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going to bat against a-rod

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Alex RodriguezCompete against A-Rod?

I don’t think so.

Last year, our school’s student newspaper ran an article about the prevalence of cheating among our students, and it left me feeling a bit overwhelmed and overmatched. It’s clear I’m in no position to throw down with the likes of Ken Lay, R Kelly, the Postmaster General, or Bernard Madoff when it comes to influencing teenagers; mass media’s power and pervasiveness puts me at the disadvantage. There is no way I can vie with it for the attention of the teenage brain, much less aspire to actually influence that teen no matter how great a role model I might be.

And why should I even try? Some studies question whether a teacher with “good character” actually has any positive influence on a high school student’s character (Osguthorpe), so why should I bother? But that still leaves the very real issue of cheating and our desire to do something about it. The statistics the article’s authors cite are depressing and raise questions about the morality of our society in general, not just our school’s community. With numbers like 97%, 90%, 83%, 74%, we’re talking veto-override territory here. Maybe there’s some solace in seeing that our high school is little different from the rest of the world; what a relief to know that studies show our experience is consistent with the rest of the country (McCabe). So – without debating the ethics of cheating or the motives for it, the advantages gained, or the penalties and costs of being caught, or who’s doing it and why shouldn’t I – what can we do? More

family, religion, hearth, home, and college

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A recent dialogue between Washington Post blogger Jay Mathews and T.C. Williams High School English teacher Patrick Welsh raises important questions about the value of college and the mission high schools push on students, teachers, and parents.  Early this month, Welsh, a frequent op-ed contributor to the Post and other national publications, questioned the validity of the focus of traditional, four-year college as the sole path to success in a piece in USA Today (“Is college overrated?”). Mathews countered with a passionate, but mostly emotional argument for the intrinsic value of not only a college education, but the college experience itself (“Patrick Welsh is wrong about too many going to college”).

Here is my “≤3000 character” comment (which for some bizarre reason failed the Post‘s Comment submission process, so I emailed it), supporting Welsh.

Jay, you seem to argue for the four-year college path from what appears to be primarily an emotional perspective — with which I can sympathize — without really supplying any hard facts to back up your position. Mr. Welsh, on the other hand, acknowledges a background which could support a similar bias, but steps objectively back and questions the status quo while citing research. And Patrick Welsh is absolutely right to question the value of traditional college, especially when spending thousands of dollars and hours at college has become for Washington area families “as instinctual as taking an August vacation.”

Mr. Welsh makes an excellent case that four-year-college should be just one option among many on the path to fulfillment and success. If we’re going to dismiss this position, we should at least match Welsh’s rational approach. Ironically, Trinity’s Pat McGuire, while supporting your position, references a statistic which could vitiate her and your argument (depending on the source and context): she says, “40% of students in higher education today are over age 25,” which makes me wonder what those old-kids were doing right after high school graduation. President McGuire’s emphasis on “continuous learning” is laudable, but we’re wearing blinders to believe that the traditional, four-year college experience is the only path through and to learning.


where’s the student?

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Promethean Presentation

Promethean learning

Last week I participated in a conference focused on using smartboard technology in the classroom. It was sponsored by my school district and Promethean, and presenters were drawn from the teacher ranks of the 60-plus schools in our system. The conference’s purpose was to share ideas for creative use of the electronic boards, providing teachers with the opportunity to show off resourcefulness, ingenuity, and creativity.

And show off they did.

Of the dozens of sessions from which to choose, I was able to attend six during the single-day event. I came away with some good information, mostly in the area of applications and websites that could be useful in the classroom presented via the electronic whiteboard. What struck me most during the day, however, were three things:

  • Teachers do not good presenters make;
  • How surprisingly many of the web resources presented are blocked by our school system’s Internet filter;
  • And, most troubling of all, how absent the student was from the presentations.


fish dave and the funeral suit

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God works in mysterious ways and helps those who are way too inept to help themselves.

So my Mom up and dies last Monday, and before the week’s out I find myself co-hosting a wake and a funeral. At 3:00 on Friday afernoon I’m rooting through my suitcase at my sister’s-in-law house looking for my sport jacket … and coming up, uh, decidedly unsporty. It seems I’ve left it in another state, the state of unwearability in the commonwelath of Virginia.

This perplexing situation has a concomitant side effect with an even more perplexing situation in the offing for me on Saturday: no suit for the funeral. Son of a bitch!

After going tres casual for the wake Friday evening, I pick up my brother the following morning, and he asks where I got the suit he spies draped on my person. I tres casually respond, “From a guy at a bar named Fish Dave.” Mike chuckles, and we get in the car. After a few minutes on the road, Mike says, “So, seriously, where’d you get the suit?”

“Seriously, from a guy at a bar. His name is Fish Dave.”

