The Boy, The Teacher

One of The Boy’s areas of intense interests is (and I believe always has been) cars and trucks. He knows an incredible amount about makes and models, when they were produced, and various other trivia. He can even identify cars makes and models at night. How he does it, I’ll never know.

Yesterday, we were at a traffic light, and to engage him in conversation, I remarked on the bright blue car waiting at the red light across the intersection. “It’s a Dodge, I think,” I said.

“Yep,” he said.

“It’s either a Challenger or a Charger. I can never remember which is which,” I said.

“It’s a Charger. You can tell because it has a rounded top. It also has four doors. The Challenger has a square top and two doors.”

I looked at him, amazed. He was teaching me how to differentiate between two car models. It was clear, simple, and he had taken advantage of a teachable moment for me. I sure hope we can figure out something meaningful for him to do post-high school, because he has so much to share with this world. Me included. ūüôā



The Spirit or the Letter

This post is almost an addendum to yesterday’s. I got a progress report from The Boy’s science class. He has a B-. Great! Except it’s not.¬† Here’s why: he received 100 percent on every assignment, and a 95 on the one project they have done this quarter. Why a B-? Because he got a 67 on a test last week.

Again, as a teacher, I would look at this student’s grades and say to myself, “Something doesn’t add up here. If my assessment (test) was a true assessment of whether or not this student knows the material, it is not reflecting that accurately. Why not?” In this scenario, either the grading of the homework is not a true reflection, or the assessment is not a true reflection.¬† And when you add in that the project (which more often shows what a student really understands than a multiple choice test) received a 95, you begin to think the fault lies with the test.

quizAfter investigating, I found out the test had been modified. Great! Except it’s not.¬† It was only 15 questions. This is a major flaw in test design.¬† If the teacher made it fewer questions to modify it, she has effectively made it harder to earn an A. That’s a problem.

There’s no easy answer here, and I know in this case, at least everyone is trying to help. But. If my son knows the material, a 67 shouldn’t stand in the gradebook. According to the “letter” of grading, he earned it, but according to the “spirit” of grading, it’s not accurate, and something should be done about it.¬† I wouldn’t have let it stand as a teacher (you do have the ability to throw out a test and re-do it…), and I’m not sure what to do about it as a parent, except talk to the teacher, and see what we can come up with.¬† I don’t want to come off as I-know-more-than-you-about-assessment, but at the same time, I’m a stickler for fairness.

What do you think?

6 Ways Schools Could Open Doors for Students with Special Needs

opening doorsPublic schools are being asked to do so much right now, and so much of what they are being forced to do is a waste of time. Music and the arts are being cut, students are overloaded with standardized tests, and even recess is being shortened so work can be completed. In short, schools are being forced to run like businesses, but our children are not raw materials, nor are they products.  They are children.  And when the pendulum swings back (I hope to God it does), when more rational heads prevail in remembering that we are teaching human beings how to be human beings, rather than filling little heads with facts, maybe then the schools will have an opportunity to begin filling gaps and opening doors for our students with special needs.  Here are some ways they could begin:

  1. Mentor/Mentee programs These programs connect students with an adult in the school community who can meet with them on a regular basis, build a positive relationship, and provide guidance to students. ¬†The Boy has built this kind of relationship with the business and computer teacher at school, quite organically. ¬†He doesn’t even have her as a teacher, but they use time with her as a reward for positive behaviors at school, and she is often a reason he wants to go to school.
  2. Peer to Peer programs I’ve written about how successful these programs can be not only for students with special needs, but for typical students, as well. ¬†Building Relationships between kids, and providing avenues for them to learn about each other as people can only result in good things. When everyone’s needs are met, bullying just isn’t a thing.
  3. Peer Mediation programs These programs foster conflict resolution skills in our young people.  At first they are taught and coached through the steps of providing mediation for peers who are in conflict.  After practice, they become second nature, and the students involved with these programs become leaders, as they have the skills to help their peers relate to each other in positive ways.
  4. Social Skills programs Carving time out of a busy school day to provide direct instruction to students about how to initiate and maintain positive social interaction seems like it makes perfect sense for those students who naturally have defects in this area.  It can also make perfect sense for those students you may assume has these skills already, but may not, or may struggle with these skills privately.
  5. Critical Thinking Instruction More than anything else, we need to be teaching students how to really think, rather than regurgitate readily available information.  We need to be teaching them how to make rational decisions, how to determine whether a source is credible, how to examine their own thoughts and opinions, and how to interpret the world around them.  For special needs students, this can be especially difficult, but even more necessary as we prepare them for their adulthoods with varying degrees of assistance.
  6. Creativity and Problem Solving Instruction Children today do not have much opportunity to be creative. ¬†And when we cut art and music programs, we are essentially saying that being creative is not a high priority in today’s job market – what could be further from the truth? There are many ways teachers can provide opportunities within their current limitations to foster creativity and problem solving, and many ways we can help special needs students be creative.

