In education, words matter.

Many teachers use word clouds or wordles in classroom activities to have students highlighting important words or to show students which words they’ve overused in their texts. One thing I’ve never done before is apply a wordcloud to my own practice, which is exactly what I recently did for the educationrickshaw.com blogroll. Once I made it by uploading our url into wordclouds.com, it was time to start digging into what exactly was going on. Afterall, it’s important to see where our emphasis has been, and how we need to refocus our language in the teaching profession.

Below is the word cloud for our site, educationrickshaw.com, and some of my conclusions.

 

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Students First

Before I made the word cloud, I was sure that “teaching” was going to be the most frequent word. That would make sense, since educationrickshaw.com is meant to be a blog to be enjoyed by international teachers, not students or parents. I was pleasantly surprised to see that “students” is by far the largest word in the word cloud.

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I hope that this is because our articles focus on what students are doing in the classroom, with a decreased emphasis on what teachers are doing. I find that when I think about what I want students to be able to do, I facilitate lessons that more often than not achieve that outcome. When I focus on what I am doing, which I think is a common newbie teacher mistake, the learning suffers as a consequence.

I know teachers and administrators say that they put the students first, and I imagine that most believe that they do. It is a different thing altogether to actually put it into practice. Relying on tradition aka “the ways things have always been done”, ego, and acting in fear over the fallout that can come from putting students first is too often the status quo in education today.

Learning is the goal

Also up there in size is “learning”, which should always be the goal for teachers. If students are the noun, then “to learn” is the verb.

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Now, there are many ways that students learn, and our conversations need to be centered around how students best learn – Not what is easiest for teachers, parents, and administrators. The minute that we go down such a road, we begin to deprofessionalize the teaching profession, and we cheapen the quality of a student’s education. Similar to this is what I talked about in the article “The What vs. The How”, where I argued that we should give less attention to what we are teaching and what we are using for teaching, and focus more on how we are teaching. I suppose another addition should be the “why”, which I’d argue is for learning.

Yes we CAN!

The final big word I want to point out is the word “can”, which is floating somewhere over west-central Africa in the wordcloud.

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Even though I can sometimes lose my optimism, especially when I don’t have enough caffeine in my system, I believe that if we keep our focus on students and learning, we can reach our goal of making a lasting difference in the lives of our kids.

 


 

What do you think? Would you consider putting your comments for your report cards into a wordcloud? Stephanie, who’s name is currently reigning over Madagascar, and Zach (nowhere to be found 😂) would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

5 Luxuries Bestowed Upon Thee As An International Teacher

The typical teacher in their home country is afforded few luxuries. A coffee at Starbucks is seen as a rare treat. A PB&J for lunch is the norm. I remember clearly when one boisterous teacher in my first stateside school’s faculty lounge asked that anyone who had a tarp covering some part of their car (to protect from the rain in Washington State) to raise their hands, or forever hold your peace. Scout’s honor, there were five hands that raised that day admitting the tarp.

While, in my opinion, most international educators are still severely underpaid for what we do, the cost of living in many of our host countries allows for some pretty sweet perks. That coupled with the built-in savings potential that comes with many international teaching contracts (free housing, free flights, etc) makes it so that many international teachers find the benefits of international teaching to be too lucrative to ever want to return to teaching public school back home.

Compared to teachers back home, we have it good. We have teaching assistants. Our classrooms are well resourced. The class sizes are smaller. There is money for PD. These are all things that we experience in the international school classroom. But on this educationrickshaw.com post, we will be looking at 5 luxuries that most international teachers enjoy as they go about their leisurely lives that teachers back home just can’t afford.

Ka-Ching! $$$

#1 Affordable Cleaners

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There’s nothing like coming home to a clean house after a hard day’s work.

Most international educators that I have come across in both Vietnam and Sudan hire a cleaner. Some have them come for a couple of days a week, others have a cleaner come everyday of the week. When I first heard of this arrangement, I initially had uneasy feelings. Aren’t we taking advantage of these poor local women by having them do the lowliest of jobs for measly wages?

