Sunday, September 23, 2007

Teachers Have It Easy

I ran a 5K yesterday (thank you for letting me indulge in a little bit of smugness). It was an exceptionally well organized and run race. I was quite impressed. The race was hosted by the Navy Federal Credit Union and it began and ended on their campus. It is a beautiful campus with lots of trees and a small pond. What struck me the most however was the path that ran around the building and included an exercise course and equipment. Clearly the expectation is that before, during, or after work employees can work out there.

It got me thinking about the differences between the business world and education. Teachers can not take time to work out during their lunch hour (because it's not even close to an hour). Teachers can't arrive late or leave early without it being a huge hassle to get classrooms covered. And if you do, you know your students won't get the same level of instruction as if you were there. Teachers can't even make simple phone calls throughout the day or go to the bathroom at any given time.

I don't mean for this to sound whiny or to be complaining. The great majority of the time, I'm not too bothered by this. What I am bothered by is how little I think most people understand about the realities in a school and classroom. Even my husband, who is a college professor and who puts forth significant efforts to understand, doesn't really get it.

I'm not sure it's possible to fully comprehend without spending at least one complete day with a teacher. I just know that I'd feel a lot better about how teachers are viewed in our society if I thought more of the general public had a decent understanding of what it is truly like.

Title of this post from the book by Dave Eggers, Daniel Moulthrop, and Ninive Clements Calegari.

SOL Celebration

Before I begin ranting, it's important for me to mention that I love my school. I am so very lucky to teach there and I wouldn't trade it for the world. That said, every once in a while something happens there that drives me nuts. This time, I'm probably alone in my frustration.

On Friday, our administration arranged things so that all classrooms were covered for the first hour of the day so that we had time to relax. They also brought in a catered breakfast (from the culinary classes at the high school). Are you wondering why I'm frustrated by such generosity? All of this was done to celebrate the fact that we made AYP (annual yearly progress).

This was very kind of them. And we should celebrate this fact. But...

Celebrating SOL scores gives them an even greater importance. Our principal made a point of saying that we had made AYP without sacrificing best practice instruction. And I think she's right. But I'm worried about our priorities. Having such an elaborate celebration sends a message that these scores are really important. They are important, but so are many other things we do at school. I don't believe that SOL scores are more important than our Developmental Reading Assessment scores, our number of students qualifying for gifted services, or the number of students being suspended. I throw out those things, not because I think they are exceptionally important, but because they are just as easily quantified as SOL scores.

I'm concerned that we are defining ourselves by these scores. We need to see the big picture of what we are doing with students and why. Test scores should just be one small piece of that picture.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Philosophy of Education

If you went through a traditional college education program you most likely had to write your philosophy of education at least once, possibly numerous times. Then you probably had to have one to turn in with job applications. Writing this philosophy is something young/new teachers do fairly often.

Old/experienced teachers don't end up doing so. Although the good ones think about it without realizing quite a bit. I've been thinking about it because, in my tenth year of teaching, I have to write one. I wouldn't have chosen to spend a lot of time writing it, if the choice were mine. But I'm finding the process to be beneficial. I'm not yet ready to post anything concrete for my philosophy, but the reflection required and the synthesis I'm doing is helping me grow as a teacher.

I'm not a naturally reflective person and I think that keeps me from growing as a teacher as much as I would like. This blog has pushed me to do more deep thinking about my teaching and about education in general. I feel lucky to have found a way to make this happen for me. In the past it took an external impetus of some sort to force me into reflection (graduate classes, National Board process, working with student teachers). While those are all wonderful, and I still take classes and work with student teachers, I'm glad to have discovered a way to reflect more regularly and on topics that I choose rather than reflecting solely in response to others' requirements or needs.

Thoughts about my philosophy will be showing up here over the next few weeks I'm sure. If you have any thoughts to share, I'd love to hear them!

Blog Observations

I read a wide selection of blogs regularly. They fall into categories of education/teaching, parenting, children's literature, and random fun stuff. And then I blog in three different places, here, This Must Be Thursday, and a blog my husband and I keep about our daughters.

