30 March 2010

Changing Demographics = Changing Expectations?

My classroom discussion for this week is: What influence do differing demographics have on the following: Planning, Instruction, Classroom management, Assessment, Achievement, and Expectations?

This was my response: Before I start my response to this I want to share a link:

The link is a clip from a Family Guy episode. The humor is a bit rough, but if you can get past it, you can see why I thought of it as soon as I read the discussion question. In this episode, The [talking dog] has a job teaching in an affluent [white] neighborhood. He loves it; he makes corny content-related jokes, and does cooky performances that the class loves. It is a teaching utopia. Then he gets transferred to an inner city class where they make a reference to the movie "Stand and Deliver." He tries to do the same things he did in the previous class, and comes in excited to teach, but the kids, and their lives break him down until he comes in unshaven and looking like a hobo. This is a satirical clip, but it isn't until he drops his expectations that he creates some kind of connection with the students. I bring this up for two reasons: 1) we need to meet students where they are, and SHOW them how to get to where they want to go. I've watched kids give up under the weight of a teacher's unattainably high expectations. 2) We need to be flexible and creative in how we connect and engage our students. What works with one group may not work with another, and it could be the same class taught in the same day, but kids are different. I am not one to force kids to feel like a cog in the machine... those are the grown folks that go postal on their work places.

After sharing this with my wife, she asked me WHY expectations would be different?  One of the things that can be assumed is the idea of a normal family environment for students.  She pointed out that kids who live in rich neighborhoods may not have close relationsghips to their parents because they may be out working all the time, they may not have a healthier diet because a Venti Soy Chai latte in the mornings in not nutritional either.  The point I want to get across is this: as educators, we need to meet where they are... exactly where they are.  Id doesn't matter if they are different race, economic level, or academic ability.  Students will not achieve under low expectations, nor will they succeed under expectations that are too high for them to relate to. 

The bar cannot be set across the same level for all demographic setting.  If failure to one person is success to another, the bar cannot be set the same for both.  If minimal requirements for one is to just show up and for another it is to get a B, then the bar cannot be set the same. 

This is not a matter of where kids are, but how to get them to where they want to go. 

19 March 2010

The Needed Male Influence in Special Education

I wrote this posting after sitting through an Autism Workshop class on a waiver day titled, "Teaching Independence Through Structure."  What is most striking about the workshop is not anything in the content, but something that I already knew about working in Special Education.  Of the roughly SpEd staffers in this district at the workshop, only about 5 of us are male.  Of those men, 2 are paras, I am student teaching, 1 is the Jr. High Behavior Intervention Specialist, and the last 1 is the district Physical Therapist.  

Hmm... So I was sitting in a workshop that was discussing how to use structure to help students with Autism.  Structure; that thing that that I'm really good at, and that comes naturally to me.  Do is come naturally to me because I am a male?  To a certain extent.  I do not want to start making gross generalizations about gender roles, but this made me wonder is a male-dominated Special Education scenario would have an Autism workshop teaching how to be more nurturing. In my short experience, I've been utilized by SpEd classes and departments to create and/or add structure to a student that they recognized as needing it.  

Is it possible for a SpEd student to be nurtured into independence?  Does a breast fed child want to eat solid foods?  Is weaning a child a nurturing moment, or is it a necessary step in child development?  I cannot answer these for sure.  There are opposing opinions when we talk about getting a child to sleep through the night.  Do we let them cry it out until exhaustion makes them pass out again, or do we soothe them every time they wake and stir.  Or is it somewhere in between?  

I am not making the argument of nurturing or structure being better than the other.  I believe that true growth can come when students get a variety of opposing influences in their life.  Is this possible in Special Education, when the department in any given district is around 94% female?  Not that there's anything wrong with women in SpEd, but there is not enough of an opposing force.  There are the occasional tougher ladies, but there is still a motherly quality in the way they are tough.  There aren't any fatherly influenced in SpEd, however, nor are there any big brothers, uncles, or male cousins in SpEd departments.  Why is this?  

