A Teacher’s Day

During a recent “Cold day” off from school, I meet a college friend for lunch. While walking in he said “Must be nice, to have a day off!” Yes, a day where I am not required to go into work and be in front of students is a welcome break. Everyone no matter what type of job needs a break from the norm to be refreshed and rejuvenated, As we conversed about our work and caught up on our lives, the comment began to sink in and make we reflect.

A teachers day is like no others. Having worked in the business world prior to going into teaching I understand this but doubt few who have never taught can imagine just how different a teachers day is to that in any other industry.

A teacher’s day starts like anyone else’s, Arrive at work but this is where the similarities diverge. Teachers arrive often arrive early to work (or stay late) because when the school bell rings to start the day, there is not time to gather materials, make copies or plan out the day, it all has to be done ahead of time. As the bell rings teachers are perched at their doors welcoming students to class for the day, smiling and giving gentle reminders: “Do you have a pencil? Did you finish your homework?” as 28-35 students file into a classroom.

As a middle school teacher, I teach 6 classes in a day. First hour is advisory to focus on student relationships. Then 4 hours of science and 1 hour of a technology elective. Each class is like a 56 minute sales presentation in front of 30+ customers all with different needs, questions and interest levels. For comparison when I worked in sales, I averaged 5 to 6 sales calls in a day with 1-5 customers in the meeting all with similar interest and knowledge levels. Most of these calls lasted around 30 minutes. As a teacher I have to closely follow up with each students with formative assessments. In sales I had to follow up too but 5 to 6 formative assessments were simple compared to the 150+ I have to do daily now.

In sales, I had time between meeting to reflect and perfect my craft. Having conversations with co-workers, updating the presentation. In the classroom, I have a 3 minute break to get a drink of water and use the bathroom, then on to the next educational pitch. When in the business world, I could often take the customer out to lunch to discuss ideas further. In the classroom, I have to invite students to return for 30 minutes of remediation. Customers were glad to enjoy the lunch, students often like the break from the cafeteria but have difficulty focusing on their learning needs. In the business world I often had hour or longer lunches (unless I wanted to rush), now I am often scarfing down food as I try to teach or prepare lessons. Many teachers (and administrators) go without eating due to time constraints of the busy job.

I am a lucky teachers, having a 56 minute preparation period. This time is often filled with meetings. Meeting with co-workers, administrators and parents. Yes, this time is similar to many other jobs. Our “break” time is like many people’s work. When I am lucky and don’t have meetings, I am busy planning, grading, updating website or making copies. Many teachers on the elementary level DON”T have preparation time every day often being limited to around 225 (or less) paid prep minutes per week. Imagine having to prepare the majority of your work on your time! Most teachers spend at least 2- 3 hours daily preparing for work on top of their daily teaching time.

Yes, the cold/snow days are a luxury. Teachers days are full of work unlike most others. Remember this before you are quick to judge. Teachers, I challenge you to share about your work day to let society know HOW much work we do in a day!

Below is Tony Danza’s message after spending time as a teacher:

What do we do with these results?

So the data is in from the Michigan Educational Assessment Program(MEAP) Fall 2014 8th grade  science test.  Doesn’t look good, 20 % of students in the state were proficient 55% Not proficient at all. Staggering numbers to say the least. To really understand the MEAP science results one needs to understand the testing cycle. The 8th grade test is given in October covering standards taught from 5th grade through 7th grade. Due to limitations on the number of questions on the test (around 40) MEAP test questions narrowly focus on just a few units of study covered over a 3 year span and cover  general science processing skills. The science test is given as the last assessment for the students to take in the state assessment program so they are a little tired of testing. These test are used to grade the schools and districts but have little to no meaning to the students. Grades are not effected, proficiency is not required. As a science teacher I am ashamed of these scores. What do I do?

Are the results an accurate measure of Michigan’s students science ability? We still have students going to college to be doctors and engineers. Maybe they are the 20% proficient in 8th grade. Should this large a group score so poorly on any test? I don’t think so. When I have gotten similar results in my classroom, it is time to re-examine the curriculum used, how it was delivered and if it lines up with the test. Obviously something is amiss here. When looking at the science MEAP trend:

It is even more troubling. Out of all the students in the state of Michigan less than 20% have been proficient for 5 strait years. This is totally discouraging as a science teacher. 5 years with only minor improvement. One would think the test would be changed to give the educators and districts better feedback as to how their programs were working. With these results it just looks like schools are not teaching much in the way of science. Is that the case? DO districts focus so much on math, reading and writing because they are tested every year and let science slip to the wayside?

The state of Michigan needs to examine this test, adjust it to measure the skills taught. Make sure that the questions are above the knowledge level with out being vocabulary specific. Or better yet stop wasting money on a test that doesn’t give us results that can be used to help our students learn.

It reminds me of a story my younger brother shared when in college. Philip was a graduate student at Duke, taking an undergrad prerequisite at UNC. His professor had to talk to with him because he ruined the curve. He received scored a 96% on a test that the class average was 35%. The professor wanted to curve the test but Philip’s score would not allow him to curve it equally for all students so the professor had to explain his actions. As my brother shared the story he state, “It is ridiculous to create a test that the majority of your students fail.”  My sentiments for the Science MEAP!

MEAP Data screen-shots from www.mischooldata.org

Lessons learned from coaching basketball…

For the past 3 years I have been coaching my son’s youth basketball team. I started when he was in 2nd grade, it has been fun to watch the kids mature and develop skills. The league is run through our school district. Records are not kept and the high school players serve as referees. At the beginning of each season the head high school coach gathers all the volunteer coaches to emphasize sportsmanship for the league. He also explains that our referees are learning their jobs and only high school students. Reminding us that mistakes will happen, but not to act like it is the Pros.

