Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Imagine, if you will, that you taught in a school that was deemed a "failing school" due to low scores on a state test. Imagine if your school now had to undergo state mandated restructuring in order to make the school a more productive school, you know to "Get those test grades up!" I was thinking about just this sort of question and I came up with a simple change that would make it easier to actually teach students in such a school. This is just my quick outline of ideas. In real life no one has actually asked me what I would do in such a situation, but if they asked this is what I would say. Would it allowed? Probably not, I am sure there are some governmental rules that would disallow these easy changes, but here is my simple plan anyway.
One of the biggest problems getting children from non-English speaking backgrounds or from poverty to achieve success in school is to get them to learn to read. They must learn how to read at grade level too, so a lot of attention in the early years is spent on intervention of all sorts to give these kids a chance at being good readers. Unfortunately to give them the extra support they need, they are often taken out of the regular classroom and they miss many lessons: like math, social studies, and science lessons. As they try to catch up in reading they fall behind in other subjects. What if they were good in math but now miss out on math lessons? What if science is the one subject that would attract their attention, but they always miss the science lessons? Well teachers are supposed to "catch them up" but when?
There are five specialist classes where kids are never allowed to be pulled from: art, music, gym, computers, and library. Now I agree that the arts and gym are important in the education of all children and should never be abandoned from the curriculum. But it is silly to think that we protect these classes and instead have kids pulled from academic classes (where the teachers are held accountable to teaching so that students can pass the state tests) because we do not protect these subjects.
Now let's suppose our imaginary school that needs to be restructured has a wonderful after-school program with sports, music, and art activities that children can choose to participate in daily. Here is what I would do. In the "school in need of improvement" restructuring process, I would simply extend the school day for an hour or more. Any child who is not up to grade level in reading and needs the extra intervention time would not participate in the daily specialist classes. During that specialist time that student would work with the support staff and do all the things that the support staff do so well. The students who need intervention would then not miss the other subjects being taught by the classroom teacher. These students would then get their "specialist time" after school by participating in the after school offerings. In may not seem fair to miss the standard specialist classes but now the students have an incentive to work harder to achieve the scores necessary to rejoin their classes during this time. Students who do not need the intervention can go home at the standard end of school time, but are just as welcome to participate in all the after school activities.
I know the government probably has rules against something like this, but it is the government rules who say these kids are "failing" in the first place. Why not have a simple solution that would be easy to implement in any school. But then again, I am not the boss, I don't make the rules, and I don't get asked for my ideas about how I would create a better school. If I were able to restructure a school, this is where I would start.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Michael Brindley writes concerning the theme of the book:
"Education has transformed into a warehouse where students are being pushed through scripted, test-driven schools with no room for creativity or imagination from teachers.
Welcome to the machine."
I was a district curriculum meeting today and after I made a light-hearted comment I was called, also in a light-hearted way, a "troublemaker". At the conclusion of the meeting I stated that I am very curious and like to think about what I teach and what I am being asked to teach. I do enjoy being part of the conversation about education, after all it is a major part of my life. I was told that I had been asked to be on the committee because I am a "dissenter". At which point the silly labels were getting a little strange. I always thought I was a nice enough guy, but now I seem to be some type of "bad boy". If I am to be a part of the educational machine, I certainly want things explained to me and I will ask questions to try to get some meaning out of where the educational world is going. I don't think there is anything bad in that. In fact, the asking of questions and ensuing conversations should be valued and not criticized.
I look forward to reading this book, maybe I will find a kindred "dissenter" and "trouble-maker" in Thomas Newkirk. Most importantly, I hope to also find some some serious wisdom that can add to the ongoing conversations about how to best engage and educate our children.
Another review of the book "Rage against the machine, professor tells teachers" quotes Thomas Newkirk...
"‘Holding On to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones’ is for every teacher whose good, humane, and sensitive ways of teaching literacy are threatened by rigid, mechanical programs. It is for teachers who feel they are losing control of their daily work."
"What I see happening is the mechanization of teaching. Teachers are told to teach to the test and pay more attention to research results than to their classroom experience. Instead of treating teachers like professionals capable of determining what is best for the individual learning styles of their students, we have created a system in which teachers and students are caught in a machine that they can’t control. Ultimately this is counterproductive because teaching to the test is not learning and it puts kids in the humiliating situation of being in a punitive system."
