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This is a continuation of the post 5 Questions in Education That Need Solutions
What are the 3 most important things students should have to be able to do before they get into high school?
There has always been a Rule of 3 (read blog post Skills you need to teach your students) and as educators we need to find the three most important things we feel students really need and concentrate on refining those skills. I’m sure math teachers will say math skills and English teachers will say reading and writing skills, but what do the students truly need in order to be successful in high school. Please give some in depth detailed comments below on what you feel are the 3 most important things students should know before they get to high school.
Why does our grading system have letters?
This is a question I have constantly asked about and the only response I have gotten is “I don’t know.” I think it is a question that deserves a discussion. My argument has always been to get rid of the letters (A, B, C, D, and F) and go strictly by numbers. Every nationwide standardized test including the ACT and SAT gives you numbers to represent your score so why do we use letters. If a parent looks at a report card and their child has a C in a class most parents would feel that their child is doing fine in that class. The reality could be that there are making a 76 and are 6 points away from failing the class. I know some response to this question will mention GPA and I know it is a farfetched idea but I am anxious to hear your comments.
Why are there people in charge of education that have never been in a classroom?
This is a question for all the levels of education from local principals and superintendents to state and national leaders of education. It is a question that always comes up when the local, state, or national leadership makes a “what are you thinking” decision that makes no sense and ends up being a waste of time and money. I’m sure there is a reasonable explanation for why there are often non-education people in charge of education so please explain to me in the comments section below.
Should students be able to redo tests that they have done poor on?
All the schools in the district I teach, as far as I know, have made it mandatory to allow any student to redo a test if they fail. Some teachers have said that they are required to allow students to redo a test until they pass it. Since implementing the school wide redo policy you can see positives and negatives of each side of the argument. One side argues that it holds them accountable and reduces failure and dropout rates. The other side argues that it negatively affects learning and doesn’t hold them accountable. Please share your side of the issue and any other solutions to this question.
What is more important life skills or educational skills?
I would expect every teacher to say that both are important, but which one is more important. One belief is that if we teach them educational skills then the life skills of hard work and dedication will have to be developed. Another belief is that the life skills need to come first in order for students to acquire educational skills. It’s a chicken vs egg question. There are many questions within the question. First, does it matter the type of student and their goals after high school? Secondly, does the student’s background determine which skill is more important? Also, do the importance of skills change from class to class? For example, is educational skills more important in the core classes and life skills more important in elective classes? Leave a comment below, but don’t be political in your answers. No playing both sides of the aisle. Give a strong argument for which skill you feel is more important.
This is going to sound like a big whine session, but I want to offer questions that are often talked about among teachers and see what comments you have to offer. Be sure to post solutions not just complaints.
How do students get to high school and don’t know their multiplication tables?
Being a high school math teacher I see this all the time and it is very frustrating and discouraging. I have no doubt that at some point in their academic career students have been taught their multiplication tables but at what point did they lose that skill. It is a vital skill for them to have in order to be successful in math, but also after school. A lot of jobs require potential employees to pass a test that doesn’t allow them to use a calculator. The problem isn’t just the “lower” students, it is a problem with every level of students. I gave my homeroom a 3rd grade math test and didn’t allow them to use the calculator. It was a test that most of them should have at least passed. I only had 2 out of 4 Pre-Calculus/Calculus students make a 100. The test was difficult for a 3rd grader but it shouldn’t be for high school seniors that are about to enter the “real world”. I’m curious to hear your responses to this question.
Why are there 8th grade students that can’t read at a 4th grade level?
I know that reading has been a major emphasis in the elementary school with the implementation of AR testing and other programs that try to get students to read more. It may be helping, but we still have students that are reading three and four grade levels below what they should be. The reading problem still exists and if a child can’t read at an appropriate level then they can’t succeed at any level of school or at any subject in school. Every class is dependent on the ability to read. If you have answers, advice, or ideas to solve this problem please comment below.
Why have parents changed?
I know one answer to the question is going to be the increase in single parent homes. I do believe it is an issue, but it can’t be that simple. There has always been single parent homes, but the issues that teachers are having with parents haven’t. It seems that if a student gets in trouble, too often it’s more the teachers fault than it is the child’s. Teachers were once considered an extension of the parents. They were relied on as someone that disciplined their students and held them to a high standard with their behavior and their academics. Things seem to have changed over the years. Any comments or suggestions on this issue would be welcomed in the comment section.
Where did the study skills go?
