Tag Archives: learning

A New School Year: What Teachers Should Consider

Another school year is on the horizon.  Teachers are cramming in last minute vacations, working in their classrooms, and enjoying their last few mornings to sleep late.  After five years of retirement, I get a little nudge of envy this time of year when I pass schools and see teacher cars in the parking lots and coaches readying their practice fields.  Miles of bulletin board border stretches through schools across the nation as teachers take great pains to build “Welcome Back to School” displays.  Coaches scramble to ensure ice machines are working for the 100-degree plus heat indexes they will encounter in August and early September, and the excitement grows as band and cheerleaders roll out new shows and skits for football half-time and pep rallies.

Do I miss it?  HELL NO!  Global warming has so dismantled this old body, I wouldn’t last five minutes under a Mississippi sun in mid-August.  As for bulletin boards, I was one of those coaches who used the same bulletin board for sixteen consecutive years.  The school librarian or a lady teacher who felt sorry for me would help me change the border once or twice a year, but that was the extent of my bulletin board creativity.  No, I don’t miss the heat, the prep, or the job at all, but I do miss the kids and the people I worked with for so many years.

Since retiring, I have kept my distance from the school house, but at the beginning of each new school year I raise my head just high enough to offer a little advice to teachers.  During thirty-seven years as an educator, I learned a thing or two about the profession.  I learned the hard way through stubbornness, luck, trial and error, and from people a lot smarter than me that there are certain practices and principles that can make a teacher’s job a little less stressful and help them feel less alone.  YES, I said less alone!  Although surrounded daily by big and little people, teachers are in many ways engaged in the loneliness job on earth.  Often, they feel like they are swimming alone in a sea of negativity shackled by lead expectations and mandates few understand and fewer can explain [differentiated instruction in a classroom of thirty instantly comes to mind].  So, if I can offer a tidbit or two that might make a new or veteran teacher’s day a little better or prolong a career, I feel justified sharing the little I know.  Therefore, from the shadows of retirement where retirees become better teachers and administrators with each passing day, I offer the following advice, support, and consolation:

What Every Teacher Needs to Consider

  1. Teaching is not about delivering seeds; it is about planting, cultivating, and harvesting;
  2. Never sell your students or yourself short. Prepare for class, teach in class, and hold students accountable in class;
  3. Teach like you want your children to be taught. If you are not okay with your child’s teacher giving less than his/her best in the classroom, don’t settle for less than your best when teaching someone else’s children;
  4. Don’t worry about your pay. There is nothing wrong with wanting a pay raise but be thankful for what you have.  You signed a contract saying you were willing to work for a certain amount of money, so work for it.  The time to be unhappy with your pay is before you sign on the dotted line.  Kids don’t care how much money you make, and in the classroom, there are more important things for a teacher to worry about than a paycheck;
  5. If you would rather be somewhere other than the classroom, do yourself and the kids a favor and be somewhere else – preferably not in teaching;
  6. Worry only about the things you can control, pray about the things you might can influence, and don’t waste your time or breath on what you cannot control;
  7. Understand you will never be fully appreciated for all you do as a teacher. Don’t waste time or sleep worrying about it.  Refer to #6 when negatives get you down;
  8. Politicians are not your friends. Parents are not your friends.  Students are not your friends.  If you need a friend, or someone to be there for you when things go south, look in the mirror or look to your family;
  9. Although teaching days can become long and tedious, DON’T look for excuses to show movies, assign busy work, or allow free time in class! Very little if any student learning takes place during such lazy stagnant activities.  Teaching is about learning, and teachers have a limited amount of time to make learning happen.  DO your job to ensure students have a fair chance to learn in your classroom.  Students have greater respect for teachers who follow this practice;
  10. Be proud to be a teacher. Stand tall in the knowledge you are smarter, more courageous, thicker skinned, more loving, and more resilient than 90% of the population.  The other 10% are retired school teachers;
  11. Remember of all the professions God could have chosen for his son, he made him a teacher, so remember, as a teacher you represent the best of the best. You stand in elite company; and
  12. The best you can hope for in life is to have more good days than bad. Teaching is no different.

Finally, probably the two best pieces of advice I can offer are . . .

A GREAT TEACHER WILL ALWAYS DO WHAT IS BEST FOR HIS/HER STUDENTS!

and

GREAT TEACHERS TEACH AND DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF!

 

Teaching is an awesome ride for those with the courage and perseverance to stay in the saddle, but it is not for the faint of heart, the selfish, or the lazy.  It takes a special person to be a teacher, and I pray God’s blessings will be with all those special people during the coming school year.  WELCOME BACK!

JL

©Jack Linton, July 20, 2018

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Testing, Budgets, Movies, and Free Days – Oh My!

