Subject: Top 10 Secrets of Successful Classroom Management
When Richard Eyster encountered Jennifer Longley at an education conference, he was delighted to learn she had entered the teaching profession. He remembered Jennifer as a bright and good-natured student in his third grade class twelve years earlier. But when they met for lunch, she opened up to him about her frustrating struggle to maintain control of her high school English class. He later found out that she left teaching to pursue a career in marketing—after only one year in the classroom.
Dismayed that generations of students would miss out on Jennifer’s ability to engender creative expression and enthusiasm for literature, Eyster set out to offer teachers practical techniques for addressing challenges, engaging students, and fostering a productive and fulfilling school year. He teamed up with fellow education expert Christine Martin to write Successful Classroom Management (Sourcebooks), a comprehensive, insightful and inspirational survival guide for teachers.
Successful Classroom Management covers everything from preparing for the school year to dealing with bullying to forging relationships with administrators. Below is a list of my ten favorite insights from the book. I had the opportunity to speak with Richard Eyster this week and gain a deeper understanding of his perceptions and strategies.
1.) Effective classroom management is based on a learnable set of skills.
New teachers, like Jennifer Longley, often buy into the myth that the ability to manage a classroom is an inherent trait. Eyster maintains that teachers can acquire the skills necessary to successfully manage a classroom.
Students are hardwired to test their teacher, but they want the teacher to pass the test, according Eyster. Successful Classroom Management offers methods for preemptively establishing order and expectations, addressing transgressions, enlisting parental support, and using the disciplinary hierarchy. Eyster’s focus on creating a positive tone and his multi-step approach to discipline are designed to avoid or resolve issues before a punishment—such as detention or suspension—is warranted.
“If the teacher has built a positive reputation for the child, and if the child senses the teacher believes in them, and then the teacher is disappointed in them, that can be jarring,” Eyster says.
2.) Establish a positive relationship with the class.
Expect that some students will test you by misbehaving. When they do, Eyster recommends isolating the tester, not yourself. It’s important to stay united with the rest of the class.
“Often unconsciously teachers will say, ‘You kids are out of control today,’ when it may be a very small number of them are actually out of control, and a significant number of them want to get work done,” Eyster says.
“It’s so easy for beginning teachers to feel it’s us against them,” he says, noting that this attitude is the leading cause of dissatisfaction among new teachers.
3.) Praise is a powerful tool.
Praise can be used to transform a student’s image, uplift the entire class, and reinforce the values you seek to promote in your classroom or school community.
When praising students, it’s important to be specific, Eyster says, and encourage behavior that’s repeatable. “If you praise a child for coming up with a great quote in an English paper, and you do it personally to them in writing at the bottom of the paper, or personally privately, or publicly in front of the class, that child is never going to turn in a paper again without being conscious of choosing a good quote,” Eyster says. “It creates a template for their own behavior moving forward.”
4.) Welcome feedback from your students.
Eliciting feedback can entail asking a simple question such as, “So how was the homework last night?” Or it can involve handing out a survey posing questions such as, “What do I do well that works for you?” and “What do I need to know about your learning style to teach you more effectively?”
Requesting feedback from students can be “invaluable for professional development,” Eyster says. He suggests distributing individual, written surveys once or twice a year, and asking verbal questions about homework and tests to the entire class on a regular basis.
5.) Create a safe learning environment.
Establish a classroom culture in which students are required to respect one another. In Successful Classroom Management, Eyster and Martin point out that a classroom is a tiny universe, adding, “Show what kind of universe you would run, given the chance. Because you have been given the chance.”
Eyster says, “A respectful, safe environment is one in which kids are listening to each other and responding to each other.” He suggests posing open-ended questions that encourage a dialog among the students.
Most important, teachers should never tolerate mocking, cruelty, impatience or disrespect directed at a classmate.
6.) Variety is the key to engaging students.
In Successful Classroom Management, Eyster and Martin offer a comprehensive list of options teachers can incorporate into their lesson plans. Examples include lectures, small group projects, role-playing, journaling, fishbowl discussions, skits, partner discussions and debates.
“Variety adds pep and energy to a class. Beyond that, it also allows different children to shine,” Eyster says. Another plus: teachers who have been teaching the same subject or grade level for years can maintain their interest by varying their lesson plans and teaching tactics.
7.) Establish the expectation that everyone must participate in class every day.
Eyster and Martin point out that speaking is a critical life skill, and it only improves with practice.
Eyster recommends informing students early on that they will be expected to participate every day. Offering positive feedback about a student’s comment can encourage future participation, particularly among shy students.
“Praise that’s given to them when they do come forward with a thought can really make a transformative difference,” he says.
8.) Assessments should look forward, not back.
The purpose of assessments should be to redirect a teacher’s energy toward the gaps in student learning that are revealed. But often teachers record a student’s grade and move on.
“Teachers have the possibility to change the way they record information in the grade book,” Eyster says. Grade book software is available that allows teachers to note specific observations about a student’s trouble spots, allowing them to address such issues going forward.
“The simplest thing to do is to require every kid on every test to correct every problem,” Eyster notes.
9.) Parents have two main expectations of teachers:
* Are you a professional?
* Do you care about my child?
To convey professionalism, stay organized. “The disorganized teacher will say they’re going to send something home Thursday and forget, or they’ll leave off a page on the homework.”
Before interacting with parents, “Make sure you do your homework and know the child,” Eyster says.
In addition, calling or writing a parent to give them positive feedback about their child demonstrates you care about their child and you’re a professional. “One of the most powerful things you can do is recognize the power of praise,” Eyster says.
10.) Indicate to parents the potential for growth in their child.
When parents defend and excuse their child’s unacceptable behavior, express a positive view of the child.
“You can change the tenor of the conversation with the parent,” Eyster says, offering the following example: “When I think of your son or daughter, I don’t think of a mean-spirited kid. I think of somebody who’s able to make people feel good about themselves.”
