Posts Tagged 'Nick McDaniels'

Acknowledging the Struggle of Everyday Teaching

teaching (1).jpgBy Nick McDaniels – Often today, as teachers, we are forced to mask our struggles.  In fact, if we make our struggles public, our evaluation could be lowered, our paycheck could be reduced, not to mention the effects on our pride.  As a result, we isolate ourselves, close our doors, and tell our bosses and colleagues that everything is going fine, because, as long as they think so, they may not peak in the door to see what is really happening.  The culture of high-stakes evaluation has created this isolationism among teachers.

So let me be honest with you about my struggles, perhaps at considerable risk to my reputation as a “good teacher.” I love my job.  My job is very challenging.  Everyday, at least one of my three lessons falls flat.  Everyday, I struggle with classroom management.  Everyday, I struggle to stay on top of paperwork.  Everyday, I have a negative interaction with a student.  Everyday, I feel like someone out there has to be better at this job than I am.

And I, whether I deserve it or not, am thought of as successful in this profession.  Feel better?

The work is challenging.  That’s why we do it.  We should be proud of how challenging it is and be willing to acknowledge our struggles.  Cultures of high-stakes evaluation have killed our willingness to be honest with ourselves and each other and it is the forcing of everyday realities into the shadows that prevents meaningful teacher- and student-driven reform from happening in our country.

The more we pretend that everything is fine in order to protect ourselves from lower evaluations, the more we fail to acknowledge that if it is hard for us, it is hard for the kids–only the effects on the kids will amplify throughout their lives.

I encourage you this week, to acknowledge your daily struggles, your weaknesses as a teacher, and to share them with someone else.  If we continue to shoulder these burdens alone, our system of education will deteriorate to the point where the countless successes I could write about to parallel this post would be reduced to near zero.  At that point, what are we struggling for?

The Many, Many, Many Microdecisions in a Teacher’s Day

Mr_Pipo_thoughts.svg.pngBy Nick McDaniels – I have heard  before that teachers make thousands, or tens-of-thousands, of decisions every day.  This is probably true of everything we do in our lives – we have to make many small decisions to accomplish any task – but, to some extent, the amount of mental dexterity required to be teacher does seem to be exceed that of many other professions.

I have tried recently to focus on the many small decisions I make every day in my classroom.

When Nyah shows up late to class, do I respond to her differently that I do to D’Andre when he shows up late?

When I want my students to read an article that is 14 pages long, do I decide to find a different article because I know 14 pages x 33 students is more copies than I will be able to make?

When Michael asks to go see the nurse for the third straight day, do I let him go?

When Keohna is using her cell phone in class, do I ask her to put it away, take it from her, go stand near her to see if she puts it away on her own, or ignore it?

When Matthew asks me the answer to number 4, do I tell him where to find it, tell him the answer, or tell him to find it himself?

The list could go on and on.

I am not claiming that any or all of these decisions I make are particularly impactful on the learning experience for students.  Some are.  Some are not.  I do know that I have become much less thoughtful about every small decision I make in the classroom, and that, perhaps counter-intuitively, makes me a better teacher.

You see, it is these microdecisions that overwhelm new teachers.  I was significantly more conscious of the many decisions I had to make earlier in my career.  I would come home mentally exhausted because of it.  Now, much more, I read the situation and react to it based on years of experience.  The amount of decisions I make on a daily basis is probably greater than ever, but the efficiency and confidence with which I make these decisions is also higher.

If you are a teacher, take some time this week while teaching to do a little meta-reflection.  Think about the decisions you are making as you make them.  I think you’ll impress yourself with the complexity of your day-to-day.


How Technology Could Solve the Make-Up Snow Day Problem

snow-246119_960_720.jpgBy Nick McDaniels – I know snow days are a very geography-specific occurrence, but, having just spent 6 full days out of work due to snow, I couldn’t resist blogging about it. In Baltimore, we got over two feet of snow from Friday through Sunday, closing schools on that Friday and for the entire following week, mostly due to hazardous travel conditions and, ultimately, no where to put the snow.

The Mid-Atlantic is prone to these crippling storms about once or twice a decade.  I can remember two or three from when I was growing up and I have enjoyed another two as a teacher.  For me, this means more time performing side-work as a plow operator and more time sledding with my daughter.  I can’t complain.  It also means, though, that I will likely have to work longer into the summer to make up the days we missed.

And while technology in snow-removal is improving to allow us to clear our streets, driveways, and sidewalks more quickly, our ability to keep students from missing valuable mid-year instructional time (this storm disrupted our mid-terms for high school students) seems to remain stuck.  Well, I think our current technology could solve the problem of “winter learning loss.”

With teachers everywhere “flipping” their classrooms, we certainly have the ability to ensure students can be provided with educational content outside of the school building.  Why then are we not building platforms and enacting policies whereby students and teachers can work remotely during snow days?  I am proposing, quite simply, that districts enact policies that utilize their current web-based learning platforms (all districts have them!) during days of weather-related closing.  Students would know, when school is cancelled, that teachers will post assignments and content, upload videos and podcasts, and even engage in live-chats with students at designated times.

If this policy could be successfully implemented, a work-from-home policy for students and teachers, then we can make a strong argument for not adding make-up days at the end of the school year.

Certainly, remote learning cannot replace face-to-face classroom time, but we are fooling ourselves if we think adding five days in June adequately substitutes for five lost days in January.

