Opine I will

I am a retired elementary school teacher just trying to do the right thing

Archive for the month “November, 2013”

@DataDiva, this one’s for you.

Yes, today I am in a pithy mood. It could be because on Wednesday, NYS Education Commissioner King along with my State Senator  are holding a faux forum to discuss education. I hope to get one of the golden tickets that will allow me entry. I have submitted my faux question in an attempt to be able to address the Commissioner with my real statement . So I wait for the powers to say whether or not I can attend.

I am really getting tired of education consultants making grandiose baseless statements.  This blog by consultant John Spencer really annoyed the heck out of me today. After reading his post on Twitter I responded that he was still wrong. My sometimes Twitter Stalker and yet another consultant @DataDiva decided to weigh in, wondering what I really though was wrong with Spencer’s post. Not in the mood to communicate via 120 characters I have decided to address both my pithy mood and Spencer’s post.

Spencer’s article is below.. my pithy comments will be in red. @DataDive this is for you.

Twelve Things I Was Wrong About

Heads-up: Wendell the World’s Worst Wizard is already out. You can buy a copy here.

I used to have strong views on just about everything in education. While I often pushed for nuance and humility, I was unable to see how little I really knew. So here I am a decade into this gig and I’m more uncertain about what I know than ever before. Here are ten things I’ve been wrong about:

10 years into this gig? This is from your blog:
Chad has experience as a teacher, principal and director in math, science and instructional technology, in both low-income and urban schools. He has also taught university classes on math strategies and workshops on standards-based assessment and language acquisition.

John has experience in teaching all subjects in middle school and in coaching teachers for technology and in language acquisition.  He has taught professional development on paperless math, language acquisition, classroom management, social studies, critical thinking skills, digital citizenship and social media.

Really, so if I take you at your word you have about what, 1 year of experience in each position?

  1. Homeschooling / Unschooling: I used to be opposed to both systems. I believed that opting out was dangerous for a child’s social development. Now I see that it works for some kids and for some families. I wouldn’t say it’s the only system or that it’s the best system – just that it’s a system that can work. – Homeschooling may work for a very very small section of our population, due to specialized needs. It is by no means an alternative for the average child or family. The social- emotional well being of the student is not being met when a child is home schooled. Don’t like your school? Then make it better.
  2. Homework: I have lashed out against homework before. But after having three kids of my own, I am convinced that every child is different. I now believe that homework should be optional and based upon a conversation between the child, the parent and the teacher. I still don’t assign it as a teacher, but if a parent asks for it, I’m open to that. Homework is a critical component to a child’s academic success. Proper homework, provides needed practice, reinforces knowledge, develops independence, and promotes learning as a lifestyle. You are doing your homework right now, reading this blog. Why take that away from your child?
  1. Charter/Private/Public Schools: I used to believe that charter schools were evil. Then I saw how amazing SLA is and I realized that there are great ones out there. I felt the same way about private schools, until I met people who worked in them and realized that they weren’t evil. I just wish we could have the same freedom, in terms of policy. Charter schools divert needed funds from the public schools. Often their results are below those of the counterparts. They often cherry pick their students, and rarely meet the needs of students in real need. If you don’t like your public school, make it better, don’t bleed it dry while diverting $$ to the private sector.
  2. Tests: I once believed that tests were vital to learning. My kids took tests every Friday. Then I turned anti-test. Now, I can see the role that some tests (even standardized) can have in helping identify when kids need help. A simple fluency test can be a small example of helping figure out where a child is struggling. There’s a lot of nuance I missed along the way. The only tests that are valid are those developed by teachers for their own students. Teachers use these tests to check on comprehension, and to drive their instruction. Standardized tests are abusive and their only goal is to fit children into neat well organized boxes. 
  3. Data: Along with tests, I’ll add data. The truth is that data can be incredibly helpful in finding trends. Thmetricse issue is the kind of data we gather and the way we choose to analyze it. A project rubric can be a great way to gather meaningful data.Data is a four letter word that has been used as a weapon against public education. Data can be skewed. Most data is not valid. Kids are not numbers, the human brain should not be measured by arbitrary metrics developed by those who claim they know better. 
  4. Gamification: My kids are in a club that uses gamification. To my surprise, they seem to enjoy both the process and the badges. There’s a nuance there that I couldn’t see before. Am I going to embrace this in the classroom? Not yet. Do I now see why teachers are using it? Yep. Gamification?? Hell… a made up word to justify game playing. Why are children being taught  everything is a competition? A game? You  really think the engineers that build Hoover Dam or designed the series of aqueducts that provide water for NYC from hundreds of miles away, spent their school years playing learning games? Why does everyone get a trophy? Why can’t kids play anymore unless it is organized by adults?  
  5. Behaviorism: I don’t know what I believe about extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. I’m now at a place where I see the mind as a mystery. It’s complicated, complex and harder to understand than what my own mind can comprehend. Here ‘s the rub.. If you really believe this, then how do you explain #’s 1-6?
  6. Mandatory Coding: After teaching my kids to code, I am starting to see why people say “All kids should learn this.” Here’s the thing: I don’t know what all kids should know. I don’t know if programming should be a requirement with math and science. I can see where it helps them as thinkers and I know that’s a good thing.  Should we shift from computational practice to coding? Maybe. Or maybe not. I’m fine with that.Make up your mind.. maybe or maybe not??? Coding is very systematical, our kids should be trained to think outside the system. 
  7. Boredom: I used to believe that a bored student was a sign that the teacher was screwing up. Then I realized that even in the best projects, kids will hit moments of boredom. Sometimes we hit a wall and it’s not as fun as it once was. People often confuse boredom with the need for solitude. Read Diane Senechal’s Republic of Noise. Hitting that wall is often linked to the need to learn how to think, ponder, imagine. lately all we want from kids is answers, and they better be correct. 
  8. Hard Work: I used to believe that teaching required 50-80 hours a week. Those who showed up during contract time were simply “phoning it in.” Now, as a father of three, I am that teacher I once scoffed at. I’m not against people putting in crazy hours. I just don’t see the point in making it the standard of being a good or bad teacher.Teaching is a craft, an art, a calling. Successful teachers don’t measure their hours, they don’t view it as crazy. They love their work, they live their work. Your comments are quite baffling and are more towrds being part of the problem than the solution
  9. Best Practices: I don’t believe in a codified set of best practices. It’s often about context and using certain practices wisely. So, lecture? Fine, just not all the time. Independent projects? Great, just not every moment of every day. Sentence stems and vocabulary support for ELL? Sounds good. Just make sure you pull them back as they master the language. Another baffling comment. Best practices evolve and change every day in every classroom. When we teach we must be flexible enough to meet the needs of the students we face. No one ever masters the language, even the best author’s go back and modify their work, some even after it’s published. 
  10. The union: I used to get frustrated that the union “protected bad teachers.” Now, I see that they protect due process, stand up for teacher’s working conditions. I’ve seen moments where the union protects us from crazy pay cuts or helps a teacher that was falsely targeted by administration. Unions do a lot more than that. Oversimplifying the role of a teacher’s union plays into the hand of the anti- union crowd. The facts show that states that allow collective bargaining fare much better than states without. Unions ensure schools have what they need and a whole lote more
I have fewer beliefs about education than I ever have before. However, the few that I have (embracing critical thinking, learning for wisdom, problem-solving, nuance, creative opportunities, etc.) I believe more strongly than ever. 
As you gain more experience, (a decade is not enough) hopefully you will realize that your beliefs about education grow exponentially rather than diminish. If they don’t you will never find fulfillment.  
Pithy enough?



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