Nervous Educators?

As states create laws to hold teachers accountable for students learning, educators all over the country are getting nervous. Test scores are now making up a higher percentage of teacher evaluations. In some states up to  50% of a teachers evaluation will be base upon ONE score on a standardized test. It seems logical to a non-educator that if the school’s goal is for students to learn then they should do well on these tests. Is it this simple or should teacher be nervous?

Teaching and learning are two different things that are closely related. Teaching involves presenting ideas to students for them to learn; learning is excepting these ideas and putting them into practice. Teaching is like an engine and learning is like the tires on a car. The engine provides the power for the wheels to move. But there are many parts (variables) that can cause the car not to go. Gears, drive-shafts, axles and rims can all stop the car from going forward even when the engine is running perfectly. Teaching can be great in a classroom but the student can have many other factors in their lives that inhibit learning. Illnesses, divorce of parents, death in the family and poverty are just a few issues that can slow down student’s learning in our classrooms. Try as the engine might, movement may not occur at expected rate. On the other side of the coin, the engine can be running poorly, but the car still moves smoothly. At times despite of poor teaching many students learn on their own. Just like the car rolling down the hill due to gravity. The teaching engine has had no impact on the growth, but the students grows due to inspiration and hard work.

Critics argue that nervous teacher don’t want to work hard to get results. “I taught it, but he/she didn’t learn it” is the quote often used to describe this attitude. Make it relevant and rigorous, critics argue, that this is the key for students success. Are test relevant to students if they are being used to judge the teacher? Is the learning relevant to students where education is not shown as valued in our society? Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are always introduced as college drop-outs. Film and sports stars are role models and are held in high esteem.Jobs that seem to require little or no formal education. On the other hand educators are constantly mocked in the media. Even our politicians argue about whether global climate change is a scientific fact. From our students vantage point education is not relevant. They know a diploma is needed but not the skills that a diploma represents. Our schools are a reflection of Our SOCIETY.

YES, educators are nervous because it feels like WE are the only ones making education relevant today. We can’t do our jobs alone. We need society to step up and make education a priority everywhere like it is in schools!

It can’t be educators vs the world anymore!

Starting Engaged 

Photo by T Bloch

The start of the school year is so important. Our start sets the tone for the entire school year. Many classrooms I have observed start year with an emphasis on rules and procedures. It is good to lay-out behavior expectations early on in your classroom but is the main goal for the first week of school? Shouldn’t we focus on engaging students? Don’t teachers want to give the message to students that learning in the classroom will be fun? Students should want to go to school for more than just their social contacts.

This year while I set expectations, I had the goal of starting with engagement in my classroom. No seating chart was made, I quickly called roll allowing students to sit in what ever seat they felt comfortable in. Each day of the four day first week after roll call I started class with a ten minute challenge. Students worked as team to complete challenge. I wandered the room watching students work and answered questions during the challenge. I was learning how my student interact, who took charge, who followed the lead and those that just watched others at work. Some groups found success, others experienced First Attempts In Learning (fail). Everyone was learning, especially me. My students we learning how to learn from failures and work as teams. I was learning about my students: how the interact and tackle tasks. Most of all my students were engaged.

The challenges:

Day 1 :

Materials- 1 piece of 8 x 11 paper   Ruler   Scissors   Textbook

Goal: Hold the textbook up one inch above the tables with only the paper supplies.

Day 2:

Materials: Paper, water, and google.

Goal: Make a cup that holds water out of paper:

Day 3:

Materials:  Paper bag, 4 straws, 1 paper cup, 1 piece of construction paper, 1 yard of tape, 1 yard of yarn, and a marble.

Goal: Support a marble as high off of the table as you possibly can.