Indeed, teachers have the ability to positively influence a child’s personal growth. According to Eyster, “One of the most important things we can do as teachers it do develop, communicate and preserve positive reputations for our students.”
Subject: Navigating the College Admissions Labyrinth
By Karen Marks
The college admissions process can be daunting for everyone involved, including teachers and parents. It is easy to feel overwhelmed—the stakes are high, so much feels unclear and it is a big responsibility to advise students about their applications.
As Associate Director of Admissions for the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, and as a former member of the admissions committee in the undergraduate admissions office at Dartmouth, I read thousands of applications per year. I have also been an alumni ambassador for Cornell University, meeting with prospective students. I have seen how the process works from the inside, and I would like to share with you a few tips that will boost your confidence and your ability to offer excellent advice.
First of all, it is really helpful to start early. How early, exactly? Freshman year in high school. I say this not to exacerbate stress or to create an unhealthy dynamic that creates programmed, artificial kids. In my experience, it is just the opposite—having a basic understanding of how the admissions process works allows you to craft a sane extracurricular and academic strategy and actually alleviates some of the anxiety that you might feel when a student looks to you, wondering if they should drop football so that they can take six AP courses and study Mandarin, even though they really love the clarinet and would rather focus on that. Freshman year is too early, in my opinion, to worry about which schools are a fit or to start taking practice tests. Instead, at this point you should encourage the student to get involved in their community, to assume leadership roles, to develop skills in a few areas and to challenge themselves, both personally and academically. It is also a great time for parents to educate themselves about the financial aid process.
Let’s say, on the other hand, that you are reading this blog with a high school junior or senior in mind, and you are just now starting to focus on college. The first thing that I would advise you to do is to help the student undertake an honest self- assessment. Specifically, reflect upon areas where the student has excelled, as well as any components that might raise flags for an admissions committee. For example, a student who had a rough academic term at some point might need to discuss this in the application, or to really focus on getting excellent grades. A student without extracurricular involvement might need to find an area of interest and start participating.
Identify Unique Attributes
It's important to determine what the student is really good at and/or really passionate about. Understanding what makes the student unique in the marketplace is tremendously helpful – crucial, really. Helping the student to spotlight their particular talents is one of the most tangible ways that you can help. Admissions officers read so many applications, and candidates stand out when they have a good understanding of their own strengths, which they can clearly convey. It can be advantageous to highlight something special and unusual that the student brings, like extensive international volunteer work, being a woman who excels in science or math, excellence in sports, music or art, or having overcome a challenging personal history. However, being well rounded and goal oriented is also a plus—the key is to understand what we are looking for and what will stand out to the committee, both good and bad.
Keep Tests in Perspective
Finally, please help the student keep tests in perspective. Yes, some people do better on standardized tests than others, and there is undeniably a quantitative component to our evaluation. However, there is always room for students whose numeric profile does not reflect their potential. In fact, many colleges and universities can fill their classes several times over with students who have perfect records, but we choose not to – because we are looking for interesting individuals who are going to contribute to the community. Your goal should be to help the student convey who they are, what they will bring and why they will excel, even if their test scores (or grades) aren’t quite as high as they would like them to be.
Although the process can be stressful, admissions consultants can work with you, providing thoughtful, informed advice that can help your student shine. As a college admissions consultant, my goal is to be as empowering and reassuring as possible, for the entire family. Conferring with an admissions consultant can be beneficial, as we can offer an objective perspective on your student’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as helping you to strategize about what to share, where to apply and how to tell your story.
Karen Marks is the Associate Director of Admissions for the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. She leads diversity recruiting for the school. Karen holds a BA from Cornell University and a JD from George Washington University. She offers college consulting services to a limited number of clients and can be reached at Karen@goldenticketconsulting.com.
Subject: Unfunded and Unfair
Subject: 184 Tips for Teachers
On Shellee Hendricks’ first day of tenth grade, her teacher shook each student’s hand.
“It’s customary to shake hands when starting work with someone,” says Hendricks in her new book, Notes on Teaching: A Short Guide to an Essential Skill. “I realized that I was being invited into a partnership; I quickly understood that my teacher respected me, held me responsible, and wanted to work with me toward a shared goal.”
“Shake hands” is note number 20. Hendricks and co-author Russell Reich offer 183 other insightful and inspiring recommendations in Notes on Teaching (RCR Creative Press, 2011), a comprehensive yet concise guide to perfecting the craft of teaching.
In an elegant and user-friendly format, Notes on Teaching covers all bases in sixteen sections, including Planning and Preparation, First Class Meeting, Setting Expectations, Classroom Staging, Leading a Class, Talking to Students, and Talking to Parents.
Below are ten of my favorite insights from Notes on Teaching:
25. Say why (First Class Meeting)
“Students face many compulsory subjects and deserve to know why they must study algebra if they have no interest in becoming financiers, physicists, or engineers.”
26. Dive into the subject (First Class Meeting)
“Start with housekeeping only if you want to signal pending tedium and forfeit the opportunity to, well, teach something. Reviewing your lateness policy line by line will demoralize everyone.”
31. Involve them in setting goals (Setting Expectations)
“Ask: ‘What do you want out of this class?’ Have students write down their answers. If you set all goals, they won’t be invested.”
33. Don’t tell them they’ve achieved what they haven’t (Setting Expectations)
“Don’t deny students a good education in the name of self-esteem. Deceive people about their own progress to make them feel good, or lead them to believe they’ve mastered something they have not, and you will quickly and rightly lose their trust.”
35. Champion failure (Setting Expectations)
“Foster a sea change in education by explicitly introducing ‘failure’ as a worthy goal, not a taboo. Failure is not a signal to give up or a cause for dejection or humiliation. It’s a healthy sign of working at the frontier of one’s ability or understanding.”
71. Be an emotional leader as well as an intellectual one (Leading a Class)
“Enthusiasm is contagious. So is its lack.”
