Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Politicians and journalists have been dumping the blame for our education system’s failings on teachers. Now it’s time, apparently, to hurl accusations at parents. The news media reported last week that an Associated Press-Stanford University poll found that 68 percent of adults believe that parents are responsible for our struggling schools. I’m sure students will be the next target.

It’s easy to blame teachers, parents and students for disappointing achievement levels. But the truth is, there’s very little teachers, parent and students can do when the federal and state governments are slashing education funding, focusing on useless standardized tests, hammering out misdirected reform plans, ignoring and disrespecting teachers, and overlooking disturbing inequities.

It’s time for teachers, parents and students to join forces to Save Our Schools.

A group of concerned citizens is organizing the Save Our Schools Million Teacher March on Washington, DC, from July 28 to 30. The mission of the SOS Million Teacher March is as follows:

“To unite teachers, students and concerned citizens across the nation to create respect and support for teachers in order to do what is best for students. We would like to speak up for all of America to say that our education system is heading in the wrong direction and needs to be fixed immediately before it creates an even larger national crisis.”

SOS Million Teacher March is rapidly gathering support from teachers, parents, students, and concerned citizens nationwide. The goal of the march is as follows:

* Respectful reform that makes sense. The founders of SOS Million Teacher March agree that our nation’s schools need to be reformed, but they disagree with the current methods. They advocate reform that respects the people who are most involved in the public school system: teachers, parents and students.

* Fair funding for all schools. Schools are currently set up for success or failure depending on their location. The Race to the Top program awards grant money only to states that demonstrate a commitment to “reform” based on the federal government’s criteria. SOS Million Teacher March calls for equitable funding for all schools, regardless of their locations.

* Quality classrooms with safe environments. Some schools have abundant resources while others lack the bare essentials. Curricula are designed to address the requirements of standardized tests, rather than to ensure students are learning information, acquiring knowledge, and adopting skills. In addition, some students are afraid to walk to school, to walk home from school, and to be inside their school buildings. SOS Million Teacher March advocates supplying the resources, curricula and staff necessary to provide all students with the education they deserve and a safe environment that’s conducive to learning.

Thank you to the organizers of SOS Million Teach Million Teacher March for giving teachers, parents and students a voice in Washington.

For more information, visit SOS Million Teacher March.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Tackling Student Transitions

When your toddler smoothly transitioned from playtime to mealtime without too much fuss, you delighted in his developmental progress. Of course, the transitions your child faces will become progressively more challenging. Among the most daunting will be the ones that emerge during the school years.

According to Carol Carter, renowned expert on student success, you can play an important role as your child navigates the most difficult school transitions: elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school, and high school to college. Carter, founder and president of LifeBound, has written ten books for students in grades five to twelve, including Success in Middle School, Gifts and Talents for Teenagers, and People Smarts for Teenagers. She has also written a book for parents titled Stop Parenting, Start Coaching.

Transitioning to Middle School

Students entering middle school often “lack the personal skills to negotiate a more complex environment,” Carter told me in a recent interview. Students are leaving the comforts of their single classroom setting and facing new academic expectations and social pressures.

You can help your child meet new challenges by skipping the lectures and encouraging thoughtful decision-making.

“When kids are eleven or twelve, it doesn’t work to give directives,” Carter says. “It works to ask them questions.” For example, if your child is associating with a peer whose behavior concerns you, ask your child, "What are the pros and cons of hanging out with someone who has those kinds of qualities; what do you think the cost might be?" This approach is more effective than prohibiting the relationship, Carter says.

“When parents use questions and become more of a coach, the student not only learns choices, options, and all of the different things that are possible, but they also learn great critical thinking skills,” Carter says.

Transitioning to High School

During the high school years, students should identify and develop their interests. “Parents can coach kids around getting experiences that are meaningful,” Carter says.

To guide your child toward her interests and goals, ask questions about what she likes to do, Carter says. “If they love computer games, instead of fighting that, ask, ‘What would you do if you could work in the area of computer games? Would you be the creative person developing ideas? What kind of summer job could you get?’”