I try to teach my team to focus on improving their game. Shooting, rebounding, dribbling, and passing are skills the young developing players need. During games, I ask my players to not complain about the whistles, but listen to the referees to help improve their games. I sit on the bench, only yelling out directions when the team needs assistance. “Get back” is my most used call, for after the other team pulls down a defensive rebound. Otherwise my players would press and try to steal the ball back (not allowed until next year). Other calls will be for players to set picks or for motion. I make a point to assist the young referees with calls that they might not see, by pointing in the the direction the ball should go for out of bounds. After the game I thank the high school players for help my young athletes learn. I feel I am modeling positive sportsmanship for our next generation of athletes.

After two games this year, I have been disturbed by the other coaches shouting out complains focused at the officiating. In our first game, the you referees allowed some moderate physical contact. I noticed it at both ends of the court which mean the referees were consistent. My players adjusted. The other coach yelled out complaints against our teams contact. Since, I noticed it. I took it upon myself to talk to the young high school players at a break in the action. Sharing that the physical contact is a bit much for both sides and might lead to a problem. The other coach rushed over yelling that I have nothing to complain about and my players need to have fouls called. His temperament cause the assistance high school coach to observe the rest of the game in concern.

During today’s game, the opposing coach started to notice that a few players were carrying the ball on the dribble. This often happens with 4th graders learning the game. The student  referees, again were not calling it consistently both ways. The coach you yell every time a call was’t made on us, failing to notice all the no calls his players were receiving. I felt the referees were trying to let all players learn and tried to be consistent with all of their calls.

Should youth coaches dispute calls? I feel this is a touch subject. My players point out all the missed traveling calls on the other team today. I have told them never to dispute a call with a referee. Players need to learn the referees are in charge of the game. We might not agree with them, but their calls are final. My players know that I am the only on to talk to a referee about the game. Youth coaches need to realize we are modeling behaviors for the athletes we coach. Pro and College ranks do not model well for the athletes of tomorrow. Youth sports programs need to lead the way! In youth sports winning and loosing does not matter, sportsmanship does!

Remember we are always modeling for the next generation!! If you have a real issue then discuss it with the organizers in private, not in front of your young impressionable team!

Reflections on 2013 Resolutions

As I sit at home on New Year’s eve sipping on an Cabin Fever Brown Ale:

I am think about how I want to improve my teaching over the next year.  There are so many areas of which I can improve. Using more Project Based Learning in my classroom. Move my science instruction to the Modeling approach. Incorporate more technology and choice into lessons. …. The list could go on and on. As a connected educator I have been exposed to so many great teaching ideas, and avenues to explore. There isn’t enough time in a year to accomplish them all.

Focus is essential for all educators. The methods I use are not important, the LEARNING that goes on in my classroom is the vital component.

So how did I do with my goals (Resolutions)  last year? Good thing I have been blogging that long, I can go back and check my 2013 resolutions. A great benefit of blogging and posting on social media is that you can look back and reflect on whether you keep up with your intentions. (Hey I figured out why so many post their workouts on twitter)

By my account I did pretty well with my resolutions this past year.

1. Stay Positive: This is hard for me. More often than not I have been the pessimist in the room. I used to always look at why things couldn’t work. Over the past year, I have been more positive at work. (Need to work on this in my home life more.) Evidence can be shown in my relationships with peers and my Twitter chat. (#mschat)

2. Expand PLN: Well this has happened. I have connected with so many wonderful educators over the past year. Twitter has been a force in my life to help me focus on the positive in education.

3. Use more Formative Assessment in my classroom: I feel that I use more formative assessment today than I ever have. I am constantly using tools that help me measure where students have needs and then use the results to adjust my teaching. The Formative Assessment for Michigan Educators project has been the best PD I have been apart of in my teaching career.

4. Lead by example: Everyday I have thought about how my actions affect all that can see them. I am constantly aware of the example I set as a leader in my district. No one is perfect but I strive for perfection everyday. Over the past year I hope my example has impacted others in positive ways.

5. Blog More: Last year at this time I had written 53 posts. This year I have upped the number to 160. SO 107 posts over the past year. Not bad, doubling my blogging over the year. Hopefully my posts have helped others, and improved my teaching. I feel writing down the ideas has had a great impact on me as a reflective teacher.

Before my “break” from teaching is over I will have to set new resolutions/goals for the year.  Hopefully I can keep up with them as well as I did over 2013.  Wishing you all the best. Enjoy what the NEW YEAR Brings!!

Collaborating PD- #collabed

During the last two afternoon, I joined #Collabed chat for special PD sessions on how to use twitter as an educator. Both days the chat had the same theme of how Twitter can assisted educators and help them expand their personal/professional learning network. The chats were in conjunction with professional development in Grosse Pointe School lead by @TwoTeacherZ. This type of PD is going on all over in education. Educators are realizing that collaboration is the key to our success. We need to work together for the good of our students. Twitter is a wonderful tool to enable us to collaborate. It takes teachers off of the island of teaching and into the waters of learning. If you missed the chat you can find both days archived here using Storify. IF you are an educator I recommend that you take the time to join the conversations on twitter. #Collabed Chat is starting up in September every Monday night at 8 pm EST with hosts @TwoTeacherZ and @JaimeArmin .

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.