Since the late 1990’s when the current testing craze first started to dig its heel into the throat of K-12 public school education, I have been an advocate for testing as a means of holding educators and students accountable for learning in the classroom.  I still am, but with growing reservations.  Originally, State Testing was intended as an accountability tool to measure student academic growth and improve classroom instruction; however, regrettably, I have watched it morph into a teacher eating, time wasting monster.  It, along with its local test counterparts (STAR, NWEA, and other commercially designed software programs aimed at remediation, student tracking, and general test taking prep), has become an accountability system of excessiveness void of accountability for the chaos and harm it is causing in the classroom.  I still believe K-12 education needs accountability, but not at the expense of the learning environment and profession it was created to protect and improve.

State Testing, Oh My!

  1. State testing was never intended to cut or waste instructional time! Countless instructional hours are replaced each school year not only by testing but by overboard remediation, test prep, and classroom filler time such as movies and free days.  It is hard to blame school administrators and teachers for short changing instruction in favor of test prep when their careers are judged by marginal black and white data that has little regard for real world data.   Beginning in April, sometimes earlier, and extending to the end of the school year, teachers are busy prepping/remediating kids for the BIG TESTS.  During these months, kids spend classroom time doing little to nothing in class other than prepping for the upcoming state tests, watching movies, and enjoying free days.  What is the use in teaching anything new once test season arrives seems to be a widespread teacher mindset.  As a result, there is very little new material taught the second half of the school year, especially the last quarter.  It could effectively be argued the last two months of the school year are instructionally a waste of time;
  2. State testing was never intended to chase good teachers out of the profession by adding stress, stress, and more stress! Why would any sane young person want to be a grade school teacher or a core subject area teacher in high school?  In today’s test happy, under the microscope world of education, I would strongly consider a non-tested area if I were a young teacher beginning my career.  All teaching can be stressful, but the same money is made for a non-tested area as for a tested area, so taking the less stressful, less scrutinized option makes the most sense; and
  3. State testing was never intended to dehumanize children and teachers. However, data is “black and white.”  It does not consider the gray areas, such as home life, that often have more impact on student success and growth than what the teacher does in the classroom.  I encourage anyone who has never walked in the shoes of a teacher to talk to one or many and hear this all too true side of the testing story.  Humans tend to be much more complicated than the data gathered to represent them.

Testing Budgets, Oh My!

  1. Nationwide, 1.7 billion dollars is spent each year on accountability testing in public schools. Mississippi alone spends over 10 million dollars annually on K-12 standardized assessments.  That does not include the dollars individual school districts spend on assessments such as STAR, NWEA, and ACT;
  2. State testing means Mississippi education dollars are padding the pockets of big testing companies while Mississippi teachers remain the lowest paid teachers in the nation; and
  3. State testing means many school districts, especially larger districts, are forced to hire extra administrative help to handle the volume and logistics of testing. Much of this extra work also falls on the shoulders of counselors and teachers who are already stretched to the maximum limit for time.

Movies and Free Days, Oh My!

  1. State Testing means classroom instruction in many schools basically comes to a stop in April and May as teachers prep and cram for the end of month and early May tests. In addition to the prep time, classroom movies and free days with no instructional purpose are widespread in the days before and after the state assessments;
  2. State Testing means as much as 25% of a school’s Instructional time is wasted on testing each year; and
  3. State Testing means over the course of a K-12 school career, students lose as much as 2.5 years of classroom instruction due to standardized testing and wasted classroom time. No wonder the United States ranks 14th in the world in education behind South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Finland, United Kingdom, Canada, Netherlands, Ireland, Poland, Denmark, Germany, and Russia.

Questions all Mississippians need to ask about State Testing?

  1. Is state testing good for kids? Over the years, the testing model has changed frequently, so how effective it is measuring student growth and instructional strengths and weaknesses depends largely on who is asked – teachers or test makers.  Are students better off testing or would they be better served staying in the classroom and receiving the instruction they are currently missing is the question that needs to be seriously studied?
  2. Is state testing good for teachers? The stress of state testing, poor pay, wide spread disrespect for the teaching profession, and lack of or poor administrative support are four major reasons teachers leave the profession and highly intelligent young people choose other professions over a teaching career.  How long can public schools survive the growing teacher shortage is a serious question that needs to be addressed and soon!
  3. Is state testing worth the loss of instructional time? As a grandparent and former educator, the loss/waste of instructional time is my greatest concern with present testing practices.  As a grandparent it concerns me when I talk to my grandchildren about their school day and discover instructional time is being used to review for the state tests.  As a former educator, I understand there may be a need to review the week before the test but shutting down class for a month prior to the test is, in my opinion, bordering on education malpractice.  Also, it concerns me greatly when my grandchildren tell me they have spent a week watching movies and having free time in class!  I am sorry if I step on some teachers’ toes, but that is wrong and unacceptable!  Using class instructional time excessively to prep for state tests as well as waste class time showing movies or allowing classroom free days because teachers feel it is useless to teach anything new during test season is harmful to kids.  Some teachers will argue movies can be educational, and in small teacher guided increments, I might agree, but there is little educational merit in showing whole movies in class or giving students a free day in class for the sake of keeping students entertained and out of the teacher’s hair.  Such practices are babysitting and should be monitored closely and stopped immediately; and
  4. Do state tests hold anyone accountable other than teachers? Under the present accountability model, all accountability lies on the shoulders of teachers and to a small extent the students. For a system to be truly accountable, it must hold all shareholders equally accountable including educators, students, parents, and state and local government.  I bet the state legislature could find adequate funds for public schools if they were held to the same accountability fire as teachers.

