Teacher Exam Prep – 3 Tips to Pass the First Time

A guest post by Scott Rozell, Director of 240Tutoring, Inc.

In 2015, the state of Florida reported that on average, thirty percent of first-time exam takers failed their certification test. For some tests, the fail rate was as high as 48 percent. Many of these scores were from veteran teachers and administrators who with years of experience, still struggled to reach a passing score.

Texas educators are facing similar struggles. According to a KXAN investigative report, in 2015 there were over 200 Central Texas educators who had failed their certification exams at least five times. This is a big problem since many states, including Texas, have now put limits on exam retakes. Retaking exams can be not only costly, but also life changing. For some teachers, being unable to pass an exam means that after years invested in education both college and career wise, they will have to give up their teaching dreams and pursue other lines of work.

With so much at stake, it is very important to pass your exam the first time and preparation is the key. Following the three prep tips below will greatly raise your chances of snagging the score you need on your upcoming exam.

1. Never “Wing it”

Just wing it. Life, eyeliner, everything. Everything except your teaching exam. Contrary to popular belief, most of the questions on professional exams aren’t common sense questions that can be gained from experience in the field. Trying to pass an exam without review is a big mistake.
For example, most of the K-6 elementary education general certification exams include questions about phonemes and diphthongs. Kindergarten and first grade teachers might breeze through these questions while teachers of upper grades who teach students to “read to learn”, not phonics, might be stumped.

Thankfully, most testing companies will provide students with a list of the focus areas/skills assessed on the test, as well as example questions. You can use this guide to plan out a study schedule and hone in on the most important information to review. Even if you can’t study all the concepts covered by the exam, some planned studying is better than none.

2. Considering Cramming? -Don’t

No preparation at all is the worst test prep mistake you can make, but cramming comes in a close second. For decades, research has shown that cramming simply doesn’t work. Although you might be able to recognize some of the information after a cram session, this type of studying won’t help you on a teacher exam. This is because most teacher prep exams don’t assess recall skills. Instead, they ask you to solve problems, explain a concept in your own words, or give examples of what you would do in a specific scenario or situation.

It will take more than an all-nighter to familiarize yourself with the many types of questions that will be included on your test and feel confident enough to answer higher-order questions. So instead of cramming, pace yourself! If you have three hours’ worth of studying to do, it is better to sit down for three separate one-hour sessions than to study for three hours straight. Taking breaks in between will help you commit the information to memory.

3. Use Study Materials

Because taking a teacher exam can be expensive, many test takers don’t want to spend extra money on test prep materials. But taking the test without going over useful materials beforehand greatly increases your chance of having to pay for the test again. Useful is a key word here, because all prep materials are not the same. Many test takers erroneously believe that they can research the material themselves using the test breakdown, but this is a time-consuming and error-prone method.

Professionally developed test preparation materials are worth the initial cost because they include not only content, but test questions that are crafted after the ones that will be on your exam. For example, the EC-12 Pedagogy and Professional responsibilities is a 100-question exam that covers four different domains and thirteen competencies. A comprehensive EC-12 study-guide makes studying much easier because it breaks down each section and provides practice questions for each skill.

No matter what test you’re planning to take, passing the first time is as easy as one, two, three. Prepare a study plan, schedule your study time, and get professional help, or at least a study guide.

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Author Bio
Scott Rozell is the Director of 240Tutoring, Inc. 240Tutoring.com is the premiere provider of teacher study guides and has helped over ten thousand teachers pass their certification exam and get into the classroom.Nationwide, teachers are failing their certification exams at alarming rates. That may sound ironic since helping children pass assessments is a big part of teaching. But having to retake a teacher certification test is more common than one might think.

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Similar Articles:

6 Ways to Make the Most of Student Teaching

How to Get Your First Teaching Job

Teaching at a Public Schools Versus Teaching at a Private School

How Teachers Can Get Paid For Extra Work

There are a number of studies that have attempted to determine how many hours teachers actually work. The Gates Foundation says 53 hours per week. The NEA claims 50. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics gave teachers a time-use survey and concluded teachers work about 40 hours each week. Teachers surveyed by AEI reported working an average of 44 hours, a little less than college-educated professionals in other fields.

Regardless of which study you believe, one thing is certain:

Teachers work a lot of hours for free.

In my last article, I argued that teachers are going to keep right on donating labor for a very simple reason: Employers like work they don’t have to pay for. If you’re willing to work for free, then don’t expect to ever be paid.

So how can teachers start getting paid for all the extra work they do?

The solution is simple. Stop working for free.

Don’t go in over the summer to set up and decorate your room. Don’t volunteer for committee work. Don’t attend after-school events. Don’t take work home to grade. Don’t meet with parents after school.

Unfortunately, that solution is also really hard. You’re probably uncomfortable just reading those ideas. That’s pretty messed up when you think about it. It shouldn’t be a radical idea to suggest that professionals be paid for their work. But most teachers with whom I share this idea react with at least one of the following emotions:

Anger

There is a subset of teachers who believe that teaching is a “calling.” They see it as special work that ought to be governed by special rules. They’re there for the kids. They’re selfless, often working to the point of exhaustion, and they wear that dedication proudly. The idea of them or their colleagues slacking off or demanding to be paid for things teachers have always done without compensation is offensive to them.

Guilt

A lot of teachers like the idea of being paid for all their work, but they know they’d feel guilty if they simply stopped. What will those colleagues who put in so many hours before and after school think of them? Are they being shallow or greedy for expecting pay for things others are doing for free? If they’re not working lots of hours, are they letting other teachers, their principal, their students, and their parents down?

Teachers who do decide to cut back on extra, unpaid hours almost always betray the guilt they’re feeling by justifying their decision with high-minded reasons, like spending more time with their family. They hardly ever say, “No, I quit that committee and go home right after work because I’m not paid for that stuff.”

