Tag Archives: education

Here we go again

School has started!  Tables are in groups, white board markers are ready, seating charts are made, and syllabus have been read.  We are officially back to school.  Happy end of summer, fellow teachers.

Every year, I want to tell my new students so much.  I want to tell them that I am there for them, truly.  I want them to succeed and I want them to understand and I want them to try their very best.  I also want them to fail and I want them to struggle and I want them to say that they don’t get it.  I want my students to experience what it is like to have a super easy time with something.  I want them to experience what it is like to have to struggle like hell to get something.  I want my students to experience life in all the nitty-gritty (but not too nitty-gritty because they are just 16 after all) that I can offer.

This may sound weird, but I tell all of my students that they will fail at some point in my class.  I don’t mean that they will get an F.  I mean that they will not do something as well as they thought they had.  They will have to give up on something they didn’t want to.  They will not meet their expectations.  I tell them that because I want them to know that failure is not the end.  Yeah, I know that quiz was hard and you got a C on it when you wanted a B.  What are you going to do about it?  Yeah, I know you didn’t understand the instructions and got a B instead of an A.  What are you going to do next time?  Because I think that when someone fails is when they really start to realize what they are made of.

I also let my students know that it’s okay to be wrong about something.  I’m wrong somethings.  I mess up and do things incorrectly.  And, you know what, that’s ok.  I’ve made it this far and to crashed and burned out (mostly).  I think we don’t let students fail enough.  I think we don’t let students try to pick themselves up without help.  I think we put the safety net too high.  Oh, there is a safety net, to be sure, but maybe we can let them try to figure out how to fall correctly before showing them that the safety net is there (maybe that metaphor got away from me a little, but you know what I mean).

So students, I really do adore all of you.  Yes, all of you.  But I am going to be harsh and hard and enforce things that you don’t like.  I am going to push you and push you because I know you can do better.  And I am going to help you out to the best of my ability every time.

Welcome to Ms. Doskocil’s class of 2017-2018.


Dear Students

I just want to tell you that it’s time to take responsibility for your own learning.  I’m trying my best.  Are you?

I had a student ask me the other week why I kept lower their grade.  Why I was lowering their grade.  Not how they could help their understanding.  Not what they could do to increase their grade.  I was lowering their grade and they wanted to know why I was ruining their GPA.  Seriously.

I’m not ruining your GPA or lowering your grade.  I enter grades in the gradebook based on your performance and understanding.  Why are you turning in assignments half completed and expecting full credit?  Why aren’t your taking responsibility for your learning?

I had another student ask if they could have extra credit.  This student is missing half of the assignments I have given out.  Why should I go out of my way to give you extra credit when you don’t do the regular credit?  Why aren’t you taking responsibility for your learning?

I am at school at 6 am every morning and I leave school around 3:30 pm every afternoon.  I work nights and weekends to ensure that you have fun in class, are engaged, are stimulated, and are learning the material.  I bring papers home and ignore my pets and friends because I need to grade and provide meaningful feedback.  I lose sleep at night because I’m trying to figure out new and better ways to teach concepts that I know are difficult.  Please don’t mistake this as a complaint.  I love my job (despite what pop culture leads you to believe about teachers).  I really enjoy working with you and teaching you and watching you grow into the young adult that you will become.  I don’t mind grading and planning on my off time.  I understood the time commitment of the job when I signed up.  So I don’t mention these things to complain.  I mention them to illustrate my dedication to you.

I know you have other things going on.  I know you have sports and clubs and jobs and friends and family and stuff.  I don’t expect you to live and breathe chemistry, but I do expect you to try.  I do expect you to do the work.  I do expect you to ask questions.  I do expect you to get help when you are struggling.  I don’t think it unreasonable to ask that you think about things and challenge yourself.  You will certainly be expected to once you leave the comfortable halls of high school.

So please, start taking responsibility for your learning.  If you don’t know, ask.  If you don’t understand, get help.  I am here for you and I am always happy to help in any way that I can.  But if you don’t do the work, don’t blame me for your grade.

Sincerely,

Your teacher


Too Hard

School is back in session and I have a whole new group of kiddos, including 2 sections of honors chemistry.  These are the top kids in their class; these are the kids who most likely want to go into science (either get a degree in science or are pre-med).  They are smart kids who believe a B is failing.  Then they get to honors chemistry.

I’ll be the first to admit that chemistry is hard.  It’s this weird combination of math and concepts and application that most students don’t see in high school.  I don’t just require them to know the information, I require them to apply that information to new and interesting situations.  Not all classes do that.  History is just names and dates to these kids.  English is just writing some stuff down.  Math is just solving for x.  And it’s easy for them.  Suddenly they find themselves in a situation where it’s not so easy.  They don’t have all the answers and they don’t always know all the answers right off the bat.  It’s frustrating to them.  I totally get that.  I’ve had classes like that.  But I truly believe that those type of classes made me a better student, and maybe even a better student.

