Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Meanest Teacher

So my daughter started kindergarten this week. When I asked her about her first day, she announced that it was good, they didn’t get to go outside (because of rain), and that her teacher was “really nice -- and likes me!”

The power of a teacher is never more apparent than it is the first week of school. Elementary students cross their fingers that their teacher is “nice” since they spend so much time with the same teacher. Middle and high school students compare schedules and trade stories, rumors, suspicions, and giggles about the teacher names on their new schedules.

It made me think about this wonderful article I read recently about a former Hillsborough teacher who recently passed away -- and who wrote his own obituary. http://www.tampabay.com/news/obituaries/teacher-curmudgeon-wrote-it-his-way/2242079

I never knew or met Mr. Joab. I never even heard of him until I read the article in the Tampa Bay Times.

But I was struck by him, particularly by the things he (and his former students) said about his class.

Mr. Joseph M. Joab wrote that his “high standards for the junior high and high school students he taught got him labeled as the ‘meanest, evil-est, bad-est, nastiest’ teacher on campus.” His self-written obituary notes that “Since the number of former students wishing to ‘dance on his grave’ could create a traffic jam, there will be no graveside service”.  

But seriously. I’m a little jealous of  Mr. Joeb’s reputation! I tried, but I was never called the “meanest teacher” for more than a class period or two. Sigh...

But as I think of Mr. Joab and what he meant to his former students, I kind of wish my students called me some of those names because I had made them work so hard.

A former student said, of Mr. Joab, “When I was his student, he was difficult, frustrating, and demanding. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized he was difficult because he needed to challenge me, frustrating because he wouldn’t let me be lazy”

“He continued to keep pushing”, another former student said, “his message being, ‘do it all the way, or don’t do it at all.’”

It’s the first week of school. As you get into the routines, learn the students, and make your reputation known, you don’t have to be the “meanest, evil-est, bad-est, nastiest” teacher on your campus (unless that’s already your thing. Hey, I don’t judge).

But be the teacher who drives his or her students crazy -- because you CHALLENGE those students

Be the teacher who makes your kids think and work HARD. I hope you challenge kids. I hope when they see your name on their schedules that they think, “Oh boy. I have Mr. or Ms. So-and-So. I am going to have to WORK!”

And then, keep that in mind as the year progresses. You wear a million hats as a teacher -- you wear an instructional hat, a relationship hat, a mentor hat, a team-member hat, etc. Don’t forget to wear your CHALLENGER hat.

Make ‘em think. Make ‘em work. Start now.

PS -- I hope you’re really not the meanest teacher. I hope your students will someday write about you the way Mr. Joab’s former kids wrote about him: “He liked to get the kids to think”.

I can’t think of a much better legacy for a teacher.

As always, I love to hear from you! Email me at newmantr@pcsb.org

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Hard Data and Soft Data

 I hope you had an awesome summer and that you’re refreshed and renewed and ready to rock and roll for a new school year! As usual, I learned a lot this summer. I have hard data and soft data on my summer ...

Hard data is quantifiable -- you can count it and add it up. Here’s some examples of  “hard data” from my summer...

·         Miles traveled by car --- 2,714
·         Miles traveled by plane -- 2,098
·         Number of times I read the same picture book to my toddler on the plane -- 41
·         Number of my relatives seen -- 16
·         Number of my husband’s relatives seen --  over 50
·         Number of ferry boat rides -- 4
·         Number of subway rides -- 2
·         Number of museums visited -- 6
·         Number of caves visited -- 1
·         Number of states visited -- 6
·         Number of mermaids seen – 7 (and one mer-man)
·         Number of finger-paints spilled -- 5
·         Number of swimming lessons taken by my kids -- 54
·         Number of artworks created by my five year-old -- 230

I also collected some “soft data”. Soft data is harder to measure, harder to quantify.

·         My one year old would rather spill finger-paints then paint with them.
·         My five-year-old is so much more pleasant when she has protein for breakfast
·         Those Weeki Wachee mermaids are really amazing athletes.
·         Twelve hours in a car with a toddler feels like it
lasts for days.
·         Light-up shoes are really helpful (and funny) in a cave.
·         Climbing up the pedestal in the Statue of Liberty is more work than it sounds.
·         My backyard DOES flood when it rains for 21 days in a row.  
·         The zoo is half-empty when it’s hot outside. That’s probably for a good reason.
·         A dinosaur-themed wedding is more fun than you think it will be..

As we start a new school year, with new students, new courses, sometimes new classrooms, I know that you will collect and pour over tons of hard data -- last year’s grades, FSA scores, EOC scores, PM tests, AP scores, free-and-reduced status, languages spoken at home, reading levels, attendance records, discipline history, arrest records, test specs and blueprints..... It’s enough data to get lost in!

I would like to HIGHLY encourage you to collect some “soft” data during the first few weeks as well. Learn some less-quantifiable data about your students and classes -- and RECORD that “soft data”.

Ideas to find out about your kids -- “soft data”
·         where they do their homework (and if anyone helps them)
·         what their learning styles are (give an inventory like this)
·         what their interests are (try an interest survey like one of these)
·         what their first impressions are about your class.
·         whether they enjoyed and/or were successful in their previous social studies classes)
·         what sports/clubs/extracurricular activities they enjoy and are involved in.

Then, put that info in your gradebook, in MS Excel, in a notebook -- something! Do something with that info and make it easy to use. I used to collect some of that info in my class, but I always put it away, meaning to “do something” with it later. But I never did.

Put it on your wall (the no-name stuff, of course), put it in your folder, or somewhere. But make it accessible so you can get to it and use that data.

“Soft data” is just as valuable as “hard data”. Find a good system to collect, organize, and reference it regularly. I promise, it will be totally worth it!

Do you collect any “soft data”? Do you have any tips on organizing and using it? As always, I love to hear from you! Email me at newmantr@pcsb.org

Tracy Newman
Reading-in-Social Studies Coach