But feeling guilty about not working for free is absurd.

Why should any professional feel bad for expecting to be paid for the work they do on behalf of their employer? For that matter, even if everything you do is “for the kids,” why shouldn’t you be paid for those things? Surely, acting in the best interest of children is deserving of compensation. Things are so backward in education that the party who should feel guilty –the district for taking advantage of their dedicated employees — actually have the audacity to lay guilt trips on teachers when they don’t volunteer their labor.

Fear

Some teachers worry that their districts might retaliate. They might ding them on their evaluations. They may put pressure on them by reminding them how much their colleagues are going “above and beyond” (which is perhaps the most insulting and manipulative phrase in education today). They fear what parents might say when they make what should be a reasonable request to meet during the school day instead of after hours when they’re no longer being paid.

Altogether Now…

There’s not much I can say to those who are offended by the suggestion they be paid for their work. For everyone else, the solution to guilt and fear is a unified teaching force that takes a stand and refuses to budge.

When teachers are unified in their conviction that they will be paid for their work, the ball is then in the hands of district leadership. They will no doubt respond by pressuring the staff to return to the status quo. They’ll argue that teachers knew the deal going in, that other teachers work for free, that it’s always been like this, that “professionals” do what needs to be done, that you’re there for the kids. They’ll lay on the guilt because they like not paying you. There isn’t an employer in the world that would turn down free labor.

When that fails (and a unified front that wants to actually get paid for their work must ensure that it does), then districts may seek to punish. They may threaten teachers with poor evaluations. They might engage in a public relations battle to convince parents you’re not working hard for their kids. They might not renew the contracts of the most vocal ringleaders.

This is what most teachers fear, but my suspicion is that it’s unlikely. Look at it from the district’s point of view. If no staff member breaks ranks, then the district will be in a difficult position. Are they going to give every teacher a low rating and risk their own reputation?Are they going to fire the entire staff and risk making the national news over refusing to give in to teachers who want nothing more than to be paid for their work? Are they going to convince parents they’re right and that teachers are greedy for wanting what other professionals get as a matter of course? It’s a losing argument, and teachers should force districts to make it.

Paying People Forces Decisions

Districts will have to decide whether or not that thing for which it’s been relying on free labor is worth enough to pay for it. There’s tremendous value in that. Schools try to be everything to everybody and waste a lot of their employees’ time. Committees are created that meet often but accomplish little. After-school events put a strain on everybody in a school and sometimes result in low turnout. They often draw only those parents who are most involved anyway.

If the work, the committee, or the after-school activity is important enough, then they’ll find a way to either pay teachers or free up time to get it done during contractual hours. Alternatively, they might negotiate new contract language that requires a certain amount of donated time (for which any decent bargaining team will gain concessions in other areas). They might also pay someone else to do the work. For teachers who complain that nothing is ever taken off their plates, their willingness to work for free is one of the reasons.

So will I be putting my money where my mouth is? Nope. As I said, this only works if everyone is in the boat and rowing in the same direction. Short of that, it would be foolish for teachers to go it alone or with just a few others. You’ll succeed only in making yourself look bad. So like almost all of you, I will be heading into my classroom in the next couple of weeks to get the copies made, the lessons planned, and the classroom organized. I’ll be doing those things because I take pride in my work. I’ll do them because I’m a professional.

And I ought to be paid like one.

Stop Complaining About Your Teacher Salary if You’re Working for Free

Huffington Post publishes the writing of thousands of bloggers and they don’t pay them a dime. Why not? Because they don’t have to. When people are willing to work for free, they give up the right to complain about their pay.

And yet in almost any discussion about teacher workloads and salaries, teachers do exactly that. On the one hand, teachers will do everything they can to convince you that they work really, really hard. It’s not uncommon to read a laundry list of extra responsibilities submitted as proof of the teacher’s dedication and of how unappreciated her efforts are. On the other hand, they say they should be paid more.

A few days ago, The Educator’s Room Facebook page shared a post a teacher had written that outlined the pensions of a Texas educator and a Texas legislator. Needless to say, the teacher didn’t compare favorably. As usual, two points were made:

Texas teachers are paid poorly, and their pensions will be relatively paltry as a result.

Texas teachers work a lot harder than those bums in the legislature.

Both of which are true.

But the writer couldn’t help herself. She had to prove just how selfless and hard-working teachers are:

They are expected to work for free during the summer by attending professional development and preparing for the next school year. Their average workday during the school year is 12 hours and most devote weekend time to planning and grading.
In addition, most districts arrange to pay teachers for a ten-month contract over 12 months. This creates a common misconception that teachers have paid vacation over the summer. Actually, the teachers are providing an interest-free loan to the districts and are paid back during the summer. Teachers are contractors who work from year to year, contract to contract, but are only able to write off $250 of their business expenses like classroom supplies, tissues & hand sanitizer, and snacks for hungry kids. The average teacher spends $500 and many spend $1000+ on their classroom annually – and as budgets are cut, teachers take up the slack.

Some good points, to be sure. But what struck me, as it always does, is the contradiction between whining about low pay and bragging about working for free.

Because that’s usually what it is. Teachers who talk about working 12-hour days and going in on weekends and spending thousands of their own dollars aren’t actually complaining about it. They’re proud of it. They believe it’s proof of their dedication. It makes them feel superior to those who aren’t as selfless.

But these same people also feel like they’re getting the shaft. They ought to be paid more! Society doesn’t appreciate teachers! Their districts don’t respect the work they do! Look how much they’re working!

Whether or not you’re paid by the hour or earn a salary, you are involved in a transaction. You give your time and effort in return for compensation. In reality, all jobs are paid hourly.  Someone who earns $100,000 but works 80-hour weeks may have twice the money, but they only have half the time of someone who gets paid $50,000 for 40-hour weeks.

