A Teachable Moment

With Hurricane Sandy approaching Monday morning during my advisory class, I decided to go off script and use the teachable moment. How often does a science teacher get to talk about the power of a hurricane and have live pictures to show? I had no lesson planned, but I know the geography of the east coast well having attend high school in Connecticut. Weather is one of the content areas I enjoy the most, and hey it is advisory class we could take the discussion anywhere. Using CNN’s and TWC’s live internet feeds to highlight the story, I only needed 2 minutes during announcement to pull up the need audio/visual aids.

Announcements end, cue up the video feed, starts by highlighting forecast for the day and when the storm will hit. Next up: closures and curfews for the NYC metro area. The broadcaster was talking about the need for people to be off streets so the emergency crews could get where they needed to be and the closing down of all of the public transportation. In my mind this was great teachable moment. The students heard about the weather threat and the need to get off the streets to a safe location. I pause the video feed to start the discussion. At first the class was concerned about what happen in New York City and the need for safety. Students were asking if this had ever happened before and many were surprised to learn that Manhattan is an island surrounded by water. Then the discussion took an unexpected turn.

A normally quiet student asked a question. I was happy since he rarely seemed interested in advisory conversations. He asked “So, if all the people are supposed to be home, wouldn’t that be a good time to break in a business?” First thought in my head was yes, so you are a budding young crook. Then I thought maybe I wasn’t hearing the question correctly. He repeated questions adding,”nobody is around, that is what happens, people get robbed.” I wanted to avoid the question but knew I had to take it on, I countered with “Well, you are right no civilians are supposed to be around since the police and national guard will be on the streets rescuing those in need.” I made sure I added, “They would be stopping all people they see, since nobody is supposed to be out and about.”

The class took my answers well and the discussion continued about hurricane and emergency preparations.

I felt I could not leave a question about theft unturned. Was my student a budding young thief or was something more at play? Later when the students were discussing items with partners. I pulled the student aside and asked about the question. Little did I know that a students family member been a victim of a robbery and he had overheard a discussion about the crime. The discussion was about how no one was around to witness the crime.

Some days a teachable moment turns into a learning opportunity for the teacher as well.

What teachers need is time

What educators need in today’s schools is time. The public perspective is that teachers work from 8 to 3 (when students are in school) and they have all of the school holidays with summers off. Most publicly wish they had the teachers schedule. Teachers and Administrators alike know it just isn’t that cushy.

When students are in school, teachers are on every minute. With class sizes are running over 30 in most public schools today, a teacher never stops moving in the classroom. They have to teach the lesson, check for understanding, help students who need it, while maintaining an atmosphere that promotes learning. When teachers are lucky enough to have a prep period, they have meetings, planning to be done, papers to grade, parent phone calls to make and not to be forgotten a much-needed trip to the bathroom. A teacher’s prep period is much like most people’s work.

If that is not enough work for a teacher, when the bell rings at the end of the day, teachers begin preparing for the next. Feedback has to be given on all work turned in. Engaging lessons have to be created. Still more meeting with departments, grade level or special education  providers. Parent phone calls are still needed for those that could not be reached . Run to the store to purchase supplies needed for class. Sounds like a repeat of what is done during prep time, but you can only accomplish so much while students are in school because teachers are often interrupted. Teachers are also expected to help out and attend after school events ranging from band concerts to sports and everything in between.

So after all the school work is done teachers can enjoy their families? Well sort of, most teachers also are engaged in improving their craft. During summers, school holidays and breaks many attend professional development. Most states require a number of PD hours or college credits to stay current.

After all of this is done a teacher may enjoy their free time….. or just take a nap to get up and do it all over again.

Be careful when modeling behavior in public

As a teacher I try to be aware of my “public” persona and model the behaviors I desire from my students. I am very aware of the words I chose and how I act. We have all heard the stories of “bad” teachers and how their behaviors have been broadcast out on social media. Recently here in metro Detroit: a recent news report talked about pictures of a teacher at a popular “beach” party emerging on Facebook.  It is becoming apparent that mistakes now last forever. Everyone should be careful. I am more concerned with behavior that does not hit the media but has a greater effect on our students.

