Tag Archives: elementary school teacher

Finland Is Making Me Mad, Again

For teachers the summer is a time to take a break and recharge. Many resent us. Many though, are happy when their kids return to us.

I’ve always relished the time and spend the weeks off catching up on household responsibilities. My yard and projects around the house require my attention — something I don’t actually mind as it’s a welcome change of pace.

All of which means I try not to get too involved in what my profession is currently in the midst of — education policy, changes in state standards, the newest and greatest approach to teaching.

I know that this is ignorant. Perhaps poor form of me. I just need some time to be with my family and be able to plan some adventures together.

And then there’s Finland.

I’ve never been. Although it does sound intriguing. It’s beautiful from the pictures I’ve seen.

However its beauty is not what makes me mad.

It’s this constant comparison of their education program versus ours.

I remember “U.S. versus…” conversations in my teacher certification courses almost 15 years ago. The luster of how we stack up against other countries around the world seemingly hadn’t, and still hasn’t, worn off.

Here’s the latest that appeared on my Facebook feed just today. Produced / directed by a fellow who likes to push some buttons. He’s not a favorite of mine, I admit, but I watched it anyway because it’s summertime. And I have some time. And I feel like I need to think about education. And it’s about Finland again.

Do you see what I mean?

I want more time for my students to play.

I like the idea of students being more engaged in their own learning.

I like the idea of teachers being less stressed.

I don’t like state assessment testing either.

What is it with the U.S.?

And just when I’m annoyed enough to wallow in how we’ve got it all wrong, because well, it looks like the United States is yet again behind other nations (#29 the video notes) I happen to look down and see Finnish viewers’ comments.

Viewers noted that the video had it wrong. Homework was indeed a thing that had to be done in Finland. Others mentioned how inaccurate the video is in its entirety.

Hmmmm… more to the story? Yet I clearly remember that this issue must have been a common theme, even 15 years ago.

From my journalism courses in college, I know it’s difficult to present an impartial article — and that’s if one strives to do so. Additionally, there’s only so much space on paper, only so many words allowed by editors in charge of editorial space.

Here are some other Finnish school bits and perspectives I came across.

Global grade: How do U.S. students compare?

So what’s my verdict on whether we really are that far behind our Finnish colleagues?

It is interesting to read about the number of Fulbright applicants interested in Finland seeking solutions to our nation’s educational woes. Seeing how U.S. students compare to Finland’s in various aspects is revealing. Knowing that the Finnish system was once equal to the U.S. yet made a concerted effort to improve forty some years ago is encouraging.

If the comparison was easy to make, we would have surely implemented changes and determined what we “should” be doing in the United States.

There are just too many variables in play.

Regardless though, there’s a lot we should be doing different. A solution to what we’re doing in the classroom needs to be sought out and implemented.

Why a solution?

I believe logic demands that we acknowledge that students being tested at the young age of eight and endure considerable stress learning strategies to “beat the test” seems downright counterintuitive.

How will a child love learning if they’re worried more about getting the answers right than trying out different solutions based on what they already know?

Isn’t it ok to be wrong and not endure a poor grade because a risk was taken?

Isn’t education’s intent to teach students to understand how each learns differently than their peers? To encourage them to solve problems collaboratively? To understand how to both lead and follow?

Isn’t it obvious that sitting all day without end is painful to us all – regardless of age?

Shouldn’t we worry about students enjoying their education? Be interested in their happiness? Seek a happy life?

So solutions are in order.

I challenge you to share your thoughts in the comments answering: How do you think we stack up against Finland?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Required Summer To-Do List for Teachers

What? Another list of requirements before you head out the door and escape into Summer?

Well no. This one is intended to save you from making the kind of mistakes that will result in your being diagnosed as unfit to teach in the Fall.

So, in the spirit of Summer and recognizing that teachers everywhere are counting down the days that remain alongside the children they teach – here is the required Summer To-Do List.

