Skateboard protege revisited

1959221_10203378889981902_815846133_nEarlier in the year I shared how my 3 year old was a bit of a skateboard protégé. He was doing kick turns and navigating all the ramps. I had visions of X-games 2024 dancing in my head along with millions of dollars in endorsements. Unfortunately he hasn’t been living up to his potential. In fact he’s been acting like, well….a three year old.

He still enjoys skate boarding, but he also enjoys Legos, Avengers and playing with his sister on the playground. So he’s not as focused as perhaps he could be. He’s too busy soaking up life as a three year old. Plus, he prefers to skate outdoors.

During the winter months we couldn’t go to the outdoor skatepark, so we went to the indoor park. Which he kind of likes but doesn’t give him the same thrill as skating outside. He’s also hit a bit of a plateau. All of the skills that he’s physically and mentally ready for, he’s mastered. So he’s, dare I say it, a little bored.

I’m not saying he’s learned it all. There is still plenty for him to accomplish. He’d like to jump on his board and he mentally runs through the motions and practices them without a board. There is nothing like being in a hotel lobby and he’s next to you saying, kick up, slide foot, press down and jump. The problem is, he’s not developed physically enough to pull the task off. He doesn’t have the weight or dexterity.

One skill that I think he could master though is dropping in. He understands the rudiments of what it takes and I think he has the balance to pull it off. The problem though is he doesn’t trust himself yet. Mentally he is not prepared for it and this is where the lesson to me continues.

You might remember that previously I mentioned how I used to get frustrated with him and try to cajole him into doing things he wasn’t ready for, well no more. I try to be patient and encouraging and respect his learning process. We go to the park and I ask him if he’d like to try. Some days he says no and some days he says yes, but whatever the answer, the decision is his.10154205_10203477736172995_1011484865_n

What I’ve learned is that even when I don’t think he’s learning, he’s learning. He is constantly taking in data, processing it and applying it. Just because his learning is not transpiring in a form I recognize doesn’t mean its not happening. Too many times I’ve discounted his process only to later see its results.

Now I just try to be supportive, so when he’s ready to take the next step its in a nurturing enviorment. When he agrees to try, it signifies that he’s got his head around a little more of it. When he doesn’t, no amount of my pushing is going to change the fact that his head’s not there. In fact, the risk is that I’ll elevate that fear. That fear will become counter active to his increased mastery and if allowed to grow unchecked, could lead to a disenchantment with skate boarding.

Sometimes we go and he skates down two ramps and then spends the next five minutes running up and sliding down the bigger ramps. This used to frustrate me to no end. I thought he was just wasting our time. Again I’ve come to realize that he’s not only learning when I perceive him to be learning.

By running up and down the ramps, he’s becoming familiar with them. He’s getting a feel for them. He’s testing his physical capabilities. In time they become a little less scary and he becomes a little more sure of his capabilities. There will come a point where he’ll be ready to tackle them with the board. I know this because I’ve watched it transpire over the last year.

I will say that I don’t completely leave him to himself. I let him run a little bit on the ramps then I gently steer him back to skating a few minutes. Sometimes I do it with a game. He loves to race Dad. Sometimes I do it with a bribe. “Lets go down a couple times and then we’ll grab a Sprite.” However I do it, I try to do it in a manner that makes him feel its as much his idea as it is mine. He needs to buy into the process.

I picture my role more as a guide then a leader. It’s my responsibility to create an environment thats as conducive to learning as possible. Now I could induce some rigor and demand that we skate three times a week for 30 minutes no matter what his thoughts or where he was developmentally. It just doesn’t seem like that would be very successful. In fact, when ever I’ve tried to introduce more rigor its never been a pleasant experience for either one of us.

Perhaps more rigor could make him a better skateboarder, but would he develop a love for it that would last his whole life. Would it become a place where he could find solace when life became challenging or would it become something you did just to get the overbearing task master to leave you alone? See my goal isn’t just for him to become an excellent skateboarder, its for him to find a life long joy in something he clearly has an aptitude for. I want him to enjoy the process as much as the outcome.

