31 August 2005

Open House

My school will hold its annual "Open House" tomorrow evening. This consists of a general assembly for parents followed by a period-by-period meeting with each teacher. Each "period" is ten minutes in length.

Here are my best tips (not that you asked) for a successful meeting with a group of parents in your classroom:

  • Tell them some things about your personal life. You don't have to go into nitty gritty details, but both they and students are curious as to who you are (not just "what" you are in terms of a teacher). These bits of information help them connect with things in their own lives.

  • Talk about what homework "looks like" for your class. Is it reading? Practice problems? Journaling/Blogging? Many parents have the impression that homework means there is a worksheet. Sometimes this is an accurate reflection. Also share how often homework may be assigned and some estimates about the completion time.

  • Give parents some suggestions about how to talk to their kid about your class in order to keep the communication lines open. What should they ask about? Are there topics upon which students could elaborate? Give parents some gentle questions to use in order to gauge kids in conversation and reflection about their learning so that it doesn't have to look like the "third degree."

  • Provide a handout with your contact information---including the best times to reach you and your preferred means of communication (phone? e-mail?). Gather the same things from them.

  • Take a moment to talk about your most important classroom procedures, but don't spend the bulk of your time here. Hand them a syllabus. They can read it later.

  • Share ideas for parental involvement. Are there events where you need chaperones? Can they spare a box of Kleenex? Would you mind if they sat in on a class or lab? (Their child might!)

I'm hoping for another successful introduction to parents this year. Only some will attend the event, I realize, but at least it is a start to knowing these families. We'll have the next ten months to fill in the details.

Go Get Your Carnival On!

It is time to head over to the Education Wonks and see the fine Carnival they have put together this week. Two posts that I enjoyed were Polski3's "What do top teachers want for students?" and the Value of Blogs to Science by Hedwig the Owl over at Living the Scientific Life. There are many other wonderful contributions this week. Grab your corndog and lemonade and have a stroll.

And don't forget to check out the Carnival in this spot next Wednesday! There may not be a "butter cow," but I think we can fill the void with other great sites.

Butter Cow by Nadja Robot CC-BY-NC

30 August 2005

Two Down...One to Go

Today I wore my "Curriculum Specialist" hat all day long. Everything went very well, but I admit that I will be glad to take it off at the end of tomorrow and put my "Teacher" one back on for Thursday's events.

I gave two workshops this morning on my Holy Grail Lesson Plan. I had been provided a room for 30...and ended up with closer to 50 participants for the first session and 35 for the second one. The first time, things seemed to go more smoothly. I think because of the crowd, there was a good positive vibe and the energy was contagious. I had a good time with them and received a lot of great feedback in return. They were constructive with their comments at the end of our time together and if I ever do this presentation again, I will definitely use their ideas.

The second presentation also went very well. The interesting thing that happened was that we took a detour and spent time talking about blogs. We had been talking about ways to get students involved with discussion and I mentioned how I wanted to use a blog with my class this year in order to do this. (Please note that a school board member was attending this session.) No one in the room claimed to have ever seen a blog. A couple of people had heard of them, but more in reference to personal blogs students have---especially when someone posted nasty comments about another student. The idea of having a blog (once I explained what it was) as a classroom forum or even as a way to promote some reflection about their teaching was completely uncharted territory. (Warning to the Education Wonks: I gave them your site to check out as a sterling example and also find links to other edublogs. Warning to self: I could be "outed" if they follow them.) With their comment sheets, almost every one mentioned blogs and blogging as something they thought was interesting and would like to try. The school board member thought it a marvelous idea and asked me to keep him updated on my quest to allow blogging from school. Perhaps in the future, I could do a presentation about blogs.

The afternoon was devoted to meeting with secondary science teachers---all of whom I enjoy as individuals...but they can be a bit unwieldy as a group. This, too, seemed to go well in spite of some wailing and gnashing of teeth about certain topics. I really hope to spend more time in the various buildings this year getting to know a few more people better. I also need to make some inroads with the few who are still reluctant to even acknowledge me---let alone district initiatives. It's going to be a very big year for wearing my Curriculum Specialist hat.

Tomorrow morning, I am working with elementary school teachers (grades 3 - 6) to talk about doing inquiry with their kiddos. I have a plan, but I admit that I have spent the least amount of time thinking about this one as compared to the two things I had to do today. I think it will be all right. I have a buddy helping me tomorrow and I am looking forward to not shouldering everything.

I do have a reward waiting for me. My desk at Curriculum has finally been built and I can now move and have a home base for my work. So after lunch tomorrow, I can check things out and then start taking my belongings and getting them organized. I'm very happy about this. I've been "homeless" for a few months now. I'll also feel like I belong in that office and I'm very much looking forward to that. Hat and all.

29 August 2005

The Game is Afoot!

Regular readers here know that I have been contemplating using a blog for my class this year. I did choose a platform and get one set up. However, I was told earlier today that the district does not allow blogs and so my case is moving up through the channels. It has one more hurdle to clear, but at this point things are looking very good for me. Our tech people have said that they don't have anything else they could offer me which would allow for the kind of collaboration that I would like to achieve with this project. So I may get to have the only blog allowed through by our "Big Brother" software.

This is an exciting idea. I do feel a bit pioneer-ish. But I also feel a bit more motivated to ensure some sort of success with this tool---as I imagine I will be watched very closely. I'd like to think that other teachers might be able to use this, too, in the future.

Keep your fingers crossed for us.

Wanted: Goldilocks Style Parenting

Last week, I wrote about an article describing all of the efforts to get parents more involved with school. This seems to be the most common problem. But what about the other end of the spectrum? The "helicopter parents" who hover over their child's every move? Ah, today we have an article about the "too much" parent group and the impact they're having on colleges.

Some parents have been complaining to college administrators about the issues such as student grades, roommates, and even plumbing issues while overseas. The idea that they're paying $40,000 for their child's education somehow gives them a sense of entitlement to complain about anything they don't like. It makes me wonder about a couple of things. One---what is their purpose in sending the kid to college? Is it only to obtain a piece of paper saying that a degree was earned? And secondly, when do they plan to teach the child that the answer to every problem isn't "call mommy and daddy"? How old were these parents, I wonder, when their parents made them fight their own battles?

I like the fact that the college mentioned in the article is starting to be proactive about this issue. "At Colgate, parents used to receive a sheet listing administrators' phone numbers. This year, they got a statement about Colgate's philosophy of self-reliance — a message that was hammered home repeatedly in talks by administrators. Next year, the school may assign parents summer reading on the transition to college. The approach will continue throughout the year, part of a larger emphasis at Colgate on 'teachable moments' outside the classroom. A memo sent to departments ranging from residential life to counseling to public safety reminds employees: 'We will not solve problems for students because it robs students of an opportunity to learn.'"

