Sunday, December 19, 2010

My top reads of 2010

Okay, yeah, I've been slacking on the update part of this here blog o'mine. I'll get it caught up soon, I swear. In fact, I have a LOT to talk about. It's been an amazing few months for me, and I've learned quite a bit. Now that I'm on my December break, I actually have some time to reflect on it, and I'll post up my thoughts here before 2011. I think.

 In the meantime, I've posted my favorite reads of 2010 on Elephant Journal. Check it out here.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

In defense of charter schools

There is a frequent accusation leveled at charter schools that they tend to siphon off the best and the brightest in a given school population, that they can pick and choose who they serve, and that if the students there don't make it, they are sent back to their home school, all of which add up to an unfair advantage in favor of charters. I've been involved in the field of education for 23 years now, at traditional public schools, various types of private schools, and I'm currently working at a charter school. While I do think the idea of "free market choice" and "competition" between schools is a horrifically bad idea, there are very good reasons that charter schools exist, and it is not necessarily because of sub par local public schools, but that the current public school model has its origins in the 19th century and the Industrial Revolution; the problem is that while education and students have changed, the model has not. It is antiquated, and the politicians, administrators, school board members, and even parents in a position to initiate the necessary changes are too afraid to do it, and the taxpayers who constantly push for "better schools" are at the same time unwilling to step up and pay the taxes necessary to affect those very changes upon which they insist.

The charter school conundrum is an interesting one. On the one hand, I have certain philosophical difficulties with for-profit charter schools. But then, I have philosophical difficulties with any corporation that is set up directly and solely to work with schools and is a for-profit institution. It aggravates me to no end to see various companies charge schools double, triple, or more for things like books and videos that can be had for a fraction of the cost at a local store; it seems the philosophies of these companies is "hey, it's just taxpayers' dollars, so let's take all we can get." But I digress.

To be perfectly honest, public school education provides a more than adequate education for the vast majority of the school age population. The methods of delivery of the information and the like is in need of modification; I won't say "reform" because the politicians have nicely destroyed that word, especially within the context of education, thank you very much. However, there is a definite percentage of students at both ends of the population spectrum whose needs are not met by a traditional public school setting, no matter how progressive that school/district may be. If the parents of that child can afford it, that is often where private and/or parochial schools come in; charter schools provide yet another option, especially for the students whose parents are unable to afford a private school. Many, if not most, charter schools are independent entities though some are part of a national chain of schools.

I find it ironic that when a school district sets up a "magnet school," it is seen as a progressive step towards reform and is lauded by parents, politicians, and various and sundry others within the community. Yet if a charter is set up, that charter school is viewed with suspicion and distrust, yet I am not sure there is really that much of a difference between a magnet school and a charter school. Both are set up to work with specific, specialty populations; both are free to the public; both work "outside the norm" of their district; both are able to create their own set of expectations, both academic and behavioral, for its students.

Are charter schools the cure and panacea for all that ails a district? Not any more than a magnet school is. Yet neither are they the evil that so many make them out to be.

Monday, August 9, 2010

First day at the new job; first day as an old new teacher.

Today was day one at the new job; a charter school for gifted and talented kids where I will be teaching a mixed third and fourth grade class, with the exception of English Language Arts, which I will be teaching to a mixed sixth and seventh grade class because they read at a high school level or above, and I have so much high school experience.

The day was an incredibly invigorating one for me in many ways. Even though I have 22 years of teaching experience, I have never taught elementary education as a full-time educator; as a substitute, sure, and it was my experience as a substitute at the elementary level that planted the seed towards my pursuing my elementary endorsement in addition to already being secondary English Language Arts licensed. As a result, I truly felt like a brand new teacher today, which in many ways, I am. It's a bit odd, but in a good way. I spent my time planning out an elementary classroom instead of a high school or even a middle school classroom and was thoroughly excited to unpack supplies for projects, beanbag chairs for my reading corner...I probably had far more fun than I should have had. (heh)

To add to my excitement, I am working in a truly technologically equipped classroom: I have been given a laptop, projector, SMART board, document camera, and my room also has a laptop cart with enough laptops for 1:1 laptops in my room.

