Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Disheartened and Disappointed?

According to a recently released survey, 40% of U.S. teachers are disheartened and disappointed about their jobs. (37% are content, and 23% are idealistic.)

Only 40% of teachers are disappointed with their jobs? The state of our education system must be better than I thought. Or maybe I just hear from a disproportionate number of dissatisfied educators. Because I rarely -- almost never, in fact -- hear from the apparently 60% of teachers who love what they do and are happy to be doing it.

A few years ago, I ran -- or attempted to run -- an ongoing series called Love Teaching. During the two+ years of the series, despite constant efforts to fan the flames of career passion among our readers, only thirty-four teachers took the time to sit down (perhaps : ) and write a few words about why they loved teaching. Thirty-four passionate teachers...among more than 5 million educators who are active on our site! Maybe the rest of the satisfied 60% -- the other 2,999,966 happy teachers -- are too busy to write, or too content?

I do hear regularly, however -- apparently in disproportionate numbers -- from the discontented teachers in our audience. I hear that their students are unruly; their parents are neglectful and critical; their colleagues are unavailable; and their administrators are unsupportive. I hear that they're overworked and underpaid and largely unappreciated. I hear that supplies are meager -- and rationed -- and that textbooks are out-of-date and in short supply. I hear that burnout is inevitable, and that frequent lengthy vacations are an emotional imperative. I hear that an early retirement is their goal.

And when I hear those things, apparently from only 40% of you (although it seems like more), I wonder how much of your unhappiness is visible in your teaching -- and how much of it is learned by your students. Because while it's true that there are unhappy workers in every profession, I doubt that any group of disgruntled workers does as much damage as a single unhappy teacher.

So my advice to the 40% of you who are disheartened and disgruntled is to get out of the profession before it's too late; before your dissatisfaction with teaching translates into your students' disatisfaction with learning. Leave the job to the 60% who bring energy and enthusiasm to their work, and a love of learning to their classrooms. Leave it to the teachers who "can because they think they can." (Virgil)

And those of you who stay...take a minute to tell us why you love teaching. We hear too often from the naysayers -- and too seldom from the majority of teachers who do what they do for the love of it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

No Excuses!

Last week, I posted a question to the Education World Facebook page asking whether Ed World fans think U.S. kids need more time in school. Most of those who responded said "no." Apparently, very few teachers believe that lack of instructional time is the reason today's students aren't making the grade.

What is the problem then? A number of teachers -- a significant number -- blamed "the parents." Children today, they say, come to school lacking the knowledge and experience and skills and motivation of earlier generations; their parents are uninformed, uninvolved, unconcerned, and happy to pass the educational buck to their local school system -- which, it appears, is equally happy to pass it back. "How can we teach," they ask, "-- in 180 days or 240 days -- when parents are sending us students who are unprepared to learn?"

A good question, perhaps -- but a futile one. We cannot change the readiness of the students who are entering our classrooms today. We can, however, still teach them -- and hopefully, in the process, improve the readiness of future generations.

As a former classroom teacher, and as someone who will always identify as a teacher, I cringe when I hear teachers blaming their students' lack of readiness, their students' parents' lack of interest, their school administrators' lack of support...for their own failure to teach. The complaints might seem valid, but they only serve to validate the opinion of those who believe that most teachers enter the profession for the "bankers hours" and extended vacations. And, in the end, the blame game provides only a justification -- not an excuse -- for their students' lackluster academic performance.

Yes, teaching today is a different -- infinitely harder -- job than it has ever been before. Many of today's students are less prepared, less motivated, less supervised, less supported than any previous generation. In many cases, you are all they have. If you're not up to the demands of teaching as it is today, stop complaining, step aside, and leave the job to those who are. It might be your students' only chance to succeed.

Have a great week!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Zero Tolerance vs. Common Sense

In 2002, I wrote a Starr Points column called "Stop Tolerating Zero Tolerance," in which I exhorted educators to replace zero tolerance with common sense and "keep our children safe -- safe from weapons, safe from violence, and safe from zero-tolerance policies that damage more children than the weapons they purport to protect them from."

Last summer, I moved that seven-year-old column to my "Once-Upon-a-Time Commentary" archive, thinking it was a topic whose relevance had passed. Educators, I thought, had learned the lesson that zero tolerance has no place in an elementary school. I was wrong.

Yesterday's New York Times published a story about a Delaware first-grader who brought to his elementary school a treasured Cub Scout eating utensil. Apparently, he loved his new knife-fork-spoon tool so much, he wanted to eat lunch with it. For that crime, he was immediately suspended and has been "sentenced" to 45 days -- 9 long weeks -- in the district's reform school.

