The Teacher in the Classroom

I rewrote Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” for teachers because I find it inspiring and increasingly relevant as teachers come under continual assault from those courageous enough to do the job.

Male version:

 

Female version:

Fostering Parent-Teacher Relationships

A guest post by Frankie Wallace

 

From notes, calls, and personal meetings to full-blown parent-teacher conferences, there are many different ways that parents can get involved in the education process. While this can often be for the better, it can also cause quite a bit of friction at times.

That’s why it’s crucial that educators are aware of the dynamics of the relationship between teachers and parents and understand how they can affect classrooms. Learning how to foster these relationships can take potential causes of stress and conflict and turn them into productive tools that can help everyone involved, especially the students themselves.

Getting Onto the Same Page

It’s no secret that parents and teachers don’t always agree. But the issue doesn’t always revolve around incompatible differences nor diametrically opposed opinions — even if they can often feel that way when we’re talking with our student’s parents. If you can step back and look at the bigger picture, it becomes a lot easier to stop pointing fingers and begin to understand where each party is coming from.

Different Methods

Chances are you’ve been in that uncomfortable situation where your teaching methods clash with the opposite party. This can be on a broader scale, such as a teaching style based around serenity versus one of passionate intensity, or it can be on a smaller scale, such as the specific way you approach a subject or the amount of homework you expect students to be assigned. Either way, it’s perfectly normal that disagreements will arise from time to time over how students should be taught everything from tying their shoes to algebraic equations.

The Same Goals

While differences are a normal part of the parent-teacher dynamic, an oft-overlooked piece of the puzzle revolves around the goals of everyone involved. Often a heated discussion over methods can completely obfuscate the fact that everyone genuinely wants the same results. This consistency of goals should always be looked for, as it can prove a common point from which to ground the conversation.

Communication Is Key

While finding common ground to work from is a critical factor in healthy parent-teacher relationships, doing so doesn’t necessarily resolve the issue of meeting the goals that are agreed upon. That’s where communication comes into the picture. The benefits of proactive and comfortable lines of communication between parents and teachers cannot be overstated. Research has directly linked positive communication (along with the relationships that it fosters) between parents and teachers to better prosocial behavior as well as academic success in students.

Of course, being aware of the benefits of good communication doesn’t automatically make one skilled at the craft — and it is indeed a craft. Teachers can benefit tremendously from taking the time to study the different forms that communication can take. For example, even within the business world, a communications degree can be specialized for various roles, like communication pioneers and communication coaches.

Not only is it helpful to understand various forms of communication, it can also be immensely beneficial to know how to address conflict resolution. In the same way that a foreign diplomat needs to understand things like active listening, mediation, leadership, and relationship building skills, a teacher should be equipped to recognize a conflict with a parent and address it with the same ability and understanding.

Meeting Parents Halfway

Of course, the need for communication is two-sided, with parents needing to show a willingness to participate in the conversation as well. While parents must find their own ways to approach their children’s’ educators, there are some things that teachers can do to initiate a more positive relationship. Teachers often feel that we’re being pulled in a million directions, and it can be easy to allow the stresses of the job to creep into our communications with our students’ parents.

As teachers, it can be helpful to show respect to the parents by creating a structure for them to regularly communicate with us (even if it doesn’t mean you’ll drop everything to talk with them the second they send you a message). Simply provide a way to email, call, or text. Also, remember to treat parents as teammates rather than obstacles that won’t go away.

Lightening the Load

Finally, it can be helpful to keep in mind that a healthy relationship between parents and teachers, while time-consuming in the moment, can often end up lightening your load down the road. Good communication can help you understand your students better, help your students thrive, and allow you to focus on teaching more than anything else in your classroom. At the end of the day, the relationship is worth the time and effort.

So, the next time you’re feeling stressed out about a parent butting into your classroom — even if they vehemently disagree with the methodology that you’re using — remember that anger and frustration are simply symptoms of a deeper issue. Try to prioritize that all-important parent-teacher relationship and make an honest effort to communicate with one another. Put yourself in the other’s shoes, try to see things from their perspective, and work together to find an acceptable solution that fosters that classroom-family dynamic and keeps what is ultimately best for the student at the forefront.