While cleaners may be way out of a teacher’s price range back home, the cleaners in many developing host countries do have a small salary in comparison to the American minimum wage. However, all of the teachers that I know tend to pay significantly more than the average local pays their cleaners.  Instead of delving into that here, check out this article on Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty For Having a Cleaner.

#2 Cheap Massages

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Expat Chillaxin’

I don’t know about you teachers, but my back is always hurting after a day of work. You don’t need to read the studies to know that teachers get stressed out, and this can lead to chronic foot and back pain.

While a massage in the US can set you back 60 plus dollars per hour, many expat teachers in developing countries find themselves getting quality massages for less than a third of that cost. Whether you’re looking for a back massage to ease the pain of bending over and getting on kids’ level, or a bizarre Dr. Fish massage served up in murky waters, international teachers have the full range of possibilities within reach.

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This was in Cambodia, and it cost 1 USD and you got a free adult beverage. How about that for a deal?

#3 Security Guards That Do Everything

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My friend, and one of our trusty security guards.

All of the countries that Stephanie and I have taught in have felt safe. But because wages are so low in developing countries, many schools will hire security guards for their buildings. Many large apartment complexes in capital cities will also provide security guards.

 

All of the guards that we have had at our apartments have been extremely gracious with their time and efforts. They will go out of their way to help us translate phone calls and documents, fix popped tires, and alert the school when there is something wrong with our apartment or car. The average security guard in the international setting is part handyman, part electrician, and full-time procuror of all local goods. They’re more often than not the first person to go to when you’re in a bind, and many of them have become my close friends. I can’t imagine going back home and living without them.

#4 Taxis that cost next to nothing

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Vinasun, the omnipresent Vietnamese taxi that has the monopoly in Ho Chi Minh City. CHEAP!

The only time I have ever paid for a taxi in the USA was when I was in a real pickle and had my dad call me one to take me home. I remember that it was 35 bucks back in the early 2000s to go just a few miles from my school to my house. It took the driver over 25 minutes from the time I called him to the time he arrived to pick me up at my school. It felt like a big waste of time and money.

Since I moved overseas as an international educator, I’ve taken hundreds of taxis. Many countries have a taxi culture that allows for affordable rides, even in some of the more expensive cities (Dubai, for example). When Stephanie and I lived in Vietnam, we would leave our motorbike at home if we were going out late, and taxi the whole night long. If our motorbike happened to break down, one of us would take a taxi to a repair shop, hop on the back of a mechanic’s motorbike and come save the day. It was truly one of the most convenient forms of transportation, and it was cheap, cheap, cheap!

#5 Great Vacations Closeby

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Our travel map as of 9/2017 with some funky rickshaws going in random places

I’ve talked before about the importance of maintaining balance in this profession by taking great vacations whenever you have the chance. However, in addition to having low salaries and savings potential in comparison to international teachers, American teachers are not afforded a great geographical location for travel. Just crossing the country to another American city costs as much in airfare as it would take to get me to a whole ‘nother country and culture. Just take a look at the map above; When we were in Asia, we traveled all over Asia. Now that we’re in Africa, we’ve traveled all over Africa. It’s just what international teachers do.  As an international educator, depending on your school and your package, you likely have the time, the money, and a great geographic location to travel.


We sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed this article. For more on international teaching and learning, keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com! Don’t forget to comment 🙂

EducationRickshaw is going to AEC 2017!

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You may remember last year when both Stephanie and I went to AEC Conference 2016 in Johannesburg, South Africa. We took some amazing courses by Karen Boyes and Ryan Harwood, tweeted a lot, got our yoga on, and danced, feasted and mingled with some of the best minds in international education.

We at educationrickshaw.com are happy to announce that we will be making our epic return at AEC 2017 in Nairobi, Kenya! We’ll be sure to keep you updated here and on Twitter and if you’re going, be sure to reach out here in the comments below. We’d love to become a part of your PLN!

 

Homework not effective? What about distance learning?

Homework is one of those contentious things that divides teachers as well as parents. John Hattie’s research leads to the conclusion that homework in primary school has an effect of nearly zero.  But the reality is that many schools have policies that require homework to be assigned to students on a daily or weekly basis.

This year, I am experimenting with a theory that primary student achievement can be improved with homework if there is a distance learning tutor available for coaching for every assignment.

