Saturday, July 24, 2010

Teachers and Test Scores

I always have such mixed feelings when I hear about a mass firing of teachers.

Yesterday, 241 teachers in Washington, D.C. lost their jobs. It's hard for me to imagine that many teachers being let go since the town in which I worked only had a few more than that in the entire district. It's also hard for me to believe that that many teachers are doing such a poor job that they deserve to be fired.

If the teachers are truly incompetent, then letting them go probably benefits everyone, including the teachers. What I want to know is how that many incompetent teachers got hired in the first place. That certainly isn't the fault of the teachers, but of the personnel director (or whoever does the hiring). Doesn't anyone check on the applicant's competency levels at the time of hiring?

I also think that being fired because of the student's test scores is terribly unfair. Yes, I know that the only way we have to judge what the students are learning is through standardized testing, but I also know how students take these tests. Too many of them don't read the questions. Many simply make designs on their answer sheets. I actually had students who tried to get a low score so that no one would expect anything of them. Some mark wrong answers just to be defiant. One student I had was upset that his mother had recently married a man that he didn't like. In an effort to hurt her, he did nothing in school or on standardized tests.

I also know that in some schools the courses are not divided evenly. In other words, some teachers may get all the top classes with the best students, while others get assigned remedial classes with the lowest performing students. It's obvious which teachers will appear to be doing the best job. The fact of the matter is that just because students are performing badly on tests doesn't mean the teachers are doing a bad job. It might mean that, but it might not.

I think I've said before that when I started teaching I taught remedial classes all day long. Teachers who had been there longer always got the higher level classes. My students showed improvement. Often I was able to raise their scores from a 3rd grade level to a 6th grade level. Sound's good, doesn't it? Unfortunately, these were 9th grade students who were still performing three levels below their grade. Does that mean I would have been fired because my students were still getting low test scores? Possibly.

I guess I just want to watch and see what happens. Can 241 competent teachers be hired in the next few weeks? And in a year, if the test scores are still low (which I imagine they will be), will another 241 teachers lose their jobs and another 241 be hired? I wonder how many times that will have to happen before someone realizes that it's not just the teachers' fault. It's probably time some started looking at other causes and other solutions.
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Thursday, July 22, 2010

5 Lessons Learned at the Grocery Store

First let me say that I hate grocery shopping, but because I love to eat, I shop. And while I was at the store a few days ago, I had several revelations. Okay, maybe the word "revelations" is a little strong, but I did learn a few things.

1. Parents are ready for school to start. I'm not sure why anyone would bring 5 or more small children to the grocery store, but they way the parents were yelling at them, I'm pretty sure they would prefer they were in school.

2. Teachers are not ready for school to start. I ran into two different teachers and both felt that they just have not had enough time to recuperate from last year. Because of snow days, school did not get out until June 9 and the teachers have to go back August 16. Most have barely had enough time to get in their summer coursework, let alone time for rejuvenation.

3. Children are bored, but probably not ready to go back to school yet. Of course, parents should probably find better summer activities for their children than going to the grocery store. If the parents were making the shopping trip an educational experience, that would be a different story. Unfortunately, I didn't see any of that. All I saw were unhappy children and unhappier parents.

4. Store owners love it when parents bring children to the store. I noticed a lot of kid-friendly items have been placed at eye-level (eye-level of the kids, that is). Unfortunately, that contributes to the unhappiness of the parents when children ask for items. It also contributes to the unhappiness of the children when parents say "no."

5. I learned that I need to find a different day and time to do my grocery shopping.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sally Said That You Said That ...

Shirley Sherrod, the USDA's director of Rural Development in Georgia, was asked to resign because of remarks she made. Unfortunately, these remarks were taken out of context, and when you listen to her entire speech, instead of the edited video clip, you realize that she did nothing wrong.

The people at fault were the ones who edited the clip to make it appear to be something it wasn't and the people who reacted without knowing all the facts.

This type of thing happens in schools all the time. One student will say something about another, parts of which may be based in fact (or not). The other student or his or her friends believe what was said (or not), and the next thing you know you have students in the hallway screaming at each other, threatening each other, and sometimes actually coming to blows.

I don't know how many times a student would tell a friend that so-and-so had said something about them. The friend would confront the person who had supposedly made the statement. Often a fight would start. But when taken to the office, and made to confront each other in a civilized manner, it was usually discovered that the person really hadn't said anything or what they had said hand been distorted or taken out of context.