I’ve never worked an actual classroom but I’ve worked with kids my whole life. My wife does work in a classroom. When she describes her success to me they usually come from her providing a nurturing environment where the child could find their way. I can’t remember a single instance where she has relayed to me a success story derived from browbeating a child into submission. Yet we still paint more rigor as a pathway to success.

Now please don’t get me wrong. I’m not a non-believer in hard work. I just believe its something you demonstrate as well as instill. There are weeks my son doesn’t feel like going to the park. Some weeks I don’t feel like it. Still we get in the car and go. Even if its just for a half hour. Because no matter what, you do have to show up. How you spend your time there can vary but being in the environment is important. I also let him see me trying things that I’m not very good at, to try and demonstrate we are always learning.

Lately I’ve noticed he has developed a new skill. He’s starting to shift his feet and body weight to control the direction of the board. He’s still figuring this out so it’s led to a few more spills but apparently he’s hit a developmental milestone where he can do this. This is not something I’ve tried to demonstrate to him. Its just the logical progression after mastering the previous skill and developing physically enough to attempt.

This journey continues to be as revealing to me as it is too him. I try to keep the lessons 1508017_10203478035260472_644739389_nhe’s teaching in mind as we progress forward. These lessons will be just as important when he enters school as they are now. Learning is not a race. Its an ongoing process and as the popular internet quote says, we should concern ourselves less with how fast children are learning and more that its an ongoing process of varying speeds. At times its fast like a rabbit and others methodical like the tortoise.

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The lady doth protest too much, methinks

what-a-us-default-will-mean-for-small-businessesThere is a scene in Hamlet where he and his mother have been watching a play. In the play the Player Queen declares very demonstratively that she will never remarry if her husband were to pass. Hamlet says to his mother, “Madam, how like you this play?”. Her response is the immortal, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” This best illustrates how I feel about Common Core State Standards.

Previously I’ve mentioned that my wife is a literary coach. So we’ve spent a great deal of time discussing the standards around my house. The great thing about being married to a literary coach is that you get a sense of perspective. Countless times I would get all worked up about one of the standards and she’d look at me and say all that means is blah blah blah. I’ve come to understand that these standards are very open to interpretation.

The other nice thing about having a coach in the house is that they have to find the positive in something they might not whole heartedly embrace. Now let’s make sure we are clear here. I’m not saying my wife is for or against Common Core. That’s her own position to share in her own manner. What I’m saying is that where I might look to criticize, she looks to praise and there are some good things in the standards. Being able to measure kids across the country on a common metric could be good. Obviously promoting critical thinking is a positive. Like anything they are not all negative or positive.

One of the best conversations we’ve had about the standards came after an unpacking session. Her mother had taught for 35 years and so she got to sit with some of the veteran teachers that her mother knew. Their take on the standards was that this was the way we used to teach before NCLB. There was nothing revolutionary here. Just good old fashion teaching. Shocking huh? A return to a tried and true teaching methodology. I could support that.

Therein lies one of the major problems with Common Core. Supporters can’t leave it at that. Its got to be revolutionary.  Listen to them talk and once we implement this the streets will be paved with gold and children will be qualified for every job by the time they are 8. Nothing like this has ever been attempted before. Which is just not true nor is the hyperbole necessary. Truth is, its off putting.

Every time I come to peace with the standards and start to think, “maybe they’re not a bad idea”, another op-ed from a chamber member appears screaming crisis if we don’t adopt. Immediately my BS detector kicks off and the doubts are back. Why the need to spend so much money convincing me how good these standards are. ? Surely if they are as “common-sense” as advertised I should be able to recognize that without a TV ad, a radio ad, newspaper ad, op-ed piece, or traveling caravan extoling its virtues.

The hyperbole is unsettling but its the money that particularly galls me. Supporters claim that Common Core will send student achievement to previously unreached heights. I don’t know about that but I do know if you took half the PR money and invested it in school nurses, tutors, classroom aides, or even technology, student achievement would soar. I recently looked at an itemized list of people in Tennessee  who’ve received Race to the Top Money to promote Common Core and it is mind numbing.

There is over 200K dollars designated to “advise on the Common Core transition plan and directly lead and manage all aspects of the work.” There is easily another 5M dollars paid out to Common Core Coaches. That’s followed by another 270k plus to “advise on the Common Core transition plan”. Lets not forget 30k for Members of the Common Core Leadership Council. It’s all pretty mind boggling.

