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23 signs you are an AWFUL teacher

Have you been paying close attention to all the trends in education? If not, you definitely are incompetent. Here are 23 ways to tell if you are a crappy teacher.

  1. You have no awards, certifications, or badges
  2. You have very few followers on Twitter
  3. Your classroom has INflexible seating, or worse, your students sit in ROWS!
  4. You have yet to successfully implement project based learning
  5. You don’t use iPads or ChromeBooks with your students
  6. You give tests that have easily Google-able answers, or worse, multiple choice questions
  7. You assign homework
  8. Your students have no idea how to code
  9. You often times become the sage on the stage
  10. You have failed to start a blog, write a book, or record a podcast
  11. You don’t use Google Classroom
  12. You still ask kids to write in cursive
  13. Your classroom is absent of a maker space
  14. You teach like a teacher, not a pirate
  15. Your give your students worksheets
  16. You think EdCamp sounds fun but you’re not sure you know Ed and got rid of your tent a few years ago
  17. You think STEM is a plant part and BYOD has something to do with parties
  18. You think standardized tests are a valid measurement of student progress
  19. You only teach your kids citizenship but haven’t gotten to digital citizenship yet
  20. Your classroom isn’t flipped.
  21. You use explicit instruction instead of guided inquiry
  22. You teach procedural math instead of conceptual.
  23. You like Betsy Devos, or worse, Donald Trump

Now, before you throw your computer out the window, this list is sarcastic.

So why did you write this, Tim?

I want to take the pressure off teachers.  I have taught for 29 years. I do tons of research. I think of myself as a competent teacher. But I am also completely far from my teaching goals. If that’s true at 29 years, then certainly it is true at 15 or 5. There is so much postulating in teaching, pretending to have all the ducks in a row, and this air of master teacher. I really don’t think it exists. Dylan Wiliam says that one lifetime isn’t enough to master this job. As I stare retirement in the face, I completely agree.

Does this list contain some good stuff? Of course! Should teachers work to get better? By all means! But come on folks. Are there amazing teachers out there who fit all 23 of these items? FOR SURE! I know some. There are many ways to give students a highly productive year without any of the above. And let’s quit calling teachers out and saying, “They’re doing kids a disservice,” when they fail to meet up to our narrowly defined EduAwesome teacher.

I probably should explain my thinking on a few of these signs, although what does it really matter, right? We can all believe what we want.

#1. Some awards are nothing but random. There are a jillion amazing teachers out there who are never recognized for their accomplishments. Certifications can be good, but many experts never jump through the hoops to gain certification.

#3 I definitely love the trend in nontraditional classrooms, but let’s face it, these things cost a lot of money and take time. Some teachers have neither or choose to put their efforts elsewhere and they’re still excellent teachers.

#4 PBL can be good but it can also be a huge waste of time. Let’s not expect everyone to use PBL.

#6 When students memorize important information it frees up working memory to deal with more complex issues, so I’m not at all opposed to teachers testing students on facts that can be Googled. Experts don’t all agree on this topic, so let’s give our peers lots of grace. I wrote a blog post on this topic here.

#7 I’m definitely on the anti-homework bandwagon, but I wasn’t for many years, and I was probably still a good teacher. I don’t like it when kindergarten teachers send home packets or third grade teachers ask students to write their spelling words 5 times each, but those teachers still might be better teachers than I am.

#8 Coding is super cool! But there are only so many hours in the day, and there are some darn good teachers out there who don’t code with their kids. It would be great if they did, but they can still be effective. Kids learn a lot through coding, but they also learn a lot from writing stories or reading quality literature.

#9 I consider myself a pseudo-constructivist, but I have seen some fantastic teachers who open kids brains and dump the knowledge in. I think they could be better if they did it differently, but again, grace.

#11 I don’t know how to use Google Classroom, though I know I could easily figure it out. My students still learn tech, but they do it differently. Does that make me a bad teacher? Of course not.

#13-14 Maker spaces and teaching like a “pirate” are fantabulous! I LOVE Dave Burgess and all the ideas coming out of his publishing company, but there are great teachers out there who have never heard of this stuff.

#15 Okay, worksheets don’t grow dendrites; I get that. But seriously, if you write some math problems out on document and pass out that document to your students, did you do your kids a “disservice?” Can great teachers do some really cool things with a worksheet? I believe so. Is it a great idea to make your kids sit in their seats, do worksheets all day, collect and correct them, and then send them home to mommy? Probably not.

#16 Reading a really well-written, research-based teacher book can be more beneficial than a few hours spent at EdCamp, so don’t assume teachers are close-minded or out of touch if they don’t attend EdCamps.

