Understanding the Process of Learning through the Conscious Competence Model

A guest post by Silvia Woolard

Teachers keep exploring different methods of learning. Not only because they are life-long learners, but also because the best learning methods lead to the ultimate teaching methods.

Today, we’re going to explore a model we’ve all relied on in one way or another. Still, most of us are not even aware of the theory behind that practice, and we haven’t been implementing all stages properly. I’m talking about the conscious competence model, AKA the conscious competence matrix or the conscious competence ladder.

Let’s set terminology aside and focus on what’s really important: how can this model help you become a better teacher?

It all starts with understanding.

Understanding the Conscious Competence Model of Learning

Whenever we’re into the process of learning new skills, we go through different emotions at various stages of the journey.

If, for example, you’re trying to teach your students how to write research papers, they might underestimate the challenge at first. They think it’s enough to go through a few resources and sum up their findings. When they realize what a great research paper should look like, their emotions shift. They get overwhelmed and disheartened. Most of them would love to give up at this stage. They will complain about not having enough time, not having enough experience, and not having enough skills.

If you understand the conscious competence model, you’ll be able to encourage positive emotions and help the students get out of the negative mindset.

This model, initially founded as “four stages of teaching” was established by Martin M. Broadwell back in 1969. Later on, Noel Burch from Gordon Training International developed the theory known as “Four Stages for Learning Any New Skill.”                   

These are the four stages of learning a skill:

1. Unconscious Incompetence

At this point, the students are unskilled, but they are not aware of that fact. Just like when you present them with a new assignment and they assume it’s easy. They are blissfully ignorant of the fact that they don’t have a skill.

If you let them stay in this stage, the results won’t be pretty. They will simply assume they can do it in a day, just like they do with their usual homework assignment. So they will procrastinate and they will fail to deliver.

That’s why you need to move them out of this level. You’ll do that by showcasing the true nature of the challenge and introducing them closely to the type of work they need to do.

How do you do that?

  • Ask specific questions about their skills. If it’s a writing project, for example, ask if they have written something similar before. If it’s a social service project, ask them if they are aware of its goals and challenges.
  • Set objectives! Whenever you push your students to learn new skills, you have to introduce some expectations within a timeline. How will you measure those skills? When will you do that? This shouldn’t scare them away. You should set objectives as incentives that will push them to the next stage of the conscious competence model.

2. Conscious Incompetence

By this stage, the students realize they have to make an effort in order to learn a skill. If we continue with the research paper example, they realize that it will take way more time and way more research than they initially assumed.

This stage will be demoralizing for many of your students. They will lack the motivation to proceed. That’s why you have to push them forward.

  • Rely on affirmations. “No one was born skillful. Everyone can learn! There’s plenty of time by the deadline, so you can do it if you start today. You can do it!” When you approach the process with such a positive attitude, you’ll inspire your students to get out of this stage.
  • Develop a progressive schedule. A goal such as “write a research paper” seems overwhelming. If you break it up in smaller goals, it suddenly seems more achievable. For example, they can start by going through five resources that you’ll provide them. They will take notes. Then, they will extract the most important information. Then, they will develop an outline. These smaller goals are not that overwhelming.

3. Conscious Competence

At the conscious competence stage, the learner realizes they have the skills and knowledge needed for achieving particular goals. As they continue on the journey, they keep gaining more self-confidence.

It’s not the final stage, though. You want to keep your students moving forward!

  • Keep them focused on the progress. Remind them how they started and make them aware of the point they are currently at. Progress is a never-ending process, so you should keep pushing them to get better.
  • Give them opportunities to use the newly-acquired skills. If they wrote a research paper, the implementation of their research and writing skills doesn’t end there. Inspire them to start their own blogs and work on their own research.

4. Unconscious Competence            

At this stage, the students are able to use the new skills without making serious conscious efforts. These skills become part of who they are.

This is the stage when the students need to push themselves towards growth. How can they use this skill to build a successful career? Maybe they can use it for a personal project? Maybe it will be the starting point of the higher education journey? Many people become teachers when they reach this stage. They have skills and knowledge that they are ready to pass on to others.

From Unconscious Incompetence to Unconscious Competence – The Journey to Success

When you understand the emotional conflicts that your students face in different stages of the learning process, you’ll be able to take proper actions to motivate them.

There’s a lot of theory involved in this model, but its practical implementations are immense. You’ve probably noticed these stages before, but maybe you weren’t fully aware of them. Now that you are, it’s time to bring the theory to practice.

My Bio:

Silvia Woolard is a young passionate writer at Superior Papers from Phoenix. In her free time, she writes and works in a field of popular psychology. Feel free to contact Silvia at Twitter.  

Teachers Are Tired of Robert Marzano

If you don’t spend a lot of time on Twitter, you may have missed something revealing. Dr. Robert Marzano tweeted the above and caught hell for it from a lot of teachers. You can read the reactions here, and you should. Not unlike the teacher walkouts of this past school year, they represent a new willingness (maybe even eagerness) of teachers to speak up and push back.

For years, teachers were asked (or, more often, told) to swallow a lot of crap. More and more of us are done eating it.

Robert Marzano has been an outsized part of my professional life for longer than he deserves, but for most of that time, no teacher would dare question him. I’ve sat in countless meetings where teachers were told to do things because Marzano said so. I’ve had to read a number of his books. I’ve sat through his training. My principal uses his system to evaluate me (which, given the above tweet, is more than a little concerning). During all of it, nary a peep of protest was heard. No teacher would raise her hand to say, “But surely you can be a good teacher without writing a learning goal on the board every day, can’t you?”

Blasphemy! The kind of which might just cause your administrator to question how serious you were about improving. So we shut up and nodded our heads, and thanks to our polite acquiescence, Marzano’s influence grew.

Today, for most teachers, Robert Marzano’s name is mud. It didn’t have to be this way. When Marzano’s first books came out, teachers recognized the value of his work. They even appreciated it. Here was a guy who cared enough about educators’ improvement that he had gone out and looked at thousands of education studies, performed some sort of mathematical wizardry hardly any teacher can understand, and then was able to tell us what things worked and what things didn’t. At that point, his heart was in the right place. He was Hattie before Hattie. 

