Posts Tagged ‘Teaching’

10 things teachers didn’t face 10 years ago

April 18, 2018

A California high school teacher named Jeremy S. Adams listed 10 things that teachers face now that they didn’t have to face 10 years ago:

#1: The Inability to Punish Students: This is a story in modern education that is big and is about to get much bigger. A hodge-podge of policies and euphemisms—restorative justice, social-emotional learning, banning punitive actions for defiant and vulgar students—has resulted in a toxic situation where many teachers feel they are no longer in control of their own classrooms and schools.  While many of these policies are instituted with just and well-meaning motivations such as trying to end the tragedy of the school-to-prison pipeline phenomenon and ensuring poor students are not disproportionately disciplined, as is often the case, the consequence has been a loss of control on many campuses across the country.  While suspension and expulsion should never be the first or even second option for discipline, there absolutely must be consequences to destructive student behaviors if for no better reason than to protect the vast majority of students who are well-behaved and want to learn.

#2: Cell Phone Addiction: The constant need for “dopamine baths,” to quote Andrew Sullivan, has produced a generation of endorphin junkies populating the modern American classroom.  The statistics are jarring by any account: teens are on their phones, on average, for nine hours a day and the heaviest cell phone addicts swipe, touch, or use their phones up to 5,427 times a day.  The correlation between cell phone addiction and youth levels of depression, isolation, anxiety and low academic performance is beyond question.

#3: Online Bullying: When I was a child, weekends and nighttime served as reprieves from the school bully and the general drama of school itself.  Nowadays there is no escape and the effects are daunting.  One in three children have been threatened online and most distressing of all, half of all children who are bullied fail to tell any adults about it.  It is not hyperbole or embellishment to state that young people live much of their lives in a cyberspace unregulated by adults.  We would never let our children play and wander in unfamiliar parts of town and yet that is precisely what they do when they engage in a cyberspace that is foreign to their own parents.  We cannot protect children if we do not know where they are being harmed.

#4: Pep Rallies for Standardized Testing: The era of high-stakes testing has done very little to improve student performance.  It has spawned cuts in the arts, less recess time for elementary school children, more rote memorization, and perpetuated the illusion that test-taking prowess is synonymous with academic achievement, not to mention the long-term effect of discouraging the brightest and most ambitious young people from entering the education profession.  On a deeper level, schools are told they must be held accountable, which requires analysis of student performance, which perpetuates an endless stream of gimmicks, cynical incentives, and activities to motivate students to do well on standardized tests.  Schools who do pep rallies are not at fault—the policies that make such activities necessary and even beneficial are the culprits of this new feature of the teaching landscape.


The passing scene: November 1, 2014

November 1, 2014

Common Core and the End of History by Alan Singer for Huffington Post.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Is the purpose of public education to educate citizens or to train employees?   Alan Singer described how the New York State Board of Regents voted to allow high school students to skip final examinations in either American history or global history and substitute an exam or proficiency test in some unspecified vocational-technical subject.  He quoted a teacher on how a school dropped social studies so students would have more time to cram for Common Core standardized math and reading assessments.

Living wages, rarity in U.S. fast-food workers, served up in Denmark by Liz Alderman and Steven Greenhouse for the New York Times.

A Burger King employee in Denmark is paid the equivalent of $20 an hour, about two and a half times his U.S. counterpart.  He gets his work schedule four weeks in advance, and cannot be sent home without pay just because it is a slow business day.  And he enjoys the benefit of Denmark’s universal health care plan.  What’s the secret?  A powerful labor union, which negotiates wages and working conditions on an industry-wide basis.  And employers who are satisfied with a smaller profit as the price of not having extreme poverty.

Americans are working so hard it’s actually killing people by Esther Kaplan for The Nation.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Under-staffing is dangerous, but it is on the rise as a means of cutting costs and increasing short-term profit.  Workers such as nurses, who are tasked with preserving life, are stretched too thin to be able to do their jobs well.  Workers in dangerous occupations, such as coal mining, neglect safety precautions in order to get the job done on time.  This is a major factor in industrial accidents.  And workers who are pushed to their physical limits are worn down over the years.

Teacher spends two days as a student and is shocked by what she learns by Valerie Strauss for the Washington Post.

An experienced high school teacher spent two days shadowing high school students, one a 10th grader and one a 12th grader, and did everything the students did.  She learned how exhausting it is to spend most of the day sitting still and passively listening, and took away lessons she will use in her teaching.  I think the shadowing exercise should be required in college courses in education.

As infrastructure crumbles, trillions of gallons of water lost by David Schaper of National Public Radio.

Trillions in global cash await call to fix crumbling U.S. by Mark Niquette for Bloomberg News.

Get ready for deja vu in the credit markets by Ben Eisen for Market Watch.

With interest rates being held down by the Federal Reserve System, this would be a great time to issue bonds to perform needed repairs and reconstruction of water and sewerage systems, roads and bridges and other public works.  But now the Fed has decided to end its “qualitative easing,” which held down interest rates, so that window of opportunity is going away.

The Caliph fit to join OPEC by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

Pepe Escobar speculated on whose interests are served by the fact that ISIS is allowed to sell oil on world markets.

The War Nerd: Crunching Numbers of Kobane by Gary Brecher for Pando Daily.

Gary Brecher discussed the public relations war against ISIS and the appeal of terrorism and war to sexually-frustrated young men.

Improving education: What really works?

