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

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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.

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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.