Archive for April, 2010

Alone Time

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Working from home I sometimes get lonely. There are conference calls, email, twitter and IM (at least) but there isn’t a lot of casual people talk. Sure some of the IM and Twitter chat is just that – chit chat – but it is different from standing around the water cooler and chatting. I’m not sure how but it is. Perhaps it is the lack of body language or facial expressions. So sooner or later I really need to be with people.

And then there is the other extreme. I worked last weekend. I was with people pretty much constantly from getting to the airport Friday morning until I got home late Monday night. Sure I slept but I was with people from breakfast (earlier than I usually get up) until after dinner (usually 9PM or later). It was a lot of people time.

By the time I got home I just wanted to be alone with my thoughts. Even the email felt like a lot of contact. I sort of wanted to lock myself in a room and avoid the computer, email, twitter, the phone and people face to face.

I don’t think the people contact was over much though. I really like the people I work with. It is a serious treat to spend time with them. So it wasn’t them. I think it was me. It was too much of a change, too fast and for too long. If I were with people more often (in real life) I think I would have come home without feeling the need for alone time.

Balance is key in so very many things. I  think my goal going forward is to keep my daily level of contact with people in real life higher than it currently is. Perhaps I need to join a club or something. Something to get the balance better. This is something to keep in mind if you get the chance to work from home though.

How to fail as a teacher

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

I was sitting in the hot tub thinking. I actually do some of my best (and weirdest) thinking in the hot tub. It occurred to me that one way teachers fail their students is by letting them know that they don’t like what they are teaching. Perhaps they are teaching a class because the administration was stuck for someone and they were assigned. Or they are a teacher who has to teach several subjects (like many elementary teachers) and the hate Math or History or something. But for what ever reason they are teaching something they would rather not be teaching. If they hide that fact great. If they let it all hang out the students are going to be turned off. They may never recover and may miss out on the chance to find a great love for their life. After thinking about this for a while I started thinking of what other ways could teachers fail there students. Below is the list I came up with. I doubt it is complete but it covers a lot of ground.

Let your students know you hate what you are teaching

This lets them know that what you are teaching is not important. You are giving them permission to not care about it.

Do as I say not as I do

Hold them to tight deadlines and then miss the deadlines you set for returning things graded. This does two things – first it means that feedback in not timely and so is much less useful for learning. It also teaches them that life (and you) are not fair and reliable. It says you don’t respect them and they will reciprocate by not respecting you and what you are teaching.

Avoid asking questions that force students to think

Of course you want to ask questions. But ask questions that require only rote regurgitation of facts. Questions that make students think encourage them to think independently and to understand things more deeply. That would contribute to you being successful as a teacher and them more successful as learners and as adults.

Curb your enthusiasm

Chances are good that you will teach something you care deeply about. Hide it! If students see that you are excited about something they will get the idea that it is important, useful or even interesting and so learn it better. Worse still they may want to learn more on their own or even go into that field. Only successful teachers want to see that sort of thing happen.

Teach to the test

You can teach things that have value in ways that show value beyond the test. Avoid that. By emphasizing the need to know something because it is on the test you can narrow student’s view of the subject. Better still you are implicitly giving them permission to forget it all once the test is over. You wouldn’t want them to retain knowledge and build upon it now would you?

Drill and practice all the time

Bore the heck out of them. Rote memorization is good. Well really the only two times I can think of when it really matters are learning the alphabet (silly teachers teach that with a fun little song – shame on them for making it fun and easy) and the times tables. Somebody may have a fun and easy way to learn them but don’t go looking for it. Just think of the frustration they can have the rest of their lives if they don’t learn this well!

Grade based on things other than what students know

Johnnie’s mother is president of the PTA so doesn’t that mean her son is an A student? Of course it does. Jenny always sits quietly and never says a word. Isn’t that worth an A? Jack is always asking tough thought provoking questions taking up time and forcing you to cover more material. C student? Why not. Arbitrary and capricious grading with convince students that study is pointless, grades and meaningless and the whole testing and grading process is a farce.

