Half the Teachers

A few days ago, I posted an article explaining “Why You Won’t See Me at ISTE ’14.”  In it I wrote,

I blame and accept the fact that experience that spans from TRS-80 to IOS has become a little less important compared to the creative energy of much younger educators…

This sentiment prompted an email exchange with an old friend, an educator whose years of experience span pretty much the same range of technological advancement as mine, “TRS-80 to iOS.”

Our discussion, however, had almost nothing to do with technology, but concerned the era in which we began teaching.

For me, it was a full 25 years before No Child Left Behind  standards-based teaching and punitive high-stakes tests stained the “art of teaching.”  Things were quite different in terms of the autonomy that teachers exercised in determining what and how their children learned – and some mediocre teachers, admittedly, took advantage of the freedom.  However, most, whom I came in contact with, used their academic freedom as a seedbed to create dynamic and effective learning experiences for their students.

For years I have felt that this-too-will-pass, that the arrogant belief that we can know and teach everything our children will need to know to be prepared for their future simply makes no sense, and that we would come to our senses.

Half of Teachers

But it occurred to me, during that email exchange, that more and more of the teachers in our classrooms today were trained to test-prep and have been indoctrinated to an education system based, more than ever before, on an industrial production model.

So I did some research and tinkering with a spreadsheet, and found that about half of the teachers in U.S. classrooms today have never worked in a school culture free from high-stakes testing.

To illustrate this, I made an infographic  that shows the decline in teachers who have experienced academic freedom and the rise in teachers who have always worked under the constraints of government/corporate standards.

To be sure, this does not mean that there aren’t young educators, today, who are courageously and creatively going beyond the regimentation that is the character of test-prep classes, nor that there aren’t older teachers who are happy to model their classrooms on mass production.  

But it does suggest a dramatic shift in the culture of our schools,

And perhaps,

An approaching point of no return.

About the Data:
I used a document from the National Center for Education Statistics  a part of the U.S. Department of Education (see below).  It featured demographic data about U.S. teachers, starting in 1987.  The table included gender, ethnicity, age, education, years of experience, and teaching levels and subjects.  I fairly easily imported the table into an OpenOffice spreadsheet and cropped it down to just the data on years of experience, starting with 1999.

To complicate things, the table included only data for every 4th year, 1999, 2003, 2007, and 2011, which was not enough to plot the level of accuracy that I wanted.  In addition, the years experience were grouped, i.e. less than 3 years, 3 to 9 years, etc.  I searched further, but could not find any more complete data at the national level.  If you know of such a document, please comment below.

To fill in the blank years, I worked my OO spreadsheet so that it calculated trends from the 4 years and the experience ranges, and filled in the blanks, across and down, based on those trends.  Not a perfect solution, but the point of my infographic was to illustrate a trend, not precisely measure a phenomena.

Having such a seemingly rich data set enticed me to plot for other trends and anomalies, such as specific rises or declines in teacher numbers, indicating times of sudden influx of new teachers, or increased retirements or, and I hate to suggest the possibility, mass resignations.  Alas, it would take more completely accurate information to do such a thing, not just calculated trends.

Number and percentage distribution of teachers in public and private elementary and secondary schools, by selected teacher characteristics: Selected years, 1987-88 through 2011-12. (n.d.). Digest of Education Statistics. Retrieved April 19, 2014, from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/dt13_209.10.asp 

 

 

 

World’s Worst Session Title

It is with enormous pleasure that I will be part of the American School of Bombay’s 2014 Un-Plugged event in Mumbai, India.  It is also an even bigger privilege to be working with International educators again.  I’ve said many times that if I was in the beginning of my career, this is where I would be, expat’ing in some exotic land, making great friends, teaching great students and growing in educational institutions where innovation is part of the currency of success.