Guiding your child toward school clubs and activities related to his interests will foster his connection to his high school and allow him to thrive, Carter says. In addition, encourage your child to pursue valuable experiences outside of school, such as internships.

Another important piece of advice: avoid protecting your child from the consequences of her actions. “Don’t rescue your child from the learning that needs to take place for your child to become an adult,” Carter says. “People who have not failed at anything are going to have a hard time in college”

Transitioning to College

To prepare for the college transition, parents “need to learn to develop a long leash when their child is in high school,” Carter says. “Otherwise they are lost when they get to college.”

While relinquishing some control, encourage your child to “take risks, make their own decisions, experiment,” Carter says. “Be comfortable with your child going down blind alleys. Do it while they’re in high school, so when they get to college they’ll be self-sufficient.”

It’s a good idea to ask your child to pay for a portion of her college education, Carter says. “They have to have a stake,” she says. Even if you can afford to cover the entire cost of your child’s college education, “it’s not a good message to send. It creates dependency.”

While in college, students should pursue experiences that prospective employers will value, such as study abroad or career-related internships, Carter says.

“A lot of people approach college the way they approached high school,” Carter says. "They get caught up in the social scene because they think that’s what you’re supposed to do, and then they don’t have options when they graduate.”

To prepare for a successful job search after graduation, college students should “do an internship to gain experience, join an organization, run for office, make something specific happen. Employers can ask you about that,” Carter advises.

“American schools are very lax compared with the rest of the world. If students want to be competitive, they need to learn a different language, get out of their neighborhoods, be diverse and interesting people,” Carter says. “College is a place to pursue these things.”

For more information, visit

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Navigating the College Admissions Labyrinth

By Karen Marks

The college admissions process can be daunting for everyone involved, including teachers and parents. It is easy to feel overwhelmed—the stakes are high, so much feels unclear and it is a big responsibility to advise students about their applications.

As Associate Director of Admissions for the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, and as a former member of the admissions committee in the undergraduate admissions office at Dartmouth, I read thousands of applications per year. I have also been an alumni ambassador for Cornell University, meeting with prospective students. I have seen how the process works from the inside, and I would like to share with you a few tips that will boost your confidence and your ability to offer excellent advice.

Start Early

First of all, it is really helpful to start early. How early, exactly? Freshman year in high school. I say this not to exacerbate stress or to create an unhealthy dynamic that creates programmed, artificial kids. In my experience, it is just the opposite—having a basic understanding of how the admissions process works allows you to craft a sane extracurricular and academic strategy and actually alleviates some of the anxiety that you might feel when a student looks to you, wondering if they should drop football so that they can take six AP courses and study Mandarin, even though they really love the clarinet and would rather focus on that. Freshman year is too early, in my opinion, to worry about which schools are a fit or to start taking practice tests. Instead, at this point you should encourage the student to get involved in their community, to assume leadership roles, to develop skills in a few areas and to challenge themselves, both personally and academically. It is also a great time for parents to educate themselves about the financial aid process.

Encourage Self-Assessment

Let’s say, on the other hand, that you are reading this blog with a high school junior or senior in mind, and you are just now starting to focus on college. The first thing that I would advise you to do is to help the student undertake an honest self- assessment. Specifically, reflect upon areas where the student has excelled, as well as any components that might raise flags for an admissions committee. For example, a student who had a rough academic term at some point might need to discuss this in the application, or to really focus on getting excellent grades. A student without extracurricular involvement might need to find an area of interest and start participating.

Identify Unique Attributes

It's important to determine what the student is really good at and/or really passionate about. Understanding what makes the student unique in the marketplace is tremendously helpful – crucial, really. Helping the student to spotlight their particular talents is one of the most tangible ways that you can help. Admissions officers read so many applications, and candidates stand out when they have a good understanding of their own strengths, which they can clearly convey. It can be advantageous to highlight something special and unusual that the student brings, like extensive international volunteer work, being a woman who excels in science or math, excellence in sports, music or art, or having overcome a challenging personal history. However, being well rounded and goal oriented is also a plus—the key is to understand what we are looking for and what will stand out to the committee, both good and bad.