Day 4 – Marshmallow Challenge


My students came into each day excited to tackle the next challenge. After day one when many were upset with not being able to succeed, student realized that failing was not their destination but a necessary stop for some on their learning journey. I feel I have now set an engaged tone to my classroom. Students come excited to learn. As a result of these activities many students have shared that they now love science, At open house every parent shared how their child was talking about what we were doing in the classroom. Hopefully we can maintain this excitement throughout the year,

Photo by T Bloch
Photo by T Bloch

Sign for change

Even a blind squirrel finds a nut, I never thought I would agree with an article written by Capital Confidential. They found a nut. Michigan’s Teacher evaluation system is broken! During the 2013-2014 school year Detroit Public Schools rated 79% of their teachers Highly Effective. There are many great teachers in Detroit Public Schools, but no quality teacher evaluation system of any district would rate 79% of their teachers at the highest level. These results are a symptom of a problem. Teacher evaluations are being used to rank and sort teachers. Administrators, scared of losing teachers who are effective are inflating teachers evaluations.

When Michigan State legislature decided to change teacher evaluation laws to qualify for race to the top in 2011, they rushed to make changes failing to see the full consequences. Districts have implemented poor teacher evaluation programs due to lack of funding and training. Administrators lack the time to observe all of their teachers. It appears that in Detroit Public Schools Administrators have taken the stance that teacher that do their jobs are Highly Effective. Our students deserve better.

It is time for Lansing to revisit the Michigan Council Educator Effectiveness report from 2013. Create a model evaluation plan for the state of Michigan. Without a model evaluation plan situations like DPS will continue to arise. With this plan administrators and teachers will know what to expect. Our students will then have the education experience they deserve.

We Got This …

Tomorrow marks the start of another school year in Michigan. Teachers have spend countless hours organizing supplies, decorating rooms, and planning lessons all for the first impression made on day 1 of school. For me the night before school starts is sleepless, like many other educators I know. I think about every possible scenario that could occur during my first day; asking how will I handle it? A recent article talked about a 46 year teach veteran that still feels butterflies on the first day.

Nerves and excitement fill students and teachers alike for day 1. Are we going to be liked? Will school be fun? Will we all learn? Did we forget our jobs over summer? As educators we got this! We are trained to focus on relationships, listen to our students and make learning fun. On day 1 we have to make sure our students know that we CARE! As long as this message comes across on day 1 our years will go smoothly.

Many teachers get caught up in all the rules and procedures for day 1. Although rules and procedures are important they can wait until later in the week. Day 1 should be about getting to know our students and allowing them to know us. Focus needs to be about relationships and allowing students to know you as a person. I make sure videos to give an introduction to me and my family.

Have a great day 1 and 2015-2016 school year. I know WE got this! Now make sure to settle your students nerves.

Teachers aren’t the enemy

From Chris Christie wanting to punch the teachers union in the face to John Kasich‘s desire to get rid of teachers unions the teaching profession is under attack by bullies. It isn’t just the politicians that want to use the teaching profession as a whipping post, non-profits like The 74 and The Mackinac Center regularly take jabs at teachers under the premise of educational reform. Teachers are becoming afraid to share their voice due to the constant attacks. Fewer teachers are now drawn to the profession. Teachers are afraid to share their voice due to abuse. Where will it end?

Teachers are not the enemy to educational reform, we are the solution. Without high quality dedicated teachers, schools would not exist. Think tanks like to spend piles of money to break up teachers unions and belittle the profession. WHY? Wouldn’t their money be better spent in building up the teaching profession? How about opening a model school and see how their policies would make education better? It doesn’t happen because their solutions are short term, focused on saving money on teacher pay not creating a better system. The best educational systems exist where teachers feel valued and have a role in decision making.

The Mackinac Center under the pseudonym Capitol Confidential likes to constantly badger teachers sharing their voice. In a recent post “Teachers Making Over $80,000 need second job to pay bill” the center just wants to focus on pay of teachers. The article is quick to point out that teachers work 184.5 days and 7 hours per day. Lets start with the hours: NO teacher works bell to bell it is impossible to do so, most effective teachers work 3 to 4 hours beyond the bells. Next, no teacher only works the district calendar. Just stop by a school in the weeks before or after the school year and see who is there, most teachers. Sure, eighty thousand should like a good amount of money but few teachers make this salary. The state average is $57,000 and that number has been going down. Starting teachers make less, Average starting teachers salary statewide is $35,000. Remember these teachers have students loans to pay off, taxes, pensions, health care, homes and families to pay for. Yes, teachers are struggling just like many in our country.