  1. Spend time with family. It’s their turn. They have watched you grade papers while you tried your best to watch your favorite tv show, and failed. They have tried to pull you away from worrying about students who weren’t as worried as you were.They have been patient about you not always being there when you should’ve been. They have wondered why you get home so late when school was over hours ago. It’s their turn now… go spend time with family.

  2. Go to the restroom at will. You do not need to get a child, sibling, partner or spouse to watch the living room and any antics that might occur within that space. It’s ok to finally take your time. Just go to the restroom. NOTE: chain around the above facility used only for training purposes to begin in late August.

  3. Do NOT go to Pinterest in search of new ideas until #8 is adhered to. It’s quite enticing to see what better ideas are out there. And they’re out there – you’re smart and you’ll find them. If you go to this space where perfection is shown to any well meaning searcher, you will already feel stressed about what you think you need to do in September — and that’s just plain silly. It’s vacation time, remember?

  4. Don’t worry about having to tell another human being when they can go to the restroom. If you have children at home you might need to require them to make a visit, but otherwise there’s little need to now determine if the little ones really need to go. Also, if you’re shopping and see a little person with a worried-I’m-going-to-pee-in-my-pants look, you do not need to get involved. Allow it to play out without your expert opinion. Grab a coffee and sit down if you must, and watch from afar. You can worry about this issue again in September.

  5. Don’t go to work early, don’t stay after work till it’s late. Don’t go in at all. It’s ok. If you’re like me and are a career switcher, having off for many weeks really is unusual. Relax. If you find it difficult to relax, you need to get in your car and take a trip to a relaxing spot and require yourself to stay there until you admit to yourself that you’re relaxed. This might take some time, I know, just leave a I’m-safe-and-relaxing not for your family. Your children in the Fall will be better that you’ll return refreshed.

  6. Get away, take some time away. Go on a trip. Plan to visit a place you wouldn’t normally. Go on an adventure. You earned the time to explore. Since last Summer you’ve been required to be in that room, at that time, for those hours, and unable to leave regardless of bladder issues, or the insanity that awaits you in the morning. Go far, see what you haven’t yet seen, and maybe take a picture or two to share with your class when you return.

  7. You may now schedule any and all medical appointments. You can do so without feeling guilty that you’re away from your students. It’s time to take care of yourself. You should have done so throughout the year, but you didn’t. Please only do so after reading the next to-do, if at all possible. NOTE: Are those medical instruments making you squeamish too?

  8. Do not, under any circumstances, think about school for at least two weeks after leaving the premises. You’ve no doubt packed up, followed all those many protocols in leaving your room in good order, and maybe even stacked the chairs and desks. There’s nothing there for you now, so allow the building staff to do their business while you stay away. Heck, the air conditioning probably isn’t even on except for the office area. Imagine working in that heat during this weather? Don’t think about it, don’t go back!

  9. When it gets close to the end of July, you may begin thinking about school. What you might want to do differently next academic year may surface in your head, and thinking about it is ok. However, do not spend excessive time on this. There will be more than enough time for this in August. Set your clock and spend no more than 15 minutes per day on any school related site. If you break this rule, you must spend an exponential amount of time at either a) the pool, b) sandy beach, or c) in front of the tv watching your favorite reruns. No cheating please.

  10.  Laugh. Laugh often. Laugh when people are watching and when you’re alone. Each year there are plenty of things that keep us from being joyful. Find the laughter within and around you.

Have a great Summer my fellow teachers. You’ve earned it.

Coach’s Definition of Success

Life lessons are sometimes best told by others.

Our parents tried their best and perhaps later in life we learn to appreciate their intentions. Sometimes we don’t.

At the start of the academic year I outline classroom rules. Then I begin to share stories that best answer the question why we do what we do.

Why they’re sitting in our classroom. Why we’re at the front teaching those that are sitting.

Some years ago my colleague made a concerted effort to begin including videos that would positively impact his students. It was, naturally, a great idea that I too adopted. Students loved the break in the routine of academics, while I secretly plotted how I might make a difference in a way they weren’t expecting.

