Tag Archives: tennessee

It’s 2010? Already? Well Let’s Change Teaching Forever.


It’s 2010. I have no idea what happened to the second half of 2009 and here it is…2010. I’m not sure I like it.

I started this site a while back to make myself do something that involved my brain. I said to my self, “Self…You are required to write something here at least, AT LEAST, once a month.” I haven’t. So it is with the best of intentions, hell’s own cobblestones, that I embark on what I set out to do just over two years ago.

I Planned On Procrastinating But I Think I’ll Wait.

I never really set out to do nothing. I am just easily distracted. I know that I have many, many important items on my agenda. Things that will impact myself and others and make all our lives easier. So I decide to write an entry here. See how that works? And if you do will you tell me?

Paying Teachers Based on Performance.

Sounds great, right? Paying teachers based on how their students do on tests. Standardized tests. In fact, Tennessee is working on a plan to tie teacher pay to the performance of their students. And why not, you may ask. After all, it is a teacher’s job to teach right? And what better way to show how well a student learns than standardized tests? Right? Right?

Actually? No. Standardized tests measure nothing but short term memory. Period. And tying the pay of a group of professionals to the performance of children and their ability to sit for three hours in front of a test booklet and a scan sheet is poorly conceived, wrong-headed and downright mean-spirited. Has anyone given this any thought outside of the usual, “It’s for the children” line of crap? I have asked before and I will ask again: Is there another profession that ties monetary compensation to the performance of their clients? Not the satisfaction of the clients or the viability of the product, but the actual performance of the client.

I used to sell computers in the early days of the home PC. I sold very good computers to people who could barely turn a computer on. I even questioned their need for owning a computer. And, in the end, I sold them exactly what they wanted or thought they needed and they went home and completely and utterly failed to make their computers do anything. My boss thought I was a great salesman and gave me a raise. Under the Merit Pay guidelines, my pay would have  been cut because my clients failed to meet some poorly defined standard of performance.

In my district, we are much like any other district. We have great kids, great teachers and great schools. We also have some bad teachers, some not-so-great schools and some terrible kids. But that is normal and just fine because we get to mix them up and put bad teachers in good schools and great kids in bad schools and terrible kids in great schools and so on and so on. No where do you see a really bad school filled with really terrible kids and being taught by rotten teachers. Just like in real life. And just like in real life, we are afraid to say anything bad about the kids.

You can complain about a school all you want. It’s just a building. Some are better than others. And I guess you can complain about teachers all you want also. But the children? Be careful where you tread. We love our children. Children are our future. Teach your children well with arms wide open. We will even defend other people’s children. Even if those other people are people we hate.

In my district a group of kids were hauled out of school for weapons violations. Guns and knives mostly. Those kids have teachers. Does anyone really believe that the pay of those teachers should be tied to these hoodlums? Kids are being raised by television sets and it is up to a teacher to show that “Take whatever you can” is not a real career path. So why can’t we blame the kids for their own failures? It is easier to blame the teachers and it is way more Politically Correct to blame the teachers. In today’s society, it is impossible to look a 17 year-old in the eye and say, “You are a failure because you are lazy, indifferent and no where near as clever as you think you are. You are a failure because your only role models play professional sports, sing or commit crimes. You are a failure because your parents don’t love you enough to put your needs before their own. You are a failure because you expect everything to be given to you as if you have accomplished something just by showing up. You are a failure because you surround yourself with failures and are too afraid to stand out in a crowd.” But we can’t say these things. So we blame the teachers.

Just Blame The Teachers.

We blame the teachers. It is hard to “get” this very simple statement. We blame the teachers. Teachers. Human beings with families, mortgages, problems and low pay. They get the blame. Real people like Jane. (Obviously not her real name. But very real.) Jane is a teacher who left her profession a decade ago to teach what she knows to others. She has a couple of kids, both in their teens. Her husband is too sick to work but not sick enough for disability. One of her kids is developmentally challenged and the other is gifted but…weird…like a lot of creative teenagers. Both are fantastic kids. She has a car, a house and is trying to get her kids into college. But she makes so little money, after years of teaching, that her kids qualify for the district’s own free lunch program. Jane shows up to work early every day and leaves work late every day. She buys certain supplies out of her own pocket in spite of the fact that her own kids might go without. She loves her students and believes in them but some refuse to learn anything she teaches. And we want to tie Jane’s pay into the testing ability of her students. As if she needs another thing to worry about.

But if we blame Jane for the failures of a few kids that means that we can completely absolve the children, their parents and friends and families, their neighborhoods and communities, the state and the media and the entire nation of any guilt whatsoever. And that is the way we like to live. Guilt-free. So our teachers become sin-eaters and we are pleased.

Sometimes People Just Have Bad Days.

The truth is, even  the best students have bad days. What if that day is testing day? Is there any way that anyone can impress on a child that today, of all days, is the one day that will define you forever? Can we say “You just can’t “Christmas tree” this test today because too many people are depending on you to succeed. I don’t care if your Grandma is dying, you broke up with your boyfriend, you wrecked your car or if your parents don’t love you and are getting divorced or your dog died. You have to do well today.

