Children Dying at School

I remember growing up with the knowledge that when an adult spoke, I listened. It didn’t matter if the adult was right, wrong, or respectful. It didn’t matter if I was just told something different by another adult. It would be disrespectful for me to state my opinion, or question an adult. Forget having an opinion or a side to a story if there was a problem. Should my parents be called in for an issue, I did not get a chance to explain my side, nor did my parents even care to hear one. Is this the right way? Sadly, as adults, we are preconditioned to continue to trust and listen to other adults who claim to be the experts. Sadly, as adults, we continue to ignore the voices of the little ones, the children. WHY? 

There is a hidden problem in almost every school across this great country, yet no one is talking about it. Consequences. Our focus is on the issues that the mainstream media feeds to us. Bad teachers, Common Core, Failing Schools, and Bullying are all issues being fed into our conversations and ideas about our public education system. Imagine if these are simply the aftermath of a deeper and deadlier issue. Are adults the ones to be trusted? Why aren’t we listening to what our children have to say? Placing children in harms way with consequences like restraining bags, electric shock, and scream rooms are despicable. We are trusting adults to make decisions about helping our kids with these barbaric means? When did it become acceptable for an adult to punish a child in a manner that would be unacceptable for a criminal?

Think back to your education and the most influential teachers you had. What made them special to you? Now think for a moment that your favorite  teacher on your worst day had stuffed you into a secluded “Scream Room”, or delivered shock therapy, would they still be your favorite teacher? When a child misbehaves, there is a reason for the misbehavior that must be understood and addressed for the situation to be rectified. Every day there are students who become disengaged with their education, their future. There has to be a reason behind it, and we must be willing to take the time and energy to stop and communicate this. 

Your most influential teachers are the ones who took the time and effort to listen and relate with you. Instead of handing you ineffective consequence after consequence, they were the ones who took the time to find a solution with you. Even the simple consequence of “missing recess for missing homework” can be idiotic at times. I once had a 5th grade partner teacher who sat a student out of recess for 3 months because of missing homework. Did the punishment deliver the right outcome? How did this help? Do you think the student wanted to miss recess? By simply sitting down and having a conversation, it was found that his priority after school was taking care of his siblings (laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc), not homework. After discussing options with him, the student began finishing his homework based on the guidelines that were agreed to. While he never respected the teacher (she never cared to listen), he felt empowered to know someone would listen and relate with him and put forth a better effort because of this simple offering. 

I am not saying there should be no consequences, and our children should do whatever they want. I am simply pointing out that we, as adults, should remember what it was like to be a child on our good days and our bad days. Remember that we should be using consequences only if they produce the right outcome, and never use them as punishments. Unfortunately there are cases where students are literally dying from these severe consequences, but we must also recognize that we are killing the inner spirit of the child by punishing them. Every child starts off their education by WANTING and LOVING to go to school to LEARN. The question we need to answer is “What stops a child’s passion for learning?”, or even more “Who killed the desire within the child?”



Flipping over the Flipped Classroom?

So the new rage in education has a label- The Flipped Classroom! There is a movement that believes that it is the perfect mix use of technology that has and will continue to transform the education of America’s students. The flipped classroom is based upon the use of technology to help deliver lessons outside of the classroom (the lesson is watched at home for homework), thus allowing students to spend class time fully focused on subject matter and the expanse of it.  No class time is wasted on the lesson, thus is fully maximized on the development of the understanding by the students. In the words of Wikipedia: Flip teaching (or flipped classroom) is a form of blended learning in which students learn new content online by watching video lectures, usually at home, and what used to be homework (assigned problems) is now done in class with teacher offering more personalized guidance and interaction with students, instead of lecturing.

I sure hope that we are NOT all so short sighted as to believe that this is educationally transforming.  The development of the textbook was in turn the first form of the “flipped classroom”. Teachers were able to assign students the task of reading the next lesson for homework so that they may concentrate class time on developing a better understanding. Was this revolutionary? I would argue that the introduction of using textbooks as homework reading simply increased the school day hours.  It no longer limited the time to read and study to the availability of the text in the classroom, but allowed the access to reading the text to 24/7.  Students today are so very thankful for this development.

The Flipped Classroom simply takes the concept of the textbook (reading/learning 24/7), and expands it with the introduction of technology. The ability of teachers to create video and audio lessons allows them to reach students while they are outside of the classroom walls. It may be created by someone else, with the objective to better prepare the students for the activities/ discussions of the classroom. So while many in America demand longer school days, there is already a movement that is providing just that. At what cost?

