Moving and shutting down…

I have moved to http://lhmiles2.wordpress.com/

Once again on the move…too many blogs all over the place.  I have officially and successfully moved everything into one place.  I will now only be writing at my new blog so all the good stuff is one good place.  Thanks for reading!

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Lessons Learned from Steve Jobs (pt. 1)

This past week I finally got around to reading the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson while laying out on the beach with my family.  While my wife and her family were reading the summer’s hot literary trends or a slew of James Patterson bests (like normal vacationers), I was reading to figure out what made Steve Jobs magnificently unique.  After reading the book, I realized that Jobs was a true visionary and an artist not just a tech geek.  He contributed more to my technological lifestyle than just about any other company in the industry.  I highly recommend this book to anyone with even a little interest in Apple, Pixar, or just plain simple inspiration.

While I quickly realized that I lack every kernel of Jobs’ visionary artistry, I do relate to his temperamental passion.  The same drive to revolutionize the digital industry is the same drive many teachers feel about their students.  Many times throughout the book, Jobs literally blows his top and berates anyone who challenges him, stands in his way, or is just being – in his opinion – an ignorant $h** (his words not mine).  While I’m not the kind of guy who blows up on people, I understand where Jobs is coming from within the framework of my own personal passions for educational leadership, classroom instruction, and educational policy.  It is frustrating for me to watch educators and educational leaders make snap judgements or decisions without putting in the artistic time and talent to make better and more informed decisions that Jobs so desperately pushed all of his employees to do.  Education is fragile just as Jobs recognized that digital consumers’ desires were as well.  Both industries require decisions to be made on behalf of the end user not the company or it breaks and “becomes a piece of junk.”  Plain and simple, Jobs cared more about Apple’s end-user experience and less about their bottom line.

Simply put, Jobs is so determined to do what he believes is best for his company’s products that his emotions get the better of him sometimes when he is confronted with ideas that he believes will be detrimental to the end user.  By no means, as an educator do I now intend to go off on people who challenge me (and not the good kind of challenge either) professionally, but I can definitely sympathize with Jobs’ fire and wish there were more people with his drive in my chosen profession.  We need more people in leadership roles who care about the end-user…the student.

Nowadays, there seem to be more people arguing about the right way to do “stuff” and less people blazing trails and meeting the needs of students.  In my humblest opinion, schools could use someone like Steve Jobs because even in a world of many self-proclaimed trailblazers, students and teachers could use a few more Steve Jobs who are blazing paths for students and not for themselves.

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Bullying: It’s not just a buzz word

It seems that today the new buzz word in education – believe it or not – is bullying. School bullying (be it cyber or face-to-face) is a trending topic in most schools.  I know some local schools in my district have initiated anti-bullying campaigns.  And just about every teacher and school guidance counselor squares off against bullying on a regular basis.

While it seems to be all the buzz…bullying has always been a very serious situation in the lives of almost every student.  With the rise in social media, cyber bullying is becoming rampant and only exacerbates the problem in schools.  Bullying is an every day problem.  In fact, I think many teachers would be shocked to hear how many of their students feel bullied while at school, and it would be students who you wouldn’t expect.

According to statistics gathered by USC and presented in this infographic, 1 out of 4 students are bullied every month and roughly 160,000 students miss school each day for fear of bullying.  Even more ming boggling, 1 out of 10 students drops of out school each year due to repetitive bullying.  And all of those stats only include the cases that are reported because about 81% of all bullying cases go unreported by students.

To be honest, I can’t say that I’m speaking from personal experience, but as a teacher, I have a heart for the victims of bullying.  I mean sure I was bullied once or twice but nothing to the extent of what I see in my school or hear about on the news.  As teachers, we have to try to do our best to end the cycle.

Earlier this morning, I was reading an article from the New York Times’ educational section and came across this piece written by Laura Klein called Bullying Changes a School, One Child at a Time.  The article details the experience of Rocky, a 7th grade student from the Senegal, whose name has been changed for privacy.

