Archive | March 26, 2012

Yoga for Teachers

Okay. It’s not exactly yoga, but I had the chance to sit in on “Teacher Presence: Skills for the New Teacher” session. I took a couple of little tricks/techniques home with me, and I think they could be helpful.

  • When talking to students and questioning, use lots of “Mmm?,” “Oh?”, “Oo?” and “Ah”‘s. Not answering questions gets students to keep talking, explain their thinking, ask more questions, and so on. This shows you are engaged and curious, but doesn’t lead them to the answer you want to hear.
  • Think about this: Whose lungs did that air just come from? Air is the one thing that really connects everyone. We all have to breath each other’s air.
  • Build a flexible space in your body: gently push your fingertips together, or gently link your fingers and pull them apart slightly. Think about all the muscles you are using while doing this. This helps to focus and relax you.
  • When gesturing toward a student, extend your arm palm up. This welcomes answers. Avoid pointing/gun position. This is more aggressive.

These are just a few of the ideas we talked about. We focused a lot on maintaining your centre and keeping yourself calm/focused. Any other tips for doing these things? They are so simple and easy, but highly effective.

Math Sucks?

I’ve heard that many students think math sucks. These students grow up. Some become lawyers, some become doctors, some become electricians, some become executives, and some become teachers. Firstly, that’s okay. Not everyone needs to like everything. My biggest concern is not that people don’t share my inexplicable love of math, but they don’t like it and believe they can’t do it. Chicken and egg conundrum — which came first? Disliking math or having trouble with math?

At WestCAST, I saw Dr. Jerome Cranston (@dr_j_cranston) present on his research about pre-service teachers entering university. All data was collected prior to the students took even one education class. A few things really stuck out for me. According to Dr. Cranston’s research, only 46% of females stated that they had average or above average math skills. That means that over half of the large data poll thought that they were below average (or worse) in their math skills. That’s kind of scary.

Similarly, only 69.3% of males participating in the survey thought they had average or above average math skills. That’s a little more promising, but the lack of confidence is still astounding.

The scariest fact that he presented was that only 47% of middle years teachers felt they had average or above average math skills. Over half did not believe that they were at least average. Yikes. Based on the Saskatchewan Curriculum, middle years is where math starts to get abstract (think algebra, variables, etc.). Confidence in math skills goes a long way to helping students learn these skills. Instilling self-trust in math is imperative.

While many teachers don’t like math and are fantastic at pretending they do, it still can come through in subtle ways. Think back to your education — if a teacher didn’t like doing something, could you tell? Did you like it even though they didn’t? Scary stuff.

So what can we do about it? We need to break the cycle. We need to build math confidence in our students. I don’t know exactly what this might look like, but somehow it needs to happen. What are your thoughts? How can we help our students like math or, at the very least, feel confident in their own math skills?

Counting on Accountability

At WestCAST, I had the opportunity to see Dr. Eugene Kowch (@ekowch) speak on the topic “You Got a Job Yet?” While the presentation wasn’t specifically on teacher accountability–rather it was about the national job market for teachers and how to best maximize the opportunities of getting hired–he made an interesting point. He said that teacher accountability should involve “mutual assessment of teaching practices with respect to outcomes.” That stood out to me big time.

I’m not a fountain of knowledge about teacher evaluation by any means, but from what I’ve learned and can see, the system the the US has isn’t working. In Canada, there seems to be less of a push for teacher evaluations. This is good, but perhaps we need to forge a new path that ensures that all teachers are pushing for excellence all the time.

We’ve all see him or her: the teacher that is just putting in time for the last five years or the teacher who pulls a binder off the shelf and teaches the same course the same way every year for twenty years, regardless of which faces they have in front of them. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes these teachers are on to something, but by-and-large, I beg to differ.

The majority of teachers aren’t like this, but the ones who are coasting and not putting in an effort to teach young people maybe need a push to get back into what they used to love to do, which is making a difference.

Dr. Kowch’s “mutual assessment” sounds like a pretty good deal for this. Just as teachers assess students, should students, the community, and coworkers have the opportunity to assess teachers. Note that I chose the term assess, just as Dr. Kowch did. I do not think that teachers should be evaluated (i.e. graded, put in a hierarchy, etc.), but I do think that getting feedback on strengths and weaknesses is valuable.

In my internship, I had all of my students fill out an assessment form regarding my teaching practices, and it was so valuable. Not every form was particularly helpful (although there were many that were), but as whole, I got a great feel for how the students felt I was doing. It held me accountable, and I am grateful for that.

Feedback is good. We love to give feedback, so why wouldn’t we want some in return?