A Teacher Should Strive to be Great Just as any Butcher, Baker, or Candlestick Maker

When the Secretary of Education, Jack O’Connell, visited our school, I was asked to do an EDI lesson. This is me teaching “cause and effect” with the board members, Sec. O’Connell, and other honored guests.

There is much being said about this article where a Judge in California has deemed teacher tenure “unconstitutional.” A few people have been kind enough to ask me what I think. I thought I’d blog my response to all that here rather than in a confining comment box on social media. Here is the news article I am responding to if you haven’t read it. Below is my reaction to the article:

Teacher tenure has been a popular issue in the media for about ten years. Unfortunately, most the people writing, talking, and making movies about it are jumping to conclusions and setting up a straw man fallacy. Like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger did, I believe in unions. In the 1950’s that may have pigeon-holed me as a communist. When I think of unions I think of the part of the constitution that reads basically this: “Each individual in endowed with … inalienable rights … the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I have seen teacher’s unions help people keep those rights. If we are to destroy unions, we destroy something good for humanity.

Please know that I feel, to become and stay a teacher, you must have a deep care for the development of young people. Those young people, namely students, should be the reason you teach. Because the profession has a “human” product and not a monetary one, I think there should be a way to get rid of bad teachers who under-perform consistently and don’t care about the human side. The first 2 years a teacher is evaluated and observed 3 times a year. After that, every other year once a year. If the teacher gets a substandard evaluation, they are re-evaluated the following year. In addition, a tenured teacher is not immune from discipline, at least not in the schools I have worked at.

I feel a teacher should strive to be great just as any butcher, baker, or candlestick maker. Next year will be my 16th year in teaching and I have never viewed tenure as a “protection” for me to under-perform. I am always working hard to be the best teacher I can be for my students. Sure, there are under-performing teachers out there but there are also under-performing butchers, bakers and … well you get it. How we weed them out of teaching is a very good question.

Anyway, non-union people may disagree but that’s what I think. I think we should make working with kids a more attractive profession so there is more competition. Then, the best will be hired. As a teacher I don’t feel as if my profession is as respected as it once was in society. Some stuff I read these days, mostly from conservatives, is downright hateful and ignorant about teaching. Sometimes I think the confusion about what teachers do leads to hateful monolgues that wrongly vilify unions. Who knows what the future of teaching will hold. I know one thing for sure, society will always need teachers in one way or another with or without tenure. Don’t believe the hype, believe in our need for great teachers.

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Create Specialized Focused Expectations

tumblr_ngffqvCqX71tpmr3io1_1280Teachers are valuable for their critical thinking skills. Just giving a teacher the materials and saying “Go teach!” is not enough. The professional can synthesize the common core standards and create focused expectations the students can meet. Only a teacher has his “ear to the ground” and truly knows how the kids learn. Teachers are the best to decide what the lessons should consist of. Getting there to set those expectations requires teaching, assessment, and analysis of the assessment. When all that is done, we can create focused expectations based on our professional assessment. Politicians can’t create focused expectations because they aren’t with the students every day. Parents can do it but it won’t reflect what the majority need as well as what the developmental learners do. Administrators can’t do it because they are caught up day to day in the social and physical aspects of running the school. This leaves us with teachers, the best ones to create expectations and measure progress toward goals.

Certain key standards should be weighted heavier. Reason being because they tie in to a strand of other standards. For example: multiplication. If students don’t have their times tables memorized by 4th grade, they will not be able to advance into higher math like division, fractions and higher. Because these key standards are so important, the teacher should revisit them until 70% or higher of the class shows proficiency. Other teachers may have other opinions on what key standards are but I have talked to many elementary level teachers who agree with me. It’s an overwhelming time in teaching this year due to the new Common Core standards. I would advise teachers who are getting bogged down in details to identify goals that apply to your class. For example, I have a goal that my class would all test out for their times tables by Valentines Day. They were supposed to have them mastered in 3rd grade, I am 4th grade, but I have to work with what I have so I am creating specialized focused expectations. The payoff is success across related standards. What is a key standard you could focus on?

