#ThankATeacher

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“…I had incredible teachers. And as I look at my life today, the things I value most about myself — my imagination, my love of acting, my passion for writing, my love of learning, my curiosity — all of these things came from the way that I was parented and taught.

And none of these qualities that I’ve just mentioned — none of these qualities that I prize so deeply, that have brought me so much joy, that have made me so successful  professionally — none of these qualities that make me who I am … can be tested.

I said before that I had incredible teachers. And that’s true. But it’s more than that. My teachers were EMPOWERED to teach me. Their time was not taken up with a bunch of silly test prep — a bunch of drill and kill nonsense that any serious person knows doesn’t promote real learning. No, my teachers were free to approach me and every other kid in that classroom like an individual puzzle. They took so much care in figuring out who we were and how to best make the lessons resonate with each of us. They were empowered to unlock our potential. In other words, they were allowed to be teachers.

Now don’t get me wrong. I did have a brush with standardized tests at one point. I remember because my mom went to the principal’s office and said, ‘My kid ain’t taking that.’ Actually, I have it in quotes cause she said, ‘It’s stupid, it won’t tell you anything and it will just make him nervous.’ Yes, it was the late 70’s…I guess we could get away with it back then.

Well, I shudder to think that these tests are being used today to control where funding goes.

I don’t know where I would be today if my teachers’ job security was based on how I performed on some standardized test. If their very survival as teachers was based not on whether I actually fell in love with the process of learning but rather if I could fill in the right bubble on a test. If they had to spend most of their time desperately drilling us and less time encouraging creativity and original ideas; less time knowing who we were, seeing our strengths and helping us realize our talents.

I honestly don’t know where I would be today if that was the type of education I had. I sure as hell wouldn’t be here. I do know that.

This has been a horrible decade for teachers. I can’t imagine how demoralized you guys must feel. But I came here today to deliver an important message to you: As I get older, I appreciate more and more the teachers that I had growing up. And I’m not alone. There are millions of people just like me.

So, the next time you’re feeling down, or exhausted, or unappreciated, or at the end of your rope; the next time you turn on the TV and see yourself being called “overpaid;” the next time you encounter some simple-minded, punitive policy that’s been driven into your life by some corporate reformer who has literally never taught anyone anything. … Please know that there are millions of us behind you. You have an army of regular people standing right behind you, and our appreciation for what you do is so deeply felt. We love you, we thank you and we will always have your back.”

~ Matt Damon, Save Our Schools March 7/30/2011

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What makes a good teacher?

What makes a great teacher is someone who teaches you more than just that subject. They teach you how to be a better person, how to act everyday, and live your life to the fullest. Teachers teach, but great teachers help us learn and live.

~ Brooklyn, 12th grader, Fairfax R-3 – “A Great Teacher is…”

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In 2009 Bill Gates explained during a TED Talk what makes a good teacher…

“…A top quartile teacher will increase the performance of their class based on test scores – by over 10 percent in a single year…

What are the characteristics of this top quartile? You might think these must be very senior teachers. And the answer is no. Once somebody has taught for three years their teaching quality does not change thereafter

Now, there are a few places — very few — where great teachers are being made. A good example of one is a set of charter schools called KIPP…

They’re constantly improving their teachers. They’re taking data, the test scores,and saying to a teacher, “Hey, you caused this amount of increase.” They’re deeply engaged in making teaching better…

I think there are some clear things we can do…First of all, there’s a lot more testing going on, and that’s given us the picture of where we are.

Putting a few cameras in the classroom and saying that things are being recorded on an ongoing basis is very practical in all public schools… have it so everyone sees who is the very best at teaching this stuff.

You can take those great courses and make them available so that a kid could go out and watch the physics course, learn from that. If you have a kid who’s behind, you would know you could assign them that video to watch and review the concept.

And in fact, these free courses could not only be available just on the Internet, but you could make it so that DVDs were always available, and so anybody who has access to a DVD player can have the very best teachers.

And so by thinking of this as a personnel system, we can do it much better.”

Bill Gates: “Mosquitos, malaria and education” TED Talk, February 2009

Effective and experienced educators know that good teaching is about building and maintaining individual relationships based on mutual respect and trust. Students learn best when they have emotional rather than digital access to their teachers.

