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Morning Shots

Conformity (Andrew McNamar)

I stood at the service counter of my local Starbucks waiting for my annoying to make White Mocha with a few modifications.  The barista was a friendly young woman who went about her task without any appearance of dislike for her job.  As I waited, I overheard a second barista, a little less friendly sounding, announce, in front of guests and the management, that my barista was out of dress code.

I looked.  Nothing stood out to me, the customer.  It turned out she had forgotten to take out her tongue ring that morning. 

I stared at the less friendly barista, confounded by her actions.  Why would she do that?  No one would have noticed, or really cared. 

Back at the school, I thought about education policies that try to make schools and teachers conform. No Child Left Behind comes to mind.  I thought of Thoreau’s drumbeat and Frost’s diverging path.  I mostly thought of how controlling the education bureaucracy has grown. I wanted to grab a notebook, a pen, and a good book so that I could march my students, to whatever drumbeat we heard, out into the woods of education and learn simply, suck the marrow out of education.  I wanted to leave the system to fail without me. 

I had recognized that the education system, the bureaucracy, needed direction. Good companies have rigid policies; great companies have a degree of flexibility.  Good schools make teachers march in line; great schools tap into the ingenuity and creativity of the individual.  Let me illustrate from my own classroom.  I teach a somewhat scripted reading program.  I was doing as the curriculum demanded.  My students didn’t understand.  It was my obligation, as the teacher, to ensure that these students understood the concept, so I punted.  Only when I

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Swap Obstacles for Teachers (Jennifer Buckingham)

The importance of high-quality teachers of maths, science and technology is self-evident and cannot be overstated. Yet there are insufficient numbers of teachers willing and able to teach these subjects, particularly at the senior school level, and their quality is highly variable.

A survey published yesterday by the Australian Council of Deans of Science found that one in five maths teachers did not study maths beyond the first year of university and one in 12 did no university maths at all. Statistics for the junior years of high school are even worse. The Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies estimates that as many as 40 per cent of junior secondary maths teachers may not be suitably qualified to teach the subject.

It is just as bad for the physical sciences. Last year’s survey by the Council of Deans of Science found that one in four physics teachers and one in six chemistry teachers had neither a major nor a minor in their subject. But heads of school science departments believe that teachers need at least a minor in their subject to teach it effectively.

The many unqualified and underqualified teachers in maths and science classrooms across the country are the result of all states finding it difficult to get good teachers in these subjects. This is because there are too many obstacles and disincentives, especially pre-service teacher training and uncompetitive salaries.

A high-calibre maths or science graduate has many options and teaching is not one of the most attractive. To become a schoolteacher they face another year of university to gain a diploma of education, with the attendant loss of income. Young people know the salary prospects are initially good but there are no rewards for hard work and excellence.

For someone already working in a maths or science-based profession who

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Showing Students How Just Makes Sense (Nancy Salvato)

Throughout my career in teaching, there has been no shortage of colleagues who have made the remark that faced with a blank sheet of paper; kids don’t know what to do with it.  Sadly, many have not developed their imaginations enough to conceive of their own ideas.  Others believe they cannot draw and therefore won’t accept the challenge to create something on the paper.  With middle school students, I discovered that when asked to draw something that relates to a story we read in class, students still have problems getting started. It is as though they haven’t formed any pictures in their heads about what we read.  Some simply try to copy the artist’s depiction offered on the cover of the book. 

To achieve any modicum of success with an open ended assignment, whether it is writing, drawing, or through some other medium, requires some type of direction in order to nudge a student to begin.  Sometimes, this nudge can take the form of an outline which the class begins together, a brainstorming session to generate topics of interest, constructing the beginning as a group, and so on.  Research has indicated that students living in environments where the child is either over-stimulated for extreme amounts of time or under-stimulated because there is a lack of social interaction; often require more structure than others.  It is believed that safety and consistency provided through an ordered, structured environment allows children from disadvantaged homes to open up to new experiences. Furthermore, imagination and creativity can bloom in a structured, ordered environment.   

Many preschool teachers have been educated to follow a strict constructivist philosophy which dictates that in a developmentally appropriate classroom, teachers are not supposed to direct children’s activities and they are only supposed to facilitate their learning by

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