I have to ask myself what the "just right" mode of parental involvement is. I know all too well what the "not enough" looks like...and I have had a couple of experiences with the "too much" variety. Certainly, parents should take an active interest in what the child is doing (or not doing) in the classroom. Parents are expected to be strong advocates for their children. I can understand that parents don't want their kids to hurt---physically or emotionally. I suppose the Goldilocks style of parenting means that you do these things in a realistic way: keep in contact with the others who are involved in your child's life without coming from the stance that your child can do no wrong nor have Life do wrong to them.

28 August 2005

Coming Soon: The First Day of School

Mz. Smlph has written a very thoughtful post providing advice to new teachers...and actually, it's great advice for us old hats, too. I really recommend having a look at her wise words.

As I read it, I was reminded of when I was about to head off to my own classroom. This was in the days before Harry Wong and I was truly at a loss about how to begin the school year. I understood (rightly or wrongly) how to teach a lesson on something, but how do you get to the "something"? One of my supervising teachers was nice enough to put together a two-page "plan" for the first day. I don't remember all of the things that were on it, but I do remember some of the common sense advice.
  • Wear a lot of deodorant. I can't emphasize that enough. Never let them see you sweat.
  • Be sure to have on a comfortable underwear. You don't want to be pulling at your clothing. You'll feel self-conscious and kids notice everything.
  • Schedule way too many things to do. Don't give kids the opportunity to think that they will have any "down time."

There were lots of other things, too. How to check out textbooks. Ideas for seating charts. What sorts of information to collect from students. How to structure the syllabus and talk about rules and procedures with kids. It was a wonderful tool for me to have as I started out.

I have since altered these plans to better suit my own style, of course, but I haven't forgotten the way it felt to be a newbie as those first students walked into my classroom. This may be the last year that I teach and as I approach this last introduction to the year, things feel a bit bittersweet. Even after 15 years of opening the year, there's still a lot of nervous energy. I guess I better to remember that extra deodorant.

Summer 2005, We Hardly Knew Ye

Tomorrow marks the beginning of four days of inservice. The district is kicking things off this year with its annual "Love-in." (Yes, they really do call it that.) This is the big district meeting that all employees are supposed to attend. The school board members look pretty, the union reps talk (ugh), and a student or other representative tries to share a few words of wisdom. The real fun begins after that when the superintendent speaks. I usually spend most of the love in looking at my watch and wondering why I didn't remember to bring something comfortable to sit on (gym bleachers are nasty after a short time).

I always fantasize about skipping this event. Attendance might be required, but let's face it, there's no way to take attendance of 800+ people. When I had my room in the portable, I knew that I could likely hide out there and no one would know. But now, with my more "high profile" role with the district, I have to put in an appearance.

This year, I may very well skip the school staff meeting that follows. I hate this meeting---it involves "icebreakers," (Are we at camp?), and an excruciating page-by-page voyage through the staff handbook (Did we lose our ability to read over the summer?). Would I be missed? Perhaps. But by contract, I only owe my school 20% of my day---which will be over long before noon arrives.

I am scheduled to give two workshops and run an all-science staff meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday. As much as I am not looking forward to those, it does mean that I get to plan large blocks of time that don't involve all the pet peeves of teachers...most of which relate to being treated as though they were ignorant and/or need to be entertained. Always a good thing.

And Thursday? The work day will begin at 10 and last into the evening as it is our annual Open House for parents.

While it is easy to pine for late June, when the summer stretched out before me, I am ready to be back at work. I have had a wonderful time of things these last several weeks and my brain is ready to handle the crush of school again. I've read lots of books, spent hours stitching, and had walks on the beach. I've napped when I liked and stayed up into the wee hours of the morning. I've seen lots of movies and had time with those who mean the most to me. I've had headspace to think about what I want as a person---not just as an educator. It all went very quickly...and it will seem even more that way tomorrow as the parade of speechmakers takes the podium at the Love-in.

But hey, it's only 180 more school days until the next summer vacation.

27 August 2005

Childhood Memories

I'm guessing that the picture here doesn't trigger a lot of thoughts for many people. It's a little tent designed to trap insects---and my association with it is for collecting gypsy moths. I saw one attached to a tree on a recent trip to the post office and it brought back a lot of memories for me.

Gypsy Moth House by Jeremy Zilar CC-BY-NC-ND

When I was a little goddess, I lived in the northeastern U.S. My dad, an entomologist, was working with a group to find some type of biocontrol for the gypsy moth. You see, the baby moths (more properly called "larvae" like the one shown below...isn't it cute?) are voracious. They eat leaves off of most types of hardwood trees and a few species of evergreens. If the trees don't have leaves,
they can't undergo photosynthesis to make food for themselves (and the rest of the food chain), and a great deal of damage is done. And that's just the environmental impact. Certainly there's an economic one, too.

The idea behind a "biocontrol" is to find a predator or some other "natural" way to decrease the population of a pest. This, too, can have problems as you may never be completely sure how the introduced organism may impact the system other than just killing off the target you have. But, many people would prefer this method of eradication over spraying with chemicals.

Gypsy Moth Caterpillar by Sergey Yeliseev CC-BY-NC-ND
I remember spending many weekends in the woods with my parents as my dad did his work with other scientists. (They called themselves the "gypsy mothers.") I got to play as they climbed trees and examined traps and test cages. There were a lot of fun people working there. I still think of them from time to time and wonder where they went with their lives.

My dad worked with identifying and testing biocontrols throughout his career, including southern pine beetle and salt cedar---a project he was working on when he died. (This project has recently had some breakthroughs.) He always had a love and respect for the natural world.

These days, when I see those green tents or hear on the news how a group is upset over spraying for the moths, I remember those times spent in the forests and am glad that my dad was able to help with different problems. (By the way, bacteria that kill the moths are what is sprayed---not chemicals.) Perhaps insect traps don't go along with everyone's childhood, but they are certainly a fondly remembered part of mine. Seeing them now makes me feel like my dad's work continues to live on, even if he didn't.

26 August 2005

Gearing Up

Inservice begins on Monday and you know what that means: kids won't be far behind. I've been spending a lot of time getting my poop in a pile for my three presentations/workshops next week. They're looking good, and so my thoughts are turning to my class that I'll be teaching.

Yesterday, I overhauled the website for my class, revised my syllabus, and finished plotting the course through the end of September. I have one more piece I'd like to get in place: setting up a blog for the class. I have looked at another host, but may just end up using Blogger. It's familiar and while it doesn't have all of the features other platforms might, it wil likely be "good enough" for this year's experiment.