Teachers, then, have a really simple way of maximizing their hourly pay:

Work fewer hours.

Let’s consider two teachers:

Teacher A, we’ll call her Mrs. Balance, gets to work an hour before the kids and leaves about 15 minutes after they do. She doesn’t volunteer for extra responsibilities and says no to additional paid work because her time is more valuable than what the district offers for an hourly stipend. She works a 40-hour week and makes $40,000 per year.

Rate of pay: $40,000 / 1600 hours (40 hours x 40 weeks) = $25/hour

Teacher B, let’s call him Mr. Burnout-in-Progress, also arrives an hour before the kids, but he stays three hours after. When he gets home, he works another hour checking papers. On weekends, he puts in four hours every Sunday to get ready for the week. He’s on a few committees and does some paid advisory work. He also works over breaks and throughout the summer. Mr. Burnout-in-Progress averages about 55 hours per week, and he works about 46 weeks per year.  The extra duties earn him more than Mrs. Balance. He makes $50,000.

Hourly rate of pay: $50,000 / 2530 (55 hours x 46 weeks) = $19.76

Both teachers have reason to complain about their salaries. Mrs. Balance makes just $40,000, and Mr. Burnout-in-Progress, when he thinks about how much he works, feels like his district is getting a steal by paying him 50k.

And he’s right. His district is taking advantage of him. And the reason his district is taking advantage of him is the same reason Huffpo doesn’t pay its bloggers: He has allowed them to.

If you’re going to work for free, then why in the world would a school district ever pay you?

With the end of summer closing in, many teachers will be heading into their classrooms to donate some work. They’ll spend hours decorating their rooms for open houses and preparing plans for the first week of school. They’ll give and give and give some more. And their employers will be the happy recipients of their labor.

If this suits you — if you don’t mind working for free, if unpaid work makes you feel more dedicated, if showing up on a Saturday and being the only teacher in the building gives you a sense of pride no amount of money can match — then go for it.

But realize that nothing is going to change if you do.

So don’t complain about your pay.

You’re the one choosing to work for free.

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A reasonable question to ask after reading this is, “Well, what am I supposed to do, just not get my room ready for the year?”

I’ll address that in my next post.

How to Get Your First Teaching Job

It’s summer, the season of baseball, ice cream, the beach, and road construction. It’s also the hiring season. Districts everywhere are working to fill their open positions and the competition at some is at hot as the sand on the soles of your feet. Many aspiring teachers enter the interview season with fear and nervousness. They scour the web for anything that might give them a leg up. There’s a lot of advice out there, some good and some not. For this article I reached out to eight school administrators to find out what sets apart those teachers they hire from those they don’t.

Before you even sit down to write your resume, there are a couple of things you should do. First, clean up your social media. If an administrator can find a scandalous picture of you, then so can any parent, student, or future colleague.

Next, take advantage of relationships. If you substituted after student teaching (and you should have), then now’s the time to call school secretaries, teachers whose rooms you subbed in, and principals who are familiar with your work. Almost all of those people want to help young people succeed (that’s why they’re in education!), so don’t be afraid to ask them for letters of recommendation, to put in a kind word to administrators they know, or to use their names as references on your resume. These connections don’t guarantee you a job, but they can often lead to an interview.

Your Resume

First impressions are almost all that matter. Your resume will, if you’re lucky, get a couple minutes of consideration before it’s put into one of two piles. The administrators I talked to want a professional looking resume with well-organized credentials. Each of them said that grammatical errors and disorganization will disqualify you. Keep it brief; you needn’t include things that every teacher does in the course of their job.

You need something to separate your resume from the rest of the pile. A principal in Florida said he wants, “A resume that is eye-catching in organization, clarity, and content. Too many resumes are boilerplate and have no presence or personality.”

Another principal said, “Just ALWAYS try to find at least one thing to help you stand out among the others, ANYTHING. An international internship, bilingual, volunteering at schools while you are doing your undergrad, anything to help you get a leg up.”

A former principal and Superintendent told me, “The most attractive candidates pop out as a person who authentically cares for children. Something unique. At least one thing that separates you from others. Communicate that you’re willing to do the work of an educator–pd, meetings, parent communications.”

Andrew Phillips, the principal at Brandon Fletcher Intermediate in Ortonville, Michigan said, “I want to know what he or she did to go above and beyond. Did a candidate do the optional stuff, like help coach, or participate in an optional book study, or tutor kids? I want to hire someone who will come to after-school activities without me having to beg, who will do optional learning to better themselves and our students.”

Even the paper can help. One principal said, “The use of colored resume (parchment) paper always stands out to me that the candidate took the extra time to print their documents on something other than the traditional white copy paper that happened to be in the printer.”

The Interview

If your resume does what it’s supposed to do, you’ll be called in for an interview. In addition to obvious things like looking professional, not chewing gum, keeping your phone in your car, and smiling, there are a few things you can do to increase the odds you’ll get called back for a second interview or even offered the job.

It’s About Your Attitude

“Show me that you are interested in the interview,” said one principal, but don’t, as one former Superintendent said, “be a basket case.” Smile, be enthusiastic, be happy to be there (even if anxiety is eating away at your stomach) and sell yourself. It’s about attitude as much as knowledge. One principal uses the “cup of coffee test.” Would they want to have coffee with you? They have to be able to see themselves working with you for many years.

Be confident, but not arrogant. One teacher who has served on multiple interview committees said, “There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. If your attitude comes off as you “know everything” you may be a turn off to teammates and difficult to coach if the need arises. Ultimately, nobody likes a “know it all.”

