Ask the kids…

The AFT conference that I just attended had a pre-conference session about “Negotiating Teacher Development and Evaluation.”  I think it’s safe to say that teacher evaluation is a pretty hot topic these days.  Over the course of 3 days I heard a fair amount on the topic.  There was even a ratification of the Baltimore Teacher’s contract on Wednesday that is actually rather ground-breaking.  Part of it was nudged on by RTTT (Race to the Top) dollars.  The verdict is still out on whether or not you were lucky to get those dollars or whether you were lucky that you didn’t.  But anyway… teacher evaluation is the million dollar question.

After milling the topic over in my head for the past few days, I decided that I’d ask my students what they thought.  Before I asked my main question, I asked them “How do you determine whether someone is a good student or not?”

The kinds of answers I got were interesting.  What was important to them?  How much a student improved.  Attendance.  Attitude. Effort.  How much work they do.  When I asked them how standardized tests played into this question they were quite certain that those tests weren’t a true indicator of a good student.  They argued that there are a lot of students who don’t test well but do homework and work hard.

After asking what a makes a good student, I ventured into the category of what makes a good teacher.  Both of the classes I asked had the same first answer.  A teacher that can answer their questions.  They want someone who knows their content.  They want someone who can take the complicated stuff in a textbook and help them translate it so they can understand.  They like small classes where they can interact with each other and the teacher.  They like a teacher that has control of the classroom and they can learn in an environment that is free of chaos.  They want a teacher that helps them to learn.

I also asked if they were a teacher, would they want their performance based solely on students’ test scores?  Absolutely not.  They don’t want to be judged on those tests themselves.

The discussion didn’t last that long.  But I thought it was interesting that the things they said were important in good students and good teachers are things that are not easily measurable.

I realize that teacher evaluation is a topic that isn’t going away any time soon.  The lingo is changing from Highly Qualified Teacher to Highly Effective Teacher.  But really… How do you measure the effectiveness of someone?  It’s highly subjective.  And as my session indicated, there needs to be multiple measures.  But if you really want to get to the bottom of it quickly…  Just as the kids.



No free wi-fi at a Hilton?  There’s free wi-fi all over the place.  Starbucks, McDonald’s, Caribou, Barnes & Noble, mom and pop coffee shops…  But not the Hilton.

I’m at an AFT Collective Bargaining Conference in San Diego.  I’ve never been to San Diego.  I can’t remember when I’ve been in California to stay for a few days.  I’ve been passing through LAX a few times or flying over on my way to Asia, but I don’t think I’ve stayed since I was in the single digits.

On my flight I did get to see the Grand Canyon from the air and a nice sunset over the Pacific.  I found the airport shuttle easily and checked in.  My room is fairly close to all of the conference locations.  My first decision was which bed to sleep in.  Hmm… Maybe I’ll try the other one another night.

Food was next on my list of needs.  My options tonight consisted of two hotel restaurants.  I ended up with the bar option.  A glass of Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley along with a small pizza was a nice end to the long day.  But guess what?  I’m two time zones later than normal.  It’s only 8:30 and I’m ready for bed.


I found some free wi-fi but I have to sit in the conference lobby to use it.  Oh well…


And so it begins…


We all knew that our fabulous fall would come to an end. There’s no transition time this year. Hello winter!


Do you have anchors in your life?  They are the people whom you can talk to that calm you down.  They know you so well that there is a certain peace that you feel when you talk and interact with them.  An understanding.  They get where you’re coming from.  They get you.

I have anchors in different areas of my life.  I realized the idea of these anchors when I noticed that my anchors were missing.  In my career, my anchors are Margaret, Kathleen and Joy.  Margaret is having a wonderful time in Portugal this year.  Kathleen had a stint at a charter school, worked for the Department of Natural Resources and then came back to teaching.  Joy is still at my school, but has been gone this quarter because of her maternity leave.

Awhile back, I got a call from Margaret.  I was so shocked when she called from Portugal.  It felt so good to talk to her.  They got some sort of deal so they can make calls to the US after 9pm.  We talked for over an hour!

Later that week, I was able to meet both Joy and Kathleen for a happy hour.  There was a big group that was seeing Joy and her new baby.  Even though we were in a big group, for some reason, I felt better just spending some time with them.

I don’t know how these three became my anchors.  I have traveled with all three of them.  There is something about traveling together that bonds you.  You have these shared experiences that are goofy, exciting and crazy.  You get to know someone on a different level. Besides having these travel experiences, we have a shared experience of teaching.  Not just teaching – teaching the same kids, with the same issues and struggles.

I hate when people use the term “in the trenches”  in regard to  teaching.  We aren’t in a war.  But these gals…  They’ve got my back.  And I’ve got theirs’.  I don’t know how they became my anchors.  But they are my anchors.  And for some reason, when I talk to them, email them, or get to see them, everything is better.

When You Show Up

It makes a difference.

As a teacher, you get lots of opportunities to show up.  Sporting events, dances, concerts, plays, etc.  The list goes on and on.  Every once in awhile you get an invitation to something more personal.  Over the years I’ve been invited to  many graduation open houses, a Karen New Year celebration and a quincinera.  Tonight was something new.

At my school we have something called a senior project.  One of my students invited me to an event that she was hosting.  She organized performers that sang and did spoken word.  The first hour was an open mic.  The second part was scheduled performances.  I was quite impressed and really liked the spoken word portion.  The student finished with her own spoken word performances.

There were two other teachers that came to the event.  There were lots of students – lots of my students and math team kids.  It was only a few hours of my time.  But it makes a difference.  It makes a difference when you show up.