#18 I detest standardized tests. I call them “kid torture.” But I don’t think you’re a bad teacher if you like them.

#19 I rarely teach digital citizenship. My parents never taught it to me, but they raised me to respect everyone, use professional language, and never bully. These character traits certainly carry over to the digital world without specific lessons on the subject.

#20 I LOVE Jon Bergmann and his ideas have truly helped millions of educators. Jon influenced me to flip my back to school night. It’s great stuff! But the point here is that there are many amazing teachers who choose to not flip their lessons, and that’s just fine.

#23 I know very little about Betsy Devos (and I definitely don’t trust the media to tell me accurate information about her) and I can’t stand Donald Trump, but if you love Betsy and wear a “Make America Great Again” cap, I can still like you and respect you. You just might be the greatest teacher on earth! If other educators feel the same way, you sure can’t tell by reading their Tweets or FaceBook posts.

Of the 23 items on my list, I fit 14. How many of these indicators describe you?


Using Online Forms for Peer Critique

Since 2012, I’ve been using online forms to guide my students through a peer critique process of their writing.

4th Graders use iPad to fill in peer critique form.

Here are some samples of the forms I use with my class. Feel free to make your own copy, modify as needed, and use them with your students.

I share about using online forms in episode 16 of the 5-Minute MishMash podcast. Listen below. The whole show is, well, 5 minutes long.

How do I train my students to peer critique using forms?

  1. I spend a great deal of time modeling the use of the forms with sample student work. I show the student sample using a document camera. I flip back and forth between the writing sample and the form on my computer. I do a lot of think aloud as I model.
  2. I ask students to participate in the modeling. As students grow accustomed to the process, I ask students to share their thinking and vote on scores.
  3. I fishbowl peer critiques. I choose two students to model the process while the rest of the students form a circle around the pair. I analyze student behaviors and ask the students to give feedback as well.
  4. I carefully monitor on task behavior. As I transition to all students doing peer critique simultaneously, I work the room and tune into student conversations as well as the scores they give each other. I’m very concerned with students rushing too quickly through the process.
  5. We reflect on the process. For every step you see above, I spend considerable time and effort asking my students to self-reflect. Were you on task? Did you read the entire paper? Were you honest with your critique? On a scale of 1-5, how open were you to your partner’s feedback? Etc.

Why do I spend so much time on peer critiques?

  1. The most important reason for using this process with my students is this: When we critique the work of others, we end up being more analytical of our own work. Some teachers, students, or parents seem concerned with the scores and accuracy of the peer critique. Honestly, this isn’t a major concern of mine. My main purpose is to get the kids looking repeatedly at what makes for quality writing. In order to fill in the form, the students are spending time repeatedly reading things like, “Topic sentence fits the details of the paragraph,” or “Author uses rich vocabulary.” The repeated exposure to these expectations engrains the concepts in the students’ minds.
  2. Growth mindset. Teachers expect students to listen to the critique of others and improve their writing. It encourages them to see their work as always progressing and never perfect.
  3. Tech Skills. Students use technology as a tool for learning.
  4. Soft skills. Students learn so many soft skills through this process. As students share their thinking with peers, they learn to communicate more clearly. They also have to learn collaborate because they need to try to say things with tact to avoid alienating their peers. They have to learn to stay on task and not goof around when working with a peer. They learn empathy, patience, honesty, and much more.
  5. Writing process. Students revise and edit as a result of the peer critique.
  6. Instant feedback and accountability. Teachers can accomplish most of the above reasons without the use of online forms. By using the technology, students sense that the teacher can see their results instantly after completing the critique. Also, the teacher finds out right away which students are on task and which are off.

And they obviously become stronger writers.

Making Your Classroom a More Positive Place

In episode 13 of The 5-Minute MishMash, I share 5 tips to bring some more positivity into your classroom. You can listen to the show here…