    What is the bottom line for State Testing in Mississippi?

  1. State testing has led to wasting significant classroom instructional time that is negatively impacting the education of children;
  2. During the last quarter of the school year, state testing turns the school house into a house of remediation that instructionally short changes all but the lowest functioning students; and
  3. I believe state testing has helped bring about needed improvements and accountability in Mississippi public schools, but I have also come to believe it may be doing kids more harm than good, especially when the loss of instructional time is thrown into the equation. Today’s students may be short in their knowledge of geography, but they can engage in movie trivia with confidence and take a test with the best.

I am deeply saddened and disappointed to say accountability testing in Mississippi may have reached a plateau surrounded by shear drops of rocky hazardous canyons with no bottom in sight and no bridge sturdy enough to cross to the other side.  In the quest for continued improvement, good intentions have pushed public schools to the edge.  Mississippi has grown from a state education system with little accountability to a system so deep in accountability, it has lost sight of what is most important – TEACHING KIDS or DATA COLLECTION?  All too often, too much of a good thing can result in diminished returns, and that is the case, as I see it, for testing in K-12 public schools.  The current state of standardized testing has become too much of a good thing.  Testing has become a good idea gone bad!  As a direct or indirect result of state testing, classroom instruction has been abused.  Schools have traded instruction for data that is compromised by the demise of classroom instruction resulting from an overabundance of data collection.  Some testing is reasonable and needed, some loss of instructional time due to testing is to be expected, but the monster that the present system has become is unacceptable and hurting kids.

Can it be fixed?  Can a device that has morphed into an almost exclusive tool for ranking and calling out teachers be saved?  Is it possible to find a solution that would be more fiscally responsible, learning friendly, less accountability biased, and less stressful?  Is it possible to have an accountability system that doesn’t bring teachers to their knees and public schools to a standstill and maybe to the brink of extinction?  YES, it can be fixed, and it should be fixed.  Like any organization, schools need accountability, but if the accountability model jeopardizes the organization through disenfranchisement of its core practitioners (teachers) and practice (instruction), changes must be made to right the ship before it is capsized, and irrevocable damage is done.

JL

©Jack Linton, May 14, 2018

Teachers and Administrators don’t Enforce Rules:   A Case against School Dress Codes!

 

Teachers who do not consistently enforce school rules are not always bad teachers or irresponsible individuals; sometimes some of the best most dedicated teachers in a school do not follow the rules.  Some teachers, like some school administrators, hate confrontation, and enforcing rules means confrontation with the student, confrontation with parents, possible confrontation with the administration, and often negative vibes from students as well as other teachers.  For some, enforcing rules makes their lives messy, uncool, or even unpopular.  Others don’t enforce the rules because they feel they have more important things to do, and then there are those teachers who do not agree with the rule, so they simply ignore it.

So, why have rules in school?  If so many teachers look the other way rather than enforce the rules, why should schools bother with rules in the first place?  The textbook answer is that rules ensure a safe and orderly learning and teaching environment, but do they really?  It can be argued that rules provide a fighting chance to bring order to the chaos; however, is that what educators really want?  No!  What teachers really want is for kids, parents, and school administrators to leave them alone.  For many teachers, rules are tools of convenience frowned upon as an inconvenience and waste of time that creates negative confrontations.  They see teachers and administrators who dodge the rules as the smart ones.  Maybe, they are right, and if so, maybe, rules are not needed in schools!

However, regardless of what some may think, there must be rules!  Rules are necessary to enable teachers to teach and students to learn.  Unfortunately, like all things, there are good rules and rules that are questionable or make little or no sense.  For example, rules dealing with dress codes most definitely fall into the questionable category.  As a former teacher and school administrator, I believe dress codes are necessary, but it has been my experience few teachers agree with me.  Very few teachers really care what students wear to class.  I say this because very few teachers write up students for dress code violations, and the ones that do are often ridiculed by their colleagues.  So why have rules, especially a dress code?  Why hold a student accountable for a dress code that five out of six teachers in the school day ignore?  What is the school administrator to do when the sixth-period teacher turns a student into the office for coming to class naked when that student attended five previous classes in the buff and not a word was said by previous teachers about exposed wingydings in class?  The only option the administrator has at the end of the day is to give the kid a hat and send him home.  Now, I am slightly exaggerating, but when it comes to dress codes, it is truly almost that bad.  I realize correcting a student for a dress code violation shaves precious seconds off teaching the test, especially when there is not a single question on the state assessment that deals with student nudity, unless, maybe, someone slips in a liberal writing prompt.