Even though my workshop, on Friday and Saturday, will be about visual literacy, and contemporary literacy will be part of the underlying theme of the day, this workshop will primarily and overwhelmingly be about something that I believe is the

Coolest thing on the Net,

Infographics and Data Visualization

Of course this, and most all of what we do in our classrooms concerns basic literacy, “The skills involved in using one’s information environment to learn what you need to know to do what you need to do.” (my definition)

As a teaser, here are two word clouds.  The first is taken from the descriptions of ASB Un-Plugged pre conference and hands-on workshops from 2012.  The second comes from the same category of sessions to be held next week in Mumbai.

2012 Preconference & Hands-On Workshop

2014 Preconference & Hands-On Workshop

Of course, this is a small sampling of the themes that are part of the conversations hosted by the American School of Bombay.  However I found a couple of things interesting.  First of all, might it be that we are finally getting over this whole 21st Century craze.  After all, we’re good and there.  Also, design seems a little more prominent and create and maker/making have emerged.

I’m so looking forward to next week and counting on the journey being less challenging than last week.

But…

Wires
Will these wires be used to impose teaching or empower learning?

I’m happy about Obama’s ConnectED plan and the Broadband initiative, doubling e-rate funding.  Working in other countries, I know how uniquely special E-Rate is.  

However, I remain skeptical as to whether this program and its associated teacher-training will result in transforming education into the learning that’s relevant to preparing a new generation of learners, within a new information environment for a future we can not clearly describe.

If it happens, it will be because of what determined, creative and compliance-free classroom teachers do, not because of an emerging education industry.

Another Teacher Slips Away

We know why we became teachers. If it wasn’t the reason, then it’s why we remained teachers. It’s..

Seeing the light bulb go off. I think that’s why any teacher gets into teaching, because that’s the best feeling, seeing them so interested and engaged and finally getting it … and knowing that you made a difference. (Stancill, 2013)

“Seeing the light bulb go off.”

That’s how Haley Brown describes it.  She’s a seven-year elementary school teacher in Raleigh, who has just accepted an administrative position – with a homebuilder.  According to the October 24 Raleigh News & Observer article, Haley says that testing has not only robbed her of her emotional and professional energy, but also robbed her students of meaningful learning.  Teacher assistants have been laid-off (state legislation), the workload keeps growing, and she has received only one raise and a 1% cost of living increase in her seven years.

It’s not an uncommon story, but one that has gained traction because of the note her husband, Matt, handed her, when she’d made her decision.  Haley was so thankful for her husband’s support that she posted the note on her blog, earning 1,200 likes on Facebook.  As the letter continued to resonate with some many people, Matt sent it to the N&O, and they published it as an opinion piece.  As of this week, it is the most popular story page on the paper’s web site for 2013.  It’s been read more than a half million times.

Does this really matter.  Is anyone noticing?  North Carolina is a right-to-work state, so there’s no teachers union and teachers don’t strike.  They just slip away.  Who cares?

Pictures to come

There is a new story out there.  It’s made up of lots of characters, plots and sub-plots, but it’s not been assembled yet.

This weekend, I’ll be attending the ReinventEd Unconference at Black Mountain SOLE, in Black Mountain, North Carolina.  It’s going to be one of those learning events that’s driven by questions, not authorities, and no small part of its appeal comes from the fact that its organizer is Steve Hargadon.  

My greatest wish is for a new narrative about education – a new and complete story that will resonate not only with passionate educators, but also with anyone else,

..who’s willing to listen.

 

Stancill, J. (2013, October 23). A husband’s support for his teacher wife becomes a viral sensation.Raleigh News & Observer. Retrieved from http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/10/23/3306958/a-husbands-support-for-his-teacher.html

Sir? Would You Mind Taking this Test?

My daughter texted me yesterday morning, wanting to meet at the coffee shop to talk about an article she’d just discovered. She texted me the URL, http://goo.gl/pFc39Z. It’s not a recent article and is actually one of Valerie Strauss‘ (The Answer Sheet) reprints of a blog article [link/pdf], written by Marion Brady (veteran teacher, administrator, curriculum designer and author).

