Teaching in the Age of the Superstar Teacher

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While the United States was learning about Major League Baseball player suspensions , I was in Hong Kong reading of other high paid superstars.

But before I continue, please let me explain from whence I came.

In February, 1990, freshly graduated from teacher’s college, I drove my diesel-powered Volkswagen Rabbit to a job fair in Copley Plaza. I distinctively recall the smell of my new leather resume holder, the texture of my Rick Springfield tie and the overall feeling of awkwardness over the entire affair. I more than likely was wearing Polo cologne. I was young, dumb and full of hope that I would get a job as close as possible to my hometown. I entered the job fair with zero intentions of leaving Massachusetts.

This was during the dark ages before the Internet.  Due to the glut of Boston area universities, Massachusetts was able to pay extremely low wages to aspiring teachers. The highest yearly salary I could find at the time was US$18,000.  One friend signed a contract to teach at a private school for $US 12,000.  Within twenty minutes, I realized that if I were to move out of my childhood bedroom, I would need to find work outside of the Commonwealth.

Fortunately, I was able to secure job offers in California, Georgia, Hawaii and Montgomery County, Maryland. I decided on Maryland for the pay was $27,000 and still, relatively close to home.

Leaving the Boston area was a tremendous sacrifice. I missed out seeing my nephews and nieces grow up. Missed watching my parents enter their golden years . Leaving home was out of necessity and I struggled mightily to get by on a teacher’s salary. This habit of constantly searching for higher paying teacher salaries has led me to Bethesda, Maryland, Singapore, Japan and now Hong Kong. I have had many supplemental side jobs. At various times throughout my career, I was a security guard, a bouncer, a docent and a chess tutor. I tell anyone that will listen that I moved overseas so that I can live the American Dream.

Which brings me back to the Major League ball players, specifically Alex Rodriquez. No one forced the Texas Rangers owner to offer Rodriguez a contract of over $US 100 million dollars. He was worthy of his contract solely because the owner could justify paying him that much money.  I do not begrudge any man for making as much money as possible as long as he is not hurting anybody. ARod had found a market for his remarkable talents that was highly entertaining for the American masses. His contract was and is out beyond my imagination, however.

That said, perhaps, the days when teachers receive astronomical sums are upon us. I read from the WSJ that there is a man in Korea that earns 4 million dollars a year as a tutor. Who am I to begrudge this salary? Does he deserve it? Does anyone deserve that much money for anything? That is not my concern. He earns the money because he has found a market that will offer to pay him. That is the free market at work.

Due to digital technology,  we are at a time when outlier teachers command million dollar salaries.  Perhaps we are at a time where great teachers can command much, much more money and afford to live closer to home. I imagine I will spend the rest of my days on doing what I can to help make that so.

Until then, do not be surprised if I am writing from South Korea next.

How to Teach Fourth Grade: The Math Test

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Life is good for only two things, discovering mathematics and teaching mathematics. 

Simeon Poisson 

My students recently just finished their Everyday Math Written Assessment for Unit 4 and I thought that I would share some of my ideas on issuing the typical fourth grade math test. I hope some of these ideas help.

First of all, my students enjoy math class for they are highly motivated and obviously supported. I view the parents as partners in learning. They play an important and irreplaceable role in math comprehension. I am fully aware that for a good many of my students, my role in their math learning is middling, at best. That said: we have a lot of fun exploring the subject.

As I wrote in an earlier post, I pre-assess each student before the start of each unit. From there, I heap a great amount of responsibility on the students to take charge of their own math understanding. They learn with partners and speak in conversational tones throughout most lessons. My job is to pair up the students with similar ability partners. Next, I steer the conversations so that each student becomes a little stronger in their understanding. Soon I will have the students write daily reflections on their new learning.

At the start of each math test, the students sit in “test mode” seating. Each kid is responsible for setting up dividers and each table group’s “go getter” are responsible for distributing the tests. Students look over the test and one or two students proactively volunteers to pass out needed math tools such as rulers, calculators or protractors.

Each test  an assessment for learning. Therefore, I routinely help out students as they learn. I pat the kids on their backs and compliment them throughout. For this specific test, the kids asked me to define terms like “withdraw” or “deposit. ” Both terms were not on my word wall so I happily explained what the words meant.

I review before each test on my interactive whiteboard. I am a pretty demanding teacher but I stop coaching in while the kids are taking their assessments. Rather, I celebrate their learning and cheer them on and do whatever else I can to boost their confidence.

I assign the first student to complete the test to collect the remaining tests and to alphabetize the tests according to last names. This helps me grade and input data on an excel spreadsheet.

Each grade-level focuses on a different algorithm throughout the year. This helps the student develop mastery with the four operations while the teachers develop mastery in routinely teaching a particular method.

