I probably decided to want to be a teacher in high school. I had teachers throughout my intervening years that had encourage me, taught me, took time to know me so those teachers always remained in the back of my head. I also had teachers who were not my favorites for a variety of reasons. They too were part of my decision process--I can remember thinking at times that I could do it better. But the strongest motivation were those who were my mentors.
I entered college with the intent to major in education and music. I was planning on becoming a music teacher. I liked music and I liked people. Please note that I wanted to be a teacher right from the beginning--there were friends of mine who were going to be professional musicians who came back to college to add their teaching certification. Important point here.
My first summer home after my freshman year, I needed to find a summer job and if you've read these posts know that after a volunteered trip to the Bronx zoo I was offered a position as a summer playground supervisor. The success that I encountered only increased my resolve and confidence. No one supervised me at the playground but I heard that the kids went home and said they were having fun and this reached the head of the program. Basically, he just left me alone. I did this for two summers.
I went back to college with high hopes. I enjoyed education classes. Now on most university campuses the education department is looked down on. "Anyone can teach--why do we need a department?" I found my education classes interesting and in each one I picked up knowledge that has stood me in good faith all these years. From learning to print correctly on a blackboard to child development I was inundated with "good stuff."
I graduated from college and took a job as Director of Elementary Music in a suburban school district east of Seattle. Great title--I was the only elementary music teacher in the district. I had four elementary schools, three large ones and one two room school house out in the county. And no travel expenses. I taught classroom music, mostly singing but some listening, started beginning bands in the fourth grade and had in two schools "advanced" band consisting of second and third year students. One school had a choir at the insistence of the principal. To be frank I had no idea of what I was doing. My music classes at the college never taught me how to start a band--this I learned from good people in the surrounding music stores. On the whole I considered my first year a success if having the kids enjoy and like music was a criteria and that the experienced teachers accepted me. However, I was still learning to be a teacher.
This all came to an end when I was drafted into the Korean War.
When I returned to the school district, the administration was going to release the music teacher who had replaced me. By law, I was allowed to have my old job back.....but that didn't make sense to me. We were going to need two elementary music teachers as soon as one of the two new elementary schools were finished being built. So I told the administration that they ought to make me a classroom teacher for a couple of years--I was certified K-12. Because there was a teacher shortage at the time, this suggestion was quickly acted on and I became a fifth grade teacher.
I was the WORST grade school teacher that ever was......
But that is another blog at another time. A continuation of how to become a teacher.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Perhaps it is time for a theoretical discussion on how teachers communicate with students. All grade levels. There was a study done some years ago I believe at the University of Florida but I am not sure, that reported that teachers talked TO or AT students about sixty-five percent of the time in a classroom. From my own experiences I'd say that was probably close to correct at times. But another separate research project checked on how much children listened and it was closer to forty percent. My experiences would say that might be high. I really never saw this later research so don't hold me to it.
But the other day I told you about Tommy and Improper Fractions. One on one. And that led my mind back to Charles and Ray Eames' model of communications that they developed I believe in the early sixties. It is interesting to note that this husband and wife team were essentially modern designers that played around in architecture, furniture, the fine arts, graphics and film. They were extremely creative and covered a wide swath. The following model I attribute to them, although I have modified slightly. Let's take a look at their model.
The left box represents the sender (S) of the message. The sender has to decide on a message and get it to the receiver (R) of the message. An easy translation of all this is that the teacher (S) tells the student (R) to get his social studies book out (message). So far, we're cool.
But to have a complete communications we need feedback indicating that the message has been received.....NOT necessarily understood. The message has been received. Feedback might come in a variety of ways. The student says, "Yes, I will do that." and then gets his social studies textbook out. The sender of the message hears the words, "Yes, I will do that." and sees the book appear in the student's hands. That is feedback.
Now let us say that I am the sender of the same message but I say it in the French language. The student shows that he has heard me but does not understand the message. He might look quizzical, perhaps puzzled but doesn't look for his social studies textbook. That too is feedback. I have received the message that the student doesn't understand the message. I must try again. However, there has been a complete communication's act....even though the student didn't understand me.
