Why I Teach!

I was born the son of a teacher and doctor. My mother, the teacher, was always fostering learning for her 3 sons. She would constantly find activities to engage us. Frequent trips to the  zoo, museum, park and library were a large part of growing up. Dad, when around, also helped us develop a passion for learning. He would make sure to explain every step when fixing items around the house. He mandated our attendance when he worked on the car or boat, “So you know how to do it!” He always exclaimed when we issued complains.

As I grew older, all three of us developed a passion for figuring things out. This passion often end us up in trouble. I vividly remember, taking apart the lawn mower with my little brother one day because it wasn’t working. We thought we found the problem and put it back together. Then realized we hadn’t used all of the parts. When dad got home, we heard about the need for patience and value of questions. Surprisingly dad, took the time with us to make sure the lawnmower was fixed correctly. Not that we enjoyed the time taking it back apart, going to the store to get a schematic diagram to know where all the parts really belonged. Eventually dad even taught me to fly an airplane, since his grandfather taught him, when he was a teenager.

Unfortunately, my parents pasted away due to a tragic plan accident when I was 17 years old. Lucky for me, I was old enough to remember their teaching and modeling of learning. I remember my mother belong to a literary guild, attending monthly meetings and writing research papers. My father constantly learning new procedures for his medical practice. Turn the VCR on in our house growing up it was either a historic documentary or a medical training film.

My parents placed kindling on my educational career. After their passing, It took a few sparks to light the fire. First it was my grandmother. Seeing that I was not self-motivated. She force me to take an aptitude test. The results of which said I should go into a helping profession. Naturally, I resisted, like any teenager lost in life would do. In college, I ventured into classes that were easy, fun or I found interesting. I fell into a communications major with emphasis in video production. I graduated with not prospects of a job. I floundered around in sales and customer service positions. Finding no passion or satisfaction. About ten years after the aptitude testing, my grandmother brought it up again. This time the kindling started to glow.

As I returned to college, tackling another major, I felt the passion winds begin to blow. School this time had meaning. I did not care about fun, socializing or frat parties. I want to learn and fast. Each class my passion for becoming an educator grew. I remembered how my parents fostered my learning. I began to recall, how they also helped everyone around them learn. Mom would help anyone, at church, at home or at school. Dad stopped to answer every patients questions (party of why he was not home often).  I felt pleasure and joy in help others learn. Sure felt better than selling a person an item or fielding a complaint.

I teach to honor my parents. To share our collective love of learning with others. Teaching is about creating passionate learners. It is about help others find their passion. Making students become the teachers. Creating meaningful relationships between teacher, student and knowledge. I teach to pass along my love of learning and spark others fires.

What is the goal of testing and data?

Data is a key component in education. Schools need to know where students are in their learning so instruction can be designed to meet students learning needs. Schools have always used data. We use data to help determine grades, know reading levels, math levels etc. Recently the government (State and Federal) has arbitrarily decided that the data schools have been collecting should be used to measure the effectiveness of teachers. The test design corporations, such as Pearson, create tests with little teacher input, to sell to states for the purpose of measuring students against a “standard”.  If students don’t achieve the standard, teachers can be deemed ineffective and eventually lead to the loss of their teaching position if low scores persist. Government has mandated this value add measure, with the desire to hold teachers accountable for their student’s learning. All the while placing little to no accountability on the student or parents for learning achievement.

So what is this data really? Is it a summary of everything a student has learned? Does it measure higher level thinking? Quite frequently the data is just a mere snapshot, of where a student is performing at a certain spot in time. Is it right to assume that a picture of a 75 degree sunny day is the norm for a Michigan Winter? No, but it happens. As well as a 30 degree snowy day in April. Like weather student performance can vary from day-to-day. Different events occur in their lives. Sleep and regularity of meals are major factors in student performance. Instead of looking at student day-to-day “Weather” data, schools should take a “climate” approach at looking at data. Look at performance over the long haul. Examine many different data point to see growth, over extended periods of time. Data should not only come from national standardize testing corporations but from locally created common tests as well. This does make it difficult to attribute the results to an individual teacher (current goal of testing) but shouldn’t the results belong to the individual student?

Students ultimately need to be held accountable for their own learning. There are many other ways to evaluate the quality of teaching. Learning is owned by the student. Schools goals are to make life-long learners who have critical thinking skills. These qualities develop at different rates in all learners. Just like all infants learn to walk and talk at different times in their life. To help hold the students more accountable, schools might want to change their structure. Instead of grouping students by age,  schools could group their by their skills and abilities or by their areas of interests or by learning styles.

The goal of testing and the resulting data, needs to remain student learning. Schools need to focus on holding students accountable for their own learning. Without being held accountable student frequently blame others for their results. I hear it often in my classroom, when discussion grades with students. “The teacher gave me a C!” We need to mold the conversation around students earning their scores. Right now, students see no relevance for most standardized tests. These test have little merit towards students’ grades or graduation. Colleges only focus on the FINAL standardized test of the student’s career, ACT or SAT for admittance.

If districts/states are going to mandate so many standardized test for our students, lets remember one thing: Make them focus on student achievement and their individual growth, not the effectiveness of teachers. Testing does not measure teachers, observations of practice and actions does. If teachers, performance is measured on tests we will end up with more cheating scandals like Atlanta!! More questions will arise about cheating in schools than we have had about cheating in baseball during the steroids area!