Questioning Standardized Testing

A mechanical pencil sitting on a piece of paperState and federal governments seem to be focusing on standardized tests. In fact, it has almost become an obsession, and teachers, to keep their jobs, “teach to the test.”

As I was in a meeting about this the other day, a lot of people were asking questions about improving scores, getting into college, etc, but nobody asked the big question: is this the way we should be moving forward at all? Do standardized tests predict any kind of future success after college?

By the way, no standardized test ever taught me to think that critically! At any rate, when I went looking, I found all sorts of data about standardized tests and college performance. But that is not what I am interested in. I want to know this: do kids that do well on standardized tests have more job satisfaction, and do they earn more money than their peers? I am sure the answer may be “yes” simply because the kids that do well on the tests are likely more intelligent and come from “better families,” and they will likely end up with a college degree.

Measuring learning is a tricky thing. We can’t measure it very well, so in an effort to please bureaucrats and number-crunchers we come up with our best options. So, what should be more of a guide becomes a standard we use to evaluate every student, no matter their personalities, interests, or future plans. So, if you are a bad test-taker or were stressed out the day of the test, your entire future could rest on a score that doesn’t even reflect what you know, or your potential for future success. And, schools that try to create well-rounded and successful students are starting to scrap that and focus entirely on getting students to take a two hour test each year.

I have no issue with standardized tests, and I tend to do well on them. My GRE scores were great, as were my ACT scores. While that guaranteed me money for college and graduate school, neither made me a great teacher or an innovative small business owner. I learned those things other ways, and a lot of it was from teachers who took a break from “teaching to the test” and modeled excellence in other ways (by coaching, focusing on running clubs, showing me flexibility, reaching out through humor, etc). It would be a shame if in an effort to bring the average ACT up to 26 we lost out on time to teach and model other things that matter. I doubt Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, MJ DeMarco, and other highly successful people got where they are today by focusing so much on standardized test scores. Heck, who knows what could have been invented had teens not gotten stressed out about a number on a paper. Imagine if Bill Gates spent his waking hours trying to get a 35 on his ACTs. I might be typing this on a typewriter.

A New Year, A New Chance To Gain Control Of Your Life

A brown clock on a mantleEvery so often, you meet someone who has taken some time off to totally reboot himself. It doesn’t happen often, because change is considered difficult, but it still happens. Sometimes, change is more gradual, and people “re-boot” themselves slowly, that people barely notice, except when something happens, and the transformed person responds in a different way, etc.

I spent two years re-booting myself. In 2008, I was pretty directionless. I knew I was in a funk because, outside of books required for some classes, I only bought handful of books that year. That is when a good friend of mine introduced me to some new ways of thinking, that included Neurolinguistic Programming and positive affirmations.  I started practice metacognition, i.e. “thinking about my thinking.” I realized, for the first time, that control my thoughts and actions, and instead of letting the parade pass me by, I started designing and creating the parade (and realized that I could do whatever I wanted – even if it didn’t involve a parade).

This new year is a chance for you to transform yourself. It is the time to “think about thinking.” If things haven’t gone well for you in 2012 (or the years before), consider how your thinking may be leading to this. Do you always overreact? Are you bothered by everything? Are you captive to your emotions? Do you have trouble building rapport? If something is wrong in your life, you can change it (unless of course you are a total victim – a mentality society loves to label people).

This new year is a great chance to make change. You can go from an unpopular and ineffective teacher to a popular and effective one. You can go from resented to admired. The change begins inside of you – in your mind. It starts there.

Happy new year from all of us!

Our New Years Posts

Our companion sites have a lot of New Year related tips and activities. So, instead of reproducing the material here in another form, we thought it would be best to link over to the websites instead.

A teacher should always be attempting to become the most excellent person possible. After all, educating our children to be excellent is only possible if we provide excellent examples. So, without further delay, here are the links:

New Year Resolution Ideas

Tips To Set New Years Goals

A 2012 End of Year Review

Have a safe and enjoyable New Year’s Eve. Enjoy the remainder of your break and return to school happy, refreshed, and a better, more excellent teacher.

Why Everyone Needs a Long Christmas Break

A Donder reindeer Christmas ornament I have pretty much had a long Christmas break my entire life. I went from elementary school all the way up to graduate school, and immediately went into teaching. I value my Christmas break, as do all teachers that I know.