In the book, Thomas Newkirk presents six ideas worth fighting for:
- Increase the instructional emphasis on writing to reflect the reality that producing text is more important than ever.
- Help students access deep knowledge and expand their thinking through time to write freely.
- Build strong connections between school learning and the real world by teaching with popular culture.
- Propel the development of reading skills by helping students discover the pleasure of reading.
- Provide the time and space for meaningful, long-lasting teaching and learning by uncluttering the curriculum.
- Spark professional growth and avoid stagnation by discussing failure and uncertainty with colleagues.
Notice the last one. Discussion is good! I don't always agree with what I hear, if I hear anything at all, about all the new directions that education is taking. I have a desire to discuss and know more. It is not "trouble-making" to ask for honest conversations. The art of good teaching and the joy of learning can easily get lost in the rush to improve test scores. Particularly if we just follow that path blindly. I look forward to reading the book after reading Michael Brindley's reviews and the editorial reviews on Amazon.com.
In checking out the book on Amazon, I noticed another interesting book by Thomas Newkirk. I am ordering this also, so I can get free shipping! It is called "Misreading Masculinity: Boys, Literacy, and Popular Culture". This sounds like an interesting read about an educational subject close to my heart: the way we teach boys in our elementary schools.
Friday, March 20, 2009
So where are the male teachers? The article claims that nationwide only 17 percent of elementary school teachers are male. I wonder if that includes gym teachers and other non-classroom teachers in the percentages. It seems high to me. In my 21 years at Mount Pleasant School there have never been more that two male classroom teachers at a time in the school and often I have been the only male classroom teacher in the entire school. In fact when teachers have been brought together from different schools for grade level meetings, I have often found myself alone in a room full of 30-50 females or maybe with one or two other guy teachers. Last year I went to a conference for teachers at Reading First schools in New Hampshire to hear Isabel Beck speak. As I looked around at the approximately 200 teachers in the audience, I saw Mr. Geer, the principal of my school, another male administrator, and no other male representatives. I was the only male classroom teacher in attendance.
According to the article there are various reasons why men don't teach in elementary schools: the economics of teaching (the pay is not enough to entice men to the job), the nurturing aspect of teaching (the article claims that this is what draws women to the job- however some of the most nurturing teachers I have met have been men), or the feeling that men who want to work with children are looked at suspiciously. This article gives another interesting, surprising, and historical reason why there are fewer male teachers. Whatever the reasons:
The small number of male teachers, especially at the elementary school level,
"is a problem in the same way we don't have enough minority teachers for kids to
connect with," said Jeanne Harmon, executive director of the non-profit Center
for Strengthening the Teaching Profession.
"It's a big problem when kids
don't see themselves reflected in the teaching staff."
benefit by seeing more men in the classroom, and for some students, especially
those from single-parent homes, a male teacher at school might be the only
positive male role model in their lives, she said.
I do know that there are a lot of men out there who would like to be teachers. I have been told by many "burned-out at their jobs" male friends that they wished they could get into teaching. Of course my friend's houses and cars are much nicer than mine, but after building a career they admit they wish they could have done something more worthwhile and fulfilling.
Shouldn't it be Against the Law for Men to be Near Children?
An ABC News article "The Mistrusted Male Teacher" talks about the bias many males face as teachers in the elementary schools, particularly the attitude that there is something "wrong" about a male wanting to teach young children. I haven't experienced that attitude in a long time, although some kids are anxious when they first find out their teacher is a man. I recall my first day ever at Mount Pleasant School when a challenging young girl looked up at me and said, "You can't be a good teacher, because my mom said that men aren't real teachers!"
When I was looking for a new teaching job back in 1988 due to getting married, I was called early one morning by a principal in southern New Hampshire to come for an interview. She wanted me there as soon as possible so I went up that day and had a terrific interview. The principal and I hit it off and she all but offered me the job on the spot. I went home with the promise that she would call me in a couple of days with all the details. I never heard back. When I called the administration building for that district, I was told they had never heard of my name and the principal would be unavailable to talk to. I never did hear a thing from that lady.
