Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Teacher Anxiety

Image from Wikimedia Commons by GRPH3B18
The school year has started and I have been placed for student teaching.  In order to absorb the school culture I have been attending the staff meetings along with the other student teachers.  The nice thing about attending the meetings, besides getting a chance to meet the teachers, was that I got to see what practical, outside-the-classroom issues teachers were most anxious about.  Teacher seemed to be very concerned about issues in the following categories.
1. Rigid standards (I should note that they were overjoyed to see the newer test questions that are going to be implemented in the next few years, so this is not an issue of laziness).
2. Budget issues came up several times, teachers feel education is inadequately funded.  I have always felt that education was just inefficiently funded.  For example, buying every student a netbook and digital resources is cheaper than supplying textbooks, lets them take tests digitally so less paper is consumed and districts have strict regulations on where teachers purchase their supplies so they often cannot purchase things for the best deals they can find.
3. "The District."  Teachers see this as a powerful entity above them.  "Will the district approve?" is a great concern for them.  They also seem to fear that they will be in a situation where the district has some bureaucratic rule that will inhibit them from helping their students.

It is good to get a preview of the kinds of issues I will be dealing with in education.  I was already aware of the classroom and political concerns from my classes and the fact that these concerns are more popular.  These other ones that are not written about in news articles but still extremely relevant to the job of teaching are going to be important to know.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Do We Really Want Teachers Who Are Leaders?

Narcissists are sought after for leaders and they also make terrible leaders.  In general people are attracted to leaders who display confidence, such leaders fear others subverting their status, so they choose underlings who are non-threatening.  What implications could this have for teaching?

We do want teachers to be good leaders.  They have to control 30 students who often times have many other places they would rather be than school.  But we do not want narcissistic teachers (the kinds of people others see as leaders) because of the negative affect it could have on students.  Essentially the narcissistic teachers who get hired for their leadership potential could be shooting down students when they feel threatened by their potential status.  It sounds axiomatic that good teachers are good leaders, but maybe that is not what we want for schools.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

RSA Animate: Do Grades Motivate?

I have a lot of memories from school of teachers dangling extra credit points as bait to get students to do what they want.  Grades are very important to many students.  In tenth grade my Algebra 2/Trig teacher offered extra credit points for anyone who could explain how a student in class was cheating (she did not mention a name and told them they did not have to give her a name).  Half of the class told her not only how the cheating worked but who was involved.  "You guys would step on your own mother's backs for extra credit" she would say.  Though she had no place to criticize, she capitalized off of that tendency in college track students.  This was in a magnet program designed to get students into as many AP classes as possible and that would every year send some students out to ivy league schools.  If class were Foundations of Math would she get the same response?  How effective are grades at motivating average students or students whose performance is below average?

Another question to ask is about how good grades are at getting the best work out of students.  Students may bring in a relevant newspaper article or sell out their friend for extra credit points.  But do grades motivate students to really think about the material?  Can the incentive of good grades promote first order thinking about the subject matter?

I do not know if there are studies done on grades' abilities in this area.  I will have to keep my eyes out for one (if anyone still reads this and you know of any data here feel free to comment).  I did, however, find this RSA Animate interesting.  This is what got me interested in thinking about grades and if they motivate students the way teachers would want them to.

If financial incentives help mechanical tasks but not cognitive tasks what can that tell us about grades' ability to help motivate students to learn?  We can use points that contribute to grades to get kids to sell out their friends.  We could classify that as a mechanical task.  It is different than figuring out who is cheating and how, we assume the students already know that, so the task is analogous to pulling a lever because it is simply a matter of providing the teacher with the requested information.  UCSB's construcivist philosophy of education is far too sophisticated to see learning as anything but a cognitive task.  The first order learning that we especially want to provide middle and high school students with will require more than grades to motivate them.  The question becomes this: how do we give students the features than Dan Pink says are motivating to get them to learn the subject matter?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Healthy Teachers

As a single subject: history student I got a letter from my professor telling me the score for the next month or so.  In the letter he recommended building a habit of waking up early and working out to keep your energy levels up (that always seemed counter-intuitive to me.  Wake up early, work out and have more energy?) for when I start student teaching.  I already to a fair amount of working out (running, medicine-ball, body weight, stretch chords) but usually at night.  Night is a much better time for me because I am much looser then, in the morning my muscles are very tense.  The times I have gone running in the morning my legs feel like they have rubber bands attached to them.  Aerobic workouts are hard to do early on because of this tenseness.  I decided to build an early morning routine (I had it in high school from 6 am waterpolo and 5:15 swim, but lost it afterwards) around weight-lifting and swimming to take advantage of UCSB’s impressive rec center.

Going to a weight room is a strange social experience, especially if you have not been in one in five years.  Not only am I rusty at the lifting exercises (my squat is too embarrassing to mention!) but I am also rusty at the weight room etiquette.  How close are you allowed to get to people doing free weights?  Can you take barbells off of some equipment to use for other lifts if you cannot find one elsewhere?  And apparently no one wipes down their machine (a courtesy that the lifting websites I visited for workout ideas said was a big deal).

Another awkward thing about the weight room is the differing levels of weight training ability.  I do not consider myself a serious lifter; I am just putting in some time increasing the maximum force my muscles can generate because I think I am reaching the limit of what my body workouts can get me.  In the weight room, however, there are a lot of guys who are very into it.  They do curls with weights I would have trouble benching.  I tend to start things out casually and then dive in when I have something to compare myself to.  I started running 3 miles a week after college just to get a little sweaty and in two years started marathon training when my friend got into running too.  Am I going to end up diving in to this?  Imagine being a kid walking into class on the first day and seeing his teacher with biceps as big as his waist.

Are you having trouble imagining?  This may help.
It's probably a tumor.
I also do not like the feeling that I am losing something.  People have found that martial arts experts who harden the bones in their hands to punch have softer skulls than non-martial artists.  It is possible that bone hardness is a zero-sum game and if you build it in one spot you lose it in another.  I have worked hard to be a flexible, fast-twitch, quick moving sort of athlete, not a power lifter or anything like that.  Is there a zero-sum game involved in agility and strength?  Will I have to give up my tree-climbing if I get into weight lifting?  Can I bring myself to casually participate in the weight room culture and not get completely sucked in?