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, April 29, 2013

Scared of math? You're not alone!

I found this Slate article fascinating about what it's like to not be good at math and how that can affect you elsewhere in life. I highly recommend reading the below article (found at:

What It Feels Like to Be Bad at Math

My hazy, anxious, defensive procrastination made me a better teacher.

Pupils in high school attend a math class on February 5, 2010 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Math makes people feel stupid. It hurts to feel stupid. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

As a math teacher, it’s easy to get frustrated with struggling students. They miss class. They procrastinate. When you take away their calculators, they moan like children who’ve lost their teddy bears. (Admittedly, a trauma.)
Even worse is what they don’t do. Ask questions. Take notes. Correct failing quizzes, even when promised that corrections will raise their scores. Don’t they care that they’re failing? Are they trying not to pass?
There are plenty of ways to diagnose such behavior. Chalk it up to sloth, disinterest, out-of-school distractions—surely those all play a role. But if you ask me, there’s a more powerful and underlying cause.

It’s hard to realize this unless you’ve experienced it firsthand. Luckily, I have (although it didn’t feel so lucky at the time). So here is my tale of mathematical failure. See if it sounds familiar.
Thanks to a childhood of absurd privilege, I entered college well-prepared. As a sophomore in the weed-out class for Yale math majors, I earned the high score on the final exam. After that, it seemed plausible to me that I’d never fail at anything mathematical.
But senior spring, I ran into topology. A little like a bicycle running into a tree.
Topology had a seminar format, which meant that the students taught the class to one another. Twice during the semester, each of us would prepare a lecture, then assign and grade a homework assignment. By reputation, a pretty easy gig.
My failure began as most do: gradually, quietly. I took dutiful notes from my classmates’ lectures, but felt only a hazy half-comprehension. While I could parrot back key phrases, I felt a sense of vagueness, a slight disconnect—I knew I was missing things, but didn’t know quite what, and I clung to the idle hope that one good jolt might shake all the pieces into place.
But I didn’t seek out that jolt. In fact, I never asked for help. (Too scared of looking stupid.) Instead, I just let it all slide by, watching without grasping, feeling those flickers of understanding begin to ebb, until I no longer wondered whether I was lost. Now I knew I was lost.
So I did what most students do. I leaned on a friend who understood things better than I did. I bullied my poor girlfriend (also in the class) into explaining the homework problems to me. I never replicated her work outright, but I didn’t really learn it myself, either. I merely absorbed her explanations enough to write them up in my own words, a misty sort of comprehension that soon evaporated in the sun. (It was the Yale equivalent of my high school students’ worst vice, copying homework. If you’re reading this, guys: Don’t do it!)
I blamed others for my ordeal. Why had my girlfriend tricked me into taking this nightmare class? (She hadn’t.) Why did the professor just lurk in the back of the classroom, cackling at our incompetence, instead of teaching us? (He wasn’t cackling. Lurking, maybe, but not cackling.) Why did it need to be stupid topology, instead of something fun? (Topology is beautiful, the mathematics of lava lamps and pottery wheels.) And, when other excuses failed, that final line of defense: I hate this class! I hate topology!
Sing it with me: “I hate math!”
My first turn as lecturer went fine, even though my understanding was paper-thin. But as we delved deeper into the material, I could see my second lecture approaching like a distant freight train. I felt like I was tied to the tracks. (Exactly how Algebra 1 students feel when asked to answer those word problems about trains.)
As I procrastinated, spending more time at dinner complaining about topology than in the library doing topology, I realized that procrastination isn’t just about laziness. It’s about anxiety. To work on something you don’t understand means facing your doubts and confusions head-on. Procrastination pushes back that painful confrontation.
As the day approached, I began to panic. I called my dad, a warm and gentle soul. It didn’t help. I called my sister, a math educator who always lifts my spirits. It didn’t help. Backed into a corner, I scheduled a meeting with the professor to throw myself at his mercy.
I was sweating in the elevator up to his office. The worst thing was that I admired him. Most world-class mathematicians view teaching undergraduates as a burdensome act of charity, like ladling soup for unbathed children. He was different: perceptive, hardworking, sincere. And here I was, knocking on his office door, striding in to tell him that I had come up short. An unbathed child asking for soup.
Teachers have such power. He could have crushed me if he wanted.
He didn’t, of course. Once he recognized my infantile state, he spoon-fed me just enough ideas so that I could survive the lecture. I begged him not to ask me any tough questions during the presentation—in effect, asking him not to do his job—and with a sigh he agreed.
I made it through the lecture, graduated the next month, and buried the memory as quickly as I could.
Looking back, it’s amazing what a perfect specimen I was. I manifested every symptom that I now see in my own students:
  • Muddled half-comprehension.
  • Fear of asking questions.
  • Shyness about getting the teacher’s help.
  • Badgering a friend instead.
  • Copying homework.
  • Excuses; blaming others.
  • Procrastination.
  • Anxiety about public failure.
  • Terror of the teacher’s judgment.
  • Feeling incurably stupid.
  • Not wanting to admit any of it.