Over the years, as a school administrator, I developed and enforced more than my fair share of school rules including rules governing dress codes.  To this day, I have forty year old former students walk by me in the mall and intentionally pull their tucked shirttail from their pants with a wink (tucking shirttails was probably the most despised rule I ever implemented as a principal).  I was a stickler for rules, and maybe too much so, but I believed then, and I believe now if you have a rule it should be enforced.  I also believe using a rule for any reason other than its original intent (i.e., allowing students to break the rule as a reward) is counter-productive and sends a mixed message to students, parents, and the community.

Therein lies my issue with current dress codes in schools.  Instead of teaching a lesson or addressing a safety issue, dress code rules in many schools today have become a part of the school reward system.  If students exhibit good behavior for the month, if there is a big district game, if a student collects the most Popsicle sticks, if a student brings a dollar to school, and the list goes on and on, they are allowed to break the dress code rule on a specified day such as Friday.  For example, they are allowed to wear clothing such as jeans or apparel outside of school colors.  That may sound innocent, but if the rule was important enough to be created, it should be important enough to be enforced consistently five days a week.  If it is okay to excuse students from the dress code on a game day, as a fund raiser reward, or for any other excuse, why have the rule?  It is counterproductive to the intent and purpose of a rule to permit students or adults to break a rule as a reward.  I am not against rewarding students, but don’t reward them by allowing them to break school rules!  Schools always talk about teaching kids to be good citizens; how can teaching them it is okay to break rules be good citizenship?  We have enough rule breakers in our society without training more.  If it is okay to reward students by letting them break a rule, maybe that rule is not relevant and should be done away with for every day of the week and not just on special occasions.   If eliminating the rule for one day is not a problem, the odds are good it would not be a problem if eliminated completely.

When it comes to school rules, it is fairly simple.  If a school is going to have a rule, it should be enforced consistently across the calendar.  If a teacher signs a contract to work for a school district, the teacher should be up to the task of enforcing the rules of the district or look elsewhere for employment, preferably in another profession.  Enforcing rules is not a fun job for administrators or teachers, but it is a necessary job made more difficult when a rule is used contrary to its intent.  If a school ever finds it okay to allow students to break a rule, it is time the school re-evaluated that rule.  If wearing jeans to school is okay on certain days as a reward, then it is ludicrous to ban them on all other days since it is obvious jeans do not pose a threat to a safe and orderly school environment.

If a school rule can be suspended as a whole or in part as a reward, then the rule has little if any bearing on the orderly function of the school and should be eliminated from the student handbook altogether.  The purpose of a school dress code is not to teach kids that rules are made to be broken or to provide a cash cow for local clothing vendors.  The purpose of the code is to enhance school safety and student learning five days a week.  Giving students permission to break a rule periodically sends the message to adults and students alike that the rule has little to do with safety and learning – at least not every day of the school year.  The bottom line is enforcement of rules must go beyond convenience; teachers and administrators should enforce the rules (dress code or any other rule) or dump the rules!

JL

©Jack Linton, February 12, 2017

Twenty Tips for New Teachers (or Veteran Teachers)

Over the years, I have been asked numerous times for advice or tips I would offer new teachers or veteran teachers.  I always respond by saying the little I know is the result of professional reading (at least thirty minutes daily) and mistakes I made as a teacher and a school administrator.  I think the biggest mistake most teachers make is looking for perfection.  This mistake can cost them their joy as a teacher.  It causes them to lose sight of what teaching is about and why they signed on to teach in the first place.  Sometimes teachers become so blinded by the pursuit of perfection, they lose sight of the good they do, and as a consequence they drum themselves out of the profession.  No matter how badly they want it, there is no such thing as the perfect student, the perfect parent, or the perfect teacher, so my advice to teachers is to STOP looking for perfection, and replace it with an expectation of always “putting forth the best you can do.”  That is the highest expectation, teachers can ever hope to achieve from their students; it is the highest expectation they can ever expect of themselves.  Next, I would advise teachers to MAKE TEACHING A COMMITMENT:  commitment to the teaching journey, commitment to learning from mistakes, commitment to professional learning, and commitment to NEVER giving up on students or themselves.  After that, I would offer the following advice and tips:

