Today’s Teachers Must Find Inner Strength

Now well into the school year I am hearing and reading that more teachers than usual are feeling down. Teacher evaluations are in flux and they can cause some a lot of concern. This in turn can affect the quality of teaching. It’s not surprising some teachers are overwhelmed given all the changes and cuts in the profession. It is causing some college students I know to question their choice of major and profession. One teacher I read about last week quit her job. Another one I know is currently in counseling for hyper-anxiety. Yet another tells me feels depressed once in a while on her recess time after what she hears on the news and from her union.  Yet someone else I know is thinking of quitting at the end of the school year. How can effective lesson plans be made and delivered when a teacher is this down? Well, it isn’t easy but it’s possible. Education is in a state of flux right now, this makes it extra tough. We already deal with an ever-changing set of variables in our attempt to educate children. Shrinking budgets and changing parameters make our profession even harder. I have also heard that the number of students in teaching programs is extremely low.

I know college students looking at a teaching credential are asking: “Is education a good career choice?” Teaching is an age old occupation and those who seek to do it will probably always have jobs. If you are letting current events affect your career choice, you will always be on a roller coaster. On the other hand, if you feel you can make a difference, ignore the “hue and cry” and go for teaching as a career. It is possible and recommended that you learn to find your stability from within. I see more political storms ahead and it will take inner strength to do your job well.

If you set goals for yourself as a teacher, you can measure your own success. There is no longer a static road map in education. Every teacher must look within to find inspiration and guidance and then measure her/his own progress toward goals. Successful teachers can weather the storms of change but they will have to find inspiration within. There are things you can do to empower your career like meditation, journaling, getting a mentor, and more. Of course one of the best things to do would be to read this blog daily. ;) Do you believe in this profession and in the youth of today? If your answer is no … step aside. If yes, find strength from within, your students (future or present) need you more than ever.

Inspiration for New Teachers: The Tortoise, the Hare, and Personal Bests

This post is dedicated to the new teaching degree students who are feeling the sting of our times in education. Don’t give up! Teachers, especially new ones, are under a lot of pressure sometimes to create the best walls, the best lesson plans, and the best APPEARANCE to the teaching “pack” around them. I remember when I was starting out back in the late nineties when I sometimes felt like all the veterans around me were like the “hare” and I felt like the slow moving tortoise. You know it’s an old fable but it stands up true today in our fast paced teaching career more than ever.  If you do the right things, consistently, and keep at it, you will finish the race strong. Those doing the work for education degrees shall have their “day in the sun.” Best of all, you will make a difference in the lives of children.

It seems sometimes that the fast running hares of the world are enjoying their developed speed all around us, but you can’t let that sway you from the road in front of you, however small. They were once like you and if you keep your resolve, you will be successful as they are at teaching. You may even be better at it. Like my high school track coach Mr. White used to say: “Don’t worry about Jamie Oman, you run your own race Riley and get a personal best!” Jamie Oman was a CIF champion runner, I was simply a point man for the team. Every time I “took a man” I felt pride and I carry that with me today.

Times are tough now in education. Stay strong, we need the best teachers to stay in the profession while thousands are quitting. On your teaching journey, don’t compare yourself with others. Just do your best, stay focused on your own teacher evaluations and you will find much success.

3 Tips for Teacher Success When Starting Their Career


There is a lot you can do to be successful at teaching. Being great at what you do in the field of education has many roadblocks though.  Getting your teaching certificate is just the first challenge. But, once you accept the challenge, you can be successful and make a difference with your students. Again there is so much you can do but here are 3 simple teaching tips on how to make that happen.

At work we a have a single job to do but everyone knows there is so much more to work than that. For example: 1. Effective lessons are crucial and require careful planning, 2. Avoid getting overly involved with your colleagues personally (this is just my personal opinion but it has helped my success), and 3. Practice creating solutions to your teaching challenges.

Effective lessons are very important. You will find many helps on this blog alone. After that of course, a simple search on Google will yield many teacher tips on how to craft and deliver excellent lessons. Devote yourself to this. It is the cornerstone of an effective teacher.

It may seem healthy and productive to spend time after school talking to other teachers but I have found it of little value. In my case, and of course everyone has a different personality, I have found that a staff will expand, contract, and change in number. The faces will change but the challenge is the same: to teach effectively. Especially at the beginning of your career, extra-professional relationships at work can distract you. I have decided to keep colleague relationships, other than collaboration for planning lessons, to a minimum. I leave you to make your own conclusions here.


