Sunday, September 20, 2015

Technology is NOT a Reward!

Change is hard.  I get it.  Trouble is, technology is here, and it's here to stay.  Why is it that some educators have such difficulty accepting it in their classrooms?

Let's think about how we ourselves use technology.  We use it to communicate, collaborate, and create. We use it to share, make people laugh, think, and stay connected.  But for some reason, this isn't the case in the classrooms of some educators.  Technology is viewed as an "add-on," a reward that must be earned for doing well.  Not only does this make no sense, it's flat-out wrong.  It is unfair to students, and deprives them of the tools and skills they need to grow and thrive in today's world.

Some teachers just dumbfound me.  For example, I know one teacher who makes his students use flashcards to learn sight words.  When I discussed with him the fact that there are several amazing apps that not only help students learn sight words, but track progress and allow teachers to tailor lessons, the teacher said, "I know.  And my students will be allowed to use those apps once they learn their sight words."  I know..... you are thinking what I am thinking.  They won't need the apps anymore.  Sigh.

Other teachers say things such as, "I don't know how I am going to fit in the technology."  As if technology is some isolated curriculum teachers must cram into their day.  Technology is a tool, and a powerful one.  When used correctly, students can produce incredible work.  Their levels of creativity and collaboration can thrive in new and exciting ways.  In addition, technology can be used in ways that make the teacher's life so much easier if the teacher is willing to do things a little differently.  It just requires making some changes and learning some new things.  Yes, you have to put in some time up front.  But the time you save in the long run is immeasurable.

So how do we help move these folks forward?  When I go to technology conferences, I always hear presenters say, "Focus on the people who are ready to move forward and forget about the negative ones.  You won't have an impact on them."  While I see the thinking here, that's not fair to the students, is it?  We have to find ways to push these folks forward.  It's not about us as adults.  It is about the students.  We need to do right by them.  We need to get uncomfortable, and if that means making others uncomfortable as well, so be it.  It's about best practices for kids.  Not what makes teachers feel good.  I think it is possible to work together in supportive and positive ways in order to move teachers forward and do what's best for kids.  Don't you?

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Changing the Narrative……Teachers ARE Public Schools

Apparently, teachers aren’t supposed to take it personally when someone says public schools are broken and failing.

And when we call someone out on that nonsense publicly... someone who has a big microphone... well, something’s going to hit the fan.

Let me back up.  I was listening to a talk show host who, as much as I would LOVE to name names, I won’t.  Because this host has called me enough names and I don’t need any more hateful name-calling.  The host’s guest was someone who has started some charter schools that have made several amazing claims.  Unfortunately, as with all charter schools that make these miraculous claims, the claims turn out to be “not so amazing.”  (I am not going to name the chain of charter schools here, but here is a great site with links to many of these charters who make such claims – “Miracle Schools.”

As I listened to the broadcast, I asked a question on Twitter.  The second I posted it, the guest addressed it - weird coincidence.  The response from the host was swift and snarky, tweeting that I should go back and listen again.  Ummm..... OK.  Thanks for the assumption I wasn't listening.  I continued to listen to the entire broadcast and really wondered about this “Miracle School.”

When I got home I started researching on the internet, and found just what I had suspected.  No miracle here.  I tweeted my findings out to the host, and as I did, I noticed that during the broadcast the host had tweeted "public schools are broken," and later tweeted "public schools have failed."

So, I decided to ask the question: “Where is your data to back up the claim public schools have failed?”  The response was basically, “I never said that.”  I love Twitter.  As I retweeted the host's tweets, I started tweeting research showing that public schools are in fact NOT failing; the problem is actually poverty.

Then it started.  I was called a troll, sensitive, wrong, scary, part of the problem, irrational, and ignorant.  (To be fair, I said the host looked ignorant by claiming failure without data.  I suppose I can’t be too mad about being called ignorant.)  I was told I had misdirected anger, and the host wondered how well I convey information to my students.  I was accused of coming into the middle of a conversation, popping off half-cocked, and was then accused of not even listening to the show.  That was followed by the accusation that I didn’t do my homework and my comprehension is sketchy; this was stated because the host claimed no one was blaming teachers.  Finally, I was accused of not being part of solutions, just there to defend myself.

During all of this I was tweeting data, articles, and research findings, none of which the host read.  The host claimed to have data, although none of this data was shared.  Then after repeatedly insulting me, the host blocked me on Twitter, ending any hope of the research being read.

Once again, as happens so often in education, we have someone who has never taught a day claiming to know all there is to know about public education.  A “hero” is brought in who has started some charter schools with yes, great results, but when you dig deeper, you find a lot of dirt.  A lot.  But who cares, right?  The end justifies the means?  The hell it does.

