Category Archives: Schools

Common Core and Teacher Evaluations

I am a big fan of the Common Core Standards. I love the consistency, the depth, and the scope. I believe they benefit an increasingly mobile society and provide inspiration and support to teachers. I like that colleges have an idea of what children are expected to know and that parents can easily tap into what their child should be learning. But, I am not a fan of completely tying teacher evaluations to test scores. Wait, back up, I’m not a fan of tying student success to test scores. I’ve seen to many children struggle with tests because they are written for a certain cultural bias or because the format is unfamiliar or because children panic when faced with the pressure.

Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 6.25.00 PMI’ve worked with many incredible teachers, in fact most were incredible. Most teachers are in the profession because they love children and want them to succeed. The really special teachers often take on the hardest cases, those children who come from troubled families, who are just learning the language, or who have disabilities. They take the children, identify their most pressing needs, and try to help them. Sometimes, the most pressing need is not to get a good score on a standardized test. 

It is easy to succeed as a teacher in a wealthy school district. Having parental support, lots of resources, and motivated colleagues is fun and energizing. It is much harder to be in a failing district where everyone is blamed for the problems. But, the good teachers need to be in both places and equating success to test results won’t make that happen. I still support principal evaluations as the best way to evaluate a teacher. I also think student and parent evaluations can play a part although I do worry about a teacher’s ability to make difficult decisions in that case. Schools, principals, and teachers should work together to figure out how to evaluate and retain teachers, not tests and committees.

A recent article in the Washington Post, by Lindsey Layton, points out that “teachers account for a maximum of about 14 percent of a student’s test score, with other factors responsible for the rest.” Read the whole article here: Washington Post, Good Teaching, Poor Test Results, by Lindsey Layton.

What can you do as parent to “evaluate” and encourage teachers?

  1. When your child comes home with a great story about their teacher, send a thank you note!
  2. If you are happy with your child’s teacher, write a letter to the principal and the superintendent. Make sure to include concrete examples about why you think the teacher is doing a great job.
  3. Volunteer in the school. Spend time watching the teachers and the school. Then, verbally support the school among your social networks.
  4. Write a letter to the editor of your local paper. Talk about impresses you about your child’s teacher and school.
  5. If you have concerns, take them to an administrator and talk through them. Don’t be a pain, but don’t complain to other people without first trying to understand the problem and then to solve it.

Teachers and parents work together. We trust our children to these schools, and a few notes in a school year can make a huge difference in the satisfaction of teachers and administrators.

 

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Proudest Teaching Moments

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Most people know I am a fan of the Common Core Standards. I like that children build on what they learn. I appreciate that in our mobile society children can move frequently without worrying about gaps in knowledge. I love that national standards have created a nation of teachers working together to share best practices, made possible because they have the same goals and objectives. I could go on and on. But, this post is about testing and my concerns with it. I think it is great to have hard data to see how children progress and as one part of how teachers are assessed. I think testing helps to identify holes in learning and ensure that schools are doing their jobs. But, I strongly believe that is it one small part of what makes a teacher effective. When I taught there was great emphasis on test scores and I was proud of the progress my team made. Our kids did great on the tests and it made us feel wonderful. But, with a few years between my last public school teaching job and my current situation, I realize that my proudest moments had nothing to do with test scores. This is a list of my proudest moments and I have a feeling most teachers have similar (better) lists.

