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What Do Teachers Make

For those teachers feeling the daylight getting shorter and the "newness" of the year fading…

Here's Taylor Mali on You Tube:



Are we teaching them to be “Untouchable?”

Thomas Friedman, author of best seller The World is Flat and frequent columnist in the New York Times, published an interesting article for education leaders called "The New Untouchables."  He ties the current economic recession to America's workforce, our public education system, and a lack of focus on raising students to demonstrate skills that make them "untouchable."  Connecting to Daniel Pink's work in A Whole New Mind, Friedman sets the bar very high for public education in America.  What do you think?  Is the state of America's workforce a contributing factor to the recession today?  How are public schools to address this? 


Layoffs… should it be about seniority?

If we buy into the language Jim Collins gives us in Good to Great and the Social Sectors, and we buy into doing what is right, what best serves students, and what is based upon research, then how should layoffs be done in public education?  Scott McLeod offers some insight, a few opinions, and some links in his recent post on Dangerously Irrelevant.  What do you think?


The Prefrontal Cortex… what junior high is all about

Johan Lehrer writes in How We Decide:

The maturation of the human mind recapitulates its evolution, so the first parts of the brain to evolve – the motor cortex and brain stem – are also the first parts to mature in children.  Those areas are fully functional by the time humans hit puberty.  In contrast, brain areas that are relatively recent biological inventions – such as the frontal lobes – don't finish growing until the teenage years are over.  The prefrontal cortex is the last brain area to fully mature (p. 114). 

This developmental process holds the key to understanding the behavior of adolescents, who are much more likely than adults to engage in risky, impulsive behavior…  A recent study by neuroscientists at Cornell, for example, demonstrated that the nucleus accumbens, a brain area associated with the processing of rewards – things like sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll – was significantly more active and mature in the adolescent brain than the prefrontal cortex was, that part of the brain that helps resist such temptations.  Teens make bad decisions because they are literally less rational (p. 114). 

The problem-solving abilities of working memory and the prefrontal cortex are a crucial aspect of human intellingence.  Numerous studies have found strong correlations between scores on tests of working memory and tests of general intelligence.  Being able to hold more information in the prefrontal cortex, and being able to hold on to that information for longer, means that brain cells are better able to form useful associations.  At the same time, the rational brain must also stringently filter out all extraneous thoughts, since they might lead to unhelpful connections.  Unless you are disciplined about what you choose to think about – you won't be able to effectively think through your problem.  You'll be so overwhelmed by all those incoming ideas that you'll never be able to figure out which ones are genuine insights (p. 131).

Anyone else think we should be paying attention to these developments?


So… What is a grade?

For two years teachers at SJH have been wrestling with an honest question: what, afterall, is a grade?  I commend their courage and willingness to admit that such a simple question has become a scary, convoluted mess of an issue for those of us in public education.  Grades have evolved over time – a process that has been accelerated by online gradebooks that empower parents, counselors, and administrators with the ability to pick apart the details of assigning points to student work.  Questions and arguments ensued to where we are today… grades are a mathmatically calculated form of currency.  Students earn points for doing work much like we earn money for doing work at our jobs.  Indeed, most student grades hold little real correlation to a student's demonstrated mastery of concepts, content and skills – the heart of what we are supposed to be teaching and assessing. 

After a full year of research, dialogue, debate, and reflection, teachers at SJH have agreed that grades are to be a "communication regarding a student's demonstrated level of mastery of the concepts, content, and skills of a course (the objectives)."  We are currently working through the difficult process of aligning our practices to this definition – with varying degrees of success.  The tools we use don't line up with our definition, and few of us have experience with making this work.  There are bright spots however.  Teachers, for the first time, feel in their hearts that they are communicating about student achievement with transparent honesty.  Differentiation is actually easier when every student doesn't have to do the same thing to be considered "fair."  And students are learning that some have to work harder than others to accomplish the same goals – a real life lesson. 

I commend the teachers at SJH for their courage and support their efforts to do what is right instead of what is commonly practiced.  In the end, students will benefit – and that's what this passion is all about.