114. Notice what they want you to notice (Talking to Students)
“Students drop hints: repeated references to basketball in their writing, or a tendency to break into song upon leaving class. Comment on their point of pride. Let them know you’re paying attention.”
130. Know the student, and show you know (Talking to Parents)
“Be specific. Your familiarity with each student gives your observations, suggestions, and warnings credibility.”
131. Deliver good news first and last (Talking to Parents)
“When parents see your interest in discovering the positive in their child, they absorb subsequent criticisms and warnings more willingly.”
140. Do not grade everything (Giving Feedback)
“Offering feedback without a grade sends a message to your students: Their practice and improvement are more important than where their work falls on some supposedly objective scale.”
For more information, visit notesonteaching.com.
Subject: The Summer of Teacher Discontent
We’re embroiled in the summer of teacher discontent. Anthony Cody, creator of the thriving Facebook group Teachers’ Letters to Obama, made the announcement in a May 28 e-mail to group members. Cody’s e-mail followed a disappointing conference call that group representatives had with Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education. The group’s goal was to convey their profound concerns about the education system’s direction, but their efforts were thwarted by a lack of time and attention to their input.
Teachers are not the only ones who should feel discontented. Parents, taxpayers and society in general—we should all be discontented. Our education system is the foundation of our society; it produces the future leaders of our country. Teachers are the pillars of this system.
I’ve been an advocate for the public school community—which includes parents, teachers, staff and students—since my oldest child entered kindergarten seven years ago. I’ve served as PTA president, council delegate, committee chairperson, class parent and event volunteer. I’ve collaborated with teachers, encouraged parental involvement, and conducted workshops to foster parent-teacher partnerships.
By immersing myself in the public school community, I became keenly aware of the many challenges teachers face. In 2007, I decided to write a book on the topic to garner support for teachers among parents, political leaders and society. Over the next year and a half, I interviewed more than 50 teachers around the country. My book, The Teacher Chronicles: Confronting the Demands of Students, Parents, Administrators and Society contains their disconcerting stories—stories about disruptive and disrespectful students, uncooperative parents, unsupportive administrators, demanding workloads, and the politically charged public school environment.
Sadly, the situation has deteriorated in the two years since the book was released. In July 2009, the Obama Administration unveiled “Race to the Top,” a competitive grant program that requires states to repeal laws that prevent schools from evaluating teachers based on standardized test scores. A few months later, President Obama presented his education reform plan, which mirrors the NCLB’s focus on testing and encourages states to transform low-performing schools by replacing the school’s leadership and at least half of its staff. Amid an unfavorable political climate, teachers are also grappling with a tough economic environment. The economic recession constricted tax revenue, causing state education funding to evaporate, school budgets to shrink, and teachers to lose their jobs. Teachers who retained their jobs nervously await the next round of budget cuts.
The Obama administration’s misguided policies are detrimental not only to teachers, but also to students and the vitality of the public school system. Here’s why:
* Standardized tests do not adequately measure a student’s knowledge, skills or understanding.
* The pressure on teachers to produce acceptable standardized test scores is forcing them to spend more time on test preparation strategies and less time on creative and intellectual activities.
* Innovative lessons motivate students and spark excitement about learning. Dull, uninspired, scripted lessons, and repetitive test preparation, turn students off of school.
* A variety of factors influence student performance; teachers cannot be held solely accountable.
* Replacing teachers will not solve a struggling school’s underlying problems.
* The focus on testing will widen the achievement gap. High-achievers will spend time on enriching activities, such as music and art, while at-risk students focus on test-taking skills.
* A student who is not a skilled test-taker may be a gifted writer, a talented artist, or a budding musician. Due to the focus on standardized tests, their abilities may be overlooked and their self-esteem damaged.
* Education grants should not be based on a political contest like “Race to the Top.” All schools should have access to adequate resources so all children receive a high-quality education. Students shouldn’t be penalized because their state governments drafted proposals that the federal Dept. of Education deemed unworthy.
* The “Race to the Top” program attempts to force business practices on schools. Children are not products; they’re people.
* Although teachers have the greatest insight into the classroom environment and the learning process, they’re being excluded from the discussion on education reform.
Whether you’re a parent, a teacher or a concerned citizen, I urge you to show your support for our public education system and our nation’s children by joining Teachers’ Letters to Obama on Facebook and expressing your discontent.
Subject: Parents Are Frustrated Too
I’ve spent a lot of time talking to teachers about the difficulties they face working with parents. I devoted a chapter in my book to the topic. But as a parent, I also interact with a lot of other parents. And I know they’re frustrated by teachers sometimes too.
I wrote an article for TheApple.com this month about the parent’s perspective. I asked parents about the challenges they’ve faced working with teachers, and what teachers can do to improve the parent-teacher relationship.
What are the challenges parents face?
* A mom in California said her daughter’s pre-k teachers’ rigid reading techniques were hampering her daughter’s progress rather than facilitating it. But the teachers insisted that her daughter adhere to their formulas, even though they were counterproductive.
* A dad in Baltimore said his seventh grade son was struggling in math because he was overwhelmed by the workload. When he first approached the teacher about the issue, the teacher was resistant and asserted the student was not paying attention. (After several conversations, the teacher adjusted his expectations and the student began to thrive.)
* A mom in Los Angeles said her son’s first grade teacher told him (in front of her) “Math just isn’t your thing.” He was apathetic toward math for the rest of the year, saying, “Math just isn’t my thing.”
* A dad in Virginia said shortly after his son entered middle school a teacher called to set up a meeting about the boy’s schedule. But when his wife arrived at the school, she soon realized the purpose of the meeting was to alter their son’s individual education plan. The teacher lectured her about her son’s poor behavior and academic performance.
What do parents wish teachers would do?
* Consider the Parent’s Input.
