Throw on some kevlar as you get ready to teach to the common core.

A close personal friend gave me this article under a truly hilarious pretense – she went back to look at the author after reading as she was pretty sure I wrote the article for  CNN.  Alas, I did not. I don’t know Ron Clark, don’t know of Ron Clark or his new book and in fact, generally do not read education pieces on CNN.  I felt complimented my friend thought I wrote this piece and at the same time, I am positive I ‘did’. It is the collective consciousness of any good teacher for the last 25-30 years.  It is the same thing we all say and the reasons indeed are why we leave/left education.

In no small part, a huge thank you should go out to anyone who was involved with bringing NCLB to life and Michelle Rhee as well as most charter school companies.  These people/groups helped those of us who ‘knew better’ to put on our walking shoes and leave. Those who remained, well, I often hear their complaints about the same issues, they are just to scared to leave the profession after so much effort and cost to get a credential. Ron Clark sounds like a wonderful man and surely his intentions are great. I can only hope he has staying power as there are many students who will benefit from him.

If anyone thought the past 20 years were challenging, Fall 2013 is going to make it all look easy peasy!  Taking parents from  M/C and T/F test scores to the actual task of  having their child write something compelling AND marshal evidence AND  think/reflect……well, get the kevlar ready teachers. I don’t think I envy a one of you.  Without parents on board, administrators are going to once again do what they always do when backed into a corner – blame it on teachers, take it out on teachers (ask them to ‘revise’ their grades as it were) and essentially kiss up to every parent they see.  Administrators, even those who once were teachers, do little to support teachers.

Teachers are in fact left in their classrooms, told what to do and how to execute it and most of all told to suck it up when the crazy (pretty much all) parents come to solve something for their children.  Teachers are expected to be everyone’s whipping boy/girl to make public education work. If it were not for unions, even limited unions, public education would not exist as anything more than a thought experiment.

Currently I do tutoring and work in ed tech doing a variety of things from soup to nuts, sponge to hose, etc. If a parent contacts me for tutoring and I find our personalities and world views do not mesh, I get to say, “I don’t think I would be the BEST tutor for your child” and walk away from the situation. It does not happen often, yet it does happen. Most of what I find as a tutor is a student who could benefit from some basic things – structure, note taking skills, proper math syntax, organized thinking or graphic organizers, better resources.  Usually after a few weeks to  a couple of months, the training wheels are off and the kid is soaring. I could not be happier if I tried.  Sometimes I find a new or very ‘experienced’ teacher who is intractable and the student suffers. I do everything I can to educate the parent, give them strength to ask for what should be done (and is really reasonable) at school and advocate.  I write notes, send copies of things.  Of the times I meet the teachers, I inevitably find the people mentioned by Ron Clark. The ones who will be walking out of the profession or those who should have and are now so bitter they do not teach well.

I attend IEP meetings and help parents get more than the minimum written on the IEP – the more specific and defined you can be, the more likely the chance of IEP being followed and incremental success. I educate parents on having another set of books at home,  how to parent conference, how to check in with teachers, what should be going on in a SPED classroom vs. a mainstream classroom and what mainstreaming looks like, feels like and how it ‘goes’.  I help parents in the vernacular of ‘teacher’ for the benefit of their child. Again, if parents do not demonstrate they are on board, I can leave. There is only so much I can do in this lifetime and parents need to work on ‘change’ as opposed to thinking all teachers need to change for their child.

There are students who need help with SAT/ACT studies, AP course work, etc. Not only have I worked with these students, I have found the number of students really able to do AP course work were students who got their game on before Grade 4 and mom and dad were not excuse makers.  Students who do not do well are those who are shocked by the amount of reading and work necessary for AP.  Students and their parents,  prepping for SAT/ACT end up learning  the sad facts regarding inference and analogy, grammar and algebraic reasoning are not something you can be taught in a cram course – it comes from reading, writing, discussing, thinking since forever. All I can offer them are strategies for how to take the test and think about it.  The time when parents would have done far more to help their child by enforcing SSR (silent sustained reading) at home, encouraged studying atop assigned homework, etc. was wasted and I can not come in and splash that information on their child – nor can Princeton or Kaplan Review. SAT/ACT prep works for students who made learning their priority, not blaming their teacher(s) when they did not succeed every time.

