Dear Press Balanced Coverage Please

Dear Michigan Press:

Could you please cover education like you cover all other news sectors? Please have a more balanced focus. The stories that always make the news seem to be negative. “A teacher … ” “Bomb threat at ….” “Students behaved ….” The headlines sensationalize rare events in our educational world. Sure negative events happen in all sectors of our lives: Government, Business, Education and Entertainment. It seems these other areas get more well rounded coverage. For every negative story about GM’s recall there is a positive about their fund raising or the car show. The Entertainment sector seems to be loaded with positive stories to offset the occasional blunder by a star. Why is it that a single educator blunder makes the top of the news cycle while all the thousands of positive stories garner little or no coverage?

I always see live coverage of the great positive stories around metro Detroit: Auto Show, Woodward Dream Cruise, Winter Blast, Boat Show, Autorama, etc. Did you know there are two great event coming up about education? MACUL (Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning) will bring over 5,000 educators to COBO center in Detroit March 18-20. This would be an ideal time to do a live broadcast. The news teams could talk to educators from all over the state to hear about the latest and greatest practices going on in the classrooms. Ideas from Flipped learning, I-Books for education, to Twitter Chats for connecting teachers all will be discussed. The public needs to hear about what educators do to grow professionally. It might be more entertaining than the standard live remotes to cover March Madness that occur around this time of year.

If an educational convention is not deemed news worthy enough, check out ShiftMich Idea Slam March 19 7:30-11:00 pm at the Detroit Beer Company.  The Idea Slam is a fast paced “pitch fest” and networking event for educators. Selected projects will be presented and attendees will vote on their favorite ideas. Winning projects will receive up to $1,000 towards their innovative educational idea. The rest of the evening is an informal meet-up with fun conversations and delicious offerings from the Detroit Beer Company. The concept of the Idea Slam was inspired by the Detroit Soup and TED Conference formats.

Be balanced in your coverage! Hope to see your coverage of these up coming events!

Why Do I Teach?

I was pursuing twitter this morning, following all the wonderful Michigan conferences that I am missing, when I ran across a tweet from my friend, Michael Medvinsky. Michael was at home following the #zetacon hashtag, when he was inspired to act by writing a blog post and recording a video. Kevin Honeycutt was delivering the Keynote at Zetacon and asked “Why do you teach?” This is a very important questions for educators. Most of the time we share ideas about how we teach. Most conference focus on Pedagogy and “best practices”. Rarely do we hear teachers share their WHYS for teaching. Often without knowing why people do what they do we have a disconnect and fail to appreciate their work.

I know the why is often a long complex story. It is never the public assumption as to why teachers teach. “Teachers teach for the summers off, the benefits and 9-3 jobs.” Teachers need to share their WHYS so we get past the assumptions and focus on the reality. As schools across the country kick off the 2014-2015 school year teachers need to reflect on why we teach. I would like to say want to inspire and change the world, but there is so much more to why I teach. Here is a short video I made:

I know I missed some of my great inspirational teachers especially Jack Ridl from Hope College.

Please reflect on WHY you teach. I hope you can share your story with me by either posting a comment on the blog or creating your own video on using the hashtag #iTeach on twitter.

Have a great 2014-2015 school year. Always remember WHY you are doing what you do. Thanks Kevin and Michael for the inspirational reminder.

Is hitting a ball harder than educating a student?

This time of year has me thinking about baseball! The weather is slowly warming, plans begin to grow, and opening day is upon us in the Major Leagues. I have many fond memories of baseball growing up, playing with friends in open fields. Never fielding a full team but just the pleasure of pitching, hitting and throwing. Growing up my father put more emphasis on individual sports, “You want to play a sport that you can do by yourself” he would often share. Reminding us that we never had 18 kids to play a “proper” game in the neighbors yard. As I grew up, I did focus on other sports enjoying basketball, tennis and golf because playing them did not require a full squad of players. My father also place a greater value on knowledge than physical sports skills. Should I have spent more time learning to swing a bat?

