I hope I’m in the right place this time.
Why is she looking at me? Is it my top? Hair?
God, where will I sit? What if I take someone’s place?
He’s too hot to sit by. He’s a nerd, but I hope he’s not a creep.
As long as I can stay far away from that weird dude from the Fair who kept staring at me.
I can’t get a read on the teacher. Looks boring. Sounds ditsy.
I’m going to be so lost in this class—it’s so dumb that I have to be here.
I so need to check my phone, but I have to see if they’re uptight here.
Shit—I’m sweating—why is the heat on, and can’t there be any windows?
At least the smell of that guy will cover mine—phew!
Did she say something to me? A question? What?
Oh, thanks. This text weighs a ton!
Now stop looking at me, just look away, will you?
I’m just going to write in my notebook. Something, anything.
I have no idea what’s going on.
Category Archives: Education
Once I worked in a classroom where there was trust, and not very many rules imposed. When I say imposed, I mean the kind of rules posted or announced by the authority figure, as in, “Here are the rules, and here are the consequences.” Where I was, the rules were more like the Golden Rule, which, if we are sensible enough, we obey because it’s a good one for all of us, and open to interpretation and personalization in different circumstances.
For example, if you understand that a test is something used to determine how much you can recall, comprehend and apply without assistance, so that you can work on your weaknesses and build on that knowledge, then you will not cheat on that test. If you know that getting up to go to the bathroom in the middle of instruction will cause you to miss something important, you’ll wait until a better time, not needing to ask. And so on.
It’s about knowing yourself also, as in what you can and can’t handle, what your vision and goals are, and what you need to do to achieve them according to your code of ethics.
I give you rules, because some of you are not yet at the stage of life where you realize the necessity of making your own.
A small minority of you have set for yourself rules, or live according to impulses, which directly conflict with the goals of this community of learning, including its general and reasonable rules for you–that you become more prepared for success in society and the economy, and do society good and not harm. Disciplinary consequences, similarly, exist because some of you don’t have self discipline.
You’ll all get a chance here. No matter how you feel right now, about school, about yourself, about the people around you, about life and your future, here you’ll get a chance to be a part of a community of learning. My goal for myself is to meet your where you are and help you grow–in the special area of knowledge I teach, as well as in general skills, positive values and attitudes.
We each get a charge out of different things in life, are energized by different kinds of work and environments. You know, the kind of energy that, when you go home after a full day of doing that thing, you feel enlivened, encouraged, and useful. You anticipate more than than dread another day of challenging work. Days off are welcome as a refreshment, but not the highlight of the week or year.
I’m not under the delusion that everyone in this class is fired up about this subject. But I hope that even if you aren’t, and don’t go into a field that relies on this kind of knowledge, you’ll value it some and be a better informed person in general. I would argue that a general knowledge at least of any of the subjects provided in an average high school will make you better equipped to make informed decisions in your own life and influence our leaders to do the same, rather than being manipulated by popular media and majority opinion.
You’ll often hear me mention the value of understanding and downplay the importance of grades. We all know that in this big world, in the marketplace of masses of young people applying for jobs, colleges, and internships, and generally hoping to stand out, grades can be crude sorting mechanism. I also hope you know that your grades do not necessarily reflect your intelligence or level of readiness for what you want to do in life, or even your level of self discipline.
In any case, I believe you will never regret in the long run putting your main value on understanding. That measn putting aside an attitude that generates such questions as “Does this count?”, “Do I have to do this?”, or “Will this be on the test?” I ask you to trust me, and keep me accountable, to provide assessments of your knowledge that truly reflect your level of understanding, so that the grades you earn in this class are meaningful. I also commit, and invite you to keep me accountable, to providing opportunities for to gain that understanding, using best educational practices I can, and providing or helping you find the support you need to do your part. I am growing in this as well.
In addition, I encourage you to challenge some of the assignments I give, by asking, “If I demonstrate my understanding in a different way, can I skip this?” Or, “Can I do a different project instead, something more along my lines of interest?” It’s not one size fits all here–some of you will need to do all the questions or problems to “get” a concept. Some of you have the background experience or knowledge that makes certain types of assignments redundant. The goal is to work at the cutting edge of your learning, spiraling back to review as needed, but not spinning your wheels. This may mean, at times, that different students in one course are working in different ways, so we’ll have to work at staying organized. The management challenges added to my plate are worth it, for the gains in individual learning.