Know Your Options: Writing Surfaces in the Classroom

Image: PolyVision

A Guest Article by Angela Petteys

Sometimes, the best way to teach or to learn is by picking up a pen (or a marker or a piece of chalk) and physically writing something down. As important as computers have become in education, a good writing surface is still is one of the most valuable tools a teacher can have. But if it’s time for you to get a new writing surface for your classroom, it’s important to remember that not all writing surfaces are created equally. There are several different options out there and each one has its own benefits and drawbacks.

Melamine Whiteboards

If you’re looking for an inexpensive whiteboard option, melamine whiteboards are one of the most affordable options on the market. Melamine whiteboards basically consist of a plastic laminate mounted to a board. Not only are they affordable, they’re very lightweight and easy to install. However, melamine surfaces are porous, meaning they’re prone to ghosting and staining because ink from markers can seep through the surface.

Melamine whiteboards also aren’t very durable and to get the most out of a melamine board, they need to be cleaned very frequently. Between the low durability and the porous nature of melamine, they’re not an ideal option for a board that gets a lot of use, such as the main whiteboard in a classroom. However, if you need whiteboards for other purposes in your classroom that wouldn’t be used as frequently and would be easy to replace as needed, melamine whiteboards might fit the bill.

Porcelain Whiteboards

Since whiteboards in classrooms get so much use, durability is a key factor to look for. Not only do you need one that won’t get stained easily, you need one that will stand up to years of heavy use. Although they’re not one of the less expensive whiteboard options, the durability and low-maintenance nature of porcelain whiteboards have made them one of the most popular types of whiteboard options, particularly for classroom use.

When written on, the surface of porcelain whiteboards allows markers to create crisp, defined lines that are easy to read. If you want to be able to display pictures or papers alongside the things you write on your board, porcelain boards are a great option to consider. Since porcelain whiteboards consist of an enamel surface applied to a metal backing, magnets can easily be used with a porcelain whiteboard to hang those extra materials up. Other types of writing surfaces might not necessarily be magnetic. Some glassboards are available in magnetic styles, but not all of them.

Glassboards

Glassboards have become a very popular type of writing surface in recent years. As the name suggests, they’re made of tempered glass and many people like them because they feel like they have a more modern look than traditional whiteboards. They’re also very durable and have a nonporous surface, so they’re easy to clean and aren’t prone to ghosting or staining. They’re not the most budget-friendly type of writing surface available, but their high durability means they’ll last for a long time, even in high-use environments like classrooms.

As you look for a writing surface to use in a classroom, it’s important that students are able to easily read what’s written on it. When glassboards are written on, the writing typically has a softer appearance than writing on a porcelain board. Glassboards are also more reflective than porcelain whiteboards, so things like overhead lighting and light from windows can produce glare and make a glassboard difficult to read. This also means glassboards aren’t an ideal solution if you’re looking for a surface you can use a projector on or if you like to take pictures of your notes for future use.

Whiteboard Paint

When you’re on a tight budget, finding a DIY solution can be a great way to help you get what you need in a way you can afford. In the case of writing surfaces, whiteboard paint can be used to turn entire walls into a big instructional tool or to turn other surfaces, such as tabletops, into whiteboards for students to work with at a lower cost than buying a ready-made whiteboard. As an added bonus, many students find the novelty of being able to write directly on a wall, or any other surface you’re typically not supposed to write on, to be really engaging.

One of the biggest downsides to whiteboard paint is that it can be difficult to apply correctly. For best results, whiteboard paint needs to be applied to a smooth, dust-free surface, so getting a surface ready can take some prep work. Getting whiteboard paint ready to apply can also take some effort to make sure it’s mixed correctly and that there aren’t any air bubbles left in the paint, otherwise you might have a hard time getting even coverage. Once your paint is mixed, you also need to be ready to work quickly since many whiteboard paints will become too thick to work with after about 40 minutes to an hour.

Since whiteboard paint has a porous surface and is less glossy than some other types of whiteboard options, surfaces painted in whiteboard paint can be more difficult to erase and are prone to ghosting and staining. As far as durability goes, whiteboard paint tends to become worn with frequent cleaning.

Chalkboards

Even in the digital age, chalkboards haven’t completely become a thing of the past. While they’re less common than they used to be, they’re still being used in many classrooms around the world for a variety of reasons. Chalkboards and chalk are both less expensive than whiteboards and markers, making them an accessible option. In some countries, chalkboards are still a popular choice because the written language involves many intricate characters and many educators feel like writing in chalk better helps students to build strong penmanship skills.

