The horses get my full attention this time of year, but that doesn't mean there wasn't plenty of Dallas education excitement this week.
One week later the same kids that failed are passing with flying colors. I only take partial credit.
This was the final spot observation I had for the 2014-2015 school year and I got a 0. I didn’t put up an LO or DOL, I was lecturing, and I did exactly 0 MRS. My AP that was evaluating me was and still is a wonderful woman. She was very supportive and pulled me aside just to tell me that by the rubric she couldn’t give me more than a 0 because of what she saw.
To be fair to myself, I erased the LO and DOL to write more on the board for my lecture and forgot to put it back up, but she was right, my room wasn’t what the rubric wanted. My kids were learning, but it didn’t look how it was supposed to. She offered me the opportunity to get observed again. I appreciated the opportunity.
“Give me a zero” was my response to this generous offer. Respectfully, I told her that the other 9 observations I received were good and I appreciated the opportunity, but that I would take what I earned that day because I was ready for the observations to be over and didn’t care about my evaluation scores.
Still beat the district ACP average for the 2nd year in a row, but it was still a downer that despite my kids getting what they needed from my lesson, my class was still considered ineffective. I understand the rules. I also know what was best for them that day.
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When Dallas Teacher Evaluation Systems Fail
Quality feedback in Dallas Teacher Observations
Evaluating Dallas Teachers
Long Spot Observation - Dallas Teacher Evaluations
Top Ten Positive and Negative Moments in Dallas Education 2015
Positive 06: Supportive Principal Negative 06: A Bad Spot Observation
Positive 07: Department Chair Respect Negative 07: Principals Lying
Positive 08: DISD Student Has Her Baby Negative 08: Parent thinks their child is stupid
Positive 09: Thanked by a Parent Negative 09: Blamed for a DISD Student Fight
Positive 10. Alex Hales and Retired Teacher Negative 10. Promising DISD Student Gets Pregnant
About this time last year one of my favorite and most promising students told me that she was pregnant. This wasn't her first which made it extra frustrating. As much as I tried to help, counsel, advise, etc, nothing prevented this from happening. If her boyfriend assaulting her at school, in class, in front of teachers and students didn't stop it either, perhaps this was inevitable.
I was the one who pulled that kid off her. We talked about what healthy family life could look like. I didn't have a perfect home, but I had two college educated parents that did their best. She said she wanted that for her future child, but instead, chose to do things the way many people around her including her own mother did.
I was upset because I felt like I saw her future slipping away. Many days she would come to my class (which she was no longer in) crying and asking what was going to happen to her. She vocally blamed me for not doing enough to help and change her path. I still carry quite a bit of guilt about it. I feel like I failed her.
She's doing fine now and has a plan for her future, but at the time, it only looked like doom to me.
The crazy thing is she was just the first of many that told me the were pregnant later. Within a week I had 5 new pregnant girls. A year later, they had there kids and I have a few more. It's a cycle I tried and failed to break. Here's to better luck in 2016.
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Compounding Dallas Student Problems
2015 in Dallas education is ending, What now?
Top Ten Positive and Negative Moments in Dallas Education 2015
Positive 10. Alex Hales and Retired Teacher Negative 10. Promising Student Gets Pregnant
I hope everyone brought their walking shoes to school today because it's about that time! Active monitoring is so fun isn't?
One of the many countermeasures in place to halt student dishonesty, active monitoring is a band-aid solution to a larger issue with the way we use tests, talk about tests, and treat our students and teachers.
Instead of focusing on the school culture that encourages dishonesty to happen, we tighten down on teachers and students, increase the severity of penalties, and continue to ignore everything that cheating actually means.
Why do kids cheat? Low Self Esteem.
Why do Dallas students cheat?
Testing anxiety in Dallas Students
Dallas Teachers assuming kids are cheating just because they do well
Positive relationships with DISD students
Why do DISD Teachers and Students even bother with homework?
How we are sending the wrong signal in Dallas schools
Changing our view of success in Dallas schools
DISD recently created new policy on the interventions required for failing students, which we briefly mentioned yesterday. There are a couple really big pieces about this policy that teachers need to be aware of. First, the policy states that if a teacher or a subject has more than 20% failure rate any six weeks, the teacher or teachers (if subject based) have to provide documentations for the intervention BY STUDENT. Not a general here is what I did, but what did you do for each student and on what date. The teacher failure rate is straight forward, but what do they mean when they say subject? They don’t just mean Algebra 1, U.S. History, Chemistry, etc. SHEL History is separate from history and the same goes for modified. Therefore teachers cannot just look at their whole class, but need to break down each group to determine their failures. In addition, teachers will need to provide documentation on any students that have a 68 or 69 to explain why they have that grade rather than a 70.
