Saturday, August 29, 2009

Qualities of a good teacher

No matter what your job is you have to have the tools necessary or else you will not be able to do the job. What are the tools in the toolbox that a teacher needs in order to succeed? It is a very special person that makes a successful teacher. We are not all the same. Some of us touch our students with our enthusiasm for learning, some with their caring and interest in your life, still other teachers allow students to be individuals and express themselves.

No matter what it is that a teacher does that is unique to them, there are a few things that all good teachers have in common. You need to know the curriculum that you are teaching. Be knowledgeable about what you are helping your students to learn. You need patience- with yourself, your coworkers , administration, students and parents. You need to be respected and to give respect to all involved in our students lives. You need to be flexible yet also to be a short and long range planner. You need to be a goal setter and not a quitter. Teachers should continually be students themselves- thinking & learning new things. Finally, you need to truly enjoy working with students.

You don't necessarily need a sense of humor but it is helpful. Not taking yourself too seriously is also a good attribute to have. Your attitude about your students often is mirrored by your students. If you practice what you preach your students will see that you are walking the walk not just talking the talk.

You do not need to have all of the answers. The library, internet, fellow educators and other resources are readily available and if you seek out the answers you will find them. A good teacher with the right tools is a joy to watch in the classroom. Good teachers are individuals that will make a positive impact on thousands of lives.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Thoughts on staying positive

It is true that a positive attitude makes a huge difference in how a person feels and how others perceive us. Some people have naturally a sunny disposition and see the glass as half full. Others that we know have a scowl and a prickly attitude that tends to make it harder to connect with them.
Because a blog by its very nature is a narcissistic activity I will share with you that I am generally a pretty positive person by nature. Small things rarely get me upset. My attitude has been why waste time being negative about little things that you can't change? Things like missing an appointment, losing something irreplaceable, breaking something or being late have never made me upset. People are more important than things. I tried to raise my kids and treat others keeping this in mind. Life is too short to get upset with all the monkey wrenches that are thrown my way. There are however minutes, hours and yes even days in which I have meltdowns. This week, I had one of those days. It was my birthday and I was missing my boys, the internet was not working at home, the remodeling was at a standstill, summer was winding down and plenty more little things had built up in my head.
None of us can stay positive all the time. You would not be human if you did. We can hope that something good can come from the negative. I found out once again that I had caring family members and a network of online friends and relatives that would be there to lend an ear and show they cared.
The next morning I found out that a young teacher I work with with ovarian cancer had just entered hospice. This quickly put my trials and tribulations in perspective.
Life is just like that- fleeting and full of emotions of all kinds. I am going to keep moving forward thinking positive but realize that negative stuff happens too.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Merit Pay- A bad idea?

If you do your job professionally, responsibly, with the best intentions for those that you serve and you are successful at it, you should be rewarded. I don't think that there are many people that would disagree with this. There is much debate in education and the world at large about merit pay for teachers. As I see it, merit pay is based on rewarding teachers based on how their students do (improve) on tests. At face value, this seems like an easy thing to do. Delving deeper however, this is a terrible idea. I am going to try and tell you why I think so.

Some students do very well on tests but others do not. Why should a teacher be penalized for that? Teachers should not teach to tests and consequently students should not be asked to memorize things so that they can be tested and score high. Students are not machines- they are living breathing human beings developing at different rates. Most of us can remember when we had a break through of understanding about a concept that was messing up our brain before. You might be a person that excels in school, it is easy for you. On the other hand, you might be someone that has real difficulties with learning and has to work really hard. Working hard can be exhausting for a grownup as well as a child.

A classroom teacher does not exist in the room by themselves. There is the students family, previous teachers, the school environment, and the community that they live in. If a teacher could control everything that happens to a child, it would be easier to teach them everything that they would need to learn. This is not the real world. If you have not slept well, are hungry, have a stressful home environment, are having personal can you concentrate and do your best on a high stakes test?

Teachers should be cooperating with each other. Not one person I know has all of the answers. Anyone would feel resentment to their coworkers if their classroom of challenging students was not making the progress that they needed to be and their less challenging students were making great gains. It is unfair. If I can work with others to share what I know in order to improve all students learning, shouldn't I?

The classroom teachers are in a unique position. They generally teach all of the basic subject matter. If the students score high in reading, science and math but not in social studies- will this mean that they do not receive merit pay? Starting in middle school students have many different classes to go to. Is the middle school or high school math teacher going to be denied merit pay based on a certain percentage of students making the gains on a test?

How would a school district reward merit pay to a music, art, physical education, media specialist, computer, special education, language and other support teacher?

I do not mean to argue that teachers should not be held accountable for their teaching. I think that there should be an easier way for disillusioned or ineffective teachers to be released from their contracts. Unions should not protect teachers that are not doing what they are supposed to do. How would this be determined? I don't have a solution but certainly we should begin the discussion.