15 March 2009

Meme 2.0

The ever-resourceful Nancy Flanagan recently posted her version of 20 Questions---all about her professional experiences. I'm a sucker for a good meme, so I am going to take her up on her suggestion to abscond with her ideas. Got a blog? You can play along at home, too.
  1. Teaching assignments, how long? Mostly secondary science for nearly 18 years, with some elementary, instructional coaching, and curriculum specialist work thrown in for good measure.
  2. Favorite class taught---and why? I'm going to change up Nancy's intent here and say The Class of 2000. I had those kids as sophs in 97-98 and there was just something special about that particular cohort: bright, creative, positive and hopeful.
  3. Worst class taught---and why? I can think of a few stinker class periods over the years, but I have to say that the worst class was more a function of subject matter than the students themselves. I was assigned to teach something far out of my expertise and knowledge base (even though it was pointed out to the PTB that I did not have the appropriate certificate...they didn't care). It was miserable for everyone.
  4. Favorite class taken? Oddly enough, I don't know that I have one. I've enjoyed lit classes, stat classes, and music classes. I've taken good things away from them all.
  5. Favorite education book? Hmmm...I have shelves full of these. Maybe Jim Burke's Reading Reminders? I frequently pull this out for work with both kids and adults. There's so many great strategies for learning here.
  6. Best teacher buddy? Someone I worked with in Curriculum, who has also moved on to bigger and better things. Her thoughtful ways, good humor, and professionalism are missed by me every day. I get to see her socially now, but not getting to work with her anymore is a real loss for me.
  7. Best administrator? The first Boss Lady. In spite of the disappointments I had along the way, I admire her clarity of thought and belief in doing what's best for kids should drive all decisions. I'm so glad she's in a position now that allows her to share her wisdom and talent with many districts.
  8. Most disappointing experience? Working for a district that doesn't care about kids.
  9. Most thrilling moment? Watching a struggling student finally "click" with a skill or piece of information. Seeing that sort of light bulb come on is fantastic.
  10. Funniest incident in your classroom? I've been trying to think of one. I got to laugh a lot in the classroom---from lab experiments that went awry (including kids who were afraid for pillbugs) to the times when my high school kids would work with primary kids (who inevitably walked all over my students) to puppet shows about cell parts and more. I'm grateful for all those memories.
  11. Most memorable student? Again, it's hard to say. I'm still in touch with some kids (though they are well into adulthood now), so I suppose that makes them memorable. Was it the one of the ones I've written about here over the last 4+ years? Was it the ones who went off to college to study something in the sciences, citing my class as an inspiration? Was it a teacher who sent me a kind note after one of my presentations? They're all part of my continuing work.
  12. What about unions? Should never ever be mandatory for teachers. If they exist, their power should be limited to teacher contract issues only---not student-related factors.
  13. What about charter schools? A nice idea; however, I hate seeing them touted as a solution when they get to set all their own rules. Is it any surprise when they succeed when they are allowed to stack the deck in their favour? I do think that many schools are looking for curricular or instructional freedom from district-driven decisions with the idea that "their kids" would benefit from something different. This may or may not be true when put into practice, but plenty of schools out there would like to try.
  14. What about merit pay? I like the idea; however, I can't think of any reasonably fair way to make it happen. It can't be simple hoop-jumping...it can't be wholly dependent on student test scores...it can't be decided by an administrator's evaluation. There needs to be elements of all those things (and more), but what a nightmare of bureaucracy that would be. Instead, why don't we just focus on supporting classroom teachers to be their very best...and move out the ones who are just there to mark time?
  15. What does "21st century learning" mean? To me it means that we reach kids where they are---which includes cell phones in the classroom, cloud computing, gaming, and/or whatever tools students are choosing for their own personal learning. I don't think "old" skills for literacy and math are going to evolve, but the way that we reach kids in order to support their learning will.
  16. What makes a teacher "effective"? I think an effective teacher is one who is skilled at developing relationships within the classroom; building those teacher-student connections is the basis for so much more learning.
  17. Most overrated "reform"? Reform-based science materials. (Yes, I'm looking at you FOSS, STC, and Insights science kits.) These are great materials; however, if the National Science Foundation had poured money into supporting science instruction instead of science "stuff," we'd be so much further into improving student understanding and achievement.
  18. Best professional development? Being able to work with an instructional coach on lessons for my kids. Her support in implementing ideas and helping me revisit and reflect on things was invaluable.
  19. Personal education hero? Right now, it's Organized Chaos (with nods to her teaching partners Elementary My Dear, or Far From It; Kindergarten Chaos; and Together, We Are Unlimited). I am in awe of what she does and the grace with which she does it---in spite of all the variables in her school life.
  20. Priorities, if you could spend $5 billion on education? I hate to sound snobby, but five billion is not very much. Personally, I think the number one thing that would have an impact is simply time for teachers to reflect/plan. At secondary, this would mean hiring more teachers so that every teacher could have two planning periods (one personal, one for collaboration with others in dep't/grade) and fewer students. At elementary, this would likely mean more specialists (science, art, PE, library...) so that classroom teachers had more time built into their days. Yes, I know all of this impacts physical plant space and other issues...but I'm dreaming here.
So, there you have it. Some fence-riding. Some wishes. Some stabs in the dark. What would you say to these?


Nancy Flanagan said...

Thanks for the insights--really! These are truly the things that I want to know about the educators I meet on-line. I think you can learn a lot about a person by having them tell you about their favorite class or what reform they believe was more good PR than productive change.

And I used "class" (Q.1) on purpose, to make the question more broad: who or what did you look forward to teaching, every day? I also loved your 21st century answer. Same content, new personal tools for learning. Bingo.


Mr. McNamar said...

The charter schools I've read about in David Whitman's "Sweating the Small Stuff" don't stack the deck. They simply create a school and open it up to all who apply--I don't consider that skimming or being selective.