But Marzano got greedy. He wrote more books. He offered professional development. His work was crammed down teachers’ throats by excited administrators, and once that starts happening, it’s no longer enough to provide good information. You better be one of us, lest we question your true motives.

Robert Marzano was not one of us.

There are many reasons Marzano’s tweet touched a lot of raw nerves.

First, those of us who have been in the arena for a while are predisposed to dislike whatever he has to say. Here’s a guy who barely taught, an academic who’d rather read studies written by other academics than remain in the classroom and teach actual kids, who writes books that are only possible because of the labor of other researchers (who at least visit classrooms), and who then has the audacity to tell teachers everything they’re doing wrong and what they should be doing instead. I’m not giving him the benefit of the doubt and neither are a lot of other teachers.

Second, the tweet reveals what most of us suspect: that he’s out of touch. It’s no surprise that a lot of the comments call Marzano out for not being a teacher. That’s a fair criticism. Don’t tell me how to do my job until you’ve demonstrated that you can do it.

Third, we’re sick and tired of being told that students’ failures are our failures. Not only is that frequently wrong, it’s not even desirable. Who wants to live in a world where individuals have no personal responsibility for the course of their lives, where their success or failure is dependent upon others?

Fourth, we’re really sick and tired of being told we’re failures by people who don’t have to courage to do what we do. Pernille Ripp expands on this idea in this article, which hits the nail on the head. Her conclusion sums up teachers’ thoughts nicely:

What Ripp focuses on is the guilt so many teachers feel and how when “experts” make statements like the one Marzano made, it leads teachers to feel like failures. It’s demoralizing, exhausting, and unfair. The fact that such sentiments are more often served up by people outside of the classroom than inside of one makes it particularly galling.  It’s the boxing announcer explaining to his HBO audience that all Tommy Noknuckles needs to do is start pounding his opponent’s body with jabs. It’s Alabama head coach Nick Saban having to put up with second-guessing from a fifty-five-year-old journalist who’s never thrown a football. It’s Lebron James dealing with social media criticism from people who can’t dribble.

It’s the voice of the critic and it reminds me of this:

That’s what teachers, a lot of them anyway, are saying to Robert Marzano and those like him. If you’re so smart, if you know so much, then put down the calculator and get in a classroom. Teach kids. And you know where someone like you –someone who understands exactly how to keep kids engaged — is really needed? In Detroit. In Philly. In D.C. and Baltimore. In a “failing” public school, since, let’s face it, it’s those teachers who have been most harmed by your work.

There may have been a reason to feel sorry for Robert Marzano years ago, when his research was hijacked by state governments and used for a purpose he didn’t originally intend. But Marzano was not some innocent victim. He could have said no. He could have looked into his crystal ball and considered some of the consequences of having teachers evaluated with checklists of 60 items. He could have easily foreseen how that would be received. Maybe he did and just didn’t care.

Regardless, he took the money and therefore deserves to be pilloried when he tweets stupid and insulting things that reveal a complete disconnect from the realities of the professional lives of those who actually have what it takes to teach students instead of sitting in an air-conditioned office in Colorado, reading education studies, and raking in taxpayer money by the bushel. Marzano deserves our anger. But at this point, what he really deserves is to be ignored.

Teachers’ Extra Hours Are Different

For something that should be relatively easy to calculate, there is a lot of debate about just how many hours teachers work. Read the comments on nearly any online article about teaching and you will be met with vigorous disagreement on the matter. Make the claim that teachers should be paid more and you can be sure that someone will point out our seven-hour days, summer vacations, and breaks for the holidays. Argue that teachers are overpaid, and you will be besieged by outraged educators who will tell you just how many hours they spend on the job each week, how even their breaks are actually just more work, and how, when they’re dead and buried, they’ll still find a way to grade papers.

The data isn’t particularly helpful, either. Like most topics people enjoy arguing about, you can find a study to support damn near any conclusion you want:

The NEA reports that teachers work an average of 50 hours per week.

The NUT teachers’ union, in a survey of 3,000 of its members who were age 35 or younger, found that 74% worked 51 hours or more each week.

A 2012 report from Scholastic and the Gates Foundation put the average at 53 hours per week.

Teachers self-reported working a mean of 43.7 hours on the Census Bureau’s Current Population survey.

And the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employing time-use surveys, found that the average teacher works about 40 hours per week.

But whether teachers are working five hours beyond their contractual time or fifteen, what’s almost always left out of this debate is the fact that teachers’ extra hours are different.

When a police officer works extra hours, she gets paid extra money. Same for nurses and nearly every hourly employee in the country. You’ll never see headlines like these about teachers:

Detroit police overtime pay up 136% over 5 years

Overtime allowed several East St. Louis police officers to earn more than $100K in 2017

5 Lansing bus drivers made more than $100K in 2016

Outcry over firefighters making up to $400,000

There is no overtime pay in education. Teachers who work even one extra hour per week know they will get nothing in return.

Hard-working teachers also have no hope of being promoted. To what job would they be promoted? There’s no going to the principal, explaining how many hours you dedicate to the job and how your efforts have resulted in greater student achievement, and then asking for a raise. Teachers who work extra hours do so with the full knowledge that it will not lead to a better, higher-paying job.

No matter how great a teacher you are, how much you improve test scores, how loved you are by parents and students, how respected you are by your boss and colleagues, and how much your contributions improve the performance of your school, you will not receive a year-end bonus check. There are no bonuses for hitting targets in education. Teachers who work extra hours to be successful with students will get nothing but satisfaction for their efforts.

Unlike small business owners, who are well-known for their long hours, teachers have no hope that their sacrifices today will lead to a brighter tomorrow. There’s no slaving away for ten years as you build your classroom practice with the hope that, eventually, it will all pay off in the end. Teachers start over every year. No one cares how effective you were if you no longer are. Extra hours early in your career don’t lead to riches later in your career.