I am curious about Wiki and Moodle and other open-source ideas for structuring the exchange of information---between teachers and between teachers and students. I'm hoping to explore these things more this year. I've asked our Information Services department if they would consider holding trainings.

I haven't made up my "New Year's Resolutions" yet. I know that it is more traditional to do so in January, but this is the time of year when my mind is busy and things feel full of potential. Now is when I'm ready to commit to new ideas and attempt dazzling changes.

This weekend, I'll work a little and play as much as I can. I'll put summer away for another year and look forward to the energy of gearing up for another round of school. It feels good.

25 August 2005

Student Mindset

Beloit College has been developing a list each year to remind their faculty about the world its students have grown up in.

Here is a sampling of its list for the Class of 2009:

They are too young to remember the space shuttle blowing up.
Tianamen Square means nothing to them.
Bottle caps have always been screw off and plastic.
Atari predates them, as do vinyl albums.
Jay Leno has always been on the Tonight Show.

Snowboarding has always been a popular winter pastime.
Money put in their savings account the year they were born earned almost 7% interest.
For daily caffeine emergencies, Starbucks has always been around the corner.
They have no idea who J.R. was, and don't care who shot him.
The Titanic was FOUND? They thought we always knew where it was.

There are plenty of other items on the list to make one feel a bit...well, old. After all, the Class of 2009 was mostly born in 1987 (the year I graduated from high school). If this isn't enough for you to shake your head over, you can also see previous lists by following this link.

I did go back and read the list for the class of 2008, as it represents the sophs who will be walking our halls in another week and a half. Mind you, there is a bit of a difference as the list was developed for the graduating class of university students in 2008, not high school students. I guess I really need a list for the class of 2012 if I want to truly think about the mindset of our sophs...but I suspect that list would be even more frightening.

These lists are a good reminder to me of why I need to spend time explaining some things---and not assume that they are part of the students' consciousness. It's hard for me to accept this age gap. It's not because I picture myself as young and hip or because I can't face growing older. I think (in part) it's because it's hard to fathom that some things have been part of my life for so long. Could Rogaine really have been on the market all this time? Alan Greenspan doing his thing? Bill and Ted on their excellent adventure? The other part of my disbelief comes from just being in this business. It is the nature of the profession to have your life stand still while students pass through your world. It is hard to believe that things have changed when we are still doing the same things.

Perhaps all of this is just a good reminder to "be here now"...to look around and consider what is happening. I have a feeling that the next 18 years may also pass in the blink of an eye. I'll be looking forward to reading Beloit's list then.

24 August 2005

You Know What to Do

It's Wednesday. So click on over to the EducationWonks to visit this week's Carnival of Education. (By the way, the Carnival will be hosted here in two weeks. I'm pretty excited about that!)

Some posts which caught my eye this morning include one designed to help parents use data about the school in order to more effectively evaluate their child's progress. Over at Steve Pavlina's blog, he has some ideas (as do his commenters) on freeing up some mental RAM. Goodness knows I could use more headspace. And finally, Get Schooled has a piece on requiring students to use agendas (planners). There is some good conversation among the commenters here. I may just jump in, too, as this is a program at my school that I am not convinced is necessary.


23 August 2005

For Your Amusement, Part II

I am a lucid dreamer, meaning that when I dream, I'm usually aware of it and can control what happens. If I don't like something, I tell myself to change it. If a situation intrigues me, I tell myself what things are symbolizing. Sometimes, however, I have very transparent dreams.

Last night, I dreamed that I was sitting with a large group of people at picnic tables. There was a building behind us and the sand and ocean stretched out ahead of us. Everyone was having a good time talking and eating. And then a little wave came in...touching the feet of those sitting farthest from the building. A bigger wave came next. And out on the horizon, I could see a huge one rolling in. It must have been twenty feet tall and was quickly headed in our direction. I saw this (I was sitting closest to the building at my table) and told my tablemates that we had to quit eating and run. I made it to the building and up a few flights of stairs to safety. Whew.

Gee, do you think I'm feeling overwhelmed with things these days in real life? About to be crushed by tsunami-proportioned expectations? I have to laugh, because the subconscious brain has such creative ways to communicate with the think-out-loud part that rules the roost during the day. Even if its imagery is a little simple at times.

I told this dream to my Sweetie who noticed the same thing I did: I survived the disaster. So, I must be okay with whatever is rolling my direction. I won't be swept out to sea.

My task today is to prepare for a meeting with the new science hires for our district. I will have about an hour with them tomorrow. There are three, two of which are new to my school. It is possible that there may be another, since we tried to do some hiring yesterday. There are state standards to share with them, the road (tsunami?) ahead for the district, and miscellaneous business items to talk about. I am hopeful for a chance to just chat with them and get to know them. Perhaps they'll have questions and needs of me, and that will be good, too. I like to feel purposeful and I want them to know that I'm here to support their work.

It does take a lot of energy to get a school year up and running. I'm hoping to find a way to harness the power of that wave.

22 August 2005

For Your Amusement

Found on the AP Bio listserv this morning:

"Give a man a link and he can waste an afternoon. Teach a man to Google and he can waste a lifetime."


Meet the Parents

My school is now doing its "Open House" night before the start of the school year. We started this last year and there seem to be several advantages to this format. New students have a chance to follow their schedule before the first day of school. Teachers get to talk with parents about classroom expectations.

The parents who attend, that is.

We usually get about 15 - 20% of our target population. This seems rather paltry when you consider that we have 1200 families who are part of our school. I know that evenings can be a struggle for a family's schedule. Parents can be tired after a day of work. Perhaps there are little ones still at home. There may be other commitments already on the calendar. But does that account for 80 - 85% "no shows"?

We are not the only school struggling with ways to get more parents involved with our school. (This would include more than just Open House.) According to a recent article in the Orlando Sentinel, "Increasingly, public schools are turning to the wacky and whimsical -- and anything else they can dream up -- to push parents into getting more involved in schools and their kids' lives. The reason: Children whose parents do everything from simply talking to their kids to showing up for school meetings have better grades, improved attendance and less chance of dropping out, among other things."

Why are so few parents participating in the school at a time when the stakes have never been higher? I have a hard time believing that it is because they don't care about their children. So, what are the barriers---and what can we do about them?

