Archive for the ‘testing’ Category

On Rethinking Retirement……

Today was the first day of two for professional development on Understanding by Design, or UbD. The staff at the school all has to have this training as part of our three-year plan, and I was resisting this because I’ve read through elements of this on my own, as well as tried to apply some of the “big ideas” to a museum project several years ago. I am here to say today is causing me to seriously rethink retirement – the day was amazing, and I do not say that lightly about professional development.

Understanding by Design is a three-stage program to develop more meaningful curriculum that is effective, engages students, and promotes enduring understanding, as Howard Gardner would say. We spent the day on Stage 1, unwrapping the curriculum in order to plan for the end result. Duh. In 20 years of doing student theater, I always did what I call “backplanning,” but NOT ONCE did I think to apply that skill to my classroom teaching.

As we continued through the day, I kept seeing lights at the end of the tunnel, answering for me ways to fix what I am unhappy with in my algebra classes. I do too much direct instruction, I don’t have the kids do enough inquiry, and they aren’t engaged enough or see algebra as a meaningful course of study. I actually wanted to read through standards and try to cluster some of the performance objectives so the planning¬† makes more sense. The warm-up we did would make more sense than the (to be honest) drill and kill I usually do for practice (and, really honest, management…). In fact, I have some ideas for small group bell work for next week to extend some of the understanding.

All through the day I was (and still am) very conflicted. I am planning to retire in two and a half more years. I have been dealing with some health issues that may make me retire early. Plus, I realized if I go the full years more I will actually end up hurting my retirement benefits, as there hasn’t been a raise, and nothing is in sight. Two and a half years would cut off one of my higher salary years. So I am looking at numbers.

But then I sit in a workshop and get truly excited about trying some new strategies and ideas for teaching algebra, and I don’t want to leave. Retirement is an ending, as well as a beginning. I started teaching 40 years ago this September, and while it is probably time – age-wise – to go, it feels like “the end.” I don’t think I’m ready for closure, even though I want to seriously expand my art work and licensing. I’m not sure I can “let go” of 33 years of teaching, when I still feel like I have a lot more to offer. I still love this stuff – workshops, class management, curriculum, and all. I miss the teaching teachers that I used to do. I have all these skills and experiences (and endorsements) from all these years, and I’m not sure I can give it up…..

So just when I think I am coming to decisions, something happens to change it all. Darn you, Dr. Larry….now what do I do?

Thursday Thoughts – Major Rant and Sergeant Pity Party

Those of you who are readers of my blog (and thank you for those who emailed me to see where I was!) know that I struggle with being a teacher and trying to develop an art business. Well, let me warn you now, this is both a rant and a pity party, so pass on if you’re not interested. It’s just that I have found my blog a great way to process what’s going on in this overactive head of mine.

Saturday saw me admitted to the hospital with chest pains and shortness of breath. 72 hours later and one fairly incompetent doctor I am released with absolutely no answers beyond “it’s probably stress.” Between family history and my own history of lung clots, these symptoms were something I couldn’t ignore. I had been feeling poorly the week before: lots of bloating (and knowing I wasn’t putting weight on), tiredness, anger, and frustration. While I am in the last three years of teaching, I really want to be retired, and that isn’t going to happen any time soon.

Friday last week was homecoming at our high school, and as I watched the band and pom line and cheerleaders parade through the halls, I felt a little teary about what I would be missing when I do retire. I can remember back – way more years than I want to – to marching band (in fact, the first kiss happened in the uniform closet of the band room…). I do love teaching, and I am positive that this was my correct life’s work. But I am tired, especially with all the changes to the field in the last 15 years. This is certainly a job for young people – or at least younger that their 6th decade.

Couple that with being in Arizona, the second poorest state in the country, with a state legislature that wants to disband public education, no budgets and large class sizes. As much as I despise NCLB, I recognize for me that the emphasis on curriculum development and standards has helped me teach. But I also know that the end-all of test scores has been a death knell to thinking and creativity. Kids need to know what they “will get” for learning something. The complete joy of learning is totally gone. No more reading a book because it sounds like a great story. No more pursuing an idea to see where it will take us.

Now I have always had a problem with the less-than-competent in my field, and I take criticism of teachers very personally. I had my share of bad ones, but there were more good ones than bad. I am so fortunate right now to be in a great school with very supportive administrators and a lot of really fine teachers. But I’m tired….tired of constant papers, lesson plans, students who can’t be motivated, pressure to improve test scores, and probably the biggest – a living wage.

This is year 33 for me, and I still make less money than I did in Vermont some 16 years ago. That to me is criminal. Part of the stress is trying to live on the income, especially when the school district decided to put everyone on the same pay dates, and we have to go for three weeks at the end of the summer without a check….that has totally screwed up finances for the start of this school year. We had to borrow to pay a life insurance bill before the end of the grace period. After all these years as a public employee, things should have gotten a little easier.

And yes, I am well aware that I still have a job in this economy. Which is killing any attempt I am making to build an art business. I have been very productive art-wise this year, and readers for years know I tend to be very fallow during the school year. Not so since January of this school year. I have completed a couple of large pieces, and I spent a lot of time this summer working on marketing. Now I did a lot of reading (as I always do…) about building an online business, and I must say I did everything suggested that I could afford to do.