Teachers are experts in the field of education, but parents often have inside information about their child’s learning style, study habits and attitude that could be valuable to the teacher.
* Be Flexible.
While a teacher may have honed an effective learning strategy that clicks with most students, it may not work for everybody. If a student in not responding successfully to a particular teaching method, it may be time to try an alternate approach.
* Choose Your Words Carefully When Communicating With Students
Children are impressionable. Even an offhanded comment can have a major impact on a child.
* Choose Your Words Carefully When Communicating With Parents
When it comes to their children, parents are emotional. Approaching parents with sensitivity and understanding will allow the teacher to avoid a defensive reaction.
* Show Parents You’re On Their Side.
Teachers can prevent confrontations by proactively communicating with parents and demonstrating their concern for their students, says Dr. Jim Taylor, P.h.D., a parenting expert and author. “Show parents you’re both on the same team,” Taylor says.
Teachers can accomplish this goal by keeping parents informed about their child’s progress through brief monthly or biweekly reports, which can be e-mailed, Taylor says.
“This shows that the teacher knows and cares about the child,” he says. “It makes parents feel more in control, more in the loop, and they will have less anxiety, less fear,” Taylor says. “Fewer emotions means fewer problems.”
Subject: Tenure In Trouble
In their misguided efforts to enact school reform over the past year, government officials have routinely targeted teachers. First came the calls for merit pay, then a wave of mass teacher firings. Now tenure is under attack.
The state of Colorado is leading a national movement to tie teacher tenure to student performance. Under a new Colorado law, student performance will count for half of a teacher’s annual evaluation. Teachers need three consecutive years of positive evaluations to earn tenure. Tenured teachers who receive two poor evaluations will lose it.
Proponents of the law fail to realize that a student’s academic success depends on a variety of factors. Even the most dedicated and talented teachers will face difficulty when dealing with such obstacles as unmotivated students, uncooperative parents or unsupportive administrators.
I support tenure because it protects teachers from the many people who have the power to jeopardize a teacher’s job. Teachers are observed and evaluated regularly by students, parents, administrators and school board members. If a teacher disappoints, fails to impress, or antagonizes just one of these interested parties, his or her job could be at risk. And tenure does not guarantee job security. Although it is more difficult to discharge teachers with tenure, they can be dismissed for legitimate reasons, typically related to serious misconduct or job performance.
The recent developments in Colorado reflect the Obama administration’s push toward evaluating teachers based on student test scores. Further movement in this direction will be detrimental to students. The pressure on teachers to produce acceptable standardized test scores is forcing them to spend more time on test preparation strategies and less time on creative and intellectual activities that motivate and excite students. In addition, the focus on testing will widen the achievement gap. High-achievers will spend time on enriching activities, such as music and art, while at-risk students focus on test-taking skills.
Subject: The Blame Game
Since when do we target a group of people and hold them solely accountable for society’s problems?
In an effort to improve the performance of Central Falls High School in Rhode Island, the school board on Tuesday approved a plan to fire the entire faculty and staff.
Other school districts around the country have also attempted to fix failing schools by cleaning house. The Chicago Board of Education voted Wednesday to close or turn around eight schools, which means about 300 teachers will lose their jobs, according to Chicago Public Radio. School board members in Houston voted a couple of weeks ago to fire teachers whose students consistently fail to improve on standardized tests, according to ABC News.
Standardized test scores are often used to gauge a teacher’s efficacy. But standardized tests do not adequately measure a student’s knowledge, skills or understanding. And the pressure on teachers to produce acceptable standardized test scores is forcing them to spend more time on test preparation strategies and less time on creative and intellectual activities.
I interviewed more than fifty teachers for my book, The Teacher Chronicles: Confronting the Demands of Students, Parents, Administrators and Society. I was alarmed by the many obstacles society hurls at teachers. And then we blame them when things go wrong.
But there’s plenty of blame to go around. Parents need to be involved partners, rather than adversaries, if they want their children to succeed. Administrators and school boards need to give teachers more support and freedom, rather than issuing paralyzing threats. Taxpayers need to be willing to compensate teachers for the vital service they provide.
Above all, the federal government must ensure that all schools have adequate funding so teachers can do their jobs effectively. It’s unacceptable that students in low-income areas are deprived of the resources, supplies and experiences that students in affluent areas enjoy.
The real losers in the blame game are not the teachers; it’s the students. The teachers at Central Falls High School provided more than an education—they offered stability and support to children in a community rife with poverty and unemployment. “My teachers, they’re there for me. They push me forward,” a 17-year-old senior told The New York Times yesterday.
Yes, some teachers are incompetent. Every profession has its share of incompetence. If a teacher is not capable of fulfilling the job’s requirements, he or she should be replaced. Teachers want ineffective colleagues to be dismissed. But blaming all teachers—as a group—is wrong.
Are Chicago, Houston and Central Falls harbingers of what’s to come? President Obama said in a speech in November that states have to be willing to turn low-performing schools around by replacing a school’s leadership and at least half its staff.
And how far will society’s campaign against teachers go? Parents in Detroit recently demanded teachers serve jail time because students received poor scores on a standardized math test. I hope parents, administrators, school boards, government officials and taxpayers stand up and assume their share of the responsibility for our education system’s failings before things get worse.
Subject: The How Not-To Guide To Parent-Teacher Partnerships
When Richard Gray was elected president of the Malliford Elementary PTO, he aspired to forge a constructive relationship with the school’s principal, Ms. Rutherford, although he disliked her approach and policies. But during his stint as PTO president, his chilly relationship with Ms. Rutherford rapidly deteriorated into intense hostility, with bitter consequences for the school community, as well as his marriage, his son, his reputation and his life.
Although Richard Gray and the other inhabitants of Malliford Elementary are fictional characters in the novel Chain Gang Elementary (Thornbriar Press), by Jonathan Grant, many of the characters’ missteps are all too real.