This is how teachers’ extra hours are different: In literally every other field, the person who puts in extra work expects to benefit financially. Only in education do we expect people to work more hours solely for the benefit of others. And that’s why whenever I read something that questions how many hours teachers actually work I want to scream.

Even teachers who donate a single hour of their time can claim the moral high ground over every other professional because teachers’ extra hours are, by definition, altruistic.

Merriam-Webster: Altruism refers to a quality possessed by people whose focus is on something other than themselves.

Every time you see a teacher leave work thirty minutes after her paid day has ended, or take work home on the weekend, or check papers at her kid’s soccer game, you are seeing a person who is acting selflessly.

No one will pay her for her time.
No one will promote her.
No one will slip her a bonus check at Christmastime.
Most of the time, no one will even thank her.

Instead, they’ll hop on the Internet and explain how selfish and greedy teachers are for those pensions they’ll earn after working countless hours at no taxpayer expense over their 30-year career.

And if the ignorant carping weren’t bad enough, teachers who go the extra mile are often punished by their employers. In every other field, going above and beyond is rewarded. In education, doing more leads to more work. If you work hard to become an expert classroom manager, you can expect to get the toughest students. If you’re competent and conscientious, you get asked to lead school initiatives (usually with little or no extra pay). If you’re dedicated and hard-working, you’ll be expected to attend after-school events (again, without pay).

With the exception of positions like coaching or department chair (which tend to pay peanuts), every hour — no, every minute — of time that teachers work beyond their contracts is given with absolutely zero expectation of it personally benefiting them.*

Teaching is the only line of work where this is true, and that’s why teachers extra hours are different and it’s also why the argument about how many hours teachers actually work misses the point entirely.

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*Except in that warm fuzzy feeling kind of way we always expect should be enough for teachers, since they’re working with kids and the job is so meaningful and all that hoo-hah. Odd that we don’t feel like that’s enough for pediatricians.

Related Articles:

How Teachers Can Give Themselves a Raise

American Teachers Should Work Less

Dear Teachers, Please Go Home

What Non-Teachers Can’t Get Through Their Thick Heads

Squeezed among the hundreds of comments on my article, Why Teachers Are So Tired, you will find the following gem, which is representative of the views of many non-teachers:

“For the most part teachers only have to work 6-7 hours a day 8 months out of the year, off all holidays and presidents days Christmas and Thanksgiving breaks paid normally 2 wks each advent and whenever they decide to shut down due to weather etc. Everybody makes decisions in their jobs in life and have to work all year with maybe a couple days off for thanksgiving and Christmas and thats about it! Geez we all should be teachers! The other 3 months you can have another career while getting paid as a teacher too! What a deal then you bitch about not getting paid enough! Where the hell do you pinheads get off!”

The typical teacher rebuttals include rants about working well beyond our contractual hours and pointing out that those three months off aren’t actually paid (or three months). They’ll also take a few potshots at the commenter’s grammar. You are undoubtedly familiar with the give and take.

But what strikes me every time I read something like the above is the faulty logic. Because if the commenter is right and teaching is a cake job that requires relatively few hours of annual work with comparatively favorable pay, then his revelation that, “Geez, we all should be teachers,” ought to be enough to make him (and like-minded others) wonder:

Well, just why in the hell aren’t more people teachers?

Why don’t colleges of education have to beat away candidates with sticks?

Why can’t they be super selective since the demand is so high?

And perhaps most obviously, Why didn’t I myself become a teacher? What was I thinking!

It’s not as if there’s a high barrier to entry. Damn near anyone who gets accepted into a university will be accepted into its college’s teacher education program. The commenter himself (and yes, it’s a guy. Seems like it almost always is) almost certainly could have become a teacher had he wanted to.

But he didn’t, and he’s hardly alone. Fewer college freshmen today want to be teachers than at any point in the last 45 years. [1]

Which, if the commenter is even a little bit correct, is a little odd, isn’t it?

Why wouldn’t college kids want a job that gave them more free time to text emojis, eat avocado toast, and pretend to be offended on social media (or whatever it is kids do these days)?

The lack of logic doesn’t stop there. Because if teaching is such a fantastic deal, then why would any teacher, having landed such a cushy job and having virtually no chance of ever losing it (another one of the teacher-hater’s favorite talking points), ever want to give it up? They of all people ought to recognize the gravy train when they’re the ones riding it!

But 8% leave every year, and most of them make less money when they do.

Which is weird behavior for pinheads who have awesome jobs.

The commenter forgot to mention the lavish pension plans teachers receive (he must have been having an off day). Not only do these ungrateful teachers work seven-hour days, eight months a year and get paid pretty well, they retire to the life of Riley thanks to those taxpayer-funded pensions that private sector employees would kill for.

But even that enticement doesn’t do much to keep teachers from fleeing. On average, more than half of teachers do not receive any pension benefits because they don’t teach enough years to become eligible. Just one in five stays on the job long enough to receive full benefits at retirement. [2]

It almost seems like teachers — 80% of them, anyway — know something about the job that critics don’t.

There is only one argument left, and it’s not a very good one. To believe as the commenter does, you would have to stare reality in the face and come to this conclusion:

Teachers must be different than other people. They must be a particularly whiny bunch. They have it better than everybody else, and not only do they not realize it, they think they have it worse!  They’re so delusional, they quit their wonderful jobs to work longer hours for lower pay and they give up their state-funded retirement plans in the process!

That’s not a very compelling argument.

Commenters like the one quoted above prove three things with their ignorance and illogical arguments:

  1. They never taught. You will literally never hear a former teacher talk about how easy it was and how lavishly they were paid.
  2. They’re not interested in listening to what teachers are telling them, despite the fact that no one can understand what it’s like to teach unless they’ve done it.
  3. They’re not interested in logical thought and would rather vent their frustration at professionals who have the audacity to fight for more respect, better working conditions, and fairer pay.

Here is what non-teachers cannot seem to get through their thick heads:

If college kids don’t want to be teachers, and 8% of teachers leave every year, and only half stick around long enough to take advantage of those so-called extravagant pensions, then maybe, just maybe, they should actually believe teachers when they tell them that the job is challenging and they aren’t being paid enough to do it.