  1. You WILL make mistakes – learn not to repeat them – learn to apologize and move on! Making a mistake is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign you are not sitting still;
  2. It’s okay to have fun! Good teachers figure out how to make learning fun!
  3. Use handouts as a teaching tool, not a “keep them busy” tool. Remember, teachers teach and subs give handouts!   Which are you?
  4. Use pre-test to assess your student’s existing knowledge. Pre-assessments will help you make your teaching more relevant and their learning more meaningful;
  5. Communicate with parents often! Nothing can be more unsettling to a teacher’s day than a surprised or angry parent who has been kept in the dark about their child’s progress;
  6. Greet students at the door like you are happy to see them – not like they are the plague;
  7. Be on time for duty! The safety of students and your career is on the line.  Monitoring duty in the cafeteria, in the hall between classes, before school, or after school is a necessity!  It is not a useless punishment your uncaring principal has placed on you;
  8. Make note of teachers who always complain and are unhappy – be nice to them, but stay away, unless you want to be like them;
  9. Be proud to be a teacher! You have the most important job in the world.  You influence young lives every day, so decide every morning if it will be a positive influence or a negative influence;
  10. Assign seats! Especially until you get to know your students.  Assigning seats also makes it easier and faster to take roll;
  11. If you do not plan to discuss and review homework in class the next day, DO NOT assign homework! Homework is only effective if it is used as a formative tool with timely feedback to students;
  12. DO NOT assign work in class that will not be discussed, reviewed, or graded. Like the teacher, students DO NOT need busy work;
  13. Never make an online assignment without first checking the websites, including links to other websites. Ask these questions – Is it active?  Like most everything, websites do not last forever.  Is it blocked by the school filter?  If blocked, seek help from the school technology person to unblock it.  Is it appropriate?  Make sure the content is appropriate for the student age level you teach as well as for the community the school serves;
  14. Always, always, always preview movies to be shown in class. Movies should be used sparingly in class and then only in small clips to support discussion of the lesson.  Showing a movie that takes up one to three days of class time is poor practice and a waste of instructional time.  Showing a movie in its entirety is lazy teaching;
  15. If you assign a book or website that may be controversial to students, their families, or the community do the following: (1) meet with the principal and seek his/her support by explaining why you have chosen the material and its value to the learning process; (2) Send home a notice to parents/guardians that some content may be offensive and explain why you believe it is necessary to use the material in class; (3) offer an alternative assignment for students and/or parents who object to the content (use of offensive language, use of graphic sex, etc.);
  16. Never argue with a student in class! You are the authority in the classroom!  If a student wants to challenge authority let him/her challenge the authority of the assistant principal or the principal;
  17. Teaching for student success:
    1. Pre-assess (pre-test) knowledge;
    2. Provide students learning targets based on pre-assessment needs;
    3. Teach what you want them to know;
    4. Use on-going assessment (formative) throughout the lesson. Check frequently for understanding;
    5. STOP and re-teach if and when necessary;
    6. Assess what you want them to know (summative);
    7. Use summative assessment as a formative tool (feedback) for student learning; and
    8. Re-teach if and when necessary.
  18. Being a TEACHER is NOT about teaching; it is about LEARNING! You may be the greatest presenter of content of all time, but if your students don’t learn, you have failed as a teacher;
  19. Remember, it’s okay to breathe! Teaching is a monstrous responsibility, but if you teach with the same passion and compassion you expect from your children’s teachers, you will be okay; and
  20. Enjoy the teaching journey! You are a part of an awesome group of people.  You are a teacher because you care.

These tips are basic, but if followed, they can serve the new teacher or the veteran teacher well.  Teachers must always maintain high expectations, accept nothing but the best from their students, and never give up on the least of them or themselves.  A tall order, no doubt, but kids will tell you – GOOD TEACHERS CAN DO ANYTHING!

JL

©Jack Linton, August 24, 2016

What Makes a Good Teacher?

By the number and content of the education bills that have been flying back and forth in the 2015 Mississippi Legislative session, it is easy to see that many of our legislators have little respect for teachers in the state. Much of their lack of respect for educators can be attributed to political agendas and a superhero complex. Politically they tend to ride on the coattails of whatever wind happens to be blowing at the time, and lately the fashionable political gale is education bashing. The other fashionable political trend is the superhero complex that so many of our elected officials have adopted. Too many of them think they have a super-sized “S” stamped on their chest, and all they need do to right any perceived problems is to huff and puff and legislate the problems away, especially in education. They believe that they alone are the saviors who can save the state from ill prepared, incompetent, diabolical teachers. However, when it comes to education, the vast majority of legislators likely do not have a clue about education other than what they hear in Walmart or in their church parking lot. Their negative perceptions of education are generally fueled more by personal experiences, experiences of family members, and public opinion than test scores or poor rankings. Unfortunately, sometimes these experiences and opinions are not the hogwash educators would like to attribute to them; sometimes they do have merit no matter how isolated the experience might be. It is unfortunate, but there are some weak teachers out there who give teachers including the good ones a bad name. Fortunately, there are many more good teachers than the handful of bad apples who get all the press and attention.

Like any other profession, education has people who need to be weeded out; they do not have the aptitude to teach, they do not have the knowledge to teach, they do not have commitment to teach, nor do they have the work ethic to teach. It is easy to be a teacher, but it is not easy to be a GOOD teacher. To be a good teacher, it takes a lot of hard time consuming work! For whatever reason, there is a mindset in our society today that teaching is an easy job anyone can do. It is unbelievable, but so many people think of teaching as little more than standing in front of a bunch of kids and talking or watching them color? If that was all there was to it, anyone could do it, but it takes more – a lot more. To be a good teacher a person must be motivated, committed, and driven to do what is best for children. To be a good teacher, an individual must also have the courage to stand alone against a society that seemingly takes pleasure in branding them as incompetent and self-serving. So, what could possibly motivate an individual with an advanced degree or degrees to subject himself/herself on a daily basis to such ridicule and disrespect? Why do smart people continue to work in a profession where they are not appreciated? The answer is they are professionals, they love children, they are working for the kids not the adults, and they are GOOD at what they do!

