Motivation and dreams

Lack of motivation stymies many of my best efforts. I can make the lesson fun. I can integrate critical thinking into my content. I can leap through all the flaming hoops that administration throws at me. In the end, though, a percentage of my kids remain mostly outside of my influence. A review of their academic histories show this lack of involvement has been the pattern for years. Some kids fall off the edge, doing an academic nosedive after years of satisfactory efforts, but others have been clinging to the edge of satisfactory forever.

Eduhonesty: I’d like to offer a piece of action research to any educators looking for a challenge: As I’ve talked to my classes about their plans for the future, I’ve noticed an association that should be investigated. My motivated students tend to have dreams for their futures. Those dreams may be unrealistic and grandiose. If we stacked all the aspiring future NBA players end to end, they might reach from Chicago to Cleveland for example. But dreams provide leverage for teachers and possibilities for students. Failed NBA players may still receive college scholarships. Failed veterinarians may maintain grades that offer multiple healthcare career options. Dreams can get children to finish high school.

I have a number of children without dreams, though. They aren’t working. They aren’t trying. Parental pressure may push them through high school graduation, but their own efforts won’t get them anywhere. I wonder, where are the dreams? Why aren’t there dreams? Were there ever dreams? Does this lack of aspiration sap intrinsic motivation?

I intend to pick up this thread in the next day or two.

Brain injuries, homeless men and education

From Yahoo News

Nearly half of all homeless men suffered brain injury before losing homes
By Eric Pfeiffer
18 hours ago

From Dr. Jane Topolovec-Vranic (St. Michael’s Hospital):

A new study is shining light on the origins of homelessness, finding that nearly half of homeless men have suffered a traumatic brain injury and that nearly all of those injuries occurred before the men became homeless.

The St. Michael’s Hospital study found that 45 percent of the homeless men who participated in the research had suffered some form of traumatic brain injury (TBI). And amongst them, 87 percent of their brain injuries had occurred before the men became homeless.

“You could see how it would happen,” said Dr. Jane Topolovec-Vranic, who led the study. “You have a concussion, and you can’t concentrate or focus. Their thinking abilities and personalities change. They can’t manage at work, and they may lose their job, and eventually lose their families. And then it’s a negative spiral.”

The results closely mirrored a similar study released last week, which found that about half of all men entering New York’s jail system aged 16-18 reported suffering a TBI before they were arrested.

“You need to train the correction officers to understand brain injuries so that when somebody may be acting rude or answering back or forgetting what they’re supposed to do, it’s not a sign of maladaptive misbehavior or disrespect, it’s a sign of a brain injury,” Wayne Gordon, a brain injury expert at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, said about that study’s results.

The St. Michael’s study looked at the cases of 111 homeless men and found that assault accounted for some 60 percent of the TBI’s. Drug and alcohol were the leading factors for men under 40, while assault was the most common factor for men over 40 years of age.

However, a significant percentage of the men received their TBI’s in non-violent accidents. Amongst those cases, sports and recreation related injuries accounted for 44 percent of the TBI’s, while motor vehicle accidents or falls made up another 42 percent.

“Injury commonly predated the onset of homelessness, with most participants experiencing their first injury in childhood,” Topolovec-Vranic wrote in the study, which was published in the journal CMAJ Open. “Additional research is needed to understand the complex interactions among homelessness, traumatic brain injury, mental illness and substance use.”

The study participants all hailed from a Toronto homeless shelter. They encompassed a broad age range and all completed a detailed series of questions chronicling their mental health history.

Eduhonesty: As I read this, my first thought was that many of these homeless men were once students in our public schools. I’d like to highlight that line that reads Continue reading

The King is Dead. All Hail the Queen.

I like the new principal. Upbeat, high-energy, hitting the perky-scale at a reasonably high but not toxic level, she seems motivated and carries a whiff of little-bit-crazy which Title I principals need. She’s brunette, athletic, attractive and relatively young. I sense some steel in that fine-boned backbone.

She is also my 11th principal in 9 years of teaching. I’m cheating a bit here. I worked under co-principals in two schools, the first a pair of retired guys who were working around the rule that retired educators can only work a certain number of days per year without affecting their pensions, the second a turn-around team brought in to rescue a school that frankly wasn’t broken, not for an alternative high school anyway.

Eduhonesty: I’m feeling a bit depressed this morning. I like the new Principal. I loved the previous guy, though, and he had been my principal for a remarkable four years.

We put our students and teachers through too many changes. Fixing a school’s climate takes time. Building random staff into a team takes time. I have watched the positive changes in the classrooms and hallways. Hallways have become safe and relatively orderly. Classrooms are in sync, teaching the same curriculum at approximately the same time. Educators are working together for the good of the school. My school has been making great progress. But the test numbers did not rise as demanded.

