16 March 2015

America versus the World

The Media likes to pull out the random fact that the US is falling farther behind other countries in terms of Math and Science testing. Clearly our public schools are failing our students because we are not the best in the world on this standardized test. But, maybe that's ok.

This weekend I was at the NJ GAFE Summit and a student from Ramapo College spoke about a project he completed for one of his classes. His teacher used Google's Moonshot Thinking idea to ignite his passion to complete a project centered about building a strong community on campus around the World Cup Soccer matches. The student was from Nepal and mentioned that if he was in his home country the focus of class would have been to memorize the facts in the books and recite them back to the teacher for a grade. He came to America expecting school to be the same and was amazed that he was able to use his creativity to complete a project based on his passion: soccer. And that comment made me stop and think.

What if the reason we are falling behind on these Math and Science tests is because the US has been focusing more on creativity and less on knowledge?

Even though we are standardized test crazy right now, nothing is going well for schools when it comes to state tests. More and more schools are approaching failing. If I gave a test in my class and half of the students failed, would I blame the students or my test? Yet, when school after school fails the state test, it is the school's fault.

When today's students live in a world where anything they want to know is at their fingertips, maybe a focus on creativity and passion is the better topic to be teaching.

08 March 2015

That's What She Said

In my second year teaching, I was hit with the proverbial slap in the face when a student openly disrespected me to her peers. Julie was a sophomore at the time and as she was walking out of my classroom she said, ‘that guy is such an [nickname for donkey’s sphincter]!’ As a young teacher who, even 15 years into his career, is trying to figure out this whole classroom management thing, two scenarios from teaching school raced to my head
  1. Ignore the situation. Play it off as if you didn’t hear it. That will allow me, the teacher, to save face and I won’t have to punish the student who will now feel like I am always out to get her.
  2. Punish the student. Go into the hallway and demand that Julie come back to my room and apologize to me. Give her a lecture on respect and how you 1) don’t use that language in school, and 2) never use it to describe a teacher. This student needs to be reminded who is in charge.
Both of the scenarios ran through my head in a split second, but I choose unwritten, untraditional option #3. You didn’t know there was a 3rd option, did you?

I ran out of my room (yes, literally ran), leaving the few students who were in my room and who heard what Julie said wide-eyed and trailing after me to see what was about to happen. The entire time I am calling for Julie to stop, which she ignored by putting her head down and trying to get to her locker as quickly as possible. [Side note: why do teenagers think the area around their locker is like some invisible fortress adults can’t see through. You should hear about the things I have seen happen in front of lockers that students are totally oblivious to.] I get right up in front of Julie and say, ‘Excuse me. Did you just call me a nickname for donkey’s sphincter?’ (this time I actually used that phrase. I am still a teacher and swearing, even if you are repeating a student’s words is still a No-No). She got red-faced and tried stumbling out an apology, saying she really didn’t mean it. I said, ‘it was a simple yes or no question, did you call me a nickname for a donkey’s sphincter?’ She replied with a yes. I said, ‘Thank you. I wanted to make sure I heard you correctly.’ and I walked away back to my room, splitting a crowd of students who just stood there dumbfounded.

Every year on the first day of school I tell this story and every year I am met with the same wide-eyed look of shock. I tell them ‘you have every right not to like me. In fact, you can outright hate me. However, if you are going to say nasty things about me, say them to my face. I have worked hard for at least that bit of respect.'

Teaching is not about imparting information. It's about building relationships.