Tag Archives: teacher

Staying Positive During Assessment Week

Last year, I really began to stress out.  I felt ill many times and became distracted by all of the noise.  I was taking it personally that “everyone” wanted to judge my ability as a teacher.  It is not that I doubt my abilities.  Am I the best teacher ever?  Hardly.  However, I work with them everyday.  Every day I have learned from my colleagues.  They do whatever it takes.

When I was in high school, the athletes around me motivated me also.  I swam with some of the best in the state.  Coach (for the first month I thought that was his name) made me swim in the sprinter’s lane.  These guys swam the 50 free in 23 seconds.  One day Coach gave us a set of 10 x 50 on 30 seconds.  If we swam the two laps in 25 seconds we would have 5 seconds rest before we swam the next one.  Only Coach, with his wisdom, experience, and sadism, told me to swim breaststroke, the slowest stroke, and my best time was 29.5 seconds!  How was I going to swim 10 of these in a row in 30 seconds with half a second rest? Coach had a T-shirt that with “Rule #1: Coach is always right.” On the front, and “Rule 2: If you think Coach is wrong, see Rule #1.”

"Retired" Coach being a commentator at the State Swim Meet.

“Retired” Coach being a commentator at the State Swim Meet.

Of course, I tried my best.  And, my teammates encouraged me to do my best.

Many say swimming is an individual sport, like a teacher alone in a classroom.  However, my teammates wanted all of us to swim fast.  All would succeed! And, my colleagues share this sentiment.  They have always shared and collaborated to have every child learn and improve.

Each day, I see the great things the teachers around me are doing and I marvel.  How can I keep up?  What can I do?  It is the kind of challenge that makes teaching fun!  (The students also create a challenge, which is fun most of the time.)

Luckily, I have realized that my teaching will survive the scrutiny made from assessments indifferent students take.   Survive?!  On the contrary. My teaching will improve as I tackle the challenges of devoting six – eight days for these tests and a shortened schedule for five days as other students take the graduation test!

images  Assessments?  They are nothing compared to Coach’s workouts.

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Achieving Goals: Face Forward

It is getting closer to the start of the year, and my To Do list for school and home keeps growing like the weeds in my flowerbeds.  (There’s another thing to add to the list.)

As I prepare for the opening week, I keep thinking of what our surf instructor in Costa Rica kept telling me:  “When you stand up, face forward and look where you are going, not at your feet or where you have been!”  IMG_0825

It seems like good advice for students.   Keep your eyes forward!

Freshmen can be intimidated by mature upperclassmen, and I am not referring to bullying.  I remember a time before a class period was going to begin.  A group of boys were talking and joking while I was grading papers at my desk.   Suddenly, the room became silent.  I looked up at the boys wondering what happened when I heard, “Hi Mr. W.”  Walking into my room was McKenzie, a senior.  We exchanged pleasantries, she handed me some paperwork and she left.  I don’t think the boys moved.  They just stared in that awkward stalker-like manner.  The boys were certainly intimidated by her.  I am willing to bet that they had trouble keeping their eyes forward and refocusing their thoughts during class.   Luckily, they are teenage boys and forget most things within twenty-four hours.  Focus would happen the next day…maybe.

There are other ways students can forget to face forward or focus on their goals.IMG_0809

I have seen students come to class discussing what “he” said or “she” said and this gossip overtakes their learning.  (However, perhaps they are preparing for a new reality serious similar to the “Housewives of —“ and they will be wealthier than myself.)

I have had students argue with me that they did not need to pass English 9 to graduate.  I brought in other authority figures.  All but one student at least believed the guidance counselor.  This stubborn know-it-all spent his summer retaking the class.  Since I have been married, I have learned that some people are more stubborn than others.

I have learned that during certain times of the year students really struggle with facing forward; for instance, during the NCAA basketball tournament.  Many a student is looking at the past records and statistics to fill out a bracket.  Schoolwork loses its luster as game after game is on TV.

Without a doubt, all of us parents and teachers have struggled with facing forward in high school.  Imagine if we could go back in time.   I am positive I would think high school would be pretty easy.  I thought I had a lot of responsibility, like study, do some chores, and go to swim practice.  Oh, and I HAD to complain about doing the chores!

Today, I still do homework, do some chores, and drive my kids to practices.  Plus, a few other things that go along with marriage, children, pets, etc.

