Monday, August 4, 2014

Change in Students

Change in education is an inevitable being. Policies change, practices change, textbooks, curriculums, standards, they all change. But what changes more than any of it is the students that we teach on a day to day basis. Students, at any age, are changing faster than has ever been seen before. A number of theories swarm the vast internet with answers to why the youth of today are progressing and at least attempting to mature faster and faster as the years go by. Social media hits some of the top reasons for this change. Television and movies is a close second. But whatever the reason, children of today are changing and therefore, education must change to meet them where they are. No Child Left Behind (NCLB), passed in 2001, did not see this kind of change occurring and failed to truly grasp what work would need to be done to meet students where they are in order to bridge their gap and bring them to where they need to be. In order to understand what changes we need to make as teachers, we first need to understand our students as learners, because together is the only way we will help these students succeed.

Many teachers will tell you that students are changing for both the better and the worse. In some ways, they are vastly more educated than their teachers are, most specifically when it comes to technology, how something should work and many times how it does work. But this technology can be a double edged sword. Because of technology and our world of immediate consequences or rewards, working hard on something over a long period of time can be difficult for many students. The instant gratification has created, many would believe, a student who is motivated by extrinsic versus intrinsic motivators. Many educators have found this to be a hard type of student to teach, and that technology and instant gratification has made educators turn into entertainers, trying to maintain students’ attention spans long enough to teach them what they need to learn. Not all teachers see technology as a bad part of education. According to Matt Richtel, there is a wide variety of responses about technology between older and younger teachers. In an article Matt wrote for the New York Times, Richtel describes the growing hot topic that is technology in education, and comes to some conclusions of his own. One is that technology is changing education, this much we must learn to accept. Two is that technology is not always a bad thing, and when incorporated appropriately, it can do great things. Thirdly, he states that students are becoming more and more reliant on finding a quick and easy answer to a question instead of taking the time to think about the answer that they found and evaluate it based on its merits. Richtel describes this problem as the “Wikipedia” problem, and although he is right, students can be guided in this thinking with a little bit of work (Richtel, 2012). What motivates students to want to do better in this and many areas however are other issues in and of themselves. 

Daniel Pink received wide recognition after his book Drive became a top seller for both the education and the business world. In 2009 Pink gave a talk in England at the Ted Talk Global conference in which he discussed the idea of motivation and the way that education works today. Using scientific evidence, Pink discussed how what science knows is not related to what business does. Education is no better off, and through this lens of thinking, we can see that the way in which many teachers provide students with their work does not accomplish the goals they would like it to. Using grades as a motivator, or candy, or extra credit, simply does not allow them to work efficiently in the classroom. Telling them how to find the answer, telling them if you do this then you will get this, has become an obsolete way to teach. For my own classroom, this question of motivation has come up time and time again, and when I find myself at a loss, I turn back to this Ted Talk by Pink and reexamine my next task at hand to determine if there is a way to change my way of thinking, so that they, the students, get as much out of the activity as possible (Pink, 2009). Many times in order to reach this new learner, with this 21st century mind set, I provide students with rough parameters and tell them what I want them to get out of it. To many people, this seems like a crazy way to teach. It seems to make no sense to them because I just told my students what I want them to get out of an activity, is not the point for them to find it themselves? The answer of course is yes it is a tad crazy, and yes it is about them finding the purpose themselves, but in some ways they know themselves better than I know them and by providing them some transparency, they can guide themselves to an even deeper level of understanding than I could have ever hoped to create for them. This allows me to easily combine the many different types of curriculum I have learned throughout my time in education, and present it to students in a way that actually matters to them and meets them where they are. By giving them ownership of their learning, students are more able to find the right internal motivation in order to find success in their own curriculum.

This does not mean that students are left to fend for themselves, and that they are not helped when they need help. I maintain myself as an active member of the classroom, but students in a settling like this are even more capable to differentiate for themselves, and it is easy for me to differentiate for them. A common conversation that occurs in my classroom goes as follows:
            Student: “Mrs. McBride, I think I'm done.”
            Teacher: “Good, did you accomplish the goal?”
            Student: “Maybe?”
            Teacher: “Well then maybe you should take a look at it one more time.”
The student then goes back and renegotiates their own learning and their own assignment because they know that they rushed the process. This type of learning activity works in good, or more categorically correct, effective curriculums where the teacher knows where they are going, where they are coming from, and what they want the students to gain as they go from point A to point B. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) defines an effective curriculum as one that “increases students' understanding about the world around them and prepares them to live in the 21st century” (Seif, 2014). To do this, the ASCD feels that teachers much engage in a curriculum that broadens students’ experiences and sharpens their understanding of the world around them through literature, historical events and ideas, and scientific inquiry. When a teacher has an effective curriculum to work with though, they can access each student no matter what their short comings may be. More and more, students lack the understanding of themselves as students, and when presented with a problem, they avoid instead of approach the issue head on. So what do students get from a lesson in my classroom? Besides this new sense of ownership that some have never been provided before and transparency in their education, they understand that the problems they face are not as insurmountable as they may seem.