I used the term “community of learning.” This does not simply mean a bunch of individuals learning. One of the things I will help you along with to the best of my ability is to help one another learn. There will be mutual benefit as partners and small groups mentor and guide each other using what you know, and contribute to the academic discourse and problems solving processes we’ll engage in as we go through the course. This is not to be a situation where the more able students do more, and the less able less, of the work. No one gets to ride on anyone’s coat tails. Nor is it an occasion, I dearly hope, for anyone to feel superior or inferior to their peers, except on a way that challenges you to grow. The smartest person, you will hear me say, is the one who quickly acknowledges their deficit and works to address it.
If you’ve “always been an A student,” and have the attitude that you should continue to be so with a minimum of effort, please drop that idea. This is more challenging work that you’ve had before–expect top work at it. And although fair grading is important to me, my idea of fair is probably different from yours. The sooner you stop labeling yourself as an A-student, a C-student, a smart person, a dumb person, whatever, the more likely you are to be focused on learning, and actually doing so. You will set goals, work toward them, recognize milestones achieved and be proud of yourself, and sometimes you will fall short and redouble your efforts, as well as reach out for help. At times you will need to adjust your goals to suit where you are in life as a whole. So much can impact the amount of time and energy you have for school, and this course in particular, and I get that. I only ask that you think it through, set goals, be active, and stay in dialogue about this. Don’t let yourself get dragged along by life and get discouraged and overwhelmed for long. We, your teachers and support people, can work with you about this.
If all of this philosophical stuff confuses and frustrates you, just file it in the back of your mind, and refer to the syllabus. I have listed what you should bring to class, the concepts we will cover, my grading scheme, and the routines and rules you are expected to follow. All very straightforward. The seating chart is posted. Everything I’ve just said in 1270 words in one big speech, I’ll say to your again as the need arises, in context as needed. Welcome to my class.
Ups and downs the last few days, possibly because of certain cycles that have been allowed to express themselves naturally again–I’m not used to it! Currently just tired, glad I will sleep even better than usual tonight, even without a soak. I am very grateful for a good sleep life, love the feeling of sinking away into that dark comfort, even as I sleepily marvel at how it just happens without effort. There are some things that self awareness, intelligence, and conscious mental effort just cannot do for our well-being, and so the more ancient circuitry is allowed, must be allowed, to take over each night.
I was feeling somewhat incompetent at the end of Wednesday, having felt I fumbled my way through my Chemistry and Geometry classes, unable to organize my thoughts well or provide activities sufficiently engaging. These students are very patient, however, and did not attempt to kick me while I was down. Then today some others said some very nice things to me, unsolicited, and I felt supported from several other quarters as well, at school and at home. As for the fumbling, I resolved to spend a season working the extra hours it takes to get a better handle on my Chemistry plans, to integrate some more simple labs, and on the Geometry curriculum–we’re getting bogged down in multiple-step coordinate proofs that I think in the big scheme are not so crucial; maybe just the grappling and exposure, and general approach is the thing for now and I should keep the ball rolling into the next unit. I have a handful of students who came in weeks or months after the year started and are somewhat in the swing of things, and now three more who came with learning under their belt from a different school, but in a different order. So I’m trying to address gaps and general struggles with the material, and inspire students who are not putting in much effort to use the resources they have on their non-campus days (or not, as long as they accept the results).
