Holidays are great until they’re over.

So, I went to a teaching conference this weekend in ACity.  The conference was actually interesting and informative.  I went to two talks on Thursday and two talks on Friday and then the conference was over.  The first talk on Thursday and the second talk on Friday were the most intriguing, with the first talk on Friday coming in a close second (or third or sommat).  The second talk on Thursday was pretty much completley useless and will therefore not be discussed.  Ironically, the speaker that gave that talk has won several honors for his teaching. 

The first talk on Thursday was by Eboo Patel and related to religious diversity and how to build a student-body that will respect it.  His main emphasis was on how to teach students how to have a polite, intelligent conversation about religion, no matter their own personal background.  Very thought-provoking, although not really something that’s likely to come up much in my math class.  For more info about this, you can check out Dr. Patel’s book, Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation. I haven’t read it yet, myself, but I was definitely intrigued by his talk.

On Friday, we had to pick two talks out of three to attend, which was sad since I wanted to attend all three.  But some of my colleagues from my school were attending the third talk, so I can ask them about it later.

The first talk that I went to on Friday was on differentiating in K-8 education, and was by Bertie Kingore.  It really gave me a lot to think about and included lots of interesting ways to build different levels of learning and evaluation into a single period.  What I found confusing about it was that it seemed to focus more on the stage where the students are supposed to know something about how to do the problems already, and at present I don’t do much in the way of guided practice in my classes.  Although that may be something that I need to focus more on.  It was also interesting in that it focused more on differentiation in the sense of creating experiences that allow gifted learners more of an opportunity to further their understanding, rather than focusing on how to deal with weaker students.  As far as I know, she does not have a book, but she does have a website.

The second talk that I went to on Friday was by Barbara Coloroso and focused on the need to implement classroom practices that help students to develop a more ethical approach to human interaction.  Really, she just elaborated on a theme that I’ve heard before related to treating students like people and allowing them a greater role in decision-making, etc.,  in the classroom, but it was good to hear some of it again.  I really want to get and read her books: Kids Are Worth It! : Giving Your Child The Gift Of Inner Discipline, Just Because It’s Not Wrong Doesn’t Make It Right: Teaching Kids to Think and Act Ethically, and The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander: From Preschool to High School–How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle of Violence.

So, I really enjoyed the conference.  Mostly it made me want to once again review my own teaching practices and change them for the better.  For example, I’m a bit too reward-oriented in my grading (which is, in and of itself reward-oriented), and I really need to give my students more autonomy.  It also inspired me to read some other books on teaching.  Right now, I’m reading Alfie Kohn’s The Homework Myth.  I’ve read a few other books by him, and they always question the most basic assumptions about education.  This one, obviously, questions our assumptions about homework, and whether or not it is actually necessary or even helpful to learning.  He makes a very good case for why it should be eliminated, at the very least in the lower grades, and gives some suggestions about how to structure your teaching environment so that not giving homework really works.  I’m already trying to give less homework this year, but reading this book and listening to some of the things at the conference and reading about Maria Montessori makes me want to go in tomorrow and just completely change everything that I’m doing. 

And then there’s the ideas it’s giving me for our book fair.  My school has a book fair every spring, and teachers are asked to recommend books.  I was debating whether or not to recommend nothing or to recommend Master and Commander.  I really like the latter and we can rec whatever we want.  But now I want to rec The Homework Myth or possibly The Schools Our Children Deserve (also by Kohn), because I think they’re filled with ideas worth thinking about even if they are also ideas that my school is far too conservative and traditional to adopt in any but the most nominal of ways.  I mean, I’m fairly sure that I could not, on my own, stop assigning homework without once again inspiring a new rule in the faculty handbook.  Maybe I’ll tell that story sometime.

Anyway, I stuck around in ACity after that to hang out with a friend of mine.  And, my friends here did roadtrip down, so we all got together for dinner.  It was good to see them, but we didn’t manage to reconnect after that due to cell phone technical difficulties.  My ACity-friend and I went to see Black Coffee (an Agatha Christie play), which was quite well done, on Friday night after dinner.  But Saturday we just hung out at her sister’s.  The most bizarre thing was that her innumerable cats, dogs, and nieces thought I was the greatest thing since sliced bread and spent as much time as possible hanging on me or demanding I pet them (not the nieces). 

The best thing about my little mini-break, though, was that I actually felt raring to go for school when I got back.  Really, there’s nothing like hours of listening to BBC’s adaptations of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes to refresh the brain.  And then, I made the foolish mistake of checking my school e-mail. 

Now, I try to be as responsible as possible about my teaching, which means that, when I know I’m going to be gone, I leave precise instructions for my subs.  So, of course I did that this time as well.  And one of my subs on Friday decided to take it upon himself to change my assignment, without so much as a by your leave.  I wanted them to write a story involving math.  It could be about anything math related.  So he e-mails me to tell me that he “told them they could write a summary of the story if they did not want to write their own.”

What the hell?  Who does that?  I mean, does this guy give so little thought to his own assignments that he wouldn’t care if someone came along and changed them, or what?  I give my assignments for a reason!  And a summary is asking for an entirely different skill set!  I mean, I get that it’s a math class, but still!  And he doesn’t even teach math!  So now I have to confront this brainless wonder when I go to school tomorrow and somehow get him to see how unacceptable this is.  And, I’m going to e-mail the person that assigns subs and ask her not to have him sub for me ever again.  People… if they set out to vex me deliberately, they could not succeed so well.

Okay, that was probably way longer than anyone really wanted to read.

–ryo out


2 Responses to “Holidays are great until they’re over.”

  1. 1 limey
    10 February 2008 at 17:04:02

    I`m not sure I agree with removing homework in the lower grades. When I was k through about grade 2/3 I had an hour of homework every night, without fail. It was French immersion so there were French books and language to work on, along with our other subjects. When we moved to a non-homework oriented school I was overjoyed. When I looked back over my school books I was amazed at how much we were able to learn in those early years.
    Part of it could have been also the set up of the school though, which was amazing. We had reason in math even in grade 1. Questions like if there are five identical feet how many kids are behind the fence. I didn`t have another math question that didn`t actually have an answer for so many years it wasn`t even funny. Math was logic and applying to situations and word problems instead of times tables.
    Which has nothing to do with homework, but seriously, I dumbed down over the years and lost any interest in ever doing homework. I had more structure and order when it came to studying in my earliest years of school than I have ever found again and I can`t help but thinking that I would have been a lot more dedicated to studying if I had built upon those early studying skills.

  2. 2 ryoryo
    10 February 2008 at 18:52:03

    Well, it depends on how you define homework. The idea here is not to never have kids do things at home, but to be more conscious about what you ask them to do at home. Also, to give the kids more say in what they do at home. Frankly, I would imagine that you’d still ask questions like that, they just wouldn’t be required. Kids could work on them all or work on some of them or get caught up in just one and focus on that. That way, if they do become interested in something, they have the time and freedom to follow up on it.

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February 2008
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