One of the things teachers, counselors, and administration have to do is get students to learn to question things and get the facts before taking action. It is also their responsibility (and their parents' responsibility) to teach them that fighting is not the appropriate action to take. Most students learn this by the time they leave high school.

Obviously, some adults, as evidenced by the actions taken against Shirley Sherrod, have not learned the lessons that most students learn in school.

The reporter and news channel who put out the edited video are no better than the student who tattles to his or her friend. The people asking Ms. Sherrod to resign are no better than the student who wants to start a fight because of what was said or what they think was said.

Only when the entire story comes out can people judge for themselves. I personally think apologies are due all around. That's what happens to the students. And if the adults are going to act this immature, then they should be treated the same.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


"Refudiate," "misunderestimate," "wee-wee'd up." English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!

The above comment is a tweet posted by Sarah Palin on July 18, 2010.

Did she apologize for using a word that doesn't exist? No. Instead she compared herself to Shakespeare.

This really bothers me. Yes, it's true that English is a living language, but it evolves naturally or purposely, not because someone makes a mistake. When you use a word incorrectly, and do not realize it until someone points it out, I don't believe you are advancing the English language. Obviously, I'm not the only one as #Shakespalin has been a popular hashtag topic on Twitter.

However, if you intentionally make up new words, as Shakespeare did, then you are innovative, original, and intelligent.

In the 1980s, comedian Rich Hall on an HBO show called Not Necessarily the News, invented new words all the time. He called them Sniglets. These were not accidents or mistakes, but thoughtful, funny, non-existent words that made people laugh (and think):

Here are a few Sniglets from the website Sniglets:
  • Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
  • Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
  • Nerb n. a noun used as a verb. For example: They didn't language the proclamation very well. nerb, nerbing, nerbed v. the act of using nouns as verbs in a sentence.
  • Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.
Actually, when used properly, new words can have great educational value: In a 1990 interview, Rich Hall was asked if the "Sniglets books [were] completely for comic value?" This is his reply:

Yeah. Well, no. I wouldn't say they're completely for comic value. I mean, I get letters from schools all the time saying how they've incorporated a sniglet book into their reading program. You can look at a lot of the words and sort of break them down into their etymological origins. And you can learn a lot about how and where words derive from. When you assign this frailty of human nature a word, then the word has to work. It has to either be a hybrid of several other words, or have a Latin origin, or something.
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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"Let's Move" Website

I've been looking around the website Let's Move. If you haven't been there, I highly recommend you do.

The website is promoted by First Lady Michelle Obama and has tons of healthy information for parents, students, and schools.

There are articles and videos on fitness, exercise, healthy eating, recipes, nutrition, obesity, and much more. I could go on, but I think you just need to go to the website yourself.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Another Reason for Foreign Language

On a television news article just a few minutes ago, they said that a court ruling in New Jersey now states that police must read a person's rights to them in a language they understand. If a drunk driver is pulled over, and his or her native language is Spanish, those rights must be told to the driver in Spanish.

They said that the police are brushing up on their languages. In New Jersey, there are over 150 languages spoken.

Currently, it's not known if this ruling will hold up, but it certainly gives another indication of the importance of studying foreign languages.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Time for School Supplies

Last week I went to Walmart. As I walked into the store, just past the cash registers, I noticed about five aisles of school supplies.

Yesterday's newspaper ads included a "back-to-school" sale flyer from Staples.

In this morning's local newspaper there was an article about the Salvation Army's drive for school supplies.

Our local schools have supply lists ready for download on their website.

It appears it is that time of year already. I know it seems as if school just let out, but here, it starts again August 16 for teachers and August 19 for students. That's not too many days away.

So, start thinking about getting ready. The first day of school will be here before you know it.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

No Regrets

Today I learned that my brother will be taking a new job in a different state, over 400 miles away. After living in the same town with him for over 50 years, I have mixed feelings.

I am so happy for him and for the great opportunity he has. Yet, I know I will miss him. Even though I haven't see him as often as I could or should, I have always known he's around. Thank goodness for Facebook, Twitter, cell phones, texting, and the US postal service, we'll still be able to keep in touch. I imagine we'll probably keep in touch even more than when he was here.

He's taking the new job because he says that he doesn't want to look back in a couple of years and regret not having tried it.

It's funny because this is the same thing I used to tell my students. "You don't want to look back on your high school years and regret not having done your best." It's important to try new things, to do your best, to jump at opportunities when they are offered to you. You never know how it will all work out unless you try.