Keep Tests in Perspective

Finally, please help the student keep tests in perspective. Yes, some people do better on standardized tests than others, and there is undeniably a quantitative component to our evaluation. However, there is always room for students whose numeric profile does not reflect their potential. In fact, many colleges and universities can fill their classes several times over with students who have perfect records, but we choose not to – because we are looking for interesting individuals who are going to contribute to the community. Your goal should be to help the student convey who they are, what they will bring and why they will excel, even if their test scores (or grades) aren’t quite as high as they would like them to be.

Although the process can be stressful, admissions consultants can work with you, providing thoughtful, informed advice that can help your student shine. As a college admissions consultant, my goal is to be as empowering and reassuring as possible, for the entire family. Conferring with an admissions consultant can be beneficial, as we can offer an objective perspective on your student’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as helping you to strategize about what to share, where to apply and how to tell your story.

Karen Marks is the Associate Director of Admissions for the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. She leads diversity recruiting for the school. Karen holds a BA from Cornell University and a JD from George Washington University. She offers college consulting services to a limited number of clients and can be reached at

Friday, September 24, 2010

Top 10 Secrets of Successful Classroom Management

When Richard Eyster encountered Jennifer Longley at an education conference, he was delighted to learn she had entered the teaching profession. He remembered Jennifer as a bright and good-natured student in his third grade class twelve years earlier. But when they met for lunch, she opened up to him about her frustrating struggle to maintain control of her high school English class. He later found out that she left teaching to pursue a career in marketing—after only one year in the classroom.

Dismayed that generations of students would miss out on Jennifer’s ability to engender creative expression and enthusiasm for literature, Eyster set out to offer teachers practical techniques for addressing challenges, engaging students, and fostering a productive and fulfilling school year. He teamed up with fellow education expert Christine Martin to write Successful Classroom Management (Sourcebooks), a comprehensive, insightful and inspirational survival guide for teachers.

Successful Classroom Management covers everything from preparing for the school year to dealing with bullying to forging relationships with administrators. Below is a list of my ten favorite insights from the book. I had the opportunity to speak with Richard Eyster this week and gain a deeper understanding of his perceptions and strategies.

1.) Effective classroom management is based on a learnable set of skills.

New teachers, like Jennifer Longley, often buy into the myth that the ability to manage a classroom is an inherent trait. Eyster maintains that teachers can acquire the skills necessary to successfully manage a classroom.

Students are hardwired to test their teacher, but they want the teacher to pass the test, according Eyster. Successful Classroom Management offers methods for preemptively establishing order and expectations, addressing transgressions, enlisting parental support, and using the disciplinary hierarchy. Eyster’s focus on creating a positive tone and his multi-step approach to discipline are designed to avoid or resolve issues before a punishment—such as detention or suspension—is warranted.

“If the teacher has built a positive reputation for the child, and if the child senses the teacher believes in them, and then the teacher is disappointed in them, that can be jarring,” Eyster says.

2.) Establish a positive relationship with the class.

Expect that some students will test you by misbehaving. When they do, Eyster recommends isolating the tester, not yourself. It’s important to stay united with the rest of the class.

“Often unconsciously teachers will say, ‘You kids are out of control today,’ when it may be a very small number of them are actually out of control, and a significant number of them want to get work done,” Eyster says.

“It’s so easy for beginning teachers to feel it’s us against them,” he says, noting that this attitude is the leading cause of dissatisfaction among new teachers.

3.) Praise is a powerful tool.

Praise can be used to transform a student’s image, uplift the entire class, and reinforce the values you seek to promote in your classroom or school community.

When praising students, it’s important to be specific, Eyster says, and encourage behavior that’s repeatable. “If you praise a child for coming up with a great quote in an English paper, and you do it personally to them in writing at the bottom of the paper, or personally privately, or publicly in front of the class, that child is never going to turn in a paper again without being conscious of choosing a good quote,” Eyster says. “It creates a template for their own behavior moving forward.”