I had a class in college that was super hard.  It was called terrestrial arthropods and it was a 400 level class.  It was the only invertebrate class that semester and I needed it to graduate at the end of the semester.  I dreaded that class.  For a week before classes started, I seriously debated if I should drop it and take a different class the next semester.  But that would delay my graduation and I was done with school.  So I took the class and I got an A.  It was the most difficult, time consuming A I even received.  It was also the best A I ever received.  I actually worked for that A.  I put blood and sweat into that A.  I fucking aced that class, damn it!  It taught me something (I mean, besides how to ID an insect and how spiders breathe):  just because it’s hard doesn’t mean I can’t do it.

Ok, back to chemistry.  So, I hear students talk in the hall.  One thing I hear my honors students say is “that class is too hard”.  And I have to think to myself “Too hard?  We’ve done, like, maybe two things.  They had to count significant figures and design a lab.  If that’s too hard, well shit…”  I hear it a lot in class too: “That homework was too hard.  That test was too hard.”  I’m trying to figure it out.  Is it really too hard, or do they just not want to do the work?  Sometimes, I’m not sure.  I don’t think it’s too hard.  It’s not easy, to be sure, but too hard?

My knee-jerk reaction is to make it easier.  “Ok, I’m sorry it’s too hard.  Here, let me hold your hand while I walk you through this step by step.”  I want them to enjoy my class.  I want students to want to take the class in the future.  I want students to do well.  That’s when I realize that I’m already doing that.  Students do enjoy my class.  Just today a student was telling me that they “loved this class” even though they weren’t sure about it in the beginning.  I would be doing my students a disservice if I made it any easier.

My message to students is a simply one: Try harder.  I know somethings it’s difficult and you don’t understand.  Take a break.  Go watch a show, listen to some music, play a video game.  Then sit your butt back down and figure it out.  Life isn’t going to get any easier and if you give up on something just because it’s “too hard” at first, you’re going to miss out on a lot of stuff in life.  Besides, your A in honors chemistry will mean a lot more to you than in any of those “easy” classes.  You just have to work at it.


What Students Really Need to Hear

I just said the same thing to my classes today because they didn’t do some homework. The point wasn’t that they didn’t do their homework. The point was that they didn’t even try because it was “too hard”. That thought drives me nuts! As I told me students: Step up and figure it out. Life’s hard, get a helmet.  This essay is exactly what I wanted my students to hear.  The point of school isn’t the academics, although those are good things to know, the point is to step up and learn to overcome difficulties.  Thanks for writing it. 🙂

AFFECTIVE LIVING

It’s 4 a.m.  I’ve struggled for the last hour to go to sleep.  But, I can’t.  Yet again, I am tossing and turning, unable to shut down my brain.  Why?  Because I am stressed about my students.  Really stressed.  I’m so stressed that I can only think to write down what I really want to say — the real truth I’ve been needing to say — and vow to myself that I will let my students hear what I really think tomorrow.

This is what students really need to hear:

First, you need to know right now that I care about you. In fact, I care about you more than you may care about yourself.  And I care not just about your grades or your test scores, but about you as a person. And, because I care, I need to be honest with you. Do I have permission to be…

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Why Does the Arizona Government Hate Children?

Dear Arizona Legislators,

Seriously, why do you hate children?  Or, a better question: why do you hate educating children?  There is a $1 billion surplus in the Arizona state budget, yet you’ve squabbled over giving schools more money. And it’s not like we’re asking for a lot of money, either.  Some estimates put the number at over $33 million given to 60 schools in 18 districts.  That’s 3.3% of the surplus money.

Let me repeat that.  That’s 3.3% of the extra money that you collected but are not spending.

My district would receive $4 million of that money.  And it’s money that we desperately need.  That $4 million would allow us to hire new teachers, which will lower class sizes.  I currently have 40+ students in each of my classes and I am not alone in my school.  Some of my fellow teachers have 45+ students in their classrooms.  And 35 desks.  There are literarily not enough places to put our growing population of students.  That money would help buy more computers so that every student gets a chance to use technology.  Instead of having to plan out the use of a single computer lab among all of the teachers on campus, we could utilize technology as it would best benefit the student.

That’s what education is supposed to be about.  It’s supposed to be about the student: every student.  Instead, you’ve allowed students in poorer areas to suffer.  The kids that need a good education the most are the ones least likely to get it because of something as stupid as 3.3% of a billion dollar surplus.

