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Focus- A New Concept Saving Education?

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It has been almost 3 years since I personally left my classroom. In that time, I have learned that the disconnect between the educational classroom and the real world is much bigger than I ever thought possible. The influential experts in the real-world, most who have little to no experience in the classroom itself, are truly on their own agenda and have lost complete focus. Between the political government and the educational agenda influencers, there exists a public relations nightmare for each and every one of our classrooms and each and every one of our students. The propaganda of failing schools and the decline of the American Educational System has spread like the plague from sea to shining sea. Our focus has been diverted to testing and data that is irrelevant and skewed rather than solving and providing the proper solutions for the needs of our teachers and students.  Below are just a few thoughts I have had in the past 3 years:

1. International Comparisons- China has ranked #1 for the last two PISA reports, so shouldn’t we then copy what they do to be successful? Well, if you understood that China selects a targeted group who are then taught simply to be successful test takers of the PISA- then you would understand how idiotic that would be. I’m not saying we shouldn’t pay attention to PISA testing, but to use it to say we are failing because we are not #1 is ludicrous. We never were #1, and as a matter of fact, we have fluctuated around the same number every year on average: Math=30th, Reading=19th, Science=23rd. It is a measuring stick for us to use, but what we should be doing is learning from other successful nations and look to incorporate ideas that help to make them successful into our system. Hmmm, simply allowing COLLABORATION of different but successful educational systems?

2. Common Core- If you knew that students in New Jersey were given an advantage for post secondary acceptance that would lead to better job opportunities over the students from say Alabama, what would you say? What if you lived in Alabama and learned that your adopted State Standards simply weren’t as rigorous as those in NJ? This inequality exists today. The Common Core State Standards have been blurred by negative propaganda that clouds what the initial goal was to be: National Standards for every student across the board to level the playing field. It also brought a better system of less standards for deeper mastery, or in learning terms, spending more time in areas of need to allow true knowledge, thinking, and understanding rather than memorization. Hmmm, provide students the opportunity to not just learn, but truly understand concepts with multiple ways of thinking- while leveling the playing field for all students in the US?

3. Technology- Today’s students are “Digital Natives” who must learn on technology in order to be successful for future jobs that will be created, right? If this statement is true, then how is it the my generation is able to be successful in a technology infused world when we did not learn on technology? The main objective for any teacher is to best support their students to be self thinkers who are motivated to be successful and think outside the box. From the textbook to the TV, there have been many examples of innovations that were going to provide a better education to our students, yet many fail to realize that these are simply tools to support education, not the answer to. Technology, whether tablets, laptops, or data analytics, should also be looked at in the same fashion. They will support learning in the classroom for both the teacher and the student. However, it has more potential and possibilities in supporting our teachers and students. One that can supply individualized learning with adaptive software that can meet each student with work that will challenge and support exactly where and when the student needs. It is not the use of technology in the classroom that can provide a better education, but rather the data from the use that can be collected and analyzed on a student and teacher that can help. Hmmm, use technology to collect data, analyze, and report correlations to standards and learning per individual student and teacher to provide both with relevant information and path to improve from?

4. Focus- International Comparisons, Common Core, and Technology seems to be the focus of everyone to improve the American Education System, and were the first three concerns here. If our focus to improve our system are on these “outside factors”, then we will never be successful through any lens. The media and politicians have allowed the focus to be drawn to data that truly has no bearing on student success or failure.  The focus should be on the students. This truly is a simple concept of which the research has backed up consistently. Students who come from stable homes with good socio-economic environments are more likely to be successful in school. Students attending properly funded schools who feel supported by teachers, staff, administration, parents, and surrounding community are more likely to be successful in school. Students who are properly cared for with three nutritious meals a day, proper grooming, appropriate physical activities, and a safe home to sleep in are more likely to be successful in school. Students who feel safe in their school environment, especially in their classroom are more likely to be successful in school. Hmmm, focusing on supplying supportive environments at home and a safe environment where students feel supported in schools can help student achievement?