And read the transcript here…

  • Trick number 1: Be a Never-ending Tsunami of Positivity. Just start saying positive things as often as you can. Anything positive at all. I love being here. This is fun. What a great day. I love learning. What a cool bunch of kids. Epic. Awesome. Amazing. Do you ever have kids react in a way that shows a bad attitude? Like if you say, take out your math books, some kids might groan? The best way to combat these inappropriate reactions is for you to be a tsunami of positivity.
  • Trick number 2: Talk to Kids Privately about misbehavior. When students misbehave, don’t correct them publicly. Find an opportunity to bend down, look them in the eye, and very calmly correct them for their poor choice. Let the student know that you believe in them, that you know they just made a mistake, didn’t do it on purpose, and that you want the best for them. No lectures. No shaming. Just a little positive pep talk. If a child is making a bad choice that must be dealt with immediately and publicly, then simply ask the student to stop very quickly and move on. Then address their poor choice in a face to face later. This will keep the positive climate strong in your room. Don’t let the negative choices of your students suck the positivity out of you as the class leader.
  • Trick number 3: Write Kids Nice Notes. Take 2 minutes every day to write a simple little nice note to one or two students. Leave the note in a hiding place where the student will find it. Everyone loves getting mail. How can kids disrespect you or defy you if you’ve written them really nice notes?
  • Trick number 4: Be ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’. The Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books is well-known for stories of human triumph. Be a walking Chicken Soup book for your students. Tell stories of inspiration to your class as often as possible. If you don’t have your own stories to tell about students or friends, dig up a few from a Chicken Soup book or from the Internet. Everyone loves stories, and telling positive anecdotes about former students (or even current students) will inspire them to excel. Your kids will want to be the focus of your next positive story. By doing this you are valuing goodness and making it so loud that the negative gets drowned out.
  • Trick number 5: Let kids overhear you bragging about them. Your students will live up to whatever they think your opinion is of them. One of the most powerful ways to pump your kids up is to “accidentally” let your kids overhear you telling a colleague, the principal, some parents, or other students something incredible about them. When kids think it’s an accident, they’re more likely to believe it. They won’t want to disappoint you so they’ll really be motivated to be the best version of themselves possible.

And now for a little confession. This episode isn’t for you…it’s for me. I am not telling you what you should do. I’m reminding myself of what I need to do to turn around some negativity that I’ve allowed to creep into my classroom. Yes, these tricks are simple, but they’re also extremely difficult. I am far from perfect at implementing my own tricks and this episode is a reminder for me to get back to what works. Annnnd maybe they’ll help you as well.

I’d cherish your comments.

It’s Raining Handouts!

When I pass out papers to my class, I chuck them in the air and let them rain down all over the room.

Yes, I really do this. And I did it with my 3rd graders, my 4th graders, my middle schoolers, and even with teachers during workshops.

5 Reasons to chuck handouts

  1. It’s fun The kids, and even the adults, get energized when they see me throw handouts into the air and have them explode all around them. It’s a party. It lightens the mood. It shows that you don’t take yourself too seriously. It makes you more approachable.
  2. It saves time If I can save the 2 minutes of slowly passing papers down aisles, or having student representatives help pass out papers, then I potentially could be adding hundreds of minutes of instructional time to my school year. That’s a lot more time for more important matters, even if it’s playing with the kids or resting.
  3. It encourages teamwork I train my students to quickly take a paper, but they also learn to pick up extra papers in their proximity and look for students who have a raised hand indicating they didn’t get a paper.
  4. It’s energizing All students get up and move. They get a burst of exercise that can help them be more alert to learn.
  5. It requires maturity I make it perfectly clear to my students that if they get super wild or can’t settle down after I throw the papers, then I can’t do it the next time. And they WANT me to throw those papers, so they learn to handle the crazy with maturity.

So do I chuck papers when I’m passing out papers with student names on them? Yes. The trick on this one is to have each student grab ONE paper only and hand it to the owner. They don’t look for their own paper. They don’t grab two or three papers. They just grab one and quickly get it to the owner. If a student hands one paper out and has extra time, then they grab a second to give out. This saves a LOT of time. I can pass out 30 named papers to students in about 30 seconds rather than take three minutes handing them to the owners one at a time.

Try it with your class. Shoot a video and Tweet it to me, won’t you? I will share out your video.

Here’s this week’s episode of The 5-Minute MishMash where I share about raining handouts…and more!

If you can Google it…

The Anti-memorization Trend in Education

Have you heard this argument? It sounds something like this:

Kids will have the Internet in their pocket at all times the rest of their lives. If your student can Google the answer to a question, then you’re a bad teacher when you ask your kids to memorize this “Google-able” information or test them on it. Only test questions that CAN’T be Googled are worthwhile.

Mark Dawe, the OCR exam board chief executive, supported the idea of students using Google on their exams. He said this:

“Surely when they [students taking the exam] learn in the classroom, everyone uses Google if there is a question. It is more about understanding what results you’re seeing rather than keeping all of that knowledge in your head because that’s not how the modern world works.”

I fully understand the concern. When I went through school (in the 70’s and 80’s), teachers would throw a bunch of information at us, ask us to read some material in the textbook, and then test us on seemingly meaningless facts…and normally using a multiple guess style exam.

