Monthly Archives: March 2010

This Puritanical Double Standard For Teachers is Wrong

I have been wanting to write about this topic for quite some time but it has always been pushed to the back burner. A number of recent current events and some tweets from members of my PLN have brought it back the front for me, so here is my two cents. So the way that I will approach the topic is to synthesize a few seemingly disparate pieces of educational news, then ask the readers whether or not they concur with my assessment. Firstly pressure has been steadily increasing on teachers to have students perform well on standardized tests. President Obama’s Race To The Top (RttT) initiative has sent state legislators, desparate for cash, scrambling to alter laws and intitute policies that will win the popularity contest. This is really the perfect economic climate to introduce such an initiative as traditionally stubborn unions are forced to acquiesce or lose members to staff cuts.

Here are some of the more famous headlines I am refering to.

Across the country states are clamoring for buzz words like accountability and rigor, sacrificing hard won gains for students and teachers along the way in the name of the almighty buck. Now add to this discussion a headline like this.

Now allow me to put the two together. I don’t care what any irate taxpayer says, teachers are over worked and under paid. I know, this is the profession that I chose, and I also know that I get summers off. Those points, coupled with the fact that I love working with young people and I am able to make it through the week. But the suspension of this teacher has gotten me really riled up and here is why. Teaching is only getting harder and more thankless, as politicians who have never spent a minute in a classroom are making policy decisions that affect whether or not a teacher is able to keep their job. This creates a great deal of stress and anxiety, but again, this is the profession that we have chosen. But if teachers, especially younger teachers without families of their own are not allowed to have personal lives outside of their school lives then this profession will never attract the most talented people that we desperately need. This teacher was no where near her school or her students and she did not pose for or post the picture on Facebook. Think of the ramifications of this. Every cell phone has a camera on it, Facebook has just surpassed Google as the most used site in the world. What are teachers to do, never leave their homes? This puritanical double standard is wrong. You would never read a headline that said RN Suspended Over Stripper Photo. It has gotten to the point where I have to think twice when young people ask me if they should pursue a career in teaching.

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The Transcript Trap: Your Real ‘Permanent Record’

Nice to meet you.

Every year at about this time I let my school’s guidance councilors come into my ninth grade classrooms to talk with the students about their path toward graduation. The councilors at my school do a great job outlining the graduation requirements and helping students select the classes they will need (these are all but completely chosen for them by the great state of New York, but that is another post). Towards the end of the presentation the councilors begin discussing college admissions with the students and they project an image of one of our school transcripts on the board.

“What is that,” a student exclaims.

“That is what your transcript looks like,” replies the councilor. “This is what colleges will look at when you are applying, do decide whether or not to accept you.”

The student squints his eyes and examines the document for another moment. “But that doesn’t say anything about me!”

I sat bolt upright in my chair. Have these students been listening to me after all? “Well, sure it does,” the councilor counters. “Look, there is your GPA, and up there in the corner is your class rank.”

“That is all colleges look at when you apply, that piece of paper?”

“Well, they also look at your application and your SAT scores. Sometimes they have you write an essay to apply.” After that the student stopped asking questions. When the bell rang and the period was over I thanked him for asking questions and he told me that he didn’t think it was right that a college could judge you on that piece of paper and I nodded in agreement. In a way I feel that this little happening is a microcosm of all the things that irk me about public education. The worth of my students is condensed into neat little rows of numbers, and some admissions councilor is going to run her eyes over those rows for thirty seconds. That transcript doesn’t say anything about that student’s integrity or willingness to help others, or his great sense of humor. And I think that stinks!

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More #Edchat Tips: Surviving the Maelstrom

After reflecting on it for a while, I have come to the conclusion that nothing has has a more profound impact on my development as an educator this year than my participation in #edchat (if you don’t know about #edchat click here and check it out). Although the chats themselves are quite stimulating, the more important thing to me has been the connections and relationships that have developed as a result of my participation. These relationships display what is best about Web 2.0 technologies, like minded people who share common passions are able to work together regardless of proximity. A few weeks ago I was able to act as a judge for a poetry contest (click here to see the winner of that contest) at a high school in Burlington, Mass. through an online interaction I had with Patrick Larkin (@bhsprincipal), in early June I will be making a presentation at a TeachMeet in Nashville, TN because of a connection that I made with Jason Bedell (@jasontbedell). I never would have been able to do these things had I not met these people, and I never would have met these people without the #edchat conversation.