What I’m trialing this year:

This year I’ve told all of my students that whenever they need help with their homework, they should shoot me an email. I know, it sounds like a crazy responsibility for me to take on, and I’ll see if I have the stamina to keep up with it throughout the year, but so far it has gone really well!

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“I don’t get this”

Much like my in-class helpdesk, I want my 9-10 year olds to get professional help in a timely and effective manner. I don’t want some parents to help their kids while other kids are left alone to stress about math during their valuable home time. This year, my students were instructed that if they have a problem they should screenshot their math or take a video of the strategies they’ve tried and to send it to me by e-mail. I then respond by either giving them some written or video hints, or by directing them to an available resource such as a Youtube or Khan Academy video.

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“Is this correct?”

 

How’s it going so far?

It has been a very positive experience to start the year off with this model for homework. One thing I have noticed, though, is that the students tend to ask very simple questions without really showing their work or the strategies they tried. I am going to work with students on how to ask for help, and how to get the students helping each other much more often. I am also learning how to give just enough help so as to get the students to figure out the rest of the problems on their own.

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Student created instructional YouTube video on our class channel

I am also incorporating a YouTube channel with student-created instructional videos so that students can refer to a growing library of flipped lessons from their peers. This is in the process of getting put together (so far, we only have three videos) but the students seem very excited about the prospect of sharing their knowledge with each other and the world.

It’s not that much extra work… so far

I am a fan of living a balanced life as a teacher, so taking on a “distance tutoring model” by having kids e-mail me all night long (their limit is 8:00 PM) might sound like a recipe for disaster. But the truth is that I only get a couple of emails per night, and it usually only takes me a few seconds to send back a response with Mark-Up or my laptop’s webcam. Usually just copying and pasting the link to a YouTube video can help them solve their problems. As students become more familiar with this system, and increasingly independent, I hope to teach them to search for their own answers online and to take it upon themselves to offer peer tutoring during the homework hours.


What do you think? Will this strategy help improve achievement, or is it simply homework in sheep’s clothing? Is this plan sustainable, or do you bet I’ll let some student requests fall through the cracks? Comment below! We at educationrickshaw.com would love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

The Three Rs of Summer Vacation

When I first started my summer vacation in June, I committed to an easy-to-remember regimen of goals that I referred to as “The Three Rs”. These stood for Reading, Writing, and Resume. Now that I am officially back at work, and about ready to set some new goals for the school year, I thought I’d take some time to reflect on how these went.

More on goal setting: A Letter to My Student About Goal Setting, Body Image, and Healthy Living

Goal #1: Reading

I didn’t nearly read as much as I wanted to over the course of this short summer. I expected to begin committing to my reading list the minute I lifted off from Khartoum International Airport, but alas, it wasn’t a particularly good reading holiday. This might have been due to my recent addiction to the Nintendo Switch, or to the epic golf tournament that my brother and I played over this summer, which culminated in a close and contentious battle at the U.S. Open-famed Chambers Bay.

I would like to recommend one book in particular that had an impact on me: You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir by Sherman Alexie. 

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Why should teachers read it? While not a book on teaching for teachers (See: 5 Books To Start a Book Club for Teachers), this book can really force one to come to terms with what it means to be raised in America in the absolute poorest of conditions. For me, it brought me back to my first teaching position at a Native American Tribal School in Washington State.

Alexie is from Spokane, not too far from where I’m from, and his powerful prose and verse (the book switches between narrative and poetry frequently), puts you frighteningly close to the horrors that he experienced living on the rez. Stephanie and I live in Africa, and we both are familiar with the reservation community that we worked with 6 years ago, but nothing can prepare a reader for the agonizing and often gut-wrenching experience that is reading You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. If you get the chance to read it for a teacher book club, be sure you’re not in earshot of students and parents – this one’s disturbingly honest and profane.

Goal #2: Writing

I planned to write every week this summer. Even though I wasn’t able to meet that goal perfectly, I am still happy with what I managed to write during what was a busy time. I mean, I traveled to Guatemala, Belize and Mexico, and took trips around the U.S. in my awesome van:

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Honestly, I wanted a rickshaw to travel the U.S., but Stephanie forced us to go with the Ford Transit Connect. Retrofitted with drawers, a bed, blackout curtains, and exhaust fans, it does the trick.