I also want to take some time to integrate some of the great trainings and shared resources I’ve received to enhance my professional practice, such as project based learning, collaboration protocols, and student empowerment and ownership in the learning process. For example, I have a 3D periodic table project mostly planned, and have been implementing a new process in Algebra 1 where students receive brief group instruction, practice at their “learning edge” (partly self-paced) and use answer keys to check their work, and are encouraged to teach and learn from each other, earning 100% on any skills they both demonstrate on paper and teach to someone through a tip sheet, video, or peer tutoring session. Each student has a “to do” list in their table team folder which they check daily for individualized tasks, including skills quizzes which they complete and return to the folders for grading. They are also learning to write me notes there, such as “Ms __, I really don’t get this yet and will come for help at tutoring.” I then go through each one before the next lesson and see what was accomplished, grade quizzes, write notes about any problem areas, and add new tasks or assign quiz corrections. The quizzes are graded as homework because they reflect the practice they’ve done, without me checking, except now and then for accountability, how much. Then when all 5 to 7 quizzes in a unit have been completed to the best of their ability, they do a practice test, a sheet or problems showing their work, and, if judged ready (or out of time due to being irresponsible), they do the final test on that unit. There are even students who, unable to keep up the pace despite lots of effort, are allowed to progress at their own pace, so that, even though they realize that they may not yet be able to pass the course, they are making progress and could start several units ahead of the crowd the next year as they continue. I’d like to figure out a way to apply the same principles to Geometry and Algebra 2, so that I can focus more on effective teaching and equipping, and less on grading every little thing.
So, weekend rest first, then I’ll do some extra lesson and unit planning. I know I’ll be tempted to avoid that part, so I’ll fill my mind with the exciting vision I just described. I really do get into the groove and love what I’m doing once I get started. I’ve tried to keep from bringing work home this year, and for the first time since I started contract teaching in 2015, I regularly leave all my work at school each evening and weekends. This will just be a bit of extra weekend work and an hour or so longer after classes to get me back in my game, then I’ll reclaim my margin again. Because hard work that produces results is what makes rest and personal time so enjoyable, and I do want to have a clear conscience as I read with my feel up on the hearth, write for hours at the coffee shop, or soak in the hot tub under a full moon.
The first week of school was mainly planning, with only one 5th grade class to teach. The second week started after Labor Day, then another first fifth grade class, my first all day of high school Wednesday, with three different classes without a break, one being my first year ever teaching chemistry and the other two having new curricula. Then came a different 5th grade class Thursday. This week, my third week, was the first full week, including the start of math tutoring all day Tuesday and Thursday, and the first Friday classes.
Mondays and Wednesdays are just as packed and challenging as ever, with this year featuring an extra large Algebra 1 class that has to meet in the dim, chilly foyer. So I have to get the tables and chairs set up beforehand, tote all my stuff down and then upstairs after, including laptop, cords, handouts, books and projector cart. I did get a helper in the form of the Social Studies teacher, with whom I’ve become good friends but have yet to figure out how we’ll work out our team teaching. He doesn’t really know the math, he says, but we’ll figure something out. The challenge is that all but a handful of students don’t remember much of their pre-algebra skills, so we have to do a few weeks of review, all with custom photocopied material because we can’t order the texts yet.
We are also short a full class set of Chemistry texts, so I have to decide which alternative I’ll base the course on–an open source text, my own hodgepodge, or something I can scan for those who opt for online text access. Apparently the approval process for the real online text is too expensive and costly. I do like a challenge, but I can’t seem to find the time to nail down a better plan now that things are in full swing, unless I put in extra days on the weekend. Which I’m sure I’ll do this weekend, as last.
But Fridays this year are easier to manage, less stressful and with more margin, thanks to the new principal with a new plan. She’s all about trusting us, being flexible and creative, and making things less stressful. So she changed four preps to two (one repeated class), plus a supporting/tutoring role for me in an Algebra 2 hour I don’t have to plan (much). Most classes are smaller than last year, and we are not obliged to put up with shenanigans from certain rascals only there because their parents wanted a break and they want drama.
I’m using a well-designed boxed curriculum for the two middle school classes, at the urging of my principal, to further simplify my life as I adjust and support my family after the death of my spouse. It teaches the basics of physics, the history of scientific discovery, and the scientific method.
But I couldn’t resist custom designing a fresh course. Environmental Leadership is a high school elective, and as I made the proposal for it, I found that I’ve become much more practical and efficient at laying out a year plan and blocking out the elements. It should, if things go well, culminate in a final public event where the students show their stuff and change the world a little for the better. Some of the rascals from last year have become freshman, though, and for some reason, they still like my classes.