Nashua treated me right when I applied for a job and I have always been thankful for the class they showed. I was told after my interviews that I would have to wait a few weeks to hear from them. I was getting married and going on a honeymoon during that time and was trying to figure out how to find out if I would be offered the job while I was away (this was a time before the internet and cell phones). I was also wondering if I would have to cut my honeymoon short to do other job interviews. A couple of days before my wedding, I got a call from Nashua. They really wanted me to teach at Mount Pleasant School and were calling me much earlier than expected because they knew I was getting married. I was told, "Have a great honeymoon and enjoy it without worrying about getting a job." I have worked extremely hard for Nashua ever since that day!
Now about that other school and principal? A strange thing happened my first year at Mount Pleasant. My principal put my name on a list of teachers to be part of an evaluation team for other schools in New Hampshire. I was eventually given an assignment to help evaluate a school. My jaw dropped when I saw that the school I was to be evaluating was the same one that had "never heard of me". I could have had great fun with that assignment, but I called the committee and explained why I should not evaluate that school. I was given another school in the same district to evaluate. It was an interesting few days, but the most interesting part was when my evaluation team met with the district's school board. The school board was telling us about their school system and then a few of the members starting talking about males in the elementary schools. We were told they do not like men in their buildings. They did not want male teachers in the elementary grades at all. In fact they only allowed female janitors in the school during the day and men would have to work after the children left the building. I got the picture about why that district "never heard of me" or why the principal was "silenced". I truly believed she was trying to get a male teacher into her school, but was told off. I saw her at an "evaluation" meeting for all the schools during that trip, but I didn't go up and talk to her. I wish I had. It would have been interesting to get the whole story. And it would have been so fun if I had shown up as the evaluator of that school!
So Why do Men Teach in Elementary Schools?
I went to college as an economics major. I thought about teaching, but I thought it would only be an option if I could only find out what subject I enjoyed the most. I only really considered being a high school teacher and coach. I had a change of heart (and courses) my senior year of college. I took a class on the stages of human development and learned about the mind and the stages of learning and growth and it occurred to me that young kids were more than "little beings" but that they had interesting and developing minds. All of a sudden teaching younger kids sounded real interesting. I realized that I could teach all subjects and not have to choose a favorite if I just taught in an elementary school.
There are so many things I can be in my classroom: a comedian, an artist, a reader, a scientist, a mathematician, or an expert on my city and state. I can ask and answer interesting questions throughout the day and help kids with family issues, friendship issues, or just life issues. I can encourage, motivate, and explain the workings of the world. I can read the most interesting books to a captivated audience. I can move around, create, and inspire. I could also continue learning new things all the time. In fact, I could have a lot of fun. The list of things I get to do are unending. It is wondrous fun when you can do such important things to help your students be better people and better learners. Who wouldn't want such and interesting and essential job?
Some guys have figured it out and enjoy the thrill of being an elementary school teacher. In this article "The Few. The Proud. The Male Teachers" about teacher Nick Holtvluwer we see a bit into the life of a male teacher who enjoys the job. Some females have figured it out too and do just the same wonderful job for all the right reasons. A good teacher is a good teacher. My own children have had many great teachers in their elementary years in Nashua (including those here at Mount Pleasant). They have also had some terrible teachers and experiences in this school system. However two of the most nurturing and understanding teachers that any of my children have encountered were the two male teachers that my daughter had in elementary school. Just the same, in the older grades they have encountered some horrible male teachers too! A good teacher is a good teacher! I just find that many of the men who are willing to dedicate themselves to the younger child are in teaching for all the right reasons.
The Care and Feeding of Your Male Teachers
I haven't given this question a lot of thought until recently. In former years when I was the lone male teacher, unlike this year where I have an excellent new teammate in Tim Caster, being an outnumbered minority in a school full of women can make it very hard to fit in. I have always done the best I can, but in reality. I am an outsider in a woman's world (as the token male teacher). I enjoy talking with my friends on the staff and usually get along fine with everyone. Mount Pleasant School has a tremendous staff of dedicated teachers and I believe it is the best group of teachers in the entire district. But I live in a world where cooking and things that interest women are often discussed and while I don't mind eating, I don't cook. I have to navigate a world of baby showers and party decorations, Avon catalogs, and woman talk. There are a lot of things that are discussed or events that happen that just don't interest me and there are so many things that interest me that aren't part of the conversations or interests of a female staff.
