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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Still Ripping Educators Off

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I started (this current round of...) getting upset about this (continuing) problem of educators being ripped off for supplies, a couple of weeks ago. I was talking about it with a fellow educator and he reminded me of a time when a teacher went to the vendor floor at a conference. She commented on how expensive this one item was and the vendor said, "Why are you upset? The school district pays for it anyways."

Those outside of the teaching profession assume that we get such a great deal and "the district just pays for things." Even if that WAS true, and it's not, I'm a tax payer in a school district and therefore I help put together the funds that are to be spent. I don't need my school district being ripped off when they are using my money!

So then, today, I wanted to price 4 inch to 6 inch balls that I want to use in a project down the road. I figured I'd start by looking at foam balls and that they would be the cheapest. Within minutes I had been to several sights, including Oriental Trading Co (a teacher go-to site) and Amazon.com.  I found what I was looking for in the 50 to 75 cents a ball range and was doing some mental calculations that I would need 50 to 75 dollars to get the 100 balls that I wanted.

Then I went to Discount School Supply. Doesn't that sound like some company trying to help us teachers out? Well, not so fast. These guys wanted $2 a piece for the balls. That is more than double the price - for foam-stinkin-balls! I would be more upset but I have seen this since my days in the military. "Oh, is that being purchased for a government entity? We'll mark it up 100%"

When you see the statistics about the amount of money a teacher spends out of their own pocket on school supplies each year (probably averaging in the $500 to $1000 a year for me) it really galls me that these places would charge double (and often 3 or 4 times) for something that could be purchased somewhere else. No wonder crowd funding sites are so popular with teachers (such as Donor's Choose).

I'm going to get balls for my project. I'll spend 50 to 100 dollars from the look of it. But I won't be spending any money at any of the "discount educator" sites. They can wait for the purchase order that I'm not filling out because I'm using my own money and NOT my school's money.  Grrrr...

You may return to your regularly scheduled lives.....(and I'm pretty happy that I kept my maturity with this post and didn't say anything like, "I got my balls in an uproar!" - That would have been wrong.)

Things That Piqued My Interest This Week (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Don't Make Me Call

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I hate phones. There. I've said it. I'm not sure when it started. But probably when I was very young.

You see, in our family, everyone had to be part of a phone conversation. I think it came from my father's generation when it was unique to get a call from someone and therefore everyone spoke to whomever was on the other line.

"Hey, it's Aunt Pauline, come here and talk to your Aunt Pauline!" Or, even worse, "...Oh, Chris is here. (then to me...) This is your Uncle Bob. Talk with him (as the phone was handed to me.)"

It didn't matter if I was in the middle of something. It didn't matter if I needed to run to the bathroom. It just didn't matter. You dropped everything and you picked up the phone, turned on your most pleasant and polite voice, and started talking.

Once I was on my own, in college, I didn't talk on the phone much. I would make my obligatory Sunday call to my parents. And, occasionally, I would call one of my high school buddies. But I was a 16 hour drive away from my home and I would, periodically, get a bit homesick and I would want to hear a friendly voice.

When I was in the Navy I really had no reason to call anyone except my parents (which fell below the weekly level by then). And so I just didn't talk much on the phone. And by the time I was dating my (now) wife, I was either in the same town or we were out to sea. We couldn't talk when we were at sea (unlike these days with cellular coverage).

As a teacher I always failed at calling students. I would procrastinate until it was a moot point or we had a face to face conference. The best thing about leaving the classroom to become an instructional coach - no more expected parent phone calls.

I also had the advantage of living in Japan and the Netherlands for a few years each. I could use the excuse that there wasn't a convenient time because of the difference in time zones. I rarely had to call anyone. It was nice.

Inconvenience became my go to excuse. "Oh, I can't call now it's dinner time there." "I'd call now but they are probably getting ready for bed." "I can't call this early they're probably getting ready to head out and they don't need to be interrupted by a phone call." So, I didn't call - for months.

18 months ago I lost my brother to cancer. I vowed to call my sister-in-law on a regular basis. When I called her I told her I'd call her more regularly. I vowed I'd call my two sister's more. When I did call them I told them I'd call them more regularly. But I haven't changed my ways.

I wake up and say, "I should call _____________(fill in the blank with any of a dozen relatives). I'll make sure I give them a call today." After breakfast I say, "They're probably out doing something or they are in the middle of something I don't want to interrupt what they are doing." By early evening I've conveniently forgotten that I wanted to call and I say, "I can't call now it's too late (on the East Coast)" -or- "They're getting ready to eat (on the West Coast)."

And now it's at the embarrassing stage. I haven't called for months. The thought of interrupting the person at the other end just stops me in my tracks. I look at the phone. I might even pick it up but I'll come up with an excuse not to call "this time. I'll call later"

So, to all of my friends and relatives who haven't heard from me in a while. I'm alive. I think about you (really! I do!) regularly. I've tried sending emails instead but that hasn't resulted in much two way communication with anyone. No one uses email any more. But, in my mind, the beauty of email is that it can be opened at a convenient time. I do not want anyone picking up the phone feeling obligated to talk to me. I want to be talk to people when the time is perfect. And that never seems to happen.

I need to call. I should call. I really ought to call. But I probably won't call - today. But maybe tomorrow. Tomorrow I'll find the perfect time to call. Yeah, I'll call then.

Friday, October 9, 2015

You See, It Takes Time

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We are seeing a real dichotomy in education these days. Thanks to social media we are exposed to teachers, at all levels, doing wonderful things with their students. We're seeing students doing incredible things that they have chosen to do - not because they are completing an assignment that they have to do.  

We are seeing images of happy and excited people from gatherings of educators at edcamps, conferences, and webinars. And we're also seeing students in these images. Students - outside of the normal school day!

Then there is the reality of schools being labeled as "low performing." And students dropping out of school because they perceive life will be better with their gang family or, sadly, because they need to provide for their family. The images we see are of unhappy and, often, angry students. 

Between the two extremes lies the average school in the average district. And, at the average school, teachers are pressured to meet certain test requirements. To meet these requirements they must follow a strict curriculum with every day mapped out for them. They don't dare deviate from the course. The strict curriculum is designed by "experts" who know that teaching a certain topic in a certain way will guarantee the average student will succeed. And by succeed they mean pass the state test. 

But there are INCREDIBLE things going on all over the world. Students are going deeper in their learning. Student attendance rates are improving. Students are, (gasp), having fun and are enjoying learning. If students are attending classes and having fun in school then maybe, perhaps, their scores on state tests might just be improving! What a crazy concept!

Schools are having success. But there is this little statement that stakeholders in schools hate to hear - it takes time.  We saw it at Manor New Technology HS. My first year our scores in math were not good. There was hope that I, the "Old Math Teacher," could suddenly make things better. But what was lost on all of us was the fact that we were doing things differently. Our students had to learn how to learn and our teachers had to learn how to help students learn in this world of project based learning (PBL).  The superintendent and principal bought into the idea of "Trust the Process" and the teachers had incredible support and autonomy. We could try new things, and fail, without a huge to do about it.  And the school's scores started improving. 

All it took was time and the willingness of stakeholders to allow things to not go well so that we could figure out how to do it right. States and school districts have got to be willing to take risks and try new things with their students. Even though things might not immediately improve.  Are you willing to try something that excites students? Are you willing to try something that increases attendance rates? Are you willing to try something that keeps students from choosing life without school? Are you willing to give it 3 to 5 years? Are you willing to see test scores, possibly, stagnate or even go down? All we ask is for you to Trust the Process. Because, you see, it takes time.