Sunday, February 22, 2009

Still yammering......

About Professional Development.
Today's (February 22) Sunday Outlook section in the Washington Post inspired a response.
Two articles seem to be at war with each other.  One ("5 Myths About Schools That Just Can't Be Fixed."*) claims that teachers AREN'T the answer to reform because they resist further training.
The other, a review of Jay Matthew's book Work Hard, Be Nice  celebrates how two TEACHERS caused real reform in the form of KIPP schools. That seems to refute Kalman R. Hettleman's claim in the 5 Myths article that teachers can't be part of reform, don't 'cha think?
The answer lies between the two.  Give teachers time to work on their own initiatives and you'll get an explosion of reform that looks different for every localized problem and that meets community needs.  And maybe even individualizes instruction for kids.
*Can't find this one online.

Monday, February 16, 2009


The big, bad stimulus package has been approved and should be showing up at a school near you.  In the meantime our localities have already begun to hunker down for the economic storm.  In my area this means buying out veteran teachers who are near retirement.  In some areas that means teachers with as little as TEN years experience.  Other economic factors have been drawing experienced teachers away from the area for years.  Most notably, nearby districts that pay sometimes one-third more in salaries which makes driving daily out of the hometown an attractive prospect.  
OR, even more horrible than than losing teachers - headlines have been made because localities want to cut SPORTS - (gasp!)
But back to stimulus.  I'm particularly interested in tracking the plans for the 4.3 billion earmarked for Professional Development.  From the White House website, it looks like most of it is planned for mentoring new teachers.  I'd like to see a comprehensive PD program that imbeds continual learning in the job, close to students and teachers, and geared to improving the work of both - with time provided.  Time does cost money so the money will be needed to make big changes.
For those unfamiliar, right now PD is a grapeshot affair.  Teachers elect to chose their own PD because they often have to pay for some or all of it.  Not a happy prospect for those who can barely make ends meet as it is.  Additionally, teachers are rarely identified and subsequently encouraged to be potential leaders. Resultantly, buildings and systems can sometimes be led by those who hope to (either, both, or sometimes) just get out of the classroom, just take home higher pay, or actually make a difference.  Not a formula for getting the best and the brightest.
Worse yet, however, would be a trail of cronyism.  Board certification, by outside evaluators who are unaware of who is being evaluated, has been the best work-around to local politics.  It, too, has some drawbacks but I've yet to see a better plan.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Time Periods

We've been outlining the literary time periods in class, looking at historical events and the philosophic discussions of the time that emerge in literature and art.  A hopeful way of focusing on the big ideas rather than the details (which seem hard for my aging brain to hold on to anymore!).
Made me consider the eras I've lived through.
After a couple of  years it seemed clear that school children tend to distill the national conversation to broad axioms as they parrot what they hear at home - using pithy arguments to bolster their own when they are trying to make a point.  Looking back on 30 years, I see definite trends.
When I first taught in the late 70's, many kids would, at some point or another, declare "I've got my rights!"  I heard this many times from students, usually when they were in trouble over one infraction or another.  It was their version of the civil rights discussion.
Gone from the classroom through most of the 80's I have no idea what emerged as the comment-du-jour ("I want big hair!" ?)  but for the last dozen years I've heard the same refrain: "I want to be rich!"  If I had a dollar for every time a student stated this as their goal....  
Along with that statement was the unstated: "I'll be rich at any cost."  With the current meltdown, and the tide going out as Warren Buffet mentioned, it seems that many fortunes were made just that way: any way - cheating, inflating worth, passing the buck, etc. etc.  In the classroom cheating has soared as getting into a good college in order to get a good job and there fore get rich became the over arching goal.  Its been kinda hard to make the learning-for-learning's-sake argument when worth has been measured in dollars for so long.
I think this "I want to be rich" refrain has just come to a screeching halt.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Big Apes

Nature's recent program on Snowflake the albino gorilla got me thinking about, you guessed it, school - and teenagers.  Yeah, I know, teens - apes ha, ha.  But actually, it made me think about my own unending need to be stimulated.
The caging of this snow white ape lead to big differences in how all our captive animals are treated.  
Anyone as old as I am can remember what sad places the zoos used to be.  Barren cages generally held slow moving, obviously bored, unhappy, and often unclean animals who stared at us as we stared back at them.  
The adoring throngs of this unusual gorilla could see the animal's obvious intelligence and that eventually led zoologists to spend millions constructing enclosures that mimicked a more natural habitat.  And, to supply the animal's need for variety and intellectual stimulation, feeding more resembled the animal's daily foraging activity and natural diet.  Instead of plopping all the food down at one prescribed time, food was varied and hidden so the animals had to look for it, feeding not only their bellies but their need to problem-solve and encounter both frustration and delight.
I like those things too, big ape that I am.  My mind gets restless when all the problems are solved and I've fallen into routine.  That can easily slip into a low level depression which I kick out of by taking on some new challenge.
Teens sometime stare dumbly back at us, suffer depression, look for stimulation in the wrong places (speed, alcohol, drugs, etc.).   Hmmm..... maybe school needs to more resemble their natural habitat.
Choice is one of the ways kids can get re-engaged in intellectual problem-solving - so is inquiry based learning.  Bubble sheets?  Not so much.