Saturday, February 26, 2011

I Wonder What Might Happen......

I wonder what might happen if we had no teachers.  Or if few people wanted to be teachers.  I'm thinking mostly of the K-12 classes that public schools enjoy now.  In recent weeks a number of articles have crossed my computer screen alleging that teacher unions are the cause of this or that state's budget problems. If the state could fire "bad" teachers they (politicians) claim they would have a better school system and the state would not be in a budget crunch.

So I was thinking just the other day about a doomsday scenario.  Just make believe but hear me out.  Let's start with the premise that there are no teacher unions or education associations. Nada.  Next, let's assume that the pay will be minimal--right now the beginning pay in most states is around thirty thousand dollars.  But let us not forget we need to take out Federal Income Tax (automatic deduction in most cases) and FICA or social security of about two percent.  You with me so far?  Then there is health insurance that each teacher has to pay along with the school districts contribution.  That varies from district to district and from state to state.  But the take home pay is not much.  Now let's cut the retirement contribution from the state to as little as we can.  Maybe we ought to just say outright that the teacher ought to take care of their own retirement.  

Let's add one more criterion--there is no job security.  No tenure. There is a good chance that if you do stay for a number of years and get salary increments each year that given that fact, you could be fired in order that a beginning teacher could take your place at a reduced salary.

I'm trying to make a worse case scenario that is probably going to happen in a number of states--indeed, it is already has.  

Now let's take an entering freshman at a local university beginning their career for the first time in 2012.  One thing that many if not most universities do is mandate (I like that word--it has muscle behind what it means) different initial courses in a variety of subjects.  World history, general sciences (perhaps a course in biology, chemistry, astronomy, physics), great literature, economics, a least one writing course,  beginning philosophy, and several mathematical courses.  The idea behind this mandate is to get the young college student to look at, consider, ponder, digest, and maybe wonder at what the world is all about.  And somewhere in this mishmash of thinking a student might begin to consider what they want to do with the rest of their life.

I don't think teaching would be high on their list of possible careers.  If I've heard my university's job placement center accurately, mathematics, all the sciences, and computer programing are where the jobs are--good pay, retirement, perks and health benefits PLUS parking!  I've been told that in a few cases a graduating senior might even get a signing bonus.

I have already lost a number of my graduate students who were teaching to Microsoft in Redmond, Washington.  They report a good salary, some stock options, and good working conditions.  In one case my graduate student reported a salary twice what he was making in the public schools.

My question to this group of readers is why would someone go into teaching in this day and age?  Even if you really wanted to teach, why go into public school teaching?  There are teachers in the State of Washington that are presently studying for or have already received their certified board teaching credentials.   And they are NOT going to get the bonus they were promised.

Do you see my point?  States are going to GET the unions and perhaps even GET those so-called bad teachers.  They are going to decimate the educational system.  And who are they going to get to be the teachers?  I wonder.

So what is the answer.  I really don't know.  If I had a graduate student right now that wanted very much to teach, I'd probably send them off to Boeings who just received a 35 billion dollar order for planes.  Several of my students already work at Boeings and I know that they have a substantial training department.  Maybe that would be a career choice.  And I would look into private schools.  As the public schools deteriorate, private schools grow larger.  However, it all is a sorry mess.

You better thank your teachers for what they did for you before they retire.  Several of them have mentioned to me that they might leave teaching early. My best to them all.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Grading the Parents and other interesting thoughts...

A slew of interesting, shocking and yawn inspiring articles on teachers, students and education in general have crossed my computer screen in recent weeks.  In many areas of this country, teachers are getting bashed, threatened, put down and blamed for what seems like all of societies problems.  I can hear some teachers saying, "Geeez, I'm just trying to teach the kids."  

Along this thread of thinking came a report that one state legislator has introduced a bill that would require, yes, require teachers to grade the parents.  I suspect it has little chance of passing but it is an interesting idea.  As a teacher I wouldn't want to do that in any form.  

I had wonderful parents all the years I taught at the grade school level--too wonderful in some ways.  My school was in a growing bedroom district to Seattle--maybe lower middle class to middle class.  The rich folk lived a couple of towns away.  The ethnic population was heavy second and third generation Italians whose ancestors had come to this area to mine coal.  Indeed, one small area was called "Coalfield" to the locals.

One problem with my parents was that they could cook.  Oh my, could they cook and bake.  The first year when planning for some sort of celebration in my fifth grade classroom, I asked a room mother if she would ask a few Moms to bake some cakes.  At the room party there must have been at least eight cakes with gooey icing and fillings and sugar highs.  It was fun for the kids but their teacher had to have a piece of each cake!  