That being said, the #edchat conversation can be quite overwhelming especially at first. The Twitter platform is an interesting place to hold any conversation because of it’s innate constraints, it is built for speed and economy. When I first started participating in #edchat I compared the experience to being in a gymnasium filled with educators shouting out there opinions about a topic. Sometimes I am able to hear individuals from out of the noise, then I would engage with those I heard. The #edchat community seems to have grown exponentially since then and the metaphor is more like a sports arena filled with educators shouting their opinions, but the previous philosophy still works.

So here are my tips for making #edchat a more rewarding experience for you.

  1. Pick a client program that works for you. I personally use Tweetdeck with columns set up to follow the hashtag and certain people. Others I know prefer to use Tweetgrid (here is a great tutorial), still others use the web interface. Use whatever medium works for you, the important thing is that it refreshes frequently to keep up with the conversation.
  2. More important than the client you choose, is HOW you participate, this is what I do:
    1. Follow the moderators! The moderators for the conversation will be announced before the chat begins. Pay attention to the #edchat hashtag before the conversation starts to learn who the moderators are. Follow the moderators by creating a search for them. The moderators do a great job of keeping the conversation moving by asking questions. When they ask a question reply directly to them with an answer.
    2. Pick a few people to interact with. Realize that you are not going to be able to interact with everyone in the #edchat gymnasium. Follow the conversation an pick a few tweets that you find particularly interesting and respond to them. If the person who sent the original tweet replies to your reply you have started a conversation. Likewise if someone replies to one of your tweets, reply back to them to continue the conversation.
    3. Don’t share links during the conversation. The #edchat hashtag has become more than a weekly conversation. It is used all the time to tag something that might be useful for educators. But speed is of the essence during the conversation itself and links slow the conversation down. If you take the time to find a link and post it you will miss something, if you click on a link during the conversation you are missing something. Save your links until after the conversation is over.
    4. Follow the people who you interacted with. This is a great way to build your PLN. You want to fill your PLN with people who are willing to engage with you and I have found this to be an extremely effective method of discovering great people.
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School of the Future Part 3: Administration

After taking a short hiatus from social networking due to the birth of my daughter (cutie), I return to the school of the future series with a fury. In this post I would like to discuss educational hierarchy in general and school administrations in particular. Some recent events taking place within my PLN have made this subject even more topical. Recently Beth Still put out an invitation for innovative administrators to apply for an upcoming position at her school. She also asked other bloggers in her network to cross blog her post, maximizing exposure. In a similar circumstance, Scott McLeod wrote an open letter to his school board imploring them to think about educational reform as they select new leadership. I think this is a revolution in the way administrators are selected for districts, and perhaps this will be a way administrators are selected for schools of the future.

The most important question for me is: what are the qualities we need to see in progressive administrators to insure that educational reform can move forward. How much education or experience does a person need to be an effective administrator in the 21st century? What personal qualities do we wish our leaders to possess? How can we insure that the greatest talent goes to the most needy schools?

In my experience an administrator with vision can be transformative, and a leader without vision can be disruptive so I will begin the discussion by answering my own questions. Currently administrators need to have quite a bit of schooling to be qualified in my state, but having spent time in a classroom is not a prerequisite. Personally I wouldn’t mind if the educational requirements were softened in favor of a minimum years of teaching requirement. I think that school administrators should be required to spend at least five years teaching. Hopefully this would give some administrators more perspective, both in terms of the students and the teachers. Administrators should be open minded and forward thinking when it comes to new technologies. Administrators need to continually challenge the teachers in their districts to reject the status quo, but they should do so in a way that teachers feel safe. Administrators need to have the courage to fix the problems that exist in their schools, but act with a long-term, deliberate plan that contains measurable goals.

If you were on the committee choosing your school’s next administrator, what would be non-negotiable?

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