4.) Welcome feedback from your students.

Eliciting feedback can entail asking a simple question such as, “So how was the homework last night?” Or it can involve handing out a survey posing questions such as, “What do I do well that works for you?” and “What do I need to know about your learning style to teach you more effectively?”

Requesting feedback from students can be “invaluable for professional development,” Eyster says. He suggests distributing individual, written surveys once or twice a year, and asking verbal questions about homework and tests to the entire class on a regular basis.

5.) Create a safe learning environment.

Establish a classroom culture in which students are required to respect one another. In Successful Classroom Management, Eyster and Martin point out that a classroom is a tiny universe, adding, “Show what kind of universe you would run, given the chance. Because you have been given the chance.”

Eyster says, “A respectful, safe environment is one in which kids are listening to each other and responding to each other.” He suggests posing open-ended questions that encourage a dialog among the students.

Most important, teachers should never tolerate mocking, cruelty, impatience or disrespect directed at a classmate.

6.) Variety is the key to engaging students.

In Successful Classroom Management, Eyster and Martin offer a comprehensive list of options teachers can incorporate into their lesson plans. Examples include lectures, small group projects, role-playing, journaling, fishbowl discussions, skits, partner discussions and debates.

“Variety adds pep and energy to a class. Beyond that, it also allows different children to shine,” Eyster says. Another plus: teachers who have been teaching the same subject or grade level for years can maintain their interest by varying their lesson plans and teaching tactics.

7.) Establish the expectation that everyone must participate in class every day.

Eyster and Martin point out that speaking is a critical life skill, and it only improves with practice.

Eyster recommends informing students early on that they will be expected to participate every day. Offering positive feedback about a student’s comment can encourage future participation, particularly among shy students.

“Praise that’s given to them when they do come forward with a thought can really make a transformative difference,” he says.

8.) Assessments should look forward, not back.

The purpose of assessments should be to redirect a teacher’s energy toward the gaps in student learning that are revealed. But often teachers record a student’s grade and move on.

“Teachers have the possibility to change the way they record information in the grade book,” Eyster says. Grade book software is available that allows teachers to note specific observations about a student’s trouble spots, allowing them to address such issues going forward.

“The simplest thing to do is to require every kid on every test to correct every problem,” Eyster notes.

9.) Parents have two main expectations of teachers:

* Are you a professional?

* Do you care about my child?

To convey professionalism, stay organized. “The disorganized teacher will say they’re going to send something home Thursday and forget, or they’ll leave off a page on the homework.”

Before interacting with parents, “Make sure you do your homework and know the child,” Eyster says.

In addition, calling or writing a parent to give them positive feedback about their child demonstrates you care about their child and you’re a professional. “One of the most powerful things you can do is recognize the power of praise,” Eyster says.

10.) Indicate to parents the potential for growth in their child.

When parents defend and excuse their child’s unacceptable behavior, express a positive view of the child.

“You can change the tenor of the conversation with the parent,” Eyster says, offering the following example: “When I think of your son or daughter, I don’t think of a mean-spirited kid. I think of somebody who’s able to make people feel good about themselves.”

Indeed, teachers have the ability to positively influence a child’s personal growth. According to Eyster, “One of the most important things we can do as teachers it do develop, communicate and preserve positive reputations for our students.”

Sunday, August 29, 2010

5 Ways to Launch a New Parent-Teacher Partnership


1.) Send home a detailed welcome letter containing information about yourself, your policies, your expectations, and your curriculum. Most importantly, include your contact information.

2.) Deliver a thorough presentation at parent orientation. In addition to discussing your curriculum, tell parents about yourself, including your background, your teaching style, and your philosophy on homework and tests. Be receptive to questions and come across as approachable.

3.) Welcome parents to get in touch with you if they have any questions or concerns throughout the year.