If the Mackinac Center were a student in our schools they would be written up for bulling behavior under state bullying laws. It has been repeated and constant. Educators share their story, Mackinac Center attacks, in the name of school reform. Stop the bullying. Focus on being a positive voice not an attacking one. Focus on helping teachers not beating use up.

We are not the enemy you are looking for. Your public bullying behavior makes our job harder. If a public group like Mackinac Center can bully, why can’t our students?

Teachers aren’t the enemy, they are doing the best we can in the world we live in. Schools are a reflection of our society. Education reform should be about making our society better, so our schools reflect it.

Teachers can influence policy 

Photo by Todd Bloch

In July twitter was a buzz about pending legislative action mandating social media policies in all school districts. As a connected educator, I felt I needed to share how it could possibly impact state educators on my blog.  Fortunately for educators, the author of the House Bill 4791, Rep Adam Zemke of Ann Arbor desires educator input on this legislation.

After seeing my tweets of concern, Rep Zemke’s office contacted me to set up a time to talk to Rep Zemke. A day later we had a wonderful hour long conversation about the social media bill and my connected educator concerns. I was not speaking out only for my concerns but for the general concern of all teachers in Michigan who my be impacted by this bill and how districts might react. Not wanting to rely on one educator’s viewpoint Rep. Zemke asked if I could gather a group of educators to discuss this further with him.

On August 13, 2015 in Zeeland, Michigan Rep Zemke met with a group of seven connected educators from all over Michigan to discuss the intent and impact of this legislation. After a quick over view of the bill, the discussion turn to educator concerns. Rep Zemke listened and quickly took out a notebook and pen to record educator viewpoints. Everyone at the table knew the intent of the bill is to have policy in place to encourage positive social media use in our schools. Prohibition due to lack of knowledge was the largest concern.

At the end of the conversation, Rep Zemke asked for contact information of all educators and hoped to share final bill language with all (for input) when it was complete. I was impressed. This was the first time in 15 years as an educator I felt my voice was truly heard by a legislator. Rep Zemke drove across Michigan to listen to 7 teachers share their concerns, not one of which lived in his house district. Lansing and Washington, DC need more legislators who meet with people who are directly impacted by their policies.

Thank you Rep Adam Zemke, I hope our input on this policy helps create a bill accomplishes the goal on POSITIVE social media use in our schools. You did what all politicians should, looked for input and listened to concerns.

Educators if you have positive stories of Social Media use in your school please share them in the comments.

7 Educational What ifs ….

 Educators need to start thinking outside the box; focusing on WHAT IF questions. Here are some society needs to tackle.

  1. What if we funded education like we do sports? We spend billions on sports annually, do they add as much value to the world as our educational system?
  2. What if we stopped bashing teachers and supported them? Teachers have been slammed everywhere they go lately. Just think if teachers felt valued and were treated like professionals.
  3. What if all businesses had vested interests in their community schools? Businesses seem so disconnected with today’s school system, shouldn’t they be more involved.
  4. What if there was more collaboration in education? Currently most educational models have schools competing for students, shouldn’t they be collaborating for students’ learning instead?
  5. What if education was about sharing ideas instead of making capitalist profits? Many business models are set up to profiteer off of our public schools, should it be more about the common good!
  6. What if teacher voice was valued more than special interest think tanks and politicians? Teachers are the experts, shouldn’t they be listened to more than all the so-called educational reformers with no classroom experience.
  7. What if university schools of education worked with in school districts? Many schools of education are so disconnected with real schools. Need to make teaching schools, just like teaching hospitals for doctors.

I am sure their are many more What if questions we need to be asking, be sure to add yours to the comments.

Working hard to make sure teachers are inspiring the youth of tomorrow.


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