Finally, be an innovator! There was a psychological study done in the 70′s where a guy looked up in the middle of Central Park. He was looking at nothing but he never looked down. People would walk by and most looked up with him. The message here is to be an innovator or leader in what you do. Others may follow but that shouldn’t be your primary motive. Success is the lighthouse. Classroom and online teaching degrees are great careers but you have to get out there and do them! There are some great books on making a living in online teaching available. This is an example of real innovation. You need grand innovative habits to succeed in teaching.

In conclusion, everyone in their heart wants to be successful. Unfortunately there are a host of forces working all the time against us. I have given only three tips this post. These are three tips that are very important to teacher success. What do you think of them? Please join the conversation in the comments with other tips for teacher success.

What Students Need from a Teacher

Education has been in a state of flux for about 20 years. The latest trend is online teaching but there have been a lot of changes already in the last 20 years. Some will say President Bush tried to develop it with “No Child Left Behind” and I think most educated and informed people knew that would have only mixed results. By “left behind” it simply meant no one would fall below the C or passing on a uniform assessment. Many now may wonder, “What do students really need in a teacher?” Below I offer some suggestions.

1. Students need a listener. In a room of 20-30 students, it is hard to know the individual idiosyncrasies of your students right away. I have half-jokingly and half-seriously said for years that teachers should spend the first three weeks reviewing the classroom rules. Of course, other things should go on like pair share and group share. Most of all, the teacher should try to elicit responses to questions in effort toward getting to know students and listening to their needs.

2. Students need an expert in some field. Most the jobs we knew as kids are gone now. Employers nowadays want innovative thinkers who can be flexible. The more claims to fame to can make on your resume like “excellent computer skills” and “creative writer” the better chance you have to rise to the top of the pile of job applications. YOU as a teacher need to be teaching job skills. The children need to know they have spent time in the presence of some form of greatness and hopefully you have something like that to emanate. There is no longer wisdom in teaching or learning specific trades. The kids in elementary school now will have 10-20 jobs as opposed to my generation where, for an example, I have had about 5 jobs in my lifetime. Share your expertise so the kids can find security in “knowing” a skill they may one day use on the job.

3. Students need encouragement from their teacher. Our world is changing very rapidly. As I stated previously, jobs will exist in the future that we never dreamed of and jobs we have always know will cease to exist. If you were a kid, wouldn’t you need encouragement that everything was going to work out? Teachers need to be a source of encouragement to their class. In my opinion, you could strip away all curriculum and still have your work cut out for you in encouraging your kids. The need is that great.

In conclusion, students really need assurance. This can come in the form of powerful teaching of the common core standards, as it should, but it also needs to contain the 3 elements above. No matter what the budget cuts or the culture throws at us, we became teachers to help kids and that should be our battle cry when the waters are murky and unclear. I think a lot of teachers are confused about their role in the classroom. Whether you are a special education teacher or regular ed, I think you’ll agree that the three elements above are good places to start.

What Should we Test in Public Education?

There’s been a lot of talk this past year about standardized testing in public education. To get a teaching degree requires a lot of discussion on this. There are many points being made on the internet and in books about how standardized tests are not the best assessment of the quality of schools. So what should we test in public education? How about: practical job skills, traditional academic skills, and citizenship? To me, these are three great targets to start with.

Practical job skills are missing in our k12 system now. There are some classes in high schools across the country that attempt this but it should have precedence over all else if we are to prepare our students for a rough economy. Think tanks, collaboration, parent groups, and administration need to come together and brainstorm on this sort of curriculum. Teaching online is proving to be one innovative method toward this. It will have to be a malleable framework since the marketplace changes year to year and sometimes even sooner. One question these think tanks might address is this: “What skills have been universal through the decades in productivity at work.” I think this is the #1 Topic “A” priority item we should address as we reform public education. Teaching to a test gets very few people hired after graduation.

Traditional academic skills should still have priority as well. Language arts and math and crucial to surviving and thriving at work. We should keep the standards and standardized test models and use them but at a second priority. As it has been, the standardized test has been given more attention and focus than it merits, in my opinion. It does however give us a measuring stick that can be useful in planning classroom goals and lessons. This should be woven into the practical job skills aforementioned.

Finally, students need to be taught citizenship. As our system goes through the major changes it is going through now in attempt to escape the recession, our students should be prepared to make their contribution to keep the country strong. There is much material out there on teaching citizenship and behavior skills. This should be sorted through and a new “curriculum” of citizenship should be created. Tests of citizenship would do well to model what good citizens do in America. Very soon, our students will be the citizens of America and the world. How will they be prepared if we don’t guide them with our public schools.