I am not an Alpha Male, but I feel like I need to  be one in order to offset the influences in the students I encounter.  I have to become someone I am not and tap into the very dormant Choleric side of my personality in order to help my students grow.  Why aren't there any Alpha, or even Beta, Males helping the growth of our SpEd kids?  The one time I almost burned out as a SpEd para, I was getting a "Superman Complex".  I was not able to fully concentrate on any particular student I was working with, because I had to continually swoop in to save whoever was having trouble with another student in the department.  Having to leave all the time told the student I was with that they were not as important, and I had to leave them alone without their accommodations or modifications.  

Why would any man want to be the odd-man-out in a SpEd class/department full of women where he has no one to talk with or relate to?  I had a 90-Day evaluation this year where it was assumed that my trouble relating to nothing but women was because I didn't have any Black people to talk to.  I was given a suggestion of the only two other Black staff members to talk with.  Feeling like the odd-man-out was not a racial thing for me, but a gender thing.  I am not throwing out the Race Card in this situation, but it shows how someone can be misunderstood and have their growth hindered when they are subjected to one perspective.  

18 March 2010

Shifting Expectations of the School Institution

After a brief conversation yesterday with my Mentor Teacher (MT), I discovered the purpose of my teaching career. Granted, teaching kids is always the reason teachers get out of bed each morning, but there has to be some over-arching drive to anyone's professional career. Film makers want an Oscar, music artists want a Grammy, executives want to become CEOs, but what do teachers want? The education system is too flawed to be content to just assimilate into it with the only conflict arising from teacher salaries and state testing. There is more needed to fix the education system than just paying teachers more.

Anyways, I was talking with my MT and she was talking about her philosophies on teaching, and the things she'd like to see. She told me her conservative nature that wants more natural competition brought back into the education system. However, it is her liberal ideal that I want to talk about. My MT said, that she wishes she could funnel all those funds that go towards those inefficient and ineffective social programs and put them into the schools. This additional funding would not be for academic programs, but social programs that are based around the student that would be with them throughout the school year. The school would live up to its expectations as an institution designed to better the lives of its students. The school will now be able to provide breakfast, lunch (during the school day), and even a dinner for those students who qualify and do not eat one a regular basis. The school can be the state-provided daycare for single parents, teenage mothers, or struggling families who have trouble getting by. The school will also become much like the combination of a Sylvan Learning Center and a Boys and Girls club after school hours. It can now provide activities and programs that are not school related, tutoring services, trainings programs, recreation spaces for kids to be safe in until they have eaten, done their homework, and need to go home and sleep. The kids are now not on the streets or in the woods causing trouble, and they will now have no more excuses to be unsuccessful now. This way the students are fed and have academic help, and all their parents have to do is be home at the end of the day to enjoy their children.

I do not have the logistical, practical, or other answers to make this work tomorrow, because this was a quick conversation, and I think that this is just in the brainstorming stages right now. However, there is great potential in this idea. There is a school facility everywhere throughout this nation, and there are kids in every school (even the rich schools) who need a little more than what is offered during the school day in order to be on even ground with their peers. This way, social services can concentrate on medical services and getting people working, and not whether or not the children are eating properly.

What are some of the negatives about this idea? I am very excited about this idea, but I will try to see both of its sides. The main problem with it is the amount of added administrative and bureaucratic overhead that will be needed to reallocate the funds from one set of organizations to the schools. How much of the extra funds will go to the added administrative and staff overhead needed to operate the additional services? Yet, I still strongly believe that if these kinds of questions can be answered, then this idea had great potential to be effective. This is something that I feel will be a productive time use of my time to develop and work towards.

16 March 2010

Don't Fight The Tech

I found humor in the errands I ran yesterday. Twenty years ago, if I said I had returned rented movies, bought some coffee grounds from the grocery store, and put gas in my car, you would assume that I would have had to interact with at least one human being. That was not the case yesterday, and it was the reason why I laughed at the stage society is in. I returned two Redbox movies to a vending machine, purchased my coffee at QFC's automated checkout stand, and paid for my gas at the fuel pump.

I do not want to make this posting about how technology separates us from human connection, because I do not think that is the case. In fact, technology expands our sphere of influence. One of my best friends is in Georgia, but staying connected is as easy as pushing a couple buttons, or talking on the phone. Whenever we see one another, which is only a couple times per year, we don't miss a beat. When I want to unwind at the end of a day I can play games online with others from around the world; its similar to a pick-up game of basketball from my couch.