Some of the issues that we tackle in my ninth grade Humanities classroom are curricular, writing essays and reading both primary and secondary sources. Each of these skills is important in its own way. Learning how to write is something that we will all need to do time and time and time again. Whether it is writing an email, writing to persuade, or writing to show understanding of a topic, students have lost and need to relearn this skill of how to write in an academic setting. Reading of course is also important in the world around us. Reading primary sources, learning to pick apart secondary sources for their true meaning, learning to find the right answer in the sea of wrong answers, as is apparent on the internet, is a skill that my students learn through work throughout the year. But more than these types of skills, ninth graders also need to learn that high school can be hard, and that people are not always nice about it. I teach in a very different scenario than most people and my students come from sheltered homes and backgrounds. Rarely do I have students who cannot go home and receive support as they do their homework. Rarely do I have students who cannot get tutoring or financial help when they need it from their parents. Instead, these students, whose lives have to this point come very easily, are experiencing for the first time in their lives challenges on a daily basis and for that, I am often thanked. Students leaving my classroom learn to think for themselves, to seek out the right answer even if what is right to them is not right to their friend. They learn to be independent thinkers, and they learn to ask for help when they need it. This kind of change in a student's way of thinking can be paramount in them finding success in college and beyond. Much of my father, who is not an educator, resonates in my classroom. Life lessons that I have learned from him are something that I pass on to them, because those kind of life lessons, ones that are surrounded by the idea of grit, are lessons I have faith their parents have said one hundred times over but hearing it from someone new can make all the difference in the world. I help them find themselves just a little bit more clearly so that they can find their way through their own education in a new and meaningful way and so that they can be partners with their teachers as they learn and grow into the adults they very soon will be.

In order to meet students where they are, teachers have to first understand their own limitations. We have to understand where we are lacking, and be prepared to rely on our strengths to overcome our weaknesses. Some educators create amazingly rich curriculum, but lack the creative element to make it accessible to students who come from all walks of life. Some educators have this creativity, but lack the structure to make it sound and to provide them points along the way that make sense for themselves, and for their students. Some educators have lost touch with their students, and need to work on their own understanding of today’s youth in order to really meet them where they are. Whatever it is that we need to work on, we need to continue to change for the better in order to provide our students with the type of education that can prepare them for a new way of learning and looking at the world, so that they can solve the problems of tomorrow that that we are not even aware of yet.
Pink, D. (2009). Dan Pink: The puzzle of motivation. TedGlobal 2009. Retrieved from
Richtel, M. (2002). Technology changing how students learn, teachers say. New York Times. Retrieved from

Seif, E. (2014). Curriculum renewal: A case study. ASCD. Retrieved from

Friday, July 27, 2012


I'm always shocked at the end of summer, how it all goes by so fast. This summer more than most I know that there has been time that passed, but the fact that I'm three weeks away from school starting all over again makes me sad, and yet happy. Do I miss work? No. Do I miss structure? Yes. Do I miss my students? Absolutely. So I will smile, plaster a fake excited expression on my face, and then I will march into school as if I'm wearing bells, but what do I really want to be doing? Sitting at home, drinking coffee, and watching some of the world pass me by. Good luck to those who have gone back already, take luck for those who have yet to return, and, always, may the odds ever be in your favor ;)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Bad Trainings

I cannot, more than most things, stand bad Professional Development. So the fact that day one of my ISTE training has been so lack luster makes me irksome at best.

Either the trainers have been lame and have been un-engaging, or they have lectured about topics that were not to be discussed. Either way, here is hoping that tomorrow goes better!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Weight of the World

Two things are off of my plate. The parent meeting and prom.

The parents meeting for the trip went well, and the parents did exactly what I needed them to, which is to give me constant positive affirmation that what I am saying makes sense to them. That may sound immature or stupid, but in all honesty I didn't become a teacher to talk to parents or adults, I became a teacher to work with kids. I may be hella good at my job, but that doesn't make talking with parents any easier. When I do not get those positive head nods, I start to talk more and more, and then I don't breathe, and then I'm fifteen years old giving a presentation in Mrs. H's STUPID World History class where I couldn't breath I was so nervous. *GAH* I really do hate that part of my job.

Anyway, in addition to it all, I somehow survived my first prom, and I'm SO glad that I did. It was a beautiful event, the weather did exactly what it needed to do, and as my boss would say "Many hands makes light work" (he's from Texas if you couldn't tell). I truly enjoy working for him, for no other reason than because he is a real person.

But more than that, I enjoy working at my job because of my students. Those kids are FUNNY! Today's highlight before I sign off, was an entire discussion on Emperor's in the Roman Empire and Star Trek. To be more specific, we were deciding which emperor's wore red suits, and were therefore expendable, and which emperors wore red and gold suits. Apparently, this was a very effective way of discussing emperors.