Let’s talk interventions. The policy states that
So what does this mean? Student will get MANY opportunities to make up work. If you have more than 20% of your students failing you will have to prove that you gave the above interventions to your students. This doesn’t really impact the kids that do not come to school and make up work, because they will not get credit anyways, this impacts the kids that come to school, but do not do anything in class. Now consequences for not doing working in class are limited because they can do it the next week, during tutoring, or at home and bring it in. Students will learn that that have second and third attempts to get their work in. I have no problem with this for the student that is trying and truly working to do better. The issue is with the student that does not want to work in class, distracts others, but then comes in after school to get their work done. How are we teaching them responsibility? Again, we are making student failures the responsibility of the teacher. That is not the case in the real world or in college. I rarely got second or third attempts at an assignment. I couldn’t make up my participation grade in office hours. You have to be on it the first time. How are we preparing are students to be college and career ready if we do not expect them to complete their work on time? And selfish or not, I do not want to stay after school every day or come in on Saturday for the students that will not work in class.
On my campus we got into a large debate about what is the purpose of the policy. Are we supporting students or we trying to make it harder to fail students. Is this the way of getting teachers to not fail as many students? We can't really put systems in place that force students to do more work but we can load up the work we give teachers. It is honestly probably a combination of both. The problem is this is not a real solution. This a band-aid. If a lot of students are failing and failure rates are increasing, there is a larger issue going on. That means we need to address the real issue and determine why are students not passing. When I pass the problem child this year, they become the child problem for the teacher next year, until they are the worlds problem.
On the other side I have seen many teachers give 1-2 grades a six weeks. Students have no idea how they are doing in a class, and then at the end of the six weeks they either fail or do not. That is not fair to a student and that is not right. Students need to know how they are doing in your class. Feedback is such a huge piece of the learning cycle. If a student has not received back one assignment in a six weeks how are they supposed to know where they need to grow and what they are doing will in. Similarly, if they do not think anything is graded or matters, they definitely are not going to work in your class.
I have always passed out missing assignments sheets in class every 3 weeks. Students want that. They want to know what their assignments are, what they got, and what they are missing. I can only think of one or two time in three years where I have passed out a grade sheet and a student DID NOT ask for their missing assignments. Students do care. It is about supporting our students and giving them opportunities to be successful. I do not disagree with everything in the policy, I actually agree with a lot of it. The parts that frustrate me are the providing so many opportunities to students that fail because they do not work and the need for teachers to document EVERYTHING THEY DO. Sometimes it feels like 90% of this job is documentation.
So yes we need policies to ensure teachers grade fairly, enter grades weekly, and notify students, but that was there. We had to have 3 grades a 6 weeks, we have to explain what we did in class to support students, and we had to pass out 3 week grades reports. Rather than making teachers put together a circus show of interventions, why not enforce the policies we had in place before. There is a difference between supporting a students and spoon feeding them. We don’t give our students the answers in class because we want to them to learn, we want our instruction to be rigorous. Well we are not creating a rigorous school environment if students can’t fail.
DISD Teachers documentation requirements
Gone are the days where each classroom is an island, it seems.
New requirements, along with the "mandatory" passing percentages we're already familiar with, are coming to DISD schools. Now, you will be assessed at subject level. That means if you are a physics teacher and only have 1% of your students failing, but the other physics teacher has 30% failing, BOTH of you will have to provide documentation for failing more than what's acceptable (come up with intervention strategies for failing students, requirements during the 6 weeks, etc).
It's a tad more complex than that since you have to break out by sheltered, modified, and on level students, but you get the gist. There will be a follow up to this blog and we'll make changes as we get new information.
Here's the thing though, the intentions may very well be good. Teachers should have some idea of what to do with kids not meeting the standards we set for them, but adding more to the already crowded plate of teachers is NOT the answer. I know student brains aren't fully developed. I agree that there should be opportunities to correct past mistakes. I don't think removing all accountability from the students themselves is productive, helpful, or compassionate.
Better get those writing hands ready because it looks like there's much more paperwork in the future.
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Grade Level Collaboration with Dallas Teachers
Team Teaching in Dallas Schools
Attendance for credit in DISD schools
Refusing to pass DISD students that don't earn it
Credit recovery in Dallas ISD
Yesterday, Kevin Malonson wrote a guest column for Learning Curve in support of single gender academics. While I think the wholesale transition to a single gender model in Dallas ISD is improbable, I do agree with many of the benefits of single gender education. Being a product of a single gender high school education myself, I can tell you the logic goes much deeper than "boys and girls distract each other." Many of the supporters and opponents get this wrong and do a disservice to the idea by essentially blaming young girls for academic deficiencies in themselves and young boys.
If you look at the development of young people period, it's much slower than it used to be. Adolescence is extended by high school+college+graduate school. You see more kids now coming back and moving in with their parents where a few decades ago the expectation would be to go out on your own and make your way in the world once you reached driving age or so. At least that's how my parents tell the tale. The "by the time I was thirteen I had a wife, a horse, and a job" days seem to be gone for good.