Regardless of why you might consider adding a chalkboard to your classroom, it’s worth noting that the quality of chalk has improved over the years. With dustless chalk on the market, you can use a chalkboard in your classroom without worrying about it affecting the health of your students.

Each type of writing surface has its place in the world, but knowing the benefits each one has to offer will go a long way in helping you find an option that helps you better meet the needs of your students so they can make the most of their time in the classroom.

How a Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum Ruined Teaching

I sat in a meeting recently where an administrator reiterated the importance of having a “guaranteed and viable curriculum.” He shared this quote:

It’s one of those things teachers have heard a thousand times, and we all just nod our heads and say to ourselves that of course schools should know what students ought to learn and kids growing up in Minnesota should know some of the same, big, basic things as kids in Georgia. It’s uncontroversial to say that kids will learn more when they’re given the time and opportunity to do so.

But a question that isn’t asked is how our desire to provide students with a guaranteed and viable curriculum affects teachers, and whether or not we should care.

First, let’s define some terms. Kathleen Dempsey at McREL writes:

A “guaranteed’ curriculum is often defined as a mechanism through which all students have an equal opportunity (time and access) to learn rigorous content. This requires a school-wide (or district-wide) agreement and common understanding of the essential content that all students need to know, understand, and be able to do.

So far, so good. But the devil is in the implementation. Dempsey continues:

The word “all’ needs emphasis; a guaranteed curriculum promotes equity, giving all children equal opportunity to learn essential content, and to provide this opportunity, curricular materials and instructional approaches must be grounded in research, implemented with fidelity, and must include vertical as well as horizontal alignment.

Ah, there’s that damn word, fidelity. As a teacher, fidelity means my district leaders trust a program more than they trust me, and it means I should suppress whatever creative instincts I might have and just open the program they’ve purchased and teach the way it says to.

Dempsey adds:

However, schools (through teachers) implement the curriculum, and, if implementation varies significantly from teacher to teacher, then student outcomes will also likely vary significantly from classroom to classroom.

Translation: If we could just get all teachers to teach the same stuff in exactly the same ways, then all kids would learn the same things at the same level. And if you believe that, well, there’s this bridge I know of…

Finally, Dempsey warns us about the dangers of teachers having choices:

These days, teachers have access to a variety of curriculum resources, such as open educational resources, playlists, digital textbooks, and teacher-developed curriculum. Having access to options is a good thing, but having many choices does not ensure all choices are well aligned to the school’s GVC.

Left unsaid: We probably shouldn’t allow teachers to decide what to use because they might choose unaligned resources. The logical solution then is for district leaders to choose so every teacher uses the same stuff, which allows the district to claim they have a guaranteed curriculum.

None of this sounds great from the perspective of a teacher. We’re going to be told what to teach. Because we can’t be trusted, we’re going to be told what to use to teach those things. Dempsey, no dummy, anticipates teachers’ objections:

Does this mean that a GVC is a scripted, rigid curriculum? No! Does this mean that students and teachers are confined to a lockstep process of teaching and learning? Absolutely not! Teachers must have the flexibility to meet student needs through different methods of content delivery, helping students dive deeper into their passions.

Which is a load of bull.

In practice, GVC all too often does mean a scripted, rigid curriculum. In fact, guaranteeing a curriculum all but demands a scripted, rigid curriculum. If your primary goal is for all students to have the opportunity to learn the same things, then you’re going to control to the greatest extent possible how instruction is delivered. You’re going to choose the curriculum teachers are to use and you’re going to demand they teach it with fidelity. You are going to confine your teachers to a lockstep process of teaching. And you most certainly will not encourage flexibility because as soon as teachers start deviating from your chosen curriculum, you open the door to the very thing you were trying to avoid in the first place, different teachers doing different things. The idea that teachers who work in a district that stresses a GVC are going to “help students dive deeper into their passions” is ludicrous unless those passions happen to align with the guaranteed curriculum.

Should We Care?

We know that students learn more by having guaranteed and viable curriculums in their schools, at least theoretically. But what do we lose? We pretend, as we so often do in education, that there are no trade-offs. We should at least ask if what we gain is worth more than what we lose. And what we lose is teachers’ motivation for the job, which is no small thing.