The article concerned a forth-term Florida district school board member, a friend of Marion’s, who had taken a version of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) for 10th graders.  After taking the test, the board member called Brady, and this repeatedly re-elected board member, who helps to oversee 22,000 employees and a $3 billion budget and claims to be “able to make sense of complex data related to those responsibilities,” said that he “hadn’t done well.”

He confessed that he wasn’t confident about any of the 60 math questions, “but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly.”  On the reading test, he got 62% of the questions right.  In an email to Brady, his friend wrote,

It might be argued that I’ve been out of school too long, that if I’d actually been in the 10th grade prior to taking the test, the material would have been fresh. But doesn’t that miss the point? A test that can determine a student’s future life chances should surely relate in some practical way to the requirements of (that) life. I can’t see how that could possibly be true of the test I took.

Strauss later identified and interviewed the school board member, and reported on that interview in “Revealed: School Board member who took standardized test.”

My daughter, who is certified to teach elementary grades and high school history, but has given up finding a teaching job (2008 recession followed by recent school staff cuts imposed by our state General Assembly [see]), expressed outrage.  She is currently struggling to score well enough on the GRE to get into the graduate school of her choice.

That Florida school board member’s experience suggests a question that we are still not asking in any substantive way.  We eagerly, actively, and obsessively ask,

“What kind of teaching best practices lead to higher standardized test scores?”

We are not asking,

“How do higher scores on high-stakes standardized tests lead to satisfying, successful and productive lives and a better world?”

Brady says that decisions about how we assess teaching are,

..shaped not by knowledge or understanding of educating, but by ideology, politics, hubris, greed, ignorance, the conventional wisdom, and various combinations thereof. And then they’re sold to the public by the rich and powerful.

How many of us, productive and successful adults, would willingly and confidently take our state’s high-stakes standardized test, especially if our freedom to move forward was based on passing those tests?  

What would our legislative bodies look like, if a requirement for serving elected office was to pass the same tests that they impose on their 15 year old children?

This article has also been written about here:

Actor, Joseph Gordon-Levitt also posted a link to the article here.

 

You Can Get A Better Job

I was scanning through one of my favorite Infographics blogs a feed of infographic-related tweets this morning, taking quick peeks at a variety of projects for design ideas, when I hit this one, “20 Resume Power Words.” There was nothing about the design that caught my eye, so I swiped on to the next one. But then, about three graphics later, my mind finally registered on some of the words, and I backed up to look a little more closely.

  • Conceptualized
  • Trained
  • Built
  • Introduced
  • Strengthened
  • Directed
  • Persuaded
  • Forecasted
  • Projected
  • Assessed
  • Set goals
  • Promoted
  • Oversaw
  • Improved
  • Adapted
  • Solved
  • Initiated
  • Planned
  • Managed
  • Increased

On second glance, I realized that there was not a one of these words that any good teacher couldn’t “use in a sentence” to describe what he or she can do or has accomplished.

If this list can truly energize your resume, then you can get a better job!

Ok, there is no better job than teaching.  There is no more exciting profession, and it’s going to – trust me – get a lot better.  But there are jobs that will, right now, earn you more respect, more support, more hours for lunch, more chances to travel, less stress, less emotional chaos, and in many states, a lot more money.

In North Carolina, a starting teacher now makes less money than what fast-food workers are currently striking to earn.

Ask any sales rep, engineer, plant manager, product designer, or copy writer to conceptualize for, train, build for, introduce to, strengthen, direct, persuade, forecast and project for, assess, set goals for, promote, oversee, improve, adapt to, solve for, initiate, plan for, manage and increase the performance of

Twenty-five 13 year-olds.

‘nough said!

Ruben’s Tube

There’s a good chance that this is just a crazy guy setting fires in his garage, but there’s an equally good chance that he’s teaching us something about physics. The Ruben’s Tube was invented in 1905 by a German Physicist named Heinrich Rubens. It’s purpose is pretty clear, to visualize sound waves using many small […]

Ruben's TubeThere’s a good chance that this is just a crazy guy setting fires in his garage, but there’s an equally good chance that he’s teaching us something about physics. The Ruben’s Tube was invented in 1905 by a German Physicist named Heinrich Rubens. It’s purpose is pretty clear, to visualize sound waves using many small flames, though I can’t imagine how he came up with the idea.