Recently I've noticed that I only manage to find the time to do my blogging on the weekends. Between teaching and being a mom I can't get it done during the week. That doesn't bother me, but it appears to make me different from the majority of bloggers I read. Very little seems to get posted on the weekends, but a ton is happening during the week. This is true in all of the categories I read. I'm left wondering what makes my life so different from everyone else.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Computer Literacy

I was reading the various feeds to my Google Reader a few minutes ago. Reading one specific post my four-year-old noticed that I was using an arrow as I read. She asked if I was pushing the up or down arrow. I told her that I was using the down arrow. She looked at the screen and noticed the text scrolling up. She asked, "Why is it going up if you are pushing down?"

Good question.

Who Knows Best?

I've read a couple of blog posts lately that have done two things:
  1. made me think about who makes decisions in school districts and who should really be making those decisions
  2. made me grateful to teach where I am
Sherry, at Sherry Technically Speaking, wrote about technology decisions from the point of view of a middle school teacher. She voices frustrations with computers being removed, filtering of websites, and more. The comments there add a lot to an already worthwhile post.

Jeff, at Techist, wrote about a similar issue from the point of view of a college professor. He doesn't face these issues at a university (although, give them time) but has run into trouble accessing sites when he presents to K-12 teachers.

I find the two posts interesting lenses on the same issue. Sherry is venting about her situation, which is faced by many teachers in the public schools. We can identify with what she has to say. Jeff is looking at this from a more academic stance and considering the reasons for such filters and the consequences.

Read them both. Together they help show a fuller picture of this issue and the challenges facing all of us.

I know there are many other wonderful posts out there on this issue, but these two really struck me.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Top 5 Lists in Grade 5

We're halfway through the first quarter! Last week was the fifth week of school for us so my class did five Top 5 lists to celebrate Week 5 in Grade 5. I had the students brainstorm their own thoughts for the list over the past weekend. We collected one item for each list per student and then voted. I was alternately impressed, surprised, and disturbed by their choices. I'd never done this before, but I'll be doing it again for the fascinating insights into their thinking. One of my goals was to have our top 5 lists be more than simply lists of favorites. Here are the lists:

Top 5 Books that Made Us Think
  1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (#7)
  2. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
  3. The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn and Hal Iggulden
  4. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (#5)
  5. Eragon by Christopher Paolini
(I haven't read #3 or #5. I think I better get with it. I have to say that #2 is one of my all time favorites so I'm thrilled to see it on the list.)

Top 5 Authors that Move Us
  1. J. K. Rowling
  2. Sharon Creech
  3. Christopher Paolini
  4. E. D. Baker
  5. Sara Nickerson
(I haven't read anything by #3, #4, or #5. Again, I think I better get with it. I love Sharon Creech. Good for these kids for recognizing her genius.)

Top 5 Famous Virginians
  1. Pocahontas
  2. Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson
  3. Thomas Jefferson
  4. Harriet Tubman
  5. William Henry Harrison
(We study Virginia history in fourth grade so I figured my students would have lots of ideas here. Mostly they did, but I had to nix Abe Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and Helen Keller. I let Harriet Tubman in, although calling her a Virginian is a serious stretch. And really, Stonewall Jackson is number two on their list? And William Henry Harrison makes the list at all? Are they crazy? No George Washington, James Madison, George Mason, Maggie Lena Walker, Arthur Ashe, Robert E Lee - even Harry F Byrd, Sr would make more sense to me. Oh well. I blame their fourth grade teacher.)

Top 5 Most Beautiful Math Concepts
  1. Challenge 24
  2. Square Roots
  3. 2 Teach is + 2 Touch Lives = 4 ever
  4. Multiplication
  5. Multiplying by 9
(Here, and on the science list, they were hindered by not really knowing what to think of the title of the list. I decided not to elaborate, but to let them take it where they would. Challenge 24 is a math game that they love. #3 fascinates them because of the play between numbers and words. #4 is just lame.)

Top 5 Biggest Science Ahas!
  1. Atoms
  2. Animals
  3. Weather
  4. The sun is one of the smallest stars.
  5. Light
(We are studying light right now so I'm not surprised to see it. Weather and the solar system are studied in fourth grade. I'm not sure where atoms came from, but it is the mascot for their high school - unusual I know.)

I'd love to see what other classes come up with. Then maybe I could determine if my kids are as strange as they seem or more like fifth graders everywhere.