Change is incredibly difficult for parents as they believe they ‘know’ it all. They would never question a dentist, doctor, lawyer (even court appointed), Apple Technician at Apple Store…….yet questioning and blaming a teacher for any ‘less then perfect’ grades, etc. on behalf of their child MUST be the teachers fault as parents have been taught and shown how to scapegoat teachers (Michelle Rhee actually brought this to an art form). Teachers do more ‘change’ in a day then anyone other than flight traffic controllers and ER doctors.  Unfortunately, with all the change teachers do, parents are the ones who need to redouble their efforts the most.

I think next school year will be interesting. If nothing else, people such as Ron Clark will become ever more popular and revered for what they are saying – whether or not parents come to terms with reality. Thank goodness there are Ron Clark’s and hopefully I will be thankful there are parents who will read this and do those things necessary to change for their child’s benefit. It is a long road filled with cliffs, channels, hikes, bike rides, hang gliding, zip lining and all the rest of out doors metaphors.


Why ‘grading’ the teacher is not only wrong, but ineffective. Part II of II Blogs

Gawande, Atul, Personal Best, The New Yorker 3 October 2011  p. 44, 46-50, 51-52

This is Part II of two blogs begun March 2012 which addressed Dr. Gawande (New Yorker Magazine Article). He has a  quest for ‘coaching’ to continue developing  into his Personal Best.  I felt it necessary to analyze the article written by Dr. Gawande in order to address a professional sense of self-reflection, that of a professional surgeon.  Dr. Gawande so thoroughly addressed his personal role in medicine AND all the other potential factors  of medicine that I was compelled to use this as an example.   Dr. Gawande admitted the fault of being human and demonstrated humility in  not being  God.  He noted that the human condition is imperfect yet there is a way to learn and continually improve ourselves over time,  most often with self-reflection and insight from others as it is difficult to view ourselves while being ourselves.

Only by carefully observing other professionals outside the field  of education can we begin to develop a consciousness of  professionalism, what it means to good, better, best, great and so forth and look for tools to apply to the teaching profession.  Focusing only on education assumes the worst case scenario – teachers are distinctly different in the world of humans, but instead of being viewed as deities, in America, they are viewed as pure evil by many, often including their own administrators and the government at state and federal levels.

When we see what others do, we get past the misanthropic view of one group of people (non- teachers)  regarding teachers and notice more of  the similarities between teachers and other professionals.  Once back from the brink of insanity,  we can address the multitude factors which effect the outcomes of education, which are not strictly the result of teacher quality.  Many outcomes in education have everything to do with poverty, parental involvement and  self motivation/will.

If we were to blame only surgeons and doctors for ALL medical outcomes, no one would have surgery any more. It is both a science and an art.  There is not ‘perfection’, rather there are gradations of success based on a whole slew of issues above and beyond the doctor/surgeon.  We may seek perfection –  this involves coaching and improving professional practice.  It is NOT the golden bullet to prevent all problems.  Doctors can not account for your DNA, what you choose to eat, how you choose to take care of yourself.  Doctors have to work with what is presented to them and hope that with their best ministrations, they obtain a positive outcome as they take an oath to do no harm.  In the case of doctors, we need to look from within regarding outcomes of surgery,  because we came to the doctor damaged.

When we grade a teacher, we wish to push results and outcomes on people whom have the least control over what goes on in a child’s life. Teachers have only 40/168 hours, including sleep. Take out sleep (which is substantially important) and you have 40/118 hours assuming kids sleep a 10 hour night. In both cases, 40 hours is very little and yet so much is expected.   Teachers, like doctors, have to work with what is presented to them and hope that with their best ministrations will produce positive outcomes in nine months of the school year of eight-hour school days.  Let me be clear – most kids do not sleep even eight hours a nigh.t Not all school days are actually eight hours so the numbers I present are skewed by things such as testing, minimum days, staying up late at night for a variety of reasons and a multitude of other issues (lockdowns, snow days, illness, etc.).  Grading a teacher on amount of time of ‘influence’ alone is inadequate.

