Thursday, August 30, 2012

Teaching to the Test

I'll be giving a state-created and issued end-of-semester final for World History this year.

Actually most of my peers will be giving state-created tests - if not this year, then in the coming years.

I'm a pragmatist first and foremost, and I liken being a teacher to working in the drug / alcohol counseling business. Both are emotionally draining jobs, and the professionals in the trenches are often forced to accept challenging realities.

Wishing addiction would disappear will not get anything done; similarly, arguing the pros and cons of state-issued tests won't help my kids get the scores they need.

So I've adjusted this year - and I really think I'm a more professional, reflective, skilled teacher.

No, I'm not just saying that to kiss butt (in the event any of my superiors read this blog) ...

A few concrete differences this this year vs. last:

Last year I'd get through the facts quickly, then jump to big ideas and spend the rest of class wrestling with concepts, writing projects, etc.

This year I am really drilling the facts before we move on. We start every class with a quiz covering the material from the day before.

Next we do our notes / lecture - then as a class we create the quiz for the coming day. This focus on daily quizzes creates student buy-in, while reinforcing the content.

We are also buckling down in World History this year in terms of our Professional Learning Community: All of the World History teachers get together and create / give common assessments.

Final Verdict: Having my students practice test taking, and reviewing the material several times as we move collectively to the final exam, is not teaching to the test. But it is keeping all of us focused on daily, rigorous delivery of content - in addition to the big ideas and projects we all are tackling and undertaking in our classrooms.

The final may kick our butts, and if so, I will adjust. But as my kids sit down and take it, I'll know I did the best I could to get them ready.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Net Nastiness & Societal Spill-Over

Recently I offered a few thoughts in the comment section at Reason.com - a typically thoughtful magazine with an online presence and a libertarian bent.

Another commenter wrote that I was "obviously a blithering idiot" for choosing to be a public school teacher. Hey, I've been called a lot worse, but this comment wasn't made in isolation; rather, it's part of a pattern where armchair Internet critics tend to 1. Attack their opponent in a highly personal fashion and 2. Then maybe - maybe - address the actual issue at hand.

So what ... is this just the nature of the Net? Or are there actual, important cultural spill-overs we should stop to think about?

We love to launch anti-bully campaigns (forgetting, much of the time, that many of us were in fact bullies in school). But we adults then turn around and bully each other.

My wife saw an all-out brawl in Walmart between two adult women the other day. Such events are so routine in our increasingly coarse culture that she almost forgot to even mention the fight to me. What used to be shocking is now the "new normal," to borrow a political phrase.

So where does this leave our kids? Confused as all hell, that's where. They get their butts whooped for getting suspended after a fight at school, then witness mom or dad attacking someone in the grocery store parking lot the next week.

Human dignity. Respect. Kindness. Love. Altruism. Quiet strength.

A colleague of mine is fond of saying you cannot teach barbarians. If you can't hear the pounding at the gates you need your ears checked.

I plan to, again, teach the above values as a cornerstone of my class, and build curriculum around it. I am not trying to force values on anyone. I never preach political views to my students. But I cannot ignore my moral obligation to share with them what I know to be the foundation of a good, meaningful life.

I see no reason why I cannot drill content, foster high-level analytic thinking, grow strong writers, and plant the seeds of universal values - values we once all at least agreed upon.

This is why I am here, this is what I do. It keeps me honest, even as I teach the kids what honesty is. Yes, I'm a blithering idiot. You don't have to be an anonymous Internet tough guy to make that observation.

But I'm also quite sure I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be. Here's to another great year, with an incredible staff, in a fantastic community. Thank you for this opportunity to teach your children.