BulgingButtons

Not bad for a fat girl


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Student Success Strategy

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to participate in a virtual staff training. Here we were, a staff of mostly white, mostly female educators trying to improve our practice. We worked with a trainer who has spent her career researching and applying methods to bring EVERYONE to the table in terms of education. From early childhood to graduate studies there are obstacles that many of our learners and their families face that take them further and further away from receiving the quality education they deserve.

There was a lot to learn, think about, and digest, but for me there was one nugget that stood out. Here it is: Every Decision Made Must Be For The Benefit Of The Students. It seems both obvious and simple, but when I think about day to day practice in schools (not just my own), there’s plenty of work to be done. Think about it. Every decision. Wow. Let me just throw out a few, some from the workshop, and some from my reflection.

  • curriculum (yes, that’s HUGE)
  • class size
  • class make-up
  • teacher hiring
  • teacher preparation
  • lesson plans
  • assessment
  • discipline plans
  • schedules
  • school assemblies
  • morning announcements
  • visitor policies
  • teacher evaluation process
  • building conditions
  • athletics
  • cafeteria set up
  • instructional team decisions
  • furniture placement
  • performances
  • family communication plans
  • rewards and incentives
  • technology use
  • competitions
  • lighting
  • heating/air conditioning
  • wall/hallway displays
  • playground design
  • supervision of unstructured times

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Within each of those individual bullet points there are dozens of factors to take into consideration, but the most important one must always be the best outcome for the student.

The reality is that we know there are things that could and should be better if only we had bigger budgets. Smaller class sizes, more access to high quality instructional materials and equipment, the ability to bring in experts to share their knowledge and love of their field to spark kids’ interests; all of these would be wonderful. However, we must work with what we have and find ways to make it better.

There are dozens of times a day during teaching when I make decisions on the fly. If the class seems to be drifting off, we switch gears or take a break. If the work turned in is poor, I analyze the weakness in my instruction, and have another go at it taking a different approach. If part of a lesson has taken longer than expected, I modify the assignment to reflect the shorter amount of time for students to work on it. These are things that teachers do all the time, and the more experienced they are the better they get at it. But experience can also bring an attitude of “this way works for me, so I’m going with it.” This is where the Benefit Of The Students can come crashing down.

Here’s what I mean. In my teaching I have always read aloud to my students. I have taught kids from preschool to grade six, and I have read to them all. Over time I’ve found many books that I love, and in my heart I would like everyone else to love them as well, but I know better. My reality as a white woman born in the suburbs more than 50 years ago is quite different from that of ANY child born in the last ten years. Now add in family structure, race, gender identity, home language, disability, living conditions, access to adequate food, housing, and healthcare, economic situation, issues of safety in the home, and more, and you see that my reality and my students’ realities may be worlds apart.

What speaks to me, inspires me, motivates me, and enthralls me may do none of those things for my students. If I were to share some of my old favorites, it would become a lesson in drudgery for many of my kids: just a boring old lady reading a boring old book. That is NOT how you share a love of literature. Thank goodness for Jason Reynolds, Meg Medina, Kwame Alexander, Kate DiCamillo, Varian Johnson, Pam Munoz Ryan, Linda Sue Park, Tedd Arnold, Jason Chin, Dusti Bowling, Erin Entrada Kelly, Dav Pilkey, Jeff Kinney, Jacqueline Woodson, Matt de la Pena, Katherine Applegate, Dan Santat, and so many others for giving voice to the children of today. Of course many old favorites have stood the test of time, too.

A mixture of older and newer titles.

While I’m feeling pretty good about the literature I share with me students, I do sometimes make decisions that I know aren’t necessarily in the best interests of the students. Is every lesson as engaging as it could be? No. Time constraints are a big factor on this one. Planning, executing, and assessing these top tier learning opportunities take a good deal of time and effort. Every teacher I know has limited time, and most of us are knocking ourselves out in the effort department, just trying to keep our heads above water.

Here’s the thing: when you know better you can do better. Can I completely reinvent what I teach and the way I teach it? Not completely, no. But can I make adjustments that benefit kids? Absolutely. After all, doing what’s best for kids is why I became a teacher in the first place.


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Taxes and Testing and Teaching

Today is April 15, typically the day income taxes are due in the United States. Not this year, though, since it’s Sunday, and tomorrow is some sort of holiday in our nation’s capitol. That makes Tuesday this year’s deadline. My taxes, however, are done. It’s a relief to have that particular task out of the way. In fact, I was owed a refund and already received it. I’m thankful for that (but wondering if I need to change my I-9 at work…).

Here’s what I’m thinking about. Taxes. Why do we pay them and what do we expect as a result? We pay them because we’re contributing members of a civilized society. As such, we contribute our time, our talents, and our resources for the greater good. Not all of our time. Not all of our talents. Not all of our resources. But some.

Does everyone contribute? No. Not everyone is able. We don’t expect children to produce an income and pay taxes, for example. We, as a society, have a responsibility to look out for one another. That doesn’t mean that I work hard and my neighbor does nothing but sit back and enjoy life on my dime. It means that we all help pay for roads and schools and maintaining community services and supports. Just because I don’t use a particular park doesn’t mean that my tax dollars shouldn’t help maintain it.