And if those who think teachers have it easy can’t do that and continue to insist that it’s the teachers who don’t understand how rough it is out there in “real world,” then they should go back to school and become a teacher.

They can practice by substitute teaching for a while. I hear there’s a shortage.

That’s where the hell this pinhead gets off. Geez.

[1] Survey: Number of Future Teachers Reaches All-Time Low 

[2] Why Most Teachers Get a Bad Deal on Pensions

The IKEA Effect of Lesson Creation

The following is an excerpt from my new book, Leave School At School: Work Less, Live More, Teach Better. It’s available in both Kindle and print forms on Amazon.

I eat in the teachers’ lounge, and almost every day someone brings in one of those Lean Cuisine frozen lunches and pops it in the microwave.  You can trace the origins of such convenience foods to the years following World War II. The military had developed MREs and other foods meant to withstand long periods of storage and allow for easy preparation on the battlefield. After the war, several commercial food companies had leftover manufacturing facilities, so some of them created new freeze-dried and canned food products for domestic use. They pumped out boxes of fish sticks, canned peaches, and even ill-fated cheeseburgers-in-a-can. Jell-o introduced new dessert flavors throughout the 1950s. Sales soared.

With so many new products to sell, advertisements swept across the amber waves and purple mountains, reminding Americans again and again how busy they were, how hectic their days had become, and how desperately they needed quick meals. “If you’re a typical modern housewife, you want to do your cooking as fast as possible,” wrote a columnist at Household magazine who was promoting instant coffee and canned onion soup. Kellogg’s even created cereal that could be served faster. Their ads claimed that busy moms loved their presweetened Corn Pops. Because who had time for the laborious task of sprinkling on a spoonful of sugar?

TV dinners. Minute rice. Instant potatoes. “Hot breads—in a jiffy!” All were peddled to harried housewives who just didn’t have enough hours in the day to cook like their mothers had. “It’s just 1-2-3, and dinner’s on the table,” exclaimed an article in Better Homes & Gardens. “That’s how speedy the fixing can be when the hub of your meal is delicious canned meat.” [1]

But the faster the cooking, the less it felt like real cooking and the greater the potential for guilt on the part of the homemaker. That was the problem with instant cake mix. Intended to save busy housewives time by simply adding water to a mix, stirring, and popping in the oven, instant cake mix seemed like a fantastic idea. But sales fizzled after a few years. It turned out that TV dinners or the kids’ cereal were one thing, but a cake — well, that was another matter. Any homemaker worth her salt wouldn’t make a generic cake from a box that couldn’t be distinguished from a cake baked by the guests she was serving it to.

When marketers dove in to uncover what went wrong with cake mix, they discovered that it was too easy. The solution was simple: Have the baker add an egg. Once the powdered egg was removed from the mix, sales recovered and instant cake mixes became a mainstay in nearly every home in America. By adding one step to the mixing process, homemakers felt they were really baking again.

The cake mix lesson has since been repeated many times over. Build-a-Bear sends you the raw materials and the directions, but it’s up to you to actually build the bear. Cooks at “patron-prepared” restaurants like Mongolian Barbecue will cook the food for you, but only after you select the ingredients. City-dwellers take “Haycations,” where they pay farmers to do their work for them. And of course, there’s IKEA, which sells furniture at a discount because buyers have to build their own bookcases, cabinets, and tables. In each of these instances, people seem to place more value on items to which they have contributed some labor.

With this in mind, three psychologists, Michael Norton, Daniel Mochon, and Dan Ariely, conducted a series of studies to find out whether consumers would, in fact, pay more money for products they themselves assembled. The research consisted of three different experiments.

In the first experiment, researchers found that participants were willing to pay 63% more for furniture they had built over furniture that came pre-assembled.

In the second experiment, Norton, Mochon, and Ariely asked subjects to make origami frogs or cranes. They then asked the subjects how much they were willing to pay for their own work. Following this, researchers gathered another group of volunteers who had not created any origami. These new subjects were asked how much they were willing to pay for origami built by the participants. Then the researchers asked how much they were willing to pay for origami built by an expert. These people, who had no personal connection to the creations, were willing to pay more for the expert’s products, which is exactly what one would expect. The participants who had made the origami frogs and cranes were then shown a display of origami that consisted of one set they had built themselves and one set that had been built by the experts. They were asked to bid on the different origami. The builders perceived the origami they had created as being of equal quality to those created by the pros.

The results of these studies suggest that when people construct a particular product, even if they do a cruddy job of it, they will value it more than if they had not put any effort into its creation.

Participants, wrote Norton and colleagues, “saw their amateurish creations as similar in value to experts’ creations, and expected others to share their opinions.”

The psychologists dubbed this the IKEA effect.

Two Problems For Teachers

There are two problems the IKEA effect creates for teachers. The first is that what you make is likely not nearly as good as you think it is. Your rubric is not better than another teacher’s. You just think it is because you made it. Same goes for everything else you’ve created. You would almost assuredly be better off using a product made by someone else. And as much as you don’t want to hear it, you’d be best off using products created by people whose job is to create those products. So while it may offend your sensibilities, stick with the program your district spent thousands of dollars on because it’s probably better than anything you’re going to design.

The second lesson is that there is a cost to spending time creating stuff. If you spend an hour making a magnetism unit because you tell yourself it will be better than anything you currently have in your filing cabinet or that you can find online, then you’ve lost the opportunity to spend that hour doing other things. You could have used the time on something that will make a difference for your students. You could have spent it doing an activity you enjoy. You could have even taken a nap during that hour and gone to work the next day better rested. The science is harsh but clear: If you’re a teacher who creates his own materials, you’re wasting your most precious resource making stuff that isn’t very good, in spite of the fact that you can find better resources with a few clicks of your mouse, or even more simply, by opening your teacher’s guide.

For the teacher looking to improve his effectiveness while spending less time working, the IKEA effect gives you permission to stop making stuff and steal (or purchase) from others.

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[1] Shapiro, Laura. Something from the oven: reinventing dinner in 1950s America. Penguin Books, 2005.