We change principals, superintendents, administration and teachers frantically nowadays to shove test numbers up. Unfortunately, all these changes themselves undoubtedly hold the desired numbers down. Consistency and an aligned curriculum can improve learning, but not if the vision of what these terms means changes on an annual basis. We will have a new system now as the Principal brings in her well-meaning reforms. I am not sure how she will impact the curriculum. I just know that all this change moves us back more often than it moves us forward, even when new administrators bring great ideas to the table.

Maybe I need to perk up. Our new Principal deserves a chance. I’ve just seen this change too many times: I’ve never yet seen any academic miracle from that change.

I never nod off at work

I am never even tempted. No matter how little sleep I’ve had, once I start presenting the new or review material to my minions, I am onstage and I am awake. On good days, I am even excited.

Eduhonesty: Teaching is much more work than most outsiders realize, but teaching can also be a lot of fun. The minions and I had a great time this week, somewhat inexplicably since we were doing physics and geometry. But I taught, they listened, and we all ate chocolate. This job has many great days. (Then there are those other days when my carefully crafted PowerPoint goes over with a resounding, perplexed-looking thud.)

No healing here

“It’s not the wound that teaches, but the healing.”
~ Marty Rubin (Credit to Bob at Lakeside Advisors in Seattle for the quote.)

I’m going to pull a quote from a previous post a couple of days ago:

What, exactly, is the point of crushing the hearts and minds of young children by setting a standard so high that 70% are certain to fail?

Eduhonesty: A great part of my concern about the current testing situation lays in the fact that these children and young adults never get to heal. They stumble from (standardized) test to test to test throughout the year, not including the many exams given by teachers, some of which are highly inappropriate since they are designed to prepare kids for standardized tests for which they remain unready. Common Core prep tests given in the classroom may be years beyond actual academic learning levels of students. With luck, the teacher has at least taught some or most of the material on the test. In the worst case, the teacher has taught very little of the material because his or her students aren’t ready for that material, but administration has required the test. This gives kids regular opportunities to bomb in the classroom as well.

A classroom test should reflect what the teacher has taught. If I give a test and almost all the class fails, I designed the test badly. Those test results are my fault, not theirs. Students have a right to expect that if they listen to me, do their homework and finish their reading, they will get a decent grade on the summative test. Students who faithfully do their work should never be clobbered in the end-game.

We have no idea of the long-term effects of regularly causing large groups of students to fail exams that we frequently tell them are vitally important predictors of their future.

I wish Arne Duncan and other advocates of wide-scale testing were not so cavalier about what we are doing to children in our pursuit of rigor and data, two words I am coming to loathe. So many dubious practices are justified by using those words.

Written by an immigrant

The following is now a couple of years old so I feel that I can safely post it without worrying about exposing the writer. I always change names to protect the innocent. I also decline to write great posts that simply cannot be made anonymous. The exact words a child cut into his or her flesh are too revealing.

In an opening assignment, I asked students to write a paragraph. I don’t even remember the exact topic. Here was one result:

“It’s very important for a parent to pay attention to a child. My parents sometimes forget when (they) are too busy like working two jobs. I get sometimes sad and a little bit left out. I think they should spend more time with me so I could feel better and they could become better adults.”

Another student wrote about how kids might not eat and they might get sick.

Eduhonesty: I have had many immigrant students by now with parents who work during the evening and parents who work two jobs. One part-time, minimum wage may not be enough to survive, but two can get you by. A man with two full-time minimum wage jobs whose wife has at least one job can pay for a car, an apartment and the survival needs of the family. These parents often diligently inquire after the homework and may make it to student conferences to check up on their children’s progress.

I don’t have much to add to this post. But if we wonder why some school districts always seem to be struggling academically, I think this post provides part of the answer. Thirteen year olds who are feeding themselves and their siblings, taking responsibility for doing their own homework, and managing a household can easily become overwhelmed. The homework will be triaged, thrown off the task list in favor of food and laundry. “Ana” was often tired, a little girl with large, sad brown eyes who caused almost no trouble in class. Every so often I had to wake her up. If I had to guess, I’d bet she’s a mom now, barely twenty with a couple of a kids. Where Ana lives, lonely, pretty, mostly unsupervised girls usually become young mothers.

I can see readers indignantly thinking that social service agencies ought to be rescuing “Ana” and others like her. But those agencies are mostly busy managing emergencies, children in real physical danger from abuse or children who have no food in the house. “Ana” had loving parents and enough to eat. Should her parents have been home more often in the evenings? In an ideal world, the answer’s obvious, but in this world, the money for rent and groceries has to come from somewhere.

