Tuesday, October 4, 2011

20 Things a Teacher Wants the Nation to Know About Education

In response to my post 20 Things Students Want the Nation to Know About Educationwho blogs at Stop Trying to Inspire Me. Just Shut Up and Let Me Teach wrote the 20 things teachers like him want the nation to know about education. Below are his points followed by my reaction.
  1. If we're not going to get rid of standardized testing, we need better tests.  We need to ditch multiple choice and make the focus on higher-level critical thinking.  If that means that Pearson's evaluators spend more time grading the tests, then so be it.  We give them so much money anyway they should start earning it.
    • We don't need standardized tests and we don't need to hire people to grade assessments. Teachers are paid to do this work and they already have assessments available to them that are far superior to standardized tests. Example: A student's reading level measures their reading abilty.  No test required.  
  2. I know that putting students who are at multiple levels in one class is supposed to encourage the lower students to catch up, but when you have 25 in the room, they don't catch up.  They act up.  Then the "smarter" students get bored.  Either start tracking the students better or make a concerted effort to require a cap of 15 or so students per class.  It may mean hiring more teachers and spending more money, but I find that once you get above 15 in a class, you're babysitting more than you are teaching.
    • Students shouldn't be grouped by date of manufacture.
  3. I want to connect to students, I really do.  But sometimes they come in and they do their best to leave my room.  When they don't want to learn in the first place, it becomes trying to get blood from a stone.  And when I try to force that connection, I look like a foolish parent trying to look cool.
    • Everyone wants to learn.  They just might not want to learn 1) what you are teaching 2) how you are teaching or 3) from the person who is teaching.  Students are forced to be there whether they like it or not.  If they want to leave, let them sit in the back of the room and work on something they actually care about or see if the school librarian will take them.  I always did.
  4. We need to stop spending so much money on textbooks that are out of date and relatively useless.  The only times I've used an English textbook is when there is a story, poem, or play included that I want to teach, which means I don't have to photocopy anything.  I know teachers in history who barely touch the textbook except when their nose is to the SOL-prep grindstone.  Stop feeding Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and other companies.  Oh, and hold them accountable and investigate them as much as you want to investigate us and hold us accountable.
    • Textbooks are irrelevant sludge that most students dislike. They should not be used for learning.
  5. Hey, I'd like to care about every student and I want to see them do better, but this is a maddening, frustrating endeavor because students don't often realize that "caring" goes both ways.  It's hard to continually care about someone who uses that as an opportunity to walk all over you and take advantage of you.  And teaching the class is my job and at the end of the day I need to do my job as a teacher and students need to do their jobs as students.  Were you out a few days with the flu?  I hope you're feeling better.  Yes, you can go to the library and make up what you missed while the rest of the class takes the test you're unprepared for, but you eventually do have to take that test.
    • You have a choice to do your job as a teacher.  A student is forced to be there whether they want to be or not. They have to take tests even though tests don't help many of them learn. You are carrying out orders that you signed up for.  Don't blame a kid if s/he doesn't want to follow them.  S/he never asked for them in the first place.
  6. Every young person has a dream.  Our job is to give them skills and tools that they will learn how to use in order to achieve those dreams.  It may not look like we're helping them achieve those dreams, but by teaching them how to read and think about what they read, how to write and communicate clearly, and how to weigh the necessary factors before making a decision, we are helping them achieve those dreams.
    • You don't help students achieve their dreams if you never bothered to ask what they were.  In many cases you are taking credit for the learning to read, write, and think that a student developed (or would have) on their own.  In many cases you force us to read what you  (not the student) thinks is important and reflect on it in the way (you) not the student chooses. In many cases you turn students off from subjects they otherwise would have liked.  If you empowered students to read about what they are interested in and do work in this area that is real, relevant, and meaningful to them, you'd be sure to have better results.  
  7. I am not a life coach.  I am not a therapist.  I am not a pa ... okay, I am a parent, but I'm not their parent. I am a subject matter expert, and I am a teacher.  Sometimes, I find myself falling into those roles because of the rapport I've developed with the individual, but I know that I have boundaries and I know that there are rules I have to live and work by.  Students need to know that sometimes I am required to tell others about what they've told me in confidence, because that's the law.  They also need to know that I cannot force myself into their lives because that is overstepping my bounds.
    • Many of our kids don't have parents or don't have parents who can provide what they need.  You are the primary adult in their lives.  In the 21st century, we can learn whatever we want online.  You best start taking on some responsibility for parent, life coach, mentor, lest even more kids will leave the system.
  8. The community should become more involved in schools.  Except when the community is wrong and seems to want to do everything they can to not pay taxes, which means dismantling the school system.  Or want to change the curriculum because they think it violates their political or religious views. Or when they hold Hunter, Austin, or Logan's performance on a football field Friday night in higher regard than his own literacy. 
    • Parents and students, not teachers and administrators, own the learning.  Learning should be customized, not standardized to each child.  If a child or their parent feels their needs are not being met or are being violated, respect them and do your best to accommodate them.  This is their life.  Stop trying to control it.
  9. Some of us want to be teachers, but we are finding it increasingly more difficult to do this job for the money we're paid.  The masochists and martyrs will continue to be underpaid and suffer through, but so many will leave prematurely for their own sakes.  Then, they'll be seen as not being able to "cut it" or probably "never good in the first place," a false assumption made by those who don't want to pay teachers what they're worth.