So I’m back to full time. I had planned to take Fridays off for the first semester, but now I’m down to maybe trying to take more sick days so I have margin. Getting a sub is more work than teaching, so unless I have a good video…okay, so I get it now, with the videos for the subs. I used to complain as a sub that all I got to do was show videos. I’ll try to find the time to plan some easy days so I can vacate a little, with advance notice, because subs, let alone good subs, are almost impossible to find in our district without advance notice.
Meanwhile in attempts to lift poor children from having little or no opportunity to go to that kind of place, or any college, to grow up educated and provide a decent living for their families, Bill Gates and other business entrepreneurs (a.k.a. social entrepreneurs), in partnership with the federal government, have launched their attempt to education everyone with “twentieth century skills,” ready for the work force.
Good, but why does that have to mean, among other things, less reading of fiction in favor of more extraction of meaning from informational text? Why limit the finer opportunities still available to those whose brain functions have not been culled by stress and poverty, who possess the desire and ability to long for deeper connection, more far-reaching vision, a deeper understanding and expression through the arts and literature. Let’s not dumb down the culture in making it a more egalitarian one, elevate jobs and “productivity” over education in the best sense of the word.
And what about the obvious conflict of interest in having the owners of the tech corporations provide the software and classroom supplies and pedagogical philosophy for these children’s education experiences? We need workers, they say—this is the twentieth century as we envisioned it, so let us help you fit into the future we are creating, and all of us will be better off. If something has to go, let it be anything that makes workers question how we already know we should be doing things. You know, growing the economy, competing with other market powers, preserving the American way of life. Which is democracy in the sense that those with the power to sway the majority (those with twenty-first century skills–not cumulative up to the twenty-first, but the latest set and open to re-training) can do so efficiently by means of a database so comprehensive and powerful that it allows media and “educational” products to be created that cater to each and every individual learning style. And the part of democracy that allows us all to choose from fifty kinds of breakfast cereal in the aisles of the local supermarket and either traditional or “Simply” ripple chips, all produced by a few central manufacturing facilities staffed by twenty-first century workers. We can help students learn so effectively the practical skills they need to be “productinve members of a global democratic society” that the neural pathways needed to understand 1984, Brave New World, the MaddAdam trilogy, Animal Farm, The Hunger Games, and That Hideous Strength will be unnecessary and therefore atrophy.
An apology for the convoluted nature of my sentences, and how they go on and on, and have too many clauses. I’ve been told the “Ten Ways You Can …”, say, “Fight the Machine” format is so much more effective, but I haven’t mastered that twenty-first century communication style yet.
This existence of seems so contrived—since when in these thousands of years does one wake and not have to go about making a living? Making in the sense of obtaining food, shelter, and cultural context and materials from teh ecosystem. All aI have to do is create—to write, sew, paint, create and maintain human bonds, and that mainly based on the compulsion of angst about this modern life: what is it? What does it mean? Why are things not fair and I have this free time while others are laboring to the point of exhaustion for bread for their children and something to hide from the drunken consort? Why is it considered more valuable to go into database architecture, or game design, which pay a lot of trade tokens, than being a parent, home maker, friend of neighbors in the community, or teacher? In the division of labor, some make money doing work that is of dubious historic or spiritual value, so that others can do the important, though unpaid, work.
What do you think about standardized testing in the life of a homeschool family? Is it:
- Necessary for the parent, and future teachers, to gain information about their children’s progress?
- Unnecessary because homeschool parent know their students and have a higher investment in their success?
- Useful if conducted in an alternative, personalized form?
- Merely a waste of time and money?
- Misleading and harmful to students?
- A necessary evil, since the law requires it and kids will experience testing some day?
- A travesty of the best educational principles and something to be resisted?
Washington State law says that:
a. Homeschooled students between the ages of 8 and 18 must be annually evaluated using an approved standardized achievement test or a written non-test assessment.
b. Standardized test scores and/or written evaluations are to be kept as part of your child’s permanent records.
c. If your child transfers to a public or private school, copies of tests results are to be provided if requested.