Every Lifetime Original or Tyler Perry movie is full of guidelines on what makes a "real man" or "real woman" for that matter. "Real men don't cry." "Real men take responsibility." "Real women have curves." "Real women don't have curves." The point is that we have no idea what it means to be a man or a woman. Everyone has a different idea and the process of getting to manhood or womanhood is largely unsupervised. Kids figure it out in isolation or with their equally clueless peers. Signle gender environments provide a place where kids can talk openly and honestly about their identity in an academic setting.
Perhaps the differences in academic performance are less about the "gender distraction theory" and more about the social and emotional health differences in students in single gender environments compared to those that are in coed schools.
For young boys in particular, this quest to become a man is ill defined and has no clear beginning or end. Most fathers don't take their sons into the woods to complete some task that makes them a man. There's no standardized coming of age ritual anymore. That's what makes this so confusing. That and the relatively new idea that being confused about life is ok and that you can take as long as you need to figure it out. Single gender schools create a unique place where kids can figure their identity out. It's the inability to discuss gender in a judgement free environment that causes what many people would call a male culture of risk taking and violence. I don't buy completely into the argument but it is fascinating to look into.
One of my favorite books on the topic is Dr. Michael Kimmel's Guyland. If you read it and disagree with his argument, Dr. Christina Sommers' The War Against Boys offers a few counterpoints.
Kevin Malonson on Single Gender Academics - Learning Curve
Kevin Malonson stops by the Dallas Education Podcast
Single Gender Schools Research
Watching this DISD Board Meeting has been wild. This is a long one. Click for quotes and important happenings.
Resist the urge to give your children with modifications and learning differences a 70 just because you don't want to do the paperwork.
Students all learn differently and their parents send them to us with the expectation they will learn something. Yes, I have heard the counter argument: Parents with kids with disabilities send their kids to give themselves a break and use school like a daycare.
This does happen, but we need to assume the best in our parents, not the worst. I believe that these parents are few and far between.
Over the years, we have all had kids we were pretty sure should not have been in "regular" classes. I've had a paranoid schizophrenic that refused to take his medication and made all the other kids in that class uncomfortable. I've had students that socially seem like they are exactly like the other kids, and very well may be, but their learning differences made them more or less on the level of a kindergartner. I've had kids that required everything be read to them or unable to receive written assignments. I've even had students that are deaf.
What about the teacher that is supposed to help them in your class (inclusion teacher)? I have had mixed results with these folks helping me or my students.
I've had inclusion teachers tell me not to fail students or to just give them a 70 to avoid everyone getting in trouble instead of helping. I've had inclusion teachers that just never show up because in short staffed schools they get pulled to do everything BUT their actual job. I've had inclusion teachers that are so capable and caring that they not only help the kids they are charged to assist, but all my students.
Developmental and learning differences make us uncomfortable. They shouldn't, but they do. That discomfort combined with the added difficulty and stress turns to anger. That anger turns to neglect and lashing out at these students when we should be helping them.
Giving them a passing grade and not making them work for it doesn't help anyone. One of my most ill behaved student in my short teaching history was one of these kids with learning differences. He told me he was dumb and to just give him a 70 like all his other teachers. I decided to be honest with him and myself instead of just fake it. "You're not dumb, you're just lazy, rude, undisciplined, and you don't want to be here because you're bored and want to sell drugs. You have to try in here." What did he do? Just enough to get a 70, but he did something. It took what feels like daily correcting, but it worked out. Continuing to make excuses helps no one.
These students can learn. They want to learn. Sometimes, it just takes a little extra effort.
Should teachers be required to do all of these things? It sure would be nice if we didn't, but we are called to teach ALL of our students. Period.
Children and Youth with Disabilities
Parent Fights for Special Needs Education Services - Education Post
Stop Making Excuses for Dallas Students
The diagnosis, respect, and compassion toward mental health is not the same today as it was even 10-15 years ago. As teachers, sometimes our instinct is to assume students claiming mental distress are being lazy are lying. Sure, that happens, but we and our students would be better served if we listened more than we ignored.
I've confessed here that for most of my life I thought testing anxiety was made up and never really heard about it. Part of that is due to the acknowledgement of it being a relatively new thing, but, as someone who experiences anxiety daily and has had panic attacks before, the problem was more me refusing to connect my personal life with school and my students.
Let me break it down. I semi regularly talk to a New York based psychologist (not as a patient) about the human mind and she has helped me clear up a good deal of my unorganized thoughts about human behavior and the influences on it. Brilliant woman. Anxiety has triggers. While not exactly like PTSD, it can happen anywhere at any time to varying degrees of severity.
