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8 posts from June 2012

Mark Gardner | | June 30, 2012

Why I will be teaching next year.


By Mark

An opportunity arose about two months ago. It would have meant less work, more pay. It would have meant not losing evenings and weekends to grading papers and planning. When I sat to do my pro/con t-chart to help my decision making, the list of reasons why I should take the new job was longer than the list of reasons why I shouldn't.

Sometimes quality outweighs quantity, though. More money, more time, less "work": those ought to have been very appealing.

There was but one reason I chose to stay in the classroom and stay in education...and it is a selfish reason:

Tamara | | June 20, 2012

Who needs the Department of Education?


By Tamara

So my dad asked me the other day what on earth would be the
benefit of dismantling the Department of Education. His question was prompted
by an article he recently came across. My response was,” have you heard of X,
Y, Z testing/educational publishing companies?”

If we did away with the Department of Education and public
schooling as we know it, these companies as well as private on-line schools are
poised to make bank. Along with their politically connected supporters (note I
did not single out a particular party-gains will be on both sides of the

The New York Times not too long ago chronicled the gaffe
about a prompt regarding a pineapple on state exams. The testing company
responsible for the item in question holds the sole contract for standardized tests
not only for New York City public schools, but the entire state of Texas.
Apparently anti-trust laws don’t apply when annual testing has been legislate-
thank you NCLB.

The fact is privatization of our education system is a very
real possibility. Either through the dismantling of federal departments or the
lure of click-for-credit on-line programs. The question is, how is public
education going to respond and deal with this reality? And will our children
benefit or suffer from the outcome of the debate?


Tamara | | June 19, 2012

Learning Curve


By Tamara

I experienced a huge learning curve this year. One of the
most significant I’ve had in some time. I jumped into the world of virtual
education and taught a course form my district’s on-line credit retrieval

Now there are numerous and vastly divergent views in our
world of education when it comes to on-line learning programs. Here is what I
learned from dipping my oar in it:

  • By offering virtual courses in addition to
    traditional classes, my district was able to keep a significant number of
    students enrolled who otherwise would have left for private on line programs.

  • On-line “learning” is NOT a silver bullet for
    failing/struggling students: if a kid can’t read at grade level, is not a self
    starter, and struggles to with attendance; what is essentially virtual
    independent study is likely not the best solution.

  • But….virtual classes do offer those kids a fresh
    start and blank slate with a virtual teacher who knows nothing of behavior
    issues, poor attitude, etc…Students also get one-on-one attention through
    email, instant messaging, and the feedback given for every submitted
    assignment. It caters to their comfort with and preference for digital
    communication. I also noticed (and was blown away by) how many of my students
    requested reading strategy support and help with organizing their writing who
    took my suggestions and ACTUALLY PUT THEM TO USE.

  • If we educators put the kind of time and energy
    into the weekly progress reports, emails/instant messages to kids “where are
    you? Why haven’t I heard from you?” and parent/guardian contact the program
    requires, I bet over half these kids would have never failed in the first

The concept of blended virtual and traditional classes is
going to be the norm-with all the good and bad that brings. If we in public
education can’t find a way to embrace that and work within that reality, the
private sector is more than ready and willing to take it on. Along with all the
funding attached.


Mark Gardner | | June 14, 2012

My Students' Drug Problem


File401339721913By Mark

I do believe that ADD and ADHD are real. However, I do not believe they are as prevalent as the diagnoses suggest. A recent article in the New York Times (online) took this concern to a new dimension, for me at least, with the revelation that students, in response to the high stakes and pressures for academic achievement, have taken to abusing the stimulants typically prescribed for ADD/ADHD.

As troubling as this drug use is, it is a symptom of a much larger problem in our society and our education system: we are test obsessed and we have created a subset of society for whom there is prestige and glory in being over-scheduled and over-stressed rather than in being intelligent.

So here's the question: who is it that makes school so hard that kids turn to these measures?

Tom | | June 12, 2012

Division (With Remainders)


Images (1)By Tom

I was teaching my third graders how to solve division problems the other day. Specifically, we were solving story problems which involved division, and the students had to figure out what to do with the remainders.

The first problem involved brownies. There were three people sharing sixteen brownies, and we figured out that each person received five whole brownies and one-third of the last one. Simple enough.

The next problem involved balloons. Again, three people had to share sixteen balloons. Balloons, of course, don’t lend themselves well to fractions; a third of a balloon is essentially worthless. For this problem, we decided the best answer was five balloons each, with one balloon left over, to be popped. For some reason, third graders always prefer to pop the leftover balloon, rather than let one of the five people have it. Maybe it’s greed; maybe it’s the thrill. Who knows.

