Sunday, January 02, 2011

Another suggestion about dumping bad teachers

On a more spiritual level, John Spencer made some recommendations about how to weed out the good teachers from the bad using the time tried measure of predestination.  I only half jest because I’ve heard of this before, the idea that teaching is a “deeply human endeavor”, and I’ve always been kind of on the fence on whether or not teaching is a genuine calling.  Did God already have it out for me to get into the classroom and try to bring positive change to society?  Was my early desire to be an air traffic controller simply a passing fad that was brought upon by an childhood dream of watching airplanes all day?  Who knows.

  Take away the Teacher's Guides and if they claim that they are unable to teach, they are right.  They can't. As long as you're at it, take away the standards and the curriculum maps.  Any decent teacher should be able to know what is vital in his or her content area.

You know what happens when you take away standards and curriculum maps in today’s education climate?  You get fired.  Do you know that we are supposed to have a standard on the whiteboard every single day of this year, addressing it before every class (thanks stupid ass Program Improvement)?  We might know what is vital in our content area, but that doesn’t mean it is supposed to be what is taught.  There is a difference.  For instance, do you know how much Personal Finance is in the California Economics Standards?  Zero.  That’s right.  In the ultimate subject about choice there are no references to a student’s ability to make financial decisions or deal with credit.  What is “vital” and what is “required” are often different.  On the Teacher’s Guides, I’ve never opened one.  I ignored the classroom model assignments in the Credential Program and instead followed the models of successful teachers at the schools I’ve been at.  Add a dash of personal flair, opinions from the students, and recommendations from good administration, and viola, you can burn the guides in the fireplace.

Take away the computers.  Tell them that there's no electricity.  Even if it's a computer class, there's still a lesson to be learned.  If they can't teach without the gadgets, then they aren't teachers. They're technicians and they have no business in a classroom. 

DIE HIPPIE SCUM!  YOU CAN TAKE MY COMPUTER FROM ME WHEN YOU PRY IT OUT OF MY COLD, DEAD HANDS YOU WALDORFIAN COMMIE!  Ahem.  A tool is a tool is a tool, and the electricity part is just another tool that can help.  I would say that this also delves into a weird area for the beginning teachers that have the opportunity to engage students by integrating technology in the classroom.  It is the rare breed that can simply engage using direct instruction and the ditto machine.  Still, the focus should be the teaching, not the tool.

Take away the School Discipline Program and have the administrators leave for a day. If they can't lead a class without the intervention of an administrator, they probably need to leave.

The only time I have administrators get involved in discipline is when I send kids for Attendance Contracts or when a parent calls angry that I disciplined their child.  Yeah, it would be nice that administration would never get involved in running a classroom, but sometimes it has to happen.  I think part of the teacher support is knowing that the administrators are there are are ready to back you up.  That gives you better confidence to management the classroom in the way you see fit.  When the support isn’t there, teachers start playing it safe, and kids pounce.  By the way, that Spencer’s statement would work nicely in a school that has motivated, driven students.  Bring that to Oakland or Richmond and you might have some issues.

Take away the grades and get rid of the homework.  Toss out the token reward system and the points and the gold stars.  If they claim that they can't motivate a class without these things then they're missing a big part of what it means to motivate.

Agreed, and then stare down the vengeful wrath of parents that want proof that little John and Sally deserve their grade.  Spencer is right on with this statement.   Not only should I be able to punt away grades and homework and “points” and incentives, I should be able to assess a grade with any of that crap.  I’ve been doing this for ten years.  Do you honestly think I can’t tell you who is excellent (few), who is average (most), and who is lazy as hell (some)?  Of course I have a question also for John.  Is he naïve enough to believe that taking all of this away and putting a good teacher in the classroom enough to motivate all the students? 

Take away the classroom for a day and have the teacher lead a group of ten kids.  Meet outside.  I don't care where.  A lake, a river, a mountain, a busy intersection of the city. If the teacher can't see how the subject connects to life and struggles to get a point across without a Word Wall or a chalkboard or a set of worksheets, then the teacher is missing the point of education.

Ahhhh, relevance.  So much is depends on the ability to make the subject matter mean something to the students.  Within the first week of college, my 20th Century History teacher Ty Benoit (who happened to also be my 8th grade History teacher too) told me that good teachers can’t simply be passionate about History, they need to be able to make connections with History and students, and those connections have to mean something.  I love teaching Government and Economics because it is relevant, interesting, and people can leave class not wanting to Major in Economics, but being able to figure out what’s going on and hold a conversation about it.  Best comments I get all year are from parents that tell me that my class creates fantastic discussions at the dining room table.  Now that is cool.

I buzzed around John Spencer’s site a little since he’s new to me.  It’s interesting.  Like must of us, he’s a lot passionate, a little bit unrealistic, totally into working hard, and totally not into the direction education is going. 

Sounds good to me.  Now let’s cut off his classroom electricity…..

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