Rocky starts out as a straight A student who stands out among her peers and with her teachers, but eventually the bullying takes a toll on who she is.  Rocky begins to become defiant and disrespectful and ultimately, punches another student at which point she herself has become a bully.  Luckily, Rocky has Ms. Klein to help stop the bullying cycle and help her realize how important it is to stay true to yourself.  The entire article boils down to this great point.

“Those who are accused of bullying aren’t necessarily bad kids, or even truly mean a lot of the time. But an environment where bullying or harassment is happening is an environment that can transform anyone into a bully.

The true danger of bullying is the way that it changes kids. After weeks of feeling defensive and guarded, Rocky began to hide her sweet softness. Enough of this transformation in children, and the environment of a school is changed.”

Bullying is not just something that some kids do.  Bullying is an epidemic that if allowed will infest your school environment and bring down your school from the inside out.  Without proper intervention, there is not a good way for any bullying situation to end.   Bullying changes who students are.  It’s a cycle that feeds itself.

So how can you help…

1) Ask – Always ask students if they are okay when they appear to be “off” or down.  A lot of times you may get some generic answer, but other times you may be just who your student needs to talk to, which leads into…

2) Listen – It seems simple, but so many teachers (including myself) don’t.  Just listen.

3) Be visible – One of the easiest ways to decrease student aggression is to be visible especially during transitional times in your school like a class change.

4) Enforce – Enforce the rules and hold students accountable for breaking any rules your school or district has in place for bullying.

5) Get others involved – Schools are all about community so use your community (parents, guardians, local leaders) to help prevent bullying in school and outside of it.

Visit one of the following websites for more information…

http://www.stopbullying.gov/

Additional Resources on How You Can Help

http://www.education.com/topic/school-bullying-teasing/

***Image provided Sports Doing Some Good at http://sportsdoinggood.com/

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Stop yelling and think about it…

Recently, a local school district decided that high school students should receive no grade less than a 60 for each quarter.  According to the county’s Superintendent, Frank Till, “the whole idea was to not fail students early in the semester and (to) give them a chance to get their act together.”  Needless to say, there was quite the uproar when WRAL reported the Superintendent’s decision.  It did not take long for the article’s comment thread to move from curiosity to frustration to outrage to absurd.  Just since this morning, the comments have more than doubled (and I’m sure they continue to grow as I write).  Clearly, grading is a hot topic for teachers, students, and parents.  Grades/assessment/evaluation are at the core of who we are as an education nation.  Unfortunately, grades have come to be what defines many students — and teachers to a certain extent.

While I completely understand the frustration and even the arguments from those opposed to the idea (don’t forget I am a teacher), if you really think about, what Superintendent Till did actually makes sense.

Let me break it down for you.  Our current state-approved grading scale is:

  •  A (100 – 93)
  • B (92 – 85)
  • C (84 – 77)
  • D (76 – 70)
  • F (69 – 0)

If you break it down into percentages:

  • 8% of the grading scale is for A
  • 8% of the grading scale is for B
  • 8% of the grading scale is for C
  • 7% of the grading scale is for D
  • 69% of the grading scale is for F

How does that distribution even begin to make sense?  Education is one of the only places where 60% of mastery is failing.  A ten point scale to 50 actually makes more equitable sense, and to be honest, there is a lot of well-respected educators or educational experts who think we should abolish grading altogether.

Like I said, I understand the frustration with the Cumberland County decision.  Initially, it does seem like teachers are just giving out grades.  I mean..come on…if a student gets a 30 then they deserve a 30.  You get what you deserve and you deserve what you get.

Right?

But what about keeping in mind the mission of every school and teacher…to educate.  Whether a child (yes a child…some of these children are 10, 12, 16 years old that we feel deserve to learn these MEGA life lessons) receives a 32 or a 62, the message is very clear…THEY FAILED!  Why does the numerical value matter at all?  At least in Cumberland County, teachers hang onto the idea that they can re-kindle that student’s desire to learn, and students’ still have hope for re-focusing and re-committing their 2nd semester to learning.