Last week, I was enjoying watching the Detroit Tigers win the American League Pennant with my 8 year old son. As usual, I was also reading twitter during the game. After Austin Jackson homered to put the game out of reach (7-1) in the seventh inning, I noticed a tweet. “Regardless of the outcome of the Yankees-Tigers game, Detroit is still the worst city on Earth.” I was taken aback. I live in Detroit (or at least the Metro Area). I have been to third world countries that I felt were worse. Responded saying it was a bit harsh. Shook it off thinking about someones emotionally upset about his team’s performance. A bit latter I noticed another tweet, “F*** A-rod, F*** Granderson, F*** Cano, You all Suck”. This was coming from someone I respected on twitter. I was shocked. I quickly replied “If you are a true fan you would not model such poor sportmanship in public. Bad example for the next generation.” Sure it might be ok to say that to a friend at the bar or the person sitting next to you at the game, but to the world on twitter? It seemed like the middle school behavior I am attempting to change.

Society needs to remember that when ever and where ever we are in public we are modeling behaviors for the next generation. Sadly, not enough people are thinking when they model behaviors. We often forget that something said to a friend should not be blasted across the internet for all to see. It seems people are too quick to type, out an insult or criticism and broadcast it to the world. What if it was said in a classroom? Wouldn’t it be written up as bullying?

MEAP Matters?

Today I had the pleasure of administering the 7th grade math MEAP (Michigan Educational Assessment Program) to my 2nd hour science class. It is the second week of testing, 4th day of testing. We give up about 2.5 hours of instructional time each day that our students are required to take the test. I find it odd that we are testing 6th grade growth in writing, reading and math a month into the 7th grade year. shouldn’t the test be at the end of the 6th grade year? Before our students have 10 weeks off and then comeback and get into a routine of instruction just to be interrupted by testing over 2 weeks. Enough about testing times, I want to focus on today.

Today I walked around the room observing students working on the test. I noticed students answering questions without writing down any calculations in the test booklet. I took a moment to look back at the instructions: “You may underline, circle or write in the booklet but only the answers on the answer document will be corrected.” First off, I don’t like the word MAY in the instructions. I feel it needs to be changed to “You SHOULD”. Why do we give the students permission to choose not to show work, which as an educator I know is a best practice. It will help students see what they are calculating and they may notice a mistake. The other problem is the directions are telling the students that their work doesn’t matter, just the answer. Sure, the government does not want to pay someone to grade written work, but they devalue it before it is even attempted.

As I continued to monitor the class take the assessment, I felt more and more useless as a teacher in the classroom. I saw students making mistakes. I wanted to ask them how they came to their answer. I wanted to help them see their errors and make corrections. I felt helpless, watching students make mistake after mistake. Trained to help students learn from mistakes, I was forced to sit on the sidelines so the educational autopsy could be performed. Result coming in 6 months with very few problems released to aid student instruction.

After the students had finished: some rapidly and some worked diligently to achieve their best. I talked with a few students individually. My first conversation was with a student who finished the suggest 40 minute second part in 15 minute. I asked “How did you do?” His response was “Doesn’t matter, my parents don’t care about the MEAP, glad I am done.” I wanted to say it matters to your school and teachers. I felt the urge to explain that the scores rank schools and can affect funding. But he was right! To him the test has no relevance. It does not affect his grade or standing in school. Why try your best on a test if there is no true benefit. What is the point of the test for him?

The other student I talked to was a girl. She appeared tired and was laying her head down on the desk after the test were collected. I asked her why she was tired. “Well, I did not go to bed until 11 pm last night and had to get up at 4 am to get to school.” Okay 5 hours of sleep would make me tired too. I sure would not be performing my best on a test getting that little sleep. After further inquiry I found out she was with her mom at her mother’s boyfriends house, an hour away from school. Well, that explains the sleep issue. Is it fair for this 12-year-old girl to have to take the test? I don’t know.

I do know we need to create a testing system that is relevant to our students. It need to not be an autopsy but be a tool to mold instructional needs for the students. It also needs to have the flexibility to allow for students to show work and retake if needed. We need a testing system that helps students grow and become better learners. Not one that is used to rank students and bully teachers and schools.