IMG_0858This school year I want to remember to face forward.  I want to be less sarcastic.

What will you face forward for?

.

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It’s Not Always a Bad Day

Today did not start well.  I was blamed for a bad grade.

 

The Question Is What Is the Question?

The Question Is What Is the Question? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

STUDENT: Why did I get a zero?

 

ME: You did not answer the question.  Your answer was off topic.

 

STUDENT: I didn’t know what the question was.

 

ME: It was in your Reader’s Notebook packet.  You were to respond to Ch. 9-11.  See, it says that right here on the rubric.

 

STUDENT: But, it doesn’t have the question there!

 

ME: The question is in the Reader’s Notebook that I gave you.

 

STUDENT: But, Sally stole it from me.

 

ME: You never told me you needed another one.  Plus, I wrote the topic on the board and explained to the class what was being asked.  You were here that day.  Why didn’t you copy it down?  Why didn’t you ask me if you didn’t understand?

 

STUDENT: But, Sally stole it from me.

 

I guess if you run out of excuses or blame, you just repeat yourself.

 

I walk away to get her a new copy of the Reader’s Notebook.  Fortunately, she did well on today’s writing assignment.

 

Later, I learned why one student struggles in class even though she sits right in front of the board where I write the homework assignments:

 

STUDENT: When did you get that large cupboard?

 

ME: It’s been there since the school was built 10 years ago.

 

STUDENT: No Way!  I have got to start paying attention, more.

 

Thinking of grades, I could only nod my head in agreement.

 

Then, she asked if she could go to her engineering class because she just noticed she forgot her books and binders there.

 

I could only nod my head in agreement again.  I wrote her a pass.  After all, I have had these moments, too.

 

However, my day continued to improve.  After writing creatively for a class period, I had this conversation with a student:

 

STUDENT: I think I got carried away.

 

ME: Why? What were you writing about?

 

STUDENT: I wrote 600 words on having a monkey as a pet.  I started with some background scientific information and then went into a story.  I will continue it tomorrow.

 

ME: Excellent!  Good luck with it.

 

And during the last class, a student shared the start of an amusing story that he began in class and continued at home.  So far, his first four pages (he only had to write two) describe a man waking up late and locking himself out of his house when he went to get the morning paper.  I look forward to reading more of it.

 

What kind of day did you have?

 

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Filed under Education, Humor, Learning, Measuring Student Success, Writing

Why Do Student’s Test Scores Drop? It’s Complicated…

My number one son is in seventh grade, and has had to take an on-line standardized test three times this year to measure his growth in learning.  His September test score had him reading at a college level.  His December test score had him reading at the 11th grade level.  His March test score had him reading at a 9th grade level.

I am Procrastinating by Taking a Procrastinati...

I am Procrastinating by Taking a Procrastination Test: I scored as an Above Average Procrastinator (Photo credit: Tricia Wang 王圣捷)

When I saw this, my mind reeled with thoughts… If he takes another test, will he be reading at grade level?  What if this trend continues?  Will he regress to the point that I have to read Dr. Seuss books to him at bedtime?

First, I called my local congressman.  He always has the answer.  I explained the situation and asked him what he thought.  He replied, “It’s obvious; the teacher is terrible.  She must not be doing her job.  The test scores prove this.”

“I can’t believe it, sir,” I replied.  “I have met her, seen the work she assigns, the passion in her eyes to help students become better.  She can’t be the problem.  Can she?”

“Constituent, she has fooled you into thinking she is doing a good job.  The test scores are the proof!  Your son’s learning was measured.  There is no other answer.  She is making your child less ready for college and career.  Teachers like her are the reason we have the new evaluation system.  Fifty percent of her evaluation will be based on your son and his classmates last test.   Now, thanks for calling.  I have to attend a fundraising dinner and discuss why evaluations based on economic growth for congressmen are not fair.”

“Um, OK.”

I hung up, more confused.  My daughter saw my confused look and asked me what was wrong?  I told her about her brother’s scores.  Of course, she came up with the answer.

“Duh, Dad.  He is 13.  He IS getting dumber!”

“Of course! I forgot what you were like at that age.  It’s not the teacher’s fault.  It is Number One Son’s fault.  He needs to take responsibility and ownership for his learning.  Thank you daughter!”

