Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Love Letter to the True Believers

Education is one of the few industries that subjects its young professionals to an unpaid internship.  This may be annoying to college students who find themselves saddled with the accrued bulk of their undergraduate debt while the financial miasma of adult life (marriage, mortgage, etc.) looms high on the horizon, but it is a practice that should not change.  Let me repeat: we should NOT pay our student teachers.  Why, you say?  Many of our young teaching professionals are as credentialed and hardworking (maybe more-so) as our young engineers.  So, why does one group get well-compensated, and one does not?  Shouldn't we offer a big paycheck to attract the best and brightest to our profession?  No, we should not.  Here's why.

The true believers that enter the field of education do so out of an almost painful idealism to dedicate their lives to a cause that matters.  Sorry cynics and naysayers, that's the way it is, and education, despite everything, is still a profession in which it is possible to change the world for the better.  Do we really want to jeopardize the future of our profession by attracting young professionals motivated by a large salary?

The young professionals that enter the field of education do not do it for the money.  The common perception is that teachers rake in the cash, and some politicians have made careers of painting us as having too many hands in the collective cookie jar... but let me explain why this perception is wrong. Recent gubernatorial budget cuts in public education have placed undue scrutiny on the salaries of public educators.  If you're an educator reading this and you don’t think people know what you make, Google yourself.  I’ll bet your salary is one of the first hits.  In a profession in which we are required to be nearly as educated as doctors and subject to one of the most difficult audience in the world, the American teenager, we are woefully behind the salary trends for professionals according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, coming in under the average salaries of not only Engineers, Architects, those in Social Science and Business, but also people in Humanities and Liberal Arts, Law, Communications and Journalism.  The only group we beat are those in the Arts.  Take it from someone who knows how financially ruinous a degree in the arts is (I worked my tail off to obtain a Masters of Fine Arts degree and cannot really think of a profession save teaching that could financially support my family) we only edge them out by a $1,000/year on average.  So, while it is true that public educators make good money... it really ain't that good, honey.    

So, in a profession whose median salary is less than someone's in the food service industry (no disrespect to any of you food service brothers or sisters who may be reading this), why set a student teacher up with unrealistic expectations of wealth?  I think it's good training that they work harder than they ever thought they could at something, become totally and completely emotionally invested, and make zero dollars.  That is good training for the field of education.  

A few years ago here in Ohio legislators tried to limit our right to collectively bargain and to strike.  We repealed this legislation through a voter referendum known as Issue 2.  This legislation was initiated by politicians who are unfriendly to public education.  It appears their sympathizers want to undo years of educational progress.  Collective Bargaining is constructivism at work.  For those of you who don't happen to be education majors let me define what I mean here by constructivism... plain and simple I mean that we construct a context for meaning.  For the same reasons the classroom teacher has evolved from a pedantic gatekeeper of trivial knowledge to a facilitator creatively encouraging independent thinking, so have the rules of our employment changed for the better.  In short, we have a say.

As teachers we are invested heart, soul, and wallet.  

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Two High School Wrestlers

The following video tells the story of two high school wrestlers from Northeast Ohio (locals in my neck of the woods) named Dartanyon Crocket and Leroy Sutton.  Their story was told by ESPN in August of 2009.   I use this video whenever I get a chance in my English classes.  Their story is one that reaffirms the spirit.  I have probably seen this video twenty times, and I am still moved every time I see it.  It works most effectively in my classroom when we are reading Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom.  I ask students to relate Leroy and Dartanyon's story to Mitch and Morrie's.  This year one student told me that due to the fact that Dartanyon is legally blind he is like Mitch because Mitch is at a point in his life where he has lost the "vision" of what he dreamed his life should be.  This same student told me that Leroy was like Morrie because he acts as Dartanyon's eyes the same way Morrie helps Mitch see what is important in life.

I guess what astounds me is that this video, which tells one of the most inspirational stories I have ever witnessed, has a mere 22,000 hits on YouTube, while the videos that continue to go viral and score hundreds of millions of hits are completely pointless... and if you think I'm just mouthing something Holden Caulfield would say, you might be right, however, one source claims the most viewed YouTube video of 2012 was Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" with over 372 million views in 10 months.  Need I say more?

