan, there is an opportunity now to regroup and refine policy strategies to move your public education vision forward. Alternative approaches to enhancing our teacher work force can be considered, such as creating incentives for higher education institutions to admit and recruit prospective teachers based on workforce demand and to strengthen their teacher-training curriculum.
Currently, many teacher preparation programs are churning out graduates in disciplines that already have an overabundance of teachers, while high-needs vacancies in areas such as science, special education, and bilingual education are left unfilled. Your administration could play a role in promoting and funding programs that allow higher education and their state agencies to elevate professional teaching standards and provide more comprehensive student teaching experiences. Perhaps I could even boldly suggest that student teaching be modeled after medical residencies to provide more on-the-job training.
Educators have a wealth of ideas and collective knowledge, and we are eager to help grow our own profession and provide the very best educational opportunities for our students with the support of your administration.
Bill Farmer has been teaching biology and chemistry for nine years at Evanston Township High School in Evanston, Ill. 

November 14, 2012

Inquiry-Based Learning for the President

Sarah Henchey
"Education is not a problem. Education is an opportunity." — Lyndon B. Johnson

Essential Question: What role does education serve in our society?
Learning Task: Learners will utilize their understanding of the federal government's role in education in order to propose policy recommendations that support the role of education in our society and learning of the American people.
Imagine you've been challenged to explore the above essential question through the described learning task. How would you approach this charge? What core understandings would support your success? What resources would you turn to for guidance?
Learning opportunities such as this are precisely the authentic experiences encouraged by theCommon Core State Standards. These standards call for students to analyze primary and secondary sources, assess claims made by authors, and evaluate understandings based on textual evidence. Under these circumstances, students are immersed in learning and encouraged to pose questions, draw conclusions, and push their thinking (a stark contrast to the passive learning famously portrayed in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off").
Yet this type of learning and discourse should not be confined to the brick-and-mortar walls of our high schools. Nor should we retire this question, presuming it has been answered once and shall remain a static truth.
To craft intentional reforms and transform our schools, we must all return to this core question and engage in the dialogue and learning modeled by our teachers and their students. We must draw upon historical documents, bipartisan expertise, and the strengths within our system. And, most importantly, we must use the information gleaned from our inquiry to inform the policy and laws enacted.
So, Mr. President, as a starting point, what role do you believe education serves in our society? How have the policies of your administration furthered this ideal? What steps need to be taken to move toward this vision and what lessons can you learn from your predecessors? Please remember to cite specific textual evidence to support your analysis.
And, for you teachers, how might you scaffold the president's learning? What anticipated outcomes would you expect?
Sarah Henchey is a National Board-certified teacher and has taught middle school for seven years in North Carolina's Orange County School district.

November 13, 2012

Mr. President, Can We Repay Our 'Educational Debt'?

Ryan Kinser
In his first term, President Obama treated education issues like symptoms of an undiagnosed disease. His administration led our nation through initiatives to overhaul teacher evaluation, introduce new state standards to promote college/career readiness, and offer competitive funding opportunities for states to innovate. Each of these reforms was a Band-Aid approach that overlooked a fundamental issue: schools fail when communities fail. Our top students are still receiving an education on par with any in the world. It's just that not enough of our students have that opportunity.
Perhaps the bubbling cauldron of recent education issues can be reduced to this one focal point for the president and the federal government. Improve communities first. Schools and teachers will follow.

The president may not have much power to change collective bargaining rights, NCLB waiver ramifications, or the fallout of publicized teacher evaluations, but he absolutely can shift gears to salvage his policies. Why not veer from debates about teacher effectiveness (inherently a local issue) or school accountability and instructional standards (which should be state issues), and instead focus on equitable federal education funding?
Our new Common Core State Standards won't accomplish much if teachers like my colleagueRenee Moore in the Mississippi Delta continue to face a dearth of resources unlike the relative windfall of options I have at an affluent Tampa magnet school. One of the key reasons nations like Finland and Singapore outperform us on international tests isn't because their students or teachers are smarter. It's because their support systems are better designed to combat poverty through equal opportunity, as Arthur Camins argues in The Washington Post more eloquently than I can in this space.
I would also invite President Obama to consult a few pages from Teaching 2030: What We Must Do for Our Students and Our Public Schools Now and in the Future. Why not see the school as a community hub providing stability so parents don't have to choose charter schools across town? Isn't that how we rebuild an economy and first-rate educational system—one neighborhood at a time?
I've taught in urban Washington, D.C., and now I teach at a school striving for International Baccalaureate certification. As a reverse-magnet program, my school buses students from dilapidated neighborhoods in the hopes of offering the same opportunities they might not get at home. But how does this approach strengthen the neighborhoods of our commuter students so they can experience their right to a quality education near their homes?
In her 2007 Urban Sites Network Conference speech, Gloria Ladson-Billings spoke about the "educational debt" our nation has accumulated. This is where I would urge President Obama to start his second term education agenda. Instead of letting states fight for the scraps of an overextended fiscal policy, I'd implore the president to take a closer look at how he can reallocate an education budget to level the playing field. I'll offer some concrete suggestions in my follow-up post.
Ryan Kinser is a teacherpreneur at the Center for Teaching Quality and teaches English at Walker Middle Magnet School for International Studies in Tampa, Fla.

November 13, 2012

Note to POTUS: Stop the Numbers Game in School Reform

Matthew Holland
With all due respect, the president should get out of the education business. Period. Let the profession be run by the professionals who work in our nation's classrooms.
Over the past 11 years, we have seen policies come out of Washington that seek to improve our nation's education through a game of numbers. The policies under President Bush had our nation's schools chasing ever elusive number in math and reading. We see the same with President Obama's policies on education. Now the ever elusive numbers game is spreading into more subject areas while children continue to be viewed as nothing more than percentages, subgroups, and a statistical means for closing gaps that exist in all aspects of our society. No longer are we simply leaving kids behind in education, now we are actually racing away from them in the quest to get to the top. The top of what has yet to been seen.
If I had the president's ear for a few moments (presumably I wouldn't hold an audience with him for long after telling him to get out of the business), I'd ask two questions. The first would be: "Why this fascination with numbers in education?" These numbers are not demonstrating that kids are enjoying learning, they don't indicate that teachers are good teachers, and they don't demonstrate that schools are successful. They are meaningless numbers which don't address real needs. Educator Jim Trelease was right on the mark in 2008 when he said the government's obsession with testing our kids to close gaps and show progress is paramount to "weighing the cattle more often to make them fatter." We are not producing better students or schools through this testing.
My second question would be: "How meaningful are these numbers that we are chasing?" The numbers often cited by the President and others when discussing the need for education policy tend to be our nation's results on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). According to PISA, we are ranked about "average." Yet, as an "average" nation, consistently produce Nobel Prize laureates year after year. As an "average" nation, we are the sole nation to put humans on another body in our solar system. As an "average" nation, we have successfully landed a rover on Mars and are in the process of mapping the world's oceans. Average according to PISA seems to be working for us.
After posing my questions, I would again implore the President to get out of the business of education. The interests of our children are not best served in our nation's capital, but are rather best met in the classrooms and school board rooms of our local communities.
Matthew Holland is a public school elementary school teacher in Alexandria, Va.

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