Be Specific

I’ve served on five interview committees over the years, both for teacher and principal jobs, and the one thing that kills candidates is a lack of specificity in their answers. The administrators I heard from echoed this. They said:

“I want to see how the applicant has applied the necessary skills in the real world with meaningful examples. I just don’t want to see one’s goals or skills. I want to see how they can demonstrate those skills.”

“Talk specifically about the way you operate math and literacy in your classroom. It’s great to make all the kids feel like your classroom is a home, but everyone says that. Not everyone can talk about running a true math workshop or guided reading groups.”

“Talk about what you will do, not what you did while student teaching. Too often, candidates talk about what their master teacher did and how they witnessed that. It leaves the impression that they don’t have any ingrained beliefs or thoughts independent of that teacher.”

Be Honest

Some knowledge of the district is good — it shows you want the job badly enough to do some research — but you’re not expected to know everything, so admit when you don’t. Listen carefully to the questions, and answer directly. If you are not sure about an answer, be honest. Don’t try to make an answer up just because you think you should. Say, “I really can’t address that question, but I’d be glad to learn about it immediately.”

Ask Questions

One principal explained that, “Asking intelligent questions shows reflection on the part of the candidate.”

Many administrators would prefer the interview to be a two-way conversation, so don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions if you’re unsure of what the interviewer is asking. You can also separate yourself from the competition by asking questions that serve a dual purpose by satisfying your authentic curiosity about aspects of the job as well as communicating your willingness to go the extra mile for students. Questions about what extra-curricular opportunities exist for new teachers, or whether or not the school has after-school clubs run by teachers are always impressive.

I hope this helped. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to email me at teacherhabits@gmail.com

Thank you to the current and former administrators who shared their thoughts for this article.

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Teaching at a Private School Versus Teaching at a Public School

6 Ways to Make the Most of Student Teaching

Teaching at a Private School Versus Teaching at a Public School

Guest post by Sharon Yu on behalf of Oak Crest Academy

Teachers looking to find a job in the education field must weigh the option of teaching at a private school or a public school. While both settings allow a teacher to work with children and fulfill their passion of teaching, the two environments offer unique advantages and disadvantages. One can decide what employment opportunity is right for him or her by learning how teaching in a public school is different than teaching in a private school.

Class Size

It is well-known that many public schools across the U.S. continue to struggle with classroom sizes. With many districts experiencing shortages of qualified teachers, those who do teach in these schools often find that their class sizes increase each year. The average public school has about 30-40 students in a single classroom.

Alternatively, private schools typically have smaller classroom sizes and a better student-to-teacher ratio. If you want to teach smaller classes and give more individualized attention to your students, you may find teaching in a private school more in line with your employment goals. Private schools control their enrollment so that the class size is smaller at a range of 15-18 students.

Salaries and Benefits

Public school teachers tend to be paid more than private school teachers. Of course, this varies with the school and the school district and additionally, private school packages may include better benefits. Even as school districts across the U.S. struggle with financial challenges, many offer higher salaries to both new and established teachers. They also offer generous benefits like pensions, paid sick and holiday leave, and college tuition reimbursement.

In contrast, private schools typically subsist on donations to the organization or church that sponsors them. They do not receive state or federal subsidies that they can in turn use to pay teacher salaries. If you teach in a private school, you may receive significantly less in pay than if you were to teach in a public school. You may also receive only basic benefits like health insurance and minimal paid sick leave.

Instructional Flexibility

Public school administrators must abide by strict federal and state laws when it comes to approving curriculum for students. The curriculum cannot include subjective lessons on religion, for example. Likewise, lessons in human sexuality must abide by stringent boundaries that avoid advocating for certain religious or secular positions on these topics. Public school teachers must follow the approved curriculum carefully or risk losing their jobs.

However, teachers in private schools often enjoy greater flexibility when it comes to teaching these and other subjects. Their lessons may advocate for religious or subjective viewpoints as long as those stances are in line with the teachings of the church or private organization that sponsors the school. These lessons can be taught even if they are not in line with popularly held secular beliefs. Also note that many private schools claim to offer better programs for children with disabilities or gifted children.

Administrative Support

Finally, if you want to teach in a setting where you can enjoy ample support from school administrators, you may choose private school teaching instead of teaching in a public school. Public school administrators often are overburdened with politics, paperwork, and other obstacles that do not allow them much time in the classroom in support of teachers.

Alternatively, private school administrators often remain in close contact with their classroom teachers and provide them with ample support throughout the school year. They do not face the same bureaucratic challenges as their public school counterparts.

Teaching in a public school is markedly different from teaching in a private school in several key ways. You can decide what type of employment to pursue and what type of educational setting best aligns with your values and professional goals by learning how these two school types present instructional opportunities to new and established teachers.

6 Ways to Make the Most of Student Teaching

I received an email from a reader who is anxious about her upcoming student teaching experience and wanted to know if I could share some advice. After throwing some ideas around with a much younger teacher (that hurts to type) and reflecting on my own experiences, I’ve come up with some ideas. Please add your own in the comments so that aspiring teachers may benefit.

To make the most of student teaching, do as Stephen Covey commands:

Keep the main thing the main thing.

The main thing is getting a full-time teaching job next year. Yes, you also want to develop skills, collect ideas, network, and connect with students, but none of that stuff matters much if you don’t get your own classroom. Keep your eye on the prize. You are about to start a long interview process.

To that end, and before you get a placement, fight for the grade level you want. Your college will tell you it doesn’t matter. What else are they supposed to say? They have limited placement opportunities, so not everybody can get what they want. But we know how squeaky wheels work. So squeak. Your student teaching will be going on your resume. If you want to teach third grade, administrators are going to favor candidates with third grade experience over those who have only taught fifth graders. It’s not disqualifying if you student teach in a grade other than the one for which you’re applying, but in a close competition with another candidate, it may disadvantage you. Try to get the grade you want to teach for your student teaching.