There is always a push to get rid of long breaks for teachers. Every once in awhile, a state lawmaker or angry parent complains that teachers get too much time off.

My thought is that teachers don’t get too much time off…everybody else gets too little time off. I have another week of break left, but my friends and relatives are heading back to work today. To a person, none is ready. They are all complaining and a little cranky that they have to go back today. For some it even affected their Christmas, as the anxiety of going to work the next day impacted Christmas day activities.

Our society has trouble slowing down and resting. We have trouble putting work in its proper perspective. We cannot slow down. My cynical take is that we overwork so we can buy cheap crap we will never have time to enjoy anyway.

What if everybody had a long Christmas break? What if most factories and businesses were closed an extra day or two? Would the world fall apart? Or would we learn a few values that we desperately need to cultivate?

Think about it.

And Merry Christmas from all of us at The Popular Teacher!

Four Ways Every Single Day Can Be Like Christmas

When I was in school as a child, the holidays were magical. I think I still learned things during that time of the year, but I was definitely in the holiday spirit. I remember looking forward to the annual “Santa breakfast,” which included a local Santa and elf, usually played by a bored high school student. Somewhere near the beginning of December teachers would break out their Christmas decorations, and we would be carted to the “Santa Shop” to buy cheap gifts for our relatives. I am sure my dad cherished that “world’s greatest dad” bookmark!

Looking back, for many kids the holiday time was probably one of the few bright spots, since for many students, school was hardly pleasant.

As a teacher, Christmas still has magic. Something changes this time a year. People seem a little more decent and hopeful. I often wonder why we can’t take that “Christmas feeling” (and the actions that follow), and use it for the benefit of ourselves and our students all year long. Below are some traits that we allow ourselves to have at Christmas, but sometimes forget the rest of the year.

Generosity

Most people become a little more generous at Christmas. I remember teachers giving a few extra points at Christmas, or even allowing students to plan a little Christmas party in class. Some even took a break from the all-knowing, divine, curriculum and showed movies that taught us values. Sure, we students liked these parties and movies so we could “get out of class,” but I guarantee students across the world probably remember the parties and movies more than what you taught them yesterday.

I also remember teachers genuinely helping students with their material needs. For one month a year the needs of less fortunate students were fully considered.

Of course, we can be generous to our students and peers all year long. Students, teachers, and administrators are under a lot of pressure. A little extra credit in March won’t hurt anything, nor will being extra generous when giving to the coffee fund. Students that are less fortunate in December probably won’t get more steady income just because January rolls around. I believe in abundance. If you give, you will get back. Being stingy is never a good idea. Be generous all year long!

View Others in the Best Light

At Christmas, I tend to see people as a little more human. When I think of that student that won’t shut up, I recall his rough home life, or maybe that he is trying desperately hard to impress his girlfriend. Or that kid that constantly flunks my tests; I know she tries as hard as possible. The days when some of my peers drive me nuts? Well, they are under pressure too. Basically, at Christmas we naturally have permission to increase our empathy. How many times have I heard “it’s Christmas, so I’ll (fill in the blank with some sort of act of mercy).” If it’s good enough for Christmas time, it’s good enough for all year. I am not saying we go “easy” on people if it means making them less excellent. However, I am saying that sometimes people just need to be viewed not as monsters, idiots, or troublemakers, but as human beings just trying to get by in the (largely unhelpful) way they know how.

Seeing Friends and Family

One way to relieve stress and simply have a great life is to have friends and see them often. Many times we get into the daily grind, eking out a basic existence, and we forget that what really matters in life is the time we spend with those we love.

At Christmas, this seems to change, as we make time to see others. We host parties, and so do our friends. I have always found it depressing that during December we are super-social, to the extent that many of us can’t even attend all the parties we are invited to, and then January comes…and nothing is happening! One year a good friend of mine scheduled a party on January 31st because his roommate was out of town. I looked forward to that party all month. It was because everybody else was “done” with socializing until summer, but I had something social to look forward to. There is nothing, except self-imposed limitations, that prevent us from getting together with friends all year long.