My school has had a "teacher's week" for the past few years. Some days we got food, yeah, I am all for that! but other times it was about pampering: getting your nails done, getting samples from some cosmetic company, and other "girly things". I just ignored that stuff. This year our new assistant principal, Scott Jacquith designed a "man's room" for the men in our school on the pampering day. That was cool. There was a recliner set up, sports videos on a television, newspapers to read, some bottles of soda, chips, and other "guy" food. It was neat to know that the men were recognized at our school.
If my elementary school was full of male teachers and there were just one or two female teachers, I am sure the school environment would be a drastically different place (and maybe the teachers room would be a bit cleaner too!). The conversations, activities,and life of the school would drastically change. I would guess that the female teachers would feel very uncomfortable and maybe there would be "laws" and "training" in place so that the men would deal sensitively with the women and not overstep their boundaries. I have never heard of such a thing for the sake of a lone male elementary school teacher. Yet, I feel, we are stepping into a foreign world as we work in female dominated profession. I still don't understand and know how to properly deal with the social "games" that some women can play or understand the "rules" of behavior according to the female code. I don't think I ever will, but when you are the minority and you don't get the "games" and "rules" then you are out of the loop. This can be a great danger for male teachers. It is also one of the great surprises. One of the great things about my school is that I have always got along very well with the staff at my school. They are very accepting of me despite my "quirks" of being a guy and they have been great champions for me when the Boston Marathon issue came up. They turned a horrible district decision into a celebration that made me proud to be a Mount Pleasant teacher. A bunch of guy friends, no matter how great, would never have responded in the same way! Yes, guys do think and act differently!
Sitting through meetings with an abundance of female teachers and often only myself representing the male voice. I have found that I have had to learn to speak up and champion the causes of education from the "male" perspective. Sometimes this is valued, sometimes it is not. If you don't think that there are issues with how boys are taught read "The Trouble With Boys: A Surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents and Educators Must Do" by Peg Tyre (my review here) and if you don't think this impacts the future of girls then read the book again. Sometimes, I know what I say is appreciated and sometimes I get the feeling that I should just "shut up" and sit there dutifully taking notes like a "good girl" would. It is not always "easy" being that voice and maybe sometimes I get it wrong, but the schools do need to listen carefully to all voices. If a school is privileged to have some male teachers then they should do some good listening, because we do offer a completely different and valid perspective. The article "Male Call: Recruiting More Men to Teach Elementary School: Stereotypes and Low Pay Keep Men Away From Teaching. But that Y chromosome can make a huge difference in the classroom." found at Edutopia Magazine addresses some of these differences.
...though males tend to be structured in what they do, they are more willing to use creative means to engage students...In Case You Haven't Noticed: Men and Women are Different!
Male teachers tend to use sports analogies, such as "Standardized tests are the Super Bowl of knowledge." They are more tolerant of chitchat and are more likely to integrate active learning methods, including competitions and games, into the curriculum. They also tend to be funnier (from an informal poll)...
"Men tend to give more direction in their approach to sharing knowledge. They want to appear to be the expert." Women, on the other hand, are more likely to collaborate with students and incorporate their ideas "Therefore, men who are teaching mixed classes must incorporate collaborative and direct instruction to meet the needs of all students." Meeting the needs of all students? That sounds like a great educational environment.
In a Boston.com editorial "The Value of the Male Schoolteacher" Bryan Nelson, director of MenTeach, says that the problem is not that boys need men for academic achievement - little data supports that. He said the lack of men in the lower grades reinforces an endless cycle of inequality in men's and women's roles. He goes on to say that without male teachers...
"We are missing so much," said Nelson, 50. "For instance, there is a playfulness about men kids desperately need at a time the system is so absent of play.
(By the way I just love that quote as I think that describes the way I teach. I could be wrong, but I think I am a "playful" teacher. I also think that the current educational atmosphere across the country no longer values that part of teaching. It can't be measured on a test score- so why value it?)