Ebay is down, Etsy isn’t happening, my blog numbers aren’t up, nobody’s buying off the newsletter or the website, and I was rejected for a major art show. And there are all theses classes and techniques and supplies I want to try, with no extra money. We have to scrimp to buy fabric.

Don’t get me wrong, I have NEVER expected a free ride. I work very hard at everything I do. But I think it’s about time for things to ease up a bit. This summer I had a taste of what retirement will be – time to visit friends, work on art, write, all those activities that make my heart and mind sing. But it’s not happening right now. I look at people working full time on their art and I am so jealous. I want to do this NOW.

And that’s what’s stressing me out. Why can’t I build a business without having to wait for retirement? This is what I’m going to have to struggle with; what can I do in the time I have? While I love teaching, it makes huge demands on you emotionally and physically, and lots of weekends – and evenings – there is no energy for anything else, even a doodle. I haven’t written in the blog in 3 weeks, something I love to do. My brain is tired, my body is tired, and now I’m recovering from paying the penalty of stress.

Sure it could have been worse. I’m very thankful it wasn’t. But I need some breaks NOW….

In the meantime, I am attempting to prepare for Tucson Arts and Crafts Association holiday show on November 20. Every member says they do really well selling during the show…….hmmmmm, what about fiber? We’ll just have to see……

Work-In-Progress Wednesday – The Education System

I attended an interesting meeting after school today, a discussion about what makes an honors program at the high school. We brought up loads of ideas and good points to pursue further, but a number of things stuck in my mind – maybe it’s because I have been at teaching for over 30 years.

Point 1 – and I think the MOST important when it comes to learning – is that the JOY of learning is gone for students. Everything is assessment-based, to the detriment of actually learning. Students no longer know what to do with an idea that might be interesting, or a book to read that’s recommended just because it’s good. A number of years ago – and this was before the mess that is NCLB – I asked my fifth graders to choose a piece of science fiction and read it. I then spent 15 minutes trying to convince them that there was no assignment or test – they might just find the book interesting. It truly was a foreign concept. Nowadays it seems that students try to figure out just what they need to do to pass a test and get the grade. The actualy learning is way down the scale.

Point 2 – “regular” classes are now considered the “stupid” classes. This was a shock to me. I am three years into teaching at this school, and I know there’s a strong Honors/AP set of classes. For two years I’ve been working with the kids who had difficulty all through middle school with math. A good many of them didn’t belong in the support classes, and they would admit they didn’t want to do the work. Now I am teaching “regular” algebra classes, and trying to improve on the rigor in the classes. It never occurred to me that is was considered “poor form” to be in a regular class as opposed to an honors class. The big question is how to we provide an education that is rigorous and appropriate for every student? Given the class sizes this year, it’s even harder than in the past.

Point 3 – should there be requirements for being in an honors class? When I taught AP US History, I let anyone in who waned the challenge. My biggest class was 33 and most of them worked really hard in the class. When we looked at stats last year for our students who are exceeding on the #^$%@$# state assessment test, we found we had fewer and fewer kids who were excelling. Students were getting by. So requirements or open invitation? How do we get kids to take the challenge and want to do some appropriate and different work?

From the meeting I went to the chiropractor. This year is taking a huge toll on me physically: cement floors for very sore legs, white board writing which is throwing out my shoulder, long class periods that are messing with my bladder – this is definitely a job for young people. And then I listen to discussions, and I think that nothing ever changes, it only gets worse. I guess I really do recognize that it’s getting to be time to retire…I can’t generate the enthusiasm that I used to, even two years ago.

Education will always continue to be a work in progress, which is as it should be…..but we need to see some progress somewhere along the way….

Learning (no kidding….)


I’ll preface this by saying I’m really tired tonight. We had testing, short classes, and the other usual loose ends. I planned what I thought was going to be a good short interesting lesson in introducing functions. So I started with the old IBM punch cards (googled the old images), and talked about the changes in data entry jobs, and how one card had information coded on it that wasn’t on any other card. Then we talked about hotel cards that are keyed to only one room, ATM codes, and other similar things.

Now a function is a math relationship where 1 input has ONLY 1 output: a hotel card will open only one specific room. I thought I had a good way to lead into this rather difficult concept. From the codes I then went into a quick look at binary code and how computers operate. Since we have just finished working with powers of 2, I thought base 2 might be interesting, and we could play around with translating some numbers.

All I was after for the kids was to see some practical applications of math concepts in everyday life. Silly me. I had students in each of the classes keep asking why we were working on this and when we would ever use it.

Aside from the fact that I was just trying to present an interesting introduction, I thought it might just be interesting material. But no. The kids overall saw no point to it.

Which brings me to my rant…..whatever happened to learning just because something is interesting? Granted I work with a very at-risk population, and I really make an attempt to show the practical side of the math they are learning. But sheesh…sometimes things are just cool.

Maybe it’s age. I still love to learn, and I don’t need a reason – “just because” is enough for me. It’s so sad that this love of learning just doesn’t seem to be spreading – everything has to have a reason and a purpose.

I’m a dinosaur….

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