Proof Your Teacher Evaluation is Meaningless

It’s bad enough that part of teachers’ evaluations are based on student growth. This growth, usually based on just a few poorly designed assessments and for which students are not personally held accountable, can be affected by a number of factors completely outside the control of the teacher, such as student attendance, motivation, technical issues, and whether or not a kid remembered his glasses or whether or not mom remembered his medication on the critical day.

But even more egregious is that a large percentage of a teacher’s evaluation comes from administrator observations.

A principal is given a huge checklist of “best practices,” and is supposed to assess the teacher in real-time on each of them. They might do this a couple of times each year. Of the more than 1,000 hours that teachers do their jobs in a year, their evaluation may rest on just 80 minutes of observed teaching. In other words, a teacher’s entire year is judged on about one-tenth of one percent of her efforts.

That’s not the worst of it. Because in the case of observations, it’s not what districts are doing that proves teacher evaluations are meaningless. It’s what districts are not doing.

What Districts Won’t and Never Will Do

See if you can imagine your district doing the following:

On a day in May, say a week or two before you are to receive your end-of-year evaluation, the entire staff is invited to a one-hour professional development session. The topic is “Why Your Teacher Evaluation is Credible.” You all gather inside the high school auditorium. A huge screen is hung over the stage. In the front row sits every administrator the district employs.

The Superintendent walks to the microphone and says, “Valued educators, we know that many teachers feel stress over their evaluations. Today, we are going to alleviate some of that stress. We want you to know that the tool we use to evaluate you produces consistent results, no matter who uses it.

To prove it to you, we are all going to watch a 40-minute video of a lesson. In this case, you’ll be seeing a sixth grade social studies class. Each administrator will complete an observation–just like they do for all of you–while they watch the video. When the lesson ends, I will collect each principal’s observation and I will show them to you. That way, you will see that no matter who uses the tool it produces very similar results. You’ll know that your teacher evaluation is a true reflection of your abilities as an educator, and not the subjective result of an unproven process that encourages you to employ different strategies based solely on the whims and preferences of the person who happens to be your supervisor this year.”

At which point the video starts and the principals start tapping things on their iPads.

The fact that none of the above happens in any district I know of (and never will) tells teachers everything they need to know about the objectivity of the observations they’re forced to endure and are asked to believe in.

If you have a system that relies on the opinions and values of the individuals doing the scoring then you have a system that can’t be trusted.

Treat Teachers Like Gymnasts

Gymnastics recognizes this. Gymnastics, like teaching, is more art than science. Two people watching the same routine can honestly disagree about which was better. That’s why gymnasts are scored by multiple judges who have deep knowledge of the sport and receive rigorous training on how to evaluate routines. They’re given strict guidelines and add points for required elements and difficulty, while deducting for execution and artistry.*

And still they don’t agree. That’s why the high and low scores are thrown out and the rest are averaged. FIG recognizes that relying on the judgment of one person ruins the credibility of their sport. No viewer would trust the results of a gymnastics competition that was judged by a single person. The gymnasts wouldn’t trust those results, either.

Neither should teachers. It says something that we care more about getting it right for gymnasts than for teachers. It says something that school districts will never allow its teachers to see how subjective their administrators’ observations truly are. It says something that American teachers’ jobs are in the hands of one judge, who bases his or her evaluation on one-tenth of one percent of a teachers’ working hours.

One judge.

Better hope you don’t get the Russian.**

____________________________

* I simplified Olympic gymnastics’ scoring for ease of reading.

** I’ve got nothing against Russians, except that they cheat in the Olympics.

____________________________

I wrote more about teacher evaluations here:

Why You Shouldn’t Care About Your Teacher Evaluation

How Teachers Can Give Themselves a Raise

Work fewer hours.

That’s it, really. I probably don’t need to explain it, but you did click over here and you likely expect more than three words, so…

Here is how working for others… uh, works. You agree to do a job. Your employer agrees to pay you. You come to an arrangement whereby you will work for a certain amount of hours, and in return, they will give you a certain amount of money.  For teachers, the amount of work and the amount of money is almost always spelled out in black and white in a contract. For instance, mine says,

“The teacher’s normal day shall be seven (7) hours and six (6) minutes, unless permission is granted by the principal to leave earlier. Professional development half-days shall be three (3) hours and thirty (30) minutes with the start time to be determined by the building administrator.”

“Teachers shall be entitled to a duty-free uninterrupted lunch period of not less than thirty-five (35) minutes.”

And farther down the document, there’s a salary schedule that states exactly how much I will be paid for my labor.

So it’s pretty cut and dry. There’s an exchange. Work for money. Tale as old as time.

Now, when it comes down to it, we’re all hourly employees. Your investment banker friend might pull down 100K but he’s also working 60-hour weeks. So while he drives a nicer car, wears fancier clothes, and takes cooler vacations than you, he also mostly drives that car to work and back, is only seen in his fancy clothes by other bankers, and doesn’t take many vacations because he works all the damn time. He’s trading additional time for more money, and as a result, his hourly rate would be something like:

$100,000 divided by (60 hours/week x 50 weeks/year) = $30/hr + no personal life.

You, on the other hand, made a different choice. You chose time over money (or at least, that’s what I did and what you should be doing). You make a much more modest income, but you also work fewer hours (and if you don’t, you should).

If you feel like you’re underpaid as a teacher, it’s probably because of one of these reasons:

1. You’re young and pay for new teachers hasn’t moved in eons.
2. You work in Oklahoma West Virginia Arizona.
3. You work too many hours.

Let’s say you’re a mid-career teacher making $60,000. You work 10-hour days, plus you put in 10 more hours on weekends. Your hourly rate is:

$60,000 / (60 hours/week x 38 weeks) = $26.31

(And this assumes you don’t work over the summer. But if you’re working 60-hour weeks during the school year, I have a sneaking suspicion you’re not one to spend your summers on a beach, so your hourly rate will be even lower.)

If you want a raise, there are only three ways to go about getting one (short of leaving for a higher-paying job, and good luck with that).