In order to explore  various ideas within education reform, I also sought out different pieces of writing from others who address the ideation of grading teachers.   It is not enough to say something is a  bad or good idea, rather one needs to support different views and perceptions so the discussion can center on what is best for children, not what is best for our sense of power over things we lack control.

As Dr. Gawande indicates, coaching is costly and rarely something schools can afford. It is awkward – in the hospital and in the classroom.  Obtaining coaching can be (and often is viewed outside sports and singing) seen as an admission of failure instead of the converse – an admission of willing to improve.  When coaching is used as punishment in education, it automatically infers substandard performance.  To change the perception of coaching in education will be no different or easier than the exact experience Dr. Gawande addresses at the end of his written piece.   Demonizing teachers does not improve their quality – it does slowly wear them down and destroy them which could not be good for students.

I am done picking at the bone of grading teachers with  a public which hates  teachers, who think denigrating and demeaning teachers (public humiliation/bullying/ exposing student success or failure on our backs) is reform.   This bone is from a  recently dead animal which was left rotting on the street, run over by a car and bits of it are smashed into the concrete. The piece of bone left has tendons and muscle hanging from it, smells of horrible decay and clearly would be of no use to the mammal it came from so we need to start over and not be so willing to kill.  Bloodsport does not ever portend to good.

So, to use a quote:

New Yorker Magazine cartoon (5 Dec 2011) by Victoria Roberts: “There’s an elephant in the room and no zookeeper.”

Let’s try to find a better course of action because grading teachers is not working the way we assumed it would.  Here is a smattering of examples of alternative perspectives.  What would be awesome is if the people who hired teachers had as much interest in teacher success as their own rise to power.

Almost all men can stand adversity, but if you want to judge a man’s true character, give him power.   (I have been unable to find the source in order to attribute this quote – if you know it, please comment!)

When society begins supporting ways for teachers to improve their personal best, obtaining the caliber of teachers  wished for will be in reach.  Brigham and Women’s Hospital in MA and Harvard University are fortunate to have such a self reflective staff member AND some one so willing to share their personal experiences in order to help others.  By supporting Dr. Gawande and his willingness to strive for better, these institutions and patients benefit greatly all the way around.

We would do far more to improve education by creating a positive environment for teachers.   It is our choice – surgically destroy education with reforms that have little to nothing in offering actual  improvement or healing what happens in the classroom by owning our locus of control and assisting teachers in achieving their personal best.

Parenting skills for a novice

Dear Parents,

I found this video  and wanted to share it with you.  Not only does this parent clearly elucidate the issues at hand and why it is unsettling to him, he clearly solves the problem.   There is a point at which talking is NOT the solution and action is required.  Oh, and by the way, children under 18 need parental consent for using some of these websites so you do get to monitor what is being done.

While I do not advocate/condone the technique used at the end of the video, there are similar things which can be equally effective with a hammer or window drop (from the 5th floor or higher).

Remember, you are the adult in the relationship. YOU are the parent. YOU get to set the standard your child lives up to.

Take time to be a parent in the same way you expect me to take time to be a teacher. I do not have as much influence on your child as you do. My job is merely to inspire your child to want to learn MORE!

Please support me in educating your child by setting high expectations of behavior at home, at school and making sure your child applies themself to learn.   All the rest will be pretty easy.


Your Child’s Teacher

Grades K-12

P.S.  Dear Hannah,

You may not like your father very much right now. I am sure when you are in college, doing well and have a family of your own you will appreciate your father cared enough to love you and discipline you.