  1. “Summer” was one of my favorite seventh graders but he often got in horrible fights. One day the principal asked me to step into the hall for a quick discussion. When I went back in, “Summer” was punching another kid in the face. The principal hauled him off for some serious disciplinary action. When I talked to him later he said he was mad because the kid, like many others, called him “Summer” to describe his teeth. “Sum ‘er here and sum ‘er there.” His teeth were in horrible shape. I worked long and hard with the nurse to find a dentist who would give him braces for free. He was thrilled and his behavior completely changed.
  2. One sixth grader was living in the back of her van with her pot-smoking mother. She had significant behavior problems but always kept her grades up. As her teacher, I tried to be her advocate and I took her out to dinner regularly and then attended her family counseling sessions to make sure the family and the school had similar goals for her. She’s now in medical school. That isn’t thanks to me, but because of years of teachers who loved her and helped her and I’m proud to be one of them.
  3. “A” started crying during our American History unit on the Holocaust. “Why,” she asked me, “do you never mention the horrors that happened in Ukraine.” She was Ukrainian and her family had lost many family members during the war. We dropped everything and spent two days on collectivization and the Ukrainian holocaust despite their market absence from the standards (and tests).
  4. When I had middle school children with disciplinary issues in the mid morning, I gave them granola bars and apples. Some children don’t get breakfast in the morning.
  5. Some of my middle school children had disciplinary problems. I would take the class outside for a five minute racing break. Then, anyone who wanted to race me could. Kids would lose a bit of the energy and return to the classroom with more energy.
  6. One girl panicked with every change. One rainy day the gym teacher decided to hold class in the gym instead of playing softball outside as promised. She melted down and beat her head against the wall. I pushed to have her diagnosed so she would have an IEP and interventions to help her learn to navigate transitions. On Valentine’s Day she gave me a card she had specially picked out from the box. It had a picture of a duck and said, “Without you, I would have quacked up.” I still have that card.
  7. I worked with incredible teachers to create awesome and interactive lesson plans. Then, we shared those plans with other teachers.
  8. When “W” sobbed because her science teacher told her it wasn’t going to snow this year, we stopped class, pulled out white paper, and cut out our own snowflakes! We covered the window then sat on the floor and read books about snow. At the end of the year she gave me a gift certificate for two snow cones.
  9. I walked “L” home from school on the last day because her parents didn’t show up to get her. Halfway there she asked me how she could finish an art project that had been sent home without supplies. I realized her home didn’t have so much as a crayon and I marched her back to my classroom. I filled a bag with all my leftover supplies from a beginning of the year trip to the “Back to School” sales and gave them to her. My main regret is that I hadn’t given every child a bag of goodies for the summer.
  10. I did away with homework punishments. If a child didn’t finish their homework they could come to my classroom during lunch for treats and help finishing it. I didn’t have to punish kids anymore for not finishing their work when it was usually because they didn’t have support from parents. Those lunch homework sessions were often the best part of my day.

I have lots more things I could list but I think it is remarkable that my proudest moments are about connecting with kids, helping kids, listening to kids. I am proud of being a community member and a mentor. I’m proud of some of the lessons I taught and some of the scores my kids received. I worked really hard to teach concepts and skills and I thought that was my main goal at the time. I wasn’t perfect, there are many things I wish I had done better, of course. There are kids I wish I had helped a bit more. There are questions I wish I had asked. But, I did try hard and I did love teaching and I did love those kids. And, I think those kids remember the connections we made, but they probably don’t remember all the major events of World War II or how to diagram a sentence. What is most important and how do we assess that?

10 Ways to Support Your Child’s Teacher

As a parent, how can you support your child’s teacher? Both teachers and parents are interested in seeing children do their best, feel safe in school and outside of school, and excel in all things. Teachers, especially now, are often overwhelmed. With large class sizes, pressures from the Common Core Standards, and ever shifting expectations, teachers navigate many outside pressures while trying to reach every single child in their classroom. How can you be the supportive parent every teacher hopes for?

  1. Read everything that comes home. Teacher’s aren’t sending stuff home to bother you. They need to keep the lines of communication open. If they sent it home, they think it is important. Read it and, if necessary, respond.
  2. Give feedback, preferably positive. If your child brings home a product that you think is awesome, send in a note and thank the teacher. “Dear Teacher, I loved the map on westward expansion. What a lot of work for you! My child said he loved the activity and I can see he learned a lot. Thank you, From the Parent.”
  3. Go to the conferences. Write down your questions so you are prepared. Compliment the teacher. Listen.
  4. If the teacher is awesome, tell the principal. Better yet, write a letter to the principal and say exactly why this teacher is awesome.
  5. Support the discipline process at school. Make sure you know what the discipline program is and discuss it with your child at the beginning of the year. Then, back up the teacher and the school if there are any problems.
  6. If your child’s teacher is in their first year, support them as much as you can. Being a first year teacher is exhausting and terrifying. Ask how you can help. Applaud their successes. Be nice. A supportive parent can make a huge difference for a first year teacher..
  7. Educate yourself about education. What are the Common Core Standards? How does your school write curriculum? What should your child be learning? Ask the teacher for resources to help understand what your child is learning and how you can help at home.
  8. Support learning at home.Ask your child what they are learning, discuss the learning process, and see if you can extend that learning by finding books or activities to do at home.
  9. Make your child do the homework. Find a quiet space, carve out a regular time, and just do it. Different people have different ideas about homework, and you are entitled to your opinion. But, the teacher is probably following school policy and you should support their homework policy. If you have concerns about homework, email the teacher or ask for a meeting. But, don’t just ignore it.
  10. Verbally support the school and the teacher at home. Don’t say negative things about teachers in general or in particular. Admire the work they do. Express gratitude for their support. Discuss the sacrifices they make. Let your child know that you respect and admire teachers and they should as well.

You want your child to succeed as does your child’s teacher. Help make that process easier by supporting the teacher’s efforts, curriculum, and classroom policies. If you have a concern, talk to the teacher. Listen with an open mind. If your child has an incredible teacher, as so many do, celebrate it. Teachers don’t get paid a lot. As parents, we can pay them in our thanks, our recognition of their skills and work ethic, and our support. Give thanks loudly. Recognize frequently. Support always.

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