“No, Dad.  I meant that he takes after you and Mom.  Look at you.  Mom tells us you got good grades in school.  You even have a Master’s Degree.  But, you don’t know how to fix things, can’t find your keys, and think your own jokes are funny.  You get dumber every day! Plus, Mom calls orchards apple-tree farms, forest rangers bear catchers, and recently thought the air conditioner in the car was not working… then she pushed in the AC button.”  Face it, you two are not rocket surgeons!”

“Funny.  Real funny.  Go to your room!”

After all, what else could I say?  I begin to wonder if she is right.  I have been forgetful lately.  I forgot the wife’s birthday, Christmas, and our anniversary.  I couldn’t help Number Two son with his fourth grade math homework.  And, I didn’t win the NCAA March Madness tournament at work.  Number One’s regression is my fault. Do I tell my wife? No way!

I decide to ask Number One.  I show him the scores.  I ask him if he has any idea why the scores have dropped?

He laughs.  I wonder why he thinks that his getting dumber is so funny. 

He explained: “Dad, the first test day was the third week of school.  I was excited.  I was pumped up.  I tried my best to impress my teacher and make you and Mom proud.”

“Well, Number One, I am very proud of those scores.  You were awesome.  However, what happened for the next test?”

“It was in December, Dad. I was distracted with the thoughts of what I was going to buy you for Christmas.”

“Really?  You were thinking of my gift? You are so thoughtful… Wait a minute.  You didn’t get me anything!”

“Just kidding!  I was thinking of all of the gifts I would be getting.”

“OK, Number One, that makes more sense.  That explains test number two.  What about the third test in March?”

“Oh, I didn’t do my algebra homework and needed time to do it.”

“It was an English test.  I don’t understand, son.”

“As soon as I finished my test, I had free time.  I could do my Algebra homework.   You know me, Dad.  I was the kid who would color a picture in first grade in one minute in order to go outside and play.  I skip steps in Algebra because they take too much time, and I get the right answer.  It’s all about efficiency, Dad.  I play soccer the same way.  One touch passes.  No one ever out runs a pass.”

“Number One, let me see if I understand.  You scored low because you rushed through the test.  You had other priorities that day?”

“You know Dad, you aren’t as dumb as you look.  Want to go outside and kick the soccer ball?”

“Why not, Number One.  As long as I am not tested on it.”

No one I know takes standardize tests for a living

No one I know takes standardize tests for a living (Photo credit: Ken Whytock)

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School Time Fun

Last week my fourth grader brought home a flier for a fund-raiser.  Let me go on the record: I loathe fund-raisers.  I would rather go to the dentist.  However, Sonny likes basketball and the fundraiser was to watch a game between teachers and the Harlem Wizards.   I saw the look in my son’s eyes and knew he was very excited.  This is the kind of event kids love.

We even talked the second grader into going.  (He prefers watching Star Wars and using his imagination instead of sports.)

Well, the evening was a success.  There were funny jokes, dancing with basketball stars, and the ever popular: teachers losing!  Sonny’s work during recess with his fourth grade teacher did pay off though; she scored two points!

I enjoyed seeing friends entertain the kids.  There was my son’s best friend’s mom pretend to use her Ninja skills to fight a wizard player who was a foot taller than she.  Luckily, it ended peacefully.  🙂  And, the community member (a former U.S. Professional Football Player) who was asked to try out for the Wizards during the game missed his one shot by a mile.  The kids did not know it was on purpose, but I know it was.  His shot was worse than my best attempt.  He could not be that bad.  Seriously.

The best part was the referee.  It was my boss, the principal of the high school.  Apparently, she played basketball in high school and college.  She followed the directions of the Wizards and called a “great” game.  She was a great actress and my sons believed everything she did, whether it was a bad call, putting up with disrespect, or even giving the benefit of the call to the teachers.  For her acting, Mrs. H. deserves an Oscar or at least an Oscar the Grouch.

Tonight reminded me why I teach.  It is not the tests scores.  It is not the novels, although I do love them.  It is the fun!  It is the connection with the kids.  It is the immeasurable that no test will ever show.

Think about it.  Do you remember a test score?  Or, do you remember a teacher?