    • Research shows that teachers don't leave the profession because of pay.  They do so because of working conditions such as being forced to do things they know are wrong for children.  Teachers need to stand up and just say no.  If enough do, the tide will turn.  I have been a teacher for 15 years.  Pay is not the thing that is going to make me leave nor is it why others leave either.
  10. Technology is great but it is not a panacea.  We need to help students use it more wisely.  We need to help them use the internet not only to find information and discern which of that information is worth using.  We need to help them become proficient in the applications that the "real world" expects them to know.  We need to demonstrate that it's more than just bells and whistles that makes everything look shiny and new.
    • Kids who have access to using technology in free range schools understand this.  Give them the access so they can show those who feel they must ban and block them that they can be trusted.
  11. Parents need to be more involved but not confrontational.  Very often, students will say things or behave in ways that parents don't know about (or are in denial about).  I am not saying that we know more about your kids than you do; I'm saying that we often see a different side of them.
    • We are all working to support the kids.  Playing nice in the sandbox achieves this most effectively.  
  12. Students need to know what constructive criticism is and why that is more important than a pat on the back.  I don't use red pen on their essays because I want to crush their self-esteem.  I do it because it shows up and they can see my comments clearly.  I also don't mark up their papers because they are bad papers.  I do it because I want them to see where and how they can improve.  Just because I was thorough in my comments and you got a C doesn't mean that you're a bad writer, that you're stupid, or that I hate you.
    • If I got graded on all my writing, I would not like writing.  Let students make mistakes without pointing it out.  Focus on what is good.  Don't turn them off to a subject and associate it with everything they do that is wrong.  A wise teacher shared this advice with me.  Ask students what kind of feedback they are looking for and give that to them. I think this is so smart.  Another analogy is this.  I have taught more than a dozen people in their 30s and 40s to snowboard.  I never focus on what they are doing wrong.  They are usually frustrated in those first few days.  I build them up and focus on the great things they are doing.  I have gotten every single person on black diamonds by weekend 5.  My key, focus on what is good.  
  13. As a teacher (in high school, anyway), I need to act professionally.  This goes for the people I work with as well as my students.  I never think of co-workers as family, and I never think of my building as "home."  I have a family and I have a home.  These aren't "my kids," these are my students.  We are going to have a conversation about reading and writing and hopefully engage the material, and while we may joke around or have the occasional argument, it won't be solved with hugs and kisses because that's not appropriate.
    • I consider many students and staff family.  I care about them.  I share with them.  I hug them.  It's only inappropriate if I do something inappropriate.  I can love them and be appropriate.
  14. We know when we're trying too hard or when we're being patronizing.  Sometimes, we connect with the guys in the class because Sunday's football games were great or it's time for the World Series or we can recommend a great horror movie.  Sometimes we connect with the girls in the class because we like the book they're reading or are following how the field hockey team is doing. But sometimes we're watching Mad Men while they're watching Teen Mom.  And that's okay.  Connecting to students means knowing our strengths and weaknesses and not forcing it.
    • Connecting with students means you bother to know their passions, talents, and interests.  Many of us graduated college without a single teacher bothering to ask.  Ask them.  Care about their answers.  Incorporate it into your teaching.  Wah-la!  Recipe for connection.
  15. Teachers have too many students to enable us to connect with them and teach them in they way we need to.
    • We all agree here.  This model needs to change.
  16. Bring electives that are actually interesting and valuable back to school. Things like drama, art, cooking, music, vocational courses, journalism, psychology, keyboarding, phys. ed. ...
    • We all agree here too.  There is no excuse for the narrowing of the curriculum.  It does a disservice to the students and teachers.
  17. Student evaluations should be part of the year, but they should be one of many factors and they should be a back and forth between teachers and students in the form of an open conversation wherein the teacher takes notes and listens.  Administrators don't need to see them because 9/10ths of the time administrators are clueless and will not focus on the right things in a student's evaluation. 
    • I wouldn't make blanket statements re: admins.  I would say that teachers should be evaluated by students, peers, self, and admin.  
  18. If we're trying to use tools like email, Facebook, or Twitter to engage and interact with our students, four things need to happen: 1) administrators need to stop treating these tools like they're agents of the devil; 2) administrators and parents need to trust teachers to use them wisely; 3) those teachers who do not use these tools wisely need to understand there are consequences for doing so (and those consequences should not extend to every other teacher, especially since we're told not to punish every kid in the class b/c Tommy was talking too much); and 4) students need to keep up their end of it, communicate back and know that what's said through those channels weighs as much as what's said in the classroom.
    • We need to stop focusing on the tool and start focusing on behavior.  Students, teachers, administrators, and parents know what appropriate behavior is and we should expect it regardless of the communication medium used.  The medium doesn't cause behavior.  It catches it.  We need to use tools of the world in school.  Yes, it's easier not to do so, but it's not what is right for kids, so do the work necessary and make it happen.
  19. We don't need to love our students.  Love is something that is more personal than professional.  We need to appreciate our students.  Furthermore, they should appreciate us.  From that will grow respect for one another.
    • Kids want you to show you care about them.  If you're afraid of the word love fine, but you need to care about them. Even if you don't appreciate them, show them you care.  
  20. Teachers do tests to make the school look good, but we know they don't help students learn what's important.
    • We all need to stand up and just say no when asked to carry out orders that we know are wrong for children.   

