Dear Parents- A Teacher’s advice for the school year

Dear Parents-

As the school year starts, please listen to the following advice of how to help your child be successful in school (and life).

  • You are vital to your child’s educational process. Make sure you participate and build a partnership with your child’s teacher (s)
  • Make sure your child eats nutritional meals- Food is vital for the brain to learn.
  • A regular sleep pattern will enable your child to be alert and ready to learn in the classroom. Research shows 8 or more hours of sleep is optimal.
  • IF you need to contact your child during school hours, call the school not their cell phone. Cell phones should be off during school hours (some teachers may allow use in class for learning). You message my be important but will distract the class. Schools have systems for getting messages to students.
  • Speak positively about school and education to your child. If you don’t like or understand an assignment don’t share this with your child, discuss it with the teacher or school’s principal. It is important not to foster negative attitude towards education in your child.
  • Have a daily discussion about school. Show your child you are interested in what they are learning in school. Ask them what they like? Don’t understand? and Learned? Stay away from just asking what they “did” in school since the most common answer will be “nothing” which you know isn’t true.
  • Homework might not occur daily (I don’t give any) but learning should still occur at home. Students should review ideas covered in class and work on areas of weakness at home. If your child’s grades are low in a subject ask teachers for ways to reinforce/ improve skills at home.
  • Don’t stress over grades for your child, stress learning and best effort. Grades are just a snapshot of how a student measures up to a standard. Encourage your child to work hard and improve in their abilities. If this is your focus grades will improve.
  • Teachers are your partners in educating your child, keep an open positive line of communication. They want ALL children to succeed, listen to their suggestions and communicate your concerns.
  • Reading and comprehension are fundamental for any students success. Model reading and encourage your child to read something daily. It can be anything that interest them: Books, magazines, websites, comics,
  • Most of all: Show your child that learning is essential and many times fun!

Please try to follow this advice, so that you and your children can have a wonderful school year. It is important that teachers and parents work as partners in students success. Have an awesome year!!

#MSchat 4-18-13 #CCSS

Tonight we had a lively discussion about the Common Core State Standards. We started off talking about the limited amount of training many teachers have had for the change. I lead to a great debate about teaching reading and writing across the curriculum. Very informative discussion. Below is the link to the archive.


[View the story “#MSchat 4-18-13 CCSS” on Storify]

Name Brand Education?

In class last a few weeks back, I overheard a student complain because her parents didn’t buy here a North Face fleece for her birthday. Her friend was wearing the fleece she desired so she was jealous. I tried to intervene. I explain there was nothing wrong with the fleece she had on. “But it isn’t North Face!” she exclaimed. “And Mr. Bloch you have a North Face so why shouldn’t I?” Wow! How do I counter that argument? I tried to explain that I had recently received the fleece as a present for Christmas from my wife. I always admired North Face products but resisted purchasing them due to cost. I was sure that a “store” brand would handle my needs. I don’t live in the mountains and wasn’t planing an adventure into the wilderness anytime soon. (Sound fun maybe sooner now.) These are hard concepts for teenagers to grasp. Desire of the “Name” brand fashions is a way to maintain or gain popularity. Students learn this from our product placement advertising culture. Many don’t realize their favorite actors are paid to wear the fashions to get them to purchase them. Of course adults learn to not worry about name brand eventually, right?

No,  many adults are similar to children, feeling that name brands can be important and if something cost more it must be better. Frankly some name brands are better quality products and some aren’t. Has this name brand consumer culture pasted over into education?

Sadly, yes. Many feel that the name on the school (or associated state ranking) defines what happens inside each classroom. I realized this in a recent conversation with a teacher friend. She is looking to move from her current apartment to a house. She has a young daughter and has been spending time looking at all the school rankings to decided where to live. When Amy, my wife suggested a near-by condo complex. Her reaction was “Oh, No the school is not rated well.” It just so happens the school she was referring to is where our son attends. Our school is in a stable community, located in our sub-division. Every teacher that has worked with our third grade son has been incredible in their own way. I personally feel it is a GREAT school environment for our children to attend. (We also have 4-year-old twins)

Later that evening Amy asked me what I thought about her comments. Being the ever mindful teachers I answered with a question: “What was your response?” Amy shared how she told our friend that the school was great and we had nothing but positive experiences. In the end, she pointed to the ranking and said “I don’t think it is best for my daughter.”

Rankings are going to make adults choose the brand “ranking” over their neighborhood school. Brand names and marketing will win the school of choice war. Lower ranked schools will slowly but surely disappear. The ranking will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Parents who can afford the choice will choose “The North Face” over “the store brand”, those who can’t will complain about where they are stuck. The lower ranked schools will slide down the slope  and go the way of Ben Franklin’s, Kmart’s and Circuit City’s of the world.

Educators need to change this perceptions of schools. Schools are more than any ranking. Furthermore education is what an INDIVIDUAL makes out of opportunities not what OPPORTUNITIES that come to an individual. Live in an affordable home, nice community, clean neighborhood, near a school. Attend this school and make it great. If opportunities aren’t present seek them out! Help the teachers succeed. Be involved. Ultimately schools are a true reflection of the communities around them. Parents who seek out the Name Brand School for comfort forget about all the hard work that made the brand. The more transient brand seekers that move into a school the quicker the brand will deteriorate. What school wants to be the “Members Only Jacket” of this decade?

Help build your neighborhood school into a lasting brand. Don’t worry about the ranking now, go in and make the school the way it should be: full of involved staff, parents and students who all want to succeed together. Make your school the Coca-Cola or GE, one that will have its ups and downs but be strong for the long haul!!

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.

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.