I believe that mistrust on both sides is part of the problem. "Eighty-two percent of teachers surveyed in 2004 by Public Agenda, a nonprofit group that conducts public-policy research, said parents' failure to teach their children discipline is a major problem and more than half said teachers often go easy on students because they don't feel supported by parents." Meanwhile, "Parents are strapped for time, and they often feel unwelcome or intimidated by their own lack of education..." So, they're worried that we're going to make them feel stupid...and we're worried that they won't take our role in their childrens' lives seriously. If we took the time to really talk about this, we'd likely find that we've all had a bad experience: either as a student or as a teacher calling a parent for support. But somehow, many of us have extended that experience to our further interactions. It's stifling our ability to reach out to one another.

I also think that too often we expect parents to come to the schoolhouse door---and yet we don't make an effort to come to them. Maybe we should think about holding meetings in apartment complexes or subdivisions once in awhile. I have also heard of districts which make a second bus run on certain days of the year in order to pick up parents and bring them to school...supposedly with grand results.

The article in the Sentinel has an interesting tidbit: a school which used "door prizes and pizza" to lure parents in for a meeting had a turnout rate of 75% of the families. If 75% can show up for meetings, pizza, and door prizes (even those who have been at work all day, have young children, etc.)...why can only 15% show up if there's no extra incentives? Why isn't helping your child in their education enough of a motivation?

The bottom line is simply that we need parents as an integral part of our schools. NCLB may have laid student achievement at the footsteps of educators, but we can't do it alone. Every year, my principal shakes his head and asks for ideas to help increase parental involvement with our school. We provide various ideas (like moving Open House to an earlier date) and see if it works. But it's not enough. We need to rebuild our connections with families and reach out in various ways. I really hope that we find a way for them to reach back to us.

21 August 2005

Ambitious Thoughts

I've been doing some reading in the last couple of weeks. I had five new education-related books come my way and most of them are pretty good. In fact, one is just plain outstanding. It is "From Standards to Success" by Mark O'Shea. And if you're a teacher, administrator, curriculum specialist, or kin to those, you should see about getting your hands on a copy.

This book is the first one I've run across that has a no-nonsense plan for integrating the standards into the classroom. There are plenty of resources out there that tell you the standards are important and that using them is necessary for student achievement---but until now, I haven't seen one that tells you how to take those words and translate them into something practical.

One of the suggestions I like is to use Pacing Guides with the curricula. Basically, for each course, the standards are identified and then sequenced. The teachers then have this document that tells them what they should be working on with students and when. (The "how" is still up to the teacher.) This also allows for various "benchmark tests" throughout the year to see how students are progressing toward proficiency with the standards. For those of us in science who are only scheduled to get two sets of data in this regard before students take the 10th grade asessment, having our own benchmark exams could be extremely helpful.

Can I sell this idea to my colleagues? I'm not sure. It could be quite the fight if teachers think that Pacing Guides will mean that they are all lockstepped into teaching things the same way on the same date...which is not what the intention is at all. I'll bring it up at our meeting in another week and we'll see how many rocks get hurled in my direction.

My school district is willing to put its money where its mouth is. The two schools that currently have inadequate facilities for science are going to get remodeled next summer. (just the science areas---not the whole buildings) We are also going to be hiring more science teachers because full-year science will become a reality at all junior highs for all grade levels. My Boss Lady has allotted over $100,000 to spend on new materials for science. And more money is set aside for teachers to collaborate.

What are our teachers willing to do? This is no insult to the hard work that they have already taken on...or to suggest that they're slackers. But I know that I get "territorial" about what happens in my classroom. Are they willing to set aside some of their more personal projects to build a common plan? Can they shift their thinking to view the future from the perspective of their students? I'm hopeful that we can find a way to do that---and all without any teacher feeling that their individuality has been lost in the shuffle.

It's going to be a very big year for science in the district. Better fasten my seatbelt.

20 August 2005

Implementation Dip

Is it a condiment---something that goes well with crackers? Perhaps it's an elegant dance move. Or maybe it's a derogatory term for someone who works to put something into practice: a stooge. The "implementation dip," as it turns out, is an explanation for a negative change in test scores after new instructional practices are begun.

The concept belongs to Michael Fullan, an expert on instructional leadership and change. (I wonder if anyone has called him an "implementation dip"?) "According to Michael Fullan, the early stages of an innovation are likely to involve participants in considerable difficulty and frustration. The real benefits of the new approach may not be realized or noticed for months. In fact, early attempts may result in failures of various kinds. Fullan suggests that participants need to know something about the change process and this implementation dip before they proceed so as to minimize problems with the next peril . . . disillusionment." (source)

I mention this because a colleague of mine told me yesterday that it might help explain the backslide in our Science WASL scores. The idea is that teachers are doing some different things and learning to modify their instruction. Since this is new, even if it is "good stuff" that they're doing, they can't be expected to have mastered it yet. In the meantime, there can also be a bit of rebellion on the parts of the students. They are used to having classes run in a particular way or assignments in a predictable structure. Changes in expectations for their performance can cause them to "push back" against these changes. All of this adds up to a "dip" in the data during the early stages of implementing the newer program.

I need to do some more reading about this idea. It does seem appealing, of course. How nice it would be to think that the drop in scores this year is actually a good sign. It's too depressing to consider how hard we worked in the past year and that we didn't get something positive out of it. Maybe we just need to remind ourselves that change takes time and that if we're looking for immediate gratification, we're looking for the wrong thing. Maybe we need to cut ourselves some slack and keep pressing forward. I'd like to think that we're doing the best we can.

19 August 2005

In with the New

We will have twelve new certificated staff members in my building this year. There are 69 certs (teachers, librarians, counselors, etc.) in the building, so twelve is a rather significantly large number.

I suppose we'd better get used to such a large influx of "new blood." According to a recent article in the New York Times (id: bugmenotnyt2005; password: june2005), 40% of current public school teachers (and half of all high school staff) plan to be gone from the classroom within the next five years.

Retirement will be the primary reason. Some will be teachers who are leaving after a lifetime in the classroom. "The proportion of teachers with at least 25 years in the classroom has more than doubled in the past 15 years, from 12 percent to 27 percent." But many others will be "second career teachers" who didn't start until they were in their 40's and are now getting close to retirement age.

Another reason is simply burnout. The demands of teaching are becoming ever greater. It's too much to expect that people will make a 30+ year career out of doing this job.

Where will we get enough replacements? This question scares me a little---although it doesn't seem to strike any fear into the author of the article. It's true that we are continuing to get more "second career teachers" into the profession. But enough to fill the positions of half of every high school? And fewer youngsters are leaving college with a teaching certificate in their hands. Meanwhile, we're losing teachers with a wealth of knowledge and experience about their craft.

Interviews are on Monday for the math/science position at my school. I have heard that there are four candidates who look promising. This is better than none, but I remember when we had trouble holding our lists for interviews down to eight because the pool was so rich. I'm hoping that we won't look back with fond memories of the days when we had four. But with so many jobs in the future to fill---especially in the areas of math and science---we may be doing just that.