When a male teacher is expected to "act" like a woman, have interests like a woman, and teach like a woman then the role of that teacher is forever marginalized because men are different! In no way do I care to be a "woman", but it is often assumed and expected that we should act and teach in a way that mirrors the female "way" of teaching as well as respond in meetings as a "female" would. In much the same way, the boys of today are often expected to behave and learn in schools in a more a "female " mode of learning. It is another topic, but boys are not allowed to be boys and that is a affecting the futures of our students and sons. Boys do learn differently from girls and many schools are refusing to recognize that fact.
When I attend district meetings with more male teachers in attendance, including junior high and high school teachers, there is a different energy and attitude. It is not always good, I recently watched a male teacher "flip off" everyone in the meeting. I thought it was rude and unprofessional but most people chuckled along including the administrators at the meeting. I don't think those antics would sit well at an female dominated meeting. It is not that men can be rude, it is that men joke and talk in a different way and get passionate and openly frustrated when they can't fix a problem right away. I notice that men don't want to discuss things endlessly, we want to get to the point and deal with it. We value the "big picture" and not necessarily the little details that can get in the way.
If you have a good male teacher at your school, do value that voice and listen to it, because it will and should be different than the female points of view in your building. If your child has a male teacher, delight yourself in that fact and realize that if his teaching is good, your child will recall that year fondly throughout his or her life. I know at my school many teachers value my voice, even if they don't agree with me, on the other hand I sometimes get the feeling that I am definitely an outsider and an intruder into a woman's world and can at times feel very unwelcome. I guess that is what happens when you are in the minority. Your voice may not be heard or valued. That may just be enough to keep men away from ever wanting to be an elementary school teacher and that would truly be a shame!
This post has been included on the 214th edition of the Carnvial of Education.
This carnival was hosted by Epic Adventures are Often Uncomfortable. You can find many educational blogging posts at this site.
Friday, March 13, 2009
While waiting to go into the school library with my class, a second grade class was lining up and getting ready to leave. I saw a little boy holding in his arms an interesting book and I asked him about it. He said it was about mummies and he loved mummies. I asked him if he has ever seen a real mummy. He said, "No, because I have never been to a museum." Then he held up his book to me and said, "This is like my tiny museum."
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
On "Alice's Drive" a father and a daughter are restoring a 1909 Maxwell, just like Alice's car, in anticipation of driving it across America in an anniversary challenge and celebration. Here is an interesting video of Alice Ramsey, with many pictures of her trip. It includes plans for the anniversary drive and a film.
For just a bit of frivolity and comparison, here is a time-lapse video of a guy driving across the country. It seems they only had one incident when the car wouldn't start!
Going along with the idea of what life was like 100 years ago, I have been reading to my class a wonderful little book called "Listen My Dears" by Annabelle Haven.
She wrote this book for her grandchildren and others in 1994 as she tells about growing up in Nashua, NH. The kids love her reminisces and how she compares and contrasts life long ago with the modern day world. What makes the book special to my students is that Annabelle grew up right in their neighborhoods. She lived on Summer Street and Berkeley Street. Her father had a dentist office at 2 Abbott Street, just a few houses down from the back entrance to our school. They enjoy looking at the old photographs of their neighborhoods. Annabelle's family had one of the first automobiles in Nashua, back when their were only a handful in the city. My class always want to know if Annabelle is still alive. It appears she died last October. It looks like Amazon has only one copy left, if you want to read this fascinating local history book.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
How do you introduce children to the joys of running? How can you get them to understand the benefits of playful activity, personal fitness, and healthy eating? In today's culture this is a serious concern for parents, teachers, and health experts. Children today are bombarded with amusements that lead to a sedentary lifestyle and they have a mutlitude of unhealthy eating choices that can have them packing on pounds that leave them even more unwilling to "go outside and play".
Carol Goodrow is one person who has made it a mission to help kids learn to be healthy and to enjoy exercise. She is an elementary school teacher as well as the creator of the wonderful website Kidsrunning.com, which is a Runnersworld.com website. Kidsrunning is a website full of programs, activities, advice, interviews, news, and all sorts of information geared towards kids, parents, and teachers. Carol Goodrow is also an author and artist (just look at the whimsical pictures gracing her website) and like on her website and with her teaching she is on a mission to help kids enjoy healthier living.