4.) Gather valuable information through written surveys. Ask parents about their child’s strengths and weaknesses, their interests outside of school, their attitude toward school, and their study habits. Parents will appreciate the opportunity to share information about their children that will help you get to know them.

5.) Contact parents to report good news. Call each of the parents in your class to offer some positive feedback about their child. This exercise ensures your first personal connection with each parent takes place under positive circumstances.


1.) Introduce yourself at parent orientation and let the teacher know you’re looking forward to a successful school year.

2.) Give the teacher your contact information and welcome the teacher to contact you for any reason. If you don’t have a chance to meet the teacher at parent orientation, send a brief note or e-mail.

3.) Find out how the teacher prefers to communicate, whether by written note, e-mail or phone, so you can ensure a quick response to your future questions and concerns.

4.) Volunteer your time. Offer to come into the class to share information about your culture, career or interests if they are relevant to the curriculum. Offer to assist the teacher with administrative duties, project preparation or other useful tasks.

5.) Support your child. Ask your child if they studied for their test, completed their homework, or handed in their assignments. Make sure they're on track to complete long-term projects.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Tenure In Trouble

In their misguided efforts to enact school reform over the past year, government officials have routinely targeted teachers. First came the calls for merit pay, then a wave of mass teacher firings. Now tenure is under attack.

The state of Colorado is leading a national movement to tie teacher tenure to student performance. Under a new Colorado law, student performance will count for half of a teacher’s annual evaluation. Teachers need three consecutive years of positive evaluations to earn tenure. Tenured teachers who receive two poor evaluations will lose it.

Proponents of the law fail to realize that a student’s academic success depends on a variety of factors. Even the most dedicated and talented teachers will face difficulty when dealing with such obstacles as unmotivated students, uncooperative parents or unsupportive administrators.

I support tenure because it protects teachers from the many people who have the power to jeopardize a teacher’s job. Teachers are observed and evaluated regularly by students, parents, administrators and school board members. If a teacher disappoints, fails to impress, or antagonizes just one of these interested parties, his or her job could be at risk. And tenure does not guarantee job security. Although it is more difficult to discharge teachers with tenure, they can be dismissed for legitimate reasons, typically related to serious misconduct or job performance.

The recent developments in Colorado reflect the Obama administration’s push toward evaluating teachers based on student test scores. Further movement in this direction will be detrimental to students. The pressure on teachers to produce acceptable standardized test scores is forcing them to spend more time on test preparation strategies and less time on creative and intellectual activities that motivate and excite students. In addition, the focus on testing will widen the achievement gap. High-achievers will spend time on enriching activities, such as music and art, while at-risk students focus on test-taking skills.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Summer of Teacher Discontent

We’re embroiled in the summer of teacher discontent. Anthony Cody, creator of the thriving Facebook group Teachers’ Letters to Obama, made the announcement in a May 28 e-mail to group members. Cody’s e-mail followed a disappointing conference call that group representatives had with Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education. The group’s goal was to convey their profound concerns about the education system’s direction, but their efforts were thwarted by a lack of time and attention to their input.

Teachers are not the only ones who should feel discontented. Parents, taxpayers and society in general—we should all be discontented. Our education system is the foundation of our society; it produces the future leaders of our country. Teachers are the pillars of this system.

I’ve been an advocate for the public school community—which includes parents, teachers, staff and students—since my oldest child entered kindergarten seven years ago. I’ve served as PTA president, council delegate, committee chairperson, class parent and event volunteer. I’ve collaborated with teachers, encouraged parental involvement, and conducted workshops to foster parent-teacher partnerships.

By immersing myself in the public school community, I became keenly aware of the many challenges teachers face. In 2007, I decided to write a book on the topic to garner support for teachers among parents, political leaders and society. Over the next year and a half, I interviewed more than 50 teachers around the country. My book, The Teacher Chronicles: Confronting the Demands of Students, Parents, Administrators and Society contains their disconcerting stories—stories about disruptive and disrespectful students, uncooperative parents, unsupportive administrators, demanding workloads, and the politically charged public school environment.