Until someone proves me wrong, I believe good teachers are the norm in education rather than the exception. Of course, there are some teachers who are better than others, but that is true in any profession. But, what makes one teacher better than another teacher? Maybe, it is that some teachers are not satisfied with just being good; they want to be the best. Maybe, the teachers who really set the standard for the profession are not satisfied that their students pass; they expect them to excel! Whatever the reason, the common denominator for all GOOD teachers is they CARE for their students, their colleagues, and their profession. They have high expectations of their students, of their colleagues, of their profession, and most of all they have high expectations of themselves. They refuse to settle for anything less. If every teacher had these traits, education naysayers would have little fuel to feed their negativism against teachers and the profession. Regrettably, that is not the case, so good teachers continue to be pulled down by a handful of misfits. That is a shame since Mississippi has so many good teachers trying to do what is right for kids.

What does a good teacher look like? Without fail I always found GOOD teachers have common characteristics that make them special – that make them not just teachers but good even great teachers. I have observed that good teachers are personally motivated to be the best teacher they can possibly be. They understand that it is their responsibility to teach and ensure children learn in their classrooms; they are driven personally and professionally by the success of their students.

What Makes a Good Teacher?

  1. Good teachers have high expectations for their students;
  2. Good teachers rarely miss a day from school;
  3. Good teachers understand education is all about LEARNING; teaching is simply a means to kick start the process;
  4. Good teachers truly believe all children can learn; they are committed to making learning happen in their classrooms;
  5. Good teachers do not teach sitting behind their desk. They understand that learning is an ACTIVE activity not a passive activity. Good teachers are up moving around and working with kids; they are engaged in learning with the kids;
  6. Good teachers never give up on their students;
  7. Good teachers are committed to being learners themselves. Good teachers are READERS – both professionally and personally;
  8. Good teachers understand that all children do not learn in the same way or in the same time;
  9. Good teachers do not work in isolation. Professional collaboration is essential to the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom;
  10. Good teachers understand that instruction is not “gut” driven, but rather “data” and “research” driven;
  11. Good teachers don’t check or send email or grade papers on student time. Student time is anytime there are students in the classroom;
  12. Good teachers respect children for who they are – not for who they want them to be;
  13. Good teachers understand that misbehavior in the classroom is a behavior/choice issue and not a personal issue directed at them;
  14. Good teachers do not waste students’ time with busy work;
  15. Good teachers provide feedback on student work including classwork, homework, and tests;
  16. Good teachers always come to class prepared;
  17. Good teachers make lessons relevant to their students;
  18. Good teachers do not argue with students in their classroom;
  19. Good teachers are not afraid to try new teaching methods or to take risks;
  20. Good teachers teach day to day routines beginning day one;
  21. Good teachers understand the culture behind the status quo, but they are never satisfied with it;
  22. Good teachers do not expend energy on the negative; good teachers spend very little time with negative people;
  23. Good teachers understand when they sign their contracts . . .
    1. they are signing on for inadequate pay for the job they are expected to do;
    2. they are signing on for overcrowded classrooms;
    3. they are signing on for hours of thankless time away from their families;
    4. they are signing on to be evaluated by an evaluation process with little relevance to what actually happens in the classroom;
    5. they are signing on to be evaluated by principals and/or assistant principals who often do not have a clue as to what they should be looking for in the classroom and who look at evaluations as something to be checked off their “to do” list rather than a tool to actually help the teacher;
    6. they are signing on to be led by a superintendent whose politics and political competency are often more important than what he/she knows about instruction and learning;
    7. they are signing on to ensure children learn to the best of their ability, and to that end “1 – 6” above do not really matter.

Good teachers believe the journey as a teacher is worth taking. They believe their journey can make a difference in the lives of the children they teach, and they pray it makes a difference in them as well. Good teachers understand that for learning to take place in the classroom, the teacher must be mentally and physically involved. Finally, good teachers understand the way to shut the naysayers up is to prove them wrong daily.   To do that, they understand they must be good teachers everyday not just some days. They understand . . .

  • You can’t be a good teacher if you don’t love kids;
  • You cant be a good teacher sitting on your butt;
  • You can’t be a good teacher worrying about your paycheck;
  • You can’t be a good teacher if you don’t love your profession;
  • You can’t be a good teacher if you aren’t prepared;
  • You can’t be a good teacher if you are not willing to do whatever it takes to ensure your students learn; and
  • You can’t be a good teacher if you think teaching is about you.

To be a good teacher, teachers must believe in their kids and themselves. After all, that is all that really matters in the classroom.

