Monday, December 17, 2012


I am going to merge some of my religious views into this, as they are part of what informs this.  If that offends, I suppose that is the nature of our society, I won't apologize, but will give the heads up ahead of time.

We were talking today and in #flipclass today about what do you do for those students that just won't try, that no matter how charming and winsome you are, no matter how stinking interesting the material is, or how amazingly open sandbox the project they are to be working on is....that no matter what, they just don't work, they just sit there.

On my commute home with my lovely bride, I had one of my on the way home rants about a couple of my students who refuse to take responsibility.  I'll sit down next to them, help them out for 10 minutes in the middle of class and then they take 20 minutes to work one problem, because they need to hit the snack machine or check their messages...whatever.  There is very little in life that drives me more nuts than not taking responsibility... Or, to the other point, they "take responsibility", admitting that they aren't working/haven't worked, and taking pride in it.

I think every teacher everywhere has those students....some of it is the nature of just people, some of it is teenagers in my case, etc.

As teachers, what happens of course is that you only have so much time in a class period, and additionally, only so much emotional reserves.  Naturally, we want to help those that want help, those that seem more deserving, that have done their end and yet need some help.  It's natural to help the kid with their hand up.  Part of it is probably the subconscious desire to see that someone got the stuff we were teaching...that's always a boost.  As opposed to the student who never gets it, who never even tries to get it.... Spending an inordinate amount of time on the 2% while the other 98% might need help and actually cares just seems illogical.

But here's my issue, I'm a follower of Jesus, a pretty good teacher regardless of your views of Christianity.  And He pursued....leave the 99 to go after the one...

As with much of actual Christian theology, it turns the logical, the practical upside down, refutes the logic of the world.

We try to pull in CEOs and efficiency experts into schools (and other arenas) with the idea that we can focus on the big things, straighten out the whole system.  There are vast arrays of massive national and state initiatives, from Common Core, PARCC, NGSS, Race to the Top, etc, that are the next iteration of NCLB.

But programs won't help anymore than religious law helps.  What works is relationships, what works is a teacher, doggedly pursuing that student that gets left by the wayside.

That takes love, which no matter how good Common Core is, it doesn't have.  It takes doing the illogical...not the rational, "research-based" method and sitting down with that student over and over and over.  Pursue them as though you love them...because if we don't, why are we teaching?  To help the best and the brightest? They need help too, and there are thoughts in here about that too.  But think for the next day or week or month or school year about who needs you, not about who wants you, who needs the education, not just who wants it.

Students that want it often get it....but often those who need it, don't.

There are tons of reasons for, economic, etc etc...but when it comes down to it, I hope to pursue those who need it.  I don't want to just help those who want to excel to excel, but to inspire those who don't even know they need to excel to do so.  I'm not very good at it yet, but I'm thinking about it all the time, trying harder and harder every day, reminding myself when I don't, to pursue, to run go after the one...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Know Thy Students

I had my first formal observation of the new year on Friday and I think it went pretty well.  My principal and I sat down and had a discussion about the lesson, the principal prompting, but me doing the bulk of the talking (as I do a lot).

As we talked about the area that I felt went really well, I went to grouping.  This is an astonishing change for me as I was the guy in high school and even as I started teaching that hated groups.  They are terrible for the "smart" kids since they feel like they have to do all the work. Forcing students into groups almost invariable sets up some conflicts with teenagers, the kid they don't want to work with and won't, etc.

Or so I thought.  As I moved a little bit up in the teaching realm at my last school, I had to think more about the grouping thing as I was expected to evaluate teachers on it (on of the things on the evaluation rubric).

Now I am full on in favor of grouping, not just the standard heterogeneous A student, C student, F student, but all kinds of groups.  We work in group basically every single day in my room now and the groups change probably once a week or so.  Sometimes they are homogeneous, which contrary to what a lot of folks thinks, works amazingly well, even for the kids who are struggling.  Sometimes they are gender balanced and sometimes not.  I don't pick them at random, but at this point, I know my kids well, have experimented and put them in scenarios where I think they will flourish.

That is sort of the point that I think gets missed in all of our talk about methods and student centered.  Student centered is a goal worth aspiring to, but I don't think it can work well if you don't know your students very well.  You have to know who learns in what way, who will get it with direct support and who wants to be left alone to puzzle something out.  If you rely on a "system", no matter how valid it is, without the relationship aspect, it all falls apart.

My principal told me she was amazed that the groups all worked together and actually worked to make sure they learned.  That when there was cross group activity, it wasn't to chat, but rather to figure out something another group learned and they didn't. Again, that comes with having trust in your students, and knowing the ways and scenarios that they will do best in.

The other side of course is that without some structure, having good relationships has to support learning and growth.  Seems like that is a post for another day.

Monday, December 10, 2012


Feels weird to title the post that way, since I am super tired physically right now, up way to late to even think of writing a blog post.


We had our Magnet Open House tonight at my school, where we recruit 8th graders and tell them why they should apply at the STEM Academy instead of going to their home school or one of the other Magnets.  So I spent most of the night talking to a couple dozen parents and prospective students, selling our school, and myself as a teacher in the school.

Sounds awful right? It's the sort of thing that teachers, most of the time including myself , hate to do, especially on a Monday night the week before exams from 6-8pm.

I was great though for 3 pretty solid reasons:

  1. Explaining what I do in the classroom and what makes our school unique as well isn't me spinning a yarn, it was just the truth, and I realized again tonight as I talked about it, how lucky I am to be at the school I am, teaching the kids that I teach.  When you see the excitement reflected in their faces, or when you say that you believe in having the kids create more than sit and listen and the parents and the kids get visibly enthused, it excites you as a teacher again.
  2. For some reason I 'm not very clear on, I had 5-6 parents of my current students there.  I'm not sure why as I thought it was all about the new ones, but I am very glad they came. I'll elaborate a bit more below.
  3. My teaching buddy from my last school showed up tonight (his son goes to our school).  That alone was enough to make my night.  I love my new colleagues, but teaching with a friend that you know would help you hide a corpse is a much different thing. (that's a joke..., the corpse part, not the friend part....ah well, nm).  
To elaborate on #2, I, like some of my #flipclass colleagues have felt a bit hammered down by the negativity about it of late.  Like my good twitter friend @bennettscience , I took a few days off of twitter.  Coupling that with getting sick last week about the same time as the negativity hit and missing two days of school was devastating.  At the end of last week I was just beat down, physically, emotionally, and other allys.  I was having these feelings that all of the talk about my classroom, the newspaper article and such was all just smoke and mirrors, that I really wasn't lighting the world on fire, or even striking a match.

Well, I'm probably not lighting the world on fire in any case, but the parents I talked to tonight really lifted me  back up.  Let me just briefly note that I teach Chemistry, often a reviled class, and while I teach it at a STEM centered school, we are thought to have some parents with really, really high expectations.

But I had 5 or so parents just tell me how much their kids loved my class.  That in and of itself is an accomplishment when you are used to telling people you teach Chem and watching them recoil like you are contagious or something.

What was really awesome though was two parents who spent 10 full minutes telling me how they appreciated the one on one nature of the #flipclass, how it has really been amazing for their daughter.  The mom went on to tell me how she raves about #flipclass to all of her friends who have kids in other schools.  She said she directs them to my videos, but knows that it is about what goes on in class.  There was a bit about how kids in a lot of other chem classes that don't work like mine are literally crying in frustration, but that her daughter never does, because she knows if she doesn't get it that I will be there for her and not only able to help but wanting to help.

Not much to say after that, other than to make sure I send that parent an email and thank them for the much needed boost at this time of the year!