Some good came of all this.  After the kids and parents had gone home they had left me more cake to take with me then I needed.  It was such delicious food but this I didn't need.  So I took much of it down to the janitors office and left it on their desk.  After that the janitors would do anything I asked.  They loved me.  If you are a new teacher be sure to thank appropriately your janitors.

Another example of my parents being too nice was plates, cups and saucers, serving bowls and the like.  One of my parents owned a gas station near where my wife and I shopped.  So it was natural to fuel up our cars and talked to one of my boy's father.  Really nice guy.  He taught me much about my cars.  But his gas station also had a promotion--when you filled up you got your pick of a plate or mug or serving bowl, whatever.  My wife and I were newly married and didn't have a lot but we were doing okay.  Our dishes were mostly hand me downs from the family.  When the parent who owned the gas station heard this, instead of a plate, I'd get a whole box of dishes.  They were cheap dishes and they broke easily but still--a whole box?  I didn't know how to get my parent to not be so generous.  He was happy with his son's progress and he showed it with an overload of dishes.

I liked my parents.  But I did have one problem one day that I remember vividly.  A man walked into my class  about noon and said he had to take his son to the barbers for a haircut.  I didn't know this father but his son told me it was his Dad.  I asked, "Couldn't this be done after school?"  "No, I work swing and this is the only time I have.  Bring him back afterwards."  So off they went.  I had enough kids in my room that I forgot about Elden.  

That night about dinner time I got a call from Elden's mom.  Where was Elden?  I then remembered that Elden had gone to get a haircut and had never returned to the classroom.  I felt sick to my stomach.  But Elden's Mom said it was okay, she knew where they had gone and that she would take tomorrow off and go get Elden.  I did call the principal and relate what had just gone on and gave him Elden's phone number.  

Elden's mom and dad were divorced and she had custody of Elden.  This had happened before and she knew that Elden and his Dad had gone home to his parents and grandparents in Oregon.  She drove down, picked up Elden and returned home--he missed a day and a half of school.  But his mom never blamed me for the problem I had caused.  Very nice lady.  Elden was back in good hands.  But after this experience, we teachers along with the principal decided that all children leaving the school had to clear with the office.  Scary time for me.

So if I had to grade my parents, they would have all gotten "A"s.  

While we are on grading I need to tell you that I got a number of e-mails dealing with the blog on Valentine's Day.  Some interesting emotions out there on who got a Valentine and who didn't.  One teacher wrote that when she taught in a low economic area school, some children didn't have money enough to buy even the cheap Valentines.  Do you take school construction paper to let the kids make their own Valentines?  Tough call.

But this teacher reminded me of President's Day.  It was a holiday and no school but so many teachers, herself included, would spend the day agonizing over grades as they filled out the quarters report cards to be sent home.  Yes, I do remember sitting at the dining room table with a pile of folders of kid's work, my valuable green grade book and worries.  I hated grading--all through my career.  It didn't matter what level I was teaching at, it was hard work to evaluate another person.  Some kids tried so hard to do well, others could get an "A" with their eyes shut and their mouth going.  No sweat.  

At the college level I'd see a waitress at a local restaurant one evening for dinner and see her in my eight o'clock the next morning....working her way through college.  I've always said I'd teach for free but would triple my salary for grading.  Yes, Presidents day was a holiday for grading report cards. 

Finally a heads up about another blog.  The Journal of Educational Controversy Blog, posted on Friday, February 18th, has two good items. First,  a YouTube presentation by A. J. Rud, Dean of the college of education at Washington State University on John Dewey.  It is well done and may provide some guidance in these days of shouting and hollering about education.  Then....right below it is a open message to President Obama by Daniel Tanner, Professor emeritus  in the graduate school of Education, Rutgers University.  Once again it is something I wish I had written.  I suggest you take a gander.  It is an excellent blog on education.

Thanks to those who sent verbal Valentines.  And to all those teachers who spent their holiday writing down grades, you have my sincere thanks.  And once again, thank you parents for being there.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day

Grade school teachers have mixed feelings about Valentine's Day.  Some elementary schools have officially ignored it but it is a hard thing to do.  Even in those schools that do not acknowledge Valentine's Day, some kids will slip a Valentine into a friends desk during recess or lunch break.