I remember my third grade teacher, Mrs. Duda, who let me help her grade papers and get the films from the office.  I remember Mr. Collins, my eight grade English teacher, who saw my reading and writing ability enough to let me read the main part for a play in class.  I remember Mrs. Collins, my senior English teacher, who saw more potential than I was ready to admit to.

Next year, I will be evaluated on student growth, which is not a bad idea.  However, the growth is to be measured by one test.  The day of the test could be a “bad day” for the kid.  The student could be like my oldest, a “bad test taker.”   What about the impact or influence I have had on a student?  Unfortunately, this is not easily measurable.    Thus, my evaluation will not be accurate.  For now, if you want to know who are the good teachers, listen to the kids.  They will tell you, either directly or indirectly.

What I have learned in twenty-five years is that a good relationship with students creates success.   Now, I have to figure out how to turn the standardized test into a positive relationship.

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Parent / Teacher Conferences: with or without the police

This is a post I made last August, but with conferences on Monday, I thought it was appropriate to repost.

education

education (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Many parents try to take an active role in their child’s elementary education.  At the young age, there are three types of parents who attend conferences.  There is the I-want-to-hear-how-wonderful-my-kid-is parent.  These are the perfect parents who want the teacher to pat them on the back and say, “You have a great kid.  I wish I could be such a great parent, too.”  Then, there is the I-guess-I-should-go-to-conferences parent.  He or she is not sure what to do, but doesn’t want to be looked down by others for not attending. Lastly, there is the I-was-called-by-the-teacher-to-attend parent.  This parent feels like he or she has been called to a tax audit.  They have that feeling that there is a problem with junior.

 

Once a child reaches high school, only about 10% of the parents attend parent teacher conferences.  Some parents feel that it is time for the child to be adult-like and take ownership of their education.  Some young adults are responsible and do not need mom or dad talking to every teacher.  On the other hand, some parents have given up because they always hear the same thing: bad news.  Some kids do not remind their parents when conferences are.  Some parents only visit a few teachers.  Having taught and coached summer swimming in the area for so many years, many parents know me and do not feel the need to come in to get to know me.  They know my expectations.  They know my school email and private email addresses.  They know my cell phone and home phone number.   Still, parents do attend conferences.  These parents can be classified into two categories: the ones who want to hear how wonderful their child is, and the ones who were called by the teacher to discuss a problem.

 

The first year of teaching brings out many parents to learn about the new guy, especially if one is at a small high school.  I started my career at a high school with 350 students.  Many of the students’ parents attended the school.  Everyone knew everyone in the town, which was a foreign concept for me.  My hometown had a population of 60,000, and I graduated from The Ohio State University, with an enrollment of about 60,000 back then.

 

One of my first conferences taught me that the apple does not fall far from the tree.  I was planning on letting the mom know that her daughter had been tardy to class enough times to get two detentions.  Well, mom was late.  As a twenty-three-year old neophyte teacher, I was not going to admonish mom.  Instead, I gave her the facts and the consequences of being tardy.  We agreed that sometimes being late is not a big deal.  Other times, like paying taxes, going to work, or menstruating, being late can be a big deal.

 

Another conference during that first year showed me how we act when we are nervous.  Julie was a quiet student, barely speaking a word in class.  She barely did her work, too, so her mom and I were concerned about her grade and lack of effort.  Julie’s nervousness came out when she sat on a desk instead of a chair.  She tried to dominate the conversation and tell mom what life was about.  Mom and I worked together from the beginning.  Without saying a word, we showed Julie we were the in charge.  I had her sit in a chair and listen as we went over her poor performance so far.  Then, we asked her what ideas she had for success in the future.  The three of us, a triangle of trust and responsibility, came up with a plan for Julie’s success.  We were all responsible for 33% of her education.  Julie came to the conference hoping to create a rift between her mom and me.  Instead, she met a united front of two people who wanted her to be successful.  Once Julie realized we were working in her best interests, she turned her attitude and work ethic around.  She started to succeed.

 

Unfortunately, not all conferences went so smoothly.  During my second year of teaching, Ryan’s dad wanted a conference with the math teacher, the principal, and me.  Apparently, Ryan was failing English and math.  Ryan was a very likable kid and did class work all of the time.  He just didn’t do homework or prepare for tests.