Make no mistake, guaranteed and viable curriculums have led to the standardization of classrooms. That is, in fact, their aim. While in a perfect world, our guarantees would be limited and teachers would retain autonomy around the delivery of the content, in the real world, school districts, in their desire for guaranteed curriculums, have stripped away teacher autonomy. They’ve taken teacher creativity out of the classroom, and by doing so, they’ve destroyed teachers’ motivation.

No teacher signed up to be a worker drone. When the curriculum tells them, “Teach this stuff,” and their employers tell them, “Teach it just like this,” then it’s small wonder lots and lots of teachers show up to school with declining enthusiasm for the work.

Once upon a time, teachers were more restauranteurs than delivery drivers. At the very least, they were chefs. Classrooms, like pizza parlors, were different, not just in how the content was delivered, but sometimes in the content itself. Teachers would invest more time, energy, and passion into topics they found interesting. I still remember a fair amount about the Alaskan dogsled race, the Itidarod, because I had a fifth-grade teacher who created a multidisciplinary unit on it. I doubt much of it was aligned to the standards.

Guaranteed and viable curriculums ruined that. Common Core amplified the effect because now we’ve got thousands of teachers across the country teaching the same exact stuff from a handful of uninspiring programs. The sheer number of standards guarantees that teachers will never have time to go off script and indulge their passions or follow their students down a bird walk, or six.

School leaders took it a step further when they demanded fidelity to the standards-aligned programs their boards adopted in their quest to offer a guaranteed curriculum. They didn’t want to leave their districts’ reputations in the hands of teachers! Better to trust the so-called research-based programs. At least then, when things fell apart, they could blame some faceless publishing company, pick a new program by a different faceless publishing company, explain away their error by uttering some tripe like, “When we know better, we do better,” make new promises, and start the cycle over again.

In the meantime, teachers, no longer trusted to decide what or how to teach, stripped of their autonomy and bereft of motivation, keep walking out the door. Some of them stay away for good. Others return week after week, serving up uninspired instruction that they have no say in.

A guaranteed and viable curriculum guarantees that students will have a better chance of passing a standards-aligned test, but it also guarantees that teachers will continue to be disillusioned with what has become of their job.

A guaranteed and viable curriculum guarantees that students will have a better chance of passing a standards-aligned test, but it also guarantees that teachers will continue to be disillusioned with what has become of their job. Click To Tweet

Teaching Financial Literacy: How to Help High Schoolers Care More

Lizzie Weakley

 

Financial literacy is something that many teenagers do not have a firm grasp on, and it is something that many parents and teachers overlook the importance of. Young people need to understand the importance of financial literacy so that they are able to properly tend to their money in the future. The following information provides a closer look at three helpful ways to help high schoolers become more well-informed on the subject and take it more seriously.

Budget Simulations

Encouraging students to complete budget simulations will allow them to think more deeply about their future income and spending habits. It will also allow them to create clearly defined financial goals for themselves that they can potentially work towards later on in life. Examples of criteria that could be included in the simulation include practical money skills, financial independence, and paying bills, such as utilities. You can even provide them with fake checkbooks to balance each week, which will give them a deeper insight into personal banking.

Smartphone Apps

There are various smartphone applications available for download that could also be beneficial for students in order to help them learn more about personal finance. They can enable you to track your spending habits, improve budgeting skills, and create a plan for paying debts. These could be used in conjunction with the budget simulation in order to create a more interactive and realistic experience.

Games

Games are another way to create a more interactive experience. Typically, most students will learn more if they are engaged in activities that are fun and allow them to think creatively. You can develop your own games tailored for your students that will align with your personal finance lesson plans or even encourage them to play existing games, such as Monopoly, which actually offers various learning opportunities when it comes to money management.

Overall, getting students interested in financing and budgeting doesn’t always have to be challenging. You just need to find an approach that captures their attention and gets them interested in the learning process. The tips above make excellent starting points for any educator hoping to boost their student’s interest in financial literacy and help them to care more. These methods will provide students with highly beneficial skills that they can utilize throughout their lives in order to make more financially sound and well-informed decisions regarding their income and spending habits. You just need to remain diligent and find which learning styles appeal most to your specific students.