You want to know what the asterisks are? Glad you asked. The asterisks represent noise. Big definition here--noise is anything that distorts the message. This definition came from the early electronics field of radio. Noise was really noise in those days. Crackling sounds on the speaker might keep you from hearing the message. During World War II, families sat around a radio and listened to messages about the war. Sometimes the message would just fad away (noise) and sometimes there would be so much static (noise) that you could not make out the words.
Noise is throughout the communications model. It can be in the sender of the message or in the receiver of the message. Or it can be in the environment as in an uncomfortable chair that hampers you from hearing the message. It may be that you did not eat breakfast and although you hear a message your thoughts are on your stomach. Noise can be embedded in the message as in, "Hey old man, get out of the way." 'Old Man' for me becomes noise. I get upset. Noise.
According to some theorists, there is always noise in the communications act. Always. I tend to agree with this school of though. And... you essentially cannot get rid of noise. You might eliminate one type of noise but another takes its place. A student comes to your class hungry, so you feed that student. You eliminate hunger as a noise. But now the student is sleepy. Go figures.....
But hang in there, we teachers have ways.... of overcoming noise. In my book there are two main ways of overcoming noise. These are not in order--you can do either one to overcome noise. Ready? First, you can increase the power of the transmitter. I can hear some of you saying, "you got to be kidding me." No, truly. If the student in the first example did not respond to my request that he get a book out, I can say it louder. "GET OUT YOUR SOCIAL STUDIES BOOK!" Or, I can say, "Charlie (aiming my message directly to one individual), get out your book." He's getting the full force of the message.
Now I am sure you won't believe me (sarcasm here--pay attention) but commercials on radio and TV are louder. The FCC has noted this and apparently will be making some changes in the future. I know, you knew that all along. Increase the power of the transmitter. Guess how they do that in a magazine--they print that ad on stiffer paper. Not only does it open more readily to that page but you tend to pay more attention to the ad.
The other way to overcome noise is...... REDUNDANCY. We teachers use this one as well all the time. We say it over and over. "Okay, boys and girls, open your books to page twelve. Does everyone have their books open to page twelve? Turn to one page past eleven!" Redundancy. That style is boring--we can do better. We can say it, we can write in on the white board, we can write twelve on the overhead. Or bring up a screen with the word 'twelve' on it in PowerPoint or Presentation.
Actually there is good research that advertising has used for years. You'll get your message across much better if you say it on the radio, show it on TV, mail an advertisement with coupon, give a free sample, etc all within a certain time. I'm forgetting some of the ways. But it is redundancy that can overcome (not replace) noise in the communications act.
Teachers have known this for years. Increase the power of the transmitter and/or redundancy. I have heard teachers at all grade level say in a quiet voice, almost a whisper, "I'm waiting." And the room comes to attention. That soft voice is actually an increase in the transmission of the signal. And kids have an unholy way of knowing just what level of softness is the breaking point.
I use to use the overhead. Blink it on and off. It always got the rooms attention.
So think about it--a teacher has to communicate each day, each lesson to fifteen, twenty, thirty five or more students. And each student needs to get the message--and the teacher has to get the feedback that that message was received. It really is a complex act. Most teachers are so cool on how they communicate. Sometimes a smile, a pat on the shoulder, "nice going," or however she/he has developed their techniques of reaching students. I guess that is one reason I had so much admiration for all teachers. The deliver the message of learning.
Many thanks to all those teachers who taught me how they communicated.
Monday, March 22, 2010
Let me first thank those who on line or off line sent me good wishes, prayers and positive thoughts. It was comforting and humbling. And I thank you ever so much.
And to Josh, thank you ever so much for the information on the Four Essays by John Ruskin. I've never come across this philosopher and I am finding him fascinating. Thank you much. And the fact that he was an architect is a bonus as I enjoy that field of art and technology. I'm reading some of his other works in this field....and learning. Interesting guy.
Now a major heads up on an opinion piece written by one of my favorite writers and thinkers, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times. His latest article, entitled, "America's Real Dream Team" is a heart warmer (reading it made my heart feel better) about the 2010 Intel Science Talent Search. Every year there is a contest for high school students in the Mathematics and Science areas. Forty of the top applicants are chosen and there are several prizes with one top prize of $100,000 dollars.