So what do you think?  Do you agree? Disagree? Inspired to write your own blog post???


  1. IIt would have been great without your commentary. You only do this to teachers most of the time. Not to other guests. I can agree or disagree without your agenda being inserted after every comment. I didn't see this type of post since the last time a teacher wrote about their own perspective of a situation or post yet you allow individuals to speak without interruption.

  2. @Anonymous, If you want to read the post as it was originally written, there is a link right in the first sentence taking you to the blog of the original post. People who visit my blog will get my take on things and as you can see at the end of the post, I invite my readers to share their take too.

    1. The blog either no longer exists or your link is broken. I can't read the original text.

  3. Thank you for sharing both viewpoints. I like how you addressed each point with your own. If you disagreed with the point made you were polite about sharing your view. Where do you get the ideas to write posts?

  4. Interesting exchange though I thought Innovative Educator's comments were a bit self-righteous. Her response reminded me of the ways teachers and their truthful feelings and experiences are often minimized, devalued and even shamed.

  5. "Let students make mistakes without pointing it out. Focus on what is good."

    You sound like a Suzuki violin teacher here! If you want a child to play a piece again, do you point out all the things that were played badly, or do you tell him or her how happy it made you to hear it? Nothing is lost if you hold back on criticism; much is gained if you make a child happy that he or she is a musician!