Now, here’s one thing you do not need to worry much about: how good you are at teaching. You’re new. You’re young. You aren’t supposed to be that good. I’m old and still screw up all the time. I have disastrous days. Don’t freak out if your lesson flops or your classroom management sucks the first time you get up there in front of students.

My school doesn’t invite student teachers, but my wife, a fifth grade teacher, has had five of them. Her criticisms have never centered around her student teachers’ abilities. It was their attitudes that made the difference.

To start, do these things:

  • Be on time – Better yet, be early. At least 30 minutes.
  • Look professional – If you wear it to a bar, don’t wear it to work.
  • Don’t complain – There will be plenty to complain about, but no one likes a cynical 22-year-old. Save the complaints for your roommate.
  • Get better – You can stink, but your stinking should get moderately less offensive.
  • Be competent – Know the basics. If you’re teaching how to compare fractions, you must understand how to compare fractions. Watch a video or two if you’ve forgotten.
  • Enjoy kids – Parts of the job – the ones dealing with adults, mostly – are tedious, annoying, and infuriating. The kids make it worth it. If you don’t enjoy them, go find something else to do. Seriously.
  • Do the work – If your cooperating teacher asks you to give her your lesson plan the Friday before you’re going to teach your lesson, then give her your lesson plan the Friday before you teach your lesson. This sounds obvious, but my wife’s number one complaint about her student teachers was that they weren’t prepared and would expect her to bail them out. This pissed her off. Don’t piss off the teacher who’s sharing her classroom with you.

If you can’t handle those seven things, then the rest of this list won’t mean much. You probably won’t get past the interview stage, and if you do, you’ll wish you hadn’t. You simply won’t last long if the basic stuff is overwhelming.

All that said, and assuming you’re pursuing the right profession, here are 6 Ways to Make the Best of Student Teaching:

Get along with people

I hate calling it “networking” because that sounds icky and manipulative. But look, you’ll want to use these people as references on your resume. And even if you don’t, they know people who can help you. I got an interview with a high-demand district because the counselor at the school where I student taught knew an administrator over there.

The easiest way to make friends who will one day want to help you out is to show appreciation. Teachers get so little of it, you’ll stand out and be remembered. I have a former student who, every Teacher Appreciation Week, writes a thoughtful letter of appreciation to all her former teachers. There’s no ulterior motive; it’s a genuine expression of gratitude. I can guarantee that when the time comes, she’ll be able to name her district because there are many teachers, who know many other educators, who will recommend her.

Start something new

Every person who looks at your future resume will want to see something, anything, beyond what was required. Lots of people can fulfill requirements; special people do more. What’s most impressive (and I’ve sat on a number of interview committees) is initiative that benefits students. We know how busy the student teaching year is, so anyone who gets something novel off the ground is someone we want to hire. It can be simple. Start an after-school reading club for struggling readers. If you’ve got a talent, start a club for that. Chess, Quilting, Coding. Anything looks good. If you can do something with technology, either outside of school or embedded in your lessons, that’s even better. Old people are fascinated by technology, and they’re the ones doing the hiring. Volunteering to share your school’s good news on Facebook might be a simple way to impress.

Do the grunt work

Make the copies, get the coffee, write out the ridiculously detailed lesson plans your university requires even though no teacher has the time, inclination, or need to ever write them. We’ve all done it. It’s part of the initiation process. And, truthfully, it prepares you for the real world. There’s plenty of grunt work in education. I still make my own copies and plunge the classroom toilet.

Shut up

Yes, you learned some stuff in your teacher preparation courses. You read new research and were challenged on the old ways of doing things. This is what colleges do. Academia is great at questioning well-worn practices. But those TAs and profs sometimes don’t have much experience in the real world. My student teaching year, I read something about how we shouldn’t require students to raise their hands before talking. The article made a lot of high-minded, seemingly good points. I asked my master teacher if I could try it. She looked doubtful, but said go ahead. It didn’t go well. There are usually good reasons why schools and teachers do things the way they do. They might not be ideal, but sometimes the alternatives that sound so good in a college classroom cause more problems than they’re worth. Listen more than you talk.

Ask questions

Ask lots of questions. This is one of the only times in your career that you will have the opportunity to spend large amounts of time observing professional teachers. Make the most of it, it won’t come again. The teachers will do things you won’t understand. I guarantee they will have reasons for those choices. Ask about them. Benefit from their hard-won lessons earned through years of experience.

Keep an ideas file

Try to get into lots of different classrooms so you’re exposed to an array of teaching techniques, management strategies, organizational methods, and tricks of the trade. Write down everything that looks even remotely interesting. When you’re preparing for your first classroom, there will be a ton of decisions you will have to make. Having ideas in a file will give you a place to start. And if that fails, there’s always Pinterest.

Good luck. Enjoy it! You’re about to learn twenty times more about teaching than you have in all your years sitting in a classroom. Make the most of it!

Teachers, Stop Saying You Work All Summer

I know, I know. Some of you actually work. Some of you really do plan lessons, attend conferences, renovate your classrooms, teach summer school, or even work a part-time job. Some of you do all of the above.

But most of you don’t. I’ve been teaching seventeen years now. I know a LOT of teachers. Most of my friends are teachers. Hardly any of them work much in the summer. One teaches summer school for three days a week for about six weeks. Most of us do some planning for next year (“vaguely thinking about” would be more accurate). We might read a teaching book or two this summer (might I recommend Happy Teacher?). Almost all of us will, at some point before the year starts, head into our classrooms a few times to get everything in order. But most of us aren’t doing much work. Don’t believe me? Check out the Facebook pages of the teachers you know.

So can we please stop pretending? Can we stop lying?