Follow up:

The New-New Thing In Education: Being Aware/Being Involved

Many years ago I worked for Charles Schwab Inc. while in Denver, Co. People  (family, friends, etc.)were constantly telling me how privileged/fortunate I was since Schwab had such high values and cared about the common folk. The implication was that Schwab was the best house on the street since that was how Schwab was marketed. How would I know to  think otherwise- I was recently out of college. My father had invested with Schwab since the dawn of the operation when they were in Sacramento and they seemed to honestly care about making everyone an investor so they could obtain part of the American dream. In fact, at the time I worked there, Schwab was the  darling of San Francisco and anyone with an inkling of liberalism.

All was well in theory until Charles Schwab Inc. and the board of directors determined that going after big money would make the firm more profitable – it was exactly what every other firm on the street was doing so why not Schwab?  They sold their soul and the 1% got wealthy, the 99% (including employees who were not directors or unit presidents/vp) got stock option rights to buy shares of Schwab at a discount because paying employees what they were worth would not be profitable. Unless you were the 5% who made Schwab a  life career, you took a bath in very dirty water about 1998 and forward as Schwab, now wealthy like other houses on the street, began to disband employees over profits. I had left the firm (I felt Schwab was losing its mojo and cache) to pursue a larger dream – Peace Corps.  I, like most employees, who worked for Schwab during the go-go 90’s took a cold bath of reality and in realizing I was underpaid when I worked for them (remember the stock options). I later  took another bath when stocks went down and I needed to sell. Schwab, like every other firm was also affected by the most recent Wall Street and banking debacle, in spite of how it is worded on Wikipedia.

Who lost out? Well, it would appear the average investor or the 99% including me as I was once a ‘believer’. Whether it was mortgage-backed securities or not – investors took a hit, not the corporation. This is along the lines of ‘the house never loses’ in Las Vegas.

I bring all of this up as an example of perception versus reality and how we so wish to perceive what is being fed (read: marketed) to us that we truly overlook what is going on in the middle of the situation.

As with making money, education is not without a ‘fee’ for service. The fees paid take many forms: studying, fund-raisers, PTA, support of school teams, attending events. The list is too onerous to complete here.  No matter how much the new-new thing is touted, the new-new thing becomes yesterdays cold bath in the light of day if you do not pay attention.  In the late 1990’s to now (2012), charter schools were touted as the panacea for this ailing nation. We went from the’ everyone will go to college (the implication of this meant everyone would obtain a college degree – understatement is great marketing)’ to the light of day where reality crept in and getting to college is not as easy as it looks, no matter who is in the White House. Sadly, charter schools were supposed to improve everything.  The two articles above are but a very thin slice of a bigger picture that  charter schools, like Charles Schwab Inc.,  do not possess the luster the marketing and PR firms would like them to endow upon them.

As with the reforms being voted on in Congress and hopefully applied to banks, brokerages and mortgage lenders, charter schools themselves were given a revisit.

The issues at the top of this page are small in comparison to the marketing ploys of charter schools. It is doubtful that anything of value will come from the CA State Board of Education ordering new rules in 2011  to clarify how charter schools are granted statewide operating privileges. The action comes in the wake of a July 2010 Court of Appeals ruling that found the CA State Board of Education  improperly awarded statewide status to Aspire Public Schools, a charter school company founded in 2000.  The reason: being aware versus wanting to believe.

The parents of children at Miramonte Elementary School in  Los Angeles probably believe a charter school would be far better then LAUSD in light of recent events. Since Aspire Public Schools did not make the lawsuit(s) above newsworthy, parents will be fed exactly what they wish to believe.

Hopefully parents will realize it is about involvement – day in and day out. It is about being aware and it is about paying the ‘fees’ for their children to be educated.  These horrible events happen everywhere – unfortunately they happen most when people are not watching and not aware.

Pertinence in Parenting or Test Scores?

This past week I was able to listen to Dr. Diane Ravitch being interviewed by Michael Krasney. There was nothing startlingly different in this interview and yet it was bereft of the mention the role parents play in education.  It may well be that parents and inadequate parenting are results related to the effects of poverty, which was clearly covered in this discussion.  Engaged parents, one of the cornerstones of child success – around the world, where there is much more poverty than in America needs to be addressed with the same level of anger the public puts upon teachers for educational results.