While the book is not autobiographical, Grant is a former PTA co-president. He initially intended to write a non-fiction guide for parent leaders. But he ultimately decided he could make a bigger impact on readers with a cautionary tale. He considers the book a “how not-to guide” for parents and administrators.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Grant and asked what advice he would give to parents who want to avoid Richard's fate.
The advice that you received on the playground still applies today. The dominant message in Chain Gang Elementary is that parents (particularly parent leaders) and administrators have to get along. Parents should check their animosity at the door and keep their conversations with administrators and teachers positive and productive.
For example, if your child is upset about an incident that occurred at school, ask the teacher about the situation rather than accusing them of wrong-doing.
“Parents need to stow their anger and remember their child may be part of the problem,” Grant says. “Don’t assume that your six-year-old child, who has their emotions and fears at stake, is going to tell you objectively what happened.”
Similarly, administrators should take a step back and listen to parents instead of constantly pushing their own agendas. Parents often bring valuable insight to the table. For example, when a parent expresses a concern, the administrator should address the cause of the issue instead of appeasing the individual parent.
“School systems I’ve seen are more interested in fixing 100 squeaky wheels than in going back to the assembly line and making adjustments on the assembly line that prevent the squeaky wheels from being produced,” Grant says.
He speaks from experience. When Grant had an issue with a school policy, the school responded by making his child exempt from the policy, rather than re-evaluating its merit.
PTOs and PTAs should advocate for parents to ensure administrators take their concerns seriously. “Schools really marginalize any complaint if an individual parent brings it in,” Grant says.
Meanwhile, principals should publish their policies to ensure fairness to all students and parents. And when rules and policies are established, principals should adhere to them. “Nothing makes parents crazier than loopholes,” Grant says.
A PTO/PTA president who has tried to communicate with the school principal but faces an impasse should invite a third party in to facilitate the discussion, such as a district administrator, Grant suggests.
Shun Teacher Shopping
The practice of teacher shopping – when a parent demands a specific teacher for their child – is rampant at Malliford and has serious consequences.
Grant has witnessed the negative effects of teacher shopping and says it’s “damaging to the whole system.” He advises parents to avoid teacher shopping and suggests principals disallow it.
Sometimes teachers will receive a reputation that’s undeserved, so parents need to keep an open mind, Grant adds.
Volunteer for the Right Reasons
Volunteer to lead the PTA because you want to help and support the school community, not because you want special treatment for your child.
“If you approach being PTA president as a humbling experience, that’s a good thing,” Grant says. “Try very hard to put yourself in other people’s shoes.”
As a former PTA co-president, Grant offered up three ways PTAs can improve their schools:
1.) Facilitate Volunteerism: Organize work days on weekends to give parents who don’t normally volunteer a chance to be involved.
2.) Encourage Reading: Grant’s PTA invited a local librarian to an “open house” to accept library card applications from parents. “Children emulate their parents. They need to see parents reading,” Grant says.
3.) Discourage Electronics: Organize a “No Electronics Week,” during which students must pledge to avoid TV, videogames, iPods and other electronic devices. The goal is to promote an appreciation for reading and other activities that foster a child’s growth and development.
For more information on Chain Gang Elementary, visit www.chaingangelementary.com.
Subject: New Year, New Tests
Subject: Tackling Student Transitions
When your toddler smoothly transitioned from playtime to mealtime without too much fuss, you delighted in his developmental progress. Of course, the transitions your child faces will become progressively more challenging. Among the most daunting will be the ones that emerge during the school years.
According to Carol Carter, renowned expert on student success, you can play an important role as your child navigates the most difficult school transitions: elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school, and high school to college. Carter, founder and president of LifeBound, has written ten books for students in grades five to twelve, including Success in Middle School, Gifts and Talents for Teenagers, and People Smarts for Teenagers. She has also written a book for parents titled Stop Parenting, Start Coaching.
Transitioning to Middle School
Students entering middle school often “lack the personal skills to negotiate a more complex environment,” Carter told me in a recent interview. Students are leaving the comforts of their single classroom setting and facing new academic expectations and social pressures.
You can help your child meet new challenges by skipping the lectures and encouraging thoughtful decision-making.
“When kids are eleven or twelve, it doesn’t work to give directives,” Carter says. “It works to ask them questions.” For example, if your child is associating with a peer whose behavior concerns you, ask your child, "What are the pros and cons of hanging out with someone who has those kinds of qualities; what do you think the cost might be?" This approach is more effective than prohibiting the relationship, Carter says.
“When parents use questions and become more of a coach, the student not only learns choices, options, and all of the different things that are possible, but they also learn great critical thinking skills,” Carter says.
Transitioning to High School
During the high school years, students should identify and develop their interests. “Parents can coach kids around getting experiences that are meaningful,” Carter says.
To guide your child toward her interests and goals, ask questions about what she likes to do, Carter says. “If they love computer games, instead of fighting that, ask, ‘What would you do if you could work in the area of computer games? Would you be the creative person developing ideas? What kind of summer job could you get?’”
Guiding your child toward school clubs and activities related to his interests will foster his connection to his high school and allow him to thrive, Carter says. In addition, encourage your child to pursue valuable experiences outside of school, such as internships.
Another important piece of advice: avoid protecting your child from the consequences of her actions. “Don’t rescue your child from the learning that needs to take place for your child to become an adult,” Carter says. “People who have not failed at anything are going to have a hard time in college”
Transitioning to College
To prepare for the college transition, parents “need to learn to develop a long leash when their child is in high school,” Carter says. “Otherwise they are lost when they get to college.”
While relinquishing some control, encourage your child to “take risks, make their own decisions, experiment,” Carter says. “Be comfortable with your child going down blind alleys. Do it while they’re in high school, so when they get to college they’ll be self-sufficient.”
It’s a good idea to ask your child to pay for a portion of her college education, Carter says. “They have to have a stake,” she says. Even if you can afford to cover the entire cost of your child’s college education, “it’s not a good message to send. It creates dependency.”