How do we as teachers change the narrative with these folks with big mics?  I’ll admit Twitter is probably not the best place to have such a dialogue, but for this particular host, it’s the ONLY place to engage.  (I’ll just let you come to your own conclusions on that one.)  It is so easy for people to spout off “Public schools are broken” and “Public schools are failing.”  Society blindly accepts it as truth, and everyone shakes their collective heads in sorrow.  When those of us with actual data and research show what is really going on, we are silenced.  Humiliated.  Dismissed.

I suppose that’s where we start.  We cannot allow ourselves to be silenced.  We have to stand up and be heard.  We must tweet, blog, post on social media, and write.  We cannot afford to close our classroom doors and simply teach.  (Hell, we haven’t been allowed to do that for years anyway.)  We cannot naïvely state, “I don’t get involved in the politics of education.”  Education IS politics.  Most important, we cannot live in fear anymore.

When you blame public education, you are blaming teachers.  When you make sweeping statements about the failures of public education, you are making sweeping statements about teachers.  And when you refuse to listen to a teacher who is giving you data and research, you are embracing continued ignorance.  Teachers ARE public education.  We need to change the narrative.  No one else is going to do it for us.

A Note About the References:
I am not going to post the references I tweeted that were specific to the charter school chain that was the topic of the talk show.  But the site “Miracle Schools” has a great deal of this information about many of these schools.  The rest of the references were ones I tweeted about public education, achievement, international comparisons, and poverty.  All of them are below.

Fiske, Edward B., and Helen F. Ladd. "Addressing the Impact of Poverty on Student Achievement - EducationNC." EducationNC. Education North Carolina, 10 Feb. 2015. Web. <>.
McNeff, Mike. "Beyond the Classroom: Poverty Impacts Achievement." Pierce County Tribune, ND, 12 Sept. 2014. Web. <>.
Miracleschools -. N.p., n.d. Web. .
Phillips, Mark. "8 Myths That Undermine Educational Effectiveness." Edutopia. N.p., 10 June 2014. Web. <>.
Rabinovitz, Jonathan. "Poor Ranking on International Test Misleading about U.S. Student Performance, Stanford Researcher Finds." Stanford News. Stanford University, 15 Jan. 2013. Web. <>.
Riddile, Mel. "PISA: It’s Still ‘Poverty Not Stupid’ |." Web log post. The Principal Difference. National Association of Secondary School Principals, 12 Feb. 2014. Web. <>.
Walker, Tim. "Shameful Milestone: Majority of Public School Students Live in Poverty - NEA

              Today." NEA Today. National Education Association, 16 Jan. 2015. Web. 

              now- live-poverty/>.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Demonization of Curriculum... This Time It's STEM

Anyone read Fareed Zakaria's article warning of the demon known as STEM?  If not, you can read it here.  Normally I enjoy Zakaria's take on things.  But as usual, someone outside of education, who feels he is an expert because he went to school, thinks he can weigh in.  Sigh.  It's a freakin' epidemic.

Stick with me if you think I am missing the point of the article.  It may seem that way.  But just hang in there, OK?

So, a few glaring issues here.  First off, no one, and I mean NO ONE in education thinks STEM is all that any student needs, and that liberal arts and the humanities should be abandoned.  You would be hard-pressed to find one educator that believes that nonsense.  Rick Scott?  He doesn't exactly reflect America, and he certainly doesn't reflect educators in America.  The only other evidence given is one mistake made by President Obama, and two other crazy Republican governors. Hardly evidence that the sky is falling.

The emphasis in recent years on STEM partially comes from a lack of emphasis on these areas in the past.  Specifically, many teachers teach science without the hands-on component, and many do not teach engineering at all.  Many teachers deliver math instruction with an emphasis on "drill and kill."  And regarding technology, well, see, there's this thing called The Digital Divide that we must narrow.  In addition, we must ensure technology is used as a tool for creation rather than consumption in ALL subject areas, including the humanities and liberal arts.  I realize this is a rather simplistic synopsis, and obviously there are other economic and global factors.  But being an elementary teacher, I chose to stick to some basic classroom aspects of STEM.  I will say this though, there is no doubt we have been lacking in preparing our students for careers in STEM-based fields.  For example, Broadcom, the nation's largest producer of chips for wireless communications, must hire a large number of engineers from outside the U.S. because the company cannot find enough qualified candidates at home.  Paula Golden, executive director of Broadcom Foundation, which promotes science education, states, "At Broadcom, it's painfully apparent that the talent we need to inspire and innovate is coming from elsewhere.  It's not a cost-effective way of doing business," she said.  "But it's difficult to find other alternatives."  I am sure Broadcom isn't the only company in this predicament.  Again, STEM is working to fulfill a clear need.