I accommodate the students with graph paper and hands-on learning tools, such as base-ten blocks. All are welcome to use the tools regardless of their learning needs.

This helps all develop confidence in mathematics, my only goal during testing days throughout the year.

Reference: 

Poisson, S. (n.d.). Mathematics quotes. Retrieved from http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/mathematics_5.html

Watching your Parents age from a Distance…Saying Goodbye as an Expat

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Each summer, before returning to Asia, I have to say goodbye to my parents. It is an awful ritual. It is increasingly difficult as the years go on. This summer was nothing short of torturous in that my mom and dad are struggling so mightily to live. It kills me to see them in pain.

I wrestle with self-centeredness, by balancing the thought of my mom and dad’s exceedingly dwindling quality of life versus my need to learn from them and enjoy their company. I am often times needing to tell them that I have a really good life and that I am happy. Each year, I find myself playing the loser’s game of wishing that I might see my parents just one more summer. I find myself wondering if I am living a life of meaning if I cannot even take care of my own parents’ basic needs. Each year I try to reconcile my conflicting emotions. “Should I stay or should I go?” Should I risk taking a real pay cut to return home? Can I eek out one more year?

Would I be  an added burden if I finally did decide to return home?

In writing this piece, I think of a quote from Confucius that I read somewhere. To paraphrase, “a man is not a man if he leaves his parents’ hometown before they have died.” This quote slays me each time I think about it, knowing that I have left my parents when they need me most. This quote is especially gnawing in that I feel like I have left my siblings holding the bag.

I am sure that I am not the only expatriate dealing with these thoughts.What helps me is to remember and share the advice my parents sent my way,such as:

“Live simply, boring is good.” “Have a good life, enjoy your time with your wife.” “Be happy is all that I ask.” “Don’t live to help people. That is egotism. Simply live to not hurt others. That is enough.” “Whenever in a hospital, you got to eat.” “There are not a lot of people who have a relationship like we do.” “Life is incredibly humbling.”

What also helps is to organize their lives as much as possible to set them up for survival. I did this with my mom by writing a financial, mental, and physical health plan that is achievable. I aided my dad by showing him all that he can still do, and not tell him what he should do.

Finally,below are ten ideas that help me live overseas while my parents age:

1.Accept that you cannot stop the aging process, even if you are living nearby.

2.Appreciate the kindness and positivity of your parents as they look upon their lives. Listen to them.

3.Thank them incessantly in for all that they have done for you.

4.Empathize with their plight, but do not allow yourself to wallow in pity.

5.Help your parents adapt to technology and accept the tools that are just too overwhelming.

6.Do what you can, whenever and whatever.

 7.Continue to make memories.

 8.Listen to them…just sit by their sides.

9.Trust caregivers and hope for the best.

10. Pay it forward and volunteer to work with the elderly in your newly adopted country.

 

 

 Expat reader, I sincerely wish you luck as you watch your parents age. Off to Hong Kong.

 

 

 

Teaching Technology to Expat Teachers

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Recently, I had the good fortune to attend the educational professional development course, Teaching Technology to Teachers. Justin Reich and Tom Daccord  led the class. The training was held at Harvard University’s Adolphus Busch Hall. Below are some notes and reflections I found useful for international educators. Additionally, I have provided some links from the course.

Justin clarified to me that effectual educational technology assists students to:

Collect information needed for understanding.

Relate to each other in collaborative learning groups.

Create meaningful, authentic performances of understanding.

Donate their work to a broader audience.

Moreover, Justin and Tom got me questioning my teaching habits, such as, “What is my educational technology mission statement? How do I spend my time? How specifically does my technology choices improve student learning? How do I differentiate my audiences’ level of technical comprehension?How can I use technology to more readily collaborate with my teammates and teachers?”

I envision that this class will help me prod my teammates to contemplate their own philosophies on use of educational technology. I hope to offer opportunities for students colleagues and parents to appreciate that technology is not a cure-all but rather a tool delivering content.

Reich and my cohorts shared teacher-tested professional development models including:

Digital Educator Academy: (Providing college credits for Ed Tech professional growth.)

Nine tech lunch talks throughout the school year

Ed Tech prize drawings provided throughout the school year

Bagels and Laptops: Monthly voluntary breakfast meetings where cohorts share tech secrets and successes

Tech Leader Representatives per Teaching Team or Department

Geek of the Week (I love this idea in spite of the label)

Technology in practice weekly blogs

Technology Fairs where teachers are given time to informally” test drive” tech ideas

Reich explained the rewards of challenges to inspire confidence to change. He presented digital challenges that show, and not tell, teachers the joys, benefits and relative ease in using technology.  A highly engaging challenge is here.Expat teachers can reach available protocols and tutorials to cut issues that will appear. You can use your students and teachers partners to develop tutorials and screencasts. Commoncraft is one such site that has a bevy of tutorials. Screencastomatic is a simple and free site that allows users to produce screencasts while instructing. They can later be linked to teachers’ websites for future viewing.