Not only that, imagine hearing about this in 1905. Your friend tells you about some sort of mad scientist who is using fire to visualize a invisible shape that accompanies sound wherever it goes. I wouldn’t know whether to be afraid of what else this man is capable of or in awe of his super-human control of the elements. Anyways, enjoy the modern day execution of an old experiment.

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Tricks of Photography & Teaching

Brenda (my wife) and I are having a continuing “conversation” about photography.  She’s a purist, a once passionate photographer in the age of film.  Like many things, she set aside her passion for picture-taking for motherhood.  Yet, she continues to have an opinion about what’s good photography and what’s…

Bottom line, digital processing of photos is not photography.  She wants the photos to look like photos and the other stuff can be enjoyed by people who enjoy.. well, “other stuff.”

I’ve been trying to figure out how to explain to her the joy I have playing with the photos that I take, using a variety of computer applications, to continue to make the picture – and I think I’ve found an angle.

It started a while back when I was watching a photography podcast, a session about HDR (High Dynamic Range) (see this previous article). The speaker said that,

“HDR enables the photographer to capture what it was that inspired the taking of the picture.”

The more I thought about it, the more sense this statement made.  You see, when I look up this mountain, the house, and the distinct cloud formations above it, I’m struck by both the distance and the closeness, the sheer quantity of ground, covered by giant spruce trees standing before me and the changing hues that all seem eager to claim their place, I am overwhelmed by the awesomeness of it – and I aim and snap.

The original photo, where the brightness of the sky and clouds darkens the mountain-scape

Two more exposures, an over exposure (light) and an underexposure (dark)

The software combines the three photos, and enables me to bring through the qualities of each that recapture what it was that inspired me to snap the photo.

I can even push some of the qualities beyond their reality to make a picture even more interesting, and perhaps more inspiring.

But, when I finally display the photo on my computer screen, it comes out pretty much as it was, though not as I saw it. My mind, you see, saw more than my eyes did.  It saw the multiple distances, the sunlight swimming through millions of spruce needles, the warmth in the clouds and coolness in the mountains’ shadows.  My mind amplified the vibrant colors and registered that the scene was only part of a 360º panorama of sameness and diversity.  

My brain made the vision something that no camera could adequately capture, both functionally and technically.

But, when I take three different photos of the scene, at three different exposures, and load them all into my HDR software (Photomatix), I can bring out specific qualities of each exposure, overlap them, bleed them through and accentuate, approaching the vibrance and space that inspired me to aim and snap.  I can also exaggerate qualities creating a surreal version of the image, perhaps making interesting something that simply wasn’t to start with.

Now, there’s a reason why I tell this story here.  I use to have a bulletin board in my classroom that read, “This classroom is a lens through which you can see the rest of the world,” and I meant it.  But there was only so much of the world that I could show my students through 5+ year old textbooks, a 1948 world map, and three cracked chalk boards.  To be sure, there was not a lot more I could have done with more recent textbooks, a brand new map and shiny new white boards.  The purist would say that I was doing my job, and perhaps doing it well.  I was playing my role – educating my students and teaching them skills.

It was also during those first years of teaching that I started paying attention: to the news, to people who weren’t students or teachers, to science (became fascinated by quantum physics), to geography (we owned the book, Europe on $10 a Day (now Europe on $85 a Day) and dreamed of summers, vagabonding across the old continent).  I came to realize just how exciting and mysterious and vibrant the world really was, and was inspired to become a better teacher and better lens for my students.  

Closest that I could come. It’s so hard to find pictures of things that predate the World Wide Web.

But, I couldn’t do it.  I went back to the classroom, continuing my traditional role as teacher, expecting my students to sit still, pay attention, and remember.  My passion as a lecturer wasn’t nearly enough.