What I would have done with my powerball winnings…

download (35).jpgBy Nick McDaniels – As you may have guessed from the fact that I have not become a daily contributor to the Marquette Educator as part of my retirement schedule, I did not win the powerball, though I did buy a ticket, because, well, if buying a ticket was good enough for Alex Ovechkin, it is good enough for me.

But if I had won… here are a few broad statements (my pet education projects) about how I would have helped public education.

200 million dollars (about a third of the after-taxes winnings, because I would probably have taken the cash), would go immediately to a nationwide, state-by-state campaign to cap ALL public education class-sizes at 20 students.

200 million dollars would go to a campaign to end the privatization of public schools, bolstering unionized work-forces, and cutting the legs out from under the text-book/testing machine.

100 million dollars would go to supporting youth advocacy and civics initiatives so that we can begin again to invest in the civic literacy and the voices of students.

That would leave me with me with about 100 million dollars in cash.  I am pretty sure I could live on that.


Allowing Student Voice: Understanding 2015 as a Teacher in Baltimore

Baltimore_riot_police_VOA (1)By Nick McDaniels- Happy New Year Marquette Educator Readers!  For this post in the past, I have professed some teaching resolutions.  And often, just like that extra 10 pounds I hoped to lose, or the student loan debt I hoped to pay down, those resolutions have been quickly forgotten.  I often use class time on the first day back from winter break to give a rousing “new year, new you” speech and ask for academic resolution from students.  This year, I did none of that.  Not because it usually is an ineffective practice at improvement, but because mainly, after a year like we had in Baltimore, it goes without saying that this year must be different and that last year has shaped us.

2015 was marked by one major event in Baltimore that has made us all forget American Pharaoh’s win at the Preakness, and, thankfully, the Ravens 2015 season.  In April of 2015, Freddie Gray, a young man living in West Baltimore, died after an interaction with police.  His death sparked what has been called an uprising, unrest, and riots.  Schools were temporarily closed.  The international news media made a trip to Charm City.  The National Guard occupied our streets.  The violence in the city then erupted, leading Baltimore to a nearly murder-a-day rate for 2015 and a record setting per-capita murder rate.  Quite simply, it was a difficult year to be a student in Baltimore.

So I told my students, just as my teacher told me on September 11, 2001, that, at least in Baltimore, people, their children perhaps, will want to know someday where you were and what you were doing during that time in late April of 2015.  The events impacted the lives of everyone in the city and the fallout continues to do so.  Trials for the officers charged in the death of Mr. Gray continue.  This is not, and may never be, behind us.

What we must remember now, in 2016, if there was a resolution to be made, it is that student voice in times of crisis and tragedy is extremely important.  So as the trials and the protests and the violence continue, we must allow space for students to share their thoughts, feelings, and ideas about the events that are impacting their lives. We can hope that such events will never happen again, but, as we know, they can.  As such, we must charge ourselves as teachers to not look back on a year of tragedy and crisis having not given our students a chance to lift their own voices in response.

Stereotyping Teenagers Leads to Poor Text Choices

3553821659_0bd22faca2_oBy Nick McDaniels – The days of teacher autonomy in curricular choices are largely gone in public schools due to Common Core-induced, Central Office fear.

That means that most choices, including text choices, are made by a very few people.  And in my experience, these people stereotype teenagers and then make choices based on these stereotypes.

Multiple times I have – though in hindsight I didn’t have to – apologized to students when they have raised important concerns about texts.  “Why do we have to read young adult novels?”  Or the more pointed, “Why do we only read books about black people?”

I understand that the all-inspired text choosers think that what they are doing is making age- and race-relevant choices.  And, they are.  What they don’t acknowledge is that, when that’s all they do, they bore the living tar out of kids.  It’s downright insulting to the kids, and to the great teachers out there who can still make Shakespeare and Steinbeck just as interesting as the hottest YA novel.

If we are not in this job to help expand the horizons of children, expose them to things that they may not otherwise be exposed to, then I’m not sure what we are doing it for.  Stereotyping the interests of children through our text choices communicates that we are only in this business for the cheap laugh; that English class is some mid-bill Vaudeville act.

This is not a plea to bring the classics back, nor a plea to prevent updating of texts.  Quite simply, this is a plea to stop making every text choices based solely on what we think students should be interested in based on stereotypical ideas.

The Financial Unpredictability of Pay-for-Performance

money-73341_640By Nick McDaniels – There are very few things that are predictable in education any more. And budgeting for education in a rapidly changing education regulatory climate is becoming increasingly challenging. Perhaps this is why it is so perplexing that some of America’s most cash-strapped districts — often big, urban school districts –have shifted or have tried to shift to pay-for-performance structures of teacher compensation (I work in one of these districts).

And while innovation in the areas of educator compensation may be important in a nation of shifting priorities, creating more financial instability seems far from wise. Where pay-for-performance structures exist, districts struggle mightily from year to year to predict the coming year’s expenses. This hamstrings programmatic funding streams, and, in turn, creates more unpredictability regarding which services can actually be offered to students.

It seems to me now, in fact it always has, that creating a predictable system of school funding could cut down on highly criticized levels of inefficiency in public schools. So why do school systems pursue such pay-for-performance structures? Perhaps the school reform bug bites even the wisest of chief financial officers. I will affirmatively say that if I was in charge, on either the labor or the management side, I would bargain for the most predictable staffing pay scale possible so that the district’s year-to-year programmatic expenses could be far more intentional and calculated.

But alas, I’m not in charge. I’m just a teacher hoping I get my pay-for-performance raise that is now months overdue.

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