Unless there is a connection between teacher, student and lesson, learning becomes tiresome to all involved. Veteran educator, James Comer, states that, ‘No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.’…

There is the belief among some that camaraderie between teachers and students leads to unprofessional familiarity or places the teacher in a weakened position in the classroom. Nothing could be further from the truth. Strong relationships encourage learner exploration, dialogue, confidence, and mutual respect

Of course, we can do just about anything online, including teaching and learning. But I guess I am just old school. I want to look into your eyes when the answer finally dawns on you. I want to hear that inflection in your voice when you are angry with me. I want to see the smile on your face when you forgive me. I want to share in the joy when we both realize that we make a good team.”

WATCH: How A Teacher Encouraged Her Students With An ‘F’ Rita F. Pierson 7/3/13

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You know the purpose of the school is not just to raise test scores, or to give children academic learning. The purpose of the school is to give children an experience that will help them grow and develop in ways that they can be successful, in school and as successful adults. They have to grow in a way that they can take care of themselves, get an education, take care of a family, be responsible citizens of the society and of their community. Now you don’t get that simply by raising test scores.”

School-By-School Reform: Dr. James P. Comer Interview PBS 2005

Using students’ standardized test score to measure the quality of teachers is like counting patients’ cavities to evaluate the skills of a dentist or using patients’ blood pressure and cholesterol scores at the end of the year to determine the effectiveness of their doctors.

These tests provide limited information regarding the overall health of the patient and just like a standardized test, they cannot determine the influence and impact of pre-existing conditions, patient behavior, and environmental factors on the test scores.

It seems Bill Gates and other reformers have not considered the possibility that an educator who can train students to get high test scores may not be a good teacher.

Rather than rely on Bill Gates or scores on a standardized test, what if we were to ask students, what makes a good teacher?…

A more meaningful measure of teacher effectiveness and quality would be how he or she raises the aspirations and confidence of students rather than how much the teacher raises standardized test scores.

I’m clumsy, yeah my head’s a mess Cause you got me growing taller everday…

But you got me feeling like I’m stepping on buildings, cars and boats I swear I could touch the sky…I’m ten feet tall.

You build me up Make me what I never was…

~ Afrojack, “Ten Feet Tall”

Students will learn more from good teachers who collect hugs and care about them, than from great teachers who are more concerned with collecting data and comparing them to others.

One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.  ~ Carl Jung

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“Being a good teacher is a lot like being a good gardener. Good gardeners are optimistic and patient. They are able to see the potential in those struggling young seedlings and enjoy watching them grow, develop and bloom. They give special tender loving care to those few plants that are struggling and not thriving.

They don’t blame the plant when it’s not performing well; they check the growing conditions. Is the soil the plant is growing in suitable or does it need amending? Does the plant need more water; does the plant need less water? Does the plant need more sunshine; does the plant need less sunshine. 

Good gardeners are good problem solvers, but realize that sometimes no matter what you do, the plant still will not grow the way you would like it to.”

~ Elona Hartjes, “Good Teachers Are Like Good Gardeners”

Teach students to care about others instead of measuring how they compare to each other

If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it. ~ Atticus Finch, ( Gregory Peck) “To Kill A Mockingbird”

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Whether its hundreds of spring break bystanders watching and recording a daylight sexual assault of an unconscious woman, or middle school students using a cell phone to video the merciless verbal abuse and taunting of a 68 year old bus monitor, or even a depressed and desperate German co-pilot who decides to include a plane load of people in his suicide plans, there clearly is an empathy deficit and crisis in our world today.

Ed reformers must have experienced a serious case of buyer’s remorse after recruiting David Colemen ( the anti-Atticus Finch) to design and craft the Common Core State Standards only to hear him proclaim

“As you grow up in this world, you realize people really don’t give a s#@% about what you feel or what you think”

We are foolishly implementing national education reforms obsessed with measuring how students compare to each other at a time when schools should be doubling their efforts to maximize our students ability and inclination to care about others.

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There appears to have been a data-driven hijacking of the Common Core Standards. The use of standardized tests to assess student mastery devalues the most vibrant components of the standards and abandons the “promise” of constructivist learning.

Standardized  tests measure only specialized and discrete skills called for in the Commmon Core but they are not a comprehensive ruler or appropriate metric for measuring student agency and a wide array of essential non-cognitive skills.

What if the PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests were designed and developed more for teacher accountability purposes than to reliably measure students skills?

PARCC has already acknowledged that their test is not a comprehensive or reliable measure of college and career readiness.