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Keep Old Stuff

Keep old Curriculum 2To some this post is stating the obvious: keep your old materials for teaching. With all the “home makeover” shows on today, there is a definite emphasis on minimalism. Feng Shui and Hoarding are also a part of our modern vocabulary but throw all that away and keep old stuff! Remember encyclopedias? I kept a set. I don’t use them often but it’s a teaching opportunity to show the kids what life was like before the internet. We would consult World Book instead of Google. Kids get a sense of history that way. For example, compare the Apollo flight to the moon article in an encyclopedia to a Google search. Kids just don’t know there is a difference.

Keep old Curriculum 3Keep old textbooks that the District tells you to discard. I know so many teachers who regret getting rid of an old math series we used to use. I kept 21 of them! I wish I would have kept the 35 I once had. Another thing these are really good for is independent study. I sometimes get requests for independent study curriculum when kids are going to be out for weeks. When you have an old text, you can work with it and not risk losing the current texts. Of course, kids muct always have the option of taking home the current text per William’s act. These textx are great for small group work and even homework.

Keep old CurriculumMath manipulatives are notorious for being thrown out, as are Science kits. Both are golden to have around. I have noticed, for example, that many of my kids annot tell tradition time as in the hands of a clock. I got a hold of a kindergarten math kit a colleague had kept and I used it to teach time in about three sittings of 3 minutes each. Tis is helpful to all subjects and in all standards. You never know where it will pop up. Not to mention the kids that may think it’s cool to have an analog watch. Keep old stuff, I guarantee you’ll use it, Of course, some stuff must be thrown away. Someone said, it you don’t use it for 2 years, throw it away. I’ll leave that up to you.

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Damien Riley: Blog Film Critic & Online Diarist

For more than a decade I’ve worked to become a deft, influential blogger and podcaster. I wanted to have the skills and platform, custom-made to do this but there were bumps in the road.  Alas, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Today as I was doing my rounds on WordPress and Twitter promoting my latest podcast, I felt an unexpected sense of arrival, I felt strong. It felt like a Summer breeze.

Let me tell you about a few things I wanted when I started blogging and podcasting, first blogging. Here’s a word for the wise:

Define what type of blogger you want to be. Give it a name or title.

I wanted to be a humorous and literary voice. I learned through starting a blog on Blogger and later WordPress in 2005 where I have happily stayed to the present that a lot of people blog with no vision or sense of their intended voice and persona. They don’t know what they want to be.

I would get drowned in that more than once in a while. It almost killed my blogging. I’ve been on Mommy Blog webrings and even meme groups that assigned you trivial topics to write on. They all left me cold and feeling as if I had come up short. I came to name it (names and words are so helpful in defining what you want) as “online diarist.”  When I sit down here at Riley Central to blog, that is who I am, that feeling is solid. I don’t need payment or comments to back it up. I do have a slightly different hat I wear as well that relates to films … Now, podcasting.

I knew I wasn’t a film critic, those guys are serious and professional. That would take away the fun for me, too much pressure. I wanted to be a “blog critic” and then later I added a word to define exactly what I am when I review films: a “Blog Film Critic.” I podcast 100% under this title but I am open to be an online diarist as well. I know what I am trying to be and what I have named my “job” roles/titles. As a blog film critic, I can improve as such. It’s been said that if you aim at nothing, you’ll hit nothing but if you aim at a goal, even if you miss, you’ll come closer.

These are just some thoughts I had this evening. I hope you’ll continue with me of this magical mystery tour of blog film criticism and column writing. I am enjoying what I do now more than ever and I think I have my craft down pretty darn well (humility is a virtue). Hi readers and listeners! I have a lot more to share walking down this road. Thanks for being there.

-Damien R.