Looking at coding and programming in particular, which has received a great deal of attention recently with the "Hour of Code," Software Developer and Coding Instructor Brent Kollmansberger makes some excellent points regarding K-12 education.  " is the main organization that has been successfully promoting teaching coding in the school system.  They have never suggested deemphasizing the humanities - nor have I heard others doing so.  If anything, coding, animation, image editing, and film making are all technical fields that are also forms of artistic expression."  Kollmansberger goes on to remind us, "Besides, a bachelor's degree in the humanities does not preclude a master's or a doctorate in a more technical field should one be desired."  No one in this field is arguing for deemphasizing the humanities or the liberal arts.  If anything, STEM fields and the humanities and liberal arts need each other in a large number of careers.

I almost stopped reading Zakaria's article when I got to the part about international standardized test comparisons.  It is a commonly known and widely researched fact that when you remove poverty from the equation, American students fare as well or better than other countries in international comparisons.  The fact that this is left out makes me question Zakaria's intentions.  He certainly knows about the poverty issue.  He wrote an article about it back in 2012.  Was this information intentionally left out?  Or have those final dots not been connected?  I doubt that.  Again, it's not a matter of what our students can do, it's a question of improving instruction, and ensuring all students receive the best instruction.  We can always improve, and we had some holes that STEM is working to fill.

When one looks at the actual numbers, well, get ready to breathe a sigh of relief.  The sky isn't falling.  According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the humanities are doing just fine.  A few key findings:
  • While there were fluctuations in the percentages of students completing humanities majors between the 1940s and 1970s, it seems safe to say those numbers are pre-STEM.  We can't blame STEM on those drops.
  • Current data indicate the percentage of humanities degrees increased through the 1980s and 90s, with a slight decline in the 2000s, then rising again, with a slight drop again during the Great Recession.  Overall the numbers have been steady.
  • And even though humanities have decreased as a percentage of all degrees, there has been an increase in the percentage of Americans with humanities degrees.
What is especially interesting in the AACU report relates to the last point.  It is this finding by Nate Silver: "Nate Silver has noted that the same pattern applies not only to the humanities, but also to many social science and STEM fields.  Between 1971 and 2011, the percentage of degrees in mathematics, engineering, and history all declined as shares of all college degrees even as the percentage of college-age students earning these degrees increased - a phenomenon Silver attributes to rising enrollments in occupational fields such as health and criminal justice that had not previously offered or required college degrees."  It seems the landscape is very complex indeed.

Zakaria writes, "No matter how strong your math and science skills are, you still need to know how to learn, think and even write."  Of course you do.  All I could think of when I read this was, "Did you even talk to any teachers before you wrote this article?"  I mean, seriously.  Who is arguing otherwise?  Besides crazy governors?  Certainly not teachers.

And that's my issue.  Why do people like Fareed Zakaria listen to the likes of Rick Scott, Patrick McCrory, and Rick Perry?  Why is anyone listening to these people when it comes to educational policy?  I'll tell you why.  Because teachers do not have a seat at the table.  And just like everyone else, Zakaria didn't talk to one teacher when he wrote this article.  Not one.  He's just as bad as they are.  He is part of the problem.  He is listening to these people, and giving them power.  By highlighting and responding to their commentary in his article, Zakaria gives their message credence, as if what they have to say about education is even worth listening to at all.  I know that wasn't the intent, but such a response certainly gives that impression.  What if we all just stopped listening to people like Scott, McCrory, and Perry, and started listening to TEACHERS?  Newsflash: If Zakaria had spoken to teachers, he would have found out the future of the liberal arts and humanities is safe and sound.  If you look at the numbers and facts, you can see its present certainly is.  Teachers may get stepped on a lot, but we would never let STEM take over to the detriment of the humanities and liberal arts.  Does Zakaria really think we would stand for that?  Thanks for the vote of confidence.

It's all getting so tiresome, isn't it?

(Note: After I wrote this, I realized the article probably contains the highlights of Zakaria's latest book, and I wondered.  Did he talk to any teachers during the writing of his book?  If he did, that's great.  Too bad they didn't make the cut for the article.  They clearly didn't influence it; there seems to be an agenda there.  If he didn't speak to any teachers, shame on him.)