18 August 2005

Ready or Not, Here They Come

Mr. McNamar over at The Daily Grind was thinking of June's graduates and how they are starting on their various paths. I admit to thinking of similar things at this time of year. I see former students and many of them are talking about when they're headed out to college. They have a look of uncertainty. Maybe there's a good reason for that.

In a recent USA Today article, it's claimed that many of this year's college freshmen will turn out to be woefully unprepared for their academic futures. This is not news in many ways. Similar claims have been part of what has driven the move to standards-based education. If anything, it just confirms that there is still a lot of work to do---and that high schools may very well be a weak link.

The following observations were made based on current (but yet to be released) ACT results:
  • About half of test-takers lack at least some reading-comprehension skills, suggesting they would struggle in courses such as history, sociology or literature.
  • Just over half (51%) had scores high enough to suggest they could succeed in college-level social science courses.
  • 41% had scores indicating a high probability of succeeding in college algebra.
  • 26% scored high enough on the science test to indicate they are likely to succeed in college biology.
  • On a more promising note, scores of 68% of test-takers indicate they are well prepared for freshman English composition courses.

Ouch. Only 26% are likely to succeed in college biology? I wish I know the reasons behind that. I'm thinking they may be similar to the abysmal success rate of students in high school biology. It's possible that it's related to a lack of experience with the subject. Kids read, write, and do math nearly every day of their K - 12 lives. Not so with science. Is it just poor teaching? Are we not doing a good job of teaching kids to think scientifically? It's definitely something else for me to ponder. I hope some others will ponder with me.

17 August 2005

It's Carnival Time Again

Yes, folks, it's Wednesday---and you know what that means: Carnival of Education. This week, it is being hosted over at Ticklish Ears, although the Wonks gave me a wonderful plug for my Carnival entry.

A couple of posts caught my eye as I strolled the midway this morning. Scheiss Weekly recalls a rather frightening year with a parent. The Number 2 Pencil reacts to news that test anxiety is now dain bramage, er, brain damage. Both posts will have you shake your heads and cross your fingers in the hope of a peaceful year ahead.

So let your fingers do the walking and enjoy the Carnival!

16 August 2005

Some Good News

Long-time Readers may remember some of my travails with colleagues within my school over our proposed plan for "bubble kids." These were students who we science teachers felt were in danger of not passing the science portion of the WASL---but probably could if they had a little help. (You can read up on the backstory here and here.)

We developed some different kinds of lessons and invited these kids to come to two tutoring sessions. Many of the identified group came for at least one session and seemed to find the experience worthwhile. But did it really matter when it came time for the WASL?

Apparently, it did. And I couldn't be more pleased.

I got the data this afternoon...matched it up with the names of kids and the amount of tutoring they chose to have. Of the "bubble students" who elected not to participate in any tutoring, only 10% met the standard (passed) the test. But for those kids who came to one or both sessions, 44% passed. This is a better rate of passage than the overall marks for the school.

There are some "unscientific" things about this work. We teachers did have data from which to base our decisions in identifying students, but there was also a degree of subjectivity. It might also be assumed that kids who chose to come for tutoring were more intrinsically motivated and cared about doing well---so naturally, their scores would be better. It's not like this was some sort of matched-group, double-blind, hoity-toity affair.

But we're not making widgets here. We're trying to help kids learn to think and be ready for the world that awaits them. And you'll have a hard time convincing me that our attempt to support these bubble-babes this year wasn't significant in some way.

It's still summer, right?

According to the calendar, I have just under two weeks until my first contract day (Monday, August 29). I've felt like I've been back at work already. I have spent quite a lot of (unpaid) time over the last week or so working on the three presentations I have to give for our district inservice. I've been told that the "rule" for putting together professional development involves 4 hours of planning for every hour of presentation time. With 9.5 hours of presentation time, I suppose it's not a surprise to have spent well over 40 hours on things. My handout masters and other requests are due tomorrow morning in order for the staff to have time to make copies and pull things together.

Maybe I am just trading off my time. In the past, I've typically spent a lot of evenings and weekends working on school things. This year, with only one class to teach and far more time during the workday for my curriculum job, it's likely that I will get back my "free time." That would make it okay to lose a week or two in the summer to my job.

Today I will try to do a few summer-y things: read, pick blackberries, have a nap, fix something fun for lunch, or whatever else looks diverting. It will be good to think about things other than lesson planning, WASL scores, and doing inquiry with elementary students and teachers. I will try to avoid thinking about planning for my AP course or the meeting I have with new science hires next week. Tomorrow will be soon enough for that.

Chez Goddess should reach a milestone today or tomorrow: 10,000 visitors to the blog. Thank you to all of you who stop by, leave comments, and provide an audience for my headspace. Here's to the next 10,000! Cheers!

15 August 2005

Back(breaking) to School

I can't help but notice that kids in my classes carry too much stuff. Our school has lockers and students are allowed to access them during passing times, lunch, and before/after school. It isn't as if they need to have everything for the entire school day in one bag. Meanwhile, kids don't wear their packs correctly---that is, over both shoulders---because it doesn't look cool. And don't get me started on the hazards of trying to navigate a classroom with these huge packs all over the floor.

A recent piece in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer got me thinking about all of these things again. Pediatricians and orthopedic surgeons are starting to see more injuries (such as pinched nerves and asymmetrical back muscles) to students that have been caused by carrying overloaded and incorrectly worn backpacks. The recommendation is that the weight of the pack be no more than 20% of the child's total body weight. Most students jam there's with an average of 25% of their body weight. Other recommendations include choosing a good pack with padded straps that holds the weight close to the body; cinching the straps tightly enough, using a waist strap, and distributing the weight evenly among the pack's pockets; and buying well-constructed packs with padding that protects backs from edges. Even so, many parents are having to buy more than one backpack each year because the containers wear out quickly under the ownership of students.

It would be nice if schools had enough money to buy double sets of textbooks: one for students to take home and keep there for the year and one classroom set. We do have that at my school for a couple of classes, but this is really too expensive a proposition for every class to have. (In NM, we didn't even have enough money to fund a classroom set to have on hand---much less check out books to individual students.) Perhaps as more texts are issued with a CD-ROM or on-line version in addition to the printed one, costs will be low enough to achieve the "two sets of books." This will definitely be something I will keep in mind as we adopt new curriculum materials this year.

A simpler solution would be to encourage students to use their passing time more wisely, including a stop at their locker more than once or twice a day. We have six minute passing times, with a "warning bell" sounded after five minutes have passed. You can guess what usually happens: kids stand around and clog up the hallway for five minutes and then scramble like cockroaches in the light once they hear the warning bell.