Here is a list of all of the posts I wrote this summer: 

Goal #3: Resume

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The one thing I managed to get done just fine this busy, busy summer was my resume. I did a few versions of it using both Canva and PowerPoint. If you haven’t used Canva before for graphic design, I recommend it. The free version gives you plenty of templates and fonts, and it is nice to have all of your projects saved onto the cloud. It’s also great for creating infographics and memes to post on Twitter about education. I actually made the featured image for this post (Summer goals?) using Canva.

Another thing that I did on a whim was create business cards using Office Depot. For $16.99, you can get 50 cards printed on the same day in color. I think they turned out pretty nice:

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I may have been a bit lazy on achieving my goals, but hey, I’m happy with life right now. Maybe if I had worked out some SMART goals like I do with my students for student led conferences, it would would have worked out better. Either way, I’m not trippin’.

What about you? Did you set some goals in your lives that you’d like to share in the comments below? Were you able to achieve them to some degree? We at educationrickshaw.com would love to hear your experience. Thanks for stopping by.

What Does a 21st Century Classroom Look, Sound, and Feel Like?

Part of a technology coach’s role these days is to convince teachers that their job description has changed. The industrial model of education is well past its expiration date, and the generation of students born today are going to graduate into a world that will look completely different than our own. In order to train 20th century teachers to reach the conceptual understandings required for 21st century education, school leaders and tech coaches need to focus on describing what this could be.

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This article tries to describe how I imagine the 21C classroom and I will try to integrate theory on 21C pedagogy throughout. Edutopia’s 10 signs of a 21st century classroom is a good read, as well this tech4learning’s article. To describe the 21st century here, I’ll divide it up into three categories: What can it potentially look like, sound like, and feel like?

What does the 21st Century-Ready Classroom Look Like?

Imagine what the workplace looks like at one of the more hip startups near you. Is it rows of desks and dividing walls? Is everyone sitting in silence? I was surprised to not see Seattle – the city of my university – in the top five on this Fortune list for startup activity in 2016:

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What I picture is couches, colors, and bright lighting that facilitate the collaboration between professionals. I see devices, headsets, and outlets. Take a look at some of the Google campuses that I googled below:

Clearly these two photos have a very contemporary look, but what’s more important is that the space signals to the professionals at work that their knowledge and skills are better harnessed when shared spontaneously and collaboratively. Every part of the space is purpose-built, and there are fewer barriers between inside spaces and outside spaces than what you’d find in a traditional workspace.

In my classroom (above), the setup has changed many times to fit the purpose of the unit, the activity, or the dynamic of the students in my class. We’ve had weeks of free inquiry where students worked without walls, and once we just needed to read and learn in a fort:

What does the 21st Century-Ready Classroom Sound Like?

I’ve talked before about how noisy classrooms are overrated in my article on growing up the child of a Deaf mom and teacher.  My Twitter Feed is always full of teachers and administrators professing a “new” messy and noisy style of learning. Now, while my classroom will become extremely loud when they put on a cardboard arcade with coded games, or a in the heat of a good debate, you can also find my entire class sitting around with headphones while diligently completing a project.

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From CBC slideshow on 21st Century Jobs

Take a look at the photo above. These “custom implant organ designers”, one of the newest jobs popping up in the world our children are graduating into, are all working mostly in silence. However, there are multiple points of contact for face-to-face interaction; They are not limited in their ability to turn and interact with one another. The point is that sometimes students need quiet time to think, and other times, they just need to dump ice on each other and figure out how things freeze (see below). There are many ways to learn, and it is a teacher’s job to figure out the pedagogy that best matches the circumstance.

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My students making a mess at our class Science Fair

Is my class loud? Sometimes. When they are quiet, is it because I have demanded compliance and they are passively listening to me? Not usually. Perhaps they are fully concentrating as they practice something, or are preparing in silence to teach others. It might be because they are writing, or communicating with others on social media or in our online courseroom, and the language-use is intense, but not loud.