I highly recommend the article as Friedman is an excellent thinker and writer. The part I liked the best is when he talked to one of the teachers who had two winners in this year's group. "My favorite chat, though, was with Amanda Alonzo, a 30-year-old biology teacher at Lynbrook High School in San Jose, Calif. She had taught two of the finalists. When I asked her the secret, she said it was the resources provided by her school, extremely “supportive parents” and a grant from Intel that let her spend part of each day inspiring and preparing students to enter this contest."
Being an emotional type of guy the article brought tears to my eyes. Here was a teacher allowed to work with students and given the resources. And the parents supported her. We teachers could do so much if allowed. Nice going, Ms. Alonzo.
And now I have to tell you about Tommy, a fourth grader in a school that I actually loved. It had great teachers, a principal who stayed out of the way (and told me to do likewise) and supported his teachers all the time. I had several student teachers at this elementary school and always looked forward to going there. I could spend pages telling you about this school but this is about Tommy.
I walked into the classroom one day expecting to watch my student teacher and Beth, the cooperating teacher grabbed me and asked if I would work with a student having problems with Improper Fractions. She handed me a textbook and called over to Tommy. Tommy helped me on some research I had done at the school involving computers so we were friends--sort of..... His dad was an important medical doctor in the community and his mom regularly volunteered at the school. Both parents were tall and Tommy was already on the way to being one of the tallest in the class. And he was deadly serious most of the time. I don't remember him smiling much. He attacked life at every level. And he questioned it all the time. A very bright student, he always wanted to know more about the subject. A great kid to have in your class.
So I was a bit surprised to find out he was having problems with improper fractions. We both sat at the table at the back of the room and I started in by making sure he had regular fractions under control No problem there. But when things got to 8/3rds, the concept wasn't flying through his brain. So I did the usual--drew two circles and made them into quarters, eight quarter in all. "Okay, Tommy, how many circles do I have?" "Two." "How many sections IN the circles are there?" "Eight" came the reply. "And each circle has how many sections?" "Four." We were on a roll. "Okay, so we're playing with quarters now, aren't we?" "Why," was his answer. So I explained that I had drawn the circles into quarters but I might have just as well cut the circles into eighths or thirds. I wasn't getting through.
So I pushed on. I shaded in six of the quarters and then asked Tommy, "How many sections are shaded in?" His correct answer was six. So I wrote six on a piece of paper and drew a line underneath and then a four under the line. 6/4ths. I explained how the top number could change but the bottom number had to be the same as we were using. You couldn't have one circle with quarters and the other circle with thirds and work out the problem. (yeah, I know mathematicians can do this but we were just starting on the concept).
Tommy still didn't get it. He could do the arithmetic of solving the problem of taking 6/4ths and changing it into 1 and a half. He could see the diagram and his numbers were correct but he just hadn't seen the concept of improper fractions. Tommy was trying very hard, he wanted to know. But I wasn't doing a good job of explaining. I remember we did it several times using both circles and squares cut up into pieces.
I can't remember what I was trying next in teaching this concept when all of a sudden, Tommy understood the concept of improper fractions. He turned to me and said, "Oh, this is easy! Why didn't you teach me this?" He really was somewhat peeved with me. And I don't know what went on in his head that suddenly clicked over. But he understood all of a sudden. It was fun to watch. We did several other problems--a couple of hard ones and he was cool with them. He knew all along that he had to know the concept behind improper fractions--he didn't want just to move numbers around. Once he understood, he was satisfied. I don't think he ever thought I had anything to do with his learning improper fractions. It was his "Aha" moment.
He went to his teacher and said he understood fractions with his usual serious face and that was that. "What's next on the learning path?" I know he has done well. I wonder if he ever smiled, however. But I'll always remember him saying, "Why didn't you teach me this?"
Thanks to all those elementary teachers teaching improper fractions. And there are a lot of adults that will say in their hearts, "thanks, teach!"
Friday, March 19, 2010
Since my time in the hospital recovering from heart failure I have been thinking of an incident that keeps coming back to the forefront of my mind. Of all the confusion, the multitude of activity, the gaggle of doctors and the swarm of nurses, this one small incident still seems to be something I think about from time to time.
Normally I would not have said much more about my enforced stay in the hospital for this is a blog on teachers and teaching and not about quiet wards for those returning to health. But this incident IS about teaching and perhaps that is why it craves attention.