 

During the conference with Ryan’s dad, I was accused of not caring, not teaching, and not doing anything.  It was my fault Ryan was failing.  Is it the dentist’s fault when we get a cavity because we did not brush or floss?  Yet, it was my fault because his son did not do homework or study for tests.  I was told I only worked six hours a day.  Then, I was yelled at.  I tried to remain calm and professional.  However, I lost control.  I slammed my briefcase on the table, popped it open, and showed him the 90 essays I had to grade.  I told him what a great kid Ryan was, but he needed to get work done outside of class.  I started to get into a stink fight with a skunk.  Next thing I knew, the chief of police arrived.  I guess a secretary called him in.  Being a small town, and my being young and new, I did not know the little details.  The secretary knew the dad.  This was not abnormal for him.  Therefore, the chief ended the conference and escorted Ryan’s dad home.

 

A week later, Ryan had a very believable excuse for not having his homework.  He said his mom took a shot at his dad.  I asked, “What?”

 

Ryan responded, “It’s okay Mr. W.  It was only a .22 and she missed.”  I did not give him a zero for the assignment.  He taught me to focus on student learning in class because I cannot control their lives outside of the school day.  I would make sure not being able to do homework did not cause a student to fail.  Thus, a bad conference taught me how to be a better teacher.  It is part of being a freshman.

 

Today, our parents have access to the grade book on-line.  They can see grades as quickly as a teacher can enter them.   In fact, there is an app that allows students and parents know immediately when a grade is entered.  Parents can email teachers instead of calling them, which has been better for me because I have a computer at my desk, but the phone is down the hall.  I can remember a few years ago when I told my classes that parents were going to have this access to grades and teachers, the kids hated the idea.  If teenagers hate the idea, then I know it is good one!

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Welcome To Another School Year

Welcome to another school year.  I share this blog with my students and their parents, as well as the world.  I tend to share my thoughts, however politically incorrect they may be, with anyone who meets me.  I welcome others to do the same, and I would die defending their right to their viewpoint, no matter how wrong it is.

After two days, I am beginning to see who the shy students are, who the gregarious students are, and the ones who understand my sense of humor.  I have yet to discover any student I wish to defenestrate.

Each year, I look inward to see how I can improve.  Although I know I am perfect, I entertain my wife’s thought that I can be better.  (It never hurts to humor the little woman…).

This year, I have created a separate document to show student’s mastery of the Common Core Curriculum.  To be honest, I have done this with my grade book, but the spreadsheet will make it easier for administrators to see the job I am doing.  Realistically speaking, it is not really how well we do our job, but how well we convince bosses that we do our job.

Administrators, parents, students, and other blog readers: do not fear.  I am utilizing the “I Can” statements of the Core as presented by Christina Hank, an excellent resource.  I am very aware of the direction we are headed, and I am happy to see it.  I just notice that we (leaders in education) have been this way before.  The difference is that leaders changed and terms changed, but the ideas did not.  Now, we have a common language and goals to help our students succeed.  This is exciting!

For parents, it may be too much information.  Nonetheless, know that your kids are in good hands.  I am teaching writing and reading.  I have lots of other words to describe what I am teaching, but for most of you, that is not important.  I am working hard to prepare your child for success in college and / or a career.  I know that all of my students will not be English teachers, although several have chosen that path.  I do know that the kids will need to think and analyze and support their opinions.  That is what I focus on.

For any current students reading this, know that I plan to challenge you.  I do not care what your opinion is as much as I care how well you support it.  I want you to stand for something, not fall for anything.  I want you to disagree with me.  I want you to show me with facts why I am wrong.  I know I am not perfect; I am married with 4 kids.  The family tells me how wrong I am all of the time.  I merely like supporting details and examples.

Here is a little secret: I will disagree with you just to see what facts you present to me to show me that I am wrong even though, in my heart, I agree with you.

Good luck this year students and parents.

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The Fun Begins….

I went to school today; two weeks before the contract says I have to go.  Every teacher does this; it is one of our secrets.  I enjoy going in for two reasons: 1. It gets me away from my wife and children.  Before you chastise me for mentioning my wife, know this: she is thrilled when I return to work.  In fact, she throws a ladies lunch party!  and 2. The high school has young people all over the place in August.  The marching band and football teams are practicing.  The soccer teams are there, too.  The cross-country kids are running everywhere, so much so that they seem to be attacking me from every direction as I cross the parking lot.  For me, August means the energy and excitement of youth is swirling like the winds of a hurricane.