Stop Being Defensive

I was on Facebook earlier today when I came across a video a friend had shared. You’ve probably seen it or one like it. It was about how teachers get no respect and how there’s a shortage in teacher prep programs. It listed some of the reasons teachers feel disrespected.

The first comment under the video trotted out the very tired, “Teachers have three months off” argument. Evidently, the commenter missed the part about teachers quitting and young people avoiding the profession. That would seem to argue that those three months off aren’t the incentive people think they are. The commenter was beset, of course, by teachers claiming, as they always do, that no, actually, we work those three months!  That’s not a vacation! We take classes and plan lessons and work other jobs because of our shitty pay. Reading them, you would think that most teachers are busting their asses all summer. We aren’t. I sure as hell am not.

And I won’t apologize to anyone for that.

Teachers Don’t Waste Time

I work hard during the school year. I work harder than a lot of people. I may not work the same number of hours as someone in another profession, but the hours I do work are not wasted. I’ve never participated in a Cyber Monday. I’m there the Monday after the Super Bowl, without a hangover, doing the same job I do every day. A 2014 survey from Salary.com found that 89% of workers admitted to wasting time at work. 31% waste 30 minutes a day. Another 31% waste an hour. 16% waste TWO HOURS each day. How are they wasting time? Well, Bitly found that traffic on Twitter peaks between 9 am and 3 pm, Monday through Thursday, and that Facebook spikes between 1 pm and 3 pm midweek. Those are curious times, aren’t they? It’s almost like people in cubicles are not really working that much. Usage drops off at 4 pm, when all those hard working business people go home.

Teachers don’t get to waste time. We don’t have the luxury of buying crap online while students are watching our every move. We can’t check Facebook six times a day to see how many people liked our cat photo from last night. We’re not getting into Twitter arguments at 2 pm. In fact, if you’re a teacher who tweets you know that educator chats always occur at night. #edchat runs from 7-8 pm on Tuesdays. #edtechchat from 8-9 pm on Mondays. #tlap is scheduled at Monday at 9 pm. When do Twitter chats for marketing professionals take place? #ContentChat is Monday at 3 pm. #BufferChat is at noon on Wednesdays. #BizHeroes is at 2 pm on Tuesdays. Must be nice to have tweeting considered “work.” If teachers waste time at school, it simply means we have more work to take home. Other professionals might work more hours than teachers, but that doesn’t mean they’re doing more work.

Stop Apologizing

Teachers, let’s just be honest: Summer vacation is perk. No one else apologizes for their work perks. Why should we?

I’ll start feeling bad for enjoying my three months off when business people start feeling bad about their hour-long leisurely lunches at restaurants (that some write off as business expenses), their corporate junkets to Aspen, free tickets to sporting events, paid air travel and hotel stays that allow them to see the country on their company’s dime, high salaries, the ability to take a week off in October to vacation during non-peak times, workdays that permit (even encourage) dicking off on social media, paid water cooler conversations about last night’s episode of “The Bachelor,” and lots of other perks I don’t get as a teacher.

But since that’s not likely to happen anytime soon, I’ll just enjoy my three months off. Every glorious, sun-filled, relaxing day of it.

The Best Way to Thank Your Child’s Teacher

School is out for the year in most places. Teachers are sleeping in. Parents have arranged for child care. Students are snapping chats, or playing Fortnite, or getting in my way at the zoo (I don’t really know what students do with their free time. I used to watch Matlock in the summer). Many teachers received gifts from the parents of their students during that last week of school. I saw them on Facebook, and I don’t know a single teacher who doesn’t greatly appreciate them. In a world where genuine appreciation is as rare as political bipartisanship, even a token thank-you stands out.

Gift cards, coffee mugs, thematic baskets, chocolate, and thank you cards are all great, but there is one way parents can thank their children’s teachers that beats them all. Few teachers receive this gift, even though it costs nothing, takes only a few minutes to put together, has lasting positive effects, and you can do it at any point of the school year, even now, when it’s over.

What is this wonderful, simple gift?

An email to the teacher’s principal.

Teachers Get Evaluated

Many parents may not be aware that teachers are evaluated yearly now. This is a relatively new thing, at least in practice. While there have always been teacher evaluation systems, the old ones were mostly formalities. The principal would let the teacher know he was coming, the teacher would teach, the principal would fill out a quick form that usually lacked teeth, and they’d all go on their merry ways.

Then, for lots of mostly bad reasons, politicians decided teachers were the main cause of society’s failures. They decided to weed out the bad ones. To do that, they needed some kind of system to identify the duds. They wanted to use test scores because test scores produce numbers and people like numbers. They seem objective. But then the forces of good convinced them that including principal observations should be part of the system, too.

So what does all this have to do with writing an email to the principal?

Principals Are Human

The system described above is meant to be objective, but it isn’t. Humans are involved. Humans have values and prejudices and feelings and all kinds of other humany things that make objectively evaluating others impossible. Two principals watching the same lesson will judge that lesson differently. Two principals will measure the value of teachers in their buildings differently.

In practice, the system actually works like this:

– For various reason –some good, some bad — principals like some teachers more than others.
– Principals bring their biases with them when they observe teachers.
– Charitable view: Although principals tell themselves they’re being fair, their preferences for certain teachers show through in their ratings.
– Less charitable view: Principals decide beforehand which teachers are going to get lower scores and then, no matter what they observe, they rate teachers accordingly. In other words, they say to themselves, “Well, if the district is going to lay people off this year, I better make sure they lay off the teachers I’d rather not have around. One way to do that is to rate them poorly on observations.”

Humans Can Be Influenced

It is human nature to complain about things that annoy us and keep quiet when we’re satisfied. That means that if principals hear anything about the teachers in their buildings, it’s likely negative. The feedback principals receive about teachers either confirms or challenges their opinions.