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In general, I try to use what we know about retention, such as the pyramid above, to plan and evaluate how my classroom looks and sounds. Now, onto the touchy-feely stuff.

What does the 21st Century-Ready Classroom Feel Like?

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Via http://www.hrreview.co.uk/

It’s time to face the facts that many of the jobs of today will be gone tomorrow (See: 15 jobs that will be gone in 10 years) – this is just the way of the world. According to some, 47 percent of jobs will disappear over the next 25 years. Computers will simply be able to do things more cheaply and effectively than humans.

The students of today will be designing those computers. This is why, in the classroom of the 21st century, technology should feel ubiquitous; It is just as much a part of learning as pencil and paper and it is omnipresent. I constantly work to hone my technology skills (on my couch while watching T.V.), and I fully embrace the technology that I have available at my school.

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One setup I’ve had in my class – students partnered elbow-to-elbow, teacher is “guide on the side”, students can connect to Apple TV for sharing what’s on their screens

The 21st century-ready classroom feels democratic, and behaves much like a democracy. 21st century skills (see below) cannot be developed in an entirely top-down, authoritarian environment. I don’t imagine that the workplace of the future will behave that way either – remember which jobs are disappearing, and which are being created.

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Companies today want our kids to graduate having mastered the 4Cs of critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity. A child should feel like their ideas matter in their classroom, much like a professional should feel valued for their ideas in the workplace of the future. It is important to give your class back to your students so that they gain the necessary confidence and perseverance to pursue and communicate their ideas when they enter their future careers. If it were up to me, I’d make it a school-wide rule that every child should have access to snacks, drinks, and bathrooms and should be able to choose their clothes. But alas, that sounds like a whole ‘nother article.


 

I hope you enjoyed my thoughts and links that try to describe the 21st century classroom. Be sure to follow me on Twitter, check out more about us, and keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com for more teaching ideas in motion.

Do Teachers Have to Be Readers?

Warning: This post is going to be about reading, and it is going to encourage you to read. You may need to go grab your spectacles. 

While mindlessly scrolling through my Twitter feed, I recently saw this infographic by @grantdraws:

It not only had a great Quentin Blake-like look and style (compare it to the amazing “The Rights of the Reader” poster below), but it made me think about the important role that we have as teachers in fostering a reading culture in our classrooms and developing in our young ones a lifelong love of reading.

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This is so good. . .

Most reading programs I’ve worked with are in agreement with the principle that kids have to love reading to want to do it often – although I did take a class in my teaching program that preached otherwise. The more kids read, the better they tend to achieve. The below infographic, which I found shared on usd343.net, is quite convincing for teachers, parents, and students alike:

 

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As I am an elementary school classroom teacher that prescribes to a transdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning, I am charged with delivering instruction in all of the disciplines. The PYP model itself gives me the responsibility of teaching language, math, science, and social studies at a minimum, and it is very clear that all teachers in a PYP school are considered language teachers.

Back to the “Stages of the Reader” . . .

I personally have gone through all of the stages of this infographic, but I have stopped hoarding books due to the transient nature of international teaching. It comes down to the simple but sad fact that the more books I bring along, the more my shipping costs will be to schlep them all to my next country. Otherwise, I see myself and my reading journey in most of the other 8 stages, and I feel like I have a strong identity as a reader. I really hope that my love of reading and writing rubs off on my students – and if it doesn’t for some, usually offering the chance for them to build a reading fort if they read enough does the trick! 😜

Do teachers have to be readers? 

Who am I to say who should be a teacher and who shouldn’t, but it might not be so controversial to say that you might not be made for teaching – especially if you are a reading teacher – if you don’t have a strong identity as a reader. This crosses over into the other disciplines as well. Should one be responsible for the future of our young mathematicians if one abhors math? Is it appropriate for a teacher to dive into a writer’s workshop with kids if he/she has never felt the urge to put pen to paper?

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your vs. you’re

This post doesn’t mean to be provocative, but I would like your feedback. If a teacher is not a reader, can they truly succeed as a reading teacher by just faking it? Are there certain age levels that can “survive” a non-reading teacher, or certain disciplines where a strong reader’s identity is not necessary?