Sadly, the situation has deteriorated in the two years since the book was released. In July 2009, the Obama Administration unveiled “Race to the Top,” a competitive grant program that requires states to repeal laws that prevent schools from evaluating teachers based on standardized test scores. A few months later, President Obama presented his education reform plan, which mirrors the NCLB’s focus on testing and encourages states to transform low-performing schools by replacing the school’s leadership and at least half of its staff. Amid an unfavorable political climate, teachers are also grappling with a tough economic environment. The economic recession constricted tax revenue, causing state education funding to evaporate, school budgets to shrink, and teachers to lose their jobs. Teachers who retained their jobs nervously await the next round of budget cuts.

The Obama administration’s misguided policies are detrimental not only to teachers, but also to students and the vitality of the public school system. Here’s why:

* Standardized tests do not adequately measure a student’s knowledge, skills or understanding.

* The pressure on teachers to produce acceptable standardized test scores is forcing them to spend more time on test preparation strategies and less time on creative and intellectual activities.

* Innovative lessons motivate students and spark excitement about learning. Dull, uninspired, scripted lessons, and repetitive test preparation, turn students off of school.

* A variety of factors influence student performance; teachers cannot be held solely accountable.

* Replacing teachers will not solve a struggling school’s underlying problems.

* The focus on testing will widen the achievement gap. High-achievers will spend time on enriching activities, such as music and art, while at-risk students focus on test-taking skills.

* A student who is not a skilled test-taker may be a gifted writer, a talented artist, or a budding musician. Due to the focus on standardized tests, their abilities may be overlooked and their self-esteem damaged.

* Education grants should not be based on a political contest like “Race to the Top.” All schools should have access to adequate resources so all children receive a high-quality education. Students shouldn’t be penalized because their state governments drafted proposals that the federal Dept. of Education deemed unworthy.

* The “Race to the Top” program attempts to force business practices on schools. Children are not products; they’re people.

* Although teachers have the greatest insight into the classroom environment and the learning process, they’re being excluded from the discussion on education reform.

Whether you’re a parent, a teacher or a concerned citizen, I urge you to show your support for our public education system and our nation’s children by joining Teachers’ Letters to Obama on Facebook and expressing your discontent.

Monday, May 31, 2010

5 Tips for Working With Parents of Children With Special Needs

1. Meet with parents at the beginning of the school year.

Parents are a valuable resource. They can let you know what issues may come up and how you can handle them.

2. Make parents feel part of the team.

Parents know their child best. Convey to them at the beginning of the year that you value their input and you want them to be involved.

3. Maintain open communication (both ways).

If an issue arises, let the parents know as soon as possible so they can help you address it. Be receptive to communication from parents. For example, welcome parents to let you know if a situation at home may affect the child’s behavior or performance in school.

4. Be understanding

Parents don’t intend to be difficult. They may just be anxious. Approach them with sensitivity and understanding.

5. Get to know their child

When a child exhibits certain behaviors, he’s trying to tell you something. Try to learn what his behavior means so you can help him deal with the issue.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Parents Are Frustrated Too

I’ve spent a lot of time talking to teachers about the difficulties they face working with parents. I devoted a chapter in my book to the topic. But as a parent, I also interact with a lot of other parents. And I know they’re frustrated by teachers sometimes too.

I wrote an article for this month about the parent’s perspective. I asked parents about the challenges they’ve faced working with teachers, and what teachers can do to improve the parent-teacher relationship.

What are the challenges parents face?

* A mom in California said her daughter’s pre-k teachers’ rigid reading techniques were hampering her daughter’s progress rather than facilitating it. But the teachers insisted that her daughter adhere to their formulas, even though they were counterproductive.

* A dad in Baltimore said his seventh grade son was struggling in math because he was overwhelmed by the workload. When he first approached the teacher about the issue, the teacher was resistant and asserted the student was not paying attention. (After several conversations, the teacher adjusted his expectations and the student began to thrive.)

