Search ASCD EDge
We spend a good amount of time perusing and interacting with educators on communities like Edmodo, Schoology and Classroom 2.0. Since class started up again after the New Year, we’ve been seeing a lot of posts about lack of student engagement and more than a few pleas for new classroom management tips. Something tells us that teachers, just like students, may be experiencing the mid-year blues. But don’t allow this stress to turn into teacher burnout.
We regularly blog about classroom management and student engagement, but something just occurred to us: We’ve never offered any stress management tips for teachers. So without further ado, here are 5 tips that work for us:
Avoiding Teacher Burnout: 5 Stress Management Tips
Clear to Neutral
We’re very good at scolding our students about waiting until the last minute to find their research or write their essays, but let’s be honest, teachers are (covertly, of course) some of the best procrastinators out there. But why do we procrastinate? One of the biggest reasons is because we have to jump through a number of unpleasant hoops to get to the main task. Let’s illustrate:
You have to cook dinner, which means that you need the cutting board, clean knives, dishes and pots to get the job done. Unfortunately, all of the tools you need to make dinner are still filthy and sitting in the sink. So before you can get to what you set out to do (cook), you’ve got 20 other things to do (clean and scrape pans) before you can actually start on the main task (cooking). What happens? You’re frustrated. Now apply this to responding to student work, prepping or grading papers.
Here’s where Clearing to Neutral (CTN) comes in. CTN simply means that every time you finish an activity, you engage in a routine, a setup, so that the next time you start the activity, your environment is ready to go—no cleaning 20 pots and pans, no sorting through your file folder, no sifting through your email box to find document attachments so you can print the papers your students emailed to you…
Do something that intimidates you—every day
What are you afraid of? What is causing you anxiety or hanging over your head? Think about this for a second. There’s something you’ve been afraid of or dreading for a long time and it’s causing you anxiety. Mark Twain once said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear.” But how do we master fear? The answer is simple: by building up a tolerance to the things that make us uncomfortable.
Don’t beat yourself up over being anxious; embrace that anxiety by meeting it head on. Start with the small stuff: Call that colleague who you had a falling out with; speak to a stranger in an elevator; stop saying that you’re going to completely change the way you eat, just dust off your juicer and substitute one meal a week with fresh vegetable juice. Gradually these acts will become perfunctory, not fear-laden.
Go somewhere you’ve never been before—every weekend
Most stress management “experts” will tell you to stick with routines, but we’ve found that it’s often the grind of a routine that burns us out the most. If you’re looking to break out of the mundane, try alternating weekends with your spouse or significant other: one weekend, s/he chooses an activity that neither of you have ever done before; the next weekend it’s your turn.
A colleague of ours has been doing this for years and she and her spouse continue their pursuit of new and bizarre adventures to this day. One Saturday, her husband surprised her (and probably himself) with tickets to the Detroit Kennel Club Dog Show. Seats were usually $15 a person, but he found free tickets on Craigslist. Another time they drove two hours north just to eat dinner at a five-table Italian Café she read about on Yelp; after that, they went to a local stock-car race. Why? Because…why not?
Sure, you may have to grade papers in the morning, but section off a block of time and dedicate yourself to breaking out of your routine every week.
Place the onus on your students
You feel like your pulling teeth sometimes, don’t you? Of course you do, you’re a teacher. Never work harder than your students. Are group discussions floundering? Is your own voice ringing in your ear? Maybe it’s time that you try something else.
Instead of elucidating a chapter, digesting it for your students, put them into groups and have them explain, in writing, the significance of specific passages in the text. Then come back together as a class and discuss. Or type up a series of questions—and make sure that they inspire rather than quiet discussion and disagreement. Dissention and openness to debate is what will make your classroom discussions exciting. Stop worrying about things going off the rails and just see what happens.
Don’t buy into the work-life balance malarkey
Stress management experts are always talking about work-life balance, but the whole concept of it is about as antiquated as that cell phone Zach Morris used in Saved By the Bell.
“Work” and “life” are inextricable from one another.
Albert Camus once said, “Without work, all life goes rotten…” And he makes a good point.
Work is life. Life is work.
But Camus also said, “When work is soulless, life stifles and dies.” That’s why we need to ensure that our work lives are aligned with our passions.
We can’t tell you how to make this happen. What we can tell you is that if we are not living while we are at work, there’s a good chance that life will stifle and die. So we better learn to enjoy ourselves—I mean really, truly enjoy ourselves when we are in the classroom.
If you're looking for more career and curriculum-enhancing ideas, check out some of our most resources by downloading our Best of 2012 guide!
