Articles in the Teachers category

How’s your school climate?

Have you ever wondered what people are really thinking? As a principal, counselor, administrator, school board member, or teacher, a lot of faith is put into the idea that we are doing a good job and the people we work with feel the same way. But sometimes those perceptions are wrong, sometimes our perceptions aren’t those of our key stakeholders, and sometimes the educators need to be educated.

NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) recently conducted a study led by Dr. Brian Perkins (along with recommendations from the PTA) regarding school climate. What We Think, surveyed more than 10,000 urban parents in 17 different states to find out their opinions about bullying; teacher/student respect; safety; and expectations, to name a few of the topics.

NSBA and CUBE have previously examined student perspectives on school climate (Where We Learn) and teacher and administrator perspectives (Where We Teach). The third study came to some interesting conclusions, including:

~ Slightly more female parents (76.7%) indicated visiting the school to support its activities than did their male counterparts (72%).
~ Parents overwhelmingly believed that their child was capable of high performance on standardized tests (84%).

~ Most parents felt respected by the teachers at their child’s school (87%).

~ Parents with children in the middle grades (6-8) indicated that their children were bullied at least once per month more than parents at other grades (13%).

~ Generally, parents who used self-experience as their primary source of information about their school held more positive views about safety (76.1%), while parents who used the newspaper as their primary source of information about their school held more negative views about safety (12.5%).

Take a look for yourself. The study (as well as the first two) is available on CUBE’s website and the results are sometimes surprising. Our friends at Education Daily and Public School Insights already have, and there’s no disputing the fact that parents have an important insight into our schools and are crucial to their success.

Erin Walsh|May 1st, 2008|Categories: Announcements, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards, School Security, Student Achievement, Teachers|

Gentlemen (and ladies) start your engines

It was bound to happen. Someone found a way to make NASCAR educational. BoardBuzz kids you not. So for all you speed freaks out there, pay close attention to this story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It seems that Alpharetta High math teacher Jane McAlister has found a way to make math “fun as well as educational” all by using NASCAR as a guide.

The course description in the 2008 Spring catalog reads: “If you think this is a simple-minded sport for rednecks, you are in for the ride of your life.”

The class embraces all things speed, and looks at the big picture in a mathematical context.

Classroom discussions include the dimensions of a track, the measurements of a race car and how the two can work for or against the driver.

Keeping up with the NASCAR Chase for the Cup, and who is up or down in the complex points system, is all part of the curriculum. Homework assignments include watching Speed TV and weekend NASCAR and Indy car races.

The class is part of Alpharetta High’s Talented and Gifted (TAG) program. Students take the class in addition to their regular course work, but don’t get a letter grade for the extra seminar. Students who complete the class get a “gifted participation” designation on their high school transcripts, McAlister said.

The early inspiration for the class came when McAlister was still teaching math at nearby Milton High School. Michelle Theriault was a student.

“She’d come to me every now and then and ask for three weeks worth of assignments because she was going racing,” said McAlister. “And I thought, ‘If she’s interested in this there have to be other teenagers interested.’ ”

Theriault, who started racing long before she had a driver’s license, competes in various NASCAR and ARCA events and dreams of becoming a NASCAR champion.

McAlister said Theriault’s passion for her sport made her wonder if a class that studied racing would work.

And the rest, as they say, is history. It’s innovative programming like this that keeps kids engaged and makes them want to learn. What kinds of creative curricula do you have in your district? Tell us about it by leaving a comment.

Erin Walsh|April 29th, 2008|Categories: Curriculum, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement, Teachers|

A tarnished silver anniversary?

This month marks the 25th Anniversary of A Nation at Risk, the government study that examined education and what needs to be changed to improve American education. The study was put together by a team of educators including school board members from urban districts, rural districts, state associations, presidents of universities, principals, a Nobel Laureate, and a teacher of the year (to name a few). It’s widely regarded as “the” report on education, but for many of us in the daily grind of working in the world of education, we were merely school kids ourselves when the report came out.

USA Today took one side of the issue in Friday’s edition, essentially saying that while we have a long way to go, there are improvements in education that should be emulated. In the other corner, Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, pits the problems in schools against other American problems such as poverty, the credit debacle, and a loss of industrial jobs.

