Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Product

I just read a good post over at the Guru's Handbook, called The Dirty Secret of Education. I would like to encourage you to read it, so I am going to give you a little taste:
In most professions the practitioners can point to a product or an effect of their work. A better tool, a running program, a written document, satisfied clients, smoother operations. Yet there is no object produced in teaching and the teacher’s job is not to make people or institutions happy, but to draw the student to learn, to change. What is the product? It is not the curriculum, which is only one of many ways of organizing subject matter. It is not the student’s mind, which arrives mostly assembled. It is not an abstract ideal of knowledge which if it exists only exists inside this mostly assembled student’s mind. The teacher’s work is to lead the student to learn – perhaps the material, perhaps how to learn – but only the student can do the actual learning. So what is the product?
Ok. That was a big taste, but I like that! "What is the product?" I believe that this thought is at the core of my frustration with the media... even the conservative media. Even though they want to praise teachers out of one side of their mouths, they also want to blame those same teachers when students don't perform to expectations. You see, many believe that the product of the teacher is an educated student. I just don't agree.

The Guru's Handbook went on to discuss what the product of the teacher IS, but it stimulated a few braincells in the direction of the fact that student achievement is the product of something. I work with the same amount of energy, desire, effort, and ingenuity with each of my students and in each of my classes, and yet I have the full spectrum of student achievement... sometimes in one classroom! My student's achievement is not the product of this teacher. Frankly, I wouldn't dare rob any of my students of the credit for their achievements. But even the collective student achievement (or lack of achievement) is not the result of the collective of teachers. I believe that it is the product of society... of culture.

Teachers are not to be let off the hook. There are certainly good teachers and bad teachers, but the problems in education in America are not primarily the teachers. If we (collectively) are part of the problem, then we are about 10% of the problem (if that!), and yet all I ever hear about is what the teachers could be doing better. Then I hear about crazy things like merit pay for teachers! Nuts!

The system needs to change, there is no argument there, but I just fear that the direction of change is still the wrong direction.

Anyway, read a better post here. (Only slightly the same topic.)

(Double-Posted over at my blog.)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Angela Powell is a Confident Teacher

But then, we all knew that already. Read this post.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Half as long

I recently wrote over at Cal Teacher Blog about allowing students to redo their work. This video clip from one of my all-time top 5 favorite movies of all-time, "A River Runs Through It," is part of my inspiration for teaching, and for life. Rev. Maclean is a Confident Teacher indeed.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Teacher's Mission

I feel like, and I've been told as well, that my mission field is my classroom. In public education there are many opportunities to model and share the Christian life with students and teachers alike who may not have ever heard of or considered Jesus.

I've used this many times as my excuse for not going on a mission trip to Mexico, just three short hours away, on spring break. But not this year. This year I went with Hands of Mercy to build a house for a homeless family south of Ensenada.

I was told that my heart would be changed; I thought it already had. I was wrong. I haven't slept well all week; I keep dreaming of being back in Mexico. I keep thinking of the little girls playing with rocks for toys.

As a teacher I have always assumed that my students and I were close in our expectations for our lives: get educated, get employed, get married, start a family, serve others, etc. But what about the girls in the rock pile? What are their expectations for their lives if poverty is all they have ever known?

Then I reflect on the subject matter that I teach: computer multimedia. I could hardly explain to the folks in Mexico what that even was, and why I taught it. Music videos seem very irrelevant if your biggest job during the day is bringing fresh water to your home/shack.

I want to be confident. I want to believe that God has my just where He wants me and is using me the way that He sees fit. But I feel like my heart has been ripped out of my chest and that all of the time I have invested into teaching what I thought mattered doesn't matter at all.

Or does it? God uses me everyday in the lives of my students in ways that I cannot see or know. I hope that the sharing of my experiences in Mexico with my students has a lasting and positive effect as they see one of their role models moved to take action in a new and selfless way.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Alternative Assessments


I have been a math teacher for most of my career, which means that the majority of my assessments have been tests and quizzes. As I have had to teach a few other subjects (which are out of my comfort zone) I have started using some assessments (which are also out of my comfort zone). Some of these assessments are obvious, like when I teach technology, I don't give tests, I give projects. But when I started teaching middle school Bible classes and a history class or two, I started branching out. I started doing things like papers and summaries. Then I went crazy and assigned a speech, and then once (for Bible) I did my first skit.

I was doing all sorts of cool "professional" teachery stuff like making rubrics! (Which I still feel like I am mispronouncing.... Is it even a real word?!? I don't know.)

A couple of days ago I got to thinking about this whole thing. I mean, sure, they are different, they can be fun for everyone, but I am selling them short? Does preparing for a speech or writing a paper bring about the same level of challenge as a ... should I say... cold hard test?

Life still gives you tests. My question is, "should the teacher?"

I know that this blog is called the "Confident Teacher" but I am not feeling too confident about this. So, to help me out with this little question, I (very quickly) created a little survey to get some input from the people that would actually know the answer to this question. So please, please fill out this little form. Pass it around to your teacher friends.

(Send them this link:

Any questions I should add?

If I get a good number of responses, I will post a link to the results in a few days.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Do your job well

If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well.
-Martin Luther King Jr.