Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Five Things Schools Must Do To Avoid Extinction

As schools slowly verge towards the same fate as newspapers and bank tellers, we must step away from the precipice of extinction by doing the following:

1. Stop banning ipods/cell phones from school classrooms. If it's not a test, then we should embrace these technologies in our classrooms. Every time I walk by a class with NO iPODS/NO CELLPHONES hung by the door, I feel another nail in public education's coffin hammered home. Do we embrace this technology, connect with our students and allow them to use what they naturally use, or do we simply go on as our students turn away from us in droves? Yes, banning phones is easy, teaching appropriate use is hard. Which will payoff in your class room? Will your students continue to sneak texts and consider you a fossil, or do you project a text back channel with your lesson for all to see?

2. Stop blocking/banning Internet use. This does NOT stop students, and it causes huge problems for teachers who want to engage their students with the social networks. How many of you went out on the web to find social or free web ware to find it was blocked? How many of you can not access YouTube? iTunes? We are shooting ourselves in the foot as we are unable to even try the new technologies out there. Our students can easily get around blocked websites; they network and find back doors while teachers founder on the rocky shores of Internet ignorance. We can not let short sighted administrators take the easy path of ban/block. Instead, we must take the time to teach appropriate use. Once again we are killing our profession with these policies.

3. Teachers must start to police their own ranks. We must wrest the power of teacher termination from administration and use it ourselves. When we let administration do the dirty work for us, we become less than professionals and lose the respect of parents. When we hide our worst behind tenure, what message do we send to the public about who we really care about? Doctors and lawyers remove the worst from their ranks and get the respect they deserve. Unions must bargain for this right to cull our own ranks. You can easily count on your hand at least five teachers you've met over the years who should not be teaching. What the hell are they still doing teaching? What the hell are we doing by letting them teach?

4. Merit pay for schools, not teachers. Competition for merit pay for individual teachers will create frustration, jealousy, fighting with counselors & administrators. Merit pay for schools will enhance cooperation, connectivity, collaboration and the removal of teachers who can't cut it (see #3). Obama got merit pay partly right, but schools are communities, we need to help them grow as organizations, not as sealed off individuals who never see each other, never collaborate, & never know the names of half the teachers in their building. Give merit pay to schools who show improvement and watch teaching become a collaborative art instead of an isolated, fragmented vaudeville show where no act has anything to do with any other act.

5. Teachers must take a performing arts/ drama class at some time in their careers. We can not stand before our students and expect them to sit there if we can not deliver a message in a meaningful way. Monotoned, sessile teachers deactivate the reticular activating systems in our students brainstems and literally put them to sleep. I never heard a group of people complain about a boring inservice as much as teachers, yet we do this to our students daily. Ask your students; they know who teaches and who speeches. Buy these pedagogues a clue and get them to some kind of class where they can hone these skills. Yes, they are performance skills, we can all learn them with practice.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Story of Truth and Parable

As the story goes, there once was a person named Truth who had a lot to say. Truth would go to a town, find the market square and start to tell everyone what he knew to be true. However, people would simply retreat in disgust at the site of Truth. They would turn away, one after another, saying:

"Oh, the naked Truth"! or "Gawds, it's the dirty Truth" or "Save us all, it's the awful Truth!" or many more similar exclamations.

For Truth was smelly, naked, awful, dirty and many more things not very palatable to the local populace. They turned away, never listening to Truth's message. Town after town, Truth would walk away in despair; he needed to be heard, but no one was lending him an ear.

One day, Truth overheard someone talking about Good King Parable's lands, and how the King was so wise that no problem went unsolved in his domains. Truth journeyed to the distant kingdom, and found Parable's castle. He entered the brightly lit chamber room unannounced. All the splendidly dressed courtiers turned away as they glimpsed his presence and, as normal, shouted loudly about the horrible, terrible, unbearable Truth.

King Parable, sitting on his golden throne at the head of the long hall rose suddenly, and everyone fell silent, even Truth. King Parable then said to Truth;

"Truth, be still and I shall help you be heard".

King Parable clapped his hands and a bevy of servants came with soap and water and sponges and cleansed Truth from head to toe.

King Parable clapped his hands again and a knot of slaves came with many oils and perfumes of rose, lavender and apple blossom and rubbed and massaged Truth until Truth glowed.

King Parable clapped his hands once more and a gaggle of merchants came with a rainbow of colored silks and shoes clustered with pearls and rubies and emeralds. They dressed Truth and he sparkled in the evening sunlight beaming into King Parable's long hall.

And now King Parable said "Truth, go forth and tell your tale, for Truth will always be heard when wrapped in the silks of Parable".

Truth has been gladly heard ever since.

OK, what does this have to do with teaching? The better question is what doesn't this have to do with teaching. No one listens to hard cold facts for long without the warmth given by storytelling. Teachers are the worst, show them a string of power points loaded with charts and facts and graphs and they'll quickly be lost in grading, commenting, just about anything but giving their attention. Students are no different, but they get it all day long, five days a week for years. If teachers can't storytell, if we can't wrap our content in silks that capture the imagination, our students will wander off, maybe not physically, but wander off they will. Every teacher has experiences that drove them to teaching, but rarely shares those passions in their lessons. Let's enthrall our charges, not bury them; find the spark that drove you to your field of work and use it as a golden spike to drive your own truths home. Do our children deserve any less?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Proctoring CSAP/ACT Tests

While the effectiveness of Colorado Student Assessment Program and the mandatory ACT testing of all Colorado Juniors is debatable, the use of teachers during school hours to proctor these exams is a true waste of taxpayer money. To pay me my teacher's salary (after 30 years of teaching) for proctoring is ridiculous considering that proctoring can be done by well trained pongids for a lot less money. Colorado taxpayers, you should be complaining about this LOUD and LONG. This is a total waste of your money, and is done only for convenience.

I walk around for three hours a day for four days and get paid incredibly well for it, but I really should not. Parents need to hear this, and should demand that teachers on teacher's pay should be spent teaching or planning. This is a black hole for tax money, badly concieved and badly spent.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What Century Are We In?

Take someone from 1850 and drop them in a modern hospital, they will be lost. Drop them in a modern airport, they will be confounded. Drop them in a modern garage, they will be discombobulated. There are little similarities for these folks between 1850 And 2009, until they walk into a modern school. Desks, books, chalkboard... hell yes, they'll recognize it as a classroom. Is this what we want for our children?

Even worse, walk through the hallways of a modern school and you'll see posted on door after door: NO CELLS PHONES/ NO iPODS. Go into the library and half the internet sites are blocked. What are we doing to ourselves? Union Square Ventures has recently put out a list of what future trends schools can expect, and teachers were compared to the bank tellers of the 1970's, and newspapermen of the present. New research is showing that Internet blocking/filtering is actually detrimental to student learning!

If we continue to shut out phone technology and block the internet we might as well be considered obsolete. Schools must teach appropriate use of the internet, not block it. We must teach appropriate use of cell phones, not ban them. No wonder students see us as fossils, we are as lithified as any trilobite. They are technology natives and we are the immigrants. But we remain ignorant immigrants, keeping to our own ways and languages while our children turn away from us. Teach appropriate use, gather our students' technologies up into our collective arms and embrace this networked magic before it replaces us.