The first time a student told me they weren't "good at tests," my knee jerk reaction was to tell them they were wrong and that they needed to just believe in themselves. What a cop out of an answer. One of my best lazy teacher canned response moments. Embarrassing.
She presumably tried my horrible suggestions, but still failed. Here's where the tears started. I asked her to step outside and talked with her. This student, boasting a solid A in my class and many of her others, explained how she felt on test days. She said her stomach hurt and her heart raced. When she saw the test, she started sweat and envision a big red 63 her paper. Why that number? No idea, but it was real to her and she could see it. Before even picking up the pencil she knew she would fail and often she would.
Why? She knew the stuff. I watched her know it every single day. She sat front and center, she took notes, she participated, and she completed all her work on time, but she would fail every test.
When she described her experience on test days, it resonated with me. I don't have a fear of tests, but I do have a complicated relationship with illness and my own mortality. This is something that anxiety free people have a hard time understanding.
I experience anxiety at night most severely. Have you ever been 100% positive you were going to die? Not in the future, but before Christmas? I've been convinced with absolute certainty that I had cancer, West Nile Virus, SARS, Swine Flu, Strep Throat, and several other rare and hard to pronounce ailments. I claw at my own throat while I'm awake and apparently while I sleep to feel for inconsistencies in my glands that weren't there yesterday. Many nights I have a hard time sleeping or staying asleep and on rare occasions it's been extreme enough that I thought I was having a heart attack and went to the emergency room. At times, I've resigned myself to being a functioning lunatic.
Anxiety is like having a poorly trained talking bear in your bed. It never sleeps and always tells you what you're afraid of. When you go out into your daily life it follows you. You can SOMETIMES get it to calm down and reason with it. "This test will go alright because I studied." "Men in their mid 20s don't get osteoporosis." No matter what the mantra or how crazy your fears are, sometimes you can't make them go away and they overtake you, crippling you.
That's what I imagine my student experienced on test days. It wasn't until I saw myself in her shoes that I began to understand and was able to talk her through it. Not completely, but to the point where she could show everyone else the brilliance I see on a daily basis. She passed her ACP. What's most important is that, for even a moment, she was able to succeed in spite of her fears.
Dallas Student Testing Anxiety
Why Dallas Student Emotions Matter
Why "Back in my day" Hurts Dallas Education
Me: What job do you want when you graduate from college?
Student: Rich and famous.
Anyone remember Lepidus? You know, Marcus Amilius Lepidus? C’mon, really? Only the history nerds out there? Ok, he was part of the second triumvirate and the last Pontifex Maximus (high priest) of the Roman Republic. Arguably (very arguably) he had power on the level of Octavian (Caesar Augustus) and Mark Antony. On, NOW everyone’s a classical historian... Here’s the point.
Most of us aren’t Caesar Augustus; in fact, most of us aren’t even Lepidus. He was a great man in his time, but within a generation or two, he was more or less forgotten, lost to history. Was he successful in his lifetime? Absolutely, but he’s not one of those few that has a name famous enough to endure the test of time and remain in the collective imagination of everyone on the planet. Of the billions of people who have lived and died in these United States, only 44 have ever been president. Out of a population of about 320 million, only about 1300 are billionaires.
If those are the odds and all of our kids are different, then why is that the standard by which we judge the success of ALL of our students?
We’re defining early on what success means for our kids. That's the problem. When I tell people that I chose to be in education, I don’t even get into the explanation before they sigh and pat me on the shoulder like my puppy died. Why do they deserve an explanation anyway? We should be teaching our kids to find happiness within themselves and facilitating their journey toward that.
Should they be prepared to walk down any path they choose? Yes, that’s our job as educators, but if a student tells you they want to work on cars and open their own body shop, instead of telling them “aim higher” or “keep that as something to fall back on,” why not coach them on how to be the best at what they’re passionate about?
This is not measuring expectations or accepting defeat, this is letting success be determined by the individual not the collective. This is teaching internal versus external motivation.
Most of us will only be Lepidus if we’re lucky. Most of us are probably Quintus the candle maker that is a friend to Gaius the blacksmith, a good neighbor to Flavius the leather tanner, and a dedicated spouse and father. We’ll be known to the people that know us, missed by the people that we’ve met more than once, and then we’ll disappear into our respective family trees.
What’s wrong with that though? That doesn’t mean you can’t have an impact on your community and the people you care about. There’s value in being a good person and helping people around you, even if it’s just a handful. You don’t have to move mountains to change the world. Small victories are still victories and they aren’t small if they’re big to you.
Education isn't a means to an end, it's a worthy and worthwhile goal in and of itself. Serving your community is something to be proud of, not ashamed. Being happy and leaving the world better than you found it is something to be proud of. That’s what we should be emphasizing to our kids. Let’s create that foundation then let them take over.