Do I think the income tax structure in this nation is fair? No. Absolutely not. However, I don’t complain about paying my taxes, because I believe it’s my responsibility. I also believe that citizens have a responsibility to each other and we should speak up and speak out about how our tax money is used.

In my state, educators are finally standing together and speaking up about the way funds have been allocated (or NOT) for education over the past ten years. I want my taxes to support public education because I believe that our nation, and my state in particular, can do better when it comes to providing our children with the skills and tools they need to become productive citizens. Far too many of our kids come to school with deficits that we’re ill-equipped to help them overcome due to shortages of staff and resources.

The role of the schools has expanded greatly in the time I’ve been an educator. Elementary school (where I spend my days) is nothing like it was even ten years ago. The demands placed on kids and teachers are far greater than they ever have been, and there’s an expectation that we can, and must, do more with less.

Classes are larger, instructional assistants, where we have them at all, are stretched thin, and it seems that more and more kids with behavioral and emotional issues are being educated in general education classrooms.  Add in pressure for kids to do well on “the test,” and developmentally you have many kids who are being pushed in ways they aren’t quite ready for.

And what about ” the test?” The one kids sometimes get stomach aches about. The one they worry will keep them for advancing to the next grade. The one that takes hours to administer, under conditions that are more suited for university students than nine year olds. Why do we have that one, and several others that are similar? Yes, we need to monitor growth and achievement, and yes, we want to be on the lookout for signs of trouble, but really, I could tell you which of my students have those skills and which do not.

The test is for accountability, not for kids, but for teachers. The thinking is, if you work hard and do your job as a teacher then all of your students should be successful on the test. Sounds great, right? But of course it just doesn’t work that way. For every kid that’s a nervous wreck about getting everything right, there are several kids who really don’t particularly care.

They’re little kids, and the test in on a computer in front of them. They can click a few buttons, write down a couple of things on their scratch paper, and call it done. As far as many kids are concerned, it’s a waste of time. Maybe it’s too hard for them. Maybe it’s too long. Maybe it’s too boring. Maybe they just don’t feel like doing it, after all, there’s really nothing tangible for them to gain. They don’t get extra lives or digital coins in their game account or anything like that. Why even bother? Because the teacher tried to hype it up? Please.

I propose that we use some of the money that’s used for the insane amount of testing we do, and put in back into the classrooms. I propose that our governor find a way to reinstate funding for education in our state back to its 2008 level, and I propose that he actually meet with teacher leaders and hear them out. I think he has no idea about what really happens in classrooms, and I think many taxpayers are mislead too. Our state has a severe teacher shortage, primarily due to low wages. Many teachers (myself included) work multiple jobs, and others leave the profession or move out of state to earn a decent living.

The idea of “if you don’t like it, leave” doesn’t work here. Classrooms are already overcrowded, and we already have about 2,000 vacancies. Additionally, we have individuals “filling in” who aren’t professional educators. Don’t our kids deserve trained professional educators, not subs who are doing their best, but don’t have the knowledge or training of a professional educator? If all of us who are passionate about teaching leave, who will fill in? There are not enough new teachers to fill the vacancies.

So in short, no, teachers don’t work from 8 to 3:30. No, teachers don’t have three months off in the summer. No, teachers are not lazy. No, teachers do not have their pensions funded for them (it comes out of our pay).

The teachers I know and work with are hardworking people who love kids and love to teach. None of us entered the profession expecting to become wealthy, but we did expect to be paid fairly. We did expect to have the resources we need to best do our jobs. We did expect to be treated as professionals. We still have those expectations, in spite of years of evidence to the contrary. Why? Because we’re educators. We believe in possibilities and change.

Please support your education professionals, and if you’re in Arizona get behind #RedforEd . Arizona Educators United is a grassroots organization dedicated to improving conditions for educators and in turn for our students. Their future is worth it.

 


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To Follow Stats or To Ignore Them?

In education there is a huge trend toward examining data. Test scores are valued so highly that we have meetings to discuss them virtually every week. At times it’s overwhelming, and frankly, something of the spirit of the child gets a bit lost in these discussions.

I won’t get all soap box on you, but my point is, the data isn’t the whole picture. That being said, it does have value. I just think a balanced approach is probably best.

The balanced approach is usually best, in my opinion. All or nothing rarely works out well, in my experience, especially when it comes to diet and exercise (this is where I get into trouble, but this isn’t THAT kind of post). Moderation is key. You know, balance?

That’s why I more or less ignore the debate amongst bloggers about statistics. Some live and breathe them, others say ignore them completely. I’m in the middle camp (is there a camp in the middle?). I enjoy taking a peek at them, and I get a not so secret thrill when I see lots of activity on the blog. followed-blog-200-1xBut do I obsessively examine them for trends? Do I throw in random asides to generate more traffic? Do I cross post all over the internet? No. I do not. I don’t have the time or the desire to do those things. If you do, I have no problem with you, it’s just not my thing.

Still, I was thrilled to see this number. Two hundred. It stands for two hundred follows. I feel like I’ve been waiting for a while to see it. I set a goal, visualized it, and it happened. How cool is that? So even though I know some of those follows are from people trying to pad their own numbers, I’m okay with it, because I know there are loyal readers, and many of you slog through each post and take the time to offer feedback. That’s what I find so rewarding about blogging, and for that, I thank you.