Education has always been about the Student. Education needs to focus on what counts and what truly matters. If we lose focus on the student, it is they who become lost! While the PISA scores are important to track for comparison, focusing on raising the scores will not result in positive gains. While the implementation of Common Core State Standards can provide better guidelines and a better baseline for comparisons, focusing on standards will not raise scores either. While technology has the potential to change the classroom as we know it with exciting and engaging possibilities, it is worthless without a student who is inspired and supported to use it.  Should we focus on developing the best educational environments, both inside and outside the brick walls, focus on providing the supportive environments at home, and focus on supporting the student mind to think freely and engage in learning- We will deliver students who are successful in life! Hmmm, focusing on students so that they can be successful in life……….Is this a new concept?

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The Educational Gap No One Wants You To Know About!

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Technology Gap2

For all of my years teaching, there were always worries about the educational gap that exists between race and wealth. While the general public recognizes and admits the existence of the educational gap between the wealthy and the poor, most of the focus in education has been to decrease the gap between races over the last 40-50 years. Recently, however, while the gap between races continues to decline, the gap between the wealthy and the poor has grown at an alarming rate! If this trend continues, we will continue to see disparaging gap grow between the wealthy and the poor, not only in education, but in the loss of the middle class. In an article published by The New York Times, Sabrina Tavernise discusses research studies at both Stanford and Michigan that show the gap of standardized reading scores, and college completion nearly doubling between the wealthy and the poor. Even scarier is that the data collected was prior to 2008 which means these numbers do not account for the recent recession and its effects. The question remains about why the gap concerning wealth continues to rise while the gap concerning the races continues to fall? I believe there is one easy answer……..Technology. While “Middle-Class America” begins to boast about the technology that is now becoming a part of everyday life for its school kids, it is “Upper-Class America” that has quietly had access to fully functional technology for the past 20 years in their classrooms. Let us also not forget that “Lower-Class America” continues to simply dream of getting working technology into its classrooms. While many people will not think this a big deal- an education is an education, whether from a book or a computer- consider the fact that the job market has been flooded with technology and will continue to.

Technology Gap

I love the headline mantra that “Our Educational System is not preparing our students for the jobs of the future…”, yet in the same breath these same individuals know “we don’t even know what those jobs will be or look like in 20 years.” One thing we do know is that computers will be a part of the future and future jobs. If we all agree on this one point, then why is it only upper-class students who are provided with a technology rich environment? Why are we missing the boat that this inequality possesses the potential to create a devastating gap that can bring an end to the Middle Class? Even though it has been 60 years since the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ruling to desegregate Public Schools, the African-American population continues to overcome the educational gap between races today. The ramifications of the Technology Gap and its effects on the educational gap between classes will be staggering. The gap between the Have and the Have Nots will become a combination of both wealth and education. This is a deadly combination that could eliminate the Middle Class, which already shows signs of expiration with the growing gap in wealth. The path to recovery must be taken quickly, or there will be an unattainable mountain climb in the near future. In 60 years, we have not overcome the educational gap with students getting equal textbook materials, how long will it take to overcome a Technology Gap that continues to grow? Please Like, Share, or Comment below!

Dare to Dream? The Scariest Part of Being a Kid Today

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“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Such a simple question to be followed up with a conversation with a child that could last for hours if you wanted it to. My mother tells me that I wanted to be a garbage man (maybe because she used to always tease me that Grouch from Sesame Street was my true father), an astronaut, an inventor, and a race car driver, but most of all, I wanted to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Personally, I remember having the dreams to be many different things, and the encouragement to become all of them……That is until around 8th Grade.

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It is clear to me that from 8th grade on, the thoughts and dreams about my future was systematically redirected by the adults around me. My dream world that allowed me to believe I could achieve anything had slowly transformed into a reality that told me I could only accomplish what others would limit me to. However, I was born with, or developed, a stubborn personality as a young child. It may have been from moving around so much as an Air Force Brat, or just simply a trait passed on from my parents. Either way, I have been called obnoxious, thick-headed, opinionated, and many other names, but it is a trait that has allowed me to accomplish many goals that adults told me I would never do. Dreaming to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers allowed me to overcome my size and weight disadvantage to not only play in High School, but also to play and excel in two sports in College. When I look back, I was driven to succeed by these “Dream Killers”.

