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18 October 2004: Missing the Point (4 of 5)

Just like small children learning to speak, students learn through experience. It is fairly commonly accepted that flashcards are not the cure for a poor vocabulary. What is? Reading. Students' vocabularies grow when they are exposed to new words that are surrounded by old words. Authentic experience with new words in context leads to meaning and student understanding.

Again, we see an analogy to written language. Through immersion in interesting, meaningful texts, students will come to see grammar conventions, and understand their functions.

Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not suggesting that there is no teaching to be done. As I said in my article of 04 October 2004, teachers have a hefty responsibility. Nor am I suggesting that reading is a panacea for our language arts instruction (though I may approach that some day). All I'm saying is that experience with language is what will improve student output more significantly than following behind the teacher and copying their red marks.

19 October 2004: Missing the Point (5 of 5)

There's another point in this discussion the Globe article almost makes. One second grade teacher from the Boston area admits that red pens are definitely a no-no, but also concedes that she uses sticky notes to give feedback, rather than writing directly on a student's work.

Haven't we all experienced what my colleage described to me just yesterday:

I put together this really nice report on my family history. It's something that I have kept for so many years. I do wish the teacher hadn't written all over the cover page, even though what he wrote was good.

Aside from my belief that it is ineffective, writing on a child's work is disrespectful. It is one more way that teachers demonstrate their knowledge and power, while calling attention to their students' lack. Like most good teaching, alternatives such as rubrics and peer editing are more effective and less work for teachers. Save the colored pens for doodling during staff meetings.

20 October 2004: Review of Tenure (1 of 4)

From AP, 4 July 2003: To teachers, tenure is a coveted and often misunderstood right ó not a lock on a lifetime job, but assurance of fair treatment, including intervention for teachers who may be struggling to reach students.

Since the beginning of my career, it has been astounding to me that according to the laws of my state and my teaching contract, a high-school dropout earning the minimum wage has more job security than a credentialed public school teacher without tenure. In the article quoted above, Ben Feller discusses the pros and cons of tenure in public school teaching appointments. As I was reading it, the shocking truth jumped out at me; the article states that only once teachers have tenure do they have a right to ďassurance of fair treatment.Ē Even a McDonaldís employee is entitled to a process of warnings, opportunities to improve, and justification for termination. But if you happen to be a public school teacher, donít expect such coddling. I can speak to this from personal experience. Late in my first year of teaching I was given a non-re-elect letter by my district. I was told by my principal (who, incidentally, had never seen me teach) that she had nothing to do with it. I was told by the district that it originated with my principal. I was told by my union that it didnít matter either way, since without tenure they did not need any justification to fire me. The contract says tenure comes at the beginning of year three, and before that it is not necessary to give any reason for dismissal.

21 October 2004: Review of Tenure (2 of 4)

Well, as you can imagine, I (along with two colleagues in the same boat) decided to pursue the issue with the upper echelons of district administration. After numerous meetings and phone calls (notice this does not say observations! I was fired without the principal or any district administrator even watching me teach!), the superintendent managed to arrange a meeting where my principal listed among the reasons for my dismissal the fact that I had used five out of my contracted ten sick days. She also maintained that she had nothing to do with my non-re-election. I continued to fight through my union, and at the end of the battle, I won one single concession: the district would accept my resignation in place of termination. This district, that suffers a chronic teacher shortage because of the poor conditions, was going to force me to quit the job of my dreams. Well, you say, what do you expect? From a district so poorly managed, doesnít it make sense that ďitís the brightest, the risk-taking teachers who are most at risk for arbitrary dismissal,Ē as the AP article claims?

22 October 2004: Review of Tenure (3 of 4)

I wish I could say that this is the only dark side of the tenure system that Iíve ever experienced, but unfortunately, that would be far from the truth. More than dehumanize beginning teachers, my experience has been that tenure unjustifiably protects veteran teachers. Now at this point, I want to be clear on semantics. Veteran is not synonymous with effective. By veteran, I mean experienced enough to have been given tenure. What happens when you have a veteran teacher who is not effective? Well, in my observations, very little. I have seen these teachers ignore helpful suggestions, snub district and site supervisors, and compromise their studentsí education without recourse. Where all internal and external measures of achievement show consistent deficiencies in a particular classroom, Iíve watched years go by without any action taken by administrators. Their defense is always to turn to the tenure system. If there are ways to terminate tenured teachers based on poor performance, many principals donít know how to do it.

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teaching quote of the day

Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.

- Chinese proverb

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