I wasn’t the only teacher there.  Mrs. S. was there grading A.P. History summer assignments.  Mr. B. was there getting ready for his new prep: A.P. English 11.  (Or was he avoiding the fiance’s wedding plans?)  And, Mrs. G. was there were her two little ones.  Her one goal was to decorate her door.  However, her three-year-old girl dumped all of her markers on the floor and her sixteen-month boy kept trying to escape the room.  I was no help to her even though I tried the same thing with my kids.  I just laughed.  My oldest son, now 12, set off the fire alarm when he was three.  My boys got into a fight in the middle of the hall another time.  Other times, they were caught running laps through the hall, driving remote-controlled cars through the halls, and even saying, “hello” to other teachers.

Nevertheless, it was a fun time.  I can’t wait to start teaching.

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Parent Teacher Conferences (with or without the police)

Many parents try to take an active role in their child’s elementary education.  At the young age, there are three types of parents who attend conferences.  There is the I-want-to-hear-how-wonderful-my-kid-is parent.  These are the perfect parents who want the teacher to pat them on the back and say, “You have a great kid.  I wish I could be such a great parent, too.”  Then, there is the I-guess-I-should-go-to-conferences parent.  He or she is not sure what to do, but doesn’t want to be looked down by others for not attending. Lastly, there is the I-was-called-by-the-teacher-to-attend parent.  This parent feels like he or she has been called to a tax audit.  They have that feeling that there is a problem with junior.

Once a child reaches high school, only about 10% of the parents attend parent teacher conferences.  Some parents feel that it is time for the child to be adult like and take ownership of their education.  Some young adults are responsible and do not need mom or dad talking to every teacher.  Some parents have given up because they always hear the same thing.  Some kids do not remind their parents when conferences are.  Some parents only visit a few teachers.  Having taught and coached summer swimming in the area for so many years, many parents know me and do not feel the need to come in to get to know me.  They know my expectations.  They know my school and private email addresses.  They know my cell phone and home phone number.   Still, parents do attend conferences.  These parents can be classified into two categories: the ones who want to hear how wonderful their child is and the ones who were called by the teacher to discuss a problem.

The first year of teaching brings out many parents to learn about the new guy, especially if one is at a small high school.  I started my career at a high school with 350 students.  Many of the students’ parents attended the school.  Everyone knew everyone in the town, which was a foreign concept for me.  My hometown had a population of 60,000, and I graduated from The Ohio State University, with an enrollment of about 60,000 back then.

One of my first conferences taught me that the apple does not fall far from the tree.  I was planning on letting the mom know that her daughter had been tardy to class enough times to get two detentions.  Well, mom was late.  As a twenty-three-year old neophyte teacher, I was not going to admonish mom.  Instead, I gave her the facts and the consequences of being tardy.  We agreed that sometimes being late is not a big deal.  Other times, like paying taxes, going to work, or menstruating, being late can be a big deal.

Another conference during that first year showed me how we act when we are nervous.  Julie was a quiet student, barely speaking a word in class.  She barely did her work, too, so her mom and I were concerned about her grade and lack of effort.  Julie’s nervousness came out when she sat on a desk instead of a chair.  She tried to dominate the conversation and tell mom what life was about.  Mom and I worked together from the beginning.  Without saying a word, we showed Julie we were the in charge.  I had her sit in a chair and listen as we went over the poor performance so far.  Then, we asked her what ideas she had for success in the future.  The three of us, a triangle of trust and responsibility, came up with a plan for Julie’s success.  We were all responsible for 33% of her education.  Julie came to the conference hoping to create a rift between her mom and me.  Instead, she met a united front of two people who wanted her to be successful.  Once Julie realized we were working in her best interests, she turned her attitude and work ethic around.  She started to succeed.

Unfortunately, not all conferences went so smoothly.  During my second year of teaching, Ryan’s dad wanted a conference with the math teacher, the principal, and me.  Apparently, Ryan was failing English and math.  Ryan was a very likable kid and did class work all of the time.  He just didn’t do homework or prepare for tests.