  6. @Lisa Cooley: Didn't the original post say "constructive criticism"? Isn't that things like workshopping, where you share your work and not only tell the creator what was great about it but what needs improvement?

    And if you have a complex math equation and can't get the solution, wouldn't you want someone to point out where you miscalculated or missed something?

    And if you can't seem to get the ball out of the infield wouldn't you want your coach to tell you how to change your stance?

    And if your cake or cookies aren't coming out the right way wouldn't you want to see what ingredient you're adding too little/too much of or if your oven's temperature is correct?

    Isn't that constructive criticism?

    1. In 3rd grade my older daughter had a fun, caring, enthusiastic teacher who was heavy-handed with the criticism and never offered much praise, particularly on written work. My daughter, who was used to writing in a couple of different journals and whose humorous short story--which I had never even seen/heard so was not a "help" on--was the hit at the "Authors' Tea" the year before, stopped writing, even at home, and turned in the least amount of written work she could get away with that year. I highly recommend "How to Talk so that Children can Learn" by Faber and Mazlish for both parents and teachers.

    2. So that teacher obviously didn't know how to properly criticize students that age and took the wrong approach. The amount of criticism versus praise that you offer to a student is definitely going to vary depending on the age and ability of the student. Constructive criticism means a solid mix of encouragement and correcting. Whenever my students workshop their writing, they are told they have to present both things that worked and things that need improvement, and start with what worked. Framing criticism in the context of improvement is extremely important.

  7. "Students are forced to be there whether they like it or not.  If they want to leave, let them sit in the back of the room and work on something they actually care about or see if the school librarian will take them.  I always did."

    I would love to read a blog post about how you did this, Lisa. It sounds like you're saying that if a student was not interested in what you were teaching (or in learning it from you), you allowed them to opt- out and work on something else. Or that you sent them to the librarian. Are you recommending that approach for all teachers when they encounter resistance from students? What are the repercussions of a teacher not continuing to attempt to engage all students in learning all content? Which is the bigger disservice to the child, persistantly trying to connect the lesson to the child's interests and encouraging him to work through the hard and boring stuff, or allowing him/her to help the librarian whenever the work doesn't feel relevant?

    1. The model of letting the kids do whatever, whenever will quickly come back to bite you. I love project options (research, skits, traditional papers, creating a video or piece of art and presenting it, etc.) but all students should be taught the same content. I can't imagine how I would answer a parent, co-worker, or administrator if I just sent the kids out whenever they wanted. It would quickly get abused and I couldn't cope with the fact that I'm not teaching the content I'm supposed to to EVERY child.

  8. @Angela,
    My suggestion is for after a teacher has attempted to engage the student. The reality is that many students will still find the subject boring and irrelevant as I did with most of my classes in school. Learning is not boring when you are learning by choice and no one minds working hard when they are doing something they care about or are interested in.

    The biggest disservice to the child is wasting their time forcing them to sit through lessons that they don't find interesting, meaningful, or relevant to their lives or success. This is one of the most prevalent complaints of students. Students should have the freedom to learn that which they find meaningful and relevant. Most students realize the memorization and regurgitation required in most classes doesn't qualify.

    1. So, would you advocate for doing away with public education all together? I'm no bigger a fan of standardized testing and curriculum than any other teacher (or student for that matter), but just allowing a student to learn "whatever they find interesting" is simply unacceptable. For many of my students, what they "find interesting" is how to sell drugs, avoid jail, and which of their classmates have children and with who. Your advice is absurd on this point.

  9. @anonymous How about instead of telling the student what ingredient they used too much or little of, give the student the room and the time to experiment and learn how to solve the problem one his or her own? I f we constantly provide correction and the right answer every time there is what is perceived as an error the person making the error just becomes dependent on the teacher (or recipe coach) and learns nothing beyond that someone else will solve their problems for them.

  10. @Devenblack,
    Bravo! Well said! Getting feedback when you're not asking for it, often is not helpful.