Archive for the ‘Thoughts/Opinions’ Category

The Importance of Think Time

October 9, 2011

Inspiration is found in the quiet corners of the mind. This is what has led to the quiet of this blog this past few months. After the mental stimulus of the ASCD conference and the physical rigors of escorting 90 students to Washington and NYC, my mind and body needed a rest. After the turmoil of a third consecutive school year of upheaval and animosity, my spirit needed a rest as well. More importantly I needed the “think time” to process all the input I had received and emotions I had experienced. The warm days of summer and the joys of a wedding have given me a most welcome respite and I am now back. I have several articles planned, but for now I want to revisit the importance of a basic tool that often is left behind…Think Time…Without this precious commodity much of what we do with our students is degraded or lost. Additionally in this time of tight budgets this tool becomes an efficient vehicle for creating the connections that ensure long term learning. Furthermore think time is the practice field for critical thinking. And yet despite all that we know about think time, so many educators allow but a few seconds to pass before moving on to the next student or calling on the same two or three students who always seem to know the answer. We point to the myriad of standards that be to covered before the state test; the reticence of students to participate; the lack of time we have with students each day as reasons why we need to keep moving…and yet…how far has this approach gotten us?

I decided that this year I would more strategically implement think time. I wanted to allow all students the opportunity to make connections and think critically about the content we were exploring together. I wanted to hear all of my students’ voices. So I started making a plan that would allow me to reach this goal without overburdening me or my students. Here are some strategies I have found to be effective.

1. Intentionally allow for think time and writing before the beginning of a discussion. This could take the form of a quick write or a review of notes or the use of a “think minute”.

2. Allow for practice discussion with a shoulder or table partner. Then there is the silent conversation where students write responses to each other rather than speak them.

3. Let students know that all their voices are import ant. The AVID strategy 1-1-2 Partner Share is a wonderful tool for this. Briefly this strategy has students consider a question (another great place for a quick write) and then take turns listening and repeating back what their partner says before engaging in a two minute pair discussion.

4. Call on all students equitably. For iPhone and iPad users the app Sitck Pick is a powerful tool for ensuring this. It draws on the old popsicle stick idea, but also allows you to differentiate what type of questions you ask each individual student. It even keeps track of the quality of student responses. You can even export this info via e-mail. I find that when I use this app I am also more aware of how long I wait before asking a clarifying question or moving on.

These four simple tools have already improved the quality of discussion in my classroom. They cost nothing, but are priceless. By providing the quiet time to think before a discussion, I am eliminating the quiet that befalls so many classroom “discussions” and allowing my students an opportunity to explore the quiet corners of their mind that I have found so important to my personal exploration and growth.

Nickels and Dimes and Pennies; The Real Cost of a Teacher.

February 27, 2011

So I started to think about teachers as the CAUSE OF ALL ECONOMIC PROBLEMS IN THE U.S. today ( At least this is the image that is being projected today). I considered my salary and whether I was ripping off the taxpayers in California… who pay about $9,000 per student a year for each student’s education.

(Source: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind10/c8/c8s1o11.htm). I decided to examine this question through several lenses.

Lens One

Using high-end figures for my analysis, my salary and benefits would equal $100,000. For clarity and simplicity I have used rounded numbers for this discussion. To begin with I teach 200 students a day for 180 days. When I divide $100,000 by these numbers I come to a daily cost of $2.78 per student per day. Now since I have reached the top of my district’s pay scale, most of the teachers at my site earn less than I do. But let’s err on the high side and say that on average teachers at my school cost the tax payer $2.50 per class for each student’s teacher. Students at my school have 7 classes a day so the teachers’ salaries (including all benefits) would cost the taxpayer $17.50 a day or$ 87.50 a week or $350.00 a month. I am paid 10 equal payments throughout the year which means $3,500.00 is the cost of a child’s teacher at my site for an entire year.

 Question …where is the other $5,500 spent?

Is a child’s education in my class worth a parent passing up a Starbucks…or a Big Mac…or a trip on the Metro? Is the cost of a day of education for a child worth a pair of movie tickets…or two margaritas…or having someone clean half your house?

Sidebar: Considered another way… the amount of money my district receives for 11 of my 200 students would cover the cost of my salary and benefits for a year.

Now let’s return to my data. You could say I cost each parent of each student in my class $2.78 a day. I spend 45 minutes instructing that child. This does not include the time spent planning and researching and grading any assignment your student is given. It does not include the hour and a half minimum I spend every day after school working with students who need extra help or a place to work or to access the technology or supplies they need in order to complete their homework. Also be aware that I have the same educational experience as a lawyer. I have a BA, a credential, a CLAD certificate, and a MS. That is 8 years of college level work. I have 36 years of experience. I belong to professional organizations, read current literature, and attend conferences to improve my practice.

Question…Which doctor, lawyer, accountant, or therapist would  you expect to provide 45 minutes of services at a cost of $2.78?

Lens Two

Next I considered my salary through another lens. How much does each student cost the tax payer for the hours I work?

Once again I will use the $100,000 figure for my salary and benefits and the 200 figure for my number of students. (My actual student number is 197 by the way).  If I add up the actual hours I work the average would be 10 hours a day. For the purposes of this discussion I will not include my weekend hours.

Next I did the math.

