Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Proud Michigan Educator

Why do I teach, you ask?  I teach, because it is a highly rewarding and fulfilling profession. Teachers have one of the most important, meaningful, and purpose-driven jobs of anyone today. We share valuable information and important skills to encourage a love of learning that will serve students the rest of their lives. I do this work because I am committed to having a positive impact on the future of each student that I serve.

I wake up each morning and serve students at Iroquois Middle School. Being a role model and teaching students the skills and knowledge they need beyond the classroom is extremely inspiring and rewarding. No two days in teaching are ever the same. 

For me, now a teacher myself, my motivation has always come from students in my classroom. I know that it is essential to make lesson plans interesting in order to get all students motivated about learning. I emphasize the collaborative and cooperative nature of scientific work. I do my best to creatively facilitate the engaging interaction between students and provide feedback based on their observations. 

Teachers need perseverance, passion, validation, and hope; and today, given all that is happening, it is an excellent time to be a teacher.

My former teachers helped me get where I am today by providing me with an exceptional education. The math, reading, and writing skills I developed as a student supported me in my journey to becoming a successful teacher today. Playing sports and being involved in student government taught me valuable life lessons about teamwork, time management, and responsibility. As a student, I learned the benefits of getting along with people from different cultures, which continues to assist me in my career. This lesson came full circle, in fact, when I recently traveled to New Zealand for a teacher exchange program to learn from and share my experiences with foreign educators from abroad.

So many educators had a positive influence on my life. They encouraged me to explore my curiosities, supported me with my struggles, and celebrated my successes. They cared about me, my learning, my life, and they wanted me to find happiness within myself so that I could be capable of helping others. They inspired me and pushed me to be my best in the classroom and on the athletic fields. I am now trying to pay this positive influence forward to my students.

During my time in the classroom, I have learned so much about myself, my practice, my students:

     Be persistent. Never give up on students, parents, and colleagues. Everyone is in this together, and it truly takes a village to educate a child properly.

     Be open-minded. Listen to other people and their opinions. The more information you have, the better decisions you can make. Communication and organization is essential for highly effective teachers. 

     Think positive. There is a lot of negativity out in the world, especially within the field of education. You need to have a positive outlook in order to combat all of the negativity.

     Try different roles until you find your niche. Spend time with different people and in various extracurricular activities. Use your hobbies and passions as a guide.

     Always want to learn. Whether it is a new technology or a new teaching strategy, teachers are life-long learners. We need to be learning alongside our students and show how passionate we are in seeking knowledge. 
[Excerpted from my previous post, “Why I Teach”]

As I reflect on my role as a Proud Michigan Educator and advocator for the teaching profession, I continue to realize that teaching is a multifaceted job and not just a trade. The daily rewards and challenges make every day unique, and most importantly, worth it all.  

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Tackling Student Apathy

Versions of this Op-Ed were published in the Oakland Press, Detroit Free Press, and Michigan Education Association Voice Magazine.

Teachers can do only so much. Parents must play role in children's education. 

We can’t truly address the issues facing schools until we make a serious effort to tackle issues of parental involvement, student apathy and poverty.

Many of the students struggling in schools lack parental involvement at home. They do not have the structure and discipline at home needed to be a successful student. These students struggle with organization and time management skills needed to complete assignments in a timely manner.

Our staff consistently contacts the homes of struggling learners to see if the parents are accessing their child’s grades on line. Unfortunately, many are not for various reasons — or excuses.

Many parents are not able to be home with their child because of work or other commitments. They may feel that their child’s education is a low priority in their life. If a parent acts like education is unimportant at home, or if he or she is unable to help the child become a successful student, the child tends to become apathetic toward education.

Apathetic students do not pursue due dates or appreciate the significance of obtaining an education. They simply don’t care. They may be overwhelmed with the class assignments, their home life, or other commitments in and out of school. Parents of these students either make their choices for them or are not involved enough.

After speaking to colleagues about this problem, we determined that student apathy could be caused by a lack of connection between the student and the classroom or the teacher. We should support our students with their extracurricular activities, and show that we’re excited about their passions. In order to avoid apathy building among students, educators need to ask students about their passions and goals.

Because there is a relationship between economic advantage and student performance, students of disadvantaged households are more likely to develop feelings of apathy. This is a major problem facing our institution, especially as 20% of American children are living in poverty.

The high level of achievement required of all students — including students of poverty — places a lot of pressure on schools. Our school, for example, provides students of poverty with a free or reduced priced breakfast and lunch in order to improve their health and nutrition, which can in turn enhance their learning. We also provide free tutoring to at-risk students after school and during the summer. If the student’s family cannot afford a field trip or an educational resource, our school will cover the cost. Our school also offers free counseling to students and families in need of guidance through social workers.

One of the biggest challenges I face in my job is number of students in my classroom. Since state funding for schools has been cut, our class size limits have been lifted. This makes it more difficult to give each student the individual attention he or she needs and deserves.

I have donated numerous hours of my time to help my students before or after class, especially if they return to homes where their parents do not help them with homework.

However, there’s only so much we as educators can do — policymakers must focus on addressing these issues of poverty and apathy in order for all students to be successful.

One thing our state’s elected leaders can’t continue to do is place such an emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing. It is an unfair measure of student achievement and misinforms the public. Test results do not take into account socioeconomic issues that affect students’ education. Instead, we must focus our energy on empowering all students to care and understand the importance of obtaining a quality education.