Now think about all those schools in dire need of capital projects. Think about all the schools that have mold problems. Then think about all the schools that have overcrowding issues. I would think that 5.5 million would go a long way towards improving those children’s learning experience. I bet you might even see some test scores go up . That 5.5 million is just the amount I have the patience to add up before I become disgusted. Trust me there is a whole lot more being spent.

That’s when I start to lean towards the opposition of Common Core standards. Its not the testing, which is bad enough. Its not the inappropriateness for K-3, which it is. It’s not the lack of teacher input, which is clear. It’s the money. Purely and simply the amount of money involved in the promoting and implementing of Common Core Standards is repulsive.

It is unimaginable to me that  there is this kind of money floating around when districts are turning over every rock they can to find more money just to operate at a basic level. This spending is coming at a time when districts can’t afford to give teachers a 2% cost of living raise. We are spending money on promoting Common Core while we turn to charters to help ease our overcrowding situation because we can’t afford to build new schools. Districts are having to cut art and sports programs so they can scrape together money to buy PARRC compliant technology. The Governor of Tennessee says we owe it to our kids to press forward with Common Core while he refuses to fully fund the BEP. It’s absolutely obscene.

I was raised that if you wanted to know the truth about something, follow the money. If you follow the money on Common Core it doesn’t paint a great picture. I still think there is some good in the standards, but I think those that are promoting it blindly need to step back and assess their motives. Perhaps they should think about peeling a little of that PR money off and using for some things that we know will have a positive impact. Things like capital improvements, school nurses, guidance counselors, teachers aides, because the more you spend on TV ads, radio ads, op-ed pieces, PR campaigns, the more I think the lady doth protest too much.a30372556b7d851b9f715ae64d540d0e

 

Teach for America and the definition of a myth

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la riotsThere’s been a lot happening on Twitter this month in regards to Teach for America. The resist TFA twitter bomb went off and is still resonating. Apparently the “bomb” resonated enough that it encouraged one of the upper ranking TFA administrator’s to write a lengthy piece trying to counter the “myth’s”. TFA communication specialist Juice Fong jumped into the fray as well. Unfortunately countering a “myth” with a ‘myth” doesn’t make a truism. If we hadn’t all but decimated Liberal Arts education we would already know that.

A more academic type person would  take the TFA pieces and systematically point/counter point them. Yea, I’m not that guy. There are people much more talented then I for that and the truth is they’ve already done an exceptional job at it. So, you’ll just have to bear with me as I kind of free associate through the various themes.

The first counter argument that really got me irritable was the argument that TFA applies for open positions available to every teacher. True they do. What they fail to mention is that due to their contract with the school districts and the 5k per corp member fee, TFA teachers go to the head of the line. In Tennessee, state law requires that you hire a displaced teacher first. However, you can bypass a displaced teacher if you are hiring a TFA corp member. Only after all TFA teachers and displaced teachers are hired will the district consider a new teacher.

Teach for America typically contracts with a district for anywhere between 75 and 100 teachers. That means as a district, you have to run through the whole displaced teacher list plus the 100 or so TFA fresh new faces before you can hire a potentially exceptional new candidate. That includes candidates fresh out of college or an experienced high quality teacher that just moved into your district. That’s a lot of people to stand in line behind. A line that automatically reserves a spot at the front for TFA.students-in-line-with-teacher

So yes, Teach for America does just apply for jobs open to all teachers, but its like going to an Easter egg hunt and getting to start 10 minutes before everybody else. Non-TFA teachers get invited to the hunt but have to stand around and watch all the good eggs get gathered up before they get a chance to search. Doesn’t really seem fair does it? That’s because its not, but Teach For America won’t tell you that part.

Another thing they won’t tell you about is that vaunted “on going” training that TFA supposedly supplies. You know where that actually comes from right? The district, through their own existing teachers, coaches and personal development programs. I know the contract is full of fancy language about observations, personal coaches and consultations, even mentions video taping and reviewing. The truth is their professional growth is managed the same way all first year teachers growth is managed, through experienced teachers and coaches. The difference is that most first year teachers don’t come with a 5k price tag.