The great thing about school programs that benefit students with special needs is that they often benefit all students. ¬†We assume that typical kids don’t struggle with the same things as those with special needs do, but they do. ¬†They are often better at hiding it, because it may not be as dire a struggle. ¬†What middle schooler do you know that wouldn’t benefit from a social skills class or a peer to peer program? ¬†What kindergartner wouldn’t benefit from some opportunities to be creative? ¬†What person on Earth would not benefit from having a mentor?

When we finally do something to correct the course of public schools, and begin to focus on the person rather than the content, these 6 programs would be a good start to guiding all of our students to being better human beings.

Being Put Through My Paces

A meeting is scheduled. ¬†With The Boy’s teachers. ¬†Not yet an official IEP meeting, just an I’m-so-sick-of-you-not-knowing-what-you’re-doing meeting. ¬†Nah, I won’t really say that. ¬†But I do have dreams, yes DREAMS about running an inservice, actual PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT for these teachers, and not just about how to effectively approach a student and his/her IEP, but about basic things like GRADING and ASSESSMENTS.

I was a decent teacher. ¬†I don’t claim to have been the best teacher at the school where I worked, not by a long shot. ¬†But I did know a thing or two about exactly how assessments (quizzes, tests, and projects to a normal person) are supposed to work, and how to effectively use and fairly grade those assessments,¬†skills that The Boy’s teachers apparently haven’t yet mastered.

A 65/100 on a quiz with 10 multiple choice questions just doesn’t compute…


I guess I was spoiled by the staff I worked with. ¬†We didn’t have to argue very long that grading a kid on effort just wasn’t fair to anyone, and definitely watered-down the picture of whether or not the student knew the content. ¬†We didn’t have differing opinions on how much quizzes, tests, and projects should be worth — assignments and quizzes should rarely be worth more than 25 points or so, and tests and projects were usually between 50 and 100. ¬†Assignments and quizzes, we agreed, showed how well the teacher was teaching the content (formative assessments), while tests and projects showed how well the student had learned the content (summative assessments). ¬†To me, this is TEACHING 101. ¬†Fellow teachers, Amiright?

This reminds me of the meeting I had at The Boy’s previous school where they thought the use of rubrics was such a novel idea‚Ķ “We don’t really use those‚Ķ” they said… (I was taught to use rubrics in my teaching in TEACHER COLLEGE in the 1990s‚Ķ 20 years ago‚Ķ).

My challenge is to attend this meeting and not come off as this know-it-all mom telling them how to do their jobs. ¬†My challenge is gently nudge them towards doing¬†their jobs without them realizing that I’m telling them how to do their jobs.

Time to get clever.

Am I Less for Leaving?

Many of my old teacher friends are scared and weary.¬† They see what is happening to teaching and education and they don’t like it, but they are trapped.¬† They have mortgages to pay and resumes that will not allow them to do anything else.¬† They post links to blog posts and articles on facebook about how education has changed, how people don’t want to become teachers anymore, and how teachers don’t want to even remain teachers anymore.

Yesterday, one posted a link to an article on Monster – “5 Most Regretted Jobs,” and you guessed it – teaching was on the list.¬† The article ended the lament about teaching with the quip, “It takes a remarkable human being to become a teacher but it takes a golden human being to stay one.‚ÄĚ

Which leaves me to ask, “Am I less for leaving?”

Honoring_the_Teachers_of_America_3_cent_stampAm I somehow not “golden” because I had an opportunity to leave that many others do not?¬† Am I somehow selfish for taking the opportunity that many, many of my old friends would have taken in a heartbeat?¬† Am I unremarkable because I took a stand and left a profession that I daresay would have killed me for all of the lying, cheating, disrespect, and injustice I endured and watched others endure, and if it had not killed me, would have most definitely killed my soul?¬† Am I tarnished for taking a chance at a less stressful existence that would ultimately benefit my family?

