The Late Great Standardized Test and Happy Birthday Common Core

48095_10151460458076117_1282058836_nBased on what I have been reading and hearing, the multiple choice standardized test as a state assessment is going away. Will absence make the heart grow fonder? Today I gave my kids a math test that is very similar to the type of standardized test they will take in May. Using explicit direct instruction
may yield results but unless you have a measurement tool, you’ll never really know. Giving some sort of assessment is crucial in determining whether kids have gained mastery over the material.  Finding that sort of assessment can be challenging but once you do find it, it can be encouraging and educational to you the teacher. My students performed better than I imagined they would. As I examined their scores I saw clearly that everything we’ve been doing this year has worked. I will be sending home color coded results to parents because I want the home to know the child is getting it. It certainly isn’t the only measure of growth in a learner but it is a clear and accepted one for most people in California.

As a parent myself, I always like to see growth in my children’s standardized test scores. I say all these good things about the “test” because it is under fire these days. In fact, it appears Common Core is going to revolutionize the idea of state assessments. I am all for that but in a way, I will miss the ABCD bubbles. They do provide us with a concrete score that holds widespread clout. There are a lot of things I don’t like about them but I certainly have seen value today in preparing for a traditional multiple choice test with a traditional multiple choice test. teaching materials are likely to change drastically. I wonder how we as educators and parents will look back at the multiple choice standardized test once we transition over to Common Core. My understanding is that it will be after one more year of the status quo. The traditional standardized test will definitely be something I reflect on after Common Core comes into use. Here’s to the future and what is next for us in k-6 education.

What I Want for Public Education (as a Parent & Teacher)

14585284216_10c6f5ccb5I should post a disclaimer that I am a parent of 3 public school aged children who is also a teacher at a public school. Ok, now that I am somewhat introduced … here are my points: As a parent I want these things from the public education system:

  1. Programs that foster self-esteem and self-love – I want my kids to believe in themselves and to learn how to nurture their own self esteem. Since peace with ones self does so much for our lives, including repairing cells, this is a non-negotiable for a growing child. Without this, children will have a host of problems greater than any lack of academics. Of course this starts at home.
  2. Academic instruction, based on grade level standards – In my state, this will be the Common Core standards starting next year. This is something I see the public school system fearing and putting at the highest emphasis. I think it is indeed valuable and in some ways a non-negotiable.
  3. Mutual respect and social mores review/training

PBIS is aiming at this. I think more money should be poured into this and self esteem training than academics. Because our country is so barraged with stories of hate and self loathing, like the recent shootings, it is a “no brainer” this area should be our top priority. I want my kids to know how to behave and how to live with others peacefully. Again and of course, this starts at home.

  1. Music and art appreciation – Without music, life would have been a mistake.
  2. Health and stress management training – (put your “humor me” hat on) If life expectancy is 70, health ignorance will make it 55. If the same with stress is true, 40. I want my child to live the most full robust life possible.

We as teachers are often given a schedule and curriculum that lacks the above. As a parent, I would like to see more emphasis put on nurturing the child while teaching the standards. I think we focus too much on getting the child to perform and not enough on helping the child be healthy and happy in mind and body. Parents and teachers are invited to make a comment below as to what you would like to see in public education, and/or what you think should stay that is already there.

Teachers and Public Image

How much does a teacher’s private life enter in to the job they do? In a recent article, ‘Fifty Shades of Who Cares’, I read about a teacher who has been suspended for writing and selling erotica. I wouldn’t have thought that was a giant problem until I read that the teacher used the school computer to use social media and compose this writing. Was this teacher dropped as a child or something? Things like this are so blatantly wrong they hardly merit an article. Still, the question of a teacher’s right to have a private life and to pursue other interests is an important topic I think.

I would say teachers are free to write and create art on their off work time. The trouble is, they are morally responsible for the effect their work has on children. For this reason, they have a responsibility to keep adult activities or art out of the classroom psyche. This might seem like common sense but in the past year I have read about teachers appearing in porn and others buying drugs. Teachers, let’s come together and get real. You may be a lousy teacher or the cream of the crop, you still work with kids. Teachers have an obligation to uphold a certain standard in the public eye. We are different from other public jobs that way but all public jobs to some extent carry that burden. Of course, one might say that just living a clean life is the best way to avoid negative public perceptions. That probably goes without saying.

We as Teachers Can Improve the Culture

Common sense tells us what a plumber’s job is. This is also true for an auto mechanic, a bank teller, a baker, and even a butcher. Do you think our culture agrees on the job of a teacher? I say “no” and it may never be so. Teaching is not as respected as a profession as it used to be. I am not sure why this perception exists. I’ve read the numbers in teaching colleges have fallen drastically. So how should the teachers who are doing it now it know if they are successful? Coming up with a common sense definition of teaching would be a good start. One person says a teacher’s job is “simply” to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. Another says teachers are to be sources of inspiration. Others still might call teachers strict or even mean people. Teachers are often vilified in the news or in movies. For the life of me I cannot understand this trend. But we as teachers have to accept that we are not as respected as we once were. We can illuminate the profession of teaching little by little. I think it would help for every teacher to define her/his job description. This can be the lighthouse when stormy seas encroach. You might even put it on a frame above your mantle. As pay cuts and administrative crack-downs will inevitably continue, it’s going to take a strong sense of purpose to make a difference.

My definition of a teacher’s job:

  1. To teach
  2. To inspire

No matter what happens in politics or culture’s perception of teaching, I will continue to seek out ways to teach and inspire students. I am directed though my culture is not. I can help improve my culture by doing my job. I can help kids learn skills that get jobs. I can teach kids language skills to create art and passion for life. There is so much I have to offer. (Put yourself in that sentence) Technology that helps me do that more effectively I will use. I will never see my job as just “a  job.” I was inspired by teachers as a child and this is my chance to be on the giving end of that inspiration. Have I missed anything? Like a said, simple definitions are the best. Having said that, our job is anything but simple. We owe it to our culture however to remain focused and to do our job well.

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 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 urban education reform a reality.