While in college, students should pursue experiences that prospective employers will value, such as study abroad or career-related internships, Carter says.
“A lot of people approach college the way they approached high school,” Carter says. "They get caught up in the social scene because they think that’s what you’re supposed to do, and then they don’t have options when they graduate.”
To prepare for a successful job search after graduation, college students should “do an internship to gain experience, join an organization, run for office, make something specific happen. Employers can ask you about that,” Carter advises.
“American schools are very lax compared with the rest of the world. If students want to be competitive, they need to learn a different language, get out of their neighborhoods, be diverse and interesting people,” Carter says. “College is a place to pursue these things.”
For more information, visit lifebound.com.
Subject: Uninformed Reformers, Part II
In his second State of the Union address, President Obama conveyed the following assertions:
1. “Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation.”
2. “…reform isn’t just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals, school boards and communities.”
3. “Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect.” (In reference to how teachers are treated in South Korea.)
In January 2010, I posted an entry about President Obama’s first State of the Union address. I titled it “Uninformed Reformers” and lamented that the President was not paying enough attention to the thoughtful and insightful letters that the members of “Teachers’ Letters to Obama” sent him.
A year later, education reform continues to progress in the wrong direction, as President Obama’s address last night indicates.
The President and the Department of Education continue to tout the Race to the Top program. Race to the Top turns the distribution of education funding into a contest with winners and losers, instead of providing all schools with access to adequate resources, ensuring all children receive a quality education. Race to the Top also places too much weight on standardized tests, which do not adequately measure a child’s knowledge, skills or understanding.
President Obama contends that education reform is not a top-down mandate, and input from local educators and communities is important. But to receive Race to the Top funds, states must implement reform plans that meet the federal government’s criteria.
If the Obama administration really respected teachers and valued their input, efforts to thwart the administration's misguided reform policies would not have gained so much momentum over the past year. The “Teachers’ Letters to Obama” Facebook group has amassed 3,195 members, up from 760 a year ago. And a new grassroots movement is gathering steam: the “Save Our Schools March & National Call to Action” is headed to Washington, D.C. this summer to advocate for equitable funding for all public schools, an end to high-stakes testing, and teacher and community leadership in education policy reform (see my December blog post).
I wholeheartedly agree with President Obama on one point, though: “It’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child.” If our children are to love learning, we must embrace innovative lessons that spark their intellectual curiosity and shun dull, uninspired and scripted test preparation. We must ensure that all children have access to the resources, staff and materials they need to succeed, regardless of where they live. And parents and teachers must join together to promote thoughtful and appropriate reforms that truly benefit our children and secure our country’s future.
Subject: Indiana’s Destructive Education Reform Plan
Indiana touts its “Putting Students First” education agenda, but the state’s detrimental education reform package puts politics first and students last.
“Indiana legislators have succeeded in passing the most comprehensive education reform package in the nation,” the Indiana Department of Education announced in a press release on Friday. “Today marked the end of the 2011 legislative session, and every component of the state’s ‘Putting Students First’ education agenda has either been signed or awaits the governor’s pen.”
Indiana’s education reform plan demonstrates that the people making decisions about our children’s education don’t understand the needs of students, the teaching profession, or the keys to successful learning.
I find it equally disturbing that Indiana has transformed the misguided movement toward scapegoating teachers into law. Plagued by a lingering economic malaise, politicians have inexplicably targeted teachers, claiming they should be forced to relinquish their “generous” compensation packages. The media has latched onto this ridiculous notion and perpetuated it. Sadly, it’s not difficult to convince people that teachers have it easy when many Americans are frustrated by fruitless job searches, the threat of foreclosure, and mounting debt. They forget that teachers are underpaid and underappreciated in this country, despite the vital service they provide.
So, the politicians in Indiana look like heroes for passing an education reform plan that they claim will improve education by dealing more effectively with teachers. But due to their lack of insight into the school environment, the law is doomed to fail. Here’s why:
* Pressure to contain costs will lead school administrators to replace effective veteran teachers with inexperienced new teachers.
Indiana’s education reform plan will eliminate the provisions in teacher contracts that require school leaders to lay off teachers with the least seniority first. Politicians like to say that this policy is unfair because it penalizes young teachers who bring enthusiasm and energy to the classroom. The reality is that most new teachers bring to the classroom anxiety, bewilderment, and a lack of confidence. They are unprepared to deal with the diverse academic and emotional needs of their students, behavior problems in the classroom, demanding parents, the lack of downtime in the fast-paced school day (even to use the bathroom), and a mountain of administrative tasks. It takes years for teachers to learn how to overcome these challenges and successfully master their craft. This is why the best and most effective teachers are typically those with experience. When faced with pressure to control costs and contain school taxes, a school administrator in Indiana may now opt to lay off the experienced teacher instead of the new teacher because senior teachers are paid more. Teacher effectiveness is a luxury when you’re facing a budget crisis and irate taxpayers. What happens when all of the experienced, effective teachers are replaced with novices who find themselves without any mentors to support and guide them. School districts will enjoy cost savings, residents will appreciate lower tax hikes, and government officials will pat themselves on the back. Who are the losers in this scenario? Students, teachers and parents.
* Merit pay is based on the faulty premise that teachers are solely responsible for student performance.
Under Indiana’s education reform plan, teachers will receive pay increases based on their effectiveness. But a student’s academic success is based on so many factors that even the most dedicated and talented teachers can face failure. Unmotivated students, uncooperative parents and unsupportive administrators all create obstacles to success. In addition, a student’s home life plays a vital role in their academic success or failure. Standardized test scores will likely factor into the evaluation process, even though many educators contend that standardized tests are not a valid measure of a student’s knowledge or skills. But because their students’ performance on standardized tests will determine their compensation, teachers will be forced to spend more time on dull, insipid test-taking strategies and less time on creative and intellectual activities that spark excitement about learning. The focus on testing will widen the achievement gap. High-achievers will spend time on enriching activities, such as music and art, while at-risk students focus on test-taking skills. A student who is not a skilled test-taker may be a gifted writer, artist or musician, but their abilities will be devalued. Once again, merit pay is just another opportunity to pay teachers less than they deserve, and students, teachers and parents are on the losing end of the deal.