Being a kid today, I don’t know if I would have been as successful with adults telling me “You can’t”, more than “You can!”  It starts with teachers wanting to know “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, and replying “Well, that’s a great dream to have, but the chances are slim, so what job do you want to do?” Even the coaches talk negatively about anyone’s future in athletics, “There are thousands of kids out there who are bigger, faster, and stronger than you.” Today, the difference is that these talks happen much earlier when these kids have no option but to believe the adults! We have become a society of dream killers, or fantasy supporters, for kids as young as 6, 5, or even 4- and both are extremely dangerous to the future of our youth.

The dream killers have evolved into opportune predators on young dreams. These adults no longer wait to kill the dreams of children, but rather suffocate the dream before it has a chance to even breathe. They come in many forms, with many different messages to kill the dreams:  Anything less than straight A’s is not good enough; You have to go to college to be successful; You will be lucky to play in high school; You can’t raise a family doing that. The fantasy supporters can afflict even more damage with their message of support. These are the adults who will encourage and support a young mind blindly. There are no mixed messages here, just one of full support constantly: You are the best!; You are going to be the next _______; Nobody is even close to being as good as you. The danger either way is that we are limiting our children by focusing their minds into our reality. By doing so, we limit the thoughts of imagination and creativity to whatever our vision is, which denies each child the given right to explore and choose to live life as they see fit.

Why have we become so focused on the adult future of our children rather than living in the moment with them? Why do adults feel the need to plan a future for kids that are 10-20 years away? How many of you knew what your passion would be at age 6? 10? Heck, even at 18? The danger I see is that we will have a generation full of regret and second guessing, and this is a dangerous state of mind. Our country has been built on strong-minded individuals who believe that passion and determination teamed up with great working habits will equal success. When we look at our leaders and innovative thinkers, we do not have minds that regret or second guess their decisions of the past. They understand that decisions and choices are made with details available at that time with the resolve that it is what is best at that time. Hindsight is 20/20 but it does not mean that we should relive our decisions. A generation that regrets and second guesses their present, because surrounding adults limited them in the past, will limit the success and advancement of, not only, their lives but the lives of those around them.

We must be careful to make sure we balance our encouragement of our children with a dose of reality. However, we must never limit their imagination, creativity, and dreams. Children have the world at their fingers, and many different paths to choose from. No matter how our lives are in the present and no matter how our past helped to shape who we are today, our dedication needs to be focused on supporting our kids to explore on their individual journey. On the path of life, we should never be the leader making decision ahead of them or the advisor that guides them, but rather the supporter following behind them who can advise when needed. To raise fierce leaders and innovators, we must allow our children to dream, and make mistakes so they may learn that success is simply about getting up one more time than you fall!

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8th Grade Graduation- What the Future Holds

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OliviaGrad

Almost 14 years ago you changed my life

We have had our good times, we have had our bad times

But it has been time is filled with Pride

High School is next, and will be very influential

You will struggle, You will laugh, You will cry

Through it all, I will be here quietly supporting you

These years will transition you from the innocence of childhood

To the harsh reality in the Real World

While the world can be a cruel place

I hope you always see the true beauty that is in it

OliviaKid

You have always been a magnet, drawing the toddler to play freely

It is because of your pure heart, and this I wish of all to remain

No matter what the Real World throws your way,

Just look to the children to show you the joy in life

Just as I continue to look to you, my inspiration!

There is nothing more powerful than your SMILE!

Love you, Sweet Pea!

End of the Year Message: Parent to Teacher

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To whom it concerns:

You were charged with educating my child for the last 180 days, and I have to let you know how I feel:

1. Never in my life did I ever think that my child should suffer through many nights of frustration pending from homework. I remember thinking, every time, this is just homework for fourth grade! Why is my child stressing more than the adults in his life? He is supposed to be learning; learning through engagement and intuition. He should be enjoying himself, collaborating with his friends, and exploring problems together to learn.

2. What ever happened to recess, free time, Gym, Music, and Art? To be honest, I know my child can be a “handful”, especially when he gets cooped up in a room all day. His body is growing and he is full of energy that needs to have time to expend itself. I have supported your consequences whenever my child has acted out in class, however, I do believe that some of the blame is due to the fact that he is expected to sit for hours to “learn” without expression.