You might work more, although you have to be careful. The math doesn’t always work in your favor. If your district is offering less than your hourly rate (which is likely), then it’s not really a raise. It’s just more work for more money, but not enough money to make it worth your while (unless you have no life and nothing better to do with your time, in which case, I’m sorry).

You can stick around for another year and get a small raise (unless they freeze steps, which is certainly a possibility, isn’t it?).

Or you can work fewer hours, which:

–boosts your hourly rate of pay.

–gives you more time to do the things you really want to do in life.

–is something you can start doing tomorrow.

So here’s how to feel richer than an investment banker:

Let’s say you’re not crazy and you don’t work 60 hours a week. You work fifty because you tell yourself it makes you a better teacher. So:

$60,000 / (50 hours/week x 38 weeks) = $31.58/hour

That’s investment banker money and you still get the summers, Spring Break, and Christmas off. Look at you, high roller!

But if you’re working 50 hours a week, then you’re donating more than 10 hours every week, or more than 380 hours over the course of a school year. If you don’t believe me, check your contract.

If instead, you work a reasonable workweek of 40 hours — which for many of you is actually more than what you’ve agreed to work when you signed a legally-binding document that governs employee-employer relationships the world over — then:

$60,000 / (40 hours/week x 38 weeks) = $39.00/ hour

And you’ll also have a personal life (although you’ll still be tired and useless on Friday nights, no matter how quickly you get out of the building).

So if you want a raise, stop working so many hours.

It sounds simple because it is, and yet so many teachers have a hard time doing it. If only there were a book that could help them…

(Disclosure: I wrote it):

And if you’d like more stuff like this without paying any of that hard-earned money, then just subscribe to the blog by clicking the fancy subscribe button below. You’ll get new articles emailed to you!

Hard Work vs. Smart Work – A Debate

The following is a guest post by Anish Passi, Director at Neostencil, an ed-tech startup funded by the Times Group. He previously founded Testcafe – also in the ed-tech space. He has extensive experience in the education industry, with past exposure to investment banking, technology, real estate, and retail consulting.

Hard work and smart work go hand in hand. There is no denying that people need to work hard to create a foundation for great achievements. However, if students work smart, they can do the same amount of work faster and efficiently. Teachers need to understand the thin line between making students work relentlessly hard and enabling them to learn smart work.

There is a preconceived notion among students that to succeed one must put in effort and work hard for it. Some people also think that one should give up everything else and focus all their energies on the final goal. While this is somewhat true, they can do the same amount of work in a shorter time by simply working smarter.

Merging Hard Work & Smart Work Together

To help students succeed in life, teachers should push students to practice both hard work and smart work simultaneously.  It is essential to work hard first because only then will students understand the depth of exactly what they are doing and then devise a smarter plan accordingly. The unfortunate truth is that in this fast-paced world, people want to switch to smart work but don’t put in any effort first. This could lead to a downfall. Like during preparation for competitive exams such as the UPSC, CAT, GMAT etc. people put in very little time to get the concepts right and jump to problem solving. Instead, they should focus more on concepts which would be hard work at the start but will make the process a lot simpler and easier.

Students must understand the project thoroughly, plan, and build a process around it. When they do this, they’ve framed all the possibilities, and only then can they undertake an easier way of completing the task. With teacher’s input, working smart won’t be much of an issue, and students will be able to work efficiently using fewer resources and time. The trick is to combine hard work and smart work.

Example: Every talented artist trains and gets mentored to perfect their skills. They spend years practicing without taking any breaks or shortcuts to make themselves the best. Once they reach the peak of success, they tend to make fewer errors and are more experienced. This results in better time management and less use of energy and effort. They have now become smart, but they started by working hard. This rule applies to every sphere of life.

Differences Between the Two

Let’s take a look at some of the differences between working hard vs working smart.

Meaning

Hard work means putting in a lot of time and effort doing a certain amount of work. Whereas, smart work means spending less amount of time performing the same amount of work.

Aim

Hard work aims at the quantity and may become monotonous and boring after a certain period. Smart work aims at achieving goals with quality.

Process of Working

Working hard involves a lot of tedious work which is carried out traditionally. But, if people work smartly, they can achieve more output by working in an unconventional and modern way which could include attending webinars, classes, and coaching. Check out https://www.travel-lingual.com to find ways to get the most out of your online study efforts.

Conceptualization

Hard work utilizes the traditional format of working, and there aren’t many changes involved. On the other hand, smart work involves using old ideas and transforming them to yield better results.

End Goal

People who work hard sometimes feel that they weren’t able to achieve their set goal. Smart workers attain their goals faster through proper time management.

A simple way to turn hard work into smart work is by understanding the aftermath of the process. If students keep on working continuously without any reliable results, then they should consider working smartly. Rather than focusing all the attention on just the work, think about all the alternatives that can be undertaken to do the same amount of work in less time. Set deadlines and goals that they should achieve in a set timeframe and prioritize the important tasks first. This way you will not waste a lot of time on unimportant things.

Contrary to this, some people believe that there is no replacement for hard work. Working smart is a shortcut that doesn’t work at all stages of life. Still, smart work has no doubt worked for many. If one can achieve the same quantity of work at the same time, that is not exactly a shortcut; it is just a better alternative.

Conclusion

If you can incorporate working hard and smart together, you will achieve great heights and lead yourself to a better life. One who works hard and smart will in due course of time procure all the benefits and rake in the golden opportunity to probably not work at all.

A Letter to Principals Regarding Walkthroughs

Dear Principal,

A couple of days ago you did a round of walkthroughs. You popped into five different teachers’ rooms for about five minutes each. I know this because at lunch later that day, we teachers talked about it. We have a request.

Please ask us why.

We would prefer these walkthroughs not happen at all than continue as they have. Even though I’m sure you tell yourself that you’re doing them to stay informed and to be in a position to help should you notice any problems, they’re nonetheless evaluative. How could they not be? Most of us remember our undergrad experience where we visited actual teachers’ classrooms. While the purported purpose of such visits was to learn from a professional, we spent most of the discussion afterward picking apart the teacher’s decisions.  We judged. It’s what people do.

