Ask a progressive educator about standardized tests, and more often than not you will receive a negative response. Ask more specifically about the SATs, and you will receive similar feedback. Many teachers assume that the SATs are the epitome of the folly of standardized testing. They will tell you that colleges and students would be […]
Author Archive: Noam
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” – Martin Luther King Jr. Just one month ago, the United States celebrated Black History Month. The nation has much […]
“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education” – Mark Twain Do grades matter anymore? According to one of the most influential companies on the planet today: not really. In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman interviews the Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google Inc., Laszlo Bock. […]
America is in a state of crisis. It isn’t what you think. Yes, the country is polarized politically, and congress is earning some of the lowest approval ratings in history. Sure, the economy has seen better days and our debt is astronomical. Crime and poverty continue to plague many of our cities and towns. But […]
You can feel it the moment you walk into the building. Every school exudes a certain aura, an overall mood: it is the school’s culture. Some schools are warm and welcoming, while others are more rigid and formal. Either way, the school culture wafts through the hallways like a cloud of smoke, enveloping everything and everybody in its path. You can sense it in the way students walk down the hallways, in the nature of the conversation between a teacher and his students, and in the presence of the principal as she walks into the cafeteria. The school culture is created by a combination of factors: the administrators, the teachers, the students, the physical environment, and the dynamic between them all. But the issue that most powerfully reflects, but also determines, the school culture is the faculty room door policy.
This is one of my favorite times of the year. It’s not the winter snow that has me excited; it’s football. Over the next two glorious weeks, football’s four best teams will battle it out on the gridiron to determine this season’s champion. It recently dawned upon me that are some striking parallels between football and education. True, the salaries of a starting running back and a seventh grade math teacher aren’t exactly identical, or – ok, let’s be honest – anywhere near each other. However, I think we educators have much to learn from the game of football. Here are the five lessons that football teaches teachers:
Picture the scene: It’s Final Exams Week in a local high school. Students are scampering down the hallway, rushing from their lockers to their classrooms. Amid the bustling, nervously looking at his watch, one student complains to another: “Great. I have forty-five minutes to perform my five hours of community service.” The panicked student is referring to the hours of volunteering that the school has included in its high school curriculum. Each student is obligated to fulfill these five hours of volunteer service any way he sees fit, at any time, before the end of the semester. In fact, students are only admitted to their final exams after submitting their community service form, which lists the time and location of their community service. Apparently one student has neglected to serve his community for five hours that semester. This is a true story I recently heard, one that touches upon some fundamental questions about how we educate our students in the moral and civic realms.
Like the rest of America, I thought this would be an opportune time to generate my New Year’s Resolutions. Unlike the rest of America, I will not be including cleaning out my basement or organizing my garage. (Seriously, is there anyone out there who has ever followed through on those resolutions?) Instead, I thought I’d take a stab at formulating some resolutions with my teacher’s hat on. If there is any profession that requires constant reevaluation and reflection, it is education. What are some areas that we teachers should be thinking about as we head into 2014? Here are my 2014 New Year’s Teacher Resolutions:
It has been over a week since Nelson Mandela’s passing, and the world continues to mourn and pay tribute to the man who fought to end apartheid in South Africa. Of course, Mandela’s legacy will be defined by the values that his life embodied: promoting social justice and eradicating racism. However, it struck me that there are three valuable lessons that we in particular, as school administrators and teachers, can draw from this man and his life.
I have a confession to make. This could cost me serious street cred in the field of education, but it’s time I spill the beans: I am not obsessed with technology in the classroom. That’s right. I do not believe that tablets are the answer to every challenge that our educational system faces. And I don’t think it is absolutely critical that Twitter plays a part in our students’ projects. In fact, I think our fixation on technology in the classroom leads to some unintended negative consequences: Teachers lose sight of content in the name of packaging and delivery. Technology overshadows learning. New gadgets and new apps that ought to faithfully serve in the role of medium, usurp a role for which they are wholly unfit – the learning objective itself. The means become the end, and student learning is stunted.
In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, David Tomar describes his checkered past as an accomplice to teachers who were cheating. For over a decade, college and graduate students paid Tomar to do their school work. His was a somewhat surprising cliental: young men and women working towards obtaining their teaching degrees. Tomar writes that these aspiring teachers would turn to him to complete their assignments, including papers, lesson plans, and even classroom observations.
Shocking? It gets worse. Recent allegations of teacher-cheating have surfaced in cities like Washington, LA, and Atlanta. This time, they are not cheating with their own work. They are cheating on behalf of their students, changing answers on exams in order to boost their students’ test results.
Just like in real estate, the field of education can be boiled down to three words: location, location, location. Certain districts consistently score better than others. While there are no doubt many reasons that we can point to in order to explain the disparity between different districts, one factor is indisputable: teachers. Low-achieving schools tend to have a very difficult time attracting the most qualified teachers. After all, in addition to the academic weakness of the students, sometimes other challenges confront teachers in a low-achieving district, such as drugs or violence.
Sordid details continue to emerge in the harrowing tale of Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. As has recently been widely reported, Richie Incognito, a nine-year veteran guard for the Miami Dolphins, has been suspended indefinitely from the NFL for conduct detrimental to the team. Incognito is alleged to have verbally, and perhaps even physically, harassed fellow teammate and second year offensive tackle Jonathan Martin.
I’ll never forget the time I walked into a third grade classroom and discovered that the desks had been rearranged into a series of rows. The teacher had previously set up her room with five or six clusters of desks, each cluster functioning as a mini-community in and of itself. When I asked her why she made the switch, she said: “They’re not in second grade anymore.” I walked away sadly, mourning the fact that this teacher had – overnight – pushed these kids from first grade into college.