Friday, July 9, 2010

8 Things Teachers Can Learn From Lady Gaga

Lady GaGa during her The Fame Ball Tour perfor...Image via Wikipedia

I'm sitting here this Friday morning watching The Today Show. Lady Gaga will soon perform on their outdoor stage. Her fans started showing up for the concert two days ago and so far 20,000 people are estimated to be in Rockefeller Plaza. She has almost 12 million fans on Facebook.

So as teachers, what can we learn from this?

Let's take them one at a time.

1. She loves her fans and has an amazing relationship with them. She sent pizza and water to fans who were waiting in line overnight.

As teachers we must have a love of our students. If you don't like children, why would you become a teacher in the first place? Students can tell if you truly like them or if you're just going through the motions.

2. She is fascinating to watch. She knows how to put on a show.

Teachers put on a show every day in class. It should capture the student's attention. I had a chemistry teacher who illustrated each day's lesson with a magic trick. No one ever skipped his class. We always wanted to see what he would do that day.

3. She is extremely talented. She knows her stuff.

Teachers must be talented in their subjects. Students immediately know if a teacher does not have an adequate knowledge of the material they're teaching.

4. She is cutting-edge. You never quite know what to expect from her.

Teachers need to surprise their students from time to time. The lessons learned when teachers break from the normal routine are the one students remember best. I still remember the math lesson when the teacher took us outside to use trigonometry to measure trees. I still remember when the Spanish teacher had us perform skits in Spanish on stage.

5. She has a knack for knowing what her fans want to hear and see.

Teachers need to keep up on what students are interested in and try to incorporate that into the classroom. I went to school during the Beatles era and remember how I loved it when we were able to play Beatles songs in band class.

6. She has an appeal for all ages. She calls her fans "little monsters," but I saw a lot of older people in the crowd.

Teachers need to appeal to their students. My favorite teachers were the ones who were down to earth and could communicate at their student's level. I had some who acted like it was imposition that there were students in their classes. There were others who knew their subject matter, but talked so far above their student's heads that the students learned little. And of course there were those who talked down to us, treated us as if we were morons.

7. She thanked her fans for making her dreams come true.

Teachers are definitely over-worked and underpaid. Perhaps if we were making the kind of money that Lady Gaga makes, we would be more appreciative. But the fact of the matter is that, if your job is teaching, then it is paying for all you own, do, eat, and enjoy. Your students are making your dreams come true, perhaps not all of your dreams, but in time, you will get most of the things you want. If your dreams are too big, then a teaching career is probably not for you.

8. She supports education.

“Don’t ever make the mistake that you’re a dumb blonde or a pushover,” she told Britain’s Mail on Sunday. "I was a grade-A student and I went to a really top school in New York where the children of middle-class parents are expected to achieve at everything.

“I started piano at the age of four and I passed every grade with top marks. I wanted to be smart because I wanted to be able to control things. My career isn’t about other people’s ideas and decisions. It’s about my decisions, my vision, my inspirations. I listen to other people, but I’m smart enough to know what to take notice of. Never underestimate the importance of education.”

I hope that every teacher supports education and encourages every student to be their best. It is so easy to give up on some of them, but they're the ones who most need their education.

I do have just word of warning. As a performer, Lady Gaga can get by with things that teachers can't. Teachers must remember to keep their attire and language appropriate for the classroom. You can be cool and keep it clean at the same time.

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Sunday, July 4, 2010

Saturday, July 3, 2010

What Can a Compliment Do?

I took a 4-day class last week. This week I worked on two papers for the class that needed to be emailed to the instructor by July 4. I finally sent them off at about 10:00 pm tonight.

In less than half an hour, the instructor had emailed back that he had received the papers. He gave me an extremely nice compliment about one of them. I can't tell you how good that made me feel. I had worked hard on those papers and it was nice to feel the work was appreciated.

You know, if a simple compliment can make me feel this good, imagine what it can do for students. I mean, I've taken a lot of classes, I've written a lot of papers, I've lived a lot of years, and yet I still love to hear a word or two of praise.

How nice it would be if everyone could receive a compliment each day. That could happen if everyone would give a compliment each day. And while you're at it, try giving two.

Friday, July 2, 2010


How did it get to be July already? Some stores have already started displaying school supply lists for the coming fall. Teachers are taking classes in preparation for the new school year. Some are busy writing lesson plans. A nice website for those teachers, and for students and parents, is

For teachers there are lesson plans, student interactives, standards alignment, and professional development.

For students there are after school activities, games, and literacy themes.

Parents will find activities and suggestions for helping their children succeed in school.

There really is so much on this website that it is difficult to even start listing it all. The best thing to do is go there and click around. See what you can find.

Thursday, July 1, 2010