* Support for charter schools diverts funding and attention from public schools.
Indiana’s education reform package allows for more entities to sponsor charter schools and provides vouchers for qualifying families who want to send their children to non-public schools. My main question concerning charter schools is this: why are we investing time, effort, personnel and money in charter schools instead of leveraging those resources to bolster public schools.
If “Putting Students First” means filling classrooms with inexperienced, underpaid novice teachers; forcing students to focus on useless test-taking strategies; and diverting much-needed public school resources to charter schools, then I suppose Indiana got it right.
Subject: Maybe College Isn’t for Everyone
We keep hearing about how our education system is failing many of our kids. Maybe that’s because our education system is too narrowly focused. We’re not taking into account the skills, interests and needs of all of our students.
A veteran teacher I interviewed for The Teacher Chronicles believes in a dual-track education system that provides for vocational training as well as academic instruction. The national education system is currently geared toward preparing students for college. But not all students are interested in pursuing a career that requires a college degree. Some of them have skills and interests that will take them in a different direction.
By insisting that every student aspire to go to college, aren’t we devaluing the occupations that don’t require a college degree. Don’t these occupations make a valuable contribution to our society?
With the right amount of motivation and dedication, every student may be capable of academic success and college admission. But that's not the issue. The question is, are we encouraging every student to become a productive member of society.
The teacher I mentioned believes that offering vocational training will allow schools to maintain the interest of students who are not necessarily college-bound. If these students are offered course options that appeal to their interests, tap into their skills, and prepare them to enter the work force after high school, they may be more committed to school and their academic subjects. After all, academic subjects are important—we all need reading and math skills, an understanding of history and current events, knowledge of life sciences—but for some students, this is not enough to maintain their interest in school.
Until we stop viewing college as the ultimate goal, and start recognizing that other options have merit, schools will continue to alienate a percentage of students and a successful national education system will continue to elude us.
Subject: Talk To The Student First
When a student is struggling with an academic, behavioral or social issue, it is important for the teacher to enlist the parent’s help in resolving the problem. But in the following guest blog entry, a middle school teacher explains why she approaches the student before making that phone call home.
Teachers and parents agree that communication between school and home is a key component to a successful academic year for the student. As a middle school teacher, I find that communicating with the student before making the phone call home leads to a more productive outcome for all parties.
In moments of frustration, whether it be an academic or discipline issue, a teacher may look for a quick fix by calling the parent immediately. Excluding emergency situations, my experience tells me to remove myself from the situation for a short period of time (a couple of hours or overnight) so I am calm and objective. After this time, discuss the situation with the student first. This arms you with valuable information (i.e. specifics and quotes!) to share with the parent during the phone call.
Having all pertinent information and details will eliminate back and forth communication and can clear up any incorrect information or confusion. Having all the facts and specifics prior to making the phone call arms the teacher with the confidence and ability to suggest a plan of action, thus moving in a positive direction to ensure success for the student—the common goal of all parties involved.
Ann Marie Torre
Ann Marie Torre is an English teacher and professional organizer in the New York tri-state area. She is a member of NAPO, the National Organization of Professional Organizers, and helps teens and adults set up organizational systems that last. Her company, The Organized Life, has been featured in The New York Times and the Spring 2009 edition of What To Do: Armonk, Bedford & Chappaqua. For more information: firstname.lastname@example.org or (914) 242-1178
Subject: Let’s Invest In Learning, Not Testing
When I read the news last week that the New York State Education Department recently signed a $32 million contract with a new test developer, I started thinking about how $32 million could be used to foster learning, particularly in low-income school districts. Let’s forget for a minute that these tests may be useless—many education experts say standardized tests are not a valid measure of a student’s knowledge or skills. Let’s say standardized tests actually provided valuable information about student learning. It seems wasteful and illogical to spend money on assessing student learning without first investing in the resources students need to learn, like the following:
* Instructional Materials
Schools in low-income districts often don’t have enough books, desks and other resources students and teachers need. Students often lack basic school supplies, such as notebooks and pencils.
* Healthy Food
Even if students have the appropriate school supplies, they will not be ready to learn if they don’t eat properly. Many students rely on the meals they receive at school. We should be offering fresh, nutritious menu options, not processed foods that are high in salt, fat and chemical preservatives.
* Professional Development
About half of new teachers leave the professional after five years. Many new teachers feel overwhelmed and underprepared. Perhaps innovative, valuable professional development workshops would embolden new teachers.
* Parent Involvement
It’s clear that parent involvement has a positive impact on student achievement. We need to make it easier for parents to be involved, despite language barriers, time constraints and transportation issues. I recently met a teacher whose school organizes home visits for parent-teacher conferences. Some schools and community organizations are making an effort to provide translators so teachers can communicate with parents who don’t speak English.
Sadly, all of these overlooked areas will continue to languish until policymakers acknowledge the real weaknesses in our education system. I don’t think the solution is better tests.
Subject: January 13, 1128: Pope recognizes Knights Templar
On this day in 1128, Pope Honorius II grants a papal sanction to the military order known as the Knights Templar, declaring it to be an army of God.
Led by the Frenchman Hughes de Payens, the Knights Templar organization was founded in 1118. Its self-imposed mission was to protect Christian pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land during the Crusades, the series of military expeditions aimed at defeating Muslims in Palestine. The Templars took their name from the location of their headquarters, at Jerusalem's Temple Mount. For a while, the Templars had only nine members, mostly due to their rigid rules. In addition to having noble birth, the knights were required to take strict vows of poverty, obedience and chastity. In 1127, new promotional efforts convinced many more noblemen to join the order, gradually increasing its size and influence.