Sure a few students will abuse the system, but isn’t that the case now and won’t that be the case later and always.  I mean seriously, adults abuse the system every day, all day and for the most part that goes unnoticed.  Why all of sudden – when a decision is made in the interest of students – is their such an outcry to teach students the lessons of the real world?

NEWSFLASH–The real world is nothing like school and it never should be.

Bottom-line…if a student is going to fail, then “handing” them a 60 will not stop them from doing so.  So if you are worried about teaching someone a lesson or making sure a 15 year old gets what they deserve, then stop worrying because they will probably still fail.

But if you are more interested in teaching students to love biology or realize the importance of math or embrace the brilliance of literature or cherish the history of our country, then you have to understand this decision is a step in the right direction for all students.

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Slush Happens and A Personal Confession

Many first year teachers enter their new classroom with a newly acquired skill set and the drive to change the face of education one student at a time.

Then…(insert dramatic, 10 second musical interlude)

They run into what I like to call “The Slush.” The slush is all of the paperwork, the broken copiers, the difficult administrators, the lack of guidance for students and teachers, the burnt out and complacent teachers, the ineffective PLTs, the super teachers, and the list goes on. (Side note: Not every school is full of all of this slush, but at least every school has a little bit.)

Seriously, how does education expect any teacher to make it through the slush and come out on the other side just as motivated and driven?

Ok confession time…I am jealous of all of the teachers that not only made it through the slush, but came out of the slush more successful and albeit borderline famous educators because it sure hasn’t happened to me.  I wish I was that teacher or at least saw a road that would lead me their one day, but instead, the slush is slowly swallowing me. I constantly feel like I am fighting battles that make sense to you and I, but to the majority of the big dogs in my school and district I might as well as be speaking my own made-up language.  I guess I just thought there would either be less slush or I would be able to fight through it sooner.

Not to toot my horn or clang my own symbol, but I have always been somewhat of a high flyer (as my principal likes to say). I made straight A’s through high school with the occasional B and went to college on a full ride.  I graduated college with a 3.8 and found a job right out of college in a job market that was even tough for teachers.  After my first year of teaching, I was named a finalist for the First Year Teacher of the Year Award.  And now I am beginning graduate school.  I have been very lucky and blessed throughout my entire life and short teaching career, but now all of sudden I am drowning in slush and to be brutally honest, I’m not used to it…not at all.

I don’t know why I am having trouble fighting through it.  I’ve done all of right things.  I have surrounded myself with accomplished educators in my PLN.  I work diligently to try and stay on top of the educational trends and best practices.  I read through my RSS feed almost every day to continuously build upon my knowledge of teaching, grow my educational resources, and hone my skills.  Yet somehow, even after 2 years of teaching, education is rubbing my face in the slush.  In fact many days, I feel like education is holding me down and making me drink the slush.

It’s difficult to look around and see (or read about) all of these super-human teachers. Many teachers have written at least one book (if not more).  Many teachers have been on Oprah.   Many teachers have thousands of twitter followers or a worldwide blogging audience.  Many teachers have won awards and moved on to bigger and better things.  And here I am with my 366 followers, my small (yet very much appreciated) blogging audience, and my very un-famous teaching career.

I guess my point is that in a society that worships the quick fix, praises celebrities and athletes, and salivates over how make to quickest and biggest dollar, it is easy to feel like a failure…especially in teaching.  I am jealous of all of those teachers who have made it to the promise land.

Then I remember — it’s not about me at all.  It’s not even about y’all.  It’s about them…my students.  With so much focus on Arne Duncan, core standards, RTTT, teacher evaluation and accountability, it is so easy to lose sight of why we all teach.  Maybe the promise land is different for me.  Maybe the promise land is different for teachers who set out to be change agents in their classrooms and if they impact education on a larger scale…well that’s just a bonus.  Look, bottom line…slush happens, and sometimes I just have to remind myself of why I fight through the slush every day and why I’m happy to do it.