Nothing in America operates in a vacuum, and education’s problems often trickle down to other aspects of society, but can the schools solve a credit crisis? How about health care? Poverty? Shall we go on? Yes, education is the answer to many of our ills, but educational innovations are the key to the future. So much has changed, yet so much has stayed the same as the America we knew in 1983. Look at the facts–economic uncertainly in the U.S.–check. Uncertainty in the international community and it’s view of the U.S.–check. Wages being stagnant–check. “Crisis” in education–check.

So what’s a teacher, administrator, school board member, superintendent, or most importantly, a student to do? The ideas are out there, but just like those days in school in 80s, you’re gonna have to do some homework (and the internet wasn’t even being used by regular people yet). NSBA has some innovative ideas through the National Affiliate program, CUBE, TLN, and your state school boards association is always willing to help. Dig in. You’ll find that the best answers are often in the depths of the web pages, but what’s most important is that as we read about all the flaws and comparisons to the last 25 years, we realize that we still have work to do, and it is possible to have positive results.

Erin Walsh|April 21st, 2008|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards, Student Achievement, Teachers|Tags: |

Leading by example

Do as I say not as I do? Not for the teachers at one Michigan high school. BoardBuzz is excited and inspired by a group of teachers at Orchard View High School who have implemented a wellness plan. This according to a posting on the Muskegon Chronicle’s blog.

About a dozen teachers have banded together this school year to promote the importance of exercise and diet. Their efforts so far have included forming an after-school teachers’ running club and successfully lobbying for healthier cafeteria food. They also hope to start a similar running club for students this spring.

As motivation for themselves, the teachers decided to compete in the Fifth Third River Bank Run, a popular race scheduled for May 10 in Grand Rapids.

“The first thing we did was form a health committee,” said history teacher Nicholas Cole, one of four teachers who formed the committee last fall. “We realized that we had no programs directed at health and fitness for staff.”

Nothing like leading by example! What’s more, “With the support of the high school’s food service director and a registered dietitian, new, healthier food was added to the school’s menu. For example, whole wheat, whole-grain breads took the place of less nutritious ‘sub buns.’ Cookies and cheeses were replaced with reduced-fat versions. And lower-sodium recipes were created.”

What’s especially exciting about this is that the teachers have taken this initiative on their own. And that’s what good leadership is all about. Run on, Orchard View, run on!

Erin Walsh|April 15th, 2008|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement, Teachers, Wellness|

Gates advises Congress on education, immigration

BoardBuzz isn’t sure where to begin. Let’s start with the facts. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates paid a visit to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to testify before the House Committee on Science and Technology. He presented a wish list that you may recognize from last year. Gates wants more money for math and science education, more funds for research, and more visas for skilled foreign workers. His testimony focused much on global competitiveness and the need for the U.S. to drastically reform its immigration program. As the Washingont Post reports:

In his last scheduled testimony to Congress before he retires, Gates said those provisions are necessary for the United States to maintain a competitive edge in technology innovation. He said some of the most talented graduates in math, science and engineering are temporary residents and cannot get the visas they need to take jobs with U.S. companies.

This perspective has incited much debate about immigration and the “offshoring” of jobs. However, Gates brings up an interesting point. “U.S. innovation has always been based in part on foreign-born scientists and researchers,” he said. “The fact that their smartest people have wanted to come here has been a huge advantage to us, and in a sense, we’re kind of throwing that away.”

BoardBuzz is reminded that some of “America’s” greatest minds were in fact foreign nationals at one time. Albert Einstein probably being the most prominent. However, there certainly is a difference between seeking to incorporate great minds into our workforce and simply sending jobs overseas.

The debate over this issue surrounds Gates’s demand to increase the number of H-1B visas issued annually. Currently, only 65,000 visas may be issued, and that number is generally filled within the first day the visa process opens. H-1B visas allow employers to hire foreign workers with specific skills. Last year, Microsoft was not able to get visas for about one-third of its prospective foreign employees, claims Gates. Microsoft even went so far as to establish a Canadian outpost for these workers just across the border.


Erin Walsh|March 14th, 2008|Categories: Curriculum, Educational Technology, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Teachers|

What’s all this fuss about homework??

BoardBuzz has heard the reports of parent discontent, and in some cases outright rebellion, against the amount of homework their children are receiving. However, according to The MetLife Survey of The American Teachers: The Homework Experience, these anecdotal reports are the exception rather than the rule. The survey found that the overwhelming majority of teachers, parents, and students do not believe too much homework is being assigned or cutting into family time. Although, they all agree that some of the homework is just busywork that is not related to what they are learning in school.