March 14, 2011

Gaps in educational achievement open early

Parenting is more important than teaching in how well children do in school and in life, according to a researcher named James J. Heckman.  He wrote a research paper saying that the best way to help poor children is to get parents into voluntary programs that help children acquire life skills at a very young age.

… Gaps arise early and persist. Schools do little to bridge these gaps even though the quality of schooling attended varies greatly across social classes. Much evidence tells the same story as Figure 1. Gaps in test scores classified by social and economic status of the family emerge at early ages, before schooling starts, and they persist. Similar gaps emerge and persist in indices of soft skills classified by social and economic status. Again, schooling does little to widen or narrow these gaps. … …

A strategy that places greater emphasis on parenting resources directed to the early years is a strategy that prevents rather than remediates problems. It supplements families and makes them active participants in the process of child development.

Remediation strategies as currently implemented are much less effective. This is the flip side of the argument for early intervention. Many skills that are malleable in the early years are much less so in the teenage years. As a consequence, remediating academic and social deficits in the teenage years is much more costly….For high quality early childhood interventions, there are none of the trade-offs between equity and efficiency that plague most public policies. Early interventions produce broadly based benefits and reduce social and economic inequality. At the same time they promote productivity and economic efficiency. They are both fair and efficient.

via Building Better Kids.

Heckman cited something called the Perry preschool program, which targeted poor, low IQ African-American preschoolers in a city outside Detroit.  The children were taught to plan, executive and evaluate projects on a daily basis.  They were taught social skills.  The program staff visited and advised parents on how to help their children do better.

Because the children were reached early in life, when their minds and attitudes were malleable, the program’s benefits carried on through life – much more so that programs aimed to teenagers or young adults.

Heckman pointed out that while there have been successful programs of early childhood intervention, there is a lot to be learned about what works and what doesn’t.  He said it is important that the programs be voluntary and that different things be tried.  He would like to see non-profit private foundations engaged in experimentation.  (The implication I draw is that they should do this rather than pushing pre-conceived ideas, but he doesn’t actually say this).


A note from a classroom teacher

March 9, 2011

This is circulating on the Internet.  A friend of mine was e-mailed a copy by his daughter who teaches school in California.

Dear Jerry,

I just wrote a letter to our new Governor, a Republican for whom I voted, by the way.

I explained to him that if I am to treat my classroom like a business and be rewarded or punished for my students’ performance, a few things would need to change.

I would want to interview each student (candidate), and choose the ones with whom I could work most effectively.

I would want to be able to fire them for lateness or excessive absence, lack of proper equipment, failure to complete work assignments, poor performance, insolence or disrespect toward me or anybody else, and of course sleeping on the job.

Or, don’t treat my classroom as a business.

These students are, after all, children.  As God is not finished with them and neither are we, most of us give them a fresh start every day, hoping to eventually bring out the very best in each child.

I’ve been teaching since 1972, and it took me a few years to realize that those misbehaviors were not necessarily directed at me, but were the result of multitudes of factors way beyond my control.

I would encourage those who are currently maligning teachers to spend a day or so unassisted in front of a classroom.



Thoughts about schools and teaching

February 27, 2011

Our drop-in discussion this morning at First Universalist Church was on the topic of “Saving the Schools.” Here are some thoughts I took away from the discussion.

Almost any teacher can teach a student who is committed to learning.  Few teachers can teach a student who is indifferent or resistant to learning.  The best teachers that I and others remember from our own school days are the ones who got us interested in learning.

Some students will commit to studying subjects they don’t care about in order to achieve some other goal – to pass a test in order to get into college in order to get a better job, to pass a test in order to get a high school diploma in order to be employable, to maintain a “C” average in order to be eligible for high school sports, to pass a course of no interest in order to be able to take an interesting course – and so on.

One of the big incentives – the economic incentive – is missing or weak.  A high school diploma will no longer guarantee you a job.  A college degree will no longer guarantee you a good job;  the lede article in the Democrat and Chronicle business section today was on how to deal with the stigma of being “overqualified.”

The problem is not just poor black and Hispanic youth in big cities.  We all know highly intelligent middle-class people, with college degrees, who never read a serious book. I am sometimes shocked at the ignorance of basic facts of history and geography of supposedly educated people.  But then I am ignorant of things an earlier generation would have considered essential for an educated person to know – Latin, Greek and modern languages, higher mathematics, science above the grade-school level.  The erosion of what it means to be educated has been going on for generations.

I recall the science fiction writer William Gibson, lecturing in Rochester years ago in his languid Virginia accent, and saying you don’t need to be literate to function in today’s society, and literacy in the future may become a specialty, like computer programming.

Anti-intellectualism has long been a part of American life.  It is not just black youth who think studying is “acting white.”  It is not just religious fundamentalists who think scientific knowledge is a threat to faith.  In Mark Twain’s stories, we like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, who play hooky and shun book-learning, and despise Tom’s cousin Sid, who is the teacher’s pet.

Those who teach tell me young people today are more familiar with media than they are with books.  Students can’t be taught except through the use of media that are as compelling as commercial entertainment and advertising.  I’ve been devoted all my life to reading printed books, so I don’t know what to make of this – whether it is a symptom of decline, or whether something may emerge that is as good as what came before, just different.  Reading generates the capacity for linear thought; maybe the media give you something else, the ability to integrate disparate ideas simultaneously in a non-linear way – I don’t know.

Someone in our group wisely said that discussion of American education today consists of blaming the teachers, blaming the students or blaming the parents – never of trying to figure out specific ways to make things better.