I'm also thrilled with the general attitude of the administration. First, we are absolutely treated as respected professionals, which completely creates an atmosphere that energized and validated everyone in the room. The Executive Director cares as much for her staff as she obviously does for the students. It was truly impressive.

One thing that was said today was "There's nothing elitist about what we're doing here, but it's different." And that's what it comes down to for so many charters, and it is why so many parents have gotten behind the charter movement. It's not that traditional public schools are bad, and in fact, the director made it a point to praise the job being done in and by traditional settings, noting that public schools are completely right and effective for 95% of the students enrolled in them, but made not that there are still 5% who need something different, and that is where charters come in. It's no secret that public schools just simply don't fit the needs of every student; regardless of what our politicians and business types think, children are not widgets...they are not all alike, and they all have their own individual needs, both academically and personally, and it is completely, totally, and absolutely unrealistic and unfair to expect them to fit the same mold.

I'm in a really, really good place, psychologically and professionally, in this school. I am looking forward to my "first" year of teaching.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The newest chapter and exciting opportunities for growth

Well, after a false start with one district (long story I won't get into here), this fall I will be teaching at a charter school for gifted and talented children. I'm pretty excited about it. On the technological front, my classroom will be equipped with a laptop (for me), a SMART board, document camera, and 1:1 laptops for my students. I'll be teaching 3rd and 4th grade, with one 6th and 7th grade English class.

Aside from substitute teaching, I've never worked in an elementary school setting, so I'm really looking forward to the opportunity for growth that my new job is offering. I've been told that my 6th and 7th graders read at an average of at least a high school to college level, which opens up some really unique opportunities for me as well.

The school where I'm working bases much of its philosophy on the work of Joseph Renzulli and his "Three Ring Conception of Giftedness," which I think represents a unique view of the gifted/talented spectrum that goes beyond merely how a student performs on a test or series of tests. While I've worked with gifted/talented students before and I do extremely well with them, I've never worked exclusively with G/T students before, so this also represents more growth.

It's been a while since I've been presented with so many multiple opportunities for personal and professional growth at one time... in some ways, I feel like a brand new teacher again, which is not a bad thing at all... the Beginner's Mind indeed!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Diane Ravitch & The Death and Life of the Great American School System

Not too long ago, I wrote a review of this book on Elephant Journal, and I had the privilege of hearing Ms. Ravitch speak both in Boulder and in Denver.

I find myself agreeing with much of Ms. Ravitch's messages: the disaster that has become standardized testing, the over-involvement of politicians and business people in education, and the dangers of the lack of accountability when  it comes to large foundations who are (sometimes successfully) imposing their view of education on schools with often no background in education and no real accountability to anyone but themselves. I do, however, find myself in disagreement with her, at least in part, on the charter school issue.

First, standardized testing. While the idea behind the ill-implemented NCLB law was noble, and the idea that all children would be at grade level by the time they graduate is a noble one, the reality of it is that it is absolutely impossible for this to occur. While this may sound somewhat shocking coming from a career educator, the reasons I say this are many and most are beyond the control of schools. Let's say, for example, a student is recently arrived in the United States and does not speak any English, a phenomenon that is far more common than one might assume (regardless of immigration status, to head off that particular argument; this summer I worked with two students from Africa and one from Iraq who had been here less than one year, were documented immigrants, and who spoke no English upon arrival). It is well documented that it takes five to seven years to master a second language. Should that student arrive in their junior or senior year of high school, they will likely graduate with a rudimentary grasp of the language, but there is no way they will graduate on grade level. And so that student's school would be sanctioned.