While the individual knights were not allowed to own property, there was no such restriction on the organization as a whole, and over the years many rich Christians gave gifts of land and other valuables to support the Knights Templar. By the time the Crusades ended unsuccessfully in the early 14th century, the order had grown extremely wealthy, provoking the jealousy of both religious and secular powers. In 1307, King Philip IV of France and Pope Clement V combined to take down the Knights Templar, arresting the grand master, Jacques de Molay, on charges of heresy, sacrilege and Satanism. Under torture, Molay and other leading Templars confessed and were eventually burned at the stake. Clement dissolved the Templars in 1312, assigning their property and monetary assets to a rival order, the Knights Hospitalers. In fact, though, Philip and his English counterpart, King Edward II, claimed most of the wealth after banning the organization from their respective countries.
The modern-day Catholic Church has admitted that the persecution of the Knights Templar was unjustified and claimed that Pope Clement was pressured by secular rulers to dissolve the order. Over the centuries, myths and legends about the Templars have grown, including the belief that they may have discovered holy relics at Temple Mount, including the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant or parts of the cross from Christ's crucifixion. The imagined secrets of the Templars have inspired various books and movies, including the blockbuster novel and film The Da Vinci Code.
Subject: January 14, 1875: Albert Schweitzer born
The theologian, musician, philosopher and Nobel Prize-winning physician Albert Schweitzer is born on this day in 1875 in Upper-Alsace, Germany (now Haut-Rhin, France).
The son and grandson of ministers, Schweitzer studied theology and philosophy at the universities of Strasbourg, Paris and Berlin. After working as a pastor, he entered medical school in 1905 with the dream of becoming a missionary in Africa. Schweitzer was also an acclaimed concert organist who played professional engagements to earn money for his education. By the time he received his M.D. in 1913, the overachieving Schweitzer had published several books, including the influential The Quest for the Historical Jesus and a book on the composer Johann Sebastian Bach.
Medical degree in hand, Schweitzer and his wife, Helene Bresslau, moved to French Equatorial Africa where he founded a hospital at Lambarene (modern-day Gabon). When World War I broke out, the German-born Schweitzers were sent to a French internment camp as prisoners of war. Released in 1918, they returned to Lambarene in 1924. Over the next three decades, Schweitzer made frequent visits to Europe to lecture on culture and ethics. His philosophy revolved around the concept of what he called "reverence for life"--the idea that all life must be respected and loved, and that humans should enter into a personal, spiritual relationship with the universe and all its creations. This reverence for life, according to Schweitzer, would naturally lead humans to live a life of service to others.
Schweitzer won widespread praise for putting his uplifting theory into practice at his hospital in Africa, where he treated many patients with leprosy and the dreaded African sleeping sickness. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 1952, Schweitzer used his $33,000 award to start a leprosarium at Lambarene. From the early 1950s until his death in 1965, Schweitzer spoke and wrote tirelessly about his opposition to nuclear tests and nuclear weapons, adding his voice to those of fellow Nobelists Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell.
Subject: January 15, 1967: Packers face Chiefs in first Super Bowl
On this day in 1967, at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the first-ever world championship game of American football.
In the mid-1960s, the intense competition for players and fans between the National Football League (NFL) and the upstart American Football League (AFL) led to talks of a possible merger. It was decided that the winners of each league's championship would meet each year in a single game to determine the "world champion of football."
In that historic first game--played before a non-sell-out crowd of 61,946 people--Green Bay scored three touchdowns in the second half to defeat Kansas City 35-10. Led by MVP quarterback Bart Starr, the Packers benefited from Max McGee's stellar receiving and a key interception by safety Willie Wood. For their win, each member of the Packers collected $15,000: the largest single-game share in the history of team sports.
Postseason college games were known as "bowl" games, and AFL founder Lamar Hunt suggested that the new pro championship be called the "Super Bowl." The term was officially introduced in 1969, along with roman numerals to designate the individual games. In 1970, the NFL and AFL merged into one league with two conferences, each with 13 teams. Since then, the Super Bowl has been a face-off between the winners of the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC) for the NFL championship and the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy, named for the legendary Packers coach who guided his team to victory in the first two Super Bowls.
Super Bowl Sunday has become an unofficial American holiday, complete with parties, betting pools and excessive consumption of food and drink. On average, 80 to 90 million people are tuned into the game on TV at any given moment, while some 130-140 million watch at least some part of the game. The commercials shown during the game have become an attraction in themselves, with TV networks charging as much as $2.5 million for a 30-second spot and companies making more expensive, high-concept ads each year. The game itself has more than once been upstaged by its elaborate pre-game or halftime entertainment, most recently in 2004 when Janet Jackson's infamous "wardrobe malfunction" resulted in a $225,000 fine for the TV network airing the game, CBS, and tighter controls on televised indecency.
Subject: January 16, 1919: Prohibition takes effect
The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, prohibiting the "manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes," is ratified on this day in 1919 and becomes the law of the land.
The movement for the prohibition of alcohol began in the early 19th century, when Americans concerned about the adverse effects of drinking began forming temperance societies. By the late 19th century, these groups had become a powerful political force, campaigning on the state level and calling for total national abstinence. In December 1917, the 18th Amendment, also known as the Prohibition Amendment, was passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification.
Prohibition took effect in January 1919. Nine months later, Congress passed the Volstead Act, or National Prohibition Act, over President Woodrow Wilson's veto. The Volstead Act provided for the enforcement of prohibition, including the creation of a special unit of the Treasury Department. Despite a vigorous effort by law-enforcement agencies, the Volstead Act failed to prevent the large-scale distribution of alcoholic beverages, and organized crime flourished in America. In 1933, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was passed and ratified, repealing prohibition.