As I have mentioned during my stay I was plugged into technology that was simply put, amazing. I had receptors/senders on much of me sending data to "Telebox Number 3" All sorts of people could review my essential signs and keep tabs on me although they might not be in the room at the time. You could take me to another room for tests or an operation and the data would click in steadily at "Telebox No. 3." I suppose it was some form of "Bluetooth" technology that allowed this wireless connection to the hospital world. Fascinating stuff when I was awake and able to focus on it.
One of the less desirable bits of technology was the use of a catheter which went directly into the bladder. If you don't mind, I will let you figure out how this is done. But the result is that the patient does not have to leave the bed. The RN (highest on the nursing continuum) would measure flow, amount, color, time and I have no idea what else but from my point of view it was uncomfortable and it limited me to the bed or nearby chair. To have this device removed was high on my list of priorities. I asked my RN how and when can I get this device removed? He checked with the supervising physician and was given an okay to relieve me of this further discomfort. Hot damn!
There is little chance for modesty in a hospital especially in the gowns that they have you wear. Opened at the back and at a length that would delight a runway model, they leave little to hide. But I had a male RN--I was cool. Until......he came in and asked if I would mind if the young lady following him around who was a student nursing intern could do the job of removing the catheter from my....... I remember thinking that this young lady was a student nurse--she was learning. And I believe in education and learning. As much as my embarrassment might be I consented to her doing the deed.
The RN told me that the nursing intern had done this several times in a class (not on a real person) and that the Professor of Nursing would be supervising. I could see Jennifer, the nursing intern studying small flip charts from my hospital room. She was very intent on reviewing the procedure. I was very nervous and tense.
Shortly afterwards, the young intern came in. She thanked me for allowing her to do this and it was obvious she was as tense about all this as I was. Then the Professor of Nursing, an older lady, came in and was on the cell phone saying, "I'll be right there." Then she told the intern what equipment was necessary and how to attach this new device necessary for the removal of the catheter. The young lady did everything correct and while the Nursing Professor watched she also answered another cell phone call. Busy lady that professor. My young intern did the job and removed the catheter--I was free! There is no question in my mind that both the nursing intern and I was quite relieved that the process was over and that she had done well. Some of my modesty was restored. I now could go to the bathroom with some degree of dignity. The intern thanked me and I remember telling her "I thought you did a good job--thank you from me." She smiled and left but didn't say anything--I suspect still tense. The nursing professor had left almost immediately after the task was completed. Remember this point--it is important to me in what follows and why I keep remembering this incident.
Some time later my regular RN showed up probably to give more medications or to measure some data about me. And dutifully behind him was the nursing intern I suspect looking a bit relieved. I asked her, "would you mind my critiquing what went on today? I would normally do that with my student teachers." She agreed but I made sure she understood that my comments were for learning, NOT criticism. I remember saying to her something like the following"
1) it would have been good to have all your supplies (devices, warm cloths) with you.
2) I think you might have told the patient (me) what you were going to do and what the result would be.
3) Maybe ask the patient if this was alright and were there any questions?
4) Do the procedure and dispose of equipment.
5) Ask the patient how he/she is doing? Feeling okay?
What I didn't say and wish that I had was, "What could I have done better for you as a patient?"
Jennifer listened to me and agreed that my comments indicated a more professional approach to all this procedure. She thanked me and I felt that she took the critique well and that we had a positive interaction. I also told her that I thought she was going to make an excellent nurse. I truly believe that--I know students well enough. Later on the RN came by and mentioned that Jennifer had said positive things our our conversation.
I wish to make a major point here. Had the nursing professor had told Jennifer to some if not all of those items I just mentioned in my critique we would have set her up for success. Success breeds success. Jennifer and I had a positive outcome regardless but some coaching from the professor, she could have been assure of success. We were lucky. You don't throw a student out in deep water without assistance. I think my follow up with her will assure her of positive values going into the next stressful situation. I also think the professor needed to follow up with "nice job, well done." The intern needed a pat on the back. Taking out the catheter is a psycho-motor task with some cognition thrown in. This situation at the end needed the affective domain stuff (values/feelings).