Fortunately, positive feedback works the same way. Most principals are unaware of much of what happens. They can’t be everywhere all the time. They may not know anything about how a teacher communicates with parents, or how a teacher inspired Timmy to read more at home, or the way a teacher makes learning fun. A principal might not notice the rapport a teacher has with her students. But if he receives three emails from parents praising the relationships their children have with their teacher, he’ll start to.

All of us are influenced by the opinions of others. It’s what makes hit songs, bestsellers, and blockbusters. It’s why one restaurant thrives while others close. It’s why I don’t admit to people that I don’t care for Monty Python, Wes Anderson movies, or Meryl Streep. When you hear from lots of people about how great something is, you start to think you’re the weird one. You keep those opinions to yourself. You question them. You look for evidence you’re wrong.

That’s why parents who are happy with their child’s teacher should email the principal. The more a principal hears good things about his teachers, the more likely it is he’ll start to believe them or at least question his own opinions.

Don’t Just Tell the Teacher

Most years, I get a card from a parent thanking me. Often, the card will say something like, “Ivy really enjoyed being in your class. She was nervous to have a male teacher but she had a great third-grade year.”

I love getting these cards.

But I’d also love my principal to hear what parents appreciate about me, too.

Principals who hear good things about teachers will be less likely to evaluate those teachers poorly or consider moving them to a different position in their district. Upsetting parents who have proven they’re willing to write emails to school administrators is one thing most principals are reluctant to do.

So if you think your child’s teacher did a good job this year, write an email to the principal saying so. It’s fast, easy, free, and will help the teacher more than anything you can buy from a store.

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Feel like reading more? Try these:

10 Things Parents Just Don’t Understand About Teachers

Why Bad Teachers Are Hard to Find

Why You Shouldn’t Care About Your Teacher Evaluation

Why You Shouldn’t Care About Your Teacher Evaluation

Evaluations are in. All of your good intentions, hard work, and personal sacrifice have been boiled down to a number and a label. Are you “highly effective” or “innovating,” or merely “developing,” like you’re an insect in its larval stage instead of a professional educator?

Whatever your label or your number, you shouldn’t take too much pride or allow yourself to feel any disappointment or shame over it. Your evaluation is meaningless.

My district uses Marzano and everything is entered into iObservation. The last step in the evaluation process is for me, the teacher, to go in and “acknowledge” my scores. Why this is necessary is a bit of a mystery, since I am in no way allowed to question or challenge my final score. The state of Michigan gives districts total power when it comes to teacher evaluations. No due process. No appeals. No presumption of effectiveness. It’s all very democratic, and obviously designed to help teachers get better (he said sarcastically).

Once I acknowledged my rating, I was then provided the opportunity to leave a comment. I guess this is iObservation’s way of throwing teachers a bone. We may not be allowed to tell our principal, “Actually, the stupid learning goal was on the board. You just didn’t see it,” but we can sound off in the comments section. As a reminder, that’s the section nobody reads.

Nevertheless, it was my only chance to offer any thoughts, so here’s what I wrote:

I continue to find the evaluations arbitrary, based on questionable data, and demoralizing to the profession. That 75% of any teacher’s evaluation is in the hands of a single individual should be cause for concern. That that individual, however well-meaning and effective he or she might be, bases most of his or her evaluation on a small sample size of a teacher’s instruction is also concerning. It’s a flawed model, operating inside of a flawed system, foisted upon professional educators who were given little opportunity to provide input to the flawed legislators who pushed for more accountability based on the flawed belief that American schools, and therefore the people who work inside of them, are failing. The whole thing is nonsense, and I therefore put no stock in the above numbers, whether they be high, low, or somewhere in between. It’s a shame that principals have to waste so much time on it.

To add to the above and to put everything in list form, here is why your evaluation is meaningless and therefore not worth hanging your head or puffing your chest over.

Your evaluation is likely composed of two parts: administrator observations and student growth data. Both have major problems.

Student Growth

  • The student growth portion of your evaluation is likely based on cruddy assessments. Mine was based on screeners, which were never intended for teacher evaluations.
  • Students are not held accountable for their performance on the cruddy assessments, which makes you wonder how much they really care about them, which makes you wonder how hard they try on them. (I’ll give you a hint: two of my students were done with the 30-question reading test in 10 minutes.)
  • In my district,  growth scores are harmed by students who start the year with already high numbers. They have the least room for improvement, and that lack of growth lowers teachers’ ratings.
  • The whole thing sets up terrible incentives, which I try my best to ignore. Teachers in my district joke about getting students to bomb the fall screener to show more growth. You could actively lobby for the lowest students to be on your class roster to have a better chance of showing growth. There’s no doubt that some teach to the screeners, so kids get the idea that reading is really about saying words super fast. The list goes on.
  • Those students who missed more than 20 days of school? Doesn’t matter. It’s somehow your fault they didn’t learn as much as they should have.

Observations

  • Most of the evaluation is based on principal observations. I had two.  If we only needed two songs to evaluate a band, Tesla would be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
  • Observations are only as good as the people making them.  They’re meaningless if principals across buildings and districts evaluate their teachers in different ways, which they do.
  • Observations are only reliable if we assume that principals can shelve their personal biases when observing a teacher and rely only on their training (assuming they received any).
  • Evaluations lose their meaning when those being evaluated are judged against different criteria. The current system assumes districts have at least a somewhat similar approach to evaluating teachers. They don’t.  My wife’s district handles the whole thing differently than my district. An “effective” teacher in one district won’t necessarily be effective in a neighboring district. Some districts make it nearly impossible to be “innovating,” while other districts start teachers out there and only lower them for cause. That makes the system junk.
  • Basing a significant part of a teacher’s evaluation on an administrator’s observations makes the system ripe for abuse. Observations might be an honest appraisal of your skills or they could be the result of office politics or personal grudges. If it’s the latter? Well, there’s always the comments section.