Dr. Ravitch was clear in the fact of teachers no longer accepting of the assignation they are what is wrong with American Education and no amount of constant testing will prove otherwise.   Her clarity on this point was so sharp it was able to poke the flimsy balloon of NCLB testing and yet it was not strong enough to raise the ire of the very group who need to be involved. Parents seem to be given a constant free pass to not be part of solution.

William Bennett, who is the other side of the spectrum  of education (test students until you get numbers you like) went on to write about the necessity to have great teachers and backed his writing up with a plethora of statistics. Unfortunately   for Mr. Bennett, he managed to include the below paragraph but not bother to  follow-up on the very real fact that teachers are only SECOND to parents in educational outcomes and success of children.  Mr. Bennett wrote it in such a way as to make the comment not real and/or not noticeable or of any poignancy.

This study shows that, second only to parents, teachers are the most important part of a child’s education. Great teachers make a great difference; poor teachers hurt a child’s life chances. Isn’t that all we need to know to embark upon a serious effort to reward good teachers and encourage poor teachers out of the profession.

There is a world of difference from my own reading, listening and interpreting of professional educator ‘speak’ to the interpretations made by the general public who listen to what is, in effect, marketed at them.   The issue at hand is not what testing does or does not prove, rather the issue is the interpretation.  We as the population of the U.S. can spend our time debating test scores (multiple choice, blue book, anecdotal records, NAEP, state testing and so forth) for ever or we can choose to effect change by placing the same level of expectation upon parents that we place upon teachers. We get to choose where we place our focus.

As long as we are focused on test numbers, we neglect the more important VALUE ADDED issues affecting children – appropriate food, sleep, healthy environment (where they physically live and their community safety), literacy in the home (do the parents even attempt to learn the lingua franca of the country they live in) including adequate reading material, parenting behaviors conducive to student success (schedules, quiet time for homework, consistency, etc.) and the list goes on and on.  By focusing on test scores, which  seem to have changed little over 20 years no matter how much money we put into the machine called education, we miss the really HUGE variable – parents.

The public has done everything it can to demonstrate disdain for teachers and the results are not attractive.  It is time for the public to get past the whipping boy/girl and actual take on the problem with education.  When parents are on board, teachers can effect change in the classroom.

Teacher quality is nothing without parental quality.

Parents Taking on the RESPONSIBILITY of Parenting

While it should be illegal (it is at least immoral) for people to have children (adopt, give birth to, etc.)  and abdicate the education of said child to some one else, the next best thing is to set the expectation high and wide that parents (people who have children) take RESPONSIBILITY and parent.  It has been far too long in coming that our communities demand parent action.  This does not mean helicoptering as that is ‘overparenting’ and does nothing to set boundaries for learning from failures and successes.

It would have never occurred to me a few decades ago that parents needed to be asked and reminded to go to parent conferences, follow through on the progress of their child or actually be told that no one ever died from not watching TV and yet these were all things I had to do my first years of teaching. I was dumbfounded.  How is it my own parents, who both  (one more than 40 miles from home) worked by time I was in middle and high school, figured this out? How is it my parents gave up many a night out or activity to be sure myself and my sister  had library night, were involved in Girl Scouts and all manner of other activities in the community, went to some  free program for kids at the museum, at the local college over the weekend,  volunteered for PTA regularly, checked up on homework being done (we did not even have planners in those dark ages) and followed through on anything lower than a C grade?  Anything less than a C meant two things (1) figure out what you needed help with understanding (2) locate the people/resources (teacher, tutor, classmates parent, book, etc.) to turn the problem around. In retrospect, my parents were nothing short of amazing and driven – they had a desire that their children would do well in the world and lead lives of meaning and purpose.  My parents did not dump tons of money into the situation as we were not wealthy. My parents dumped TIME into the situation.

