Sunday, September 23, 2012

College Internships, Yet ANOTHER hurdle?

Matt,our oldest, is lucky. He actually has a job in the major he studied. As I watch his college friends all struggle to make it in this tough economy, as they apply, interview, take jobs waiting tables, live 4 to an apartment or move back in with their parents, I can't help but wonder that even with a college degree, the divide created by income continues to determine the ability to succeed.

Matt has student loans, he went to summer school, he did fine with his grades, he was an "average" kid academically.  So why is he employed in his field of study when others are not?  I think at least part of the answer is the fact that he had summer internships.

Matt had 3 fantastic internships, all three of them were paid. This gave him a tremendous advantage when interviewing. He has that magic word on his resume  "experience".  He was lucky that we could afford to help him travel to these internships and could help him cover his housing for the summer. Many of his friends were not so lucky.

So are internships now just one more hurdle students without economic means have to jump?  

Many (most?) students borrow money, do work/study, work another job in the evenings and in the summer they MUST take jobs that will let them be able to sock away enough cash to continue their education. In many of their fields of study internships are unpaid or barely paid, so without the financial means to pay rent, travel and living expenses in order to work for a company for free, these students simply cannot get the experience they need to be competitive in today's job market.

Add to this the fact that sometimes, it is in fact, "not what you know, but who you know" so if parents went to college, have a professional network, they can make phone calls to friends, relatives and business partners to assist their children in obtaining an internship.  If a student is the first to attend college in their family, no matter how much their family believes in and supports them , they may not possess these types of "connections" to assist their students.

Ideas for solutions?
Schools & communities can provide bridges for these students as young as high school. In Columbus, Indiana, Cummins provides high school students with engineering internship opportunities. We need more programs like this, preparing students for college & career at an early age. We can include mentors in high school who can become the facilitators, the "networkers",  for internships for these students as they pursue their calling. Higher Ed can work with these corporations to solve these problems, starting conversations around the fact that housing, travel & low pay are barriers to many talented candidates for their internships.

We must all work together to build these bridges for our students, breaking the cycle of poverty and leveling the playing field. What are your ideas?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Are You Being Evaluated or Coached?

My very first teaching job was in Washington Township in Indianapolis, I was so excited to be hired to teach 1st graders. It was my dream job and I couldn't wait to get started. (This was WAY back in the early 90's)  I also was pretty sure, in the cocky, confident way of a 22 year old, that those "old" teachers could learn a thing or two from me.( I also wore jumpers with apples & other teacher things embroidered on embarrassing)

My first teacher evaluation was done by the principal.  I remember I taught some kind of math lesson using M&Ms.  So that was it, she watched my lesson,  and she gave me all "5"'s on a piece of paper that showed up in my mailbox which meant I didn't have to get better at anything. The professional equivalent of straight A's! She confirmed what I already knew...I was amazing, probably the best teacher ever!

The next year I had the Asst. Principal, Kay Kinder,  as my evaluator, I really don't remember what lesson I taught, I DO remember she actually wanted to meet with and discuss it. This made me nervous, she came to my room at the scheduled debrief time, passed the evaluation form over to me and HOLY COW there were some 4's and even---GASP---a 3 !  Being the mature 23 year old that I was, I immediately burst into tears. Didn't she get the memo? I was amazing?

My tears surprised her, she asked if I thought I had any areas where I needed to grow. (ummm, I didn't think so? ) Then, Mrs. Kinder gently led me down a path of self-reflection that I continue to this day.  She taught me how to set goals and then supported me in reaching them, only to reflect and set new goals.  The following year, she approached me and asked if I had any experience with computers (No, I mean, I wrote "go-to" statements in a high school class) undaunted she had me partner with the her to write a 4 R's Grant which we eventually received and allowed us to put 2 Apple IIe's in each 1st grade room. (The students would write pages if they could just pop in that second floppy and add an awesomely pixelated graphic! )

 She also made me responsible for all of the PD for integrating the computers into our classrooms.  I was hooked for life on integrating tech & on supporting teachers! I also became the go-to grant writer at that school and every school I've worked in since.   All of this, because of one principal, one "evaluator".  She changed the course of my professional life.
I saw Mrs. Kinder as much more of a coach/mentor, than an evaluator, she wasn't "grading" me she was coaching me. If I didn't have her influence, it is quite possible I would still be stamping spiders on worksheets, wearing spider earrings, reading Charlotte's Web and giving spider related spelling words and calling that a project.

We don't come out of college "amazing", we need coaching, I STILL need coached, I learn something new every single time I visit a school and spend time in classrooms. In my following teaching positions, I was evaluated at the next school (she was scary, I can still hear her heels clicking down the hall and praying they didn't slow down as she approached my door), ignored at the next (seriously, in two years, my principal NEVER came in my room) then finally coached again!