Now this is where potential crow-eating flies into my story. I have a friend who tactfully and occasionally tries to convince me of the existence of the Judeo-Christian god. She will see this as a crow feast opportunity (but will take no pleasure in it, being the Christian woman she is). Before I left town for to see my family and work on funeral arrangements, she assured my that in spite of my beliefs, “God” would provide whenever I encountered challenges.

While we were at the Friday evening calling hours, my wife’s sisters-and-spouses went out for dinner at their favorite dining haunt. The restaurant has this tradition of naming its specialties after its regulars. My brother-in-law Mike has a sandwich or salad or something named after him, for instance.


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The public education culture excels at insolating itself from the outside world. Like a Chinese puzzle box, the teacher’s desk is nestled inside the classroom, which is nestled neatly inside the complex of hallways,
School violated student’s privacy in ‘sexting’ case, lawsuit says

More to come…

counter-productive commodification


Author and Washington Post education blogger Jay Mathews recently featured Doug Lemov’s book, Teaching Like a Champion, in a column. I’m not as high on its publication as he and so many others are (such as The New York Times), however.

A few of Lemov’s 49 techniques: No. 15 Circulate — Move around the classroom to engage and hold students accountable. You should be strategically moving around the room during all parts of the lesson; No. 12 The Hook — When necessary, use a short, engaging introduction to excite students about learning. This introductory story, analogy, prop, media, status or challenge is meant to capture what’s interesting about the material and put it out front; No. 42 No Warnings — Warnings tell students that there is a certain amount of disobedience that is allowable and that it is not only tolerable but expected. Effective teachers act early, reliably and proportionately.

Don’t get me wrong about its content: I suspect that Mr. Lemov and I are very much alike and we will have an interesting and fruitful discussion if we ever meet. You see, I base much of my delivery of learning activities inside and outside the classroom on similar “performance behaviors” (or “artistic procedures”* as Madeline Hunter describes them), using them to establish a positive relationship with my students (especially focused on SEL tenets).

It is the publication, not the content, I have a serious issue with. Or, more specifically, how the publication is received and used. In the hands of an experienced and fully metacognitive professional Mr. Lemov’s techniques can be easily employed by the reader with little or no coaching (although having critical feedback during practice and implementation is desirable). However, new and relatively inexperienced teachers will likely see these techniques as ends in themselves, rather than means at the interface between audience and the educator’s tactical and strategic context. In fact, they will likely be presented with these 49 techniques as such.

Let’s call it the inappropriate and counter-productive commodification of teaching techniques.


job sinecurity

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I’m pretty certain I’ve coined a new word, “sinecurety.” I googled it and got nary a hit!

Or maybe “sinecurity.” I haven’t decided on a spelling yet. It’s kinda cool I get to decide and not the OED.

I think I’ll go with sinecurity. (Leaving the quotes off actually makes it more real.)

Actually, the OED need not worry too much (nor Websters) since the word has a very narrow application: it works only when paired with “job.” Job sinecurity.

More to come…

the price of irony: about $4?

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Nearly snorted Starbucks coffee out my nose while driving to work this morning! The DJ on BIG 100.3 was recounting a news story about Prince Georges County schools proposing what may be perhaps the most restrictive cell phone rules for students in the country. The school cited as reasons rampant teenage classroom texting and that students are videoing fights in the hallway!

Wonder if the school board appreciates the story’s irony: which is worse, the texting, the fights, or apparent worries the fights make it onto YouTube?

martyr, not hero

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Ruben Navarrette wrote a tribute to revered, late educator Jaime Escalante, “Jaime Escalante’s lesson for teachers.” Unfortunately, Mr. Escalante’s martyrdom — although unacknowledged — far overshadows his heroism:

Jaime Escalante, Erin Gruwell, Ron Clark.

What do they all have in common? For one, they have each been celebrated by public education and Hollywood as heroes of American education, leading their students against all odds to success, within and without the classroom.
The other thing they share is not as well publicized: they left public education far too soon. Escalante frustrated by bureaucratic, non-student-centric administration and union rules. Gruwell and Clark to find non-public education solutions to better learning; Gruwell after only four years to become a college professor, and Clark after about a dozen years to found a private school based on his principles and practices.

Why is that?

Consider the irony. Thousands of math classrooms show Stand and Deliver on the “off days” right before a holiday break or in the days after the end-of-class high stakes exams occur (effectively marking the end of the course), classrooms which have little in common with Escalante’s classrooms. Freedom Writers, also a staple of English classrooms, is regularly shown in classrooms which quickly return to the routine of teaching writing and literature with no attempt to connect to the lives of the students.

The greatest irony is perhaps watching Ron Clark give his inspirational performance before 1,700 applauding and foot-stomping teachers at a National Council of Teachers of Math conference in Washington in 2009 with so few of those revelers even stopping to think that the school systems at which they work and the teacher unions they support do not tolerate Clark’s methods in their classrooms. And, of course, not even stopping to think that that may explain why Clark is no longer in public education.

These people are truly heroes. It would be so much better if they weren’t in a public education culture that made them martyrs as well.

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