And what of those students who, for a variety of reasons, are involved in special education and who are simply unable to achieve grade level in one or more areas of academic study? Once again, their school will be sanctioned. What of those living in poverty? For years, it was assumed that poverty did not affect a student's education, and while it is not an excuse for not learning, at the same time, it is simple fact that students living in poverty and/or attending less-affluent schools are not on equal footing with their more financially well-off peers. (There are a range of studies documenting this simple fact.)

Don't get me wrong. I'm not against being held accountable. I'm absolutely in favor of that. If I'm not doing my job, then help me to get better. If that still doesn't work, then counsel me out of the profession. However, as Ravitch discusses in her book, no one has any proven method for improving schools that don't do well on the tests and she points out the sad irony that closing schools is a sign of "getting tough" rather than a sign of failure of that administration, district, state, or similar governing body. It's a constant irritant of mine that when a school does well, it's to the credit of administration and/or parents, but when a school is doing poorly, it is the fault of the teachers alone. This constant vilification of teachers is one reason why I know of many very good, even excellent, educators either have left the field entirely or are seriously considering it.

Let us also consider the narrow range of the tests and also consider how much of what occurs in education is simply untestable. How does one test social skills, the development of creative thinking and problem solving, the skill of learning to work with and alongside those who may be radically different whether based on race, ethnicity, culture, gender, age, and so on? And yet, here we have NCLB. A nice idea badly implemented with no though to its unintended consequences and no attempt to redress those consequences.

Which leads me to my next point: the involvement of politicians and business people who have decided that they know better than those in the classroom what the needs of children are and how best to meet those needs. As Ravitch points out, there is much discussion by these same types of teachers being the "experts" and the "true professionals," yet when it comes down to it, that is not at all how teachers are really being viewed and treated. In her book, she wonders why it is these same politicians don't try to tell doctors, nurses, and so forth how to do their jobs; I agree. The prevalent view seems to be "well, I went to school once, so therefore I know what how to fix things." By that same logic, I've been to a doctor's office a few times, so where is my medical degree? Unfortunately, the current administration in the White House seems bent on continuing the same misguided policies of the previous administration, and so there will be no light at the end of this tunnel anytime soon. Certainly the passage of SB-191 here in Colorado, a law proposed by an "educator" who spent a mere two years as a teacher then three years as a principal, has given reason for pause for a great number of current and prospective teachers. It should be noted that for the five years this particular politician was involved in education, his students' scores consistently went down. I can't help but wonder if his new law was intended to protect children from "educators" like himself.

Money, money, money. Much as we would all like to say it's love that makes the world go 'round, it seems that money is increasingly the impetus for our planet's rotations. It deeply saddens me when I see communities vote down issues to improve their schools and their libraries. Communities claim to want the best schools yet seem unwilling to pay for them, and as a result, these huge foundations wielding large sums of cash yet no background in education, are able to come in and dictate what happens on their terms. And if their ideas fail, what then? They simply walk away with no real consequence to them, though the consequences to the school and/or community involved are tremendous.

Charter schools. Depending on who you talk to, charter schools are either the salvation or the destruction of the public school system, and I suppose depending on the charter school that is true. While I do understand the accusations made against charter schools, that they have a tendency to siphon off the "best and brightest" in a school, that is not always the case, but if and when it is the case, I find it unfortunate that a particular school will bemoan its loss rather than rather than said school or district taking the time to reflect on why there is a need for that particular charter school.

It's rather sad that so many of our public schools and public school districts are so incredibly conservative when it comes to change, and that is really what charter schools represent. It is convenient to put the blame on the teachers or the teachers' unions, but generally speaking, neither of those are the issue. The real issue is fear. Charter schools are willing to take chances and are willing to experiment with pedagogy and curriculum; traditional schools are much, much slower to take those same chances and are slower to respond to outside "market forces" (for lack of a better term). There is much talk of being "data driven" versus being "data informed" as Ms. Ravitch discusses in the book with a push towards the latter, which makes much more sense. The idea of being "research based" is an additional oft-repeated catch phrase in public schools, but charter schools are generally more willing to do the research themselves rather than wait for the someone else to do it.