The academic struggles that students have today are the same struggles that students have always had but it seems to be more prevalent nowadays. If you advise a student to go study for a test I’m not convinced they know how. Although I am an advocate for a study skills class, it shouldn’t take a study skills class in order to prepare for a test or get help with homework. We are living in a time where we can get all the information we need by clicking a button. Is the problem a “can’t” problem or a “won’t” problem? I’m really interested to read your comments on this subject.
How can a student graduate high school without the ability to tell time, write a check, sign their name, make change from money, or fill out a resume?
The advancement of technology has been great for educating students, but it has also caused some skills to regress over the years. For example, with the ability to type research papers and other assignments student’s penmanship has made a drastic decline. I know the digital clocks have decreased the need to tell time and the use of credit cards have limited the use of checks, but isn’t it a skill they still need to know. There are still going to be times where people are going to have to sign a paper and their printed name doesn’t need to be there signature too. Our education system has done a lot of “what are you thinking” things and one of them was taking cursive writing out of schools. It may be because I am a math teacher, but the most disappointing skill that too many students don’t have is the ability to make change from money. It doesn’t matter if you are an employee or a consumer you need to be able to count change. It is very frustrating to see a cashier not give you the correct change. I realize it can happen to anybody at some point, but it does seem it happens too often. Any solutions to solve this problem would be welcomed below.
I hope these questions don’t come off as blaming teachers for all of our problems and I don’t want the comment section below being a blame section. I realize that a lot of our problems as educators is out of our control whether it be home life, time constraints due to standardized testing, or other aspects of the local and state requirements that we are asked to do, but we need to come together and come up with solutions to the questions we all have.
In this day of teaching, there is so much pressure on teachers to get their students ready for “the test” that we often forget the essential skills that our students really need. The reality is that most of the subject specific content that we teach our students will be lost within the first five years of them graduating high school. There are far more vital and valuable skills that we need to be teaching our students than the subject specific skills that we feel are so important. The following is a list of valuable life skills that we, as teachers, need to be teaching our students.
Listening is the most important skill we can teach our students. It is a skill that everyone is capable of developing. Communication requires two things. A message has to be sent and the message also has to be received. If students don’t listen then the message will not be received. There is a saying that “the only requirement for listening is to be present” and if the students are present then they can learn to listen. The first thing the students need to understand is there is a big difference between hearing and listening. Students often hear your voice, but aren’t listening to what you are saying. Developing listening skills will enhance the student’s learning and will be vital in developing the other skills they need to be successful. Everyone knows the importance of listening but the question is how you teach listening. One thing to emphasis to students is the importance to have eye contact with whoever is speaking. Your ears are were your eyes are and there is a reason God gave you two ears and one mouth. You need to listen twice as much as you talk. Also, asking questions to non-volunteer students will keep students’ attention and will test whether they are listening or hearing. If the students don’t have the skill of listening, they will not be able to learn other skills. For strategies for developing listening skills visit 5 Strategies for Teaching Listening Skills and Whole Body Listening Skills
Listening and following directions are often two skills that are combined. Part of following directions is having the skill to comprehend and remember the directions that are given. I have read about the Rule of 3 and I try to implement it in my class as well as with my own children at home. The Rule of 3 says that people can only process 3 directions at a time. For example, tell your students to “get a pencil, piece of paper, and open your book to page 17”. In teaching math you would say “identify the question, set up the problem, and solve it”. Coaches often use the Rule of 3, especially with young players. When teaching a player to shoot a basketball you first teach them “eyes on the rim, toes to the rim, and ball placement”. After they learn that, you advance to three more things such as “elbow in, hand behind the ball, and follow through”. For more information of the Rule of 3 visit Using the Rule of 3
If you look at the top skills that employers want out of their employees, reliable and responsible are always toward the top. Teaching a student to be reliable can be very difficult to do, but there are some things that you can emphasis that may help you. First, hold your students accountable to deadlines. For example, if the bell rings and a student is late to class you need to count them tardy and follow your schools policy on tardiness. Also, if you have a set day when an assignment is due hold the students to that date. If they turn in late work then there must be a penalty in missing the deadline, just as there is a penalty for missing an assignment date when they get a job. If you can help them become a more reliable person then you will enhance their chance of getting and maintaining a job.
Be willing to learn
The biggest aspect of trying to develop the willingness to learn in students is to help them realize they don’t know near what they think they know. It is a desire that most students have in elementary school, but it tends to fade as students progress through school. We need to identify when that desire fades and try to address the problem before it becomes a habit. Students need to know their weaknesses as a student and try to improve on those weaknesses. In other words, they don’t know what they don’t know so you need to help them understand how to have a desire to be a continual learner. It’s a delicate line but teachers need to encourage students to push themselves to keep learning and never be content. The day that they don’t have the desire to get better is the day they stop learning. Most jobs that don’t require a degree will teach you the skills you will need, but you have to have the willingness to learn those skills.
