Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Difficulties Teaching in a Wired World

As I was taking a look at Katherine Brindley's article, Teacher Texting Students: Should Schools Ban or Encourage, which had been published in the Huffington Post (article:, I made the mistake of reading the reader comments at the end of the article. I've generally trained myself to avoid reader comments as a general rule. However, my curiosity and interest in the topic lead me to go against my better judgement. Note to self - do not read the reader comments! 

Regardless of the reader comments, Katherine Brindley raises a number of interesting and valid points in her article. The topic of student-teacher communication via text, email, and/or social networking has been an hot topic as of late. School districts and state education departments alike are reviewing various policies seeking to ban student-teacher electronic communication. Some have gained traction; others have been overturned and abandoned after legal intervention. 

Should we have blanket policies banning student-teacher communication outside the school day? Absolutely not. I believe we should encourage and support blended learning environments and collaboration through educationally sound social mediums such as Edmodo, Google Apps for Education, and others. I believe we need to adapt our teaching styles to meet the demands of our students' learning styles and infuse technology to foster communication and collaboration.

Nevertheless, I found myself reading reading through the reader comments. One user's comment in particular made me cringe. This individual who's username is FunctionOfTheCrisp, wrote:

"When I was in school (the ancient 1990s) students didn't call their teachers. Business was handled during the class period and resumed the next class period. The ability of a teacher to accomplish that was standard leadership and classroom management. This was true for standard academic classes. Extracurriculars were a little different because of the logistics, mostly. It was considered reasonable that students would call their band directors, coaches, etc. if necessary. 

Am I to understand that this is no longer the way things are? I can tell you that if I ever became a K-12 teacher, I would continue the policy of my youth. There would be no texting, e-mails or phone calls with me unless it was an emergency." 

As a former student of the 1990s and now a teacher of today, I take offense to the last part of this comment. "If I ever became a K-12 teacher, I would continue the policy of my youth." Really? You graduated public school so that apparently makes you an expert of K-12 education? 

Having graduated in 1997 and now teaching in 2012, I can attest that things have changed drastically. In 1997, cell phones were practically non-existent. Dial-up internet was the status quo. Forget about wireless access points or 3G access. It was Netscape all the way! Google, Facebook, Twitter were not household names and would not be so for some time. 

Unfortunately, these sort of comments tend to highlight the difficulties of teaching in a wired world. These comments are not uncommon - hence the reason I avoid most reader comments. These same comments pop up in the districts I work with as well. 

Technology has changed how we do things. What has worked for the past 10 or 20 years won't necessarily work for the next 10 or 20 years. We need to change. We need drastic change. 

As an educator and a technology specialist, I know the value in integration technology in the classroom. I have seen how communication and collaboration have improved the learning environment. There is value in technology and we need to harness it, foster it, and support it. We should stand up against these blanket policies and redirect our energy on digital citizenship and properly use of technology rather than sheltering our students from it. We need to instill change in our teachers; we need to instill change in our students. 

We need to get beyond the mindset of what worked for me then will work for them now. You didn't have what we have today. Yeah you got by and did well. Imagine how much better our students will do when you present them with the opportunities that you didn't have!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Education Reform from the eyes of a 14-year-old.

This afternoon, I came across the guest post, Teen Who Left School Explains It's Flaws,
written by Line Dalile on the blog, The Innovative Educator

Here was a 14-year-old student with a much clearer perception of education and its flaws. It was impressive to say the least; even more so seeing that it was coming from such a young individual.  

Line affirms that she doesn't "claim to be an expert in education, I am still a student and I speak for myself. I believe that students should have a voice in the education system today, because mainly they are the ones who are being educated. Education is falling in the wrong hands. 

I’m not writing about the flaws of education; everyone wrote about them years ago and claimed to start a “real” learning revolution. Years have passed, students have graduated. Our education system is a dictator that’s not willing to step down and give its [throne] away yet."

After sharing this post through my social networks followed by a sudden surge in debate and discussion. One individual stated "Poor work is poor work and techniques exist for a reason. Everyone loves to cite the true geniuses as examples of how people don't "get" creativity without realizing just how rare those examples truly are. For every Einstein out there who was thought of as "slow", there are THOUSANDS of kids who truly are slow and no amount of "creative freedom" will change that." 

I agree in the fact that we cannot and should not assume that those dreamers would have grown up to be Einsteins and Edisons. However, I think motivation and creativity are interchangeable in this example as well as many others in recent educational literature. That being said, we are literally sucking the motivation out of our students. We have becoming a test bubble factory. We expect that our students will sit through these tests and do their absolute best and for what? Do these tests impact their GPA? No. Do these tests impact their ability to graduate? No. Will they win a pizza party or ice cream party? No. So what's the point of the test factories? To rate teachers, principals, and districts while tossing more money in the vendor coffers.

Thanks to programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, we have now added mandatory ELA (English Language Arts) and Math Assessments to all grades 3-8 plus the regents testing for all students 9-12 (where applicable). To top that off, we also need to conduct "localized growth assessments" K-12 in order to assess our teachers as part of their new APPR/Observations. The local growth assessments must be conducted at the beginning and end of the year to determine student growth. So that's 2 localized tests, the ELA test, the math test, regents where they apply, and let's not forget all the practice tests as well. There is no longer a regents tract vs. non-regents tract either. The assessments for the 3-8 students are not reflective on their GPA. They get what they get - it's an assessment of their ability. However, they are still moved on even if they fail with some remedial assistance if offered by the district. Yes - you still need to pass the regents to graduate in 9-12. That being said, we test the snot out of kids throughout elementary and middle school, but we don't hold them accountable. Therefore there is no motivation to do as well as they should. At the same time, we are so focused on ELA and Math assessments that everything else is put to the side in the name of test prep.

Home schooling is not necessarily the answer either. This kid is apparently intelligent and has quite the portfolio even at 14. The kid has already published 2 books, speaks 4 languages, and is obviously ahead of most. A traditional public school program would not make sense for her whatsoever. No doubt, her parents are well educated, supportive, and able to provide those opportunities for their kids as well. Home schooling is only as successful and enriching as the parents involved. I have three degrees in education, one in history, and another in environmental studies plus numerous certificates and other nonsense. However, I do not feel that I could or should home school my kids. There are services, experiences, and other programs that I cannot offer my kids nor would I pretend I could. Therefore, my kids will attend public school. By all means, I will be involved in every facet and will advocate for my kids as any parent should because we as parents should be and need to be involved in our kids learning.

In my opinion, we need to go back to a system where we can redirect those who are college ready vs. those who are career ready. The percentage of those graduating and going to college should not be our ultimate goal. Those who graduate and are sustainable should be though. Not every kid is going to grow up, go to college, and graduate. Some just aren't made for that. Maybe they will grow up, graduate, and become a master tradesman. Why not give them the option?