At first I thought nothing of this requirement, nor of the one that I register each child when eight years of age as a homeschooler. One piece of paper to the district, a few days to a week of testing per year, and wouldn’t I get some useful data after all? Personally, I enjoyed standardized tests as a kid. So on a friend’s advice, I ordered Iowa grade school SATs, which could be administered at home by a parent with an undergrad degree.
Over the years I’ve developed a more ambivalent attitude about standardized testing, leaning toward the negative.
Real homeschoolers are very aware of their children’s academic progress and motivated to do their best for and with them. The testing rules are there because some parents have not been responsible. At least I suppose that’s the reason. Or because someone assumed it was a good idea, do make everyone “equal.” Of course it would be relatively easy for a parent to avoid any sort of registration of their children as “school age” at all, and they could stay under the radar and not bother with the rules at all, unless someone ratted on them. But if they take the time to follow testing rules, here’s what can happen:
They can communicate the message to their children, that
- the common curriculum, with its standardized and graded content, sequence, and omissions, is the proper curriculum
- multiple choice tests are good for evaluating useful knowledge and skills
- failure to achieve high test scores is cause for concern
Maybe another reason for tests is that they trick some parents into thinking, because their kids don’t do the state scope and sequence, that they’d better buy the What your –Grader Needs to Know series by E.D.Hirsch and get with the program or their kid will be left behind. No child left behind, right? Behind what? The bandwagon, I guess. So even though school people talk about individualized learning and unique potential, standards are the backbone of the system, because, after all, it’s a more efficient way to run, evaluate, fund, and tweak a machine.
I wanted to test my students at home rather than in a group session to lessen their stress levels and distractions, as well as set a flexible schedule. We set aside a week each spring for testing–some students take only a few days, others space their sessions out over a longer period. I try to set a comfortable pace for each student and one that works for the family. I now order only the test of basic skills, having found the other tests an unnecessary expense of money, time, and energy.
The first time I gave my oldest son his test at age eight, I stressed about it, he stressed about it, even though I knew, and told him, that his test results would not reflect on his intelligence or abilities. He was a late reader, so he struggled with most of the language arts questions, except those I could read aloud to test his vocabulary. He did poorly on reading comprehension until his reading skills took off around age eleven, and the tests before that age did nothing for him but undermine his self confidence. I had to talk him through it, reassuring him that he was plenty smart and the test makers just couldn’t account for differences. I just wanted a general idea of what he did and didn’t yet know. I probably should have let him skip certain sections entirely. I realize now I was being hypocritical telling him it was completely normal that his reading abilities were on a different schedule, yet forcing him to labor through each question as if it was important to get a score. I even checked for errors when he was done and took notes on what he “should” know before the year was out. I remember he had trouble on a social studies question that showed an illustration of a teacher writing on a blackboard and asked what was the job of that person. He had no idea, because he’d never seen a blackboard!
My daughter had an even harder time with testing, and I thought we’d never get through. Although she was an early reader and good speller, she absolutely hated being time tested, and became very upset despite my reassurances. I plied her with hot chocolate, encouraged her to breathe deeply, and hoped that the experience taking a test would help her in the future, in institutional settings where such things were an unfortunate necessity to sort the masses out onto the bell curve.
The math section can be useful, I think, as one can test arithmetic better than other skills. But the kids and I know that there’s not much correlation in the science and social studies questions with our own “scope and sequence.” I didn’t even do any formal US history for the first several years I taught my kids–we studied ancient world history, Asia and the Middle East (including living there for over two years), first. And our science was mainly outdoor observation and drawing, reading together, vegetable gardening, and field trips.
By this time my children know not to stress about the topics we haven’t covered (most of which can be covered in one minute or less for testing purposes, if we were into that), and chuckle at the questions that oversimplify concepts and have to be “dumbed down” to make sense. Or the “cross cultural” elements with which my children weren’t familiar such as the picture of a teacher erasing a blackboard, something my kids had never seen.
We took my kids overseas in the middle of our homeschooling years, and we stayed under the radar there, continuing to homeschool and partake of some of the public schooling there part time. So my younger two had no experience with testing until we got home, and I don’t remember any stress about it–maybe because being home at all was such a treat after those years of trying to figure things out, learning a new language, and being away from our homeschooling buddies and family.