I also am a big fan of using technology with kids. I want my students to be skilled at research. I want them to be able to sift through searches on the Internet and choose reliable sources. I want my students to be computer literate. These are absolutely essential in the 21st century classroom.

BUT, I totally disagree with the “If you can Google it…” trend in education. I want my students to memorize things. I want them to know a ton of facts! I test my students on “Google-able” information all the time, and no, they aren’t allowed to use technology to find the answers.

My friend John Eick and I agreed to independently record our thoughts on this topic. Please take a few minutes to listen to John’s Podcast (player below), “Learning with John Eick,” where he discusses his views on the anti-memorization trend in education. Leave comments for each of us, won’t you?

My Logic

Fluid Work Flow If we humans have to Google everything, we can’t fluidly move through complex problems because we’re too busy searching for basic answers. Let’s say I have an issue getting my video editing software to work. I pull up a help website for FinalCut. I begin reading and realize that I don’t understand several terms on the website. What is a “transition?” I Google the word “transition.”  A few minutes later, I think I’ve got it. Oh great, what does “jump cut” mean? I Google it. You get the picture. It would take me forever to get through complex problems if I had to Google all the prerequisite knowledge.

Sounding Uneducated Have you ever met someone who doesn’t have basic knowledge on historical facts, names of states or countries, scientific facts, etc. Not very impressive. An American adult who doesn’t know that George Washington was the first president of the United States? Where is New York? Wait, let me Google it. Why doesn’t this lamp work? Hang on while I Google it. OH! I need to plug it into this wall hole thing. It’s not a wall hole thing; it’s called an electrical socket. Google it. Hey, anyone want to go dinosaur hunting after work? Again, you get the idea.

Mind Development I’m no brain research expert, but from what I know, memorization is good for the brain. When we exercise our brains, they develop and become more powerful. Sometimes, just the process, the act of memorizing is plain old good for us.

So the question to me is not, “Do we expect students to memorize things they can Google?” The real discussion should focus on, “What Google-able facts should we ask our students to memorize?”

Should our schools revert to the methods of 30 years ago, before the age of the Internet? Of course not. Should school be a place where kids solely memorize a bunch of random facts and then regurgitate them on tests? No way!

What types of things do I want my 5th graders to memorize?

  • Morphemes The more letter group meanings my students memorize, the easier they will be able to solve unknown words.
  • Math Facts and Formulas I want my students to commit 8 x 7 to memory. I don’t time my students on math facts, but I do want them to have the ability to answer math facts without having to Google them or spend 30 seconds figuring them out. How do we find the area of a rectangle? Hopefully my students have worked with the concept enough to truly understand the concept, but in the end, they need to know its length times width.
  • Important Historical Facts When was World War II? Who was the evil leader responsible for killing millions of innocent people during this period of history? Why is the date July 4, 1776 significant? Who did America defeat in the American Revolution?
  • Spelling I want my students to know how to spell most words that they use frequently. It’s perfectly normal to not know the spelling for a handful of words that we commonly use. But if someone has to Google the spelling of every-other word they write? Awful! Laborious. Uneducated.
  • Vocabulary Do we really want our students reading a book and Googling every tenth word? Is it ok if my kids don’t know the meaning of a quadrilateral by heart? Nope. How ridiculous would it be to have to pause a conversation or TV show every 30 seconds to Google the meaning of a word?
  • Scientific Facts What’s the difference between a hurricane and a tornado? What is sodium chloride? Why do you look like your parents?

So if all the above facts are easily Googled, what is the point of school? Shouldn’t we just let kids sit at home and teach themselves? If kids know that they have any sort of lesson readily available on YouTube and other Internet sources, is there a point in sending kids to school for 5 hours a day?

The answer to this thick question is an aside to the focus of this post, but in short, school must be more than a place to learn facts. A good teacher acts as a mentor, a guide, and designs learning experiences that are far more powerful than watching a video on YouTube. The best learning environments are those where rich two-way communication is common, both teacher-student and student-student. This is possible, but not common, in Internet educational situations.

Here’s another blog post arguing a similar stance.

It’s the day after I posted the above thoughts, and I keep thinking of more. Here are a couple of other reasons I think it’s important to help my students memorize as much as I possibly can.

Job Interviews Will you get hired if you need to Google something after being asked a question? No, I don’t mean an interviewer will ask factual questions in a job interview (although, that’s not too crazy of a thought), but will I be given the opportunity to Google part of the interviewer’s question because I don’t understand what they’re asking me?