This week Miguel Cabrera signed a record deal to play baseball, $292 million dollars for the next ten years. I am happy for him. He is probably the best baseball player of our time and in the discussion as being one of the best of all time. Miguel Cabrera is going to make roughly $50,000 per at bat for the next ten years with the Tigers. (If he averages 600 at bats per year.) That is about the average yearly salary for teachers in Michigan! WOW!! Over the course of this 10 year contract he will make enough to pay for 6000 teachers for a year. Well he is the best player in baseball right now, right!

Cabrera has a .321 career batting average, which is great for baseball (50th all time). This means he makes an out .679 of the time he makes an out! If a teacher in the classroom had .321 success average and .679 failure average, most school districts would find them ineffective. Yet in baseball this is one of the best ALL time? Is hitting a ball harder than educating a student? Education and teaching is undervalued in today’s society. Fans flock to “average” teams. Every school child aspires to be a professional  athlete at some point growing up. How can we make this happen for education and teaching?

If the current trends in education continue, our best students will not want to be educators.

A Christmas Wish for Education

Dear Santa-

I know this time of year you are filled with requests from children, asking for a variety of toys, trips and goodies. Some wishes are self-serving and others are filled with generosity. An example comes from my 9 year old son Griffin who wishes for a sled to enjoy the winter weather in Michigan and wants to adopt an pet from the Michigan Humane society to give an animal a home.  This year I have one Christmas wish that tops the rest:

I wish our society valued education!

Over the past few years, education has gotten plenty of lip-service from politicians and education reform groups. Teachers have been attacked, deemed the enemy and left out of reform process. Education has been viewed as an untapped cash cow, that corporations deem ready to take over. Instead of listening to educational experts, the voices of corporate reformers have taken center stage. World rankings of standardized test scores are often featured as prime evidence of need for reform. Poverty is often overlooked as a hindrance to the education process. Don’t reformers realize that our education system is just a reflection of our society!

What does our society value?

How does a society show value towards something? When we are willing to pay a price for it! Our society values sports and entertainment. We pack stadiums every weekend for college and professional sports, paying more than $30 per ticket (yes low estimate). The “Big House” in Ann Arbor has been selling out since the 1970’s, with over 100,000 attending each contest. Communities pass tax breaks and spend millions to fund new stadiums. Even Bankrupt Detroit wants to spend money it doesn’t have to fund a new home for the Red Wings.   Atlanta is replacing Turner Field which was built in 1996 for the Olympics with a new stadium in 2017. This sports infrastructure projects are happening while our educational infrastructure mostly built in the 1940’s t0 1960’s is crumbing and in major need of upgrades. Film companies spend millions to produce a few hours of entertainment, just think what schools could do with these budgets? Society accepts paying sports figures and actors millions per season or film, but to pay a teacher $70,000 for a year of teaching brings public outrage! Don’t these actions alone send the wrong message to our children about education?

How many books are going to be on your sleigh?

Did many children wish for books? Mine always get some, but do the majority of children receive them? Many parents give presents with education in mind. Giving a computer, tablet, or smartphone seems popular these days, often with the idea that it is an educational present (at least many advertisers want us to believe this). Do parents monitor the use? Do students know how to use them for education? Frequently the answers to these questions is NO. Often the presents are given with great intentions but when students are left to their own choices they use the tools for entertainment (not that there is anything wrong with entertainment). Society needs to model the importance of education. Instead it seems it mocks education every chance it gets. Ever notice that every mention of Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates includes that they both dropped out of College? Yet, it is rarely mentioned where other CEOs/ Celebrities graduated from college!

Santa, please make our society realize the importance of education as an individual journey and process, not one dictated by teachers or a common core. Have our society value EDUCATION and show respect for those that foster the process.

Sincerely,

An educator…

Give yourself permission to do nothing!

As I sit here up at my family’s lakeside cottage I ask myself, Is doing nothing, something? When my 3 children woke up this morning I asked them what they wanted to do today? My wife response was quicker than the kids, “Nothing!!” Since we spent yesterday cleaning up our property, chipping wood, this was an appropriate answer.