If we are to truly take advantage of technology, why do we simply have students watch a lesson at home? I would argue our students are provided LESS support: Lessons are stagnant, lifeless, with no ability to “Connect”. If a student has a question or comment to make during the lesson, he or she is then required to keep their thought process for 12-16 hours until they are back in class? It is easy to say students can write down those questions and thoughts, but what about the ability to capitalize on the opportunity to inspire and empower as it happens?

To be a proponent of the Flipped Classroom, one would have to use technology in a more prevalent capacity.  Combine social media/ discussion boards with the video lessons.  Allow the students to collaborate and share ideas in real time as they are watching the lessons.  How about having a video conference with students, or even with teacher as the lessons are watched.  This will provide a platform for real, meaningful learning to happen, and provide a platform for the following days activities to be truly based on feedback from the students. Instead of simply increasing the “learning” time by extending lessons to be learned for homework, teachers can increase learning by teaching a lesson, collecting information on lesson mastery, and thus developing the next days activities around what the students need.

The flipped classroom has a place in education, as it has been around for decades.  However, it is not revolutionary, and we should not treat it as such.  The education revolution will not be based around the use of technology, but rather on what technology can provide us. We must remember that true educational transformation will come when the revolution is based upon the needs of the learner. We must get back to caring for the students, to truly inspire and empower an individual is most powerful and the results (data, testing) will take care of themselves.

I had to Apologize to My Students- Their Reaction Left Me in Tears!

Page 1
Portion of a letter given to me from a student in a partner class after learning I was leaving. Truly humbling to learn you inspire students who are not even in your class.

Almost 2 years ago, due to circumstances in education, family, and life, I made a decision to leave teaching, to walk away from my classroom.  Two weeks prior, I had to endure the task of informing my students of my decision. It’s ironic how selfish one can be in a profession that is filled with the rewards of giving. My profession, for the first time in 15 years, started feeling like a job in the weeks leading up. I had lost focus, and with it, lost the love and passion from which I thrived. It had become all about me: the hatred building up inside of me, the decision I had to make, the failure I was going to be in my students eyes. I hated that society didn’t value my profession. I hated that the Federal and State governments tried to label my students as Proficient or Non-proficient. I hated that my performance was going to be judged based upon these tests. I hated that I was a data collecting machine. I hated Summative and Formative testing. I hated those who spoke of pedagogy and rigor. I hated that my district didn’t value technology. I hated that I was reprimanded for the tangle of electrical cords when my request for replacement batteries for laptops was denied. I hated that increasing contributions to my benefits package guaranteed a continued pay cut every year. I hated that a yearly pay cut meant I could not provide for my family and left me no choice. I hated having to make that decision. I hated that I had to look my students in the eye and tell them “I am sorry, I failed you as your teacher.” In my search to excuse my feelings of failure, I had lost sight of the only opinion that truly mattered. In those weeks, I truly did fail my students, but my students never failed me.

On that dreaded day of revelation, about 30 minutes into my tear filled explanation of my decision to leave the classroom, one of my students stopped me.  She stated through her own tears, “Why do you keep saying Sorry? You did nothing wrong.” She continued by clarifying in 3 minutes what I had tried to say in 30.  She informed all that putting my 3 kids ahead of them as students was nothing to apologize about. She proceeded to lecture the class and myself that even though we only had 2 more weeks together, we should be thankful for the last 4 months of being Mr. Lowe‘s class.  With the conviction of a true leader, she requested everyone to not discuss this anymore and make the most of our last 2 weeks together.  She ended by telling me that I was more than just a teacher to this class.  She believed in everything I said including forever being one of Mr. Lowe’s kids, and my being out of the classroom was not going to change that! There have been plenty of times students had to correct me and there have been plenty of times students have inspired me, but this was just the beginning of the most inspiring 2 weeks I had ever experienced. It is inspiring to see your students put into action everything that you preach about as a teacher especially when you had just dropped a bombshell on them. “Leave your troubles at the door.” “When you enter this classroom, you enter with a promise to always do your best, even when things are at their worst.” “Are you proud of your work?” Did I ever mention these were 4th Graders?