Audience Listening Skills Do I have time to Google information or vocabulary if I’m listening to a speaker? Even if I have time, will it look rude? There are many situations in life where I am listening to someone speak, and to glean the most from their oration, I will need to have a LOT of things memorized. If I get stuck, it’s inconvenient to Google away my confusion. In fact, just today I was listening to a podcast, and my comprehension of the discussion was severely hampered by my lack of knowing of something “Google-able.” A British educator was talking about “QLA’s,” something I’m unfamiliar with. Could I pause the show and Google it? Of course, but it would be so much nicer if I already knew the meaning. And thus is life. The more we know without using Google, the smoother things go.

Using Microlectures and Quick Shares to Reach Students with Short Attention Spans

Most of my 5th graders have a hard time focusing on any sort of lecture for longer than about two minutes. With this in mind, I use microlectures to share important information with my class. Listen to episode 12 of The 5-Minute MishMash to learn more. Also in this episode: “Fact and Opinion” song, the real definition of rectangles, tour the states and world, and the power of pair share series part 6. 

The 5-Minute MishMash is offering free Rockin’ the Standards songs for anyone who writes a review on iTunes. This is a limited time offer. After your review posts, send a tweet @5MinMishMash and let me know.

Wasting Instructional Time

Maximizing instructional minutes has been one of my passions over the course of my teaching career. After years trying to find ways to cut corners and give my kids the most out of every school day, I’ve arrived at a place of moderation.

Time can’t be replaced, but stressed out kids are even harder to deal with.

Redeem the Time

On the one hand, I still don’t want to waste time during the school day. I have five hours of contact time with my students, 25 hours each week. If I waste that time, my students will not get a good education and will be unprepared for school the following year. Most of my class performs below grade level, particularly in language arts. How can I get them up to grade level? This takes time.

So in my efforts to use our five hours efficiently, I do things like a two-minute start and “Stand When You’re Ready.” These types of techniques speed up the pacing of the class without having negative impacts on student achievement.

Taking our Time

On the other hand, I don’t want my students to feel like everything we do is rushed. I don’t want to stress my kids out because stressed out students don’t learn as well…and an overload of stress is harmful to one’s well-being.

In my efforts to take our time, I do things like brain breaks, think time, opportunities for students to just talk about their thinking (I talk about using pair share for ‘release’ in The 5-Minute MishMash, episode 11), and occasional jokes to lessen the stress.

Action Plan

Here’s my suggestion: Have a sit-down with a colleague. Talk about how you use your instructional minutes. Analyze yourself and figure out where you land on the “instructional minutes” continuum. Are you using up a lot of time on things that just don’t matter? Are there ways you could cut some corners without raising your students’ stress levels? Or perhaps you’re too much of a time-on-task Nazi. Maybe you need to chill out a bit and let your kids (and yourself) be human on occasion. Be honest, and then be patient with yourself. Change takes time. You’re not going to bring things into a perfect balance overnight…and frankly, that perfect balance doesn’t really exist.

I value your comments.

No Sub? Now What?

So your teaching partner isn’t feeling well and there’s no sub. Disaster, right? Nope! A great opportunity to give your students an authentic audience.

Last week, that’s what happened on my campus. I must admit, my first reaction wasn’t supportive and positive. I didn’t have any hard feelings at all toward the sick teacher…just thinking NO! what a hassle to have a bunch of kids in my room who I don’t know and who don’t know me.

But then I was inspired for some crazy reason. Instead of splitting the class up between three other teachers (10 kids each), I volunteered to take all 30. What? Crazy? Yeah…crazy awesome! 60 kids to keep on task.

Over the previous two days, I had taught my students the characteristics of the three Common Core writing genres. My students paired up with our visitors and tutored them on what they’d been learning about writing. My students, even the strugglers, stepped up to the plate and really got into it. I could have walked out and none of my students would have noticed. That’s when you know things are spot on!

I stopped the kids every once in a while to build them up. “Wow scholars! You are really doing an amazing job teaching our guests about the three writing genres! I saw Maxx over here quizzing his tutee to check and make sure the learning was getting through. Keep it up!”

After about 15 minutes of cognitive engagement, I told the kids to find a new partner and check to see how well the previous tutor did. They were off! The buzz of excitement was renewed and the kids were learning.

We all know it’s true…we are more engaged and learn best when we authentically need to teach others.

Share a comment, won’t you?

Fraction Talks on the Latest Episode of The 5-Minute MishMash

Have you heard of Fraction Talks? It’s a very powerful teaching method. Also in this episode:

  • Story Parts Song: Fun song that helps kids remember that stories have characters, setting, and a plot.
  • Using Pair Share to reflect on behavior.
  • Creative Teaching Podcast with John Spencer.

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