But can you really ever do nothing? If you are sitting on the couch you are still doing something! In fact as I am writing this post, my wife and kids are enjoying the lake. As I reflect back to the school year, my students often responded to the question, What did you do over the weekend? “Nothing”  Is nothing just the quick response by someone who doesn’t want to be held down by plans or just the quick response that requires no thinking?

For me nothing is reflection, unplanned learning and freedom. Nothing allows us to fill our minds and use imagination to do what ever we want! If we set out to do something: say build a dog house or read a book. Well then we have to complete that task or we feel we did not accomplish our “goal” for the day. Nothing gives us permission to do anything or not. No feeling of missing out or lack of accomplishment.

Just remember that when you are done doing “nothing!” to reflect on what you actually did accomplish doing IT!

The fight for #CCSS

CCSS

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are supposed to be a unifying element in education. Placing All (or at least most) of the states on the same page for student academic expectations. Finally states could compare achievement data. Standardized test results could finally be compared. In theory the Common Core is a good idea. The United States does need to set educational standards that challenge our students and tell employers and colleges what graduates know and are able to produce. The Common Core also help fully implement the No Child Left Behind Act  of 2001, up until now states have been issued waivers to comply with the law. CCSS and the assessments that go along with it are supposed to end the era of waivers and hold states accountable for their educational programs.

Corporations, states and school districts have been preparing for CCSS ever since their first draft was released 3 years ago. Corporations have spent 3 years on research and developing educational programs and materials to sell in support of the CCSS implementation. Other Corporations have been formed to create assessments that “fit” the CCSS curriculum. Many States have joined one of two consortium (Smarter Balanced and PARCC) to help guide in the development of these new assessments.  School districts have invested countless hours working to adjust their curriculum to meet the CCSS. Millions of dollars have been spent on this anticipated change over the past few years.

wordle CCSS

Now, a few states are starting to voice concern as the Pilot testing period ends and full implementation looms. Here in Michigan despite the best efforts of the Governor, Michele Rhee and Jeb Bush the legislature has decided not to fund any  CCSS implementation in the 2013-2014 state budget. What does this mean for teachers? IS this going to just be another unfunded mandate? or is CCSS dead? Time will only tell. 

I know what it shows. It shows America that Education is NOT a priority but a political hot potato that politicians like to throw around for votes. It shows teachers that politicians don’t give a damn about them. It the world that American is never going to “fix” its educations system that picks winners and losers by zip code.

Personally I am not the biggest fan of the CCSS. I have previously refered to CCSS as the “College” core due to the rigor and lack room for students who would prefer hands on learning and trade skills. The idea of having some “national standards” is appealing. Our staff is just getting used to positive changes that the CCSS has brought to our district. Our students are showing growth and achievement  I just find it very ironic that the same Republican Party that initiated the move towards the CCSS is now putting the standards on “pause”. As the fight for the common core rages from state to state, America will see that our educational values need to be changed so we can focus on real change. Change that makes sure every child can get a high quality education in our great country!!

Sad but True

Image

In class today a few of my students were looking at maps after they finished a project on the computers. I came over to make sure they were done with their assignments and ask “What are you doing?” One of the girls responded, “Looking at maps.” The other stated “Yeah, I have to show her all 16 of the places I have lived!” This was a 13 year old girl who has gone through the moving process 16 times, more than once a year. After my “Oh” expression she continued “I can’t help it we have been kicked out alot.” My heart continued to break for this girl.  Thirteen years old, frequent moves and evictions filling your life. No wonder she struggles in school.
wordle poverty

Our district was just looking at attendance data. 1,354 of our 3,785 student have been absent from school for more than 10 days. Either the flu was really bad this year or student are staying home in large numbers. Are students sick for all of these days? Over 1/3 of our population sick that much? Probably not. Many times when I talk to a student about their absence, they reply “couldn’t get a ride” or “I had to watch my younger sibling.” Large amounts of absences in general a result of poverty. How are we going to address this issue?

10 days of school is 6% of the school year. I know students that have missed twice or even 4 times as many school days. Missing this much instruction has to have an impact on student learning. How can schools help students catch up when they miss school? Poverty is a growing issue in American schools. Sure it is not as bad as some countries, but it is like never before here. We need a plan to assist these children that are born into their circumstance.