Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Time for a Change

So I've been thinking a lot about change lately. Mostly thinking about what I can change to become a more effective teacher. I know I talked about it in my last post, but I've had some time to think about things and I have a plan.

Yesterday I was grading some short essays that my students had written as a part of their test. I kept feeling disappointed that these "good students" were writing crap for essays. They some of them were honestly horrible. I couldn't believe it. I thought they were smart, I thought I had taught them well. I started thinking about all the stuff I've heard about our education system being broken. It's pretty common now days, most people feel that our public schools are not educating students enough. I'm fed up with it. Not that I don't think its true. I actually would tend to agree with those who say we are not doing a good enough job at educating students. But I'm sick of hearing about it all the time and nothing being done to change it. I look at the way I teach, and it's essentially the same way my teachers taught me which is exactly how college programs teach you how to teach. Not that they were bad teachers, but shouldn't we try to improve our practice. If medicine never improved we would still be using leaches to treat blood diseases. If technology never improved we would still be using dial-up rather than high-speed Internet. I think education needs to evolve and improve as well.

So I've come up with some basic methods to help my students learn better. My idea is that most of the state standards and objectives can be broken down into two types of learning objectives. Factual knowledge and Conceptual knowledge. Factual knowledge is basically memorizing facts: the capital of Peru is Lima, 12 x12 is 144, the bone in our upper arm is called the humerus. This type of knowledge is pretty easy for students to learn. This is the stuff that those "good students" excel at. They can memorize facts and cram for tests. But do they actually learn the concepts? I don't think they do most of the time. Not that factually knowledge isn't important. You need a basis of factual knowledge before you can really understand the conceptual knowledge behind it. But conceptual knowledge is a much deeper kind of learning. Conceptual knowledge is when you understand how things work, or why things happen a certain way. Sometimes it is very difficult for students to think this way. This is what I want to focus on teaching them. Stressing the important of conceptual knowledge and then measuring their learning (grades) based on how well they understand the concept.

I'm sure you've all seen a 4.0 student who can't tell you anything about what they've learned besides just spit out facts that they have memorized, but they don't understand the principle behind those facts.

I'm still in the early stages of figuring out how to do this. I'm sure it will take some time and a lot of effort. But I really hope I can make a difference.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Becoming a Better Teacher

Lately I have been thinking quite a bit about becoming a better teacher. I am always interested in ways to improve and feel that that is necessary in my line of work, if we are standing still, we are sliding backwards. But as of late I have felt an extra urge to improve myself as a teacher. I realize as a relatively new teacher that there is still so much I have to learn, and so many ways that I can improve. The only problem, is that often those methods required to be a better teacher are difficult. As with most things, the things worth doing require more work.

Not that I am opposed to doing more work, even though my life is extremely busy right now. I don't even know how I have the time to get done what I do, and I feel like I'm always falling behind in something. But it is hard to change, especially when the task looks so daunting. I have found one way that I can change, that is relatively easy and doesn't require to much work. I can improve my teaching by just making myself more available to students. Whether its being more involved during class as they are working on an assignment so that I can help and answer questions, or making myself more available to students to get help or make things up before or after school or during lunch. I think that as I become more involved with the students it will show them that I really care and want them to succeed. It will also help to keep them from getting frustrated with difficult task or assignments.

So this is what I'm going to work on for now. I'm sure I'll try other things later to improve my teaching, but this seems like a good place to start.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Administrative Interview

So I just finished interviewing my principal. It was part of an assignment I had to do for my class. It was quite enlightening. Not that I necessarily learned anything new. But I feel like I understand better what it is like to be an administrator. A couple of insights I gained from this interview.
  • I don't give our administrators enough credit. In the past, to be honest, I have been somewhat critical of some of our administrators. Passing judgment on some of the decisions they have made. Not that I didn't like them, or think they did a horrible job. But I have questioned some of their calls. I feel bad for doing this. I feel like I should apologize. Not that we should never question decisions made by our superiors. But I realized today that "They" are people too, they make mistakes, but they are trying their hardest to do what is right, and do what they can. It's not always up to them, sometimes their are laws, policies and regulations that keep them from making the "optimal decision". I need to be more understanding.
  • The second thing I learned is that our administration really cares about the kids. That is the number one focus, and that's good to know.
  • The best advice he could give me, or anyone going into administration, was to work on your ability to develop relationships with people. Other parts of administration are important, but to be able to develop a relationship with someone and to have their support or be able to have an open/honest conversation, even when you may not agree, is one of the most important things. People skills are key, and without them administrators have a hard time.

