Category Archives: Article

The Homework Question

We had another day of professional development…blah, blah, not very interesting.

However, I did read an article tonight about homework, which relates to a conversation a group of us had at lunch today. The questions we seemed to be trying to answer were:

  • How much homework should be given?
  • What should homework be?
  • Do some teachers not give homework, so they don’t have to grade it?

While no definitive answer arose to solve these questions, I did pause to reflect on my own use of homework, and, really, I mainly give reading as homework as well as a limited amount of editing writing. Other than that, most of the work for my classes is done in class.

I tend to like being with the kids as they process skills and knowledge and prefer homework to be reading that would take too much class time to complete or to be editing something created in class. Often kids just want some affirmations to keep them moving forward, and I can provide that; others prefer a little course-correcting while they work, and I can help with that too. I lose all control over the processes once the students exit my room, so I tend to try and be as hands-on as they allow me in class.

What are your homework tendencies?

Standardized Tests, the SAT, and the ACT

Washington State is #1 in the U.S. in SAT scores in states where at least 50% of the students take it, and my state is #7 in ACT scores where at least 25% of the students take it. However, the feds are telling my state we don’t accomplish enough unless we tie the state test to our evaluations. All this despite a poll showing that Americans are tired of standardized test scores being used; plus, most Americans have no idea what the Common Core even is despite states being forced to double down on new standards and new tests.

This was the topic of conversation during a get-together today, and a general feeling of frustration seems to dominate every conversation dealing with evaluation, test scores, or student achievement.

However, in the blessed sanctum of my classroom, all is right with the world. I am about half-way finished decorating my walls, and I am feeling ready for the first day of school: copies to come and students to arrive.

One thing I love about teaching is that I can close my door and create a safe haven for students and a place of enjoyment for me. Teachers really do have quite a bit of control despite all that is going wrong with education. We can create the environment and atmosphere of our rooms, and no one can take that from us. I close my door, design engaging lessons, and make learning fun. No day is the same as the one before, and I control that.

Teaching is a great gig. 🙂

Wall Decorations, the ACT, Evaluations, and Common Core

I met with a colleague for about an hour discussing some literature that we commonly teach, and I think we have some good ideas for a couple common assessments. I also scheduled another session with one other teacher for this weekend.

There is no professional development like meaningful collaboration time with another teacher. I get more out of it than any staff meeting, all-district training, or conference. The free flow of ideas, the new points of view, and the discovery as a tandem or team truly allows me to grow and to better my practice.

Once this discussion ended I started setting up my bulletin boards and completed a couple. Institutional cream just doesn’t inspire me and seems to dull the senses of my students. If I am going to spend 8-12 hours at a stretch in my classroom, I need some color and something to keep me comfortable without being put to sleep.

I spent about an hour reading education articles, and these were my favorites:

  • If you have not been the last few posts from here regarding the feds’ short-sighted mandates, then you’re missing an important series of conversations.
  • Washington State is #1 in SAT scores, but this report indicates that nationwide ACT scores could be a canary in a coal mine.
  • If you want to know what I’ve been discussing with my district (about how alarmed I am about the new tests aligned with Common Core standards), this article writer explains it better than I did.

Entering the Classroom and AP Classes

Yesterday I finally got into my classroom. I worked on (and finished!) a couple presentations and then began to plan what I want my room to look like this year. The presentations took about four hours to create, so I was fairly tired of being hunched over my computer and decided to call it for the day.

However, looking around my classroom really got me excited to begin a new school year!

I tend to try and include a few things each year that help make the room interesting to students and help students navigate the courses they take. Some of these items are:

  • a bulletin board that includes something to encourage reading good books,
  • a center for classroom supplies which students can use whenever they wish,
  • a bulletin board that allows students to know me better,
  • posters that help students know the class routines (such as what to do when absent),
  • student work examples from the previous year,
  • senior pictures from the previous year, and
  • goal charts.

Even though I’m not “artsy” or “crafty” I enjoy putting my classroom together. The wall art (including the colors and items chosen), the arrangement of the desks, the placement of the teacher’s desk, and more create the atmosphere of the classroom. Just as in a personal relationship, teachers only get one chance to make a first impression with their students and the classroom is an important piece.

My goal in my room is to make sure the students feel comfortable, to ensure they understand that they will be the focus, and  to convey that the students will be working. I’m excited to get started! 🙂

I also took an hour to read some education articles, and one in particular caught my attention. Apparently, Maryland schools are increasing the number of students in AP classes, but the article writer notes “In at least 19 high schools throughout the Baltimore region, more than half of the students who earned an A or B in an AP class failed the exam.” This, of course, means that these students struggle mightily when they get to their universities, and the author also states that “Many students arrive at college with AP courses on their transcripts, but with skills so low they must take remedial classes.”

Numerous things could explain this. Grade inflation, grading on effort, a disconnect between what is taught and what is on the test, guaranteeing higher grades for challenging themselves, students taking classes beyond their abilities, students simply getting an experience (which could provide a preview of a college class), and more.