This is the world kids live in today. Information is dispersed at the speed of thought. Mass amounts of information bombards kids' minds, and, at any given moment, they need to sift through it and make sense of it all while determining their own place in the world. How do we educators compete with this, and capture the minds of our students?

I propose that we do not compete with it. If technology has provided us a way to be entertained easier, to be informed easier, and to keep in touch easier, then why don't we use it to teach easier? Where does it say that teaching is static, and that it's only effective when it remains unchanged? Classes are now online, we can broadcast ourselves, we can podcast ourselves, and we can discuss in real-time at any time. Twitter, GoogleWave, iTunes, YouTube, Wikis, Forums, etc... The list is endless. How else do we expect to illustrate to students that learning is an ongoing process and can happen anywhere when we restrict it to in class or at their home desk? Why wouldn't they be able to jump on their phone, or entertainment device, at any given moment and have something class-related at their fingertips?

Problem: Student is absent during the explanation of a new unit or during a group exercise. Possibilities: Video/Audio Podcast of the lecture, Flip video or tweets from the student's group members. Sick student can participate in group discussions via webchat or web video, Twitter, or some other means. End Result: Student still receives participation credit, and is still part of the group exercise, and will not need to make up the project after school. This can be difficult to do for science labs, but I would allow it for only one missed lab per semester or year.

Problem: Student is stuck on a problem at home, and needs help in order to complete an assignment. Possibilities: Online whiteboards, GoogleWave, online forums, etc... The teacher could schedule a time a few nights each week to field questions, or respond to a request for help via Twitter. End Result: "I didn't understand it when I tried to do it at home," become irrelevant. Help is now always available to students, and they can have open discussions and brainstorm through the online forums.

There is no a single problem in education that can be fixed only be adding technology into the equation. Technology is just another tool that can be used the right way, or the wrong way. People have trouble understanding how to implement it, but I would venture to guess that these are the people who use pliers to tighten a screw or a monkey wrench as a hammer.

With proper respect and boundaries established, the days of a teacher lecturing at the front of the class, and punching a clock are coming to an end. Why correct endless essays by hand when you can do it in WORD, show the corrections and save paper by sending it through email? Why not improve upon the example you learned under? I have seen the tip of the iceberg of what technology can do for the education process, and the students therein. I am excited about what tools have yet to be developed. I am excited about educating and impacting lives. I'm definitely looking forward to moving education forward.

12 March 2010

Needed: New Expectations

If you were to make a graph of the appropriate closeness of a teacher to a student, it would be inversely proportionate to the academic abilities of the student. Therefore, the more academically capable the student, the more relational distance to their teacher. This could be partially due to the number of students in general education classes, versus a resource room versus a student in a one-on-one situation.

Consider how much a teacher knows about a student's family of home life. The ONLY pet-peeve I have of general education teachers is when they assume that all students are coming into their classes from the same starting point; that the only determining factor on student success is how the student has chosen to participate in class. Last year, I overheard a teacher complaining about one of my alternative education students in the Teachers' Lounge that this student was choosing not to focus or accomplish any work in class that day. I told this teacher that the student had been kicked out of their house the previous night and came into school that morning after sleeping on the train tracks. The teacher had no response, and I don't blame them.

After getting over my initial annoyance with the teacher, I realized that the education system is not conducive to teachers getting to know their students. The expectation is to teach the content, raise the test scores, enforce the school policies, and not sleep with the students. How are teachers supposed to touch the lives of their students when the high schools resemble university lecture halls more than classrooms? A teacher may connect with 5-10 of the 150-200 students that come into their classrooms throughout the day. You place more than 25 kids in a classroom, and the teacher becomes a ring leader in a circus managing what is going on in class instead of guiding the education of children.

We have placed the weight of raising test scores on the shoulders of teachers who hope to create a love of learning in their students. We expect teachers to raise our kids for us; to teach them what they need to know instead of how to find it for themselves. Teachers are expected to teach effectively without giving an education. The expectation needs to shift to think of them as educators who give students the tools to learn and succeed at life. We want teachers to give children the fish of data without educating them as to how to fish for knowledge. We want our children to be able to duplicate so they can pass the next test or quiz, but we do not want to open the world to them and let them discover, explore, and create.