And let's face it, when it comes to various specific populations of students, public schools simply drop the ball, viewing programs that might engage and benefit those students as "nice to do when we have the time or money," so while yes, there are many, many things that public schools do extraordinarily well, there is still a need for charter schools and there probably always will be.

That being said, I do agree with Ravitch when she speaks out against the privatization of public schools. That is an extraordinarily awful idea, and I definitely am suspicious of for-profit corporations that choose to open schools. Many are well-intentioned, no doubt. However, the idea of making money off of educating children in that regard just doesn't sit particularly well with me. One of the cornerstones of our country is the unique approach we have to the education of our children: that every child is fully entitled to a free and appropriate education. I'm not entirely convinced that a for-profit corporation can and will see it that way. I was told many years ago that I needed to understand that a particular school was a business; I responded that it was my opinion that person needed to understand that it was a school. The bottom line in education should be its students, not its profits.

Diane Ravitch's book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, is likely one of the best books on education and educational policy to hit the shelves in the past five, maybe even ten, years. I cannot recommend this book enough. Regardless of how much or how little someone may be involved in education, this is one book that will give the reader much to think about and perhaps much to consider locally and nationally on the educational stage.

Monday, June 14, 2010

One chapter ends, another begins

It's been a couple of weeks now since school let out; since my time as an employee of my former district ended. It's still semi-unreal to me that I won't be returning to that same school where I invested the past eight years of my life. And yet, while I do regret that I won't be continuing to work with the students and teachers I had been working with, at the same time, I learned a lot this year, and so I cannot truly say it was a wasted year. I learned a lot about leadership, about what poor leadership looks like and what poor leadership acts like. I learned that sometimes you stand up for what's right, even though it can cost you more than you think.

And I think that's what my students learned as well. Based on feedback I've gotten from my (now former) students, I taught them a lesson that will never appear on any test, never will be added to any sort of score, and is likely far more important than how to avoid comma splices. I taught them that when it comes down to it, standing up for what you know is right, standing up for those who can't, is always the right thing to do, even if you lose. In the long run, it's worth it, and you really don't lose anything.

I have since started my new job in a new district, and I'm really excited about it. I'm back to working with middle school students, but this time, it's with a twist: I'm going to be working as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher. For about the past week, I've been working with a group of 6th grade (soon to be 7th grade) students in a summer school/pd environment. I have 12 students from eight different countries on three different continents, and their language skills range from barely speaking and understanding oral English language to high fluency in oral English language.

I'm pretty excited about this new direction that my new career is taking. I've been taking a new look at the tools introduced to me through the technology leadership program I was a part of in my old district and figuring out how ones I'd been using and ones I hadn't used can be utilized in this new environment.

So I'm off on a new adventure with a whole new horizon and a whole new set of skills to be built. It should be fun!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ch-ch-ch-changes (with apologies to David Bowie)

Another school year is rapidly drawing to a close, marking the completion of my 22nd year as an educator. For a variety of reasons, it's been one of the longest and most difficult years of my career, and one that is most notably marked by a change in employment. Next year I will find myself in another school district at a whole different grade level: for the first time in a long time I'll be teaching middle school again. Come next fall, I'll be standing in front of a group of sixth grade IB students. While I am saddened by leaving the students and faculty where I currently am employed, and I will miss them terribly, at the same time, I am very excited to meet my new students and co-workers.

The new challenges will be a great opportunity for me to grow as a professional and as a person. The advantage for my students is that since I've taught at the high school level, and having taught IB at the high school level, I know where they are headed and what is in store for them, and so I can help to get them ready for that transition. I've already downloaded sixth grade vocabulary and book lists, and have been running through potential lessons and scenarios in my mind.