The top desired skill of a vast majority of employers is the ability to solve problems. A student that can “think outside the box” and solve problems with critical thinking is more efficient and more valuable than someone that isn’t. It speaks to the idea that it is better to have “street smarts” than “book smarts”. The biggest obstacle for teachers is teaching the students to think instead of just regurgitating information. Teaching problem solving in math is part of the curriculum, but it can be challenging in other subjects. One technique to improve problem solving skills is to encourage alternative ideas on how to solve questions. Often times the best problem solvers are the stubborn people. It’s difficult for a teacher or parent not to say “because I said so”, but when we say that it tends to hinder students’ critical thinking skills that are vital to their growth as a student and a person. Let them share their ideas even if you feel it is wrong. It may lead to ideas from other students and you may learn something as well. For more ways to teach problem solving skills to your students visit the following links.
Work in groups
Ability grouping is one of the most effective and efficient way of improving individual student academic achievement, but it also serves as an important way to teach communication skills. The debate comes with how to group by ability. Is it better to group lower students with upper students or group them as lower students and upper students? I would argue that both techniques need to be used. Every student needs to be able to work and communicate with a variety of personalities and groups of people. Every profession requires the ability to work with a group of people in order to accomplish certain goals whether it be in a factory, business, or another work place. The employee that can work better in groups are the ones that tend to get promoted quicker. In this age of ever evolving technology the ability to communicate has steadily declined. Therefore, helping your students develop their communication skills will help them work more efficiently in groups and become more valuable in the work place.
Definition of success
There is a huge misconception with students about the definition of success. First, students feel that success is directly related to grades. While I would agree that students that have earned high grades usually have the abilities to be successful, it is not the sole factor in whether a person is successful. Secondly, students feel that success is tied to how much money you make and your possessions. I believe every teacher would agree that money doesn’t equal success. The problem is convincing your students that money doesn’t equal success and finding ways to teach them how to be successful. Success is accomplishing the goals that you have set for yourself. If you can teach your students to set challenging, but realistic goals and how to reach those goals they will become successful. To learn how successful people define success follow the following link.
The Golden Rule – Treat others the way you want to be treated
The Golden Rule should be the first thing we try to teach our children and our students. It is the foundation of how to teach a child proper behavior. Teaching someone how to be a good person is often times more important than teaching them how to be a good student. If students understand how to treat others it will help them communicate more effectively, become patient, and be more respectful and thoughtful of other people’s opinions and ideas. Teaching the Golden Rule can be challenging, but one way to encourage any rule is to acknowledge it when someone displays it correctly. If a student is not displaying a desired behavior it may be best to talk to that student to help them understand why what they did was wrong. Treating others with kindness and being considerate of their thoughts and feelings will be very helpful to students in every aspect of their lives.
How to be a leader
I feel coaches often make a mistake in trying to find the leader of their team. We should be trying to teach everybody how to be a leader. As a coach, I don’t want to depend on one person to lead, I would want to have multiple people that I can count on as being leaders. A majority of students are eventual going to be parents so they are all going to be put in a leadership position. We, as teachers, need to explain and model to our students the characteristics of an effective leader. Effective leaders are masters at communicating and are able to motivate others in order to accomplish a common goal. Teachers can teach these skills through designating a leader when they do group work. The leader is responsible for communicating the assignment to the other group members and keep everyone focused on the task. There are different effective ways to lead, but the end result is always a reflection of the leader. Make a rubric that highlights the leadership qualities that you, as the teacher, want to emphasize and give the leader immediate feedback on how they did. The following is a link to an example of a grading rubric to evaluate leadership skills.
If we are to teach our students these skills it is essential that we model these skills. If we model the inability to listen to our students, we are constantly late to class, unorganized, or unable to follow directions our students will not have an example to go by. We are visual people and students need to see a visual representation of these skills in use and teachers are one of the role models students are looking at. We have been told in education that more is learned through observations and hands-on experiences than verbal explanation. The same applies when teaching these skills.
Teachers are the most vital part of our society. Before any successful person became successful they had a teacher that helped them along the way. There are numerous stories of how successful people attribute a former school teacher with helping them realize their abilities and then help them achieve their goals. Former President of the United States Bill Clinton recognizes his high school band director for taking a vested interested in him in and out of school to help him grow as an individual. Oprah Winfrey recalls her fourth grade teacher helping her believe in herself and getting her to enjoy learning. Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, (although he did dropout of Harvard) acknowledges that he wouldn’t be where he is today without his former math and drama teachers. Even the success stories of small business owners have a teacher that either helped them along the way or taught them the skills they needed to be successful.