During the conference with Ryan’s dad, I was accused of not caring, not teaching, and not doing anything.  It was my fault Ryan was failing.  Is it the dentist’s fault when we get a cavity because we did not brush or floss?  Yet, it was my fault because his son did not do homework or study for tests.  I was told I only worked six hours a day.  Then, I was insulted and yelled at.  I tried to remain calm and professional.  However, I lost control.  I slammed my briefcase on the table, popped it open, and showed him the 90 essays I had to grade.  I told him what a great kid Ryan was, but he needed to get work done outside of class.  I started to get into a stink fight with a skunk.  Then, the chief of police arrived.  I guess a secretary called him in.  Being a small town, and my being young, new, and not a resident, I did not know the little details.  The chief ended the conference and escorted Ryan’s dad home.

A week later, Ryan had a very believable excuse for not having his homework.  He said his mom took a shot at his dad.  I asked, “What?”

Ryan responded, “It’s okay Mr. W.  It was only a .22 and she missed.”  I did not give him a zero for the assignment.  He taught me to focus on student learning in class because I cannot control their lives outside of the school day.  I would make sure not being able to do homework did not cause a student to fail.  Thus, a bad conference taught me how to be a better teacher.  It is part of being a freshman.

Today, our parents have access to the grade book on-line.  They can see grades as quickly as a teacher can enter them.   Parents can email teachers instead of calling them, which has been better for me because I have a computer at my desk, but the phone is down the hall.  I can remember a few years ago when I told my classes that parents were going to have this access to grades and teachers, the kids hated the idea.  If teenagers hate the idea, then it probably is good!

What else have I learned?  Parents may be afraid of coming to school.  They bring all of their memories that they had with teachers with them.  They are cautious and worried that the teacher will judge them as a bad parent.  Some teachers may do this, but remember, the reason that teachers do their job is because of the kids.  If mom is concerned about Junior, then she is a good parent.   The only “great knowledge” the teacher has is knowing the true purpose of the conference: to find out what everyone needs to do for the child to succeed.  Once we set aside egos, we can concentrate on the real crisis – the child’s struggles.

Therefore, my advice to teachers and parents:

  1. Do not blame the other or accept blame.
  2. Listen to the other and hear their frustrations, without being defensive.  Let him or her vent the frustrations he or she feels.
  3. Remind each other that you are part of the triangle of learning, with the student being the third side.  We all have 33.3% of the responsibility.

Can you think of any other advice for teachers and parents?

Even though I was young and childless, many parents asked me for advice.  Unfortunately, the classes I took to be a teacher did not prepare me for being an expert on raising teenagers, which can be akin to nailing grape jelly to the old oak tree in the back yard.  So, I decided to ask the parents what they have done in the past that worked and didn’t work.  We would brainstorm ideas and develop a working relationship to ensure success.  I also learned a lot from the parents of the successful students.  After all, experience is a great teacher.  I then passed on the ideas to the parents of the struggling kids, telling them other parents have found success this way.

Some of the ideas I learned from parents included:

  1. Establish routine.  Make sure homework is done right after school, or set aside an hour to do homework together.  If there is no homework, then it is reading time.  Discuss the completed homework at dinner with the whole family.
  2. Learn how your child learns best.  Most teachers are visual learners.  We like worksheets, chalkboards, multi-media projectors, etc.  We learn best when we see it.  However, some people are auditory learners.  They learn best by listening.  Audio books or reading notes aloud would help these learners.  And, most of us learn by doing.  Experience is the best teacher.   We learn to ride a bike by doing it; we learn to write by doing it; and we learn to swim by doing it.
  3. Check Junior’s daily planner; does it look up to date?  Or, check assignment posted the teacher’s web site.
  4. Contact the teacher for a weekly progress report.  Email works best today.  And, many school districts have grade books on-line.  Check the grades frequently and if you think your child is not telling the truth, you are probably right.
  5. Set up consequences, both rewards and punishments.  You know what will motivate your child best.  One parent gave money for good grades and fines for bad grades.  Another parent used her daughter’s social life as consequences.  My dad rewarded me with dinner and punished me by making watch TV with the family.

What ideas have you learned that I may share?

Parent – teacher conferences are a great way to learn from each other.  I have learned how to be a better teacher and better parent.  I have also learned about hidden talents the students have.  I learned about Lura’s love to play the piano; I learned about Luke’s love to ride horses and rope calves; I learned about Lyndsay’s love of the theatre; and Billy’s dream to attend The Air Force Academy and become a pilot.