I included some of them in a past post about videos you should show your class.

One of those videos that I didn’t share was about a college basketball coach who just happened to have won more NCAA championships than any other coach before and since.

Yesterday while thinking about how to impart the lesson of doing things well to my students, I thought about the lesson this coach taught about teaching his freshmen players how to put on their socks and shoes during their first Bruins practice.

It’s a lesson about doing the simple things right. Doing right what you can control, so that the things which you can’t control have a better chance of being one’s success as well.

I looked up Coach Wooden knowing there must be more to learn and I am grateful to have found the following TED video that highlights the lessons he taught as a teacher, and not necessary what made his team a success.

Within the video are lessons that might inspire you, my fellow teachers, to continue in what I believe is our noble profession.

There are days in which it seems the classroom clock is moving much too fast as our year end assessments approach. This man has seemingly thought long and hard about what determined success in his English classroom.

Perhaps your definition and his are the same.

I hope you enjoyed it.

I’m curious what lessons he shared were impressed upon you. Which lessons resonated with you.

Please feel free to comment.

A Simple Story About A Farmer And A Pig

This is a simple story about a farmer and a pig.

Last Wednesday my class had just finished another benchmark assessment which was intended to determine who was progressing adequately according to our county’s learning objectives.

My students had taken them on laptops and gotten their results immediately, so they knew their score and knew which specific problems had stumped them.

This is the story I told to my class the next morning which I remembered first hearing from my former colleague Will. It seemed appropriate and timely.

This is a simple story about a farmer and a pig.

You see, a farmer doesn’t buy a pig or doesn’t allow a piglet to be born in his barn without a reason.

He feeds that pig and over time that pig gets larger – some would say fat.

The farmer keeps doing what he’s doing and waits it out. There’s cleaning, there’s worry about the cold or heat, and there’s quite a bit of anticipation.

And every day: food and time, food and time.

And then one day the farmer decides that enough time and feed has been fed to that now very large pig. The time has come.

The time has come to make sausage.

Because, again, the farmer doesn’t just raise that little piglet to become a very large pig because he likes pigs, or thinks pigs are cute, or is a fan of Charlotte’s Web.

The farmer instead knows that with enough time and enough food, his pig will one day be ready to become some very yummy sausage that he will use to feed his family.

Teachers are like farmers is what I told my class.

We spend a lot of time and a lot of effort on students. We spend this kind of energy because we have a goal too.

Our goal is to get you to learn and understand.

And we do it all kind of ways.

We do it by being creative in our lessons, having you help one another, and having you complete projects. We talk in front of you, tell funny stories, use videos, remind you to stay on task, and ask you a lot of questions.

We do it because we know that time will run out and if we’ve done our job, you’re supposed to know what you have been taught.

And then it will be time to make some sausage.

Except the sausage we’re making will be how you do on your SOLs.

I expect all of our effort to pay off.

I’ve worked hard every day, listened to when you didn’t understand, and tried again in a different way to help you understand better.

Now the farmer out on the farm might be able to spend some more time getting that pig ready. Maybe give that pig some more feed. Maybe wait just another couple of weeks or months.

We can’t do that here at school – and I know that might seem pretty unfair.

So instead I need you to understand that we only have so much time to finish what needs to be done.

Our day of sausage-making will be here soon and I guarantee you and I will both be disappointed if all this effort won’t have worked.

Just like you can imagine the disappointment of the farmer whose pig isn’t ready, even after caring for him for months and months.

So if you know you’re not ready to sit down in front of a computer and prove what you know answering forty questions about math or reading. If you feel like you haven’t understood it no matter how hard you’ve tried.

Well, then it’s time to spend more time asking questions and trying to understand why you don’t understand.

Oh, and let’s forget about the SOLs for a second.

If you haven’t left this classroom understanding more than when you came into this classroom in September. If you have been waiting for time to just tick on by every day instead of really trying your best. If you still aren’t kinder toward other people in this class because you’re now a whole year older than you were last year…

Do you think that you’re ready for 4th grade?