When I began teaching, PTA did not help the teacher round-up parents and wrangle with the idea of how to follow through on children, although I sure wish the organization had. This would have been the largest difference in the lives of so many children. I took on the burden many times by trying to re-think, re-plan, re-teach, tutor and so forth the students who were lagging behind.  It was never possible to do that much work for 15-20 of my 35 students in lower grades or 75-90 students in upper grades, do my job and have a life – but I tried.

Thankfully amid  all the ‘change’ being made in education, parents have been brought in to the light.  I hope this is the deal changer. It will be many years before we know for certain as a country, however, the research has always shown great parenting conquers much more than a teacher can teach in a school year.

If you are just becoming a teacher – make sure your school puts parents into action. If you already teach, find out what needs to happen to get parents activated at your school.  If you are a student – REMIND YOUR PARENTS TO SUPPORT YOUR BEST EFFORTS.  For all the parents out there thinking this is ‘impossible’ – unplug your TV for six months. None of you will die and your child will be far better for it.

A Teachable Moment to Last a Lifetime

This blog is for parents and it is about parenting. Hopefully it will also let parents into the strange world teachers inhabit and how we think, for good or for bad about things such as rewarding behaviors, grades, expectations, etc.

A huge shoutout and thank you to the teacher who years ago shared the book (I have now forgotten the name of teacher and book and passed book on to an English Teacher colleague years ago…) with me regarding activities for getting students to use items such as a dictionary, thesaurus and other ‘researchy’ types of materials.  I know at the time you could not understand what a science teacher had in mind, but the ideas have been great tools in the war chest over the years.

One of the activities I appropriated was about a thesaurus:  What are all the words BETWEEN hot and cold and how would ‘you’ and your group put them in order? Example: warm, tepid, lukewarm, ice-cold, cold, freezing, exactly 33 degrees F and so forth.  This became a way to start to identify qualitative measurement, how to derive a scale and ultimately how to evaluate qualitative data and explore interpretations.   This activity, and some similar explorations helped many a middle schooler get through the quandaries of data collection.   Over the years, I found this example exemplary for life skills type issues in the classroom such as, “What are the words between deserve and earn?” or “What are the words between want and need?”.  This also worked great with parents in conference.

Over time, my students developed all manner of scales for ‘measuring’ the most outrageous data – kind of like Wired Magazine (the holy grail of how to ‘show’ data along the lines of Edward Tufte Envisioning Information).  Alone, this made science a great deal more fun, in combination with thinking through behaviors, this very simple task opened many a mind.

So, as I read the blog noted above and contemplated the various comments in The San Francisco Chronicle (often comments are better than actual blogs/articles!) I realized this is a task parents could do at home with children.  Not so much to do school work, more so to gain some insight and logic about the world, appreciate the how and why of religion – observing, practicing, believing in/having faith (it does not matter the particular religion) and applying religion to living a meaningful life.

Whether you claim to be the 99% or the 1%, all of us need to better understand in our hearts the difference between deserving and earning something – even a Blackberry for Christmas or the capacity for an inanimate object, Best Buy, to ruin our Christmas.  In addition to the distinct differences of deserve and earn (which has a great deal to do with studying, completing homework and obtaining grades….), want and need could not be more clear after the last five years where the whole world has been assailed by a few people who wanted too much.

As I think back over my experiences (I will post the URL’s to some blogs I have written about these concepts), I can not help but thank my parents for making sure I had the experiences to know the difference of want and need and deserve and earn. Some of these experiences came about via the observation of a minor holiday in Judaism called Chanukah which was raised up to a major holiday via marketing to compete with Christmas in the money sphere, some came about from traveling. Many of these experiences came about from leaving my comfort zone and having to contemplate how I would handle a variety of situations.  Most of my experiences caught me right between the heart and mind, which is never easy, nor can there necessarily be one right, correct, best answer.

If you wish to raise a child with compassion and appreciation, give them the opportunity to experience these words. Neither a dictionary or thesaurus could ever do the words justice merely by being on a page.