Conferences also reminded how hard some kids have had it. I learned about Kelly who lost her mom to cancer three years ago; I learned about David fighting his own battle with cancer; I learned about Zak whose parents were going through a divorce; Chris, who at age fourteen, was a recovering alcoholic, and Carlos, who just found out the man he thought was his father wasn’t because his mom had an affair.

As we start another school year, I look forward to meeting another 150 students and a few of their parents. I look forward to learning about their dreams and I hope to help them through any adversity life throws at them.

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Filed under Education, Learning, Lessons from students

The Art of War or The Art of Teaching?

When I teach subject / verb agreement, my old handouts and even older textbook review the rule: certain phrases, like “many a” always have singular verbs.  Of course, one kid always has to ask, “Who says “many a” any way?”

My reply: “Many a person does.  Or, at least they did, last century, when I was in high school.  I have to plan for inquisitive, facetious students who like to question authority.  To be honest, I love those kids.  (I just like them to raise their hands first.)

As many a teacher does during the summer, I have been planning for next year.  I have worked with colleagues on the new CORE curriculum.  I have read new novels and stories, created activities, writing assignments, and quizzes.

I have even mapped out the entire year.  As the great New York Yankee catcher Yogi Berra once said, “You got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.”  Thus, I have an idea of where I am going this year.

Like most teachers during their first year of teaching, my plan was to stay a few days ahead of the students.  I succeeded most of the time.  I remember thinking that teaching is similar to preparing for war.  I once said that to a curriculum director for gifted and talented students, and she proceeded to admonish me for thinking schools were battle zones with the teacher and student always in conflict like Muslims and Christians during the Crusades.  She was missing my point and did not stop talking long enough for me to explain.  I guess she was used to lecturing gifted and talented kids and having them sit passively as if she was the sage on the stage.

Sun Tzu, the Chinese military strategist and author of The Art of War, said, “When one treats people with benevolence, justice, and righteousness, and reposes confidence in them, the army will be united in mind and all will be happy to serve their leaders.”  Replace army with students and leaders with teachers.  Most teachers are kind and fair.  Most students are well-behaved and courteous.  Of course, every once in a while, there is that one kid who wants to create conflict, like an enemy soldier on the filed of battle.  Sun Tzu describes the best way to handle the disruptive student: “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”  One of my old principals gave me similar advice: “Never get in a stink fight with a skunk; you both come away smelling bad.”

Thus, teachers treat their students with respect; after all, we are in the battle to learn together.   In addition, teachers plan, plan, and plan more lessons.  Like the great generals, teachers know, though, that every great plan will change.  For example, prior to a meeting with the Allies Supreme Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, General George Patton began to create plans to move The Third Army to help save the valuable crossroads at Bastogne. During the meeting, Ike, hoping to have the Third Army relieve the paratroopers at Bastogne within two weeks was surprised when Patton responded, “As soon as you’re through with me,” Patton claimed.  I can attack the day after tomorrow morning.” He had thought his moves out the night before and had three alternative plans.  All he had to do was telephone a code word to activate his troops.  Later, Patton commented on his plans: “The point I am trying to bring out is that one does not plan and then try to make circumstances fit those plans. One tries to make plans fit the circumstances.”  He realized that in battle, no plan survives contact with the enemy.

Bradley, Eisenhower, and Patton

Bradley, Eisenhower, and Patton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a classroom, no lesson plan survives contact with all learners.  Students learn different ways and at different rates. Today, creating multiple plans to reach all types of learners is called differentiated instruction.  Many of us still just call it teaching.

So, a kid questions authority or students struggle with a concept.  Do teachers keep to their plan like Generals did in WWI: send the boys over the top, hoping the enemy’s machine guns run out of ammunition?  No.  Teachers adhere to the words of Winston Churchill:  “Those who plan do better than those who do not plan even though they rarely stick to their plan.”  Teachers have back up plans.

Unfortunately, Miss Gifted and Talented Curriculum Creator, did not listen to my use of the word “planning.”  I was not comparing the classroom to a war zone.   I was comparing the amount of time and effort it takes to prepare.  Our good teachers are willing to make decisions quickly.  Good leaders do that.  They have contingency plans and like good sailors, they adjust their sails when the wind changes.

And, now time to go back to planning…

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Filed under Education, Goals, Lesson Plans