Teachers that have come through a traditional licensing program have usually spent a year student teaching. That means they show up with some basic classroom management knowledge. TFA corps members get five weeks in the summer with virtually no student teaching. You tell me which of these two are going to require the most district training resources? Lets add that up, 5k plus taking away valuable time that could also be used on another first year teacher. Deal gets better all the time doesn’t it.

This leads us right to the “usually quit after their 2 year contract is up” argument. TFA likes to point out the large amount of corp member’s that remain in education and the fact that there is an incredible turn over rate in teachers regardless of what TFA does. As far as the latter goes, when I was a kid, the “everybody’s doing it” defense never held up. My parent’s always held me to a higher standard. Why should TFA be any different. If there is a problem with retention why shouldn’t we demand that they try to help solve it instead of acerbate it? Like I tell my kids, we’re in the solution business, not the problem business.

I’ll be honest with you, I know of some good TFA corp member’s that are good teachers, and could become great ones, who are leaving this year as their two year commitment is up. Some are moving to non-profits that work in education, or going to work for senators that sit on education committees, while some may be even going to work for the Tennessee Department of Education. TFA will be touting the fact that they will be remaining in education and thats true, but aren’t we in the midst of a drive to put a great teacher in every classroom? So shouldn’t every effort be focused on keeping these “best and brightest” in the classroom? Lets also not forget those previously discussed diverted training resources that could have been dedicated to another first year teacher that might have been retained.  Just another inconvenient truth we are not supposed to talk about.

the-best-and-the-brightest-720226l-imagineWhich brings us to that “best and brightest thing”, its a good example of saying something enough times and people will take it as fact. Often touted is a recent study that supposedly demonstrates corp member add an average 2.5 months to a child’s learning. How they arrive at that number completely baffles me. An argument that somethings adds 2.5 months to a child’s learning has to begin with the assumption that all chidren develop at a similar rate. Anybody that has spent anytime around children can attest that’s pretty much not true. So how can you calculate two and half months added learning unless you are using voodoo math or “value added.”

Yep, the study uses value added figures.  Now this is good. Value added is like me giving you the formula on how I’m going to calculate your paycheck and then cutting you a check with out ever giving you the figures that went into that formula. That’s right the individual test scores that make up the value added grade aren’t available to the general public. The testing companies claim they are proprietary. You’ll just have to trust that those numbers are correct. I’m assuming you’d trust me if I applied this method to your paycheck right?

Now for my last counter argument. TFA likes to scream, “Everybody’s a critic. They just like to point out flaws. Nobody has solutions.” Well, once again, that’s not true. There have been lots of suggestions on how to make the program more effective. Julian Vasquez-Heilig has one of the best. Change the recruitment program to target education majors and provide them with a two year internship. Put in a stipulation that during the summer between years they be required to take classes at a local university. This ensures that they remain a part of the community during the summer. Problem with this? J Crew doesn’t print shirts for interns.

There’s also suggestions of lengthening the commitment period, greater professional development that would encourage them to remain in the classroom and having corp member’s work as teacher’s aides for the first year. The problem with all these is that they mess with the business model. Businessman donate to TFA not because they are effective but because as NPT puts it, they are sexy. See we like sexy, we are not so fond of the unglamorous tedious work that is often required to make a difference. We also like to feel good. Unleashing bright shining faces on the down trodden masses, makes us feel good. We need to work a little more on feeling a sense of accomplishment instead of just feeling good.

I’d like to think that my counter arguments won’t fall on deaf ears. That confronting people with the facts will actually change opinions on Teach for America. However, at this juncture, I have no illusions about that. TFA is a juggernaut and will roll right over critics today. The key word in that sentence though is, today. I do believe that some eyes are beginning to open and there are some chinks in the armor. I’m going to keep trying to widen those chinks. I encourage others to also do their due diligence, don’t just take my word for it,  and really look at the research that’s beginning to amass. If enough people really engage, maybe at some point we will turn away from these educational tourists and start really talking about how to put an excellent teacher in every classroom and how to afford the profession of teaching the level of respect it deserves.

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