Lights and Decorations

Christmas lights, with gingerbread and othersI have a forty minute drive to work right now, until I close on my new house. I will say that the morning darkness can be depressing, but fortunately the many lights and decorations on the way to work keep me cheery. I look forward to seeing the multitude of dazzling colors and Christmas inflatables. I typically decorate my classroom for Christmas. My lights and decorations are buried in a storage unit at the moment, so I can’t this year, but normally I do. As the students walk in, they are taken aback by the soft glow of colors. They constantly request to turn the overhead lights down so they can just enjoy the ambiance of the holiday lights.

I am not saying I should keep lights up all year, but then again, maybe I should. Many teachers make their rooms cheery and more inviting at Christmas, which relaxes everyone. Before I moved, my wife and I kept our Christmas tree up until March. We dutifully switched the lights and bulbs out based on the month’s theme. January was white and blue (winter), February was pink and red (Valentine’s) and March was green and white (St. Patrick’s). We didn’t do April, but we easily could have done pastel green, pink, and yellow for the spring. I didn’t ask people, but I can imagine that as people saw our tree on their way to work, it made them happy and brought back thoughts of the holidays If you can make your room more fun and inviting at Christmas, why not all year round?

In conclusion, we allow ourselves to be excellent at Christmas. We do the things that we know are good and right. There is no reason we can ‘t do these things year round, save our own mental limitations. I challenge everyone reading this to take that Christmas feeling, and the actions that follow from it, and remember it in January, and February, and March…and all the way until next Christmas.

What I Learned From (Nearly) Winning the Lottery

Red and purple Fireworks explodingOne day at work I was checking my email, and I got an email reporting 10/29 lottery results for Freelotto.com. I have won about $30 from Free Lotto over the years, and I have never paid for a ticket, so yes, it really is “free” and legit. Normally, per normal odds, I get about 1 to 3 numbers correct on each game, and occasionally I will win a dollar here and there. It was a normal morning. I was barely awake for my first period class, sipping my warmed-over coffee. As my students were checking their assignments on the computers, I checked my lottery results. I saw “CONGRATULATIONS!! 7/7, $10,000,000.

I was crazy excited. It is hard to describe the feeling. Instead of immediately quitting my job and booking that trip to Disney World, I immediately counter-checked the results by logging into my account and something was fishy, because it didn’t show the win. So, I was a little skeptical, but still thinking it could be possible. I let that feeling linger as I went throughout the day.

What I found was fascinating. Throughout that day:

– Even though it was a chilly day, I immediately ran home and ran 5 miles outside, with no stops for breaks
– I was cool to everybody, and the little things that normally get me frustrated didn’t mean anything
– I was feeling great. I fell asleep quickly and woke up easily
– I got my dad and grandma birthday presents and was more generous than I originally planned

Later the next day, what I secretly expected was true: the company’s computers were down because of Hurricane Sandy, and the emails were a mistake. They didn’t even draw numbers that day, which means I (and everybody else that got the glitch email) didn’t win ten million dollars.

Yet…I still felt great. I felt some disappointment, but overall I was feeling good.

The lesson here is that we can feel good right now. I didn’t really win the lottery, but when I thought I did, I allowed myself to be active, generous, cool, relaxed…i.e. my absolute best. I put the entire day in its proper perspective. That student who talked a little too much…who cares? The traffic jam on the way home? Big deal!

One thing we teach at Theta Hill is that you should do your best now. Don’t wait until you win the lottery, retire, etc. Do what you know to be the best right now.

Today is Friday!

Image of a shoreline of a Lake Erie beach Yes, today is Friday. TGIF.

Remember, a few days ago I posted about taking that Friday “feeling” and applying it to other days.

It’s time to do that! I am guessing, you are:

– excited about the weekend

– in a good mood

– treating people a little better

– working in time to see family and friends

So…take that feeling and go with it. I.e. what are you feeling? What do you “see” in your mind? What do you “hear?” For example, in your mind’s voice, say right now “It’s Friday!!!” and be super excited. What does the voice sound like? Is it confident? Is it you or somebody else? Remember that voice. Use it on the rest of the week.

See, you can be excited every day. You can be in a good mood all of the time. You can treat people better every day. You can be hang out with people on week nights too.

So, have at it! Enjoy your Friday…and every other day!