Posted in education, miscellaneous, personal, reflection | 1 Comment

Academic Punishment

We all know a teacher who punishes students academically because of a poor behavioral choice.  I will never forget in 11th grade when I was writing a paper for my English class, I turned in a final copy and had cited Wikipedia (yes…wikipedia had just been created) in my list of resources.  Well apparently, somewhere through the explanation of this paper, I missed the memo on not using wikipedia to develop my research findings.  As the straight-laced student that I was, I did not intentionally use wikipedia just to spite the teacher…I genuinely made a mistake.  Instead of allowing me to correct the paper or taking this opportunity to teach me proper researching techniques, my teacher failed me on this assignment.  Thanks to that big fat ZERO, I was unable to get anything higher than a C in the class, and I had to work incredibly hard to get a C.  I made a poor behavioral choice yet I was punished academically.

At the time, I didn’t really have any issue with the punishment.  I messed up so I needed to be punished.  I felt like the punishment fit the crime.  However, now that I am a teacher, I have no idea what she was thinking.  How could she justify this punishment?  Did the punishment truly fit the crime?  My research was sound, and I proved that I learned the information therefore I must have deserved a ZERO because – in her opinion – I accidentally used a “questionable” source.  Seriously? 

I don’t really like using the word punishment at all, but as a 7th grade teacher, I do have to correct behaviors often and sometimes repeat offenders or grandiose offenders do result in punishments such as silent lunch, in-school suspension, etc.  A re-ocurring war of words that I along with my Dumbledore-like army (yes…HP reference and side note — I’m neither Harry Potter nor Dumbledore) is one that has risen to prominence within my school.  So many teachers continuously take points off assignments for late work, give students a ZERO for not getting something signed, or reducing letter grades for not following the proper format.  While I understand their reasoning, I do not agree with the premise.

When I refute the academic punishers, I always hear, “It is our job to teach the children responsibility” or “They didn’t turn in the work or follow my instructions so they don’t deserve the grade.”  However, teaching students responsibility and assessing a student’s responsibility are 2 very different things.

Instead of simply punishing a student academically, teachers need to learn how to effectively and fairly correct the behavior that is impeding a child from turning in work on time or following formatting instructions.  Those are important components of school, but are not a part of our state-mandated curriculum.  Teaching a student responsibility and organization is a part of the teacher hidden curriculum, but grading a child’s responsibility and organization is not fair to any student.   We should only measure and assess our students based upon what they know not how soon they can get a paper signed by their parents or whether or not they put their name on the correct side of the paper.  There are other ways to correct behaviors beyond grading penalties.  In my experience, students who do not turn work in on time or repeatedly misinterpret instructions are the very students who will NOT respond to grading penalties anyway.

While grading is slowly becoming my arch-nemesis, I think everyone would agree that just because a student turns in work late DOES NOT mean that they do not know the material.  When teachers punish the behavior with grades, they are hurting the students academically.  That’s like benching a football player because he can’t swim.  The punishment does not fit the crime.

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What happened to the ‘A’?

For years, students have received letter grades assessing the material they have learned throughout the year.  In theory, each letter grade indicates the amount of knowledge learned.  (I think it goes without saying that it’s a flawed system that is deeply rooted within our educational system.)  However, at some point in the past 5 – 10 years the grading paradigm has shifted greatly.  From my own personal observations, the A no longer represents excellence or the ability to relate learned material to real world experiences or even in other classes.  An A is the only option for many students.  If they don’t receive an A the first time around then they don’t try again, many just move on.  Students believe they have failed to “master” the content.

The A has lost its spark.  The A has lost its spunk.  The A has lost that little something extra that makes every student proud of their work.  Instead, when a student doesn’t receive an A on an assignment or a final grade, they feel as if they have failed.  How did this happen?  When did students start to feel that the A meant average or was expected?

I blame us…the teachers. Not the students, not the parents, not the system, but the teachers.  And I don’t think we can get the A back to how it used to be.  In my opinion, the reason so many people are calling for a new assessment system other than grades is due to the fact that the A has lost its charm.  Failing is perceived negatively instead of a way for students to learn and grow, which in turn has made the A the ONLY other option for students. Forget D through B, those are still failing grades in many students eyes.  Why did this happen? What’s the solution? Do letter grades work?



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