C'mon, Delaware. What are you thinking? That a six-year-old with a spork is equivalent to a 16-year-old with a Glock? That if you let off the six-year-old spork wielder, you have to ignore the 10-year-old with a jack knife? That you don't know where to draw the line so you draw it at a six-year-old Cub Scout? Or did you just forget that the job of educators is to teach?

Shame on you.

As educators, we know -- or we should know -- that children are not just short adults. We know that a six-year old does not have the cognitive ability of a 40-year-old (unless, apparently, that 40-year-old is a school admnistrator in Delaware), or even that of a 10-year-old. We know that a six-year-old can think logically, but have trouble with abstract concepts. We know that a six-year-old can think inductively, but not deductively. We know that six-year-olds who are encouraged and commended by parents and teachers develop a feeling of competence and confidence; and that those who are not, do not. We know that -- for better or for worse -- a six-year-old is a child, dependent on the wisdom and judgement of the adults responsible for him.

Educators are not cops. We are not prison wardens. We are not airport baggage inspectors or military generals charged simply with keeping the peace for a specific number of hours or days or months. We have a higher calling. We are teachers, charged with shaping the future; with teaching and guiding and leading by example the next generation. Do we want to teach tomorrow's adults to hide behind CYA or pass-the-buck zero tolerance laws -- or do we want to teach them to think?

If there's anyone out there -- in Delaware or elsewhere -- who doesn't have the common sense and the courage to be an educator, it's time to find another line of work.

Story Update: Last night, the Christina School Board "voted unanimously to reduce the punishment for kindergartners and first-graders who take weapons to school or commit violent offenses to a suspension ranging from three to five days." So Zachary can return to school today. One can only hope that the administrator who mandated the original punishment returns to school as well -- for some much-needed professsional development.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Bargain Shopping -- and Surfing

Teachers are always looking for quality bargains when it comes to educational resources. This week I came across a few.

Borders Books is in the last day of its annual Educator Appreciation Week. Until October 7, current and retired educators can save 30 percent on purchases for personal or classroom use. Just -- quickly -- bring your shopping list and proof of your educator status to a Borders store.

SUBWAY Restaurant is offering a free Get Fit for the Fun of It kit for educators that includes a poster, parent letter, stickers, and a teacher planner and calendar full of classroom ideas and activities -- in their words, "the tools you need to bring fitness and nutrition information into the classroom." The kit is part of the Subway Random Acts of Fitness for Kids program to fight childhood obesity.

The Best Evidence Encyclopedia is another exceptional new (to me, anyway) resource for educators at all levels. The BEE, a free Web site created by the Johns Hopkins University School of Education's Center for Data-Driven Reform in Education (CDDRE), is intended "to give educators and researchers fair and useful information about the strength of the evidence supporting a variety of programs available for students in grades K-12." Kind of a Snopes for educators, it seems. Having taught such programs as ITA, Words in Color, New Math, Finger Math, Abacus Math and more...in open classrooms, team-teaching classrooms, self-contained classrooms, multi-aged classrooms and more...often for no other reason than that somebody thought it would work (or sell : ), all I can say is Hooray!

YES I Can! Science has opened registration for its Polar Science 2009 Project, the third in a series of projects that provide opportunities for students to collaborate via blog and webcast with other classes from around the world, and learn from biologists Dr. Shane Kanatous and Dr. Thomas Hawke. This year's project will investigate the physiology of the Weddell seal, and its amazing ability to exercise deep under water without the need to take a breath. The project, which will run from October 15 to December 3, 2009, is open to students in grades 6-12 anywhere in the world.

Digital Wish and Flip Video Spotlight Program are offering a special to help educators integrate video into the classroom. For just $150, educators can purchase two Flip Ultra™ camcorders. To access the promotion, educators should register their classrooms at Digital Wish. This deal is a favorite of mine because I own a Flip and it's super easy and lots of fun to use.

This isn't, strictly speaking, a "bargain," but it is a chance to win some money both for yourself and for your favorite school. Consumers aged 7 and older who visit The Idaho Potato Commission site between September 15, 2009, and October 31, 2009, and play the "Idaho® Potato Harvest Game" can enter a sweepstakes for a chance to win $10,000: $5,000 for the winner and $5,000 to be donated to a school selected by the winner. That's sure to come in handy on your next shopping trip : )

Have a great week!