Now in defense of the nursing professor. Interns, student teachers and nursing interns are a high maintenance student. Five or six student teachers would be a teaching load for me but college administrators want to see class loads of thirty to sixty students. The state legislature wants to see how hard college professors are working and if they see that a prof has only five students they get upset. I do not know how many students this nursing professional had to supervise--probably more then she needed. Still I am concerned when we put our students into stressful situations and not give them the support that they deserve.
Remember, if you set your student up for success it will be easier in the long run. Look at yourself for a moment. What do you like to do? Whatever it may be you are probably good at it. You're happy with the outcome and you have the skills or knowledge to cope with the situation. Success begets, breeds, promotes, ensures success. Isn't that what we want? Successful students.
I wonder which of my professors put me on to this success behavior. I really would like to thank them for this important piece of learning. And thanks to all the teachers who are making sure their students learn something successfully.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
'Tis a new day! Sorry to have left you all for a while but I had a heart failure last week resulting in a Pulmonary Edema. Basically what that means is that the heart got fluid in it and could not pump efficiently which resulted in the lungs filling up with fluids. Without oxygen we humans don't do too well. That is the short version and I'm sticking to it. Besides I don't remember the long version--they put me out.
I spent several days in the hospital and was suitably impressed with all the technology that they had at hand--much of which they stuck into me, including directly into the heart. Amazing stuff. But I was also very interested in the levels of nursing staff, from student interns to the RNs. "Where did you get your training?" "Why did you want to become a nurse?" It is hard to keep an old professor down somedays. But I am home once again with my cat sleeping next to me on my desk near my computer. One thing that I noticed during the past several days at the hospital was the degree of concern that nurses have for the patients. I sense the same characteristics that I find in teachers. One career has a NEED to take care of another individual--they have to do it. While the other career has a NEED to teach another individual. Again, they have to do it. I wish I could figure out a way to describe this need and how to measure it. I hope some of you can help me out here.
But this is truly a blog about teachers and teaching. While I've been incapacitated much has happened. It appears the present day White House administration is going to resend the "No Child Left Behind" policy. Yes! I have been against this policy since its inception. I've never understood the reasoning behind this educational policy--it never made sense to me. But in the hospital I started reading Professor Diane Ravitch's The Death And Life of the Great American School system. How testing and choice are undermining education. (an aside: I am very much in love with my Kindle--what a work of art in technology. More about this in another blog) Perhaps I will finally understand what the intent of that educational policy was about. I already know why it didn't work. If you haven't already read Linda Perlstein's Tested. One American school struggles to make the grade. This is an excellent book from a non-educator who looked at what the "No Child Left Behind" policy achieved in one school. Very well done and very well written. Perlstein was my answer to Ravitch's early position on testing.
I haven't heard yet what the present day White House will suggest as a policy for the future. Maybe they have already announced it but I haven't come across it as yet. Perhaps some of you can help me out. But the dismantling of the old federal policy is great news. I am overjoyed.
More good news. I read that the Bill Gates foundation has surveyed 40,000 teachers to ascertain what they think we should do to improve education. If you have been a constant reader of this blog you will know that I have been totally frustrated in understanding why if there is a banking problem we ask all the top leaders from banks to join in on the solution. If there is a medical crises we have the medical professionals from nurses to doctors to pharmacies suggest some answers. But when there appears to be an educational conundrum we bring in business executives, religious leaders and politicians to suggest changes in education. Very baffling to me. But it appears that the Gates foundation has surveyed a number of teachers as to what do they think. I am so delighted. As soon as I find out what some of the data to that survey reveal I will attempt to share them with you.
My heart runneth over with the good news. Maybe it's the latest medication that I have to take but in any event, I am happy for a change.
One of the things that I noticed in the hospital was that all of the building is designed to facilitate the care of the patient. Doors are wide, lighting is designed not to get into the eyes of the patient but to assist the nurse or doctor, beds that inflate to help you roll over--the list is endless. And as I lay there in my hospital bed I wondered what it would be to teach in a school designed for learners. You will hear about this from me in the future.
A slight twist in my closing. Many, many thanks to all the doctors, nurses and staff that took care of me during the past several days. I am deeply indebted to you all. And especially to Jennifer, my student nurse. We both learned a lot, didn't we?