Teachers can impact generations of people and effect communities around the world in a variety of ways. So many students are looking for someone to tell them that they are important and that someone believes in them. That is the part where teachers fill the gap. In most cases, when a child gets to school age, teachers see the children more than the parents do. That means teachers have a great responsibility and a great opportunity to make a positive influence in children’s lives. As a group, teachers have the opportunity to change the cycle of a family. For example, there are many examples of children that are stuck in generational poverty and looking for a way to get out. That is a tremendous opportunity for a teacher to make a difference in a child’s life and help them change the cycle of poverty in their family. As a result, that child will continue the cycle with their children and the whole generation of a family has changed a cycle of poverty into a cycle of stability. The same can happen to families with cycles of alcoholism, child abuse, divorce, teenage pregnancy, and other generational issues. If teachers help enough students change the negative cycles in their families, they can help change the negative cycles in a community.
No other profession offers the opportunity to interact with the future work force every day and help mold them into productive and responsible employees. Teachers have the power to enhance a community’s work force and as a result attract more jobs to the community. In other words, teachers have a significant role in the employment rate in their communities. If schools produce quality workers then more businesses will move to the area which will result in more job opportunities. There are not many jobs were people are given the opportunity to make such a big difference in lives of people in their community. Most students have teachers in their lives for over 12 consecutive years, so while parents have a vital role in their children’s lives, those children’s teachers become difference makers in each of their lives.
I don’t want to come off as a “better than you are” teacher. I know those type of teachers and I really try not to be one. I just came up with a short list of things that I have learned and been told about teaching that I feel can be helpful to all teachers. Please read these lists and offer more dos and don’ts at the bottom of the page.
Dos of Teaching
- Remember that you are there for the students
- Keep learning how to be a more effective teacher
- Be prepared for each day
- Be open to new ideas
- Understand that students have changed over the last 10 years
- Communicate with parents regularly
- Believe everyone can learn
- Treat students with respect even if they don’t treat you with respect
- Understand that every student doesn’t learn the same way or at the same pace
- Let them see that you care
- Understand that you have a choice on how you approach each day
- Get to know your students
- Do the best you can
Don’ts of Teaching
- Blame the students for everything
- Blame yourself for everything
- Say “When I was in school …”
- Be stubborn to change or advice
- Give up on a student even if it looks like they don’t care
- Complain without solutions
- Forget why you teach
- Let the students affect how you act
- Talk down to students (nothing good comes from it)
- Stress over standardized tests (easy to say but hard to do)
- Try to be the “cool” teacher (you have to be yourself)
- Treat all the students the same (before you disagree give me time to explain)
- I learned from coaching that you coach every player, but you can’t treat every player the same. You should expect more out of your better players. In the classroom, you should teach every student, but expect more out of your better students.
As I was typing my last post, I realized that us old(er) teachers also need some tips. Too often we get stuck in our old ways of teaching and some of the old ways just don’t work anymore. Students nowadays learn differently than students 10 years ago. The following is a list of 10 tips for us old(er) teachers:
1.) Smarter person doesn’t mean better teacher
Over the years I have heard sports analysts say that their is a misconception that if you are a great player then you will be a good coach. Often times that misconception is true. If you look at any major college or professional sports team it’s the average players that make the best coaches. I feel the same applies to the teaching profession. I have known a lot of smart people that are just not good teachers. Their content knowledge is superior, but they are unable to relate the content to the students they are teaching. We, as teachers, have to realize that most students don’t love our subject as much as we do. Also, if my students’ case, they have 6 more classes that they have to go to and the teacher is expecting the same thing. Most teachers reply by saying “We did it when I was in school.” (we will get to that later).
2.) Don’t forget why you chose teaching as a profession
There are days where I have to try to remind myself why I got into this crazy profession. I know it wasn’t the money, snow days and holidays off is a perk but it’s not the reason I got into the teaching profession. I chose teaching because I love helping kids and I enjoy seeing them learn things that they never thought they could. I feel like most teachers, at some point in the career, lose sight of why they started teaching and focus too much wasted energy on other things that just distract us from doing what we need to do to help our students. If we can help remind each other that we got into teaching for the kids then it will make us more effective teachers and help toward a better working environment.