It’s surprisingly hard to write about this, even now. Mathematical failure—much like romantic failure—leaves us raw and vulnerable. It demands excuses.

I tell my story to illustrate that failure isn’t about a lack of “natural intelligence,” whatever that is. Instead, failure is born from a messy combination of bad circumstances: high anxiety, low motivation, gaps in background knowledge. Most of all, we fail because, when the moment comes to confront our shortcomings and open ourselves up to teachers and peers, we panic and deploy our defenses instead. For the same reason that I pushed away topology, struggling students push me away now.
Not understanding topology doesn’t make me stupid. It makes me bad at topology. That’s a difference worth remembering, whether you’re a math prodigy, a struggling student, or a teacher holding your students’ sense of self-worth in the palm of your hand. Failing at math ought to be like any failure, frustrating but ultimately instructive. In the end, I’m grateful for the experience. Just as therapists must undergo therapy as part of their training, no math teacher ought to set foot near human students until they’ve felt the sting of mathematical failure.
This article originally appeared in Math with Bad Drawings.

Friday, April 5, 2013

A Fairer Way to Evaluate Teachers...

This is remarkably like the professional growth system in my county.  Enjoy!

Bill Gates: A fairer way to evaluate teachers

Video: The philanthropist and Microsoft founder also addresses cyber security and the new pope.

Bill Gates is co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Tom Brady may be the best quarterback in football, but he is also infamously, hilariously slow. YouTube videos of his 40-yard dash have gotten many thousands of hits from sports fans looking for a good laugh.

If the New England Patriots had chosen a quarterback based only on foot speed, they would have missed out on three Super Bowl victories. But National Football League teams ask prospects to run, jump and lift weights. They interview them for hours. They watch game film. In short, they use multiple measures to determine the best players.
In much the same way that sports teams identify and nurture talent, there is a window of opportunity in public education to create systems that encourage and develop fantastic teachers, leading to better results for students.

Efforts are being made to define effective teaching and give teachers the support they need to be as effective as possible. But as states and districts rush to implement new teacher development and evaluation systems, there is a risk they’ll use hastily contrived, unproven measures. One glaring example is the rush to develop new assessments in grades and subjects not currently covered by state tests. Some states and districts are talking about developing tests for all subjects, including choir and gym, just so they have something to measure.

In one Midwestern state, for example, a 166-pagePhysical Education Evaluation Instrument holds teachers accountable for ensuring that students meet state-defined targets for physical education, such as consistently demonstrating “correct skipping technique with a smooth and effortless rhythm” and “strike consistently a ball with a paddle to a target area with accuracy and good technique.” I’m not making this up!

This is one reason there is a backlash against standardized tests — in particular, using student test scores as the primary basis for making decisions about firing, promoting and compensating teachers. I’m all for accountability, but I understand teachers’ concerns and frustrations.

Even in subjects where the assessments have been validated, such as literacy and math, test scores don’t show a teacher areas in which they need to improve.

If we aren’t careful to build a system that provides feedback and that teachers trust, this opportunity to dramatically improve the U.S. education system will be wasted.

The fact is, teachers want to be accountable to their students. What the country needs are thoughtfully developed teacher evaluation systems that include multiple measures of performance, such as student surveys, classroom observations by experienced colleagues and student test results.

Of particular concern is the possibility that test results alone will be used to determine a large part of how much teachers get paid. I have talked to many teachers over the past several years, and not one has told me they would be more motivated, or become a better teacher, by competing with other teachers in their school. To the contrary, teachers want an environment based on collaboration, in which they can rely on one another to share lesson plans, get advice and understand what’s working well in other classrooms. Surveys by MetLife and other research of teachers back this up.

