Teacher Tuesday: Good news for Texas students

This week Governor Rick Perry signed into law House Bill 5, which reduces the number of tests students have to pass to graduate from high school from 15 to 5.  It also allows students to choose whether or not they want to go the “4 x 4” route, taking four English courses, four science, four math, and four social studies classes, or take four English courses and then three of each of the other subjects.

It frees students–kids in my book and my mind and heart–from the tyranny of over-testing.  It frees them to learn from teachers who are not as burdened with test scores and stressed-out administrators.  It frees them to benefit from the expertise shared by teachers who have been freed from restrictions on what they have to teach.  Teachers will be able to flex their creativity and share their passion a little more now that some of the testing pressure is off.
Contrary to what many outside of the education realm believe, this new ruling gives students more freedom and more choices, not fewer.
Also in the law is the provision requiring school districts to approve six career and technology courses which can take the place of a fourth credit in math.  This is a huge step forward in what we used to call vocational education, which sadly all but disappeared in the 90’s when lawmakers decided that every student should go to college.  This law gives students the choice to learn what we used to call a “trade” such as auto mechanics, welding, carpentry, or cosmetology, or begin a career in the medical field or other fields which do not require four-year college degrees.
This new approach to education not only allows students to pursue other avenues of education, it validates the student who chooses not to follow the traditional college route.  As a teacher and director of a dropout prevention program for over seventeen years, I saw hundreds of students whom the traditional system had given up on, kids who needed other options besides college.  Two of these students were my daughter and her husband.  My daughter is being trained in medical records by the company who hired her and has better benefits than I did.  Her husband just graduated from a technical program at our local junior college which licensed him for a career in air conditioning and heating service.  I am optimistic for his future success as a business owner and provider for his family.
My daughter with her husband on graduation day!
Texas HB 5 has many other provisions which you can read here if you are interested.  The link will take you to an analysis of the bill in detail.  I’m just happy that Texas legislators have finally realized that our students were being over-tested and that not all students fit the traditional college mold.
Thank you, Texas legislators and Governor Perry!  It’s a step in the right direction!

TEACHER TUESDAY: Nitty Gritty Time

As a teacher you have probably settled into a comfortable routine by this time of year.  You know the names of your students, or at least most of them–quite a feat if you have over 130 like I did last year.  You are now familiar with the unique personalities of each of your classes and many of your students.  You know that each class has its own distinct personality and feel as well as its own abilities and attitudes, and you have adjusted to each one.

You can finally fill out necessary paperwork on students and know who it is that you are writing about. This part was really difficult for me last year because special education forms did not wait until I knew every student by name and needs.  It was a good feeling when I could fill out those forms with confidence.

There is so much required of teachers these days.  In high school we had to keep up with special education accommodations, limited English proficiency accommodations, special education inclusion students, content mastery students, English as a second language students, athletes in all sports, district curriculum requirements, technology innovations, state testing requirements, and the list goes on and on.  The pressure on teachers for their students to perform well on standardized tests is immense, but there is also pressure for star athletes and other extracurricular competitors to make good grades.  Often, it is the teacher who is blamed for failures rather than the student.

But at least by this time of year, you are becoming familiar enough with your students that you can intelligently recommend appropriate accommodations and provide tutoring or other measures to help each one succeed.  That, after all, is the bottom line.  The job of a teacher is help each student find their own way to success.

Veteran or new or in-between, carry on, teacher.  It’s all about the kid, and you are the key to their success.