Let us know in the comments below, and keep on coming back to educationrickshaw.com for posts about teaching and education today, including a recent series called Why would anyone want to become a teacher? 

And remember, it is never too late to start at Stage 1 of @grantdraws’s “Stages of the Reader”!

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Why Would Anyone Want to Become a Teacher – My Interview with a Student Teacher

Lilly Hasenkopf is a student teacher of elementary education at the University of Alabama. We recently sat down and talked about her thoughts and feelings about the profession as part of the series Why Would Anyone Want to Become a Teacher? here on educationrickshaw.com 
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Lilly Hasenkopf, 21

Hi Lilly! Thanks for letting me interview you. Let’s start by talking about how your experience in education been so far. Tell me all about your program, and what you’ve been doing.

I’m going into my senior year of college at Alabama. My junior year last year, we entered block one and block two, which is our first introduction to teaching. In block one, which is in the fall, I was in a preschool classroom twice a week. I had two case study students that I would work with and monitor their physical and cognitive growth, and just how they grew over the course of one semester. This was the preschool class, but I also did a reading class, where I would go to a different school and work one-on-one with a student. We gave them a pre-test and then we created our own activities. We tested the results of the activity with a post-test.
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I also took a music class, which was interesting. It started out with us just teaching music, but at the end we were teaching an academic subject through music. It helped us see how we can use physical activities like art and music to make the content more engaging for students. In Spring semester, that is when I really got to experience the classroom. We were assigned a class, and I was assigned a kindergarten classroom. Instead of just focusing on two students, we were focused on observing an entire class. We weren’t teaching it, but we were watching another teacher teach. Sometimes the teacher would exit for a bit, and I would have the kids for an hour, or I would take them to music, art, and PE. These little things were a nice experience, and helped me to learn how to teach the correct behaviors.

Have you enjoyed your experience so far with the students?

I have! I really enjoyed getting to know the students. My program has emphasized forming bonds and relationships with each individual student, and at first that really made me nervous. But by the end of the semester, I really knew the kids in my class, how they need to be redirected, where they struggled and where they’re strong. I learned that the behaviors that you have in your classroom, they need to be taught. Since this wasn’t my classroom, I had a bit of a different idea of how to do this. My cooperating teacher didn’t really have them do group work, so for one of my assignments I had the students work together in groups to put together one picture. It would get loud and a few kids got pretty upset, so halfway through we paused and broke down what was happening. We talked about how you can work together and communicate, and it doesn’t have to be your way all the time. I thought this was very important. You have to be able to work with others in the future, and since it was a new activity for them, it was harder and a bit louder, but I think it did teach them something new. If I had been able to start doing lessons like that back in August, they would know how to do these things by May.

What challenges have you faced so far?

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Well, with kindergarteners I learned that teaching has to be fast paced and very engaging to keep them paying attention. I’ve seen that some teachers have wanted the students to sit a lot and pay attention. I think moving shouldn’t always require a punishment; they’re still young and need to move! When I have my own classroom I will make it so that the students are sitting still for shorter increments for certain activities.

Was there a particular moment that you’d like to share where you felt successful?

We did a case study where we had to see the growth of a student over the course of a semester. I liked that because I picked a student who is new to this classroom, and seemed to be getting into a lot of trouble. When I would work with him, he would do really well, and I realized he just likes to talk about himself. He would always get so excited about getting together with me to doing our planned activities, and I think that helped him. I made it so that he experienced something different during the days that he was with me.

Finally, I want to ask you the question that inspired this series. Why did you want to become a teacher?

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I’ve always wanted to be a teacher since I was little. I would play school in my room for hours. I think part of the reason that it stayed with me is because of my teachers. Some of my teachers had a huge impact on my life. Helping me grow and become who I am. I want to do that for students. Students come to school for 7 hours a day just with one person. and that is a huge part of their life. A lot of kids don’t have the role model that I had from my parents and teachers. Just not to be the teacher that just gives out assignments, but a person that you can come to build their character and to be successful in the future. Even if you have that at home, it helps to have someone in elsewhere in your life that helps you to share your ideas and respects you and tells you that you can do what you think you can do. You can be successful.
Another reason is that I love helping people. When something finally clicks in someone’s brain, and seeing them get excited about it. When they get excited, I get excited, and it’s just fun. My mom is a teacher, and when I was in middle school and high school, I would go to work with her some days just to help around the classroom. I really liked that. I would rather go to work with her some days then go to school myself. It was more when I didn’t really like my teacher, I would go to work with her more. I didn’t just skip! But I really liked going down there to help her out.
When I tell people I am going to be a teacher, a lot of people are like “why would you do that?”

haha, I’ve heard that one before.