Works Cited
"Humanities by the Numbers." Association of American Colleges & Universities. N.p., 07 Aug. 2013. Web. 02 May 2015.
Leal, Fermin. "Science, Tech Preparation Lagging in U.S. Schools." The Orange County Register. N.p., 20 Aug. 2012. Web. 04 May 2015.
Silver, Nate. "As More Attend College, Majors Become More Career-Focused." FiveThirtyEight. N.p., 25 June 2013. Web. 02 May 2015. 
Zakaria, Fareed. "Why America's Obsession with STEM Education Is Dangerous." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 26 Apr. 2015. Web. 02 May 2015. 
Zakaria, Fareed. "Zakaria: Mitt, You Need to Worry about the Very Poor." Global Public Square RSS. N.p., 12 Feb. 2012. Web. 02 May 2015.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

That Which Does Not Kill Us, Makes Us Drink

Well, today didn't make me drink.  Just cry.  Kids can be so mean.  We all know this.  And today several of my students made some very poor choices.  Choices that hurt others deeply...... emotionally.  And as I had to sit and explain those choices to the mother of one of the hurt children, I cried.  She cried.  I just kept thinking, "What if this had happened to my daughter?'  And I cried.

I don't think becoming a mother eight years ago has made me a better teacher.  But it has changed the way I look at my students.  I always think, "What if this happened to my child?"  And becoming a mother has REALLY changed the way I look at parents.  Today, as I called a parent of a child who said something very hurtful and derogatory to another student, I became absolutely enraged.  The mother replied, "What provoked him?"  As if such language would ever be justified!  Of course, this explains a lot, doesn't it?  And not that it matters, but the child was not provoked in any way whatsoever.  He was just being cruel.  There will be no consequences for this child.  In this parent's eyes, I am the enemy.  I am "out to get" her child.  But if he had been the victim today, I would have been crying there with her.  But he is never the victim.  (Well, if you ask her you will probably get a different opinion.)

Days like today suck the life out of you.  Your heart aches for the children that are hurt.  But your heart also aches for the children that are allowed to continue to behave in ways that harm others.  As teachers, we can only do so much during the six and a half hours, 180 days per year they are with us.  It's a losing battle much of the time.  I'm not saying it isn't worth trying - of course you always try.  Every once in a while you do make a dent.  But you can only take so much before you need to cry.  Or drink.  Or both.  ;-)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015


For the last two months I have been working on one blog post.  I had this hook about how I had always wanted to be an archaeologist..... you know, digging up great finds.  And how I still get to realize this dream - I still get to dig.  But all it is, well, is dirt.

The whole post was about Lexiles, SRI (Scholastic Reading Inventory), CCSS, and the questionable connections and flimsy research between them.  I worked very hard on this post.  It had tons of charts, research citations..... it was pretty good if I do say so myself.  I had saved it and was waiting to post it.  I kept thinking it wasn't quite ready..... I needed to add a little bit more to make it just right.

About two weeks ago I logged in to add the finishing touches and finally post the blog entry.  When I logged in and took a look, over 75% of the post was GONE.  Vanished into cyberspace.  At first I didn't believe it.  I thought I needed to click somewhere, or maybe the scroll feature was malfunctioning.  But no, it was just GONE.


I have been away from blogging for quite some time, and even when I was blogging, it wasn't all that often.  This kind of crap doesn't make it any easier.


I will try to get re-motivated.....

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Musings from "The Flats"

My district is unofficially divided into "The Hills" and "The Flats."  As one might imagine, The Hills are where the more affluent homes are found, and The Flats are where the areas of poverty lie.  I have worked in the same school in The Flats for 26 years.  I love it and would never work anywhere else.

You would think after 26 years I would be used to it, but I am still not used to colleagues, my fellow teachers, talking trash about The Flat schools.  For some reason, many of these teachers actually think they are better than those of us who teach in The Flats.  Obviously, that is laughable.

Yet I am still blown away by what people say.  I suppose this comes with the territory.... something we in The Flats must accept.  But I must also remember, many of those same people wouldn't last a week in The Flats.  It's a tough gig at times.  So many teachers have left my school because they haven't felt successful.  They literally "run for the hills."  And of course they are more successful.  Who wouldn't be?

A quick look at the research shows turnover is high in schools like mine all over the country.  Many teachers do not stay in high poverty schools very long.  Maybe it's because they don't have what it takes?  I know I didn't have it when I first started.  And it is something I am always working to improve.

After all this time, I haven't learned to speak up when the digs happen.  I am still shocked by it.  I am still left speechless by the rude comments - the comments that insinuate or flat-out state that my wonderful school isn't as good.  The hell it isn't.  My school is awesome.  And so are the teachers.