Do we teach or are we taught

Bird Droppings November 23, 2011
Do we teach or are we taught

“The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.” Albert Einstein

So many times when discussing students who are having difficult times a individual teachers perspective is all that matters. Recently I was about to thump another teacher in the head listening to comments about how if this student had a better work ethic. I have heard work ethic a lot lately. This or that student needs a better work ethic. But what if you really do not like that teacher and or subject and better yet what if you have a disability that inhibits you. Every day I see square pegs hammered into round holes. It is the way our education system works. I am always amused that Mr. Einstein was one who did not have a great work ethic in school. Matter of fact he failed math a time or two and then he rewrote the books.

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein

We rely so much on prepackaged, prewritten, preformed, precooked, pretested, pre-read, and pre-understood everything that creativity, imagination and uniqueness get left on the shelf. We are giving make up Georgia High School Graduation tests and End of Course Tests over the next weeks in our school. In theory tests of content with a smattering of cognitive questions thrown in however several questions while multiply choice could be answered in numerous ways and here are high school students trying to analysis and answer questions for example science teacher’s question. What if you miss one of those questions and get a 499 and 500 is passing. A good friend who graduated nearly ten years ago had taken the science test four times and failed by a total of eight points and has not graduated. What if each time this person answered that one question the same way a question that is either incorrect or not answerable. This person was an A and B student and after four tries was to frustrated to try again.

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.” Albert Einstein

How and why and what should be taught are always at the crux of curriculum and instructional administrators challenges. But one of the most difficult aspects of education is instilling a desire to learn as Einstein states wanting to seek the mysterious. Too few are the students who truly want to learn most and not just simply pass and get on. In eleven years one of my greatest moments was being asked who wrote the poem when I read Dylan Thomas. I was asked by a kid who most thought could not read and he read the entire book that weekend. The mysterious is a mysterious thing. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.

A beginning to an end

Bird Droppings May 17, 2011
A beginning to the end

“It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.” Albert Einstein

A few days ago I was discussing the idea of teaching as an art form. I have on several occasions seen things others have not in terms of a student or even a class. So often in life we tend to view daily happenings as mundane yet in that moment of the mundane, miracles are happening. I recall several years back on our porch we had several Boston ferns in hanging baskets along with alternating spider plants. In one of the ferns a pair of purple finches had nested and three little finches were growing rapidly midst the daily checks. Most would have only seen the ferns and spider plants the adult birds had so carefully hidden the nest in the fern fronds.
When I sit each morning and write for example yesterday about fireflies dancing across the edge of my world in my back yard during the summer months it is only my perception. My own view is limited by darkness and my own ability to see what is in front of my based on my life experiences. For someone a thousand miles away it is only words yet I see it and experience it and yet for someone here near by unless they are willing to rise at 3:00 AM they too will not see what I see.
So as a writer I offer just glimpses of another experience and another world. In order to see more then it is about renewing our perception, sharpening our senses and opening our soul to see and hear and feel more than we do today.

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.” Albert Einstein

Many considered Einstein to be an atheist for his very often blunt statements about religion. Yet if you read any of his nonscientific statements there is a spiritual aspect to them. In and of it all he was an artist, a philosopher, often scientist and very much a humanist. Today is a day unlike most other Tuesdays I have experienced yet it is an end and a beginning of phases of my own life’s journey. I am near the end of a semester and hopefully beginning to work on finishing my doctorate degree as school lets out. Yet I continue on that educational venture as I am looking past that to another learning experience and who knows maybe another degree. Perhaps one day I can sit idle but for now I crave that thought process.
Whenever I drive through Kentucky I can not help but think of Daniel Boone finding his way in for him what was a wilderness back then and yet for Indians of that place it was home and not a wilderness. For even in that day trails and pathways were worn from passage.