No other profession allows anyone to be defined by a single, three-hour event. So why should education? A child is in the public school system for 12 years. How do you measure 12 years? Certainly not with a single high stakes test. Not unless you are completely clueless. Or the Governor of Tennessee.


Classroom Video Part Two: Getting Started

If you mention classroom video to the average parent you bring up visions of some old 16 mm movie clacking away on a rickety old projector or, moving forward a decade or two, a VHS (remember those?) running on a 19 inch TV mounted up on the wall. The topics ran from PBS specials to hygiene movies. I personally loved the school bus safety movies. Lots of action and blood. Today, we run our classroom videos from DVD and use a dedicated player or a computer. But classroom video can mean so much more.

Using video production in the classroom can be fun, entertaining and meaningful for students no matter what grade they are in. From K through 12, making a video can impact student achievement and raise student interest in just about any subject. All it takes is a little equipment.

In my class we make our own videos and we don’t have a huge budget so we make do with consumer grade equipment. The kind of stuff you can buy from Circuit City or Best Buy or, for that matter, Wal-Mart. It gets kind of scuffed and some of it doesn’t even make it through the entire school year but it works well enough for us.


I am not a technical kind of guy. I am what you might want to call an end-user. I like what technology can do but I have absolutely no interest in how it works. I started editing video in 1979 and have worked in TV stations around the south ever since. I can’t talk at length about frequencies and diodes and other techie topics but I am absolutely dedicated to the creative side of the business. But as far as I’m concerned, computers work by magic.


We now have four whole camcorders as part of our classroom set. All four of them use a format called MiniDV. You want to stick with MiniDV if you plan to edit your videos rather than just showing them through the camera. We have three Canon ZR-930’s and one Panasonic PV-GS300. The Canons are very basic cameras with one extra benefit. They have an external microphone jack which allows students to plug in a wireless mic and boosts the audio quality immeasurably. Well…actually it is measurable but…never mind. The Panasonic is my favorite. It has three imaging devices instead of a single device, optical image stabilization and a pretty decent microphone. The video that comes off of this camera is great in terms of color saturation and clarity.

Of course a tripod is a requirement. It has two main functions. It reduces camera shake and reduces user fatigue. In other words, you can set up a tripod for hours and it never gets tired and it never gets shaky. Try that with a 9th grader. Look for one that is strong enough to hold the weight of your camera but if you’re using a consumer level camcorder, a twenty to thirty dollar tripod will work just fine.


As mentioned a little earlier, you want a camcorder that uses MiniDV tape. Not only is this becoming the standard format, it is just easier to work with when it comes time to edit. You will want to use a computer to edit in a style of editing called non-linear editing. It’s just easier to fix mistakes and the old linear, tape-to-tape equipment is expensive, slow and getting harder to find.

So you’re going to need a computer. We use Apples because Macs come out of the box with everything you need to download and edit video, create podcasts and author DVD’s. PC’s come with Microsoft Movie Maker which is a decent but somewhat limited editor. Other software is available and I have used Pinnacle Studio before with great success.

Then What?

Well, that’s up to you. Try to think of the video in terms of a text or an essay. Every movie a student makes is like a mini term paper. It requires thought, planning, research and some technology skill. Add that to the fact that kids just love TV and you can’t miss. Just give the class a topic, assign some jobs and let them run with it. It might encourage them even more if you post some of their work someplace like Teacher Tube. My class started an after school project with some local artists and filmmakers and their documentary ended up being shown around the city to great reviews. It was called “Golden Grillz & Satan Likes Puppies.” More on that in the next post.

Just Another Year…

OK…It’s 2008 and I am two days from a new batch of students. This happens twice a year every year and I still hate it. It takes me a while to “warm up” to my students and to find the best techniques to engage them and (God help me) entertain them. And that is why I hate this time of year.

A fresh batch of faces staring up at me with nothing in their heads but questions and preconceived notions of what the class is all about, what I am all about and how they intend to behave during class. And all of them are so connected with some form of communication that they look to me and their other teachers to be just as entertaining as what is on their iPod or as informative as their next text message.

Of course cell phones and MP3 players are not allowed in school but that doesn’t stop anyone. Ever. I have had students who have not only let a phone ring during class but actually answered it. And they got mad at me when I told them to hang up.

Because of the media society we have created in this country the very idea of NOT having instant gratification for our entertainment needs is looked upon as old fashioned or “out-of-touch.” There are two things that I do just to get a reaction from my students. I start talking about cell phones and then announce that I do not own one. I get reactions ranging from stunned, glazed over looks to downright heartfelt anger. Just as I cannot understand how a teenager can feel actual anger over the idea of not owning a cell phone, they cannot understand that I have no need to feel “connected” at all times.

So I hate this time of year and I get over it pretty quickly. We come to our agreements, collective and individual, and the kids soon learn that TV isn’t rocket science, that I am not mean just because I have some rules and that learning about TV can be fun.

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