In a true moment of students teaching the teacher, I had become that lost student needing help, disengaged due to outside circumstances. The outpouring of support came, lesson after lesson. Parents and students, past and present, went out of their way to deliver messages of inspiration and encouragement. My students were right, I had nothing to be “Sorry” about. In fact, I was grateful. I loved every minute I spent in the classroom. I loved inspiring. I loved seeing the Ah Ha moment. I loved the laughing. I loved the dancing. I loved when they made fun of me. I loved the raw emotions of crying, fear and anxiety turn to happiness, courage, and hope. I loved seeing a C student get a C+. I loved seeing BFFs form from my choice in seating. I loved the hugs of excitement and sorrow. I loved to see confidence sprout from doubt. I loved saying “I’m proud of You.” I loved getting in trouble because I fought for my students. I loved working with parents. I loved being inspired by students. I loved seeing them present their work. I loved hearing them sing. I loved welcoming them in the morning. I loved being loud in the hallway with them. I loved the high fives. I loved the down lows. I loved the April Fools pranks. I loved the egg toss and the egg drop. I loved having International Day. I loved steps of improvement no matter how small. I loved the first day, last day, and all the days in between. Most of all, I loved my students, each and every one. I would like to end by telling each and every one “I thank you for being a part of my class, my family! You played an important part in making me the teacher I was, and the person I am today! For this, I will always love you!”

Why Do Most Fail at Becoming a Teacher?

Over the last 30 years, the educational system in the US has taken a beating and along with it, the teachers.  Everyone from the President, to the local John Doe, has an opinion on how to best fix our decline when compared to nations around the world.  From the Common Core to a laptop, the answer to our problems is out there, if only those teachers would listen and change.  However, the teachers are protected by those Unions and tenure, so how are we supposed to change the status quo?  How do we get through to teachers for them to understand that we have to set higher standards for the students, set higher standards for the teachers, evaluate the students’ progress, evaluate the teachers’ progress, and recognize that standardized testing will resurrect our great educational system?  It’s simple…..We DON’T!!  Most will say that our educational system is broken. Most will say that our students today are not as educated as they were in the past.  This is simply not true.  

The biggest problem in education today is the leadership and direction it is under. Leadership that has little to no experience of what it takes to be a classroom teacher. Leadership that continues to break the most simple cardinal rule of teaching, “There is NO one-size fits all” answer!  Yet, the educational reforms continue to come down the pipeline from every new leader that takes office with the idea that he or she will be the savior for our children.  There have been changes from standards to content, yet we continue to look at our students as failures, for according to the research and data being collected, we continue to decline. 

By way of elimination, leadership has finally identified the underlying issue of our decline, the teachers.  How does the saying go?  Those who can, do…those who can’t, teach? Really?! Why is public persona of teachers so bad?  Could we be buying into the anti-teacher propaganda issued by those who initiated the failed reforms?  Why have we lost sight of what truly matters in educating a child?  It goes beyond the Common Core, NCLB, Blended Learning, Public vs Private vs Charter.  It is deeper than the subject matter being taught in Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Science, and Social Studies.  It is more powerful than any data you can collect from standardized, summative and formative testing.  Yet, without listening, our leaders have inundated our teachers with a workload that takes them away from the single most important factor in educating our students.  

The best teachers have the ability to connect with a student and inspire them to learn, not just in the classroom but beyond, a life-long learner. The innate ability to recognize struggle, depression, or emptiness and counter with support, potential, and hope.  We can all claim the ability to do such things, but teachers do this with 20, 30, 40+ students in their classrooms everyday!  All while understanding the idea of failing even one student is unacceptable.  So, why do most fail at becoming a teacher? Simple….it is easier to follow another career path.  Teachers are the small percentage of those willing to take the responsibility of educating our youth, while receiving a barrage of disrespect, simply for the love of teaching.  

Through mandates and reforms, none of which were teacher driven, we now blame our teachers for failing our students, however, it is we who have failed our teachers.  The research and rigor of the new programs, reforms, and CCSS may help the educational system as a whole, but they are just duct-taping the problem.  Until we focus on supporting the needs of the teacher and the needs of each individual student, learning will only be defined by a test result.  During my time as a teacher, I was always amused at the parade of individuals who touted the “next best” idea or reform that was going to reach my students and make them successful without ever meeting them.  Did they know that Matt’s parents were getting a divorce? That Mary just lost her Grandmother, her inspiration?  That Robert was missing 40 days of school to care for his new born brother? That…….did they even care?  What made them think that spending 3 hours collecting, organizing, and relating data was more important than having a 5 minute conversation with a student?  Do they understand that my C-student’s effort to improve is better than than my A-student who doesn’t?  Labeling a 4th grader as Proficient or Not Proficient does nothing in predicting their future success.

I would argue that today’s students are smarter than any generation before them.  They are accessing and learning information at ages that are stunning.  If our educational system is failing our students, it is doing so because leadership, not teachers, has limited them to be proficient or non-proficient through a standardized test.  Our students should not be judged on a score, and our teachers should not be judged on a test.  A teacher’s job is to promote and inspire life-long learning- to relate and inspire a student to learn not just in the classroom, but more importantly at every moment possible.  To learn not because they have to, but rather because they want to!