Using junk science VAM formulas, education leaders claim they can use student scores on these unreliable assessments to reliably measure the quality and effectiveness of their teachers.

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Have education reformers even considered the possibility that a “highly effective” educator who prepares and trains students to master a standardized test may not be a good teacher?

The unfortunate decision to use standardized tests to evaluate student mastery AND teacher quality means classroom instruction is focused primarily on rigorous and standardized lessons that prepare students for assessments at a time when many would be better served by vigorous and nonroutine experiences helping them learn how to properly manage their attitutes, behaviors, and emotions.

We are devoting too much class time training and testing children just so parents can be assured their 3rd graders are “on track” for college when there is no way the Common Core Standards and tests can prevent or predict which students will be “derailed” by cyberbullying, pregnancy, eating disorders, depression, drug abuse, abusive relationship, poverty, texting and driving, homelessness, domestic violence, hunger, sexual abuse, drinking and driving…

It is unwise to focus so much instructional time on students staying closely connected to text when many of them lack the ability to socially and emotionally connect with people.

Students should be spending less time in the classroom dissecting the craft and structure of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches and much more time volunteering in their communities as they honor and apply his powerful ideas about empathy, service, and justice.

When you think about all the rating, ranking, and sorting of students and teachers that is demanded by the Common Core, can’t help but wonder if so much emphasis on student proficiency, data-driven instruction, and standardized testing unintentionally suppresses academic, social, and emotional growth and actually diminishes readiness?

Education reform should be about CULTIVATING changemakers, good decision makers, and healthy risk takers rather than TRAINING text dependent thinkers and proficient multiple choice test takers.

In our efforts to ensure all students are college and career ready we must not forget the importance of preparing citizens that are courage and compassion ready.

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

~ Winston Churchill

“Everyone has a different path, a different pace, and different challenges to face along the way.”

~ Doe Zantamata, “Measuring Up.”

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Learning To Care

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If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.

~ Atticus Finch, ( Gregory Peck) “To Kill A Mockingbird”

Sir William Osler and His Inspirational Words

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It is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease than what sort of a disease a patient has. ~ William Osler

Too many leaders and promoters of the education reform movement are pontificating prognosticators rather than practiced practictioners.

For many reformers, their view and vision of education is shaped and informed by business experience and their ability to increase corporate earnings, rather than actual classrooom experience and years of cultivating student learning.

Reformers view education more as a digitized, mechanized, and standardized delivery system, and the classroom is an artificial learning environment where personalized products will engage delayed and disinterested learners.

Reformers mistakenly believe that focusing on high quality standards, standardized testing, and data-driven instruction will increase student achievement and prepare them for the social and emotional challenges of college and careers.

Success in the classroom and the workplace is much less about close reading and staying connected to text as it is about the ability to maintain close relationships and connect with other humans.

The Common Core emphasizes the development of hard skills so our students can compete with foreign students while employers increasingly desire and demand employees with soft skills who can collaborate with foreign workers.

Entrusting David Coleman to manage and direct the process of creating the Common Core State Standards has resulted in a sterile and standardized approach to teaching that is more data-driven and test-centered than desire-driven and learner-centered.

Reformers seem to have a huge blind spot when it comes to their continued praise and support for Coleman and the empathy-less classroom practices and policies he advocates for our children.

Hard to believe these parents would entrust their own children with a babysitter, tutor, coach, mentor, doctor, counselor, or teacher who informed them,  “As you grow up in this world, you realize people really don’t give a sh#@ about what you feel or what you think.”

Can only imagine how different the Common Core State Standards would be if the chief architect had been Sir Ken Robinson or Sir William Osler…

“…Perhaps Osler’s greatest contribution to medicine was to insist that [medical] students learned from seeing and talking to patients and the establishment of the medical residency…

He liked to say, “He who studies medicine without books sails an uncharted sea, but he who studies medicine without patients does not go to sea at all.”

His best-known saying was “Listen to your patient, he is telling you the diagnosis.”

Source: Sir William Osler and His Inspirational Words 

Ed reformers misguided and misplaced efforts to increase student achievement will not succeed if they continue to support rigorous and standardized rules for learning rather than a more vigorous and vibrant approach in the classroom that embraces the philosophy….learning rules!

Hell! there ain’t no rules around here! We are tryin’ to accomplish somep’n! ~ Thomas Edison

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