It is a cultural event no matter your thoughts pro or conn.  It's hard to ignore in the stores and on television.  And if the kids today are like those that I had in my fourth and fifth grades, they know that Mommy and Daddy in most cases are up to something with kissing (ewueeee) and presents (yeah).

As a first year fifth grade teacher I was totally unprepared for Valentine's Day.  If it wasn't for the more experienced teachers I would have had problems on my hands.  The experienced teachers in many cases had already secured enough red and white construction paper for their kids to make Valentines for their parents.  I had to go down to the Art store as the school had run out of those colors.  That was my first problem

But then I found out that kids would give Valentine cards to their friends but not to others.  So major problem was those children that didn't get a card or two.  Hey, they didn't teach me anything about this in my college education courses.  This problem bothered me and by the second year I ordered that if you gave one card to a friend you had to give a card to everyone in the class.  Some grumbling by the kids but the parents by and large supported my policy.  At that time you could buy a booklet of Valentine cards that "punched" out of each page and had folded envelopes.  

Then the problem of each child being sure of getting a Valentine card turned to....  "I gave her my best card but I didn't give you one of my best cards."    It was obvious that I had to take my class in hand and sort out feelings, comments and what the day was all about.

Every so often when I though we had a subject worth the time I would have the kids push their desks to the wall and bring the chair up front somewhat in a semi-circle with me as the head.  And we talked--me first!  Where did this day come from and the kids were always fascinated that it was a religious holiday way back long, long ago.  They agreed it had changed.  Then we talked about getting a card and what it meant in our classroom--primarily friendship.  Okay, class, what is friendship.  And I'd let them talk.  It was times like this that I was impressed with the intelligence of grade school children.  Not much was escaping them.  Sometimes the discussion would go in a direction that I had not foreseen, like those kids that came from homes with divorced parents or single parents.

And what was love?  Yes, we skirted the subject of sex but kids of this age just aren't interested in the physical properties of Valentine's Day.  I really think some of my early kids in that first fifth grade invented the term, "best friends forever" or BFF.  I could see it on notes being passed around.

Eventually I got this unique holiday under control.  All the kids would have a small paper sack taped to the side of the desk--if you had large paper bags it would look like you weren't getting many Valentine--smaller bags were good!  I have to admit I took great enjoyment watching them try to go around the room delivering Valentine cards and trying very hard to look like they were very unconcerned.  This activity would take place during recess and lunch hour.  How to look non-commital.  

One problem I never solved was that most of my students wanted to send me the biggest Valentine Day card they could find.  I understood the desire but tried hard to suggest that they might do well by my getting one like the rest of the kids in the class.  And of course, I had to be sure each child got a Valentine card from me.

In later years I signed the card with my dog's name, Stormy.  This was a big time hit.  Getting a card from Stormy was valuable.  And in a few cases, some Valentine Cards were erased and Stormy's name written over.  

In today's world I can see a whole line of reasoning in teaching the kids about being green and being conservationist.  I suspect i would have to have some rules or policy on sending Valentine cards by e-mail.  But I suspect that discussion we use to have on why everyone should get a card might evolve into why we ought to send nice cards and not mean cards.  Is there a place in our classroom for meanness?  

Isn't this interesting that even today we are trying to teach our children about the cultures and norms of our society.  John Dewey had it correct--we pass on the values that we hold dear.  But where does this fit into the curriculum?  Can we add it to the test scores.  Are the schools that "outlaw" Valentine Day correct?  Personally I think it was always a good thing and would mandate that we keep it in the curriculum even today.  It is part of the social milieu that makes life interesting, fascinating and worthwhile.

So....happy Valentine Day to you all.  Have you sent a Valentine to your favorite teacher?  You ought to.   

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Some Thoughts on Teaching

One of my hobbies has been sailboats.   Having finished my freshman year at college I returned home for the summer with no job prospects and so my uncle gave me his Dyer Dink to refurbish and fix up.  It was interesting work and afterwards I was allowed to take it out into the estuary of Rye, New York on Long Island Sound.  I learned to sail by mistake after mistake.....and more mistakes.  One mistake taught me about tides after I had to drag the little sailing dinghy back to shore over thick gooey gray mud and then I had to hose off the dinghy as well as myself.  It was a summer of learning--how to refurbish a wooden dinghy and how to sail.  Ever since that time I have been hooked on the sport of sailing from just chasing the wind on Bellingham Bay to racing to cruising up the coast on long passages toward Alaska and gunkholing through the San Juan Islands (WA), the latter my favorite sailing activity.   Although I am pushing my eighth decade, I still enjoy the motion of the boat, working the wind on the sails and hearing the water gush by.  Total satisfaction.