JL

©Jack Linton, March 17, 2015

How School Makes You a Better Lover

There are many things true about school, but the most common truism is that school prepares you for life. Not only do academics prepare you for career choices, but what you learn about getting along with others can put you on the right track to building lifelong relationships. Beginning with the first day of kindergarten, teachers teach relationship skills that are so crucial to a happy life. Both boys and girls are taught how to get along and respect one another, but the lessons taught may actually be more important for the boys. Through their grade school lessons, boys learn there is a direct connection to getting what they want, such as recess, and learning to get along with others, especially when dealing with girls. So, if they pay close attention, the lessons will serve them well later in life.

This is especially true as boys grow older and begin to take an interest in girls, which eventually leads to a young man and young woman making the ultimate relationship commitment – marriage. During the first few months of marriage life is complete bliss for the couple; they are inseparable, and they cannot get enough of each other. However, marriage like chocolate pie can grow a bit bland over time unless a little whip cream and strawberries are thrown in for good measure. Yet, even the best chocolate pudding, the flakiest crust, and the freshest strawberries are not always enough. Sometimes it takes refocusing on the relationship itself, which the young man may see as requiring a secret code decipherer to make sense of the relationship. But, it doesn’t have to be complicated. There are two secrets to getting a relationship back on track: focus the relationship on what is most important – HER, and revisit the lessons about working with others learned in grade school. That may sound a bit simplistic, but it’s no secret that what you learn in grade school can actually make you a better lover.

 Grade School Lessons that Make a Better Lover

  1. In school you learn to pay attention to the details: Wives often complain their husbands do not pay attention to the details that matter. Although guys can sometimes be pig-headed about it, deep down they know that the only details that really matter are the details embraced by the women in their lives. In school, guys learn that details such as recess and naps are not on the table until they take care of the details the teacher (female) believes to be important first. That priority is reinforced by mama at home, and by the time a guy is married he understands fully “the devil is in the details,” which simply means he can prolong his misery or he can take care of the details as his teacher, mama, or wife sees them and live a happy life. That is unless he likes things such as recess and naps and love making withheld indefinitely;
  2. In school you learn to communicate: The second lesson guys learn in school is to listen to the teacher if they expect to go outside for recess. Although many males struggle with this one throughout their lives, the same principle applies to quality and quantity in their love life. In school an expectation of recess meant listening to the teacher, so it should not be a surprise that in marriage an expectation of extracurricular favors is often preceded by listening to the wife. In fact, studies have shown that listening may be the number one cure for bedtime headaches in a marriage. For men, the best prescription for a happy love life is to take one “I listen and she talks” pill every evening when he gets home from work;
  3. In school you learn to share: One of the most important lessons guys learn in school is sharing. I hated sharing my colors in grade school, but I learned early that the only way I could get a bite of Betty Sue’s chocolate pudding her mother always packed with her lunch was to let Betty Sue use my favorite blue crayon. The problem was she never gave it back; she said it was only fair since I never gave her chocolate pudding back either. That was my first lesson in the universal law of sharing whether it be in grade school or marriage – what is hers is hers and what is mine is hers. When it comes to male/female relationships, this is the one universal law that trumps all other universal laws;
  4. In school you learn to keep moving/stay active; you learn to keep things exciting: This is a major survival skill for a man to learn in a marriage. Wives expect an active mate who takes out the garbage, feeds the cat, harvests the goldfish poo, paints the kitchen, mows the lawn, walks the dog, and doesn’t think about settling down with the newspaper until the “honey do” list is complete and he has asked at least three times if there is anything else she would like for him to do. Wives expect an exciting mate, which translates into someone who brings her flowers, buys her new furniture, surprises her with heirloom jewelry, a cruise, or a new car periodically – say like weekly or every other week at the least. This is the one item learned in school that goes the farthest in promoting a healthy love life – at least periodically;
  5. In school you learn to stay awake: This one goes hand in hand with communication. A guy should NEVER allow himself to drift off to sleep during communication time! Never mind that she may be on the third or fourth telling cycle, that you lost interest after the part where her girlfriend got a new boob job, that you could care less if her mother has an infected cold sore inside her upper lip, or that the price of sanitary napkins have gone up for the third time in a month. The best advice for men is to pretend it’s Mrs. Cosper’s freshmen botany class and to prop their eyelids open with a pencil eraser, scotch tape, or bubble gum. Remember, if you sleep during her fun time, she will sleep during yours;
  6. In school you learn to work together and even at times accept compromise: To help boost his love life, a man must learn to compromise, compromise again, and then compromise some more. This does not mean he should do all the compromising, but if he doesn’t, he shouldn’t be surprised when his love life suffers; and
  7. In school you learn to raise your hand and wait for permission to speak: There is not a lot that needs to be said about this one. Getting permission to speak is a no brainer that all husbands must learn.