We practiced several of each type of problem, until they got pretty good at deciding whether a problem was a brownie problem, where the remainder gets turned into a fraction, or a balloon problem, where the remainder is left alone.

Then I introduced a new problem. Sixteen people were going on a boat ride. They had to rent rowboats, and each boat held three people. How many boats would they need?

“Five and one-third!” said Ronald. He saw this as a brownie problem.

“So Ronald, you think they should rent five whole boats and then get one-third of another boat?”

“Of course!” He was adamant.

Let me explain about Ronald.

Mark Gardner | | June 9, 2012

Your Summer Homework


250px-Sunflower_sky_backdropBy Mark

I'm not quite ready for the paradigm shift to year-round-school. However, like many teachers, I am concerned with that "summer brain drain" that inevitably happens when younguns are separated from the oppressive tyranny of teachers for the months of July and August... I don't know about you, but the "three month summer vacation" is long gone where I live. June is for school.

It struck me yesterday (as my ninth grade students were having one of those so-good-it-gives-the-teacher-goosebumps discussions of how various literary elements and author's decision making influence the manifestation of unversal themes) how incredibly far my students have come as critical thinkers. With four days of class before the final exam--then a long stretch with no regular exercise of that mental muscle--my worry crystallized sharply.

Of course, I encourage my students to always have a book they are reading for fun--fiction preferably, but a good biography or nonfiction tome is equally wonderful. In my close-of-the-year parent mailer, I encourage small bites of learning: car-ride discussions of books, online free math games that actually involve computation not monkeys shooting darts at balloons, setting up routine family trips to the library. As we might assume, the students who get this kind of family support and structure are not necessarily the ones who need it most.

What do schools do, or what can they do, or what should they do to keep the minds of students growing over the summer?

Tom | | June 3, 2012

Five things I’ve learned about Our New Evaluation System


TrainBy Tom

Last Wednesday I found myself in a conference room as part of a task force focused on implementing Washington State’s new evaluation system in our school district. As the day progressed, I learned five important things:

1. Thank God for the WEA. As the legislation behind the new system made its way through Olympia, our teachers’ union worked feverishly to insure that most of the important details would be worked out at the local level – where teachers themselves would have the greatest chance of being heard. That’s essentially why I was sitting in that conference room instead of teaching in my classroom. The reason why the WEA worked so hard on this front is open to interpretation. If you’re an idiot and/or an editorial writer for the Seattle Times, it’s because the union is greedily trying to maintain the status quo by giving ineffective teachers a greater chance of keeping their jobs. The rest of us understand that no one’s interests are served when teachers are treated like voiceless, dispensable cogs in a system where every decision is made from the top down. Like I said; it’s open to interpretation.

2. People will be losing their jobs. Early in the meeting a principal sitting across the table said something that startled me: “At least a third of my teachers are going to fail under this evaluation system.” I was taken aback, “How can you know that, when we haven’t even fleshed out the details?” “I’ve been in their rooms,” he said, “I know how they teach, and I know how they’ll score on this evaluation.” The WEA, along with OSPI and local school districts have tried to emphasize the potential to tie this evaluation system to professional development, and I’m sure they’ll succeed, to a point. But make no mistake: this system was originally conceived and is currently perceived as a way to facilitate the removal of poor teachers.

Tamara | | June 1, 2012

Here's to you, Mrs. Robinson


By Tamara

My master teacher is retiring in twelve school days. It is hard to imagine the education landscape without her. Even though we haven't taught in the same building or even subject for years, her presence has always been a reassuring compass.

Like all true master teachers she has seen education fads come and go, the pendulum swing more often than a middle school girl changes her crush. And like all true master teachers she navigated our profession by sticking to the timeless foundation of solid teaching: knowing her students-their interests and aptitudes, well planned units of study that imparted skill while capturing attention without becoming a dog and pony show. Never making excuses for them or letting them excuse themselves because they came from a poor neighborhood and experienced things no one should.

She challenged students to examine what it means to be "Great", never let two sentences start with the same word, and invited them on a journey through western expansion by digging through old suitcases and diaries. If attention ever did wander into trivial activity, she brought it back into focus with a sharp reminder to "Quit FARDING in class! Save the hairbrush and lipstick for the bathroom." I have never witnessed a vocabulary/deportment lesson that held eighth graders in such rapt attention.

It's been over a decade since I had the privilege of student teaching with Mrs. Robinson. I hope in this age of Power Standards, Common Core, and TPEP her brand of solid, foundational teaching remains our ultimate goal.

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