* A mom in Los Angeles said her son’s first grade teacher told him (in front of her) “Math just isn’t your thing.” He was apathetic toward math for the rest of the year, saying, “Math just isn’t my thing.”

* A dad in Virginia said shortly after his son entered middle school a teacher called to set up a meeting about the boy’s schedule. But when his wife arrived at the school, she soon realized the purpose of the meeting was to alter their son’s individual education plan. The teacher lectured her about her son’s poor behavior and academic performance.

What do parents wish teachers would do?

* Consider the Parent’s Input.

Teachers are experts in the field of education, but parents often have inside information about their child’s learning style, study habits and attitude that could be valuable to the teacher.

* Be Flexible.

While a teacher may have honed an effective learning strategy that clicks with most students, it may not work for everybody. If a student in not responding successfully to a particular teaching method, it may be time to try an alternate approach.

* Choose Your Words Carefully When Communicating With Students

Children are impressionable. Even an offhanded comment can have a major impact on a child.

* Choose Your Words Carefully When Communicating With Parents

When it comes to their children, parents are emotional. Approaching parents with sensitivity and understanding will allow the teacher to avoid a defensive reaction.

* Show Parents You’re On Their Side.

Teachers can prevent confrontations by proactively communicating with parents and demonstrating their concern for their students, says Dr. Jim Taylor, P.h.D., a parenting expert and author. “Show parents you’re both on the same team,” Taylor says.

Teachers can accomplish this goal by keeping parents informed about their child’s progress through brief monthly or biweekly reports, which can be e-mailed, Taylor says.

“This shows that the teacher knows and cares about the child,” he says. “It makes parents feel more in control, more in the loop, and they will have less anxiety, less fear,” Taylor says. “Fewer emotions means fewer problems.”

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I’m Confused

Here are the teacher-related news stories from around our great nation that the diligent folks at Google e-mailed me today:

* “Rockford School District to Lay Off All Nontenured Teachers” (Rockford Register Star)

* “Senate Bill 6: Unfair to Teachers” (The Ledger)

* “Teacher Tells Students to Punch Classmate in Face” (

* “California’s Quality Blind Layoffs Law Harms Teachers and Students” (Los Angeles Times)

* “Teachers Ask About Their Job Futures” (Tulsa World)

* “Indian Prairie School Board Eliminates 145 Teacher Jobs” (Chicago Tribune)

* “NJ Gov. Chris Christie Calls for Teachers, School Workers to Accept Wage Freeze to Prevent Layoffs” (The Star-Ledger)

* “Daley Spars With Teachers Union” (MyFox Chicago)

* “Edwardsville School District Lays Off 60, Including 25 Teachers” (Belleville News Democrat)

* “School Reform Has U.S. Grant High School Teachers On Edge” (

What do all of these stories tell us? With words like “layoffs,” “harms,” “on edge,” and “punch,” it’s pretty clear that for teachers, the news is bad.

So why am I confused?

1. Why is all the news bad? Surely there is some good news about some teacher somewhere. I’ve met and spoken with many teachers and parents, so I’m certain of this fact. But the media seems to focus on stories about teachers behaving badly or getting the boot.

2. Why doesn’t our society respect teachers anymore? When I was in school, parents and students respected teachers for the contribution they make to society and the impact they have on our lives. Now, they’re publicly disparaged, not only by the media, but also by the federal government. Chastising teachers is now public policy. To receive federal “turnaround grants,” school districts must fire at least half the staff at low-performing schools or close them. President Obama came out in support of the very public firing of the entire faculty at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island.

If you want to know the general attitude toward teachers, ask finance expert Suze Orman. In my blog entry on May 28, 2009, I expressed my discontent that Ms. Orman told The New York Times Magazine she feels teachers are not empowered and have no self-worth. She couldn’t be more wrong. Teachers have a profound impact on the lives and futures of children across America—a powerful position and a fulfilling experience.

The groups that protect and support teachers from all of this backlash—teachers unions—are vilified by the media, school districts and the government.