Facebook Friend Shares a Truth about the Common Core

From Rob Van Aken
Yesterday at 12:57pm who took the following from

“In New York state, which gave the Common Core tests last spring, only 30% of students across the state passed the tests. Only 3% of English language learners passed. Only 5% of students with disabilities passed. Fewer than 20% of African American and Hispanic students passed. By the time the results were reported in August, the students did not have the same teachers; the teachers saw the scores, but did not get any item analysis. They could not use the test results for diagnostic purposes, to help students. Their only value was to rank students.

When New York state education officials held public hearings, parents showed up en masse to complain about the Common Core testing. Secretary Duncan dismissed them as “white suburban moms” who were disappointed to learn that their child was not as brilliant as they thought and their public school was not as good as they thought. But he was wrong: the parents were outraged not because they thought their children were brilliant but because they did not believe that their children were failures. What, exactly, is the point of crushing the hearts and minds of young children by setting a standard so high that 70% are certain to fail?”

Eduhonesty: This speaks to the heart of our mania for ever-increasing testing. Never mind that the data we get tends to arrive too late to be useful and that this data does not include information needed to plan individual instruction. I will repeat the critical question:

What, exactly, is the point of crushing the hearts and minds of young children by setting a standard so high that 70% are certain to fail?

The Great White Whale

I hated Moby Dick. I remember that book as the most tedious experience in twelve years of public education. Being a diligent student in a 9th grade honors English class, I nonetheless gutted my way through the whole testosterone-laden mess. I read about death on Kilimanjaro. I discussed how sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, which may include shooting the family dog. Shane was somewhere in there too.

In college, I complained about those reading lists. Where were the girl books? Where were the girls in the books? The single girl I can remember who was not an essentially passive mom or sister was Scout in to Kill a Mockingbird.

Eduhonesty: This is where my post takes a surprising direction. Years later, I think the local school administrators may have been picking the right books (with the exception of Moby Dick which is irredeemable in my view), given the nature of boys and girls. I am looking at an article on why Johnny won’t read. The research documents a literacy gap in our time, with girls being much more likely to become readers than boys. The article partly blames book choices that appeal to girls rather than boys. As I recall choices in my daughters’ schools, I realize that The House on Mango Street and The Memory Keeper’s Daughter are likely to have little appeal for boys. The Poisonwood Bible and Speak aren’t going to pull those boys in either. In fact, parts of those books can be expected to make boys feel extremely uncomfortable. No middle school boy should ever have to read about rape.

Our boys frequently are looking for role models in this time and while that crazy man on Kilimanjaro may not be the answer, the truth is that perhaps our book lists ought to be skewed toward the boys. The move toward nonfiction right now will help. Boys often prefer nonfiction to fiction.

In the end, my reasoning is this: My girlfriends and I all became readers despite a male-oriented set of reading lists in school. We went to the library and found our personal favorites in our free time. I read out the local science fiction section and moved on to mysteries. Some of my girlfriends devoured romance novels. But many boys may not feel as comfortable finding their niche in the library, especially after enough conversations with friends about how much they hate that book about Mango Street. If reading seems girlie, especially in this time of Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto, reading may simply not happen.

At the very least, I suggest we need to be sure that choices for school reading lists are relatively gender neutral like To Kill a Mockingbird or Into Thin Air.

“When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.”

~ Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900), An Ideal husband, 1893

We wanted data, we got data. We post it on classroom and school walls. We stick it in computers and manila folders. My high school was using student numbers to post data until some students started using those numbers to hijack other students’ free lunches. Then we were asked to create a new set of secret codes. A plethora of acronyms are used to label data from state, national and for-profit standardized (mostly) tests.

Eduhonesty: Now that we have the data, I feel compelled to ask one question: Are we ahead? We are losing so much instructional time to create and assess this data that I would not be surprised to discovered that data-gathering efforts have resulted in declines in the very scores we are tracking. In fact, I’d put a month of the mortgage money on a bet that those scores have gone down as a direct result of time-loss from data-gathering efforts.

What if no one with credentials wants the job?

What if you can’t find a bilingual high school math teacher willing to work in your district? Both bilingual and high school math teachers remain in demand. The district had a long-term sub, a good one, but his credentials were expired or something. So now the students in these classes have no teacher. I guarantee the No-Teacher-for-a-Month-or-Two plan won’t work. Those classes were already grievously behind.

Eduhonesty: I don’t want to look for work, but this situation makes me understandably nervous. I happen to have the necessary high school credentials. I don’t want to teach those classes. Middle school suits me much better than high school. I prefer younger kids. I also prefer science, language arts and social studies to math. For the time being, I am safe. No one is going to disrupt my middle school classes in April by transferring me, but next year the Board will be able to redeploy me into the mathematical abyss they are creating.

These facts argue in favor of filling out the standard online application and entering the job market.