Some say it because of the low pay, or some say it because it’s just challenging with the kids. But I like challenges, and I feel like teaching is a rewarding challenge, not a punishment challenge where you’re being forced to do something and there is no positivity in it. But there’s a ton of positivity in teaching, through the kids. Really, honestly, I want to be a teacher for the kids.

Thank you for visiting educationrickshaw.com, and feel free to comment below on the titular question. Why did you become a teacher? What have your experiences been like so far? We love to hear your thoughts, and will always try to respond to your comments. 

Part of the series, Why Would Anyone Want to Become a Teacher?

A Plea for Education: A Response to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos

Something that’s been getting some buzz on Twitter has been Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s request for ideas for where he should put his money. On behalf of educationrickshaw.com, I wrote him a letter that includes discussion about the teacher turnover crisis and the importance of the maintaining a strong teaching profession. Enjoy!


Dear Mr. Bezos,

I see that I am already late to the party that you’ve started on Twitter, the one where you ask for “philanthropic activity to be helping people in the here and now – short term – at the intersection of urgent need and lasting impact.” If you allow me to be so bold, I would like to use your money towards a kind of charitable work for which many of the solutions have already been identified. It also may be the most important issue of our time, as well as the most expensive. I’m talking of course about education.

Education is a complex beast, and one that I am relatively new to. I started teaching in a Bureau of Indian Affairs school in Washington State, before moving to teach in international schools in Vietnam and Sudan. Despite my enthusiasm for the work I’ve achieved in my classroom, I’ve begun to become disillusioned with certain aspects of this profession. You may very well have better data available to you than I have, but I feel that the teaching profession, specifically in the United States, is in a state of crisis. Sadly, due to a variety of reasons including the an American teacher’s inadequate pay, the steady loss of teacher autonomy, and a culture of teacher bashing, many of us American international educators – those talented teachers that could very well be teaching stateside – have chosen to move for greener pastures overseas.

Since I left American education nearly 5 years ago, so has much of my cohort for my teaching certificate. The difference is, however, that many of them are not remaining in education related fields. They are bankers, businessmen and women, and stay at home moms and dads. As has been reported with increasing frequency, teacher turnover is costing us billions of dollars.

Unfortunately, the real cost of this crisis is more difficult to measure. According to years of John Hattie research, the ability of a teacher to teach with effective strategies is far and above the most important factor that we can control. Just look at this following chart of effect sizes (minus the 6 Super Factors) and you’ll see that teaching skills and strategies (i.e. teacher clarity, teacher credibility, etc) hold the top of the list in regards to effect size:

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Additionally, one of the identified “Super Factors” in Hattie’s research, and the factor with the highest effect size that can be manipulated is collective teacher efficacy:

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It is clear, Mr. Bezos, that it is the teacher that is at the center of what makes students achieve. A teacher’s skill, competence, and attitude towards the profession is what improves educational outcomes. A sound policy to improve education would be to keep those teachers that have the most talent, and attract a new generation of talented undergraduates into the field. However, recent reports of teacher shortages suggest that we are doing neither.

What can you do?  

Some, including myself would say that it is the low salary that dissuades young undergrads from choosing teaching as a career. I remember an important moment in one of my lecture hall classes of 500+ students (it was Sociology 101, I believe) where the professor asked students to raise their hands if they would consider entering teaching if money were not a factor. Nearly the entire hall was filled with raised hands. Then the professor asked who student to raise their hands if they were seriously considering becoming a teacher. Only a handful of students raised their hands with me. Smart people don’t enter into professions where they aren’t adequately rewarded for their services.