BoardBuzz is dismayed by the finding that most of the 25 percent of students who reported not having enough time to complete their homework were the lower achievers. As BoardBuzz learned from last year’s <a href=”“>Center for Public Education report, What research says about the value of homework, if a student is spending too much time on homework it may be that they are struggling with the material rather than the teacher assigning too much. That’s why the Center encourages parents who feel their child has too much homework to talk to the teacher to see what the problem may be. By working with a child’s teacher, parents and teachers can come to agreement on what is best for the child. Then maybe, just maybe, BoardBuzz won’t hear about another homework rebellion.

For more, a summary of the results of the MetLife survey and information on the value of homework check out

Erin Walsh|February 15th, 2008|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Teachers|

Sometimes a joke just isn’t funny . . . it’s duct tape.

BoardBuzz caught this story out of Florida that made us go, “hmm.” Apparently, a “middle school teacher in Jacksonville, Florida” duct taped a student to his desk. The teacher, Kasey Goodin, apparently “told investigators the taping incident was a joke.” Talk about a sticky situation.

The School Board took a different view. “It’s just not funny for a child to be taped, whether it’s in jest or it’s a disciplinary measure,” said school board chair Betty Burney. Uh, er, yeah.

But, according to, the teacher was apparently all about the laughs, saying, “There was a light-hearted mood in the class as I walked to the supply closet and removed a roll of purple duct tape and a roll of masking tape … The class was laughing. I was laughing. The student was laughing.” Adding, “This incident, was in reality, an opportunity to have fun with the students while getting a message to them.” More importantly, this left BoardBuzz wondering, where does one find purple duct tape?

But in all seriousness, what could possibly have been the message involved in taping a student to his desk? Perhaps the student was wriggling in the seat. Perhaps the ability of the student to rise at will was too much uncertainty for the instructor? Perhaps the teacher feared that without seat adhesion, the good order of the classroom was threatened? Say what? BoardBuzz is as befuddled as you, dear reader.

But, wait, then the teacher admitted acting inappropriately, adding, “Looking back, I know that it was inappropriate for me to break the lines of formality.” Well, that makes BoardBuzz feel much, much better. It was the break in the lines of formality that was an issue. The act of taping the student? Not so much. Oh, we get it . . . okay, no we don’t.

The student involved has since been removed from the teacher’s classroom and the teacher has been suspended without pay for 10 days. Good move. And, the School Board apparently is requiring the teacher to undergo counseling. Hello! And, some professional development, emphasis on professional, might not be a bad idea, either.

Erin Walsh|February 13th, 2008|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Teachers|

No skipping class

BoardBuzz found this article in the Star-Tribune (Minnesota) pretty interesting. It seems that missing class affects student learning. And no, it’s not what you think.

When students miss class, of course it affects their learning. But this editorial asserts that when teachers miss class, that also affects student learning. “The more time teachers spend away from their classrooms, the more student achievement suffers, according to recent studies. That means school officials and educators should take steps to reduce teacher absences and use substitutes more effectively.”

As the article points out, everyone gets the flu and misses a day from class here and there, but:

Nationwide, school officials reported that the number of subs needed to fill regular teaching vacancies doubled between 1994 and 2004. Federal Education Department data shows that about 20 percent of public schools use substitutes to fill longer-term openings, often in subject areas where there are teacher shortages. And that makes it more likely substitutes will be asked to teach outside their areas of expertise.

Studies from the University of Washington and Duke University indicate that districts rely so heavily on temporary teachers that American students spend the equivalent of a full year with a sub in 12 years of schooling. Even as few as 10 days with a replacement teacher, according to the study, can lower student test scores.

And in these times where we are constantly striving to increase student achievement, every little bit helps. “Training and consulting with colleagues is important; teachers need continuing education for their jobs just like other professionals. However, given the impact on students, districts and educators should look for creative ways to offer training and minimize classroom absences.” Districts in Minnesota are working hard to ensure that teachers miss as little class time as possible for professional development.

Another way to address the problem is to prepare for times when substitutes are needed. Some teachers do an excellent job of planning, providing detailed lesson plans to assure that students don’t miss a beat. That kind of preparation should be more widely practiced.