I do not believe that class size is the answer, nor do I believe that it is a matter of funding. The expectations of what learning is, and what educators need to do, needs to shift. We have turned the school day into the drudgery of the work day. Students have become more of a cog in the social machine, when they need to learn who they are and how to grow into contributing citizens. I am not from the school of thought that believes ALL kids should be successful on the same level. I hated having a losing season, and still getting a trophy for participation. If students are always given false success, then they grow to believe that they deserve it, and the sense of entitlement grows inside of them. Students need to experience the joys of achieving real success, which means thet need to learn the lessons of real failure. Students will not be educated if we do not shift our expectations to cultivate learning instead of test scores.

10 March 2010

A Question of How

It's Wednesday of my first week of student teaching, and I'm seeing something that will become an issue for me in the future. Both classes that I am in and observing are not structured in a way that is conducive to a typical Teacher Work Sample. In one class the students are coming and going as they need to throughout the day. They come to class and they do their work without much external structuring or prompts. The other class I'm observing is a transition classroom where the stuents are out of the academic lessons phase and into the life lessons phase; this is where they learn to be independent and self-sufficient.
Therefore, the issues becomes a quesiton of how to create a Teacher Work Sample with pre-, during, and post-assessments within these untraditional settings. Do I interrupt their set of processes and force them into a learning model that they've either moved past, or that does not work well for them? How do I pick a subject when all the students are doing individualized programs that are customized to each of them? It's not a question of IF I'll be able to do this successfully. It's a question of HOW I'm gonna be able to pull this off.

09 March 2010

Technology At Its Best?

[Written 8 March 2010]

I woke up this morning with an annoying technological hiccup. For some strange reason, my district email was no longer being "pushed" to my iPhone. I knew this was bad so I went to my desktop to try and log in to my work email through the website. Since this did not work, my assumption, or rather my hope, was that my password needed to be reset, but I just reset it recently. When I finally got into a classroom and tried to login on a district computer, I was told that my account had been disabled. When I called the tech department, they told me that the high school deleted me from their system. Hurray for efficiency! So my first day is already screwy, and I have to wait for a work order to tell the tech department to fix this problem. This was all before 8 o'clock this morning.

As of 12:30pm, I was able to log into the district system, I was not able to access my email since I was deleted at 6:30 this morning. At around 1pm I was able to access my email, however, ALL of my pld info was GONE! So, now, once again, I have to wait for the tech department to fix it. I am never without a backup to my backup. It turns out that EVERYTHING is gone and unrecoverable. My emails, my calendar, everything. I have a backup calendar that I can repopulate it through my google calendar, but it is a headache, and my emails are all gone as well. This is not a good thing. usually, it is the exchange server that acts as a backup, but it deleted all my info, and I've had to scramble a bit to recover it all myself. This is why I am NEVER without a backup to my backup plan.

04 March 2010

Hurry Up and Wait!!

Waiting is a horrible trick that the inventor of time does to us all. It is Thursday morning and tomorrow is my last day as a Special Education Paraeducator. On Monday I start my student teaching internship, and in June I will be graduated with my MA ED in Special Education. It has been a long four years, but it has gone by quickly; from finishing my undergrad degree at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA to doing this two-year Master's program through the University of Phoenix. It has been a long road, but this last week has felt like it has dragged to a halt. If you believe that Hell is your own personal torment for eternity, then mine would be to have to sit and wait... and wait... and wait...

Am I excited to start my student teaching internship? No. For the first couple days and weeks, I am not doing much more than watching, observing, and waiting for my chance to jump into the fold. I am ready to get into it, and get things moving. This is my personality. One of my favorite things growing up was playing football, but I hated the start of the season. We didn't use pads, we didn't hit each other, there were no plays to learn or strategies discussed. All we did was run, and run, and talk about logistics. I'm ready to get things crackin' on the first days!

However, I know that things do not work this way. I read in my text that teachers who do course work on the first days of class have a harder time maintaining classroom management than teachers who take the first days to go over classroom rules, policies, etc... I understand this notion, and the class runs smoother, when the expectations are clear and understood; when behavior is not a distracting factor, then learning can occur. However, waiting is still my own personal Hell. It is painful, but necessary. So on Monday, I start my 12 weeks of student teaching, but it is still a process, and I will still have to wait. Time is a great equalizer; we are ALL subject to it.