The short answer to the question posed in NBC’s Chicago Town Hall is: No.
The Brown decision did not truly end segregation. It did, however, certainly make some strides in state mandates. And as of today, at the bare minimum, all students, no matter their particular niche of diversity, have access to an education. A huge disparity still exists in the quality of the education to which they have access, however. One need only visit the public schools of Detroit and the public schools of Hartford, Connecticut to see that disparity.
Despite the data on the matter, a persistent mental model exists:
Well, if an African-American child lived in Hartford, he or she would not be denied access to its public schools. Therefore, Brown has done its work.We can’t help where people choose to live. Besides, we have magnet schools that are open to everyone.
Thus, the issue of school segregation through this discipline is a mental shrug of “Oh, well…” followed by a presupposition of a “choice” and a cursory Band-Aid of “We’re trying”. The segregation today is much more sordid than in the past because it is a silent belief and noiseless assent.
Hutchens (1999) asserts that “mental models determine how we think and act” (p.65). Unfortunately, the mental model of segregation persists in the minds of the very ones who can make a change as they fall back on the comfort of mandated legislation, arms open wide in supplication.
What else can we do?
Dr. Chandra Gill, educator, founder and CEO of Blackademically Speaking, put it best in the town hall discussion: “You know what's striking to me is the fact that Doctor King suggested you can legislate policy but you can’t legislate attitudes…why was Brown v. Board even necessary?”
Why did we have to be mandated to be fair? Why did we need a government entity to require us to allow all children a quality education?
Brown has not ended and will not end--not until mental models that require an authority that tells us what to do and what is right shift and the attitudes make a huge adjustment. This authority should already be IN us, not an external mandate OF us.
And it isn't necessarily the loud, obnoxious, outspoken attitudes that cause the most problems. It can also be the quiet unintentional ones.
My former school, a Title urban school, was primarily composed of minority students. However, segregation did exist in the form of “academies”. There was an “Agricultural Academy” and a “Vet Academy”, for example. African-American students did not join these programs, and the smaller percentage of white students gravitated to these academies.
However, the Chorus program was predominantly African-American as their musical selections and style was (still is) religious. To what degree does a teacher overseeing a program segregate students?
Did I unintentionally segregate students from the Theatre program, based on my curriculum and program choices? I can only hope that I didn’t, and at the time, I really didn’t pay attention. But the numbers of White students did exceed those of minority students.Thus, I can only conclude that I'm part of the problem and that I must, if I were to return, consciously make a change in my mental model: simply because someone is permitted to do something then everything's alright.
What Brown does remind me every time I’m asked to comment or reflect upon it is that every child deserves to go to a school that will provide them with the best opportunities in education.
Every child, every school, every program.
Mirror Site: Joyful Collapse
According to the National Science Teachers Association, 26 states are leading the development of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), led by the bi-partisan group Achieve. The science education community got its first glimpse of the NGSS draft when it was released in May. Achieve will release a second draft for public comment this fall. Here’s a preview of things to come! Join Marygrove College MAT Coordinator of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Dr. Charles Pearson for a discussion about the current status of the NGSS, and how you can keep abreast of the latest changes in the process. A 30-year veteran educator, Dr. Pearson taught middle school science for many years and was a principal for nine. He’ll share his passion for teaching science, and give you some insights to make the most of your classroom time.
Find out about the “big three” dimensions:
1. Scientific and engineering practices: modeling, evaluating, analyzing
2. Crosscutting concepts: energy, patterns, cause & effect
3. Disciplinary core ideas: key ideas that relate to students’ interests, and future jobs
Get ready! Position yourself on the cutting edge of science. Watch Now!
Dr. Charles (Chuck) Pearson is the Coordinator for the Marygrove Master in the Art of Teaching (MAT) Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Program. Retired from K-12 in 2011, Dr. Pearson brings his 30-plus years of classroom and leadership experience to the MAT program, and is looking forward to helping teachers raise student achievement through practical research-based outcomes.
Dr. Pearson earned his Doctorate in Educational Leadership, Cognate in K-12 Superintendency from Western Michigan University. He has several publications in K-12 science to his credit, including multiple presentations for the National Science Teachers Association Annual Conferences around the country. He is a former National Board Member of the National Science Teachers Association Publication Committee and was elected to the state board of the Michigan Science Teachers Association, 1985-92. He recently served as Field Instructor for six Detroit Public School science teacher interns through the University of Michigan/Teach For America organization.
“It’s like pulling teeth...” At one time or another, every teacher has either said or felt this frustration. Motivating students to participate in the classroom is an art form. It can certainly feel like pulling teeth—and after all, why shouldn’t it? Sometimes teachers might forget that many (probably most) students have, from the very beginning, not been encouraged or taught how to engage in conversation.