3. Why can’t parents and teachers get along? When their child is performing poorly or behaving badly, who do parents usually blame? The teacher. A few of them may have good reasons. But in many cases, if the parent would make an effort to express their concerns to the teacher in a constructive way, listen to the teacher’s point of view, and work together with the teacher to address the issue, they would be making a big contribution to their child’s academic progress and personal growth (see my August 12, 2009 blog post, “Building a Successful Partnership With Your Child’s Teacher”).

As with most relationships, the disconnect between parent and teacher is often the fault of both parties. Teachers are frustrated by some parents. But if they would reach out to the parent in a positive way, they could accomplish a lot together (see my August 19, 2009 blog post, “Building Successful Partnerships With Parents”).

Many parents and teachers have cooperative, successful relationships that greatly benefit the student. But many don’t. Parents and teachers share the same goal: the academic success of the child. They would have a greater chance of realizing this goal if they worked together as partners.

Despite all of this bad news, dedicated, talented teachers across the country are inspiring, supporting, guiding and mentoring children in their classrooms. They’re pushing aside all of the negativity that’s swirling around them and doing their jobs. It’s not because they make a lot of money—they don’t. It’s certainly not for the praise and gratitude. And if you think it’s because they get summers off and work until 3 o’clock, you’re buying into some big misconceptions about the teaching profession. Most of them do it because they want to make a difference. And for that, I admire them, and I’m grateful to them.

But if the attitude toward teachers continues to deteriorate, how many gifted, motivated, altruistic college students are going to pursue a teaching career? Our education system is the foundation of our society. I don’t think it’ll function too well without any teachers.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Blame Game

Since when do we target a group of people and hold them solely accountable for society’s problems?

In an effort to improve the performance of Central Falls High School in Rhode Island, the school board on Tuesday approved a plan to fire the entire faculty and staff.

Other school districts around the country have also attempted to fix failing schools by cleaning house. The Chicago Board of Education voted Wednesday to close or turn around eight schools, which means about 300 teachers will lose their jobs, according to Chicago Public Radio. School board members in Houston voted a couple of weeks ago to fire teachers whose students consistently fail to improve on standardized tests, according to ABC News.

Standardized test scores are often used to gauge a teacher’s efficacy. But standardized tests do not adequately measure a student’s knowledge, skills or understanding. And the pressure on teachers to produce acceptable standardized test scores is forcing them to spend more time on test preparation strategies and less time on creative and intellectual activities.

I interviewed more than fifty teachers for my book, The Teacher Chronicles: Confronting the Demands of Students, Parents, Administrators and Society. I was alarmed by the many obstacles society hurls at teachers. And then we blame them when things go wrong.

But there’s plenty of blame to go around. Parents need to be involved partners, rather than adversaries, if they want their children to succeed. Administrators and school boards need to give teachers more support and freedom, rather than issuing paralyzing threats. Taxpayers need to be willing to compensate teachers for the vital service they provide.

Above all, the federal government must ensure that all schools have adequate funding so teachers can do their jobs effectively. It’s unacceptable that students in low-income areas are deprived of the resources, supplies and experiences that students in affluent areas enjoy.

The real losers in the blame game are not the teachers; it’s the students. The teachers at Central Falls High School provided more than an education—they offered stability and support to children in a community rife with poverty and unemployment. “My teachers, they’re there for me. They push me forward,” a 17-year-old senior told The New York Times yesterday.

Yes, some teachers are incompetent. Every profession has its share of incompetence. If a teacher is not capable of fulfilling the job’s requirements, he or she should be replaced. Teachers want ineffective colleagues to be dismissed. But blaming all teachers—as a group—is wrong.

Are Chicago, Houston and Central Falls harbingers of what’s to come? President Obama said in a speech in November that states have to be willing to turn low-performing schools around by replacing a school’s leadership and at least half its staff.

And how far will society’s campaign against teachers go? Parents in Detroit recently demanded teachers serve jail time because students received poor scores on a standardized math test. I hope parents, administrators, school boards, government officials and taxpayers stand up and assume their share of the responsibility for our education system’s failings before things get worse.