Teachers also tell me that while compensation is important, so are factors such as high-quality professional development opportunities, a strong school leader, engaged families and the chance to work with like-minded colleagues.

While there is justification for rewarding teachers based in part on how their students perform, compensation systems should use multiple measures, including classroom observation. In top-performing education systems in other parts of the world, such as Singapore and Shanghai, accomplished teachers earn more by taking on additional responsibilities such as coaching and mentoring other teachers and helping to capture and spread effective teaching techniques. Such systems are a way to attract, retain and reward the best teachers; make great use of their skills; and honor the collaborative nature of work in schools.

States, districts and the U.S. Education Department would do well to encourage the right balance. States such as Connecticut, Delaware and Kentucky are showing leadership in creating feedback and evaluation systems that reflect the patience and involvement of teachers and administrators. This is what’s required to build the kind of infrastructure that stands the test of time.

Exciting progress is being made in education across the country. The challenge now is to make sure we balance the urgency for change with the need to ensure fair ways to develop, evaluate and compensate teachers for the work they do.

Let’s be thoughtful about our approach so that one day we can say this was the moment we joined together to drive the long-term improvement our schools need.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

How to maintain a balanced classroom....

Congratulations on making it to the 4th quarter!  As we move into the final phrase of the school year our school's ACE committee wanted to share a really good article on maintaining a balanced classroom and managing student behavior. The article is below and worth a read, as many of the strategies presented in the article are similar if not the same to what many of us have learned with Fred Jones.

Beware of the Color Chart! Use Supportive Consequences Instead.

Written by Deb Leach, Ed.D., BCBA

While the use of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is becoming more widespread in public schools across the nation, teachers are still struggling with how to deliver “consequences” for inappropriate behavior. I often hear things such as, “I do provide positive reinforcement, but what message does it send to children if we do not also punish them when they engage in negative behaviors?” Or my favorite: “What message does it send to other students if this child is allowed to act this way?” The problem is that there is a misinterpretation of PBIS in many classrooms. Consequences do need to be delivered when problem behaviors occur; however, the term consequence is not synonymous with punishment or aversive treatment.


If you look at the picture cards shown in this post, you will see common consequences for challenging behaviors used in classrooms. Each one is punitive in nature with public display of humiliation the main theme across the consequences. Another popular consequence system is the color chart. I say, “Beware of the color chart!” As inviting as it looks, it is carefully designed to systematically recognize a student who engages in problem behavior by letting the whole class witness as the child shamefully changes his/her color because of “bad” behavior. If you like the way the color charts look, here’s a simple solution: Have kids change their color when they do wonderful things instead. Individualize what is wonderful for each student and let them be cheered on for making good choices. However, that doesn’t solve the problem of how to use consequences for problem behavior within a PBIS framework. I would like to offer an alternative hierarchy of consequences for problem behavior for teachers to consider:

1. Planned ignoring: Ignore the problem behavior, provide specific praise to a student who is in close proximity to the child displaying the desirable behavior, and then provide positive reinforcement as soon as the child stops the problem behavior and/or starts displaying the desirable behavior.
2. Nonverbal reminder: Use a supportive gesture or visual to gently remind the child of the behavioral, academic, or social expectation to encourage the child to respond appropriately.
3. Verbal reminder: Positively redirect the child to engage in a more desirable behavior by stating the behavioral, academic, or social expectation to encourage the child to respond appropriately.
4. Offer assistance: Provide any necessary prompts or assistance to help the child engage in a more desirable behavior. For off task behavior, this may mean helping the student get started. For behavioral expectations this may mean using modeling/request imitation. It may also mean providing gentle physical assistance.
5. Provide a safe space for de-escalation: If the child is unable to be redirected, allow the child to remove himself/herself from the situation and go to a pre-determined safe space until he/she can come back and participate and engage appropriately.

While this hierarchy would be beneficial for typically developing children and children with disabilities, it is essential for students with ASD. If you use punitive consequences with students with ASD be prepared for an escalation in problem behavior. They often internalize punitive consequence and say things such as, “I am a bad boy!” or “Mrs. Smith hates me!” In order to increase positive behaviors for students with ASD, we have to be committed to explicitly teaching expectations, positively reinforcing them when they meet those expectations, and provide supportive consequences when they are unable to meet the expectations to enable them to respond appropriately. Is the hierarchy I suggest foolproof? Of course not. But it may give teachers an alternative way to look at selecting consequences for problem behavior.


Article accessed on April 3, 2013 from