Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Marketing... over-the-top or undercooked?

After the debacle with Aleksey Vayner and his job-search video, I'm somewhat hesitant to do anything but the straight and narrow. Yes, I know, I'm writing this and you're reading this so we both know that I'm not really towing the line. At least I haven't produced a seven minute video showing me skiing, playing tennis, and dancing the cha cha. I have, however, starting working on a powerpoint to go along with my "web stuff."

Your thoughts? Have I gone Vayner, yet?

Monday, October 16, 2006

The state of education in America

Sometimes I wonder how we, as a country, have made it this far. I'm not sure our educational systems are helping us any; this recent article in the New York Times only accentuates the problem. Let's take great, degreed teachers... and tell them they are not qualified.
Jefferds Huyck stood in a corner of the gymnasium, comfortable in being inconspicuous, as the annual awards ceremony began one Friday last May at Pacific Collegiate School in Santa Cruz, Calif. He listened as the principal named 16 of Mr. Huyck’s students who had earned honors in a nationwide Latin exam, and he applauded as those protégés gathered near center court to receive their certificates.

Then the principal, Andrew Goldenkranz, said, "And here’s their teacher." Hundreds of students and parents and colleagues rose unbidden in a standing ovation. In that gesture, they were both celebrating and protesting.

As virtually everyone in the audience knew, Mr. Huyck would be leaving Pacific Collegiate, a charter school, after commencement. Despite his doctorate in classics from Harvard, despite his 22 years teaching in high school and college, despite the classroom successes he had so demonstrably achieved with his Latin students in Santa Cruz, he was not considered "highly qualified" by California education officials under their interpretation of the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Huh? A doctorate... in the subject he's teaching... and 22 years of demonstrated teaching... and he's not highly qualified? It's no wonder Mr. Huyck is moving cross town to teach at a private school.

In my limited experience, I've found that good independent schools require academic rigor: knowledge of a subject as demonstrated by an academic degree in that subject. Frankly, I'm not sure in what way a couple of courses from an education department at the local college or university is going to really do for Mr. Huyck. I'm not going to go off on a rant about education departments, but it strikes me that Mr. Huyck likely knows more about teaching Latin to high school students than anyone in some ed department.

I'm always leery when I hear of a private school that requires her teachers to be state certified. State certification means very little, at least in my book. And, I guess, in Mr. Huyck's book, too.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The teacher's desk: A thing of the past

Originally uploaded by xJuliex.
I was surprised to see this article, At the Head of Some Classes, Desks Dismissed, in the Washington Post. "Coming out from behind the furniture helps interaction, some teachers say." No kidding.
Years ago, in a classroom that had chalk, blackboards and students seated in neat rows, teacher Lee Dorman had a desk of her own. But she found herself constantly roaming to oversee projects and answer questions. She never used the desk, so she got rid of it

"I just never figured out how on earth to teach sitting down," said Dorman, 58, a veteran teacher at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington County. She calls herself "a walker and a stalker." She carries what she needs in her pockets and keeps students in what she considers a useful state of alertness because they are never quite sure where she is going to be.

Here and there, a small but growing number of teachers is following Dorman's example, educators say, abandoning the traditional classroom power center. To them, a desk is really a ball and chain, distancing them from students.
When I taught, my desk was up against the wall; I never used it. My room, thankfully, had four big tables (maybe 4x8 or so) that I could move around; some days I'd have a big conference table; other days I'd have four tables for small group work. Sometimes I'd stack the tables off to the side, and we'd have no tables.

Here's one fifth grade teacher's comments about the teacher's desk:
I have a beautiful desk in my office at home. It's where I grade papers and plan for my days with the students. A classroom is no place to be planning or grading papers -- it's a place to work with the students. Any other pieces of equipment get in the way of learning, and the kids have enough obstacles as it is. A desk for the teacher in no way helps Johnny have a better life -- everything, and I mean every square inch of Room 56, is carefully designed to help a child discover something for which he is passionate. A desk for me certainly has nothing to do with the child.
Check out the rest of the teacher quotes. Some powerful stuff.

And if you think the students don't know the difference, check out these student comments:
  • Desks make teachers lazy, so they want to sit down. So it's good you don't have one.
  • It gives teachers something to do besides teach us.
  • They distract teachers from going around to help us out.
My sentiments, exactly.