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Saturday, March 29, 2014

I Won't Delete You

I recently finished our school's yearbook. It was a pain in the, uh, butt. A tremendous amount of work for very little, well actually, no money. A guest teacher once said to me, "Oh, you're in charge of the yearbook, sorry to hear that" and then continued, "a job no one appreciates when its done perfectly and everyone points out the smallest mistake." Yep.

Nearing the deadline and desperately needing candid classroom photos, I deftly steered the teacher lunchroom conversation away from the most recent pregnancy updates (I'm the only male teacher in a staff of 30+) to an open solicitation towards any classroom teachers within earshot. The 'photos' that the yearbook company photographer provided were barely 'snapshot' quality. I needed photos that would be worthy of a lifetime memory.

Well actually, deftly is an overstatement. It was more of me blurting out "I need your photos people!" The approach was neither subtle, nor particularly effective. I only had four submissions following my plea, but four more than I had before.

Once I created the pages, I submitted the proof sheets to each classroom teacher for proofing. Children's names have to be checked for spelling and placement in the correct classes among other things. If a child's picture is missing, I start my search through the 35+ galleries to locate an errant portrait. The web-based software is excruciatingly slow and clumsy. If I can't find them, I use my makeshift portable background I created and make my way to all of the classrooms to do my retakes. Not a small task.

My school is a Title I school and our student body has a fairly high mobility rate (student mobility refers to the phenomenon of students changing schools for reasons other than grade promotion - Ed Week) My school can expect about a third of the students who begin their year with us, not be around to celebrate field day in June. Students come and go. Often without any notice.

I always get some of the proof pages back with an "X" over a student's picture. It always makes me a little sad. I think my job is to include, not exclude from our year's story. I know that kids with high mobility are more at risk for academic and behavioral problems. Maybe it's easier to cross off a difficult child. To their teachers, they can be a real pain in the, uh, butt. But they are our pain in the butt. No matter how long they spent with us.

Picture day is in September. Some of the kids leave early in the year and will surely be included in their new school's yearbook, but that's not guaranteed. A lot of calendar comes after that pretty smile is meant to be captured. I want to make sure that every kid, regardless of how long they spent with us, remain part of our story.

Every kid deserves to belong to something. I'm not going to take that away. I won't delete them. I'll find the room.

Thanks for reading. Follow me on Twitter @YourKidsTeacher

Sunday, March 9, 2014

What If I Just Kept Teaching?

The first round of our state's standardized testing begins this week. (Indiana-ISTEP) Delayed a week because of the unusually high number of snow days this year. Really an extended window to complete the tests, the State's Department of Education (IDOE) acknowledged the disruption to instruction that occurred due to all of the missed days.

After Winter Break ended, we didn't have a full week with students until mid February. Multi day lessons in math and science were separated and rescheduled. Chapter tests in Math were disconnected from the practice assignments. 

Science, has been impacted especially hard. We only have two Science periods a week, so a well placed Polar Vortex can mean that my kids might not get science for two weeks. My grade level partners and I changed the sequencing of the investigations to put Ecology in the 3rd quarter and the Earth Science and Space in the 4th quarter this year to take advantage of the Spring weather. Looking at past years lesson plans, my class was two to four weeks behind where we probably should be at this point in the year. We haven't investigated half of the topics in Ecology and nothing that had to do with tides, the moon, or seasons. Topics that I know will be probably be covered on ISTEP.

Full confession. I did prepare some practice packets, so that my kids are familiar with the format and how to answer the types of questions that are asked. I owe them that. They don't need to get surprised by the format. Unlike many of our class assessments, they don't get a choice to demonstrate how they know something. On ISTEP, circle the bubble or put your answer on the line provided. That should do it.

Especially with all the instructional gaps, It was really tempting to get out previous test versions and piece together some sort of cram packet and squeeze all of the topics into our school day. I could teach to the test. I could stress the kids out, give them a "5 basquillion" worksheets that will teach them nothing, except to confirm that they don't usually learn much from worksheets.

"I go to school to learn, not fill out paperwork" - My 16 year-old son

I could organize a school wide rally to get the kids excited about a test. 

(from my class' Facebook page)

I could make a fun video to get my students focused.

I'm not criticizing these efforts. I want to very clear about that. These methods are earnest attempts to get kids pumped up or prepared for a task that's important to a great number of people. There is a lot riding on these tests, but for me, there's more riding on what they learn and how they think.

My problem is that teachers feel the need to get kids excited about a test. What if we didn't put our efforts into preparation and testing? What if parents, districts, administrators didn't put so much emphasis on the results? What if teachers would just keep on teaching?

What if I put my focus on creating engaging lessons and investigations? What if I put my energy into our classroom, create a place that was safe and fun,  so that it was a place that kids wanted to come to?

What if I just kept teaching?

I'm about to find out.

Thanks for reading.
Follow me on Twitter @YourKidsTeacher

photo credit: dianecordell via photopin cc