As part of another assignment, and what started as the purpose of this blog was to create my leadership philosophy. I won't bore you with all the details, but my leadership philosophy can basically be broken down into two main statements.

1. Doing what is best for students

  • Above all, what will benefit students the most?

2. Your people are your greatest asset

  • You need to gain the support of the people with whom you work, with the community, with students and parents, because if you have their support, then you can make great achievements, but without it, you can't do much.

To me, these are the two most important things to remember as an administrator, and principles that will guide me in my future decision making as a school administrator. I feel like through my interview today, that the importance of these principles was reaffirmed. It is good to know that others share my philosophy.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Student Survey

So I've been reading and hearing a lot lately about how our public school system is failing our students. Failing to prepare them for college, for their future careers, and to become productive citizens. It has been a little discouraging, not that I ever believed that we had a perfect education system, I know that there are many ways we could improve. But so much negativity about education, and I had never really felt that before, I thought for the most part we did a decent job at educating our students. So I came up with a plan, ask the students! I wondered what their perspective was on this. Now I know that the students at my school may not be the best representation of students nationally, but they are the only students I really have access to, so they'll have to do for my little informal study.
Every day when my kids come into class I have a question written on the board that they have to write about in their journals. At the end of the quarter I collect their journals and give them points for their responses. So one day as students entered, this was the question they saw on the board:
"If you were to give our school a grade (A-F) based on how well it met your academic needs and prepared you for the future, what grade would you give? Why? How would we compare to other schools?"

Today, as I graded their journals I payed special attention to their responses to this question. At first, I was discouraged, but the responses got more optimistic as I continued. Overall the average score students gave our school was between a B and B-. Most of the students who gave our school good scores made comments about good teachers, wide variety of courses to choose from, good school environment, and school pride. Common comments from students who scored our school low were things like, "Not challenging enough" or "doesn't prepare students for the future" or comments about bad teachers.

Overall I would tend to agree with them. That's probably about where I would rank our school. I think we have a great school and agree that some of the positives about our school are things like good school environment, course variety, good teachers and school pride. But we definitely have some things that we could do better, like make classes more challenging or prepare students better for their future, and improve teachers.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Educational Efficiency

While I was reading one of the chapters in my text today, I came across this quote that struck me. It was something that I have felt for quite some time, but now I actually have the research to back it up.

"While total instructional expenditures per pupil went up 64 percent between 1960 and 1980, spending on administration and other noninstructional matters rose 107 percent. The number of non-classroom instructional personnel in our school systems grew by 400 percent between 1960 and 1984. And during those years, money spent on teacher salaries dropped from over 56 percent to under 41 percent of total elementary ans secondary school spending. Too much money has been diverted from the classrooms; a smaller share of the school dollar is now being spent on student classroom instruction than at any time in recent history. It should be the basic goal of the education reform movement to reverse this trend toward administrative bloat and to reduce the scale of the bureaucratic "blob" draining our school resources."

-William J. Bennett, Former Secretary of Education (1988)

I have thought for quite some time that in the education industry there is quite a bit of waste going on with funds provided. (probably true for all government agencies) If you look at successful businesses, they are very efficient with their funds, there is little to no waste. It's all about reducing the bottom line. In our district particularly there has been much complaint about too many administrators at the district level who don't really do anything. Jobs being done by three people that could just as well be done by one. And these jobs being done at 6 figure salaries.

Maybe in the future, as I become an administrator myself, I will see the need for these expenses. But from my current perspective, it seems wasteful to me. One of the other things we've been talking about in my class is the shortage of quality teachers. I know this is a fact and one of the reasons is because of teacher pay. If less money was wasted by district and state bureaucracies, then more money could be spent to attract quality teachers to the industry.

Just a thought!

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Purpose Behind it All

I created this blog as an assignment in one of my classes for my master's degree. I decided to use it as a tool to help me with a different assignment for a different class. The purpose is to create MY EDUCATIONAL THEORY. This will be usefull to me in the future, because it will be my educational theory that will guide the decisions I make and the practices I use as an educator and a future educational administrator. Please feel free to comment and share your insights. I hope to have thought provoking discussions that will keep my ideas in perspective.