Other findings point to the lack of control and teacher autonomy that is experienced by most in the profession. Maybe your money is best served there, as raising all of the salaries in the teaching workforce is an expensive proposition. Either way, if your philanthropy could focus short-term on re-professionalizing the teaching profession so that teachers are rewarded both intrinsically and extrinsically for the wondrously challenging day-to-day task of educating our children, it will pay off in dividends in the future.

Thank you, Mr. Bezos, for your time and your interest in philanthropy. If you’re needing an education czar for your new philanthropic organization, you know where to contact me.

Sincerely,

Zach Groshell


What do you think? Did I focus on what matters most in education for you? Did I leave anything out? Please comment below and follow me on Twitter, @MrZachG. 

Photo credit of Jeff Bezos: CNBC.com

3 Old School Elementary Events That Still Have Value (but Need to Change)

In a never-ending quest to innovate in the classroom, it can be easy to shun the traditional elements of Western education in favor of those that feel more trendy. Try posting a photo of a Science Fair on Twitter and you’ll get far fewer likes than if you post about students coding video games for a cardboard arcade (👈🏻 as I did). While I totally agree that there are some practices that are as dusty as an old chalkboard, this article is about three old school elementary events that may not be fashionable, but should still be a part of the curriculum.

#1 Science Fair

One of the downsides to putting on a traditional science fair is that it largely can come down to a competition between parents, rather than a good learning experience for the kids. In order to avoid this common problem, I had students bring in materials from home, but complete the experiments and boards in class. It may have taken more class time, but it gave me plenty of information to use to develop lessons that catered to the unique needs of this particular group.

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Another common problem with traditional science fairs is that the whole shebang is kicked off with little to no instructions or parameters, i.e. Prepare a science experiment, make a board and show it. 

This type of setup inevitably leads to very little understanding of the scientific method, or of basic scientific skills and concepts. Typically students end up creating cool projects like a potato clock or a volcano, but understand nothing about the science behind it. In my class’s science fair, we focused entirely on our UOI’s central idea, which was on the three states of matter. This way, students shared and built knowledge on the same topics. Students were only allowed to choose experiments that contributed to their collective understanding of the central idea, and we spent a lot of time reading texts, watching videos, and compiling information into online resources (Check out how to use Moodle in an elementary classroom).

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Finally, this science fair was not a competition trying to pit parents and students against their community members. It was a Year 5-only event that brought parents and students together to talk about the understandings that we had gained over the course of a six week unit. Did some students succeed more than others? Yes. Did anyone lose? Of course not!

#2 Spelling Bee

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Now that I just knocked turning elementary science fairs into competitions, let’s talk about the most notorious of all of the elementary academic competitions: The Spelling Bee. Let me be clear: I don’t have a problem with competitions that promote learning. I have a problem with competitions that only exist for competition’s sake (aka for the benefit of parents and teachers). When teachers set up a spelling bee in a way that promotes the learning of year-level spelling patterns, commonly misspelled year-level words, and develops a love of language, I am all for it.

My class’s spelling bee was a culmination of all of the work that we had put into spelling that year, and only included words that students had been tested on in weeks prior. There was home study time built into their homework schedules, but I structured it so that students would not exceed the required 15 minutes that they’d had all year anyway. I made sure to communicate my concerns to parents about turning this friendly competition into something that stressed students out to the point of disliking spelling, and they seemed to be on board. In the end, we were all proud of what the students had achieved, and they consequently did very well on the spelling portion of our end-of-year standardized assessments.

#3 End of Year Awards

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Much debate has surrounded how awarding students for every little achievement is turning the next generation (my generation?) into one that is thanklessly entitled and overprivileged. And if we’re giving students awards for something that they don’t earn, I guess I have to agree. At my school, we reward students for achievement in a variety of ways, but only those that deserve an award get one at the end of the year Prize Giving ceremony. We show a particular emphasis on progress, growth and development so that those students that deserve recognition for effort are recognized alongside students that are academically inclined. It may be old school, but it it an indispensable part of setting goals and achieving them in an academic setting.


 

What do you think? Would you scrap all of these in favor for alternative events? Am I wrong, and all of these need to go the way of the dinosaur? Comment below and keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com and check out our Teachers Pay Teachers.