"The Treasure of Health and Happiness" by Carol Goodrow is a book I recently used as a read-aloud with my fourth grade students. I teach a class of typical fourth graders except I have twice as many boys as I do girls in my class and I wasn't sure exactly how my boys would react to a book that has a girl as a main character as well as a book that seems a bit more "gentle" than the books they typically enjoy.
We started reading anyhow. The story is about a girl named Hannah who is not very healthy or athletic. In fact because she is not good at sports and activities she doesn't feel very good about herself. I noticed my class became empathetic to Hannah because of her feelings of inadequecy. I think many of them have had those same feelings as well. When Hannah receives a puppy for her birthday my kids were quite enthralled. When Hannah started placing signs on her bedroom door to deal with the disobedient puppy the kids giggled with delight! I also noticed that whenever I held up one of the pictures from the book that the kids all tried to get as close as they could to get a good look at all the details and the unique artwork.
A large part of the book involves a dream that Hannah has about a treasure map. As she follows the map she learns skills that she accomplishes such as ball-throwing, riding a bicycle, eating healthy foods, and eventually running. Hannah learns what she has to do to take care of herself and to be a healthier and happpier person. The book is not preachy at all as it involves discoveries by Hannah not choices made for Hannah. I feel this was presented in a way that allows children to think of discoveries (or choices)they can make on their own journeys towards becoming healthier people. Hannah begins her own training towards competing in a "Chipmunk Chase" running race, something she was to afraid to enter at the beginning of the story.
My class enjoyed the story. Boys being boys, the "gentlemen" in my class did say they wanted some "monsters" to chase Hannah during the dream sequence. They also wanted to know more about the toad that Toby, Hannah's dog, picked up in his mouth.
I think this book is excellent for teachers to read and discuss with their classes or for parents to read with their children. My guess is that girls would enjoy reading it on their own. Some of the devices used in the book: treasure maps and treasure chests, jewels,and descriptions of things that sparkle and glitter reminded me of the type of make-believe play that my sisters and their friends often engaged in long ago.
I do know that my kids were very much engaged by the story and I believe it left some seeds in their own minds about how they can maintain or seek after a more healthy lifestyle.
Here are a few brief comments that some students in my class wrote about the book.
"I liked the book. I think people will eat better and exercise more if they read "The Treasure of Health and Happiness.""
"I liked the German Shepard. That is my favorite kind of dog. I liked when Toby had a toad in his mouth. It was cool when Hannah made a leash out of a stick and a string. The book inspired me to eat healthy and stay fit."
"I like the book and how she started out as a girl who was unhealthy. Then she got healty and started to run. That got me thinking about doing cross-country."
"I liked the book very much. My favorite part was her dream. I liked the parts where she runs a mile and goes fishing."
You can order the book at Kidsrunning.com as well as download some free printables for the classroom.
You can also find a couple of interviews from a few years back of me on Kidrunning.com.
Imagine Teaching a Full Day of School and THEN Running the Boston Marathon
Teacher Runner Jim Hansen Finishes Boston Marathon last, but he is the winner in his schoolchildren's eyes
Saturday, March 7, 2009
After choosing a picture, students can drag and drop words onto it to create a mini-poster. Words can be chosen from a preselected list of words that are arranged into categories of nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, or universal words. Many of the word choices for each picture are unique to that picture and are wonderful vocabulary words. Students can create their own work through their own choices and they do not have to type the words so their is more time to play and arrange the words in different ways.
There is also a freestyle choice where you can just type and create your own writing. The website also offers mini-lessons. "Write It" gives you tips on basic uses of words, writing simple captions, compound sentences, and writing paragraphs. "Rhyme It" gives some advice on writing raps, writing similes, and poetry writing. "Master It' has more advanced lesson plans.
This is a fun site for all people to try. I see many and various uses for it in a classroom and I think that it will definitely stimulate creativity and expression as well as captivate your student's attention. The pictures can be saved, shared, and e-mailed.