In my classes I let students rewrite and rework papers and projects as often as they want because my goal is for the students to learn the processes and to improve their skills. AP tests are a one-shot opportunity. There are no rewrites, no reworkings. They can’t ask clarifying questions, receive affirmations, or be nudged in a better direction. When my students take their AP tests, I have to hope they have all the preparation they need to succeed. Not all of them do.

Allowing students to take advanced courses, to me, is a positive even if those students may struggle in them or with the culminating tests. However, this also means not bringing the standards of the course down to the students; we have to bring the students up to the standards of the course. The thorn on this rose, of course, is that some of the students won’t make it, won’t pass the test, but did the students do enough to earn credit in the course?

A test is not a course, and a course is not a test.

Already? Really?!

When I woke up today I already had a message on my phone asking for assistance. No, I did not get up late or at noon; it was 8:00 am!

Such is life when you take on leadership roles.

I went to the school today and worked for a little over three hours. I helped two teachers write their syllabi, sent out some examples to teachers, provided a teacher a few more vocabulary lessons, and then worked on my stuff. Sometimes it seems like my work hours aren’t for me but for the benefit of others. Sigh. At times, teachers are no different than the students: they want what they want and they want it now and they don’t care what I’m doing now. I used to have a sign that read “Let me drop everything and work on your problem” and I miss that sign sometimes. 🙂

I did start a presentation for my local school district on the effects of pay freezes on employee take-home pay. Teachers in my state have lost between $13,000 and $26,000 over the last six years because of pay freezes, pay cuts, and shortened work calendars. Yikes! I haven’t finished the presentation, but I did figure out the numbers for it.

Then, I worked on updating my syllabi as well as updating my opening week reading and writing assessments. Nothing exciting here except that I decided to change my syllabi into more of a press release format than the typical outline format. I’m curious how the kids react to it.

Once this was completed I mapped out a draft of a meeting schedule for my department’s collaboration time. Since we’re re-aligning our courses to one another and to the Common Core standards, we need to organize the meetings to allow as many people to collaborate as possible. It’s not exciting but needs to be done.

Lastly, I double checked my certification classes. I didn’t need to do much here except see which if my classes have been counted towards my next certificate. While this doesn’t sound taxing, it is tedious because I have to go through my district’s accounting system to see what I’m credited with here and compare this to what the state has me credited with. I need to figure out how to ensure my National Board status is recorded on the state system.

I’m ready to start reviewing my beginning of the year novels, but my area of the building is closed down while the cleaning crews finish. The guys are behind schedule and doing their best, but with staff cuts the last few years and an ever-increasing duty list, the guys are overworked right now. Looks like I won’t get into my classroom until next week.

I cam home and read five education articles. Nothing really jumped out at me this time. More than anything, it looked like a slow news day with the bulk of the content centered on budget updates and construction progress. I only spent about 30 minutes reading the articles.

A New Direction

My blogging has slowed, and I think part of the reason is that I need to do something a bit different. In the past I have written about topical items and teaching techniques, which I think can still be a part of this blog, but I plan to use this more of a journal-type series of posts. Keeping a running log about what I do as teacher on a daily basis might be a more realistic view of teaching as well as allow me to record my history as a teacher. Maybe, just maybe, I can quash some of the misconceptions about teachers as well, try to show the public–even one person if I am lucky enough to have a non-teacher or two read this blog–that a school year really is a year in length.

Today, for example, I read 5-6 articles on education, explored my class roster for the upcoming school year, and shared some files with a colleague.

The article I spent the most time reading (and checking out the comments) is a Seattle Times editorial advocating teachers and their union to “focus on new reforms” without actually including any advice that really goes beyond following what the law already says teachers must do (e.g. include student test scores in the evaluation process, which is current law and not even a choice). This type of empty rhetoric simply allows an editorial board to promote a privatizing agenda without really saying anything of substance but still pushes the buzzwords in education such as reform, union, contracts, etc. The Seattle Times, now without a competing major newspaper since The Seattle Post-Intelligencer became an online only reporting agency, has become increasingly strident and heavy-handed in its disdain for the state teachers union in addition to becoming a mouthpiece for privatizers of education. I spent about an hour total reading all of the articles.

It looks like my classes will average 29-30 students each.

I explored my class roster today and learned quite a bit about my students. Since our records are available online, I decided to see what my students’ GPAs look like, how they did in English last year, and what their households look like. Overall, the classes look pretty accomplished with a number of students challenging themselves with their first upper-level English courses. Some teachers don’t like this, but I love seeing students push themselves academically; I firmly believe that a B- in an advanced course means more than an A- in a non-accelerated course. I think the records review took about 90 minutes in total.

Lastly, I shared some vocabulary files I created for my classes. I probably help my colleagues teach vocabulary more than just about anything else during the year. I maintain a steady routine each week for the kids to follow, so they don’t have to guess what is due each day or be surprised by the week’s schedule; however, I do try mix up the reviews and practices with puzzles, games, synonyms, antonyms, shared word parts, connect the words to the literature, sentences, stories, and so on. The more we use the words, the better the students know them.