I've certainly enjoyed my time as a high school educator. I've worked with some outstanding young men and women (and some outstanding not so young men and women... heh), and I've learned quite a lot. For a while, I resisted the change; there is comfort in familiarity, change represents real risk and is scary. Yet everything kept pointing me in that direction, and the harder I pushed against it, the harder I was pushed toward it. And yet when I think back on my previous years as a junior high/middle school teacher, it is almost always with a smile and a bit of warmth: I genuinely like working with middle school students and find them to be quite a lot of fun.

The other challenge will be figuring out which technological tools will be useful for my students and which ones won't. There are some that in the past I neglected since they were "too young" for my 9th, 10th, and 11th grade students that I will now likely find very useful. I will look at others to see if they are "too old" for my 6th graders or if they can be adapted for use within the middle school classroom. Of course, this is assuming I'll have at least semi-regular access to technology.

So many questions as I venture forth into new and uncharted horizons, yet I'm filled with a sense of adventure and excitement. This year will end bittersweet for me, but the next year is filled with promise and excitement. My next big adventure awaits!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Barack Obama: The Education President? Not necessarily

(Part V in a series on education in the 21st century.) I voted for President Obama. Filled with the excitement and hope represented by his progressive ideas, I looked forward to what he had to offer the American people. Tempering that enthusiasm, however, was the realization that campaign promises often run into that nefarious obstacle called “governing.” I did not expect Mr. Obama to reveal red and blue tights under his suit come Inauguration Day, and I realized that many of his goals would take time to accomplish. I was disappointed in his choice for Tom Vilsack to lead the Department of Agriculture,  and was struck by the irony of that appointment when juxtaposed with the organic garden in the White House lawn. I became less enthusiastic when Arne Duncan took the reigns as Secretary of Education. Once again, the person who was given the responsibility for education in our country had never spent a day in the classroom as an educator. (The very fact that his Department of Education biography describes his position with the Chicago Public Schools as “CEO” instead of “superintendent” is telling.)

For more, click here.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

You know you're teaching in the 21st century when...

My son was out last Friday, and asked if I could stay home with him; since he rarely asks me to do that when he's not feeling well, I decided to honor his request.

The interesting thing about the whole process was how the whole day was set up. I put in for the sub via a website, then sent a text messages to colleagues on my team notifying them that I would be out and was going to email them the lesson plans for the day.  I wrote out the lesson plans and emailed them out. Since the Theory of Knowledge class is so seminar based, I set up a class discussion about the meaning of history on CoverItLive and class continued as normal.

This definitely has some interesting potential for education and how it is delivered. There are an increasing number of online programs and sites available where teachers can post and deliver instruction online. However, there is much to be said for face to face interaction, especially when it comes to delivering instruction. While it did enable me to continue instruction on a day when I was out, I would not want to give up the spontaneity and energy of actually being in a classroom, interacting on a more personal and intimate level. Human relationships are affected by online interactions, and I definitely don't think the class would have gone as well had I not previously built those unique relationships via classroom instruction and the simple human interaction that comes from teaching. The idea that teachers are far more than simple deliverers of material isn't exactly a news flash: the duties and responsibilities of an educator go far, far beyond that of simple subject matter... and these "soft skills" that don't get measured on any standardized test are just as important, if not more so, to the development of a student and to their success (or failure) as an adult.

As a supplement to classroom instruction or as an adjunct to instruction on days when a teacher is out but has access to technology, online discussions are the way to go... but as an acceptable substitute for instruction? Never. Education is far more important than that.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The cost of not going paperless

(The irony of having my disconnected SMARTboard in the background is not lost on me.)

One of the many things that many of us were looking forward to when we moved to our new building was the idea of moving towards a (virtually) paperless classroom. I most definitely was for sure. Not only does a paperless classroom assist students with the acquisition of 21st century skills, it helps to keep me organized (I can easily sort and file student papers in electronic files on Google docs) and it has the potential to save school districts in general hundreds of thousands of dollars a year (literally) on the cost of paper alone. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, the shift to paperless classrooms has stalled this year.