Upon reflection, the course, Teaching Technology to Teachers, will profoundly affect how I teach my students. Specifically, my students will more markedly share their work with fellow learners worldwide. This is a path to improving student learning.I strongly recommend that international educators consider enrolling with Justin and Tom in the future. I most definitely plan to attend again next summer. I am quite grateful for this time well spent.

Have a great year and I hope this helps. Below are some links that had a great deal of buzz:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2H4RkudFzlc

xtranormal.com

mathtrain.tv

goanimate.com

Polleverywhere.com

http://thwt.org/

Questions? Comments? Thoughts? Please write back.

 

 

Watching your Parents Age from a Distance

Having completed my 21-hour flight from Hong Kong to Boston via Tokyo and Chicago, I am on finally on summer vacation at my mom’s house. I am preparing for a bike ride to my Dad’s nursing home facility. In an effort to stay clear-headed, I have decided to write a few thoughts about the challenges expats face regarding elderly care.

One of the positive aspects of living overseas is that when I do finally get to spend time with my parents, I truly am in the moment. I do not have any other cares besides caring for them both.  I spend my nights with my mom and the days with my dad. I have forced myself to slow down.

These last two days by my dad’s side have been quite positive. I have been able to see tangible growth in my dad’s physical condition. He is more positive, accepting and realistic about his life. That not to say that he does not still intend to walk unassisted, however.  He continues to work his muscles to the point of exhaustion. It is an astounding joy to watch him stand tall while he walks the 50 feet or so across the rehabilitation room floor.

Both he and I are relaxed together for the first time in a very long while. Gone are the days of a power struggle that is so common between father and middle-aged son. Neither of us is trying too hard. Sitting in a courtyard at a nursing home for long stretches forces one to accept things as they are. No longer is he struggling just to survive the day. No longer am I acting like a drill sergeant or cheerleader in getting him to move his limbs. Rather, we both are acknowledging the pleasure of reaching tiny goals.

We watch the birds, we finish the daily crossword puzzle, and we listen to each other. Dad is getting back to reading about the game of bridge (he was once nationally rated) and he is quite pleased that he still is mentally sharp. I am listening to wonderful stories from his life and getting a chance to read in the most comfortable of surroundings. It is wonderful living “off the grid.”

We are all hanging in there. I am still learning each day from my first and finest teachers.

Fellow Expats, What are your thoughts about watching your parents age?

Year End Blues

Each year, without exception, I become a wee bit out of sorts. The school year is over. The students are gone and I am without meaningful work. It truly is a difficult transition for me. Fatigue, the changes in routine, and the stress of saying farewell, all play a role. I imagine I am not the only teacher who feels this way.

Lack of structure is especially challenging. I take pleasure knowing that I have a job to go to each Monday morning. To be needed and held to high standards is a source of pride. To go from high stress to zero professional responsibilities is a cognitive challenge. Living overseas adds another level of difficulty. To combat the end of the year blues, I plan.

Below are several tips on how I cope:

Travel

I have already ferried off to Macau for an overnight with my wife. I have set up some family trips to New York City, Central Pennsylvania, Southern California and three weeks in Boston. I hope to reconnect with my American family in a big way. I will visit a few minor league baseball stadiums. I  have set up some chores to do around my mom’s house.

Teach Summer School

I really enjoy the weeks I spend teaching summer school. It is a joy to create my your own curriculum and to experiment with lessons. The dress code is casual, as is the learning.

Read 

I generally try to read about ten to fifteen books during the summer. I also spend this time lining up books for my expat book club. I try to visit local libraries wherever I am. I generally read two hours a day during the summer.

Take a course or two

This summer, I am studying Japanese online and taking some technology for educators courses at Harvard University. I will be meeting teachers from all over the world.

Exercise

My road bike is ready to get a workout. I hope to refrain from renting a car while I am in the states. Biking, as a means of transportation is fun, saves me money and gets me in shape. I haven’t owned an automobile since moving to Asia. I take it as a challenge to map out my routes each day. I never clock my times or chart my miles on the road. I bring a small towel and clean up in public bathrooms.

Volunteer

I have previously worked in soup kitchens when I living in Washington DC. This summer, I hope to help get out the vote for the upcoming US presidential election.

Work on that hobby

This summer, I am continuing to practice my ukulele. I am forming a band when I get back to Hong Kong in August. Right now, I am mastering the intro to Pinball Wizard by the Who.

Accept that little is accomplished:

Each summer, I force myself to appreciate the time away. The understanding that there will be a job to return to is a great help for me. Accepting that there is little expected of me and that I need to rest and recuperate is essential. I remind myself each morning that this is my time to recharge. My goals for the day are drastically reduced.