Assume all students learn the same way

If you learned it one way that should be good enough for everyone! Differentiated instruction is a time waster. Let them figure it out on their own. Or not – who cares.

Always view test scores as about the failure or success of the student and not as a tool to evaluate your teaching

Everyone failed one part of the test? The whole class much be dummies. Never assume that you might have taught it wrong. That sort of thinking could lead to new teaching methods, reteaching material or worst case differentiated instruction.

Write “gotcha” questions for tests

Trick questions. Questions with several very good answers but only on “best” answer. Weirdly phrased questions that are targeted at common misconceptions. Anything and everything that will ensure students have some level of failure. Remember you are going to blame them anyway. These questions will give you opportunities to make students feel like the dummies you know they are. Plus it will ensure that some number of students will just plain give up trying for good grades and not bother learning.

Teacher Quality and Evaluation

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

I think that most of us have at least one teacher in our own education who was above the rest. The lucky people have several like that. These are the teachers who really inspired us, who taught us the most, and who really made our education more meaningful. But I find that many teachers do not want to admit, at least not out loud, that there are some teachers who are better or worse than average. To do so would open the door for real evaluations and ultimately differentiated pay.

The myth I hear expressed time and again is that all teachers should be paid the same because they are all doing the same work. And that is true to some extent but some people just do it better. Sometimes a lot better. Sometimes, obviously, a lot worse. Many teachers do not trust their administrators to be fair judges of teacher quality though. All too often this distrust is warranted. Other times teachers are uncertain of their own quality of teaching. We know that in many fields women tend to under-estimate their ability while men over-estimate it. Teaching is a field that is dominated by women so we should not be surprised that people who may be more concerned about how they would fare in a fair evaluation are avoiding being evaluated.

The press for evaluation teachers on student test scores is an attempt to add some objectivity into the teacher evaluation process. If this were being done right it might work. But of course it is not being done right. Comparing how a teacher does with one group of students does with a totally different group is completely flawed and invalid as a tool. That is what No Child Left behind does and so it should be no surprise that intelligent teachers reject it.

It is a complex problem that refuses a simple solution. That being said it is one we really need to address.

I Don’t Get Why People Love Apple

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

OK I get the fondness for some of the design. Well the hardware anyway. Great stuff. The software not so much. But what I really don’t get is why people like the company itself. Twice they have allowed companies to make Apple clones to run their software and then shut them down completely. Twice! The government took IDM to court for ten years and set the industry back years for doing pretty much the same thing only once. And yet people give Apple a complete pass. Apple is as closed a system as it gets – listen to all the restrictions they place on apps for the iPhone store. People would jump all over Microsoft for less – far less. They limit iPhones to just one vendor and people are more upset at the vendor than Apple for being so closed. Its all but incomprehensible to me.

And then there is the fuss over the iPad. Tablet with no keyboard. Been done for years for Windows devices. Years. And people don’t like them but when Apple does it it is magic? Oh but there is multi-touch. Big whoop! There have been multi-touch laptops, even netbooks, for months with Windows 7. Clearly Apple is a latecomer. Wi-fi and 3G? Also been available for Windows systems for years.

How about development? I want to write some apps. Can I use a language like Visual Basic or C#? How about standard C++? Ah, no, I have to use Objective C. Not even Java? Crazy!

Oh I can read books on it! Impressive if I hadn’t been able to do that for years on Windows PCs and laptops. I run Kindle for the PC on my systems now for example. Works great.

But surely the iPad can do all the things I do most right? Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook? Ah, no, they don‘t run. But I can get a web browser – really impressive. If only I could get one for a Windows system. Oh, wait, I think there are some available for Windows.

My netbook has a removable battery, USB ports, a web cam, a microphone, and I can mark up things with handwriting recognition. The iPad can do those things right? Whoops! Not it can’t. Wait, can that be? The iPad is magic.

You know what it feels like? It feels like the iPad is the new wardrobe for the Emperor. If you are a true cool geek you can see the magic of the iPad and few want to admit that they are not real cool geeks. Sigh.