Good News

When parents are asked about the general state of public schools, they tend to respond negatively.  They express concerns about gangs, violence, bullying, “dummied down” curriculum, and inexperienced teachers.  Yet when asked to comment about their local schools, parents are much more enthusiastic.

 

Why?  Personal contact with a child’s teacher is one of the best tools to measure potential effectiveness of the learning environment.  The vast majority of teachers love being in the classroom and working with students.  They spend hours preparing lessons that will engage students while sticking to mandated standards and benchmarks.  Many extend their work day by tutoring struggling students after school or by meeting with concerned parents, all without receiving extra pay or recognition.

As older teachers retire, they take with them years of experience which often younger teachers aren’t interested in learning.  Perhaps the lessons are now antiquated or don’t incorporate the latest trends, but there is still something that should be there.

The vast majority of new hires are younger, energetic teachers straight out of college. They come with unbounded enthusiasm, yearning to impart knowledge that there students will soak up.

One plus of being new is that often they are not burdened with the status quo.  Innovations in methodology, technology, and curriculum hopefully invite all learners to the table if delivered correctly.  Credential programs expose new teachers to the tried and true, but also to cutting edge research.

Often older teachers rely on lectures and silent reading, while newer teachers experiment with multi-modal formats that allow all types of learners access to subject matter.  Using video, slides, computer-based presentations, modern overhead tools students who struggle with printed text can now compete academically with their peers.

When hiring, districts search for the most highly qualified candidates that will also fit in the school’s atmosphere in order to create small learning groups to meet academic demands in a consistent basis regardless of teacher.

Hiring is a competitive market in which wealthier districts lure the best and the brightest with signing bonuses, housing opportunities, and credit for advanced degrees.  Candidates shop around, searching for the sweetest the hiring package.

During the interview process, there is an opportunity for interviewees to ask questions.  In the past questions revolved around calendar, courses to be taught, and salary.  Today’s candidates want to know about the population’s socioeconomic status, ethnic breakdown, opportunities for advancement, access to technology, and availability of consultants/collaborators.  What a pleasant change!

Students come to school, for the most part, knowing how to do things with a computer that far exceed older teachers’ abilities.  They see technology as an extension of their innate abilities.  Schools that have up-to-date computer labs provide opportunities for students to demonstrate learning beyond traditional pencil and paper tasks.  Therefor the Internet is used for research as well as for submitting assignments on school-based boards, searching for homework help, sending email to teachers and to other students.  While not all students have a computer at home, savvy students find access at libraries, recreation centers and after-school computer labs on campus.

Almost all textbooks now come with audio components.  Students can check out a CD and listen to the required reading.  What a marvelous innovation!  Having such access is a boon to all struggling readers.  Imagine “listening” at your pace, being able to move backward and forward, and hearing text presented clearly, in an articulate voice, at a fluent pace!

Curriculum is developed using fairly rigid standards and benchmarks. Teachers are forced to comply when presenting instruction.  Gone are the freewheeling days of endless video-watching as well as project-based thematic units that do not offer the rigor required.  Knowing that material will be tested and that the success of students on such tests will be the measuring stick for a given teacher, those who value continued employment must teach to the standards.  That’s the bottom line.

Add to the mix the availability of cell phones that can be used as learning tools but also to take sneak pictures, students often use them to capture and publish errant behaviors by both teachers and students.  Teachers are very much aware that everything they say or do can become public within a relatively short period of time.  Students not only record fights but also catch teachers swearing, bullying, and making ethnic, racial, or sexist comments.  Because of technology, what happens in the classroom has to be appropriate.

What is the State of Education today?  Teachers are stressed and underpaid, programs are underfunded, and some students are disengaged. On the other hand, requirements force teachers to stick to the curriculum for a particular grade or course, leveling the educational opportunities for all students, regardless of income-level. Technology, where available, opens the doors for learning as well as presentation variability.  Older teachers are leaving, but they are being replaced with teachers who are not afraid to experiment with innovative ideas.

All in all, things are looking up.  The sun is shining through the clouds.

 

 

Conference Behaviors

As I am getting ready to attend my favorite writer’s conference, I need to remind myself of how to get the most from the experience. You’d think by now that I’d have it down pat, but because I am essentially a shy person at heart, I need to keep in mind all the tips that I’m going to share.

First of all, come prepared. Make sure you have paper and pens for notetaking. If reading materials have been provided, make sure that you have read them!

Convince yourself that no matter how shy you are, don’t sit there with your mouth shut. If you have questions, ask them. If you want to make a comment, do so. Introduce yourself to total strangers. Walk up to them or lean over when seated and give your name, ask theirs, ask what they’re working on and share your work as well.

Participate whenever there is an opportunity to do so. If there are panel discussions, ask one clarifying question. If there is a chance to read, do so. If you can submit a work for critique, so it.

Step outside your genre whenever possible. While you might not write poetry, you can learn something. Maybe memoir is not your thing, but they might talk about pace, backstory, and dialogue, things you need to relearn.

Take advantage of any opportunities to meet one-on-one with professionals, even if it means paying for the privilege. This is your chance to solicit advice from the very people who are there looking for new clients.

After the conference is over, stay in touch with friends you meet there. I have been blessed to have several good friends that I met at the same conference that I am going to this week. Many of us have been meeting regularly over a period of five years. It’s been a blessing that’s worth every moment spent on the road to see them.

Lastly, don’t feel that you have to do everything offered. You can’t pop into every session for a few moments and think you can walk away with gems that will influence your work. Be reasonable and make the best choices that you can. If it works out, great. If it’s not working and there’s a break, don’t be afraid to walk out. Your time is valuable.

You also need time to rest. Learning is exhausting. If you are too tired to process, go back to the hotel or go for a walk. It’s okay.

I hope this helps you as much as it helps me. Now I am ready!

A Precious Cat

Today a friend shared an interesting story.

Out for a walk, she spotted an orange cat sleeping on the sidewalk. She had never seen this cat before, but thought it was strange behavior.

What cat sleeps like that?

She approached the cat, speaking softly to it, but it did not react.

My friend continued on her walk, never stopping thinking about the cat.

When she neared her home, the cat had moved. It was now lying in the street. It did not appear to be injured, but my friend believed it was probably ill.

She approached the cat, determined to rescue it. Just as she was about to touch it, it hissed at her.

The only thing she could think to do was knock on doors.

Eventually she found someone who thought the cat might be hers. The woman picked up the cat and put it in a carrier. She took it to the vet where X-rays and blood work was done. The vet found nothing despite the fact that something was obviously wrong. Six hundred dollars poorer, the woman returned home.

Just as the woman opened her front door, her cat appeared! She had taken an unknown cat to the vet.

My friend offered to post a notice on the neighborhood blog. She got the woman‘s contact information, composed the notice, then called the woman back to confirm.

The woman was distraught. The cat had just died!

Imagine the range of emotions that the woman had experienced. Everything from worry, fear and then relief when it was not her pet.

My friend felt quite guilty for involving a total stranger in the story. She would have taken care of the cat herself if she wasn’t afraid of being scratched.

Instead, because of her actions, a neighbor had spent a huge sum on a cat that was not hers, all the while terrified that it was her dear pet.

The moral of the story is not clear. Do you get involved or walk away?