I think you see where I’m headed with this.¬† Teachers are phenomenal people, especially those who don’t get the monetary compensation necessary to support their own families.¬† But no one has the right to look down on a person leaving teaching in these days and times.¬† Many of us have left because we are taking a stand against the very dark underbelly of the system, and refuse to be the face of it, refuse to be a part of the machine, refuse to actually do harm to children by proxy.

I think all of my old teacher friends, both those who feel trapped and those who continue to fight the good fight (even if they’re not sure from day to day what that even means) are golden.¬† I think those that have left the profession with souls beaten and bruised are no less golden.¬† In a system that creates too many victims (if you think my word-choice is histrionic, you should hear some of my “war” stories), teachers and former teachers may indeed be the only people of value left.

Leaving School for the Last Time

As I mentioned last week, my resignation went before the board, and I was finally able to tell my students that I was leaving.¬† I wasn’t quite sure how to do it, but I just started speaking, and was honest with them.¬† They didn’t make it easy for me – there was a lot of screaming and howling (middle school behavior leaves much to be desired), but I was able to get through it without breaking down.¬† There were a few that were in tears, although I think a few more had suspected ever since I got engaged.¬† They know enough about me and my personal life to put two and two together.¬† I got many, many hugs, and lots of that look they have when they are thinking hard about something – you know, the “processing big news” look.

flowersOur year-end concert was this past Thursday, and again, I wasn’t sure what to say.¬† In the classroom, I’m more able to articulate, but put me on a stage, under lights, with a microphone, and I’m not as comfortable.¬† The kids performed well – I know they were doing their best for me, knowing it was my last one.¬† At the end, one of my eighth graders, one I never would have guessed would grab the microphone, stepped up and read something she had written for me.¬† As she read, multiple kids came up to hand me bouquets of flowers, and then there was no stopping the tears.¬† So many kids came up for hugs, and I hugged each one individually.¬† A few told me how they felt about me, and my class, that it was the only reason they liked coming to school, and such…¬† It was all very sweet, and a touch heart-breaking.

I know they are concerned about what will come.¬† A multi-year class is never the same with a new teacher.¬† I know they are sad, and a bit mad that I am leaving them (some are probably glad, too!).¬† I just keep trying to explain to them that sometimes you have to do things that are good for you, even if they don’t seem like they are good for anyone else.

I am still getting random hugs, and messages written on my white board, disappointed looks, and a few quickly-wiped-away tears.¬† The eighth graders have asked me to come to their dance, a rather big hullabaloo the evening before the last day of school.¬† Normally, I don’t, but I might pop by this year.

These kids represent 16 years of kids who have taught me so much about themselves, and human beings in general.¬† I’m a better person for having been a teacher, and I really wish John Q. Public could teach for a day so they knew what really happens in schools, from the teacher’s perspective.

It is time for me to go, however.¬† I’m so glad these kids have made it a sweeter experience.

Moving On

I’ve worked in the same place for twelve years.¬† And although I have had other jobs, even within this career, I have always been a teacher.¬† That will end in June, and it’s scary yet liberating, unfathomable yet exciting.¬† I shouldn’t necessarily say that I will not be teaching – I should qualify it with, “in the public schools”.¬† I am actually quite hopeful that I will continue teaching in some capacity, whether it is tutoring, private lessons, community college, or in some other area.¬† I mean, let’s face it — I’m not going to become an accountant, a cage fighter, or an astronaut.¬† I do this well enough, that I feel like I can transition my experience and skills into something similar if not the same.

mona in threadOne of Gardner’s multiple intelligences is Intrapersonal Intelligence which has to do with knowing and understanding yourself — I have always scored very highly in this area on those tests, probably from being an only child, with no one to analyze except myself.¬† I really think about my own emotions and reactions, and try to learn from myself on a constant basis.¬† I have been monitoring my feelings toward this slew of big change heading our way, and as the day gets closer, I have noticed a few things I will miss, for sure.¬† But mostly, I am ready.¬† Ready to be doing something else.¬† Ready to reactivate and rededicate my brain to new and different ventures.

Today, I received news that would have driven me insane – news about coming changes to my current position.¬† Almost simultaneously, I received news about a possible job prospect where I’m headed, one that is exactly the type of thing I was looking for.¬† And I thought, “How serendipitous that I receive both pieces of news on the same day!”¬† I could have headed down the negative path, worrying about what I’m now thinking of as “my old job”, but instead, I’m clearly thinking and moving toward this positive path, the path of my future.¬† I see that as even more proof that I’m ready.