I also need to think about some procedure for backpacks in my classroom. I can't even begin to count the number of times I've tripped (or students have tripped---some even fallen) over the straps and other hazards associated with the backpacks.

In a few weeks, I'll see those kids looking "like beleaguered picnic ants wobbling from the park under hunks of pound cake." I think it's time to talk to them about lightening the load.

14 August 2005

Timing is Everything

When I moved to Washington, I was appalled to find out that I'd be working until the third week in June. June? There's not supposed to be school in June. Even after 9 years here, I'm still not used to the idea of being in the classroom when the calendar tells me it's June.

I'm not sure that some of the alternatives out there are any better. Did you know that many schools in Georgia, for example, began their school year on July 22nd? A recent article was published in the New York Times about the parental backlash against increasingly early start dates. Alas, the article is no longer available for viewing (without paying for it), but those crafty EdWonks have it on their site if you'd like to read it.

The way some school districts see it, earlier start dates mean more class time before the standardized tests. This means you have more opportunities to support student learning. As an AP teacher, I have often bemoaned the fact that some schools have as much of a 6-week lead time on me and yet all of our kids take the same test on the same day.

One thing I have wondered about in terms of our rather late start time here in the west if it is due to the way schools are funded. Counts are taken on the 1st, 3rd, and 5th days of school in order to determine how much money (per pupil) we are allowed by the state. So, it makes sense to wait until you know as many families as possible are back from summer holiday. If you're a state in the south where your per pupil allowance is based on how many kids you have on the 20th day of school, then you can start a few weeks before Labour Day and still have everyone there by the time you do the count for funding. (I remember in NM, the teachers would hold their breaths until the 21st day---because that's when suspensions and expulsions would start being handed out to kids.)

I don't think I'd like starting back in July, but I did like beginning the year in August. One of the biggest advantages was ending the first semester at the time Winter Break began. Coming back in January and still facing a whole month of the "fall" semester is a real drag...but I don't see any changes in the foreseeable future.

Some districts in my state have applied for waivers which allow them to have fewer than 180 contact days with students. The idea is that they can use the "extra" time for teacher collaboration on lesson planning. My district has a variation on this. No waiver---but we massage the schedule a bit to give teachers an extended "common planning time" on Thursday afternoons.

Other districts in the country are taking things a bit farther: four-day weeks. Students attend Monday - Thursday and on Friday, teachers meet, plan, etc. These districts are saving a significant amount of money because they have one day each week when they don't use their buses or cafeterias. Also, absenteeism (for both students and teachers) has decreased greatly. This also saves the district money as fewer subs for teachers are required. The bonus is that increased time for careful lesson planning is showing gains in student achievement.

Why is "180" such a magic number? Should students who can meet the standard be allowed to attend fewer days? As districts look at budgetary concerns, should this issue be of higher consideration?

I am interested to see where this issue will go in the next few years. Because of limited school funding and ever-increasing expectations of schools, I am thinking that different configurations of the school year are going to be more appealing to both districts and states. And hey, if it means no more teaching in June, I'm all for it.

13 August 2005

Money, Money, Money

If a school had more money, would that make a difference in terms of student performance? Is that enough?

A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor takes a look at these ideas. In Illinois, "the difference in annual spending between the wealthiest district and the poorest has grown to $19,361 per pupil." That's an enormous difference, to be sure, but doesn't directly correlate to student performance. While it is more likely that students in a wealthier school setting will do better on standardized tests, it's not a given. "...A few schools often manage to do well with very limited funds, and that many schools have seen influxes of money without a corresponding payoff in achievement...Just giving more money doesn't solve the problems of achievement. In order to run an effective school, you have to have enough money and you have to spend it well. It's not an either-or situation."

Great. So, suppose you do have "enough money." What do you spend it on? Ah, the article doesn't reveal this.

What would I choose to spend the money on? Hmmm...curriculum materials...technology...more teachers, not necessarily for smaller class sizes (which don't seem to impact student achievement), but for fewer classes. This would allow teachers more time to collaborate and plan their instruction---one thing we definitely know is tied to student achievement.

No matter how much money a school has, it still won't impact things happening in the homes of its students: socioeconomic status, perceived value of education, time spent as a family, etc. All those intangibles that can be so crucial to the success of a child. Things you just can't put a price on.

12 August 2005

Another Precinct Heard From

Have you heard of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)? It is referred to as the "nation's report card" and "is the only nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America's students know and can do in various subject areas. Since 1969, assessments have been conducted periodically in reading, mathematics, science, writing, U.S. History, civics, geography, and the arts. It includes students drawn from both public and nonpublic schools and reports results for student achievement at grades 4, 8, and 12."

While this sounds "high stakes," no individual results are ever reported. So, if you happen to have a student or two selected to take the test, neither they nor you will ever know how they did. Their information will become aggregated with everyone else's.

Scores at the 12th grade level have not risen appreciably since the 1970's. Why? This article on Slate.com claims that the reason is simply that kids are lazy. This might account for teens' low standing on global comparisons as well. After all, if the outcome of the test has no impact on your graduation status---and in fact, you'll never know how you scored---then why bother trying very hard? In terms of the NAEP, "in 2002 nearly half of the 17-year-olds tapped to take the national NAEP exam didn't bother to show up. Students who did show up left more essay questions than multiple-choice questions blank, an indication that they weren't going to be bothered to venture an answer if it required effort."

But what about tests that do "count" for students, like the SAT, ACT, WASL (and their kin)? Students are continuing to make gains---even minority students. For example, "when states begin imposing penalties for failure, it makes a difference—sometimes a big one. Look at Texas: In 2004, results counted toward graduation for the first time, and pass rates on both the math and English portions of the test leapt almost 20 points. According to Julie Jary, who oversees student assessment for the state, no substantive alterations were made to the test. What changed was students' motivation: When their diplomas were hanging in the balance, they managed to give more correct answers."

Imagine that. It makes me wonder what will happen with WASL scores this year, as it will be the first time that they count toward graduation. At my school, we have long been holding our collective breath about this. Our hunch is that scores will get a bump up---but I don't think it will be 20 points.

"Between 1994 and 2004 math SAT scores increased 14 points, while verbal scores inched up nine points. At the same time, the diversity of the test takers increased: Last year, 37 percent were minority students, compared with 31 percent a decade earlier, according to statistics compiled by the Center on Education Policy, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C. You would expect that minority influx to have pulled SAT scores down, since minorities post lower marks than college-bound seniors as a whole, with the exception of Asian students on the math section of the exam. But scores went up. "

The article wraps up by stating that high schools still need to do a better job of educating kids. And they're right about that. We have a lot of work to do in that area, but I'm not so sure that NAEP results can be relied upon as a source of data for our changes. I'm also not sure that any changes we make will lead to less "lazy" future performance on tests like this. Education may be changing. But kids? Hey, they're still just kids.