I recently crunched some numbers and came to a startling conclusion: based on the number of handouts I'm giving my students this semester, I will be responsible for nearly $5,000 in paper (just in paper) costs this semester alone. Multiply that times the number of other 9th and 10th grade teachers in our building, and it works out to over $84,000 just for 9th and 10th grade for one semester.  Double that for a full school year and double it again to include 11th and 12th grade, and you're looking at over $300,00 just in the cost of paper for one year. One so many levels, this is unacceptable, particularly in light of having electronic options available. (Realize two things: 1. the district where I work isn't overly large, and so the savings in other districts would be far greater, and 2. while I am talking about my district specifically, this applies to any and all districts throughout the country.)

To illustrate the point: my students just completed a district common assessment. I took the test and answer sheets to the wellness center in the school and weighed it, just out of curiosity. The two day test weighed 17.2 pounds. A ream of paper (500 sheets of paper) weighed 4.8 pounds, meaning that just for my students, approximately 3.58 reams of paper were used, for a total of over 1,791 sheets of paper used.  At a cost of (approximately) $.10 per sheet of paper, that amounts to $179.17 for just one test for one group of students.  Multiply that times four (four groups of students/four academies), and you end up with this one test costing the district $716.67.  These assessments are given four times a year, for a yearly cost of $2,866.67.

I wonder how much it would have cost to have the students take the same multiple choice test online? My guess is that the savings would be significant.

The district where I work could provide one laptop for every student in the high school for half that amount every single year (assuming a cost of $1,000 per laptop), thus enabling our students to learn 21st century technology skills in addition to the curricular materials while adding to the fiscal savings from year to year without affecting the currently adopted teaching model. Even if the students were issued laptops and allowed to keep them permanently, after the first year, the savings actually increase as districts would only have to purchase laptops for incoming students since existing students in said district would already have their laptops from the previous year(s).

The irony is that for many, the cost of providing a laptop to each student in any district is seen as prohibitive, yet I wonder if those responsible for working out budgets from year to year have ever really sat down and crunched the real numbers involved.

The other factor, of course, is that so many educators are downright Luddites when it comes to the integration of technology in their classroom. It is true that bad teaching is bad teaching, no matter what bells and whistles one tosses at it, that is no excuse to not include technology into the daily lessons. The engagement of my students increases dramatically when instead of just reading Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech, they are able to watch it on YouTube. Students are more apt to revise their work when it involves simply going back in to an electronic document and making the necessary changes instead of having to rewrite the entire thing by hand. Writing workshops become dynamic and enjoyable when I'm logged in on a student's essay the same time they are and I can give instant, real-time feedback to what they are writing. Do not tell me "if it was good enough for me, it's good enough for them," either. Times have changed.

Public education has a choice: keep up and actually become innovative rather than just give innovation lip service, or be left behind by students in private and charter schools. Private schools are often on the edge of the curve when it comes to innovation; I know, I've taught in both private and public schools. Often the innovation and creativity is due to increased fiscal responsibility: when the parents are writing the checks directly and can access the books anytime they want, there is an increased sensitivity as to where the money is going and how much things cost. Public schools regularly get ripped off. Case in point: I have seen videos for sale in catalogs provided to school districts that cost $40 or more when the same video can be had from any online or brick and mortar store often for much, much less.

It's time for public schools to take the lead. Our children deserve better.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Worlde your way through vocabulary building

(Image from Wordle.)

Last week my Theory of Knowledge students and I attempted to define the word art. Now while this seems perhaps somewhat straightforward, and all we really needed to do was to consult a dictionary, in reality, we found the dictionary definition rather lacking, and so we decided to embark on our own definition, including the connotation of the word as well as its simple denotation. We sent out the question via text message, email, Facebook, Twitter, and I let my freshmen and sophomores join in the discussion by writing down their definitions on a 3x5 card and dropping it in the box. We ended up with some pretty amazing answers, and I decided to put the answers on the class blog page and to see what might happen if we decided to make a word cloud out of it. The answer is above and can be seen on the TOK blog as well. As I looked at the cloud, I realized that this has some potential when it comes to exploring word meanings, especially in regards to connotation and the ideas that each of us brings to and puts behind the words we use.