To conclude, I do agree with many out there saying standardized testing is not the answer. At the same time, I feel it may be the answer if the test is based on the right priorities. If we focus on the practical first, we will be doing our students and country a much better service as public educators. Just like the road showing how to be a teacher, every child should have a clear path whatever she/he wants to be.

Suggested 3 I’s of Education Reform

My article below was first published as Three “I”s Suggested for Education Reform on Blogcritics.

Public education in America is in a state of flux. In 26 states, including California, legislators are adopting the “Common Core” standards and curriculum to teach our nation’s kids. As a teacher for the past 14 years, I have taught mostly from the multiple choice assessment standpoint. It has its pros but there are certainly many aspects where it just doesn’t work. What I would like to see is a more “real world” curriculum where kids are nurtured in their individual ideas and inventions. Currently I see this in education reform California. We don’t just want kids that can pass tests, we want kids who can invent the next iPad and help save hour healthcare system. Inspiration, innovation, and invention

Most agree with the thought above. Unfortunately however, the path is not as clear. I don’t have many ideas on how to make every school successful. I do, however, think there are some universals that should be taught in the public school classroom. The first one is inspiration. The simple question teachers should ask themselves here is: “What things inspire ME to be productive.” I don’t know how everyone would answer that question but I can tell you my answer: music, movies, restaurants, travel, the beach, just to name a few. Listening to great music empowers me and makes me want to do amazing things. All the other things do as well. We need to help kids identify passions and then make the connection to inspiration so they can lead productive lives. Students that have been shown the inspiration connection will make a larger contribution in their early adulthood.

The second classroom “must” is innovation. We need to put kids in situations where they can make solutions in adversity. A great way to do this is to show them how we do it as adults. This can include bringing in successful grown-ups as guest teachers to share how they get through their day to day, not just paying the bills, though that is important, but creating inspiration for themselves and others through solving problems. Kids who learn how to innovate and solve problems in school will be more productive members of society. In the advanced cases, these are the types that will cure cancer or create pathways to peace.

The final part of classroom curriculum we should focus on in education reform is invention. Bill Nye the Science Guy has an amazing episode on this topic. He shows how important it is to every day life. When I put a piece of tape on my alarm clock button, it makes hitting snooze easier. That is a simple example of human invention. Students who have coaching and practice inventing will invent better things in their homes, communities, and worlds. If a teacher can inspire invention in her/his students, they can truly change the world.

Once again, there is much disagreement on what education reform should look like. At the same time, I think all Americans want to see higher productivity in our land. I really feel that as well look to alternative frameworks, we should consider these “three I’s” as equivalent in value to the “3 R’s:” Inspiration, Invention, and Invention. Our kids, the future citizens of America will thank us if we make

a reality.

Opting out of Testing Gaining Favor with Parents? My response

Another educator I follow on Facebook posted a link to an article on this topic. I want to thank him for posting it. Since a comment would have been too long for Facebook, this is my response:

“I think in any profession there are measures that professionals aim for. I have enjoyed the state test as a target most of my 14 year career (I say most because when I first started down in Santa Ana in 1997 it wasn’t yet such a polarized focus). Anyway, I wrote a song called “Get on Board the Standards Train” and did a countdown every year et al. It’s not such a bad thing, you can see it as a sport. When you are running your classroom with that as a corporate goal for improvement, you don’t want parents to opt out. I wouldn’t (and won’t) opt my three kids out because It’s a measurable goal we can celebrate the results of and/or use them to improve given areas. Anyway … I dig all your posts and links so keep em comin’ – just thought I’d give you a perspective where the test is kind of cool and may even be missed. Having said that, I am really looking forward to the transition into common core and the more holistic sort of assessment on a computer that will bring. I agree that the test can produce stress for some kids, that is where the teacher as coach idea comes in. The relaxation of the classroom is just as important as the rigor. A great teacher needs to work at fostering both throughout the year.”

Below is an excerpt from the article that prompted my response:

A small but growing number of local parents are deciding to have their children opt out of the state standardized tests in English and math.

Some parents say they don’t want their children subjected to the stress tied to the tests. Others say they are protesting a school climate they say has become too focused on standardized tests, at the expense of critical thinking, hands-on learning and nontested subjects — from art to social studies.

And some say they don’t believe the tests are even reliable.

“It’s all about the test scores. I’ve seen so much time and so much money spent on this. And they’re not really a valid measure of student progress,” said Chris Cerrone, a social studies teacher who kept his own third-grade daughter home from state tests last week.

via Opting out of testing gaining favor with parents – City of Buffalo – The Buffalo News.