It’s not the judging we have a problem with. We expect to be evaluated. The real problem with walkthroughs is that they don’t happen often enough.

It’s human nature to focus on the negative. We get that. We also get that you’re going to find something to criticize. When I conference with my best writer I’m going to highlight some area where she can improve, even though she’s heads and shoulders above her classmates. That’s my job, after all, to help all students get better. Same as yours with respect to your teachers.  Constructive criticism isn’t the problem. We can live with that.

What’s harder to stomach are the assumptions you make. You have an impossible job, often made more impossible by your bosses. You’re pulled in a hundred directions and you just can’t get into classrooms as often as you’d like. We get that, too. But it matters.

Because the infrequency with which you visit our rooms leads to a lack of context. And that lack of context causes you to make assumptions, which are often wrong, but which may be reflected in our evaluations anyway.

During your five minutes, you noticed that Sarah had her head down while I was teaching and that I did nothing about it. You saw Patel go to the bathroom without asking, just as I got to the critical part of my lecture. Joseph sits by himself at the front of the room and that didn’t sit right with you.

So ask me why. Ask me why because you don’t know. 

You don’t know what happened five minutes, or five hours, or five days, or five weeks, or five months before you walked in my room.

You don’t know that Sarah complained all morning about not feeling well and that she only got three hours of sleep because of her new baby sister. You don’t know that the reason she’s not engaged is because her body won’t allow her to be and that the reason she has her head down is that five minutes before you walked in I told her to put her head down.

You don’t know that Patel’s mom emailed me at the start of the week to tell me that Dad’s about to come home from prison after three years and that Patel’s anxiety over the change has manifested as a nervous bladder. You don’t know that Patel and I have a deal to prevent a mortifying accident for which he’ll be remembered the rest of his life: don’t ask, just go.

You don’t know that I’ve tried everything with Joseph for the past five months, but the kid just can’t sit near anyone with bothering them all day. You also don’t know that his seating location is a sign of tremendous progress. Because Joseph finally acknowledged his problem and asked to sit by himself so he could focus better. He’s not separated from his classmates because I gave up on him or I’m trying to shame him. He sits there because he wants to sit there.

You don’t know these things because you lack context for what you’re observing. That’s not your fault. But it is your fault if you don’t ask me why.

Why didn’t you tell Sarah to sit up?

Why did Patel leave the room without asking?

Why does Joseph sit by himself?

It’s a simple word that invites teachers to provide you with the context you lack.

Because if you don’t ask why, many of your teachers won’t tell you. They don’t want to rock the boat. They don’t want to come off as whiners. They don’t want to be the difficult one because the difficult ones get let go when districts cinch their belts and principals vote teachers off the island.

By not asking your teachers why, you put them in a difficult position. They can keep their mouths shut and risk having your ill-informed observations affect their evaluations and your opinion of them moving forward, or they can try to explain. But whenever people initiate explanations for their choices they come across as defensive, which others perceive as tacit admissions of error.

So, principals, do your walkthroughs if you must. Do them more frequently if you can. Don’t tell us they’re not evaluative because they are. And please stop assuming you understand the choices we’re making in the five minutes you’re judging us.

Ask us to tell you why. 

The Teacher’s Guide to Changing Careers

At the end of Dan’s last article, “I Quit Teaching and Won’t Go Back,” he wrote:

When I made my departure official and announced it to the world, I was humbled by the response of kind words and expressions of sadness for losing what I had to offer the classroom. But I was also alarmed by the number of responses I received from teachers asking how I managed to do it. I received texts, emails, and phone calls from teachers all over the national network I had been a part of declaring that they wanted out, too…I began receiving messages from friends of friends and even a few strangers. I had somehow become the exodus guru. I still receive these messages with the most recent just last week from a woman I once met at a conference who found me on LinkedIn and wondered if I could give her friend some advice.

This article, the third and final part in this series, is Dan’s advice.

Dan Laird

Since I was employed by the same district where I completed my internship, I never really experienced the whole job search process. I earned my place, but I certainly was lucky to be interning in a school with an opening. I now found myself looking for a job with no experience looking for a job. Obviously, I knew the basics, but I was now swimming in unfamiliar waters, waters that had expanded thanks to the internet.

Step 1: Update the Ol’ Resumé

Since the last entry on my most recent résumé from 1999 was for being a delivery driver for Pizza Hut, I had some work to do. And since that résumé was stored on a 5 ¼” floppy disk, I found it best to simply start over rather than see if the Smithsonian offered computer time. Because I was keeping my options open, I realized that I would be tweaking my résumé and cover letter again and again to match the job for which I was applying. After all, I highly doubt that the folks hiring for the copywriting position I pursued were interested in my proficiency with Google Classroom. To handle the task of juggling multiple résumés, I paid for a monthly subscription to the résumé building site, MyPerfectRésumé. It allowed me to save multiple drafts and focus on the content without the hassle of the formatting. (Helpful hint: I also discovered that if you pay for a month or two then attempt to cancel, the site will offer you a full year for the price of one month.)

Every time I applied for a job, I made a folder on my computer for that application, résumé, and cover letter. In the modern tech age, it is easy to apply for jobs at a rapid-fire pace. Despite that, some companies will respond as if it is the only job you pursued, and, believe it or not, their initial correspondence may offer very little indication as to which job posting they are referring. If you are casting a wide net, it can be very easy to lose track of your applications and nothing is more of a turn off for potential employers than confusing one opening for another. Also, by keeping a file for each application, I could easily find the closest résumé version for adaptation that best fit the next job posting.

Step 2: Finally Learn About LinkedIn

Despite being the butt of jokes for years, LinkedIn proved to have a place in the job search world. It turns out that employers may want to do their homework on you and this gives them a social media source to learn more about your professional accomplishments without having to sort through New Year’s Eve photos, your angry comments about being a cursed Detroit Lions fan, or hilarious cat memes. (Sidenote: You might want to check the privacy settings on your Facebook account). Since I was determined to go all out on this venture, I  paid for the premium subscription during my job hunt which allowed me to see who was reviewing my profile. I was pleasantly surprised to find views from companies to which I was applying.