I ask each of you that question because I cared about each of you since the first day of school when you walked into our classroom. Each day since I’ve done my best to make our classroom a place you would want to come to.

If that didn’t help you get ready for what’s coming in the 4th grade then I either didn’t do my job, or you didn’t do yours.

Which do you think it is? And would it be fair to you if we sent you to the 4th grade and you weren’t ready.

This is really, just a very simple little story about a farmer and pig.

It’s about working day after day and getting ready for something much bigger. It’s about working on yourself to be better tomorrow, than you were today.

So, how will you spend today?

Faith in the Classroom

Almost every week we find ourselves in about the same place.

Four rows from the front of the auditorium, stage left.

My wife and I are fortunate to have found the type of church that when the sermon is over, we’re glad we went because the message spoke to us. It is almost always exactly what we needed, at exactly the right time.

It’s after the three songs are sung, the offering is made, and the pastor begins that I get out my phone.

Not to check Facebook or Instagram, but instead to try and keep up with the thoughts running through my head. Whatever ideas surface are jotted down.

This usually doesn’t happen immediately after the sermon begins, but after some time thinking about, well, what I’m thinking about as I try to keep listening to the message from the stage.

It’s the only time this happens during the week.

Perhaps because I get so little time to think about what’s going on in my little head.

I’ve read about listening to God’s message.

I’m no evangelist.

I don’t hold signs on your neighborhood corner. In fact I’m careful to not put others in uncomfortable positions because of my faith – I’m convinced that’s not the intent of faith.

In class I recognize that I teach in a public school and so faith doesn’t come up in conversation – as it shouldn’t.

Instead I hold it close like a great hand of poker.

When anxiety hits teachers and students alike, when those around me worry about what might be coming in the days, weeks, or months ahead, I turn to my faith. I know that I’m not alone in battling the often overwhelming feeling of panic. I have some help.

I also remind myself that what’s ahead these next few months as we get ever closer to the SOLs has been achieved before.

This isn’t my first year, this isn’t my first rodeo.

Call it an act of faith, or call it my attempt at keeping anxiety at bay. It’s what I do as the weather warms and the calendar reminds me that while summer is closer, so is this year’s testing.

And if I knew the magic involved in getting every student to be awesome, every day of every year, I would share it right here with anyone who would take a moment to read it.

However I’m not a magician and I don’t have that kind of skill level or knowledge. In fact there are many days in which the awesomeness doesn’t happen. However what I do have is a bit of time at the front.

I place value in the side conversations about interesting facts. I believe in listening to a child’s story.

I know it’s important to remind students that no challenge is too great, no obstacle too overwhelming.

I place faith in the fact that while there are days in which my lessons are followed and completed without compromise, there are also days in which there’s real value in getting off track and sharing a funny story.

Here’s why.

The success in my class doesn’t come from repeatedly and consistently presenting an endless of amount of information. It doesn’t come from a barrage of facts that must be memorized.

Some teachers do exactly that, but I believe that doing so eliminates the fact that we’re in an endeavor involving human beings who want nothing more than to be happy and feel valued.

Instead I believe that if my students prove successful on a state assessment, it’s because they believed they could be and I played a part in reminding them that they had the ability within themselves to overcome. I have faith that my incessant desire to have them understand their abilities will in the end prove successful in a world of naysayers.

It will prove valuable far after they leave my classroom.

And that’s something I believe in wholeheartedly.

Escaping Classroom Failure

I try to be that teacher.

The one you wish you had. The one that you might have had long ago and wish you had again.

Funny, impactful, caring, sincere, kind, patient, and understanding. I’ve had a few I still remember all these years later. They were helpful, insightful, introspective, and said the right thing at the exact right time.

I admit it. I admit it to you now with humility.

I am not that teacher every moment of every day.

I fall short. I fall short a lot.