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
A couple of days ago I started an entry to this blog. I was upset, angry, tick-off, and moody to a high degree. The situation with Central Fall, RI where they have fired all the teachers, administrators and staff because of low test scores got through to me. Then I found out that Arnie Duncan, Secretary of Education approved of this action. If you've read anything in this blog I have great respect for teachers and what they do and try to do in the schools. We already know that many of today's teachers are not in this business because of the money--most of them just want to teach. Seeing one of your student's progress is the best pay for any of us.....evan at the college level.
I spent the better part of yesterday trying to ascertain the four levels of "improvements" that low scoring schools can attest to. It seems that my "googling skills" were not that good--couldn't find them even on the Education Department's web page. So I took to calling my senators' offices as well as my representative. While I called both local and Washington, DC offices of the senators, about eight phone calls total, I did not reach a single live person--all recorded messages. Sad. My congressman did have a live person answering the phone here in Bellingham and she was very nice but didn't know what I was looking for. She promised to see if she could find the four levels of change required for federal assistance.....meaning money! I also called the State Office of the Public Superintendent of Education and again got a recorded message. Their switchboard had broken. I was on a negative roll it seemed.
But I found it! Here is what I found out. If your school has low student achievement scores and if you do one of the following four activities you can be eligible for federal grants up to two million (yes, two million) for three years running. That's a lot of money. Dangle that in front of some superintendents and I can see why an entire school faculty gets fired. You get rid of a higher payroll and possibly get six million to boot. Wow!
Here are the four levels of punishment. 1) Close the school. 2) Replace the Principal and at least half of its staff. 3) Change the old school into a Charter School (not allowed in some states) and 4) Transform the school which can include, longer school hours, setting up a new curriculum, and my favorite, stringent teacher evaluations. Or all of the above for category 4. Be my guest, pile on.
But as the title to this blog has implied, I am a bit more up beat today. First off an old nemesis of mine, Dr. Diane Ravitch who once upon a time favored strict guidelines for schools, tougher teacher standards (she never explained that to me) and was one of the proponents of the "Leave No Child Behind" doctrine. She and I were essentially on opposite sides of the fence. I was (an am) a liberal educator and she was a conservative educator. Dr. Ravitch is a better writer then me and more prolific and every time she wrote a new book I would come unglued. But I haven't written any books to answer her. Ravitch's pitch in the past has been accountability, charter schools and testing. She really thought the public schools were failing. However, Dr. Ravitch's field is educational history and she does a good job of looking at the data. One thing I do respect is if an academic looks at data and says, I'm wrong or this doesn't make sense. That is the purpose of being an academic as far as I am concerned. Being wrong has a good side--it means we don't have to go down that primrose path again. And to Dr. Diane Ravitch's credit she has looked at the data and said that the testing and the accountability is not doing its job. It is not improving education. YESSSSSSS! She also has decided that the increased need for mathematics and science has pushed other subjects like history and art out of the curriculum. YES once again. But somewhere in all this she seems to be saying that we have lost the education of our children.
At a national conference for superintendents last month in Phoenix Dr. Ravitch suggested that we have set up poor policies for educating our children. I quote her from her speech: "Nations like Finland and Japan seek out the best college graduates for teaching positions, prepare them well, pay them well and treat them with respect. They make sure that all their students study the arts, history, literature, geography, civics, foreign languages, the sciences and other subjects. They do this because this is the way to ensure good education. We're on the wrong track."
I have been saying this for years. The evidence has always been there. This blog is about teachers that are doing just that in spite of regulations and requirements. I have much respect for Dr. Ravitch for looking at the data and saying, "we're not doing it right." I'm afraid she will be in for a lot of criticism from the conservative bench. I wish her well.
The Woodring College of Education under the persuasion of Paul Woodring, an eminent educator in the college's history has always said, get the brightest and best of the entering students and educate them well in all subjects and we will have produced good teachers. We've done that for years. Thanks, Paul for your leadership.
Now we need to get the public schools to change their curriculum to include the arts (including my beloved music), literature, theater, physical education, history, geography, and mathematics and science. Plato would be proud of us.
And you know what? Teachers will be doing this in spite of the four "punishments" on the test scores.
Thank you teachers all over this nation. You knew all along you would be vindicated. You have my thanks.