In addition, many job search sites allow you to attach your LinkedIn profile to applications. Some even convert your LinkedIn profile information into the application itself. Since the résumé needs to be short, sweet, and right to the point, the LinkedIn profile allows you to really draw attention to work you want to emphasize.

Step 3: Find Your Source for Jobs

Job search sites seem like a dime a dozen. It’s important that you do your homework and monitor your success rate so you know what works best for you. Check to see if the site allows you to apply on its page or if it redirects you to other sites. Remember that companies pay to post their jobs on these sites. If the site you picked isn’t taking the application directly, it probably isn’t being used by the company who posted the job, which means your application may be dead in the water and lost to the internet.

Most of my success came from Indeed.com. In fact, that is where I found my current job. Indeed provides a very quick application process. If you have your résumé and cover letter ready to go, you can send it with the click of a button. A nice way to tell if a company has invested its money with Indeed is to see if it has added on to the application process. Companies can use a default application or they can add their own questions to the process. If you see these extra questions, you know that the company has prioritized this hiring source in its budget. If you do see short response questions on an application, always save your responses in a separate document so you don’t lose them once you submit your application. If you apply for another similar position, you may find a similar question.

Step 4: Cast a Wide Net

One of the biggest misconceptions teachers have is that their qualifications lock them into a teaching role for life. It’s certainly what I thought. What else can you do with a history major and English minor? Curate a museum? Write the great American novel? Finding an open position with the former is about as likely as becoming a rock star and the latter isn’t exactly a financially sound decision for a 40-year-old with two children and a mortgage.

I learned to stop searching for jobs for which I thought I was qualified and instead to start searching for my qualifications. First, I searched for ALL jobs in my city and state. For years I had been telling my students that they may very well end up in jobs that haven’t been invented yet. Here was my chance to see what had been invented since I joined the workforce. Of course, there were jobs that sounded great for which I was nowhere near qualified. Still, those are options if you have a long-term plan that involves going back to school. So if you want out and can bear it a few more years, target one of these jobs and start taking classes now. But there were also opportunities for people like me looking to make an immediate evacuation. From there, I started looking for more jobs like the ones I stumbled upon. It was a domino effect of discovery. As it turns out, the world needs teachers in every corner of the workforce and not just for teaching STEAM.

Step 5: Don’t Wait. Keep Applying.

Just because a position is posted, it doesn’t mean that anyone is in any hurry to fill that position. Nothing proves this point more than positions for the state. When you check your state government website for job postings, you will most likely find more postings than you have time to look through. After applying for a few state positions, I started to get the feeling that even the state didn’t want to look through all of them. Rarely did I ever hear back from one of these applications. A few times I was told a position was filled. Once I was told that the state changed its mind and eliminated the position. Most of the time, I heard nothing. The downside to fast and furious job application technology is that most companies now have to sort through applications from people who only applied because they had nothing to lose.

Step 6: Know What You’re Getting Yourself Into

It’s a very exciting feeling to get called for an interview. While the interview is a great chance for the employer to get to know you, remember that it is also a good opportunity to learn more about the job for which you applied, sometimes without even asking a single question.

Not all job postings are specific. They may give you enough information to pique your interest, and hold back information that may cause you to look elsewhere. In addition, some job sites allow you to leave your résumé posted on a general “bulletin board” for any employer to see. This may lead to calls for interviews you didn’t expect, especially from insurance companies. Because I was keeping my options open, I attended some of these. A few of these interviews were located in bare offices that looked like they had been rented for the day. One interviewer mistakenly thought, ¨How would you like to live in Indiana?” was an enticing sales pitch. And one scheduled interview turned out to be a group interview with a dozen other candidates. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when asked what we were all looking for from this position, one applicant responded, “I want time to do my karate.” No offense to the karate kid, but I felt like I had a bit more to offer and was surprised we were up for the same position. It was clear that I was not invited there for my extensive résumé. Lower level employees were clearly mass-hired, disposable commodities.

Don’t be embarrassed about getting tricked by these “opportunities.” This process took me almost a year to get the hang of. As long as you’re not sacrificing something more important, you have nothing to lose by going to these interviews. Use the opportunity to brush up on your interview skills, learn to anticipate some typical questions, and, at the very least, give yourself an interesting story to tell. You never know when something might surprise you. In fact, before I took my current job, I was in the process of accepting a position with a financial company that happened to specialize in teacher 403b retirement funds. It was an unanticipated natural fit and the company was excited to have an actual former teacher on the team. I would probably be working there if my current job hadn’t made an offer right before I was to take my exams.

So, to recap:

  • You have value outside of the classroom.
  • Your qualifications do not lock you into a teaching job for life.
  • Learn about expectations for résumés outside of education. They’re different. Then update your résumé. I recommend subscribing to a résumé building website.
  • Set up or update your Linkedin account. Learn about best practices that will help attract interest from employers.
  • Investigate different job search sites and determine which works best for you.
  • Search for all jobs in your geographical area. You’ll learn about jobs you didn’t know existed. The discovery process will help you figure out which jobs fit your qualifications.
  • Don’t wait to hear back because many times you won’t. Just keep applying.
  • Keep your options open. Attend interviews. You’ll become more comfortable with them, become better prepared to answer common questions, and learn what companies are looking for.
  • Be patient but persistent. Keep looking, applying, and interviewing.
  • Forgive yourself. I made lots of mistakes, but this was a new experience. Recognize that it’s going to take you a while to get the hang of it.

Good luck!


Thanks for reading the series! Dan and I both appreciate your interest and we hope this has helped those of you thinking of making a change. For those who plan on persisting in the classroom for the next five or ten or fifteen years, I have a book called Leave School At School that will help you cut back on hours without sacrificing your impact with kids. In fact, because you’ll be more focused, better-rested, and less stressed, you’ll probably be a better teacher.

Previous articles in this series:

Part 1: Why I Quit Teaching After 17 Successful Years

Part 2: I Quit Teaching and Won’t Go Back


If you have questions for Dan, feel free to email him at dandanlaird@gmail.com

You can also follow him on Twitter: @dandanlaird