The Organic Teacher vs The Robot

For the past 15 years, the California Teaching Standards have run the show in education. I’m not complaining. For 13 of these years, my job success has relied on them. I have embraced them, made them my own, taught them, and internalized them in the 6 hours a day I am with students in the classroom. In the other daily hours, I strive to come up with ways to make them relevant and memorable. I have tried very hard to not be a robot, simply speaking out standards without any importance or buy-in. I wish I could say the same for the rest of the teachers in the country. I hear news stories about teachers who really have no interest in getting the standards across. They make a facade to the public audience that produces only the bare minimum of learning results. It is enough to get them through to the next contract but fails to raise students to the high level of performance they need to compete in the world.

Those robotic teachers use the standards to negative ends. I feel that teaching to a test can never produce the kind of student that will thrive in the modern world. I am hopeful about what’s coming. I think of it as an “organic teacher.” That means someone who gets earthy and relevant with the standards. The organic teacher is not afraid to be controversial if it meets students needs. The organic teacher paves a path followed by those who want the same measurable success. It can take many forms but it will involve technology such as the best laptop computers. It is not, however, limited by technology. I have often imagined that a simple pencil on paper can be named technology, so don’t let the term steer you off. The organic teacher will kill the robot’s facade. She/he will bring students to a higher level through making the standards real and tangible. Success for students in these classroom will be “caught” more than taught. These teachers will thrive on what they do and the success with students they make. I see these teachers coming on the horizon whether they be teachers like me already in the classrooms or new ones. The shared element is a passion for bring kids up. My hope is the “common core” standards will encourage this sort of teacher. Instead of stifling innovation, my hope is that administrations will foster and encourage it no matter how different it may appear. Youth culture has changed more in the past 15 years than I think it did in the 20 years prior. We need to speak a new language and take on a new job to save our schools and save our kids from irrelevant robot teaching.

Getting Buy-in From Your Students

Most the years I’ve taught I’ve been able to produce results in my students’ motivation. This year it has been especially challenging. Maybe it’s because the test and the academics thereof have become the primary focus of school. Perhaps this has understandably burned out student motivation. In doing so it’s given way to days consisting of “A, B, C, or D” answers. I’ve been trying some new things this year that are working to get buy-in and I wanted to share them with you. Check this out:

  1. To go along with your assessment strategies, have them grade each other’s papers. This will add peer pressure and praise to the mix. It can help them realize what they do is observed by others.
  2. Give them “pseudo” assessments that look like the final standardized test in May. This will ease their nerves and help them see that success on the test can be attained.
  3. Send a note home with the score on one of these tests. Let parents know how their kids are doing but if you do so, make sure you have suggestions for parents on how to improve their child’s score.
  4. Have a lot of ongoing student recognition. Tomorrow I am allowing all the students who got 80-100% to have lunch with me in the classroom. These kids need to be rewarded for their student academic achievement and of course, this will probably rub off on some of the kids who scored below 80%.

I firmly believe that kids in elementary learning as well as higher will do better when they have buy-in. Just like a company offers stock options to employees to keep them productive, so teachers should seek buy-in from their students. Remember this from my experience and probably yours too about work in general:

To get results from students or workers, you must have their “buy-in.”

A Different Sort of Merit Pay

There has been a lot of talk about “merit pay” for teachers. I’m not here to debate the idea but I can tell you it has existed for years. I know because I have received it. You might wonder just how much I got. Well, it hasn’t been monetary. I hope this post is a bit more colorful than bragging about incentive money. For me, merit pay comes through watching kids “get it.” Let me elaborate.

This is my audio visual desk where I do most of my teaching from. I also use a Mobi to travel around the classroom and control the laptop as well as the LCD projector remotely. These are all great tools but without a lesson plan strategy like EDI and a daily plan of what I plan to teach and assess, the fancy gadgets mean nothing. That’s why I treat every day as an achievable goal. I sketch out the focused objectives, aka standards, I will teach through explicit direct instruction, focusing mainly on guided practice. After I assess through the use of whiteboards, I can see who is getting it and who needs more guided help. At that point, the ones getting it, in theory 70% of the kids, go to independent practice while I take the struggling ones to the side where I have a large whiteboard and a kidney table.

As you can see, the “audio visual” equipment is not my primary tool for teaching. The most effective tool is knowing what they will learn and how they will show they know it. From there it is pretty much like washing clothes: Wash, dry, rinse, repeat. This is a simple vignette of what I and millions of teachers do every day. Sure, some do it differently than me but if you are true to your intrinsic values, you are always inventing, creating, revising. If you do it right, the kids advance. In my opinion, the thrill and satisfaction of that is the best “merit pay” of teaching.