I share this because not being the teacher I wanted (and want) to be  really annoys me. Perhaps writing about it will bring some solutions. Maybe my sharing will ease my annoyance with myself.  I think about my failures as I stagger down my trailer’s stairs at the end of the day. I reflect on them as I drive home. They introduce doubt.

And then I try to remember about who sits in my classroom each day and I remind myself that each of my students is not a widget to be sold or a cog that’s part of a bigger machine.

Each of my students is a little human with all sorts of history of which they themselves don’t realize. Their parents in turn have a life of which I know very close to nothing. Combined, all of it leads to a myriad of experiences with which students enter the classroom each morning.

So maybe who I am and how I do it is exactly what some of them need. If they’re little people who come wrapped in so many different packages, then being different than the next teacher, then doing it differently than my colleagues who I know are excellent – is ok.

Yet the doubt still creeps in.

What happens after they get on the bus at four in the afternoon and when they come back the next school day at nine in the morning?

I don’t know.

I can tell you about what happens during the school day and I try my best, my very best, to be understanding that each is a human being in the process of changing into a not so little person anymore.

Some days, I proudly confess, I am successful. Happily successful.

I reach my students and not only teach them, but I connect with them. That’s when I know that teaching is what I’m meant to do. When I pick up on a student’s displeasure or confusion and help bring a dose of confidence or reassurance – all is right in the world. When I change my teaching mid-lesson and the end result far outshines what I was planning to do initially – I am happy.

Then there are the other days when the awesomeness doesn’t happen, regardless of what I try. Jokes fall flat. Encouragement doesn’t encourage. My happiness does not sprout more of the same. Plainly said, students can be a tough crowd and sometimes aren’t at all receptive to the best of intentions.

Here’s where I think being stubborn is a good thing. It’s on these days that I do some of the following.

Option One: Mercilessly Plow Ahead

I gather steam and haphazardly continue what my lesson plans require of me without second guessing any of my antics. The jokes will continue regardless of how badly they are received. In fact, I may just amp up the zany in hopes of breaking through the tired-don’t-care-please-don’t-make-me personalities sitting in my room.

This is exhausting. This is a gamble. When it works, it’s like finally reaching the top of a long climb and seeing the vista. It’s completely worth it.

Option Two: The Sound of Silence

Fall back to my quiet place. Sometimes quiet really is the best medicine. In fact the sound of silence is a great remedy to recenter both teacher and student.

I don’t like the quiet in a classroom. I enjoy hearing their laughing too much. I love our conversations. I appreciate a good story – whether theirs or when I get to tell my own. Quiet is tough on me, but I continue to learn that some of my students work best when their teacher doesn’t interrupt them with a story about that morning’s crazy realization or what happened at my own home the night before.

Either approach isn’t foolproof, but deviating from what expected often works.

Option Three: The Honest Truth

What I think works best is what I find myself doing when I’m at a loss for how to proceed.

And it’s what I did yesterday – I was just plain ol’ honest with them.

I’m a believer that every teacher has to draw a line in the sand and share some real honesty. Whether their writing hasn’t been up to par, it’s obvious that they aren’t following directions regardless of prompting, they aren’t using time to catch up, or their efforts have been lackluster.

Yesterday I stopped all charades and worried less about balancing positive with criticism. With my filter set on a lower setting than usual, I let my worries and concerns known.

How I end the sugar coatin’ changes depending on what I think will work.

Sometimes it’s a letter I write and let them read as the morning begins. Other times I remind each student what I am impressed by and what each needs to improve upon. Occasionally I will sit in front of them all and share with them the thoughts that woke me well before my alarm began – this morning it was 2 am.

That last one. The one about being super honest while I tell them what thoughts spin in the teacher’s head – that’s what I did yesterday.

Effective? Today they were much more civil with one another. Their efforts improved. The writing looked to be done with more attention to detail and more missing work arrived on my desk. Not all of my students, but most of them. But most of my students heard what I had to say, so today I left feeling like I earned that paycheck again.

Fingers crossed for tomorrow.