Although trends in education are moving away from lecture-based instruction and embracing a more interactive, student-centered form of education, getting students to actively and willingly engage in classroom discussion can still be a battle. It’s easy to forget that many students have a colossal fear of public speaking. Not only are they afraid of being wrong or “stupid,” but they are also afraid of having to verbally articulate their ideas on the fly. As a result, the most talkative students clamor on while the coy, and often the most insightful, students hide in the back.
This fear of public speaking is, in part, why many teachers are making a case for using social networking technology in the classroom—particularly social-networking technology. It’s true that most teachers look at cell phones and laptops as a distraction. But there is an increasing number of educators using backchannels—something akin to social-network technology—to pull some of those quiet students out of their shells and into the forefront of classroom discussions.
“Backchanneling” allows teachers and students not only to fact check, but also to engage in real-time online conversation with one another. Some students may choose to engage with one another verbally; others may “backchannel,” or use a hybrid of verbal and electronically-transmitted dialogue.
Who Is Actually Using Backchanneling?
In a May, 2011 New York Times article, we are introduced to Erin Olson’s 11th grade English class. On this particular Friday, students are discussing “To the Lady,” a poem that asks the reader to consider why bystanders do not intervene when they see an injustice. During the discussion, the vocal students take turns reading and commenting on portions of the text. The “quiet” ones share their own reflections—an electronic version—as the rest of the class views them on their computer screens. As the feeds appear, Olson quickly integrates them into the larger discourse.
Although few of us remain untouched by social media, academia remains skeptical, distrustful even, of integrating technology like this into the classroom. But teachers like Olson know social media is a medium for discourse that her students “find as natural as breathing.” She also knows from experience that because of her decision to integrate technology into the classroom (via Twitter and other backchanneling platforms like Google Moderator or Today’s Meet), students are shedding their inhibitions and speaking—or, well, typing—out.
Are you interested in enhancing your students’ education? Do you want to become a computer expert who can successfully integrate educational technology into your classroom? If so, learn more about Marygrove College’s Master of Education in Educational Technology program!
Kurtis J. Swope, an associate professor at the US Naval Academy, describes unexpectedly running into a former student at a local restaurant. Their conversation is brief—mainly about the student’s courses that semester and his plans following graduation. Although the encounter is pleasant, it leaves Swope with an unsettling feeling: “After we talked, it occurred to me that I had heard him speak more during this short conversation than he had during the entire semester he took my course.”
In the traditional classroom, students enter a tangible space, perhaps a classroom just like Swope’s. They eye the formal arrangement of the desks, the teacher, the sea of unfamiliar faces—and from that, they begin to draw conclusions about the experience before they’ve even, well, experienced it. What students also bring with them is a colossal fear of public speaking, a fear of being wrong—or “stupid”—and a fear of not being able to fully articulate their ideas. As a result, the most talkative students clamor on while the coy, and often the most insightful, students hide in the back.
In a virtual classroom, however, students—all of them—must learn to share themselves. They must engage with their professor and their peers. It would be inaccurate to claim that online education exists in a vacuum, or that all hang-ups are left at the login page. What can be said, however, is that the online leaning space nurtures a culture of “online language,” one which both students and instructors must work together to negotiate. eLearning gets rid of the one-size-fits-all model. It is certainly true that 24-hour login gives students convenience. But it also gives them the time and space to grapple with their ideas as well as those of their peers and professor. This model discourages impulsive thinking and instead promotes mindful reflection, allowing students to fully digest their thoughts before sharing them with the group.
Five more reasons why the online learning environment is effective:
Distinguishing an exceptional or truly gifted teacher from all the others is relatively easy. We immediately know one when we see or experience one—but articulating the distinction is somewhat elusive business. Over the years Hollywood has supplemented, or even more likely, constructed the ways in which we conceive of teachers. Countless films have produced this ubiquitous, misty-eyed, self-deprecating freedom fighter—part teacher, part miracle worker—capable of shaking up the education system and surmounting the insurmountable.
But according to Steven Farr, author of Teaching as Leadership, there is nothing “mysterious” or “magical” about it. He is quick to dispel the Hollywood paradigm and argues that “It [exceptional teaching] is neither a function of dynamic personality nor dramatic performance.”
Since 2001, Farr has overseen Teach For America, a nonprofit, two-year program that sends college graduates into low-income schools to teach. Over the last decade, he has been compiling data—observations, questionnaires, and interviews generated by the nonprofit—on half a million American children with a primary goal: demystifying the pedigree teacher and determining what differentiates that teacher from less effective ones.