Monday, April 29, 2013

CYOA Novel Unit

Acronyms are vogue in education so I thought I'd use one here.  CYOA stands for Choose Your Own Adventure.  This is the novel unit I've designed for my College Composition II students.  It's pretty rad & my students have been knocking it out of the park! Allow me to elaborate.

The next unit will be divided thematically into two parts.  You are required to research and choose one of the novels on the list.  You must have a copy of the novel and begin reading by April 15, 2013.  

Write ONE paragraph for each book detailing:

1) Whether or not you plan to satisfy your heart or your head, or both... and make a prediction HOW this book could help you.  BE sure to describe one "thing" about this book you think you will like, and one "thing" you might not like.

2) What method of response do you think this book will lend itself to.  Why do you think this?
Due April 12 with your final decision.

Journey of the Individual
The following selections are thematically related to one another in that they ask the question “how should a life be lived?”  Each novel asks the question and answers it in its own unique way.

Siddhartha                                               Hermann Hesse
Grendel                                                   John Gardner
The Catcher in the Rye                            JD Salinger
The Inferno                                              Dante Alighieri

Dystopia / Satire
The following selections are thematically related to one another because they all acknowledge the concept that “life is a constant struggle between being an individual and being a member of a larger society.”  
1984                                                        George Orwell
A Clockwork Orange                              A. Burgess
Feed                                                        MT Anderson
Ready Player One                                   Ernest Cline

You must turn in this form and your research by April 12, 2013.
Your selection:
Your strategy to obtain a copy of this selection:
Your rationale for choosing this selection:
By signing below you are agreeing to take responsibility for your own learning and agree to obtain a copy of this book by Monday, April 15, 2013.  You also agree that failure to participate in this novel unit may jeopardize your chances at obtaining college credit for College Composition II.

Your Signature _________________________________________________

Date ______________

You will be asked to complete a long-term research-based writing project with your selection.  You will be asked to choose any of the following options as a method of writing about your book.

Reader Response:  Attempt to connect what happened in your book with something from your life.  Stories work best.  How can I use this book as an opportunity to reflect on my own life and make some generalization about the past?  Must use primary source quotes.

Historical Inquiry:  How has events of your author’s time period impacted or influenced the writing of the book itself?  Think of how the McCarthyism period influenced Miller’s writing of The Crucible.  Or ask yourself how can research of historical names, places, events, etc enhance my appreciation for the text?  Either way, write about what you’ve found and how it relates to the book you read.  Must use primary and secondary source quotes.

Biographical Inquiry: Sometimes we wonder what gives an author the authority to write about their subject matter.  How did what they live influence what they wrote?  Look into it. This is not simply a biography of your author.  This option attempts to draw comparisons between the text and the author’s life. Must use primary and secondary source quotes.  
Arguing a Position: This paper attempts to prove an interpretation of the book that falls outside of historical or biographical inquiry.  It may be that you want to argue something the writer is trying to say by attempting to prove a certain theme exists in your book.  Maybe you want to argue a certain character is the same astrological sign as you.  This option is very open ended therefore you should feel strongly about your position in order to write it.  Must use primary and secondary source quotes.

 Final paper due:  May 13, 2013.

