Mary currently serves on the Distinguished Educators Council. During the school year, she teaches 9-12 graders at the Tillamook Options Program School (TOPS).
What does my day look like at Tillamook Options Program School (TOPS)? Well, it is mind boggling—in a good way!
- It starts with teaching the expelled students in“0” Period on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7:30 – 8:30 and mentoring meetings with a new teacher on Fridays 7:30 – 8:30. Tutoring students claims the rest of the week from 7:30 – 8:30.
- My day moves quickly to Home Room—I have home room of 10- 12 students (number varies) everyday for 45 minutes from 8:30 – 9:15. HIGHLIGHTS: I mentor and advise both academically and personally and teach leadership and teamwork.
- I teach Language Arts (grades 9-12), which I call the “Writing Club,” first and second periods Monday through Thursday. HIGHLIGHTS: I teach students who are emerging writers to write on a level where they can pass the state test, score high on the Compass test, and go to college.
- I teach Social Studies (government and world history this trimester) 3rd and 4th periods. HIGHLIGHTS: The class is completely differentiated and proficiency-based! While we have whole class lessons, each student is working at their own knowledge and ability level and pace. This takes tremendous planning time, and I am still learning and growing with it. (more…)
Creating a New Paradigm for Oregon Teachers
Education in Oregon is emerging into an era of challenging growth. The push to improve student learning and achievement resulted in the creation of local education compacts, state-level departments such as the Oregon Education Investment Board (OEIB), and new education grant opportunities. These changes in the traditional educational practices opened doors for new teacher leadership opportunities. These opportunities are reflected in the changing role of teachers in schools. Teachers hold tremendous influence, and through increasing professional opportunities such as the CLASS Project, they possess capabilities and knowledge to transform education. It is a paradigm shift.
Schools operated in the past largely under Frederick Taylor’s 1916 scientific management system which was vertical. A few people were selected to rise to the “top” and become the leaders. In school terms this translated into administrative positions such as superintendents, principals, and directors. Under this hierarchal system, managers (administrators) made decisions without input from workers (teachers). Teachers taught in contained closed classrooms with limited ability to share their knowledge and build the capacity of other teachers. (more…)
Teachers know. They know who the best teachers are. As a teacher I watch an interesting phenomenon every spring. All of my teacher friends scramble to make sure their own children are placed in classes with the best teachers for the next year. They make the rounds to counselors’ and principals’ offices double-checking their child’s schedule. Ask any teacher, and they can tell you who the quality teachers are. It is common teacher talk. Recently, an elementary teacher in my district left the classroom for another educational position. As a teacher told me about the move, she said, “A lot of parents are going to be upset that she is no longer teaching. She is a dynamite teacher.” All students need the assurance they are going have a dynamite quality teacher next year.
Why is it important to have a dynamite teacher in every classroom?
In my last blog, I wrote about the “magic formula” for success with struggling learners and high achieving students alike. The largest component in that formula is to have a quality teacher in the classroom. Robert Marzano (2003) analyzed considerable research on what works in classrooms. All the research he studied concluded that the impact of the classroom teacher is far greater than any other factor in the child’s learning and achievement. The research is astounding. If a child begins school as average in math achievement—at the 50th percentile—and she has an average teacher for two years, she will remain at the 50th percentile. If she is in a classroom in a less effective school, and she also has a low-quality teacher, she actually drops to the 3rd percentile in math achievement. On the other hand, even if she is in a less effective school, but she has a high-quality teacher, two years later she leaves class in the 63rd percentile. She makes a 13 percent gain just by having a highly effective teacher. Quality teachers exert more influence on student learning than both socio economic status and family background. (more…)
Sometimes seemingly small lessons enter our lives and change us forever. When I was a pre-service teacher, one of my professors showed a short film, “Cipher in the Snow.” The film depicts the story of a student of poverty who is neglected at school. He dies, and his teachers realize they don’t even know if he was in their classes. That film helped shape my goal of leaving no child behind.