That’s it – seven simple grade school lessons guaranteed to lead to a better love life. All it takes is a guy who doesn’t mind taking the most important thing in his life – his pride – and swallowing it for forty, fifty, or if he’s really lucky sixty or more years. So, guys, the next time your love life is not going exactly like you want it to go, remember the seven relationship lessons taught in grade school, and along with that, remember regardless of the place, time, or situation, she always comes first in everything.

JL

©Jack Linton, March 10, 2015

Peace Offering to the Mississippi Legislature: Let’s Be as Happy as a Clam

PARCC is gone! As Gomer Pyle, the simple-minded auto mechanic from the Andy Griffith Show of the 1960’s, would say, “Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!” But, it’s not really a surprise. With the on-going struggles to deliver and receive the assessment electronically, inability to provide assessment results in a timely manner, failure to adequately address teacher fears and questions about the test, and growing parental concerns as well as mounting political pressure, it was only a matter of time before the PARCC assessment was dropped. If the Mississippi legislators have their way, the next task will be to bring to life the Commission on College and Career Readiness to oversee the development of not only a new assessment but new standards as well. The legislative promise of homegrown standards and assessments free of influence from Washington, standards and assessments more relevant to the children of Mississippi, and standards more satisfying to parents as well as the general public will be welcomed by many.  Although the legislators do not promise rigorous standards or assessments designed to improve Mississippi education, maybe they know best; maybe, they they do know what Mississippi needs after all.

My only hope is that the Governor and Lieutenant Governor will place people on the new commission with the expertise and experience to understand the magnitude and scope of creating/writing new standards and assessments. Of course, since this is a time sensitive project, I will be surprised if the Governor does not already have someone waiting in the wings with a set of user friendly standards ready to be rolled out and implemented across the state. Whatever the case may be, one thing is for sure – Mississippi needs a break from all the ill-will currently associated with education.  The best way to do that is for the new commission to develop assessments that are appealing to all stakeholders whether they create the standards from scratch or already have standards packaged and ready to be rolled out.

Therefore, I am extending the olive branch of peace, and to show my sincerity, I would like to offer a foolproof plan for selection of standards and creation of supporting state assessments. Hopefully, the powers in Jackson and their new commission will consider this plan or a similar plan for the peace of mind and good of all. It is time for the hostilities to end and get everyone on the same page, and I believe such a plan as the one I present below will do the job.

Plan to Development State Standards and Assessments:

  1. Step one: Develop or adopt new state standards. Legislators need to do whatever they think is best. The good teachers will continue to build rigor into their lessons regardless of the standards, the marginal teachers will be happy to follow whatever script they are presented, and the poor teachers will be thrilled that they can once again relax and enjoy the paycheck;
  2. Step two: Before final approval of the new standards, develop a battery of homework examples that support the new standards, and then administer the examples to the whole legislature including the Governor and Lieutenant Governor. If there are any homework problems the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, or legislators do not fully understand or they cannot work, throw the associated standards out;
  3. Step three: Next, administer the remaining homework examples to parents across the state. The easiest way to do this is through Facebook. There are more parents and people in general who are education authorities assembled on Facebook at any given time than there are anywhere in the world. We need to start using their expertise to our children’s advantage. If there are any homework problems the parents do not understand or cannot work, throw the standards associated to the overly problematic and/or rigorous homework out;
  4. Step four: Finally, administer the remaining homework examples to students. If any of the examples cause students to think longer than ten seconds, write more than two consecutive coherent sentences, or are so involved that they infringe on after school baseball, gymnastics, dance, bolo, chess, tennis, swimming, TV time, or any other nonacademic activity, throw out the standards associated to those homework examples;
  5. Step five: What is left will be the final draft of the state’s new standards. At this point, go ahead and print the standards. Step six is just a formality;
  6. Step six: The new commission can now submit their recommendations for the new standards to the State Superintendent of Education and the State Board of Education for their approval. Of course, since the State Superintendent and the State Board will only have authority to approve what is recommended to them by the commission, they will be compelled to pass the recommendations, which is exactly what we want them to do – right?; and
  7. Step seven: CELEBRATE! The Governor should lead the state in a celebration of this monumental accomplishment. Mississippians will finally be able to stand proudly and thumb their noses at Washington. Once again we will be a state of hospitality where our children peacefully reside on the bottom of the achievement ladder. There is nothing more appealing than submissive peace of mind.

I sincerely hope my plan will at least be considered; it should appease everyone. The students will not have to worry about being challenged, parents will not have to worry about their babies being subjected to academic stress or heaven forbid not getting an “A”, and state legislators will not have to worry about losing control to Washington or not having cheap labor available for years to come for the tax-exempt businesses they recruit to the state.   It’s time we accept that our state legislators have the people’s best interests in mind, and that they are the MAN! Everyone knows if you stand against the MAN, as singer/songwriter, John Prine, says, “You’re never gonna be as happy as a clam.” So, I encourage everyone to stand by the MAN and be “as happy as a clam!” Stand behind the good intentions of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and legislators who know and always will know better than the people and especially educators what is best for Mississippi.

JL

©Jack Linton, February 1, 2015