As the talk in the news is all about "teacher evaluations" let' s remember that no matter what they call it, it should NOT be about "grading" teachers,  it should be about feedback and growth!
Are you being evaluated or coached?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Stop with the homework already. They are KIDS!

It's way past  time for homework to go away. I've yet to hear a purpose that remotely convinces me that it supports learning in any way shape or form and if I have to hear one more time that it teaches responsibility I'm going to scream!

Years ago it was my first year in a new school, I was a 3rd grade teacher and the 3rd grade team had what they called "study hall" it was the consequence for not doing your homework. It meant instead of going outside for recess, you had to go to a classroom with the rest of the kids who didn't do their homework.. I didn't agree with this policy, I think all kids need to play, so I just never kept my kids in, but I did still have to take my once-a-week turn being in charge of "study hall".  The first time, I ran around the room encouraging every kiddo to fill in the blanks on their worksheets so they could get outside, then I walked them out to the playground so they could get to play for at least a few minutes . Boy, did I get  called on the carpet for that one! See "study hall" REALLY meant punishment, the students needed to miss ALL of recess so they could "learn their lesson". The rest of the year when it was my turn to cover, I talked to students asking them why their homework wasn't getting done.  (I also read to them or let them play games in my room after they knocked out the SUPER IMPORTANT worksheets)

The 3 most common reasons the students gave were:
I forgot my books/folders etc...
I didn't have time
I fell asleep

 Now how about the rest of the story for each of those reasons?

I forgot
 I ride the bus so I don't hop in a mini-van where my  mom has snacks and a juice box chilled for me and immediately goes through my backpack and makes me run back in and grab every little thing that I forgot, my mom/dad/grandma work so I couldn't come back in and get my stuff like Susie's mom does for her practically every stinking day")
I didn't have time 
My big/little brother/sister had a ball game/ballet/piano recital,we had church etc... I rushed after school to get ready to go, then I fell asleep in the car on the way home.
I fell asleep
I get off the bus, go get my brother from daycare, then I start dinner, give my little brother a bath and then I accidentally fell asleep on the couch. My mom didn't wake me up to do my homework when she got home from work. I'm sorry.

Some students just flat out have an advantage as far as homework (errr, life) goes. It is so not a level playing field if your folks can run you back to school to grab stuff you forgot. This happens all the time, kids know it, they see it, they resent it.

I can't stand seeing the group of early elementary age children huddled over textbooks on the bleachers of whatever ball season it is, plowing through homework instead of playing in the dirt, eating popcorn or laffy taffy, running around cheering for their siblings with their families. Even if families don't have any scheduled activity, the stress from students having mounds of homework have ruined many a family evening at my house and I'm sure at your house, too.

Let's not forget the students who are helping raise their siblings, helping their families survive and carrying adult responsibilities at an early age.  We just make their lives that much harder by piling on busy work to teach them (say this with me sarcastically) responsibility.

Others have made this case with more research and with more eloquence, but, this weekend, I saw a student at the grocery store.  She must be in her early 20's now, she was pushing a grocery cart with a toddler in it and a 4 or 5 year old walking beside her.
She ran up, hugged me and said, "Mrs. Shafer, do you remember me? I wasn't in your class, but I always had to be in study hall.  I loved when it was in your room because you didn't make me feel like I was in trouble, you just helped me and then read us Junie B Jones books so we could still have recess." I read Junie B to my boys now and they love her, too.

Stop with the homework already.  They are KIDS!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Words I Remember From My Teachers

Words I Remember From My Teachers

Part 1:

"Well, honey, you can't be good at everything, maybe Math just isn't for you." said by my 3rd grade teacher.

"You are too social, that may serve you well in life, but not in school and certainly not in my class!"  said by my 5th grade teacher.

"A 91% is still an an A, why do you care what you missed? Stop obsessing." said to me  by HS teacher.

"You are too smart to be a teacher, what else do you want to be?" said to me by HS teacher.

"Don't apply for that scholarship, you are wasting your time, no one from here ever wins it." said to me by a  HS Guidance Counselor.

Part 2:

"You can be anything you want to be, do anything you want to do" said to me by too many teachers to count. ( I know, I'm lucky!)

"It really does only take one person to start something" said to me by HS Government teacher. Thanks Mr. Shepherd.

"No, you CAN do this, I'll help" said to me by HS Math teacher. Thanks Mr. Schilling.

"Figure it out" said to me by the same HS Math teacher.

"I love your speaking voice" said to me by HS Speech teacher. Thanks Mr. Henderson

"I love being a teacher, I think you will, too" said to me by a HS teacher. Thanks Mr. Herndon.

"You can read any book in this library." said to me by my elementary school librarian. Thanks Mrs. Fromme.

" I can hear your voice in your writing" said to me by my 4th grade teacher. Thanks Mrs. Hardesty.

Each one of the above sentences had an impact on me, my learning, my choices.
What you say to your students matters. What words will they remember from you?