11 August 2005

Putting It Together

Is there a Holy Grail when it comes to lesson planning? As teachers, we're expected to now juggle standards, brain-based learning, research based strategies (e.g. Marzano's ideas), authentic assessment, reading/writing strategies, and more. Every time I read a new professional book or go to a (good) professional development meeting, something else is added to what I'm "supposed" to be doing. That is, if I want to be a good teacher.

Things were so much simpler when I was told that if I just followed the Madeline Hunter model of lesson planning, classroom life would be sweet. My, how things have changed since I was in school to be a teacher.

The past few days, I've been on a hunt for the Lesson Plan Holy Grail. Not just for myself, but for my colleagues. In fact, I'm such a darned fool for this idea, that I agreed to do my presentation on it for the Secondary Curriculum Day. (You know---the one I had no clue as to what to do.) At this point, it feels like I'm making sausage. I have Marzano's nine strategies from "Classroom Instruction that Works." I have Marcia Tate's twenty strategies for engaging the brain from "Worksheets Won't Grow Dendrites." I have how to lay out classroom time from "The Brain Compatible Classroom" and when to use certain strategies according to "Key Elements of Classroom Management." There are other sources, too---and everything is going into the sausage maker. I'm cranking away, hoping for some nice links.

Here is what I have so far in terms of laying out the Holy Grail:


What are the content standards or other curriculum requirements? What is their "cognitive demand"?
Block #1 (first 10 - 20 minutes of class time):

Where are we? That is, is this the beginning of a unit—or at least "new to the student" material? Or, has the class already been working on some information with this unit?
Down Time #1 (2 - 4 minute break for the brain):
What is the big idea that you would like students to hold onto the most? What is the best tool for helping them do this?
Block #2 (10 - 20 minutes more of instruction):
What new information (if any) is vital to add at this point? How can you help students make connections to previous learning?
Break/Down Time #2 (remainder of class):
Where are the students in terms of their learning—do they need more practice with the information and/or skills or are they ready to begin applying the learning?
Are we there yet? Do students need feedback at this point or can a simple check of their learning be enough? Do you need to allot Block 1 for remediation tomorrow?
The time frames are based on cognitive science: how long the brain can "pay attention." Blocks 1 and 2 could be lecture, guided reading, discussion, and/or demonstrations. "Down Time" refers to a short change to refresh the brain, but it doesn't mean nothing is happening. Here is where you ask students to summarize, create a mnemonic device, do "think-pair-share," journal entry, etc. The second "down time" might include cooperative learning or individual practice if students are in need of reinforcing knowledge or skills. If they're ready to apply and do something with their learning, you could structure the assignment however you like.

My next problem will be devising a 90-minute inquiry into this for staff members who choose to attend my session in a couple of weeks. I want to keep things as simple as possible, in addition to being useful. But it will be a perfect opportunity to try out my new and improved lesson plan. :)

UPDATE: If you reached this post, hoping to find a copy of the Holy Grail of Lesson Plans...and are disappointed, I can e-mail this document to you. Send your request to the_science_goddess[at]yahoo[dot]com

10 August 2005

What's Cooking in the Lab

We're still in the hunt for a math/science teacher at my school. I was told that there was an applicant who has the right endorsements---but did so without ever taking a lab science class. It sounds a little hard to believe that this person paid for a degree (it's a second career teacher) that didn't involve any experience with doing science. But programs can offer what they like and the state is only looking for a requisite number of hours on the transcript. There is no requirement about the amount of lab science a teacher must take.

What about students? Currently, students in Washington state are required to have two credits of science in order to graduate---only one of those credits must be in a "lab science" as defined by the local school board. Rather pathetic, don't you think?

Meanwhile, a new national study is questioning the quality of lab science in U.S. high schools. "The typical lab is an isolated add-on that lacks clear goals, does not engage students in discussion and fails to illustrate how science methods lead to knowledge...Also contributing to the problem: teachers who aren't prepared to run labs, state exams that don't measure lab skills, wide disparities in the quality of equipment and a simple lack of consensus over what 'laboratory' means in the school environment. Even the way class time and space are organized in high schools may be limiting progress, the study found."

I am fortunate to work in a building with good quality lab facilities. The same is not true across the school district (or elsewhere). But do we use them to help our students "master subject matter, develop scientific reasoning, understand the complexity of work involving observation, and develop teamwork abilities and cultivate an interest in science"? I believe that's what is in our heads when we plan and do a lab with kids---but I don't know if that always comes across as things are happening. I know that I don't always take the time for a rich discussion following the lab.

I am wondering if any research has been done into what makes a high-quality lab experience. I mean, what are the particular strategies a teacher should use? (Anyone out there looking for a dissertation topic?) As I have been looking around recently, it seems like a lot of people are admitting that we don't know a lot about what makes for quality teaching. Education schools have been so rooted in theory that they haven't done a lot to research best practices and put them in the hands of those in the trenches. This may be part of the reason so many teachers leave the profession in short order: they can talk at length about Plato's idea of what it means to be an educated person and the purpose of education, but they don't know how to help Johnny be an active learner.

I will certainly be watching for more information in this area. As district Science Goddess, I feel strongly that I put the best possible tools into teachers' hands. They have an overwhelming job to do---with no time to research this on their own. And it makes no sense for each of them to find things out individually and create the same wheel over and over. More on that idea tomorrow.

Update: My Sweetie sent a link for this article at Edutopia concerning "Appropriate Assessments for Reinvigorating Science Education." Have a peek, too, if you're interested.

09 August 2005

Look for the Silver Lining...

Now that I'm somewhat over the sticker shock associated with the 2005 Science WASL scores, I'm trying to dig out some good news. I visited with the district Data Queen today, who told me not to be depressed...that I should just look at the scores as "My Challenge." Lucky me! (as my Sweetie well knows)

Anyway, there are a few good things that I've picked out of the data so far. One area of focus over the last year or two has been on Inquiry and helping kids write their ideas. Eighth graders have shown remarkable gains, with only a slight decrease in two of the eight areas they are scored. One attribute has shown a gain from 7.6% to 45.4% of the student population. We have also focused on teaching kids to write to the prompt. This, too, appears to have paid off for eighth graders: we have doubled the percentage of students who max out on the points.