Saturday, February 2, 2013


Why is it that anything associated with public education is ultimately reduced to an acronym?  I'm sure I'm not the first person to wonder this, but I may be the first person to blog about it.  IEP, AYP, OEA, ODE, NCTE... the list goes on and on, and now we have another: the OTES, or Ohio Teacher Evaluation System.  An acronym, in my opinion, is indicative of bureaucratic minds at work, and it appears that OTES is no exception.  If you're unfamiliar with OTES, it came about through Ohio politics (SB 316, and HB 156) and is best defined as a way to evaluate public school teachers based upon two criteria: 1) an ODE rubric for teacher performance, and 2) student growth data; after a lot of administrative work, these two elements are cast into a boiling pot and presto, ODE tells us whether we are, as educators, Accomplished, Proficient, Developing, or Ineffective.  The teacher rubric can be found here... and no one knows what the growth measure will be, except schools that use value added data, because HB 555 has mandated they use it exclusively.  The rest of us have to figure it out on our own.  The biggest pitfall of the growth measure, as I (and many others) believe, is not to confuse student achievement (single test scores) with growth (pre-assessment vs. post-assessment).  Sigh.  I feel a tangent coming on.  The state is mandating exit exams for certain core classes, but we have not seen them yet.  In English, my discipline, here's how the logic works... now imagine the state saying this, "We want you to use quality assessments to gauge your students' growth.  Stuff like essays, portfolios with standards based reflection, and socratic seminars so that we can give your kids a multiple choice test to see how good a job you did."  Absurd right?  Now, could a state mandated test work in social studies, or even math?  Maybe back when knowing how many stars are on the flag was test-worthy information to assess, but we live in an age when anyone, anywhere can access names, dates, capitals, battles, etc. from the computer in their pocket ... and therefore see the memorization as unnecessary.  In my opinion memorizing the capitals was like memorizing the Lord's Prayer: it taught an old school approach to discipline which wasn't necessarily a bad thing, like sitting on a hard wooden pew for an hour... but let's see if we can get this tangent turned back around.  The question now is, what about the Ohio Common Core's writing across the curriculum?  It essentially turns all classes into English classes, and therefore, takes away what I call the "multiple-choice" element.  I just wish the state would stop force feeding us superficial exit exams and trust us to follow the Common Core they have established.  I like the Common Core, for crying out loud.  As an English teacher how could I not?  And as for those of you out there thinking that 70% informational text applies to English, I've got a link for you.  And here's another with a sense of humor.  

I suppose the change to OTES has been a long time coming, and I have spent a lot of time learning about the system and thinking about its practical purpose.  Ultimately, I think it will make teachers that have been around for a long time a little bit more effective according to modern educational standards.  In the mean time, administrators as well as teachers are going to have to work really, really hard to prove to the general public (as well as to each other) that we know what we're doing in the classroom.  The public school classroom is a difficult environment to navigate, and modern teenagers are pretty savvy as to who knows how to challenge them, and who doesn't; if the kids "don't like you" it's probably true that you fit into this latter category.  Now, I'm not suggesting we let the teacher evaluation (a system that could potentially cause layoffs) completely up to the students, but I do think they should have some small say in it.  In the mean time, we're going to have to fill out a lot of paperwork to turn an art into a science.

OTES may make teachers a little bit more effective, but only according to the state's definition of effective teaching.    

On a possibly related side note, these pictures were taken of three peacocks that wandered into my backyard the other day.  After strutting around on my deck, they took to the roof of the shed.  I don't know about you, but I think they look pretty darned Accomplished.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Builders

This message of this short video offers a strong contrast to the message of the poem of the same name by Longfellow.  In a perfect lesson I would show the video, and discuss the phrase "Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."  Discuss attitudes about work.  This year I read aloud entries from one of my class interest journals titled "Stories from the Workplace" to foster a dialogue.  Then we read the poem by Longfellow, which is very abstract, yet inspirational.

The Builders
All are architects of Fate,
Working in these walls of Time;
Some with massive deeds and great,
Some with ornaments of rhyme.
Nothing useless is, or low;
Each thing in its place is best;
And what seems but idle show
Strengthens and supports the rest.
For the structure that we raise,
Time is with materials filled;
Our to-days and yesterdays
Are the blocks with which we build.
Truly shape and fashion these;
Leave no yawning gaps between;
Think not, because no man sees,
Such things will remain unseen.
In the elder days of Art,
Builders wrought with greatest care
Each minute and unseen part;
For the Gods see everywhere.
Let us do our work as well,
Both the unseen and the seen;
Make the house, where Gods may dwell,
Beautiful, entire, and clean.
Else our lives are incomplete,
Standing in these walls of Time,
Broken stairways, where the feet
Stumble as they seek to climb.
Build to-day, then, strong and sure,
With a firm and ample base;
And ascending and secure
Shall to-morrow find its place.
Thus alone can we attain
To those turrets, where the eye
Sees the world as one vast plain,
And one boundless reach of sky.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
We would attempt to interpret the poem using common features: blocks, the builders themselves, goal, etc. I would have them write a compare and contrast statement exploring the differing messages using specific lines and observations.