A lot of ciphers in the snow go through Oregon schools every year. They may be quietly ignored, or they may be the attention-getting student who is never ignored. Either way, they get lost in the system. Over 6,000 students drop out of school in Oregon every year. One out of three students will not earn their diploma in four years. While many alternative schools are high performing, The Oregonian (June 16, 2012) published an article about Portland’s most struggling students going to alternative schools where there is little accountability for student success and few graduate.
Sometimes it is easy for schools to give up on the most struggling students. They are often children of poverty or minorities, and they may lack family members who are advocates for their education. In addition, struggling students as a subgroup score lower on state tests. They can be more difficult to teach. How many students will we leave behind this year? More importantly, what are successful schools doing to help struggling students succeed? (more…)
Why is this visionary?
Sometimes we tinker with improving education. We tweak a learning strategy or we implement a new behavior management procedure. We see small gains in student learning. Sometimes, not often, we radically alter the landscape of education. Proficiency-based teaching and learning is visionary and landscape altering. How? It answers simple questions that over decades became lost in teaching. It answers: How do we know what students should be learning? How do we know if they learned it? How do we keep everyone learning at their own rate—the students who struggle to learn and the students who learn rapidly? Lastly, the most visionary question of all—what if students who quickly learn the material, instead of waiting for other students to catch up, could just move on to another class?
Traditional Classroom Teaching and Learning
Consider how classroom learning occurs in the current typical classroom. How do we know what students should be learning? The typical classroom learns from a textbook. Students go through the book from the first to the last chapter answering all the questions and doing all the activities. Other ways of determining the knowledge and skills students should learn rarely factor in. How do we know if they learned it? The typical classroom tests at the end of the chapter or unit. Students receive a grade, and the class moves on regardless of student learning. How do we keep everyone learning at their own rate—the students who struggle to learn and the students who learn rapidly? The typical classroom distinguishes between learning rates mostly at the end of the unit by assigning a grade rather than re-teaching during the learning process. What if students who quickly learn the material, instead of waiting for other students to catch up, could just move on to another class? In the typical classroom, students who learn rapidly are given additional work which is called an anchor or enrichment activity because the school structure mandates that all students move to new classes or subjects at exactly the same time. (more…)
TIME magazine’s feature story declared, “Not Legal, Not Leaving” after President Obama issued an executive order June 15th, 2012 stating certain undocumented immigrants would no longer be deported. According to reports, this affects over 800,000 public school students in the U.S., although the exact number is unknown and could be much higher. Some undocumented students have uncertain ID making the exact numbers difficult to calculate. The main benefits of the President’s mandate on deferred deportation status surround work provisions as the qualifying undocumented immigrants can now get legal work visas. The effect in education is secondary but profound.
Last year a student in my high school class seemed troubled. Suddenly she started crying and bolted from the room. I followed her into the hall where she simply sat on the floor crying. I asked what was wrong, and she looked up and said, “I want more. I want so much more. I want to go to college.” She then proceeded to tell her story as an undocumented student. She came here from Mexico at the age of six. She attended school in Oregon since first grade. Now a junior, she wanted to go to college, but had little money and did not have a social security number. A sophomore male Hispanic student stood quietly at my desk this year. He didn’t need help with the assignment, however. He wanted bigger help. He quietly said, “I don’t want to be a farmer all my life. Can you help me do something else?” He had been in the U.S. since he was a small child. Another undocumented male student asked why he should try to do well in school because all he would be able to do was work on a farm for cash. He angrily spoke of his frustration with his U.S. status. When one student spoke openly about her undocumented status, I asked if she was sure she wanted to tell people. She replied, “I am so tired of this; I don’t care anymore.” All of these students have been school and community leaders. One of these students won a student of the year award and an outstanding youth community award. Another was a church summer camp leader for elementary children. These students typify many undocumented immigrants. (more…)