My kids started their first public school at various ages–the oldest as a freshman in high school, the youngest in third grade. Testing in school was even worse. Several weeks long, complete secrecy asked about the test contents, a score printout mailed many weeks later. The teachers privately resented it, but making time and prepping beforehand was all part of one’s duty to make the principal look good. No one mentioned the option to opt out, but we did whenever my kids wanted to, so I probably became known to the local middle school principal mainly as one of those test refusers. Later when returned to teaching, I felt awkward about subbing there.
Then I came on as a longer term sub, and after that started a contract position part time, and later settled into the full time position I have now. I have zipped my lips to be a good employee, too, but I feel exactly the same as I did about the tests. I’m working with homeschoolers now, to many of them know not to take the numbers too seriously, but let things reveal themselves through working with their children and through conversations with us who work with them part time at school. I have to say, we do use our scores to alert us to students who need a closer look, and/or to our methods, materials, and levels of support in math and English language arts. And we watch in amusement as various administrations at various levels shift and swing on quantities, areas, frequencies and uses of standardized tests, trying to please everyone. We conform, but keep our own council about student progress, informed by working closely with them, using tailor-made assessments so we can turn our instruction and support on a dime, and recognize the wonderful variety in learning styles, expressions, and rhythms across each class and grade.
I feel so privileged to be a teacher. This going through cancer in the family has made me feel that even more deeply. Yes, I wish I could quit and spend more time with my husband and children, have more quiet for my soul, more time to write and work in the garden. Especially since my husband is starting to get me better and wants to take more part in what he calls my special spirituality. Which is less about going up front to ask for prayer, and more about taking deep breaths as the sun rises, stopping at thickets full of chickadees, and growing seedlings. He said he’ll let me teach him how to start the different types of seeds in pots tomorrow. I loved being a house mom/wife. But what I do at work is very, very special in terms of what is possible, what might happen, how I and my colleagues might affect some young people. We get to find ways to communicate that they matter, that there’s hope, that if they want to, they can. All in the guise of teaching math and science.
One of my favorite times, as I have said before, is the twice-a-week morning homework help drop-in, two and a quarter hours long. More students are coming now, for the math, yes, but that is definitely not the whole deal. There’s something going on I can’t put my finger on, a dynamic that connects from person to person as one gets a problem, another gets stuck, someone jokingly teases another, another one brings up something unrelated to the math, but important to life.
One girl might, just might, be starting to see her self-defeating attitude for what it is. Another might, just might, believe that even though Geometry continues to be extremely difficult for her, all the extra work she puts in is making her mind stronger and more capable. Another might, just might, believe that there’s hope for a young farmer and a good life that builds up the soil, meets new market demands, and is sustainable, and that the most important quality about a man is not the power of his truck. That one is still a longer shot, but today I saw a certain openness in his eyes.
I think I might need to shift the tables around, though, There’s this one section where everyone sits together, and a few newer attendees sit apart and alone. I need to get a new zone going, a branch of the community. The two new girls will learn to ask for help, I hope, not just wait shyly until I come over to see how it’s going. I want them to connect with each other –both are still on the edge of that, for different reasons.
As I consider what the role of teachers is in preventing violence such as the recent Florida school shooting, I think that part of it, for sure, is to simply be kind–deeply kind, not just professionally courteous and friendly, but to communicate the “I see you” that can help heal those ragged edges. I think of two of our students–both obese, academically passive, socially awkward, and obsessed with guns. They are lucky–we are lucky, and who who knows who else will be lucky–that at our school, they will not fall between the cracks and end up bent out of shape by the system–not if we can help it. My lead teacher is a real inspiration there–as problems seem unsolvable, she just ups the commitment, ups the connection, ups the support, sometimes making up for what a dysfunctional family doesn’t even know is missing in terms of parenting.
I think about how nice it would be to have fewer preps and work closer to home, but today our whole staff came in to my room an hour and a half after quitting time just to say they were all rooting for me and my husband, that we’d be in their prayers, and to let them know if there was anything I needed. Gave me a card full of sweet words and several hefty grocery store gift cards so I could buy the special foods my husband can eat. I’m at the right place, that’s for sure.