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.” Albert Einstein

In a recent paper for graduate school I referenced my recent experience as a clearing of a haze from things I had forgotten a clarifying and specifying what was cloudy and unsure.
Often what is learned is not just from books but from experiencing living seeing and believing. Each day I travel a road many others have journeyed on and many others have succeeded in and have gone beyond, yet it is new to me. For me it is wilderness yet civilization. For me it is fresh and vibrant even though many see mundane and stale. It might be in the flight and blinking of a firefly or the snort of breath as a buffalo crosses the pasture years ago. It may be in the feather left for me as a hawk soared through the sky.
I recall a movie where the start and end was nothing more than a piece of fluff blowing about until it gained import with Forest Gump and was placed in a special place. We do not know from moment to moment how someone will react to anything we do or say or write. That is the art of our existence. It is in the perception that seeing, feeling and hearing of our own heart beat. I by chance was where a student was yesterday. She is moving and came by sort of by accident as I was at the school. It seems she now lives near where we do and will not be attending our school next year as it across the line and another high school. She just wanted to say hi and in the conversation asked what do I teach. She continued everyone wants to know. I tried to clarify by saying, on my door it states Block one is planning. During Block two and three I teach the philosophy of learning about how and why we learn what we do. Block four is learning strategies. She said that it sounds interesting. For three years she wondered what I taught and wanted to be in my class. I would always respond you haven’t been in enough trouble yet. As she left after I explained Emotional and behavioral Disorders, she said even though I wasn’t in your class except for Biology in summer school I learned a lot. How is that for an ego boost? Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.

I can’t do it

Bird Droppings September 17-18, 2010
I can’t do it

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” St. Francis of Assisi

I was giving a make up test in a literature class yesterday when a student asked why he should even take the test he was going to fail whether he took the test or not. My response was so if you already know you are going to fail at least try and get the best grade you can rather than a zero. Not sure how he did yet but he did finish the test. I came in the school this morning thinking about the attitude of this student who is not alone in today’s increased rigor across the country. How do we encourage kids who are so lost in education?

“Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted. “ Albert Einstein

I wrote several years back about funneling where a teacher picks the key aspects of a lesson in order to teach a topic rather than teaching everything. In Georgia we have the Georgia Performance Standards which is what children are to learn in specific subjects and grade levels. All standardized tests then in Georgia are oriented to the GPS. So teachers know what is coming on End of Course Tests and various other check points and teach accordingly. Teach to the test is the mantra of those of us who have issue with standardized testing as a means of accurately assessing students.
Sitting here listening to students discuss what was in class today or what is coming and most are unaware that anyone is listening. Always amused at how kids can assume only kids hear kids talk when in a room with many people like a class room. I was joking around with my first period co-teaching class about sign language and how back in the day when I taught deaf education for a couple years my students would sign instead of talk. Most were profoundly deaf with little if any residual hearing and speaking was difficult and often hard to understand when they and they would get frustrated since signing was quick and easy for them. It turns out two of the kids in the class knew sign letters and started messaging back and forth.

“The limits of our cognition are not defined by the limits of our language.” Elliot Eisner

Back a few months ago when I completed my comprehensive exams for my doctorate one of my questions was based on Eisner’s ideas on education and art. Eisner looks at education as needing the contextual implications of creativity and imagination to spur on critical thinking and fix the understanding in the student. As I think about my deaf kids from nearly thirty years ago and ninth grade lit kids using sign language I wonder as I read again this thought from Elliot Eisner does language limit us if we let it? I think the confines of a magnetically tracked test scoring grid presents a limit as do machine scored tests. Obviously makes grading easier and of course more measurable. But do we lose something in that simple process.
I went out early this morning as the sun was rising to get a few photos and to sit and watch the smoke rise from a bowl of sage and red willow bark at my feet. An occasional fan with a red tailed hawk feather kept the embers smoking and the light wisp of smoke would glide along the ground in a slight breeze. As I sat in my quiet spot looking east towards the rising sun the fine lines of web from numerous spiders was clinging to the blades of grass and weeds in front of me. Without the sunlight being just right I would never have seen them. It was as if everything was tied together in webbing a line here and there intertwining everything. One of my favorite t-shorts on the back states “we are all connected”. For me this brief moment ion time is meditation, it is prayer, and it is solitude for me where I can clear my head and soul.

“We have inadvertently designed a system in which being good at what you do as a teacher is not formally rewarded, while being poor at what you do is seldom corrected nor penalized.” Elliot Eisner

Eisner hit a nail on the head with this statement and so often it is true. Looking around in schools I have been in it is not how effect you are that matters. Politics, test scores, brownie points are the driving factors for being considered a good teacher. A friend was recently chosen teacher of the year which is an honor since it is selected by the teachers and staff. In her job she touches so many kids’ lives. The impact is what should be a measure of how effective you are as a teacher. When that kid comes back after five years or ten and says what you taught me is being used everyday thank you. That is what really should be the measuring stick of teachers. But it is hard to keep track for a year let alone five or ten. Amazingly enough facebook has been a good tool keeping track of kids I have taught people I have met along my life’s journey. I missed a day yesterday and started this early in the morning as I wandered between schools but by the end of the day my head cold got the better of me and I succumbed to rest. A new week ahead and a week gone by please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.