3.) Listen to the young teachers, they have good ideas
I’m not sure why, but for some reason I have kept most of my papers from college. One day I looked back at them and wondered “Where did I come up with that? That’s a good idea.” I came out of college with grand ideas of how I would teach a certain topic, how I would use groups to help students, and new innovative ways to make teaching and learning fun. Then I started teaching and I don’t know what happened. We, as older teachers, need to realize that these younger teachers have some great ideas and have a lot to contribute if we allow them to. Too often we think seniority rules and the young kids don’t know what they are talking about, but most of the time they have a valuable insight on how to teach our students.
4.) Don’t be an Energy Vampire
The term Energy Vampire comes from the Jon Gordon book “The Energy Bus” which I highly recommend. It is basically somebody that sucks all of the energy out of a room. I have students that are Energy Vampires, but there are also a lot of teachers that can be Energy Vampires as well. It is something I feel we have to be really conscious of and make a concerted effort to try to be “energy givers” instead of “energy takers”. It goes back to the saying that “misery loves company”. It is very discouraging to hear an older teacher be so negative toward a newer teacher. We can’t inspire other teachers or students to be better if we are constantly being negative about things.
5.) Limit the times you say “When I was in school …”
As a student, I always hated when teachers started a sentence by saying “When I was in school..”. I always wanted to stop them and say “but we are not in your school we actually have indoor plumbing and get to ride a motorized vehicle to school.” The fact is we are not in school and things have changed, even if you are a new teacher. I realize that there are a lot of things about education twenty years ago that worked, but there are also some things about education that has gotten better. I have been called an “old school” teacher (which I took as a complement), but it’s a waste of time for me to compare today’s world to the world 20 years ago when I was in school. Most of the students aren’t interested in hearing about when we were in school and it often times comes off as us just mindless complaining. The bottom line is the world has changed since we were in school and in order to successfully prepare our students we have to adjust to the times.
6.) Teach the students, don’t just cover the material
In today’s time of high stakes state testing teachers are under a lot of pressure to deliver good test scores. As a result, we tend to get in the mode of “covering” the standards instead of teaching our students. In order for teaching to take place the students have to be learning. “Covering” and teaching are two totally different things. Covering involves you talking about it and teaching involves the students learning it. I would rather them learn 80% of the standards than “cover” 100% of the standards.
7.) Get to know your students outside of school
Students often think of teachers as this authoritative figure that is always trying to get them in trouble. Sometimes I wonder if they even think we are normal. I have found that when I see my students in public and recognize them as someone other than a student in a seat, they recognize me as someone other than their teacher. I have many examples of current students and past students that I have seen in public and had conversations about non-school subjects. Whether it be at the county fair, the local Walmart, or at a restaurant say something to your students when you see them in public. I think it will go a long way toward building a good relationship which will translate to a better experience for both of you and possibly a discount at your favorite restaurant for you.
8.) Observe other teachers
Observations are always a part of a new teacher’s first year and, in my opinion, should be a requirement of every other teacher as well. I know our time is limited and most teachers spend time outside of school hours preparing for their lessons, but we can learn a lot from each other if we are willing to put in the time. Most teachers in our math department collaborate with each other and it is very helpful, but I have found that actually going into the classroom and observing what they are doing is more effective than them telling you what they do. I would also advise going to observe teachers outside your grade level and subject level to come up with more effective ideas for your classroom. Where ever you teach their are probably good teachers, young and old. Find who they are and learn from them.
9.) Be open to change
Change is probably the one toughest thing for some old teachers, but it has been the one constant in education for the last 20 years. I know it’s hard to let go of those lesson plans from the last 10 years that have worked so well, but with the pace that education is changing we must adapt to the new changes. Also, technology has changed tremendously and will continue to change each year. This is where our younger teachers could be very useful. We are living in an ever changing world where technology is everywhere and if we are not using technology in our teaching we are doing our students a disservice. Change is inevitable in education.
10.) Be a positive role model for the younger teachers
I had a older man tell me that you spend the first 1/3 of your life acquiring knowledge, the second 1/3 of you life applying that knowledge, and the last 1/3 of your life sharing that knowledge. I am currently in the middle of the second 1/3 of my teaching career and I have started to think more of how I can help some of the younger teachers in our department. When helping younger teachers, I think the first thing that older teachers need to do is reassure them that they are not alone. Teachers are often thrown in a room and told to go teach tomorrow’s future and the younger teachers are overwhelmed and end up not having a positive experience. We need to make it a point to provide encouragement to our younger teachers, share our knowledge in a constructiuve way, and be a positive role model for them to follow.
If you any extra tips for older teachers please comment.