3. When I say “learn”, I mean to better prepare for testing! As his teacher who sits with him everyday, learns his habits, and understands his strengths and weaknesses, why does he have to be put through such misery? We both know that he struggles with test taking. This is NOT an excuse, but rather a diagnosis. Yet, every week, there is a test. Every month, there is a benchmark test. Every year, there is the State Exam! Wouldn’t the time wasted on all of these tests be put to better use to teach and learn?

4. Speaking of teaching….Science happens to be his love, as you are well aware of. His curiosity and love of learning are a perfect match for the science field. He loved the projects that were sent home and spent hours upon hours working on them. However, Science was only covered for approximately one half of the year, as it was switched out for Social Studies lessons. Being that both Science and Social Studies are crucial to spark curiosity and understanding of learning, it seems foolish for these subjects to be covered only partially throughout the year.

5. Lastly, I believe my children go to school to learn. To learn how to comprehend while reading a book, but more importantly to develop their own opinions about the story based on what they read. To learn their basic math facts of adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing, but more importantly to develop the knowledge of when, how, and why they would use math in life. To learn about their town, State, National, and World History, but more importantly to understand why decisions were made, what the outcomes were, and how he can learn from them and utilize it in his life. To learn about the exploration of Science, its chemicals, and its formulas, but more importantly to understand that it has been through curiosity and asking why and how that man continues to advance and provide the ever improving quality of life we have.

With that being said, I want to let you know- AND LET ME BE CLEAR:

I understand that politics are driving education. I understand that testing is mandated by state and national politics. I understand that you are forced to implement standards on students who are not prepared for them. I understand that you did not take play time away from my child. I understand that the focus on the perceived, declining Reading and Mathematics results have forced less focus on Science and Social Studies. I understand that you have less and less input on how to teach our children. I understand that as teachers you have persevered through it all. I understand that Teachers are the backbone to my child’s education, and I definitely understand that “YOU are a POSITIVE INFLUENCE on your students!”

I sincerely say “Thank You!” and appreciate every ounce of effort you give my child! Thank you for staying late, or answering the phone at home to explain the work. Thank you for “finding” time for the students to play, experience art, hear the music, and have some fun. Thank you for teaching, not to the test, but rather by providing meaningful lessons for students to learn from. Thank you for knowing my child and challenging his curiosity with the extra science projects you gave him just for fun! and coming in early for the Science Club you formed. Thank you for passionately believing that every child is more than any data can show. Lastly,

Thank you for caring, Thank you for loving, Thank you for pushing, Thank you for demanding,

Thank you for being an inspiration to my child!

Feel free to Share, Like, or Comment Below!!

End of the Year Thought: Students are more than Data

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When others speak about how important testing and data is for evaluations of student and teacher performance, understand that they have no idea what they are talking about. There are too many factors in life that affect student performance and so many  times of intervention for teachers to possibly calculate how inspirational they are. Just think about what this child covers in his song: Bullying, death of father, single mom, attire, homelessness, loneliness, social standing, fear, distractions, and most importantly, desire to learn!

Teaching and Learning is not about a test, we must take care of our students and their learning environment!

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As You Place Them on the Bus……

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From the thoughts of a Parent:  As I place my child on the bus to head to school, there are many thoughts that run through my mind.

  1. My child is growing up so fast, it seems like yesterday that he/she learned to walk.
  2. Even though he/she talks a lot, I hope the teacher sees what a wonderful, talented kid he/she is.
  3. I hope the teacher understands how close of friends he/she is with Timmy and allows them to sit next to each other.
  4. He/She really loves story time with me. He/She will sit and listen to me all night.
  5. I don’t understand why homework has to be so hard. I don’t understand how to do it, how is my child supposed to?
  6. I hope today is a great day, can’t wait to see him/her at the end of the day!

From the thoughts of a Teacher: As I place the students on the bus to head home, there are many thoughts that run through my mind.

  1. My students are growing up so fast, it seems like yesterday that they nervously first stepped into the classroom.
  2. Even though he/she is struggling, I hope his parents see how hard he/she is working.
  3. It is nice to see them developing new friendships, it makes them appreciate the ones they already have.
  4. They did a great job reading out loud today, I hope they are reading at home to someone.
  5. New concept today means they will struggle with today’s homework, I hope parents understand homework does not have to be 100% correct.
  6. I hope today was a great day, can’t wait to see them tomorrow morning!

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