This data yielded a specific set of patterns. Pedigree teachers, Farr found, set and maintain high expectations for their students; they plan purposefully and tirelessly. But perhaps most importantly, they habitually reevaluate their approach, which means that their methodology is always fluctuating and in the process “of becoming.” This is not to suggest that the teacher does not have a plan. To the contrary, highly-effective teachers rely on effective execution; they know, in Farr’s words, how to “squeeze extra learning time” out of each day and maintain a “hypersensitivity to wasted learning time.”
That said, what these teachers do not use is a pedagogical formula or a “teach to the top” philosophy. They make sure that students—all of them— comprehend the material. Farr explains that simply asking, “Does everyone understand?” is a classic misstep. For whatever reason, many students often cannot or will not be able to articulate their confusion. Superstar teachers use ongoing assessment and quick checks for understanding—short quizzes, for example, or having students share with peers—to ensure that students are with them all the way. This approach not only helps the teacher gauge student progress, but it encourages students to self-assess and take ownership of their education.
According to Farr, this approach helps teachers “build in their students the metacognitive skills necessary to recognize the extent of their own understanding. Strong teachers work to teach students to think critically about what they do …” And when this happens, teachers are able to put more confidence in questions like, “Does everyone understand?”
Not an Anomaly: Systemic Ills Caused by Test-based Accountability Policies
Secretary Duncan is not the only who tries to minimize the scale of the problem and reduce it to a technical issue. Chester E. Finn, a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. He is a former assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Education under President Ronald Reagan, tries to do same. In his essay entitled Don’t ditch testing after Atlanta cheating, boost test security and published as a CNN special on July 13, argues that cheating is:
A problem, indeed, and one worth solving, but not an argument against testing as a key element in learning about how students are doing and holding educators and schools accountable.
Finn attempts to make cheating in schools an issue of human nature and minimize its scale to a few isolated cases saying that: “Regrettably, this is about human nature, not about the immediate example of test-score cheating in a few hundred of our nearly 100,000 schools.” He likens cheating on tests to “tax cheating, Medicare fraud, pleading innocent when one is guilty; professors plagiarizing and medical researchers falsifying their data; and on and on.”
Essentially, testing proponents would do anything but acknowledge the fact that the testing-driven education policy is the root cause of cheating and its consequent damages to children. They try to make it an anomaly, a small problem caused by a few unethical individuals, and a technical issue that can be addressed with simple solutions. However, evidence suggests just opposite.
Evidence of Blatant Cheating Practices
We may never know exactly how many schools or educators cheat on standardized tests simply because we cannot afford to audit all schools and those that cheat are unlikely to report or confess. But publically available reports unambiguously reveal that cheating is not an anomaly in our schools—it is not isolated to Atlanta and it is not only “a few hundred of our nearly 100,000 schools.”
Just recent media reports of test-score cheating by adults make the number of schools way more than a few hundred. In a March, 2011 post entitled Testing Anomalies Found in Many States on the U.S. News and World Report website by Jason Koebler reports that hundreds of schools in Washington DC, Georgia, Arizona, Detroit, Baltimore, and several other states under investigation for testing irregularities. Also in March, 2011, a USA Today investigation found “1,610 examples of anomalies in which public school classes — a school’s entire fifth grade, for example — boasted what analysts regard as statistically rare, perhaps suspect, gains on state tests” in DC and each of the six states they looked at– Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan and Ohio. Last week, the Notebook reported that 225 schools were flagged in the 2009 for “erasure analysis” in Pennsylvania.
In their 2007 book Collateral Damage: How High-stakes testing Corrupts America’s Schools, Sharon Nichols and David Berliner report that 9% of teachers survey in Tennessee said they had witnessed test impropriety on the state’s tests and nationally, a survey found:
The New York Times reported in May, 2011 that “an unusually large number of students have obtained exactly the minimum score needed to pass the exams, which are required for graduation and are often graded by students’ own teachers.” An investigation by the New York Times found that students attending New York City’s public high schools “had been roughly five times as likely to score 65, the passing grade, or slightly above it, than to score just below it… But even on the algebra exam, in which there are no essays, 8,451 students got grades of exactly 65, while a combined 7,145 students ended up with a score of 61, 62, 63 or 64. Statisticians say that such a difference is out of line with the smooth scoring curve that should normally result.”
I don’t know what percentage would make cheating not an anomaly in the minds of testing proponents, but “it seems readily obvious that teachers and administrators are often engaged in test-related impropriety,” write Nichols and Berliner in their book.
