“I’m a Teacher and I’m Tired”

by Robert Pondiscio
November 5th, 2008

The edublogs have been brimming with advice for the President-elect in the last few days, but teacher blogger Bill Ferriter’s stands out.  ”I’m a teacher and I’m tired,” he writes.  More than the relentless demands of the job, he’s exhausted by the crisis mentality that attends teaching.  Educating all of our children requires “something more than sounding warning bells and asking teachers to pull up their boot straps time and again,” he writes. 

Subtly, the message is being sent that if teachers would work harder, America’s “educational crisis” could be solved. If only all teachers were “highly qualified,” we’d lead the world again. If only all teachers held “advanced degrees in the subjects they were teaching,” we wouldn’t fall behind China, Japan and India in engineers and scientists. If only we could recruit “our best and our brightest” to our nation’s classrooms, no child would be left behind. The responsibility for addressing each of these issues inevitably ends up on the shoulders of teachers. 

While I may not agree with every one of Ferriter’s prescriptions, it’s hard to disagree with his broader theme.  We’re not going to get anywhere as long as teachers are expected to bear the load alone.

Student-Delivered PD?

by Robert Pondiscio
November 5th, 2008

I like Scott McLeod’s thoughtful and often provocative ed tech blog Dangerously Irrelevant.  But I’m a little skeptical about an idea he’s floating.  He starts off a new post with two self-evident observations:  1) Most staff development is awful, and 2) Kids are often technology “experts” on technology.  No argument there. But he follows those ideas off a cliff, proposing a Big Idea:  Have students deliver technology-related professional development for teachers.

The kids get the learning power and social/emotional benefit of being teachers and leaders. Adults and other students learn from the true experts. All we have to do is walk away from our egos and our fear and embrace our mission statements, the ones that say that we all should be learners and say nothing about from whom we must learn. How about it? You ready to start doing this?

How about no?  I applaud McLeod’s premise and agree that we should give kids every opportunity to be the experts.   Letting them be responsible for classroom computer maintenance and training for parents and younger students would be useful and “authentic.”  Perhaps I’m just quibbling about the what constitutes “professional development.”  But training that simply tells teachers how to use tech tools doesn’t meet my definition of professional development.  Good technology P.D. should be focused on effective instruction using technology — technology is a means to an end, not an end in itself – and that is (one assumes) beyond what a student can deliver.  We should be past the point of thinking we’re teaching with technology because we have computers and smart boards in the classroom.

A Novel Use of Data

by Robert Pondiscio
November 5th, 2008

San Diego’s school system is planning to use value-added data to…identify students who are most at risk of dropping out and need extra help.  Using five years of data, a detailed account of a student performance will be created.  “It’s a tool that will allow us to predict which kids are at risk for dropping out with a certain degree of accuracy,” Deputy Superintendent Chuck Morris tells the San Diego Union-Tribune. “We’ll be able to predict which students would have trouble with algebra as early as fifth or sixth grade.”

A student’s scores on state standardized tests and other assessments would be compared with other students districtwide. If a student shares some of the same performance trends as those who have encountered problems, the district would offer extra help.

It’s refreshing to hear value-added discussed in terms of its benefit to students, rather than as a cudgel.  Incidentally, California law forbids the use of student performance in teacher evaluations.