I wish I had more information for the tenth grade version of things. But the state only provided information on one short answer item and no extended response items for that exam. Bummer. The good news that I do have for that grade level is that in looking at the cohort information (how kids did when they were in 8th grade vs. how they did this past spring as 10th graders), there was a significant increase in the number of kids who met the standard (even though our overall percentage decreased from 2004 sophs). So, we are moving more kids up and over the bar.

The Data Queen also shared that it appears that while eighth grade scores in science will decrease by about 3 points statewide, our district showed an increase by that much.

So, why are we still not doing as well as we'd like? And what's the deal with the sophomores? I have more data to peruse, but at this time, it looks like a content problem. Maybe getting the scope and sequence in place will fix some of that. The other part is, of course, instruction and student learning. We are going to have to change some of what we do in order to "tie" things together better for kids. At eighth grade, a kid is responsible for knowing all of the science content they had in grades 6, 7, and 8. Can we help students encode this information and keep it fresh for three years (and beyond)?

Lots of work for me to do. Good thing the district is now going to give me more than one hour a day to do it.

08 August 2005


I will have more detailed information provided to me tomorrow, but I got a glance at our district science WASL scores today.

I'm depressed after seeing them.

Two schools had drops of 10 points (and scores weren't all that impressive in previous years). My school did not have quite that significant of a slip backwards, but considering all of the adjustments we made last year and the hard work that went into helping kids...it's just frustrating.

The "real" story will be a bit better known in the coming weeks. Which kids didn't meet the standard---was there a particular segment of the population we missed? Is there a drop in scores state-wide?

The Goddess is going to crack open a bottle of wine and contemplate her navel for awhile. Things always look rosier through the bottom of a glass, right?

07 August 2005

Same Difference

Theoretically, we offer the same standard classes at each secondary school in my district. The junior highs each have Life Science, Earth Science, and Physical Science for grades 7, 8, and 9 respectively. The high schools offer biology and chemistry (along with other courses). If biology is taught at each place, and students receive the same credit at each school, then shouldn't the description of the class as well as the curriculum be standard, too?

My district worked a bit on identifying some standard curriculum last spring. This will represent the "musts" for teachers. They may individually choose to add onto the list, but nothing may be omitted. So this will take care of one problem.

The second (course descriptions) gets a little bit more interesting. Teachers are very territorial about what gets published in a course catalog---even if the class is supposed to be the same at each school. In a few weeks, when all of the secondary science teachers are together again, we're going to have to come to some sort of consensus about the course descriptions. I plan to wear a raincoat in case of pissing contests.

Here is a sampling for just the biology course descriptions:

School A:
This course covers basic concepts of biology in a classroom and laboratory setting. Students will study cells, genetics, ecology, evolutionary prinicples, and human body systems. Nothing will be blown up. Please do not ask. Students should expect to have regular homework assignments, including lab reports, class projects, and individual assignments.

School B:
This is a laboratory oriented general biology course. Successful students will be able to organize and maintain a comprehensive notebook of work in this class. Students will apply concepts to lab situations by creating and completing experiments of their own design. Topics will include cell studies, a survey of living organisms, anatomy, physiology, genetics, and ecology.

School C:
This course is lab-oriented with emphasis on high-interest topics relevant to future citizens. Topics included are developmental biology, anatomy and physiology, cell studies, genetics, and ecology.

Okay, so we have some similarities across the district in terms of how we advertise biology. We more or less agree on the topics. I'm wrestling with what it is that makes a good course description. My hunch is that it doesn't include comments about homework, notebooks, or citizenry. Those are individual teacher options---how one chooses to organize the prescribed curriculum.

I did sneak a look at the descriptions for math classes. They have already been standardized around the district. They have the following format:
  • Who should take the course and why.
  • The topics covered in the course.
  • What class can be taken following this course.

I wonder if I can convince the science teachers to buy into this. Perhaps if I provide a template to work from, they will be able to manage things.

Why the rush to do Course Descriptions for a school year that is still more than a year away? Well, this may be the one time all of the teachers are together. The Recommendations we made in terms of curriculum last spring will be adopted this fall---and course catalog information is due in December. Plus, we will be doing materals adoption this year. Shouldn't teachers have a clear idea of what their course is supposed to be before they pick out textbooks and other supplementary classroom tools?

I'm hoping that there won't be blood spilled over writing common course descriptions. But I know what happened when this topic was broached a couple of years ago: there was panic in the streets. Perhaps the allure of new curriculum materials and all of the other support the district is providing will be enough of a carrot to play nice.

06 August 2005

Hey! That's me!

Well, sorta.

According to a recent collection of statistics put together by the New York Times (id: bugmenotnyt2005; password: june2005), I resemble today's new teacher in a few ways. This is because I'm
  • female, representing about 75% of the profession.
  • white, representing 84% of the profession.
  • altruistic, with 96% saying that they love their job.

Teachers tend to become disillusioned, er, outgrow the "altruistic" motivation to teach by about the fifth year. This is also the time when 46% have left the profession. I wonder if the rest of us still suffer from the Don Quixote Syndrome, tilting at the windmill of making a difference in society. (Maybe altruism isn't the right term here. It could be that the author looked at the salary scale for teachers before choosing her words.) Perhaps we've just found our motivation from other aspects of the profession rather than solely depending upon saving the world.

Here is where I differ from today's new teacher.

  • "Teaching attracts a 'disproportionately high number of candidates from the lower end of the distribution of academic ability,' says a report last year from the National Council on Teacher Quality. In 2004, the average combined SAT score for college-bound seniors was 1,026; the average for those who intended to major in education was 965. Only home economics, public affairs and technical and vocational scores were lower." Even "undecided" majors have higher SAT scores.
  • They are career-changers, with an average age of 35 years of age and have seven to eight years with another profession.

I do wonder about the first piece of information. Is it a reflection of the "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." axiom? Is it because teaching is generally viewed as a slacker profession that anyone can do, so people gravitate toward it? And, more importantly, are SAT scores really such great predictors of how well someone will be able to teach? My understanding is that those are not what those numbers are to be used for.

I am 35 years old, but I'm not a "second-career teacher." Assuming the economy improves, how many of these "retreads" will go back to their first profession?

All of this makes good food for thought, but it also makes me curious about what's missing from the article: why do new teachers stay in the profession? what attracts males and minorities to teaching? I'm not going to assume that these answers would be simple. It just seems like if we are looking to attract a high-quality workforce to education, we need to know how to get them here. It's simple enough to identify the recruitment issues---what will we do to change them?

Returning to the Wired World

After a week of no phone, no computer/internet, no tv, and no cares in the world...I'm back. I'm starting to get my "regular" life back in motion and regular posting here will resume shortly. :)