Reducing teacher absences alone is not the answer to all education woes. But giving teachers and pupils more time together is one of several factors that can improve student achievement.

As any teacher knows, planning is the key to classroom success, and planning for absences is just another crucial part of the equation. How does your school district effectively manage teacher absences? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

Erin Walsh|February 11th, 2008|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Teachers|

Zero tolerance or zero common sense?

BoardBuzz is, yet again, befuddled. CNN reports that police have arrested Wisconsin high school teacher, James Buss, for allegedly posting an anonymous comment on a blog “praising the Columbine [High School] shooters.” A fellow teacher apparently thought this meant that blogger was going to pull a Tony Montana (BoardBuzz loves the Al Pacino) and ask the faculty to “say hello to my little friend.” BoardBuzz hates to criticize, and would never dream of joking about violence in schools, since everyone’s top priority is the safety of our students, but it now seems the police may have acted a little hastily, because the county prosecutor is still trying to decide “whether to charge Buss with disorderly conduct and unlawful use of computerized communication systems.”

Disorderly conduct? Unlawful computer use? You mean to tell us the police determined the blogger didn’t pose a real possibility of a viable danger when the blogger praised the Columbine shooters? And, they arrested him anyway? What?!! Could it be (as CNN reports) the blogger may just have been engaging in a “sarcastic attempt to discredit critics of education spending?”

Now, BoardBuzz is no lover of weapons in schools (unless they’re being held by School Resource Officers that know how to use them) but, it does seem to us that some times using the old noggin to do some critical thinking is a good thing. And, that holds especially true for controversial areas that are prone to knee-jerkism. Let’s examine the present case as reported by CNN:

The [blogger's] comment, left under the name “Observer,” came during a discussion over teacher salaries, after some writers complained teachers were underworked and overpaid. [The blogger], “a former president of the teacher’s union, allegedly wrote that teacher salaries made him sick because they are lazy and work only five hours a day. He praised the teen gunmen who killed 12 students and a teacher before committing suicide in the April 1999 attack at Columbine High School.

And, he closed with the coup de grâce,

They knew how to deal with the overpaid teacher union thugs. One shot at a time!

CNN reports that the folks over at the ACLU think this posting is about “somebody who is trying to mock the conservative view of teacher salaries.” You mean this is about arresting someone for political satire? No, says the police chief, because some people were scared and he says, besides sometimes you just can’t say things. And, to prove his point he expounded on his understanding of the First Amendment, saying “What happens when you say ‘bomb’ in an airport? That’s free speech, isn’t it?” he said. “And people are taken into custody for that all the time.”

Well, no. Yes? Maybe. Who knows? (BoardBuzz is no TSA minion). What CNN reports is that a prosecutor is now thinking about charging someone with a relatively minor nuisance violation instead of with the substantial charge for which he was arrested. Apparently, the police believed the blogger posed a viable threat to the safety of others when they arrested him. Does he no longer pose such a threat? Does a review of the facts indicate he never posed such a threat? Is that the reason for the lessening of the charges? BoardBuzz doesn’t know. We’re just asking questions. And we simply wonder whether a better approach might not be to actually look at the totality of the facts and make a determination on the ground about whether someone actually poses a threat and intends to carry out harmful acts. If that’s the case, then law enforcement should move forward deliberatively to prevent harm. But, acting simply as a reaction to someone’s fear without more intent poses lots of difficulties both for law enforcement, the accused, and the public’s safety. Ultimately unfounded knee-jerk reactions could dilute support for the real efforts necessary to combat public violence of this kind.

Erin Walsh|December 6th, 2007|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Teachers|

Hall of famers

Last week BoardBuzz told you about USA Today’s list of all star teachers. This week we’re putting out the call on behalf of the National Teachers Hall of Fame.

The Hall of Fame “is the only facility of its kind dedicated to recognizing career teachers, to preserving and promoting education, and to serving our country by inspiring others to enter the teaching profession.” And now you can nominate a teacher you know to be a hall of famer too! Candidates must have twenty years of teaching experience, be a certified pre-K-12 teacher, teach or have taught in public or private schools, and have a minimum of a bachelors degree.

So if you know a teacher who deserves this honor, fill out the nomination form by January 2, 2008.

Erin Walsh|November 13th, 2007|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Teachers|
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