And why only observations and student growth, anyway? I’m a teacher, a service professional. Why don’t parents get a say in this? Why don’t the students?

I don’t mind being evaluated. I just wish my evaluation actually told me something, anything, about how well or poorly I do my job. Until it does, I find it hard to care. You should too.

10 Things Parents Just Don’t Understand About Teachers

I’ve eaten at hundreds of restaurants in my life, but I’ve never worked at one. My wife was a waitress in college, so when we go out to eat and I complain about something, she’s usually able to offer me an explanation.

The table next to ours received their food first because they ordered soup and sandwiches and we ordered pizza.

That family was seated ahead of ours because a table for four opened up, but there isn’t yet room for our party of six.

The restaurant may appear sparsely populated, but our food could be taking a long time because there’s a backlog of take-out orders.    

Until you do a job, you can’t appreciate all that goes into it.  It’s this fact of life that accounts for many of the misconceptions parents have about teaching. So here are 10 things parents might not know.      

We Have Less Control Over Things Than You Think We Do

The state adopts standards that we have to teach. The Board of Education approves programs that we’re required to use. The district’s administrators are under pressure to improve test scores, and that filters down to us. We may be “there for the kids,” but we’re also employees. So while we may want to teach your child other things and in other ways, we usually have less discretion than you suspect. When you complain about our math program,  you put us in a difficult position. We might very well agree with you, but saying so would be unprofessional.

We Do It All Ourselves

Teachers don’t have office assistants. We type all of our own newsletters and emails. Because we have many other urgent things to do, we likely typed that newsletter in ten minutes, while being interrupted three times, and then quickly read it over once before hitting print and running out of the room to pick up our students from some other class. Those typos aren’t because we’re idiots. They are the predictable result of never having enough time to do all aspects of our jobs at the level we’d like to.  

We Forget Stuff

There are a LOT of things that happen during the day. We may read an email from you right before the office interrupts with an announcement and a girl picks a scab and comes running for a Band-Aid. The contents of your email can quickly become forgotten amid the hustle and bustle of our days. We don’t recall everything that happens. If we send an email home explaining that Tommy had a rough day, don’t be surprised if we’re unable to recall the six things Tommy specifically did that led to the email. All we remember is he was disruptive.  

We’re Really Busy

We don’t have office jobs. We have a computer, but there’s a very good chance we won’t sit in front of it the entire day. If you email at 10 a.m. asking us to tell Timmy to ride the bus home after school and you don’t get a response back, you should call the office. We either didn’t check our email or we read it and forgot (see We Forget Stuff above).  

We’re More Annoyed Than You About Buying School Supplies

We don’t like asking you to provide notebooks, pencils, folders, Kleenex, hand sanitizer, and all the other things on those beginning-of-the-year supply lists. But our schools aren’t buying them for us, and we already spend plenty of our own money on things we shouldn’t have to. If you don’t want to buy the stuff on the list, that’s fine. But don’t complain to us about it.  

We Don’t Really Want to Take Your Kids’ Toys

We know it’s unrealistic to expect you to double-check your kids’ backpacks every morning and that most toys arrive in our classrooms without your knowledge. But please understand that when we take your sons’ toys we’re doing it because they’re distracting, and if we allow one there will ten more tomorrow. So please, if your child takes a toy to school and it’s taken away from him, don’t bail him out by coming to school and asking for the toy back. Let him learn his lesson, at least for a week.

We Might Not Want Your Help

Schools like to talk about how they want more parent involvement, and some parents generously offer to help in classrooms. Sometimes, it’s greatly appreciated. But other times, it’s more work for us. We’re used to doing things ourselves. We’re not very good at delegating. And if we know you’re coming every Wednesday at 2:00 p.m., we have to find something for you to do. We’ve also had parents who caused more problems than they solved. They joked around and distracted students, made too much noise when they were in the room, and modeled bad behavior. We don’t want to correct your behavior in front of the class, but we also don’t want our students disrupted. Sometimes, we don’t want to take the risk, so we don’t ask for your help.  

If We Meet With You Before or After School,  We’re Working for Free (and We Might Resent It)

If we need to talk to our doctors, we must do so on their time. If we call a business after it’s closed, we have to wait until tomorrow to get service. Even professionals like realtors or financial advisors who will meet with us after hours are doing so with the expectation of a pay-off in the future. If we meet with you before school, we’re probably thinking about all the things we need to do before students arrive. If we’re meeting with you after school,  we’re tired and want to go home. We’ll be professional, but we’re no more happy about it than you would be if your boss asked you to stay and work for free.  

There’s Not Much I Can Do To Punish Your Kid

Some of you want us to handle all things school-related, but there’s little we can do when your child regularly misbehaves. Our principals may think we’re ineffective if we send your kid to the office too often. Taking away recess is counterproductive and punishes us just as much as your child. Other more creative consequences may be met with criticism from you, despite your pledge to stay out of school matters. If your child isn’t doing her job at school, you’re in the best position to punish your kid because you can take away the things she really likes. You’ll send a stronger message by taking away her iPad, making her go to bed thirty minutes early, or not allowing her to attend a sleepover on Saturday than we will by giving her a lunch detention. If we’re telling you about your kid’s poor behavior, it’s because we want you to do something.  

We Sugarcoat

If we tell you that your kid was disrespectful to his classmates, we’re really telling you that your kid was a jerk. If we describe your child as “difficult to motivate,” we’re calling him lazy. If we say Jill had a difficult day, we mean she was a major pain in the keister. Whatever we tell you, assume it was twice as bad as it sounds