Toward the end of my teaching career at the university, I started teaching sailing, cruising and seamanship for local boat chartering companies.  Mostly weekend assignments but in the summer sometimes a four or five day charter with several couples on board a sailboat.

This blog has been focused on the teaching of mathematics, reading and writing, social studies and all the good subjects that we find in a normal public and most private K-12 schools.  But what about teaching sailing--is it a "recreational sport" the same as "hard knowledge?"  What sort of a teacher does this business of sailing need for success?

Let's take a moment to analyze the situation.  For the most part the students are self motivating--they have paid good money for the class and they want to learn.  For the most part!  However, we are working internal motivation.  No one has forced them into this situation.  Welllll,..... maybe.  The classes are small, normally four to six people at most so there is no hiding in the class.   But here is the grabber--many of my classes were husband and wife couples....which sets up a different atmosphere in teaching and learning.

I found that in many instances the husband and his best friend decide that they want to learn to sail so that they can charter a boat in the Bahamas.   The two wives aren't sure about all this but are willing to go along with the activity.  The Bahamas sound good to them thinking resort, spa, sun and sun bathing and good food served to them.  The guys have a different dream of learning to sail from port to port having their wives fix the food and help out on the sailing.  This is the situation that a teacher like myself finds at the onset.

I have to teach safety as I teach the two couples about the boat.  "This is the pointy end called a bow..." and "this is a winch (not a wench) and it turns in this direction.  All winches turn the same way."  Nomenclature can only go so far and there comes a time when you have to take the boat out of the slip and out to clear water to sail.  Actually, getting the boat ready to sail is not a difficult task, but getting the new crew ready to sail a bit more of a problem.  It's not hard and soon the sails are up and we sailing!  As the boat heels (leans over from the breeze) I can sense the tension in all of them--the guys had not thought about this in their dreams and the gals hadn't thought about it at all.  There are several degrees of uncomfortableness found here.  I cannot proceed until everyone is feeling good about themselves.  I'm dealing mostly with the affective domain here, receiving my instructions, responding to my directions and valuing what all are doing--steering, working the sails, feeling the boat and the wind.  Hopefully by the end of the first day I might get them to organize all this knowledge into some sort of a whole which they can use on the morrow for further learning.

A sensitive area in the teaching of sailing at this point is the relationship between husband and wife.  Guy wants to tell Gal what to do and I have to step in and take charge.  This is scary stuff for some women and I have to give them a chance to absorb the entire feeling.  Normally I do this by getting each person do some task (steering, handling lines, winching, moving the traveler, etc) and as we sail I ask each of them to tell me what they did and how did it go.  I once told this blog I wasn't very good with the Psycho-Motor Domain and I'm still not on top of it.  But as this point in my teaching of sailing I demonstrate some activity and then have them imitate what I have done.  Lowest level of the domain.  My next step is to get them to manipulate that task so that they feel comfortable with it.  I suppose the next level would be to do the task and make improvements without my help.  After a turn with each learning station, the crew rotates so that all have a chance to do all the basics in sailing.

In any event, I have to be sure that the women do the task themselves without supervision by their husbands.  This is an observation but in the twenty-five years of teaching sailing a number of women have actually done many of the tasks better then their husbands....they gain a feel for the boat that the guys don't get.  I also think the fellows are under pressure to do well and they somehow start to compete with each other.

I've had a few women who have done well in learning to sail but have never really enjoyed it.  When the class was over, they just wanted to go home.  But the majority of the gals have done well--keep this a secret--but many did better then their husbands.  I've had one husband not take to sailing at all.  He owned his own boat but he didn't really like to sail.  He is the only one that didn't pass my course...not sure why.  But his wife was a natural.

If I had my way, I think it would be smart to have all women crews taught by a woman.  And I would love to be the preverbal fly on the wall and watch what they do.  I suspect the success rate would be increased in that they would know more in less time.  Just my intuition.

One of the joys of teaching sailing is that there is no end to what you can learn.  Once you've had some success in pushing a boat around with wind, you tend to want to do more.   Some get into the area of navigation and spend much time plotting how to get from A to B including the tides and currents.  Some graduates want to race!  Some of my students have gone on the buy a boat and to continue in the sport with great satisfaction.  Others have gone mountain climbing.  Hmmmmm.

No, I don't teach sailing anymore--I want to go sailing myself.  I want to handle the lines and steer and enjoy the wind in the sails.  Hello Mole--how are you?