On that note, keep fighting the good fight my fellow teachers, and may the odds ever be in your favor ;)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

THAT Skill

When in life do we learn the skill to work with another human being? Not just see someone and talk with them, but work with them. Know their movies. When in life do we get to a place where we can look out for each other? Today at work my students took the PLAN test. In general, proctoring a test is an easy assignment; read the directions, sit, monitor the time, read the directions, sit, monitor the time, rinse and repeat.

This was not my job today. My room was simply a house, a place to put these students, and the college counselor who also seems to double as a test coordinator was running this lovely exam. I have enjoyed working along side her, to the point where the fact that she is even going on my trip with me as my other female chaperon is not freaking me out. I'm not sure if its her, or a point in life you reach, but that ability to look at someone's face and read their lips, know what they need from you without uttering an actual verbal word, I wonder, when do we gain that skill?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

I Was Reminded

I was reminded last night, at our student council Coffee House event, of this poem. One of our teachers, a man of thirty plus years of teaching got up, and read this to parents, students, and administrators. At the end, the teachers stood to give this gentleman a standing ovation for reminding us why we do what we do. I thought therefore I would share this so that you too in these last few months of school can remember why you do what you do. 

What Teacher Make
By Taylor Mali

The dinner guests were sitting around the table discussing life. One man, a CEO, decided to explain the problem with education. He says the problem with teachers is, "What's a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?"
He reminds the other dinner guests that it's true what they say about teachers:
Those who can, do; those who can't, teach.

I decide to bite my tongue instead of his
and resist the temptation to remind the other dinner guests
that it's also true what they say about lawyers.
Because we're eating, after all, and this is polite company.
"I mean, you're a teacher, Taylor," he says.
"Be honest. What do you make?"
And I wish he hadn't done that
(asked me to be honest)
because, you see, I have a policy
about honesty and ass-kicking:
if you ask for it, I have to let you have it.
You want to know what I make?
I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional medal of honor
and an A- feel like a slap in the face.
How dare you waste my time with anything less than your very best.
I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall
in absolute silence. No, you may not work in groups.
No, you may not ask a question.
Why won't I let you get a drink of water?
Because you're not thirsty, you're bored, that's why.
I make parents tremble in fear when I call home:
I hope I haven't called at a bad time,
I just wanted to talk to you about something Billy said today.
Billy said, "Leave the kid alone. I still cry sometimes, don't you?"
And it was the noblest act of courage I have ever seen.
I make parents see their children for who they are
and what they can be.
You want to know what I make?
I make kids wonder,
I make them question.
I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them write, write, write.
And then I make them read.
I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely
over and over and over again until they will never misspell
either one of those words again.
I make them show all their work in math.
And hide it on their final drafts in English.
I make them understand that if you got this (brains)
then you follow this (heart) and if someone ever tries to judge you
by what you make, you give them this (the finger).
Let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true:
I make a goddamn difference! 
What about you?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Exam Week - End of 3rd Quarter

I cannot believe that its the end of 3rd quarter. The last year has flown by. In all the confusion, the chaos, and the lack of cohesion its actually just moved so quickly. My trip to Italy is finally coming together, and with that comes the pure fear that it will all far apart. So far, so good. My "i"s are dotted and my "t"s are crossed. Last things to do: Find a hotel room in Italy for the last night before boarding the plane, Find bus companies to take us around. So okay maybe its not ALL put together. And yes, I should be doing those "last few details" now but my brain is fried. I've been grading and working on my novel non stop. Having a person life has been refreshing and rejuvenating, but it has always come at a cost for the world of teaching. Its hard to have a personal life, hobbies, when still being a new teacher.

So why did I do it you may be thinking? I'm smart enough, knowledgeable enough, have in theory BEEN a first year teacher before. I did it because I know so much that that burn out was worth avoiding. When I finally reach that burn out, when I finally reach the end of my rope, I find that I have to do something OTHER than working on teaching. Not lesson planning, not grading, not goal setting, and NOT sitting around not working which is really just me stressing about work. No. Writing this novel provides the escape I need and it provides me little tiny escapes in the grand sceme of things. Because in the grand sceme of things, everything is about to change.

In the next sixty days, really everything will change. Personally I will be one more year older. Twenty-six has been a year of lots of change, lots of turmoil, lots of teachers, but professionally has been amazing. I am using my wishful thinking and the power of positive thinking to tell myself that twenty-seven will be a fantastic year both professionally AND personally. Wouldn't that be a change of pace ;)

Professionally the changes will be that my students and I will have left for, gone on, and returned from our tour of Italy. Having never traveled internationally before I couldn't be happier about this upcoming experience. We will have survived prom, we will have survived elections, we will be well into our end of the year portfolios and portfolio presentations. Year books will be signed and we will be preparing for our FIRST ever graduation. In a way, its amazing how much WILL change in the next sixty days. The scary part is, with all the guaranteed change, how much will still change that I have NO idea about!