Here we are today, with a new kind of classroom.  Our personal learning devices give us access to networked, digital and overwhelmingly abundant information.  We are no longer teaching from information scarcity.

Are we now teaching in a time when we can HDR our classrooms.  Might we finally capture and share what it was about our world experience, that inspired us to teach.  Might we even exaggerate hues and contrasts and blend colors in weird ways.  Can we make knowledge flow and glow and grow and cause learning to energize our children – rather than steal it from them.

Can we push reality into our classrooms and inspire our learners to become members, participants, and shapers of their future? – and ours?

 

 

100 Years of Change

Argumentatively, more has changed in the past 100 years, than in any 100 year period before, as this infographic shows. The first step in teaching this infographic, and teaching any part of history, is to consider the cause and impact of these changes. While most students, and many administrators, may argue the unimportance of studying […]

Argumentatively, more has changed in the past 100 years, than in any 100 year period before, as this infographic shows. The first step in teaching this infographic, and teaching any part of history, is to consider the cause and impact of these changes. While most students, and many administrators, may argue the unimportance of studying history, at least in comparison to other subjects related to technology. However, these technologies have shaped the past 100 years, and it is important to understand the past impact of these technologies, in order to understand the future impact of other technologies.

In addition to the importance of history, it is important to teach it in the best way. Aside from citing the year 1913 to compare (being exactly 100 years ago), there are no dates mentioned in this infographic, and yet the importance of this infographic is still obvious. It shows the impact that 100 years has made. When I was in grade school, just 10 years ago, The most important things I was taught were the dates of major events, and a little bit about the impact. While a general idea of the dates is important (knowing that The Civil War happened after The Missouri Compromise) the exact dates are not terrible important. The most important part of history is understanding the importance of a certain event (that The Missouri Compromise put off The Civil War, but recognized the increasing tensions).

While a the knowledge of a detailed history of the United States is not important for many fields, understanding the impact that people and events have made on this country is very important. If one of your students decides to go into software development of some sort, in order for them to develop the best software possible, they must understand the past impact of other technologies. What was the impact of the discovery of electricity and the following development of the lightbulb? How have people’s lives changed for good, and for bad, as electronic devices increasingly took over our lives? How can this particular student develop software that can mend the transgressions of previous technologies, but still create a positive impact on our future?

Blog: http://visual.ly/100-years-change

The Bookbag: 2018

TRS-80 Model III
(cc) photo by Hugo Schotman
Apple IIe
(cc) photo by Mark Mathosian

I’m doing something right now that I have only gotten to do a good handful of times during my career as an educator. I am starting a brand new presentation slide deck.  What fun! Understand that when I left the classroom as a teacher, the standard for technology in the classroom was the TRS-80, and the venerable Apple IIe had only just launched. Persuasion, PowerPoint and Keynote were hardly in our imaginations.

Since I started delivering keynote addresses at conferences, I’ve had about five standard talks. They have afforded me basic structures, reasonable frameworks, about which I could tell stories that provoked new ideas about teaching and learning. Today I am starting a new one – and probably my last one.

103/366
(cc) photo by Phoenix

A compelling speaker needs a gimmick, an idea or object that is familiar, but can be turned inside out in such a way as to provoke a shakabuku, “..a swift, spiritual kick to the head that alters your reality forever,” if I might be so bold. 1

For this presentation, I’ve decided to use the school bookbag. One of the stabling blocks of promoting new ways to think about education is vocabulary. The biggie? “What do you call a textbook that’s not a book?

If it’s not a book, then what do you put in your school bookbag? I have some ideas…

But what do you think?

If students continue to bring bookbags to school in 2018, then what will be in them?

Please comment or Tweet (#bookbag2018).

Thanks!

Added Later

One thing that I do know is that a Bookbag, filled with 20 pounds of books, indicates a school based on standards — and such a school does not teach literacy nearly so much as it teaches compliance.

 

1Driver, M. (Performer) (1997). Grosse pointe blank [DVD]. Available from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119229/?ref_=sr_1