Evidence of Softer, More Acceptable Forms of Cheating
While telling students the correct answers, changing student test scores, and directly changing student answers are forms of blatant, direct, hardcore cheating practices that are considered unethical and illegal, there are other forms of practices that may not be viewed as cheating on the surface but in reality they are. They cheat students out of a real valuable education and cause as much damage, if not more, to our children as the behaviors we label cheating.
Teaching to the tests and test preparation
Many schools in the U.S. have turned into test preparation institutions. They only teach what is on the high-stakes tests. A study by the Center on Education Policy (CEP) published in 2007 found that five years after the implementation of NCLB, over 60% of school districts reported that they have increased instructional time for math and English language arts, while 44% reported that they have reduced time for other subjects or activities such as social studies, science, art and music, physical education, lunch and or recess. The study also found that most school districts have narrowed their English language arts and math curricula to what is covered on the state tests. The study found that 84% of districts reported that they have changed their curriculum “somewhat” or “to a great extent” to put greater emphasis on tested content in elementary level reading; 79% in middle school, and 76% in high school. A similar pattern was found in math: 81% of districts have changed their curriculum at the elementary and middle school level to emphasize tested content and skills, and 78% in high school math. Classroom instruction has also been transformed into test preparation. Linda Valli and her colleagues found that since the implementation of NCLB, teachers have lost curriculum and pedagogical autonomy to standards and testing. “Teachers felt compelled to match closely what they taught to what would be tested and worried about how well aligned the district curriculum was with state test’s content, language, and format” (Valli & Buese, 2007, p. 531). A more recent study by CEP of the impact of federal and state accountability polices on curriculum and instruction in three states, Rhode Island, Illinois, and Washington, found classroom instruction to be focused on test preparation and that teachers generally focus their instruction on test-related content.
Cheating by Schools and States
It is well known that schools and states manipulate student performance data in a number of ways. For schools, excluding certain students from testing or even discouraging certain students from attending the school have been reported in various places. A 2005 article by Lisa Snell reports that in 2004, a high school in Florida boosted its test scores from an F to a D after “purging” 126 low-performing students from its attendance rolls. In the same year, “some 160 Florida schools assigned students to new schools just before standardized testing in a shell game to raise school grades.” In a third of Houston’s 30 high schools, scores on standardized exams have risen as enrollment has shrunk. In 2011, a school principal in DeKalb County, GA sent a letter to the parents of 13 students advising “that they would be withdrawn due to poor attendance, which would cause the school not to make AYP.” A 2007 Time magazine article recounts how one top-performing school, i.e. a school with high standardized test scores, forced or discouraged disadvantaged students to leave the school in order to close the achievement gap. In this story, an African-American student was pushed out after multiple “disciplinary suspensions” but the story tells that was perhaps merely a way to push certain group of students out to help the school retain its top-performing reputation without being labeled “failing” under NCLB.
At the state level, the manipulation of test results has happened frequently since the implementation of NCLB. One of the activities can be adjusting the “cut-scores” on standardized tests used to define different proficiency levels. Because NCLB holds schools and states accountable for increasing the percentage of students achieving a level of proficiency, states have been found to change their cut scores and lower their standards. A federal study in 2009 found that “nearly a third of the states lowered their academic proficiency standards in recent years, a step that helps schools stay ahead of sanctions under” NCLB.
Discrepancy in Achievements—Collateral Evidence
Since NCLB, test scores on state high-stake tests have been reported to rise, sometimes, dramatically, but such gains have not been generalized to other assessments, according to a recent report by the nation’s education experts commissioned by the National Research Council. The panel of the nation’s leading experts found that “When the [test-based accountability] systems are evaluated—not using the high-stakes tests subject to inflation, but using instead outside comparison tests, such as the NAEP—student achievement gains dwindle to about .08 of a standard deviation on average, mostly clustered in elementary-grade mathematics.” This discrepancy suggests high-stakes test scores are inflated and do not indicate true education gains. Such inflation can come from multiple sources, most of which are not sound, honest, and valuable education practices that help improve the children’s learning.
To summarize, cheating in American schools is not isolated as testing proponents suggest. We cannot simply blame it on a few unethical educators. Instead, we must acknowledge the fact that it is widespread, in multiple forms, in the nation’s schools and it is a direct result of the test-based accountability policies so we can begin to change course and ditch testing.
In the next post, I will discuss why cheating is not a simple issue that can be fixed with technical measures, but rather it is a cultural and psychological issue that can only be fixed by removing test-based accountability from our schools to extinguish the motivation for cheating or the “trigger” of the “cheating gene.”