This is a tool I definitely plan to use again, not only for this class, but in my other classes whenever the opportunity permits. There was high student engagement, and our discussion was strengthened by the inclusion of the definitions of others. Very valuable indeed!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Did you know? updated

Recent update, just as powerful.

What *IS* the point of high school??!!

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Just read this interesting blog post by Elona Hartjes exploring the purpose of high school, and I feel there are some very valid points raised by her thoughts. For the most part, high school in the 21st century still teaches to prepare our students for 19th century society. You can see it in the "sit and get" model still so prevalent in the vast majority of public schools, even though it's a model of teaching that no longer fits with 21st century students, nor does it develop skills necessary for life outside of school in general.

So what is the purpose of high school in the 21st century? Perhaps Teach_J's comment on the above blog post is a thought in the right direction: technically end high school in 10th grade, with students choosing to continue their educational track (or not) after the age of 16. It is similar to what is done in European schools where often students take some sort of test and then are placed into or choose to pursue whatever academic or vocational path they prefer. I have no idea why that approach hasn't been adopted in American education, nor does it even seem to be under any serious consideration. Certainly it would lead to an greater investment by all concerned, and while students can, do, and will change their minds about what they wish to do, it is often those students who would opt for a more traditional liberal arts educational path anyway.

The concept of a forced white, upper middle class acculturation is no longer appropriate in our increasingly global society. While there is and likely always will be an expected "canon" in education, at the same time, not every single student leaving American high schools needs to know how to compose a sonnet. I have yet to use algebra II or even calculus since leaving school, and while there are those who would argue that sonnets, algebra II and the like teach thinking skills and enrich the value of a life, I would argue that there are other methods of teaching those same skills likely more relevant to a student's life. What was "good enough" for one generation is hardly "good enough" for another any more.

Not too long ago, there was a discussion and realization that the job of an English teacher in the 21st century has evolved into something more of a communications teacher. It is now (or should be) an English teacher's job to teach students how to think, work collaboratively, and communicate effectively in a variety of forms of communication, and really, that's about it. Now, that's fairly broad and a whole host of skills falls under that (analysis, writing, research skills, etc., etc., etc.), but keeping those goals in mind tends to put the job in a whole new perspective.

Do I feel that part of my job remains acquainting students with literature, both The Great and the Not So Great? Absolutely, definitely and definitively yes. Do I feel that part of my job is teaching students the basic skills of writing: grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.? Of course. However, I also feel that part of my job is giving my students basic 21st century communication skills, which includes not only word processing skills, but email, social networking, and the like. In 2007, the Did You Know? video mentioned that we (as educators) are preparing our students to work in jobs and careers that do not yet exist. Interestingly, that same year, a new career title, Corporate Social Media Specialist, began appearing on the hiring sites of corporations around the world. Associated with internet marketing and with a salary range of $39,000-$83,000, this is a field that represents a much more serious impact on corporations than it appears. (Dell claims to have $3 million in profits from its activity on Twitter alone.) Not preparing our students for this type of career is a huge disservice to them. Yet, many of the skills necessary don't appear on any standardized test. (A whole separate topic unto itself.)

So what does this all mean? It means that education reform needs to happen and it needs to happen fast. Schools need to start exploring and taking chances rather than waiting for "the research" to come in. By the time it has, it's already too late. And reform needs to not come from politicians or those who have been out of the classroom for too long (or not in the classroom long enough)... it would be really, really nice if those making education policy could simply do the thing that should have been done long ago: ask students what their needs are (they are far more savvy than given credit for most of the time), and ask teachers how they can best meet those needs (we are far more savvy than we are given credit for as well).