Saturday, January 28, 2012

Couldn’t have said it better myself

“….the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that you have mastered the material. It is not on me to demonstrate that you have not.”

It’s interesting that in all this conversation about what the role of a teacher is supposed to be in society (supplier of information, role model, instigator of creative expression, God) we fail to mention the original role of the student in the whole process. 

We seem to forget that the students have a job.  In all this fluffy conversation about self-esteem and creativity and collaboration, we seem to forget that the transfer of knowledge needs to take place and that students are responsible for actually knowing something when they leave.  Oh, and knowing something more than learning to be inquisitive.  Wanting to be a life-long learner doesn’t accomplish the desired result if one just keeps wanting to be a life-long learner while learning nothing right now.

Get it?

Economics professor Art Carden had a good article in Forbes that reminds us that students earning grades is good.  Being a professional and a mentor is good.   And having students meet standards and prove to themselves that they know something is good.  Sometimes we as teachers need to remember that in the end the student needs to value their education, and that they need to work hard at achieving maximum benefit. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

All my fault

Eleven years in and you’d figure that I’d have learned by now that leaving things to the last minute is not good for sleep patterns.

I can’t say that I don’t have late nights because I actually don’t usually get to sleep until around 10:30.  Sometimes I go over when I find something interesting for kids; some lesson plan or activity that gets the mind whirling and the blood flowing.  Then you realize it’s late and you are bummed that you have to stop and interrupt the excitement with sleep.  Well, this week did not have one of those nights.  See, I pretty much did nothing in terms of grading during my two and a half weeks off during Winter Break.  Sure, I did the usual planning for the week and bounced around blogs looking for ideas.  But the grading part of my educational duties took a back seat to family, driving, the holidays, basketball, reading, and most importantly, resting.  I did this with full knowledge that grades were due on the Wednesday of my return.  Oops.

I figured that between my prep and my time between the end of school and basketball (3-4:30 pm) that I’d be able to grade essays, grade projects, input scores, and still do everything else that I usually do.  Well, Monday was full of basketball crisis and parents wondering about grades.  After hardly a handful of essays, basketball practice was there and then a glass of wine at home and my bed.  Tuesday involved cramming and cramming and cramming, and it took longer than I thought.  In fact, I came home and immediately started the long process of imputing three classes of exams.  By the time midnight rolled around I was done with the grading but need the wine unwind time.  Bed was around 1:30 and 5 a.m. came really fast.  Short-day Wednesday could have saved my rear end if it wasn’t for the belt that broke during lunch (had to scream home and replace), the faculty meeting during PLC time, or the basketball game.  Grades were due at midnight.  I was actually at a decent clip when the second to last project’s online links decided not to work.  I couldn’t finish the last two sections I wanted to grade!  A furious Facebook post and within ten minutes the new links were in my hand but it was time to head to the gym to watch the freshmen.  I ended up reading the project parts and adding in the grade from my phone during the game and then coached while my JV Boy’s lead us to a victory over Montgomery High School of Santa Rosa.  Hyped up about the game I didn’t calm down and get to bed until 11:30, at which time my cats decided that play time was in effect.  Needless to say I got about 8 hours of total sleep in two nights so this weekend is a godsend.

However the stress could have been alleviated by grading during my break, which is sounding more and more wrong these days.  That’s one of the two things I’m reflecting on with this post.  Yep, I’m getting more and more bitter not about planning and exploring at home, but grading at home is just something that is really grating on me.  The second thing I’m reflecting on is the simple idea of grades, which I’m finding more and more idiotic.  Not the grades themselves, just the folly of actually having to input stuff over and over again only because I need something to justify to parents.  Here’s a tip for all parents out there; I know how well your kid knows the subject and all the quizzes and bullshit are basically there because you really don’t want a true college experience.  Give me five or six assignments in the semester and I’ll know.  Earlier this semester a student was freaking out because a few make-up assignments had not been computed into the grade, which at the time was a B+.  In the conversation it was obvious that the student was gravely concerned about the A so I just stopped the conversation and said, “Jon it is totally clear to me that you know your stuff.  Barring you punching me in the face or falling off the planet, you’re getting the A.”  That put the student at ease even though grades weren’t coming out for over a month.  Surprise, the student got the A.  Know how I knew that? 

Because I know my stuff.     

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Do teachers dislike creative students?

Marginal Revolution is my favorite economics blog on the Internet.  It brings forth some really interesting theories that combine practical economics and current affairs. 

One of the truly interesting posts was a little under a month ago and asked the question “Do teachers really like creative students?”  The comments on the post are even more engaging than the post itself.  They show a real disconnect with society and education.  Many of them seem to be created by adults that felt like teachers absolutely crushed their ability to be creative.  Teachers had rules and standards, those rules and standards did not involve creativity, those same rules and standards bored the students to death, and public education is screwed up.  Much of their support comes from a Ken Robinson TED talk about the current public education system being designed for disciplined and orderly, factory like learning.  According to the argument creativity needs to be promoted, individualized, and students need to be assessed according to true output, not necessarily grades and tests. 

Let’s first off get rid of two types of teachers before we start this discussion; bad teachers (who won’t be good, never mind creative) and beginning teachers (who need to learn how to survive first).  Then let's look at the ideas behind “creativity”, which seems to have evolved to the point of “hey, if I can’t do what I want, when I want to, then my creativity (or freedom to do anything for that matter) is being censored.”  How about a little definition.

“the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination”

For one to be creative, one must actually know the traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, and the like that exist in the world.  Meaning one must actually be educated on what exists now before they can create meaningful new ideas.  This isn’t stifling creativity, it’s creating the foundation in which creativity can evolve.  Often when a student or parent complains about a school’s lack of creativity, they use the argument that the knowledge presented is not useful or a waste of time.  Yet often the problem is that the student has not shown that they actually have mastered the concept or the activity, whether it be from rebellion, boredom, or simply not knowing it.  That’s called maturity and discipline.  Creativity without some maturity and discipline is just some child drawing outside the lines and calling himself creative. 

Let’s take a simple definition like democracy.  You don’t know how many kids scoff at needing to read articles and text about democracy, insisting that they already knew the basic, fundamental concepts of the theory.  The problem is that they really don’t.  They know “rule by the people” and how good it must be because the United States practices it.  Breaking down basic theories makes students have to dig deeper and actually find other styles of democracies.  Boring?  Well, sometimes it is, as with many things in life.  This “anti-boredom” campaign has created the excuse that details don’t matter as long as some vague semblance of the objective is completed.  It might end up being creative work but it is often not meaningful, not practical, or simply wrong. 

Often comments in Tabarrock’s post refer to teachers marking down students for getting answers right in a paper but not doing something as simple as typeset, margins, or citations.  Well, then the student is not only not being creative, the student is being lazy.  You might have understood the concept but you failed to address a simple part of the assignment.  Details, regardless of how much you know, matter.  Think of that when you are flying a in a plane, undergoing surgery, paying your bills, or when your nation is fighting in a war. 

The blog’s author has a simple “personalize education” approach to creativity, which makes me question how much his parental instinct got in the way of his economics fundamentals.  I would love to personalize every one of my student’s education except for one problem; it is totally inefficient.  Public education is a never-ending exercise in marginal cost/marginal benefit.  And while I’ll agree that those that claim to lead public education are often wrong in the approach, it also needs to be understood that the job of public education is to educate the masses with the scarce resources available.  Individualized education is not practical in any sense of the word and to be perfectly honest, that type of education should be done by the parents.  After all, the kids learn much more from Mommy and Daddy than anything they will learn at school.