100,000/10=10,000 salary divided by months

10,000 /4= 2,500 cost per week

2,500/5=500 cost per day

500/10=50 cost per hour

50/200=.25  This is the cost to the taxpayer per student per hour for me to prepare, instruct, and evaluate  a child’s learning.

Question… How many minutes at a parking meter is that or how many minutes on a dryer at a Laundromat?

By the way if I completed this process using my 7 hour contracted day the cost comes to .33 cents per student per hour.
My Conclusion

I am a bargain for the taxpayers and for the children that I teach. As we work as a nation to improve economic conditions let’s not nickel and dime the education of our children. That would be “penny wise and pound foolish” (Burton).

Apples to Apples

February 13, 2011

Apples to Apples

Let’s compare apples to apples. This is what I think whenever I hear one of those dire comparisons between the public schools in the United States and India…or China…or Japan…or Finland.  Without exception the US stats pale in comparison. But are we comparing the same populations?  Several years ago I had the opportunity to visit a high school in Shanghai. It was impressive. I observed diligent students in well run classrooms; computer use by all students; high college entrance rates.  Definitely this was a high performing public school.  Or was it something else? As I passed other schools in Beijing where students hung out of third story windows cleaning the outer panes, I wondered would these young people soon be in high schools. The group I was with did not visit these schools, but I learned through conversations and observation that they would not. I learned that the school I observed in Shanghai was more akin to a prep school in the US than it was to any American public high school. Not only were young people winnowed out of schools into the workforce as early as middle school age, entrance into elite public high schools like the one I saw in Shanghai required a substantial payment. Yes there are scholarships available to needy students, but the majority of poorer students will enter the workforce or attend inferior high schools that limit college opportunity.  In more ways than one they were being hung out to dry.  How many of these students were included in the PISA and TIMSS results? How many of these students took the test.?

American schools educate the entire population into high school. There is no active institutional winnowing into career paths. American schools educate the entire barrel of apples. We do not hand pick a few golden ones. And yet the beauty of educating everyone through high school is also our greatest challenge. Meeting the needs of a diverse population; ridding our system of the passive filters that limit opportunities for some while enhancing opportunities for others; developing competent and passionate educators with high expectations for all; achievement gaps; digital gaps…the challenges are many and in these economic times they might seem insurmountable , but it must be achieved if this democracy is to remain vibrant. 

I am proud that we educate all of our students. I am proud that anyone at any point in their life can reenter our educational system. I embrace our “all apples” approach and as an educator I am determined to address the challenges educating everyone poses because the alternative of education for a select few  is the true danger to us as individuals and as a society.

Jay Mathews of the Washington Post has a recent article that addresses a similar idea. It is an interesting read.

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/class-struggle/2011/02/myth_of_declining_us_schools.html

What are your thoughts?

Pass on Passion

February 6, 2011

Family  Feuds

Families are often microcosms of the general population. Any family gathering I attend shares the same spectrum of political and religious views that any poll seeks to quantify. My family also has an unusually high number of educators in it ranging from classroom teachers …to professors…to consultants. So when someone who is not an educator brings up the topic of “what’s wrong with our schools” the “discussions” are always interesting and often heated by the passion of belief. Too often though the results are confirmation of everyone’s personal beliefs and a deepening of the divide that threatens to shatter our schools and our nation.  Such was the climate of a recent family gathering.

Now I am a strong advocate of following one’s passions. Such passion is the energy that fuels my 36 years in the classroom. However when that passion stops fueling positive results and is instead used to build filters so we process only those ideas that fit our own paradigm passion becomes an accelerator for destruction rather than the a fuel for growth.

The fundamentalist who shuts out or hates the person who calls God by a different name is one example. Whether that person is the Egyptian Muslim being interviewed by Christiane Amanpour or a fundamentalist Christian protesting a burial, the message is the same. I unconditionally can not hear you because your ideas do not meet my passion filter. When this happens respect vanishes and without respect no growth can occur. Stalemate or destruction are the only options available.

The same is true lately of discussions about education. So too will be the results. The casualties will be our children. As a person who believes in the power of positive passion I have been recently contemplating and reevaluating my own personal perspectives. I have considered steps I can take to ensure that I at least do not add more accelerator to the bonfire of public discussion on the state of our schools. I know that I can only change certain things, but that even a pebble can have a widening effect.

Here are some of my thoughts as of now…what are yours?

  1. There are poor and excellent schools in all systems from public to private to charter to home schools.
  2. There is room for improvement in all systems of education.
  3. There are effective and ineffective educators in all these systems.
  4. The beauty of educating everyone through high school is also our greatest challenge.
  5. Unions vs school districts …we need to lessen the vs.
  6. If we as educators want to be considered professionals, what are our responsibilities?
  7. Data is needed, but is only a piece of the puzzle.
  8. We must stop using data bites to fuel the debate on education…whether that is a case of inappropriate instruction or an improper use of a test.
  9.  Listen as Socrates would and question to learn, not to defend.
  10. Be open to acknowledging a viewpoint that differs from yours. There may be more than one road to excellence.
  11. If it doesn’t benefit the students it doesn’t belong in education.
  12. Get used to change…it is an affirmation of life.

I am not quite sure where my ruminations will end up, but I know that I do not want to have my passion for learning transformed into a fuel that will in the end destroy that about which I am passionate.