A child’s education begins at home with their parents and continues in the classroom. When a child does begin school, parents need to be there for support and encouragement. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Dispatch: New Zealand

Through an Oakland University study abroad program, I taught 4th and 5th grade at Sunnyvale Primary School in New Zealand. These are reflections and memories from my experiences:

My experience was professionally and personally rewarding: I learned new teaching strategies, developed my listening skills and adapted my lifestyle to live and work in a new environment.

As a result, I have become a more confident, well-rounded and self-reflective educator. I was challenged to teach all subjects, including swimming, fitness, art, sport and music. I had to listen carefully to different accents. Many words we use in the United States have different meanings or do not exist in New Zealand’s vocabulary.

For example, if I asked a student to place a “period” at the end of a sentence, they had no idea what I was talking about. In New Zealand, a period is called a “full stop.” If I asked a student to pull out an eraser, they would call it a “rubber.” Soccer is a word unique to New Zealand and America: we are the only countries that use it to describe the game we love.

Americans learn “opposites” when they travel to New Zealand. You walk on the left side of the sidewalk and drive on the left side of the road. The driver’s side of the car is on the right. I walked into many people, always questioned myself about which direction a car was going and entered the car on the driver’s side when I was not even driving.

As I lived with my assistant principal and her family who emigrated from Scotland, I never had the opportunity to drive. She provided any transportation that I needed.

The country’s population of about 4 million is one-third European, one-third Pacific Islander and one-third native Maori. In every direction are mountains, and in a short drive you can be at beaches on the Pacific Ocean or on the Tasman Sea which separates New Zealand from Australia. America’s film industry has recently discovered its beautiful landscape.

Almost everyone I met had traveled to another country. They are knowledgeable and aware of the United States and have a lot of respect for us because they recognize that the decisions we make affect their economy and well-being. They watch U.S. television shows and movies and read U.S. books and magazines.

New Zealand’s environmentally conscious society suffers from the depleting ozone layer, and its residents easily develop skin cancer. Photovoltaic arrays and buildings with more windows make use of sunlight. Roads and cars are smaller and more fuel-efficient. Where there is a garbage can, there is likely to be a recycling can.

If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend traveling to this beautiful country.

Do you want to see the world? For information on OU's study abroad programs, click here

If you are interested in the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching, click here

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Holiday Breakfast Recipe for Pecan Apple Pancakes

This holiday breakfast recipe for pecan apple pancakes makes six servings (18 pancakes total). Prep time is 15 minutes and the batch should be cooked for 10 minutes total.

• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 cup sugar

• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
• 1/2 teaspoon ground mace
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
• 2 eggs
• 1-3/4 cups buttermilk
• 3 tablespoons canola oil
• 1-3/4 cups shredded peeled apples
• 1/2 cup chopped pecans

• In a large bowl, mix the first nine ingredients. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, buttermilk and oil until blended. Add to flour mixture; stir just until moistened. Stir in apples and pecans.

• Lightly grease a griddle; heat over medium-low heat. Pour batter by 1/4 cupful’s onto griddle. Cook until bubbles on top begin to pop and bottoms are golden brown.

• Turn; cook until second side is golden.

Published in the Oakland Press. Click here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Toxic Environment of Standardized Testing

High-quality tests that accurately assess student learning and help teachers understand how to improve instruction are an essential part of an excellent education. But in some states and districts today, large-scale standardized testing has gotten out of hand, with students taking as many as 20 standardized tests per year.
This was the situation in Michigan not too long ago. Teachers, parents, and students felt powerless when it came to government-mandated standardized tests such as the Michigan Student Test for Educational Progress (M-STEP).
It was difficult for us to understand if the amount of time spent on standardized testing was actually beneficial to students. Hours were taken away from teaching and learning time last school year in order to administer the M-STEP. This was a problem.
Many teachers thought standardized tests were an unreliable and inaccurate measure of student growth. Educators argued standardized tests should not be on the cutting edge of education because it promotes teaching to the test, which can impede, rather than promote, learning. Frustrated teachers and parents of Michigan finally came together and demanded less time for standardized testing and more time for learning. They had enough.
After listening to public opinions, complaints, and feedback, the Michigan Department of Education shortened the length of the M-STEP. This change shows the importance of teachers’ voices in education policy.
Teachers need to be as respected as other professionals. They need to have a say in education reform efforts. Michigan lawmakers seem to have accepted the importance of teacher input when developing education policies.
But one thing our state’s elected leaders can’t continue to do is place such an emphasis on standardized testing. Instead, we must focus our energy on empowering all students to care and understand the importance of obtaining a quality education.
The goal of using data produced by standardized tests is to extract a correlation between the knowledge of the student and the effectiveness of the teacher. However, there is not a reliable learning assessment resource available to measure the different impact of each.
Besides the effectiveness of the teacher, the knowledge of the student is also affected by social factors such as student apathy, peer relations, poverty and parent involvement. Tests cannot be the only assessment used to help with the evaluating, rating, and ranking of schools, teachers and school systems.
The toxic environment of standardized testing is causing teachers to consider leaving the profession because of the increase in pressure, wasted time, and negative impact on the classroom. Standardized testing has eroded student learning time, while doing nothing to shed light on the achievement gaps between schools.
In 2002, No Child Left Behind doubled the number of standardized tests. Unfortunately, standardized testing does not solve our problems and has not increased student achievement (National Academy of Sciences, 2011). According to the 2015 Phi Delta Kappa Gallup Poll, the public is opposed to the emphasis on standardized testing.
There are many factors that impact student achievement in schools, including measures like student attendance, access to advanced courses and school discipline policies. These all need to be considered.

Lawmakers in Lansing might take a cue from education historian and policy analyst Diane Ravitch: “Sometimes the most brilliant and intelligent minds do not shine on standardized tests because they do not have standardized minds.”