But you have done one thing for us: you’ve lowered out achievement scores and destroyed many children’s futures.  You’ve dropped us from 48th in education to 51st in education.  And you’ve made me never want to vote for the lot of you again.


The Interwebs are wonderful

There are plenty of trolls on the Internet.  We’ve all seen it in the comments on every social media site and every online article.  So much so that some major web publications are actually shutting down their comments.  People are jerks on the Internet.  They fight with each other.  They nitpick each other.  They are mean to each other.

And then there is a silver lining.  Amazing things can happen that make you realize that the Internet is a wonderful tool that can bring people together.  This is one of those stories.

I’ve been listening to a science podcast called Science..Sort Of.  It’s a fun podcast that deals with science in pop culture, science in academia, and fringe science.  There’s also some stuff about beer and movie trailers.  All-in-all, a fun listen.

I’ve made a few comments, left a few voice messages, and interacted with the hosts through various social media throughout the years.  I’ve developed a sort of friendship with these people that only the interwebs can create.  But that’s what makes the Internet so awesome.

About a month ago, I reached out to three of the hosts of Science…Sort Of to see if they would be interested in talking with some of my students.  I sponsor the Science National Honors Society chapter at my school and I wanted my students to get the opportunity to talk to real scientists about what they are doing and how they got into the field.  Three of the paleopals (title of the show hosts) stepped up to the plate and today my students got to interview them.

It went so well.  Much better than I could have hoped for.  My students had great questions and the paleopals had great answers.  Everything from why did you pick your major to what classes did you take in college to how is college different from high school, this interview opened up the eyes of some of my students and took away some of their worries about moving on into the big wide world of college, responsibilities and the future.

None of it would be possible without the Internet.  These are people that I started following because I like their podcast.  I follow them on Twitter and Google+, I like their pages on Facebook.  I’ve been able to interact with them through social media even though we all live across the country and have never actually met each other face to face.  Because of the interwebs, 11 high school students from a small town outside Phoenix, AZ were able to talk to and interact with two Ph.D students and an engineer in order to learn more about what options the future holds for them.  Because of the Internet, I could reach out to other who are willing to provide learning opportunities to anyone who asks.

This is a pretty wonderful thing. 🙂


College and Career Ready Standards aka a better way to teach

I’m pretty sure most teachers can relate – college and career ready standards are coming to a school near you.  Please panic.

For those of you who aren’t teachers, let me explain.  College and career ready standards (formally common core standards) are a new set of standards that teacher have to teach in the classroom.  They will replace the AZ state standards that are currently used next year.  Arizona is one of 45 states the will be using these new standards.

Standards are a list of objectives that students need to learn in each subject in order to continue.  They vary from grade to grade and from subject to subject.  For example, I’m a chemistry teacher.  Part of my standards are to teach the parts of an atom, so I have to set up a lesson or two to teach that standard.  Much of the standards are like that: having students describe functions and properties, having students recall information that they memorized, or having students use formulas to solve a problem.

The new standards are going to focus more on problem solving, critical thinking, and real world application.  It’s actually pretty good.  They were written by teachers, professors, administrators, and parents in order to better prepare students.  States can choose to adapt them.  But basically it makes it so that if you are going to school in Arizona or California or Florida, you are learning the same skills during your education.  You can read more about the CCRS here.

I don’t really want to talk much about the standards themselves.  As a teacher, I think they are pretty good standards and will better prepare students for the challenges they face after high school.  I want to talk more about how they are better.

The new standards want students to be able to solve problems and to think critically.  Many multiple choice tests are based on the ability to recall facts, to define terms, and to pick the best response.  Critical thinking problems need more than multiple choice tests.  This is a problem.

For example: AIMS (Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards).  Reading and math AIMS are both multiple choice tests that don’t require a whole lot of critically thinking.  The reading test does test how well students can read and understand a text, but many of the questions have to do with finding specific information in the text or understanding the definitions of words.  There are little questions asking students to analyzing the text.

The math test isn’t much better.  Students have to solve problems, but it’s very straight forward stuff.  Again, there aren’t a lot of critical thinking problems.

The CCRS is trying to fix that with the PARCC test.  They ask students to use their knowledge to draw conclusions, make inferences, and generally think about things.  The essays for the English test ask students to use evidence from the text to justify their answers (something that students have a hard time with but is a critical skill for them to have).  The math sections asks them to analyze data, draw conclusions from the data, and manipulate the data to find patterns.

So, CCRS and PARCC are better.  Much better.  Yet people have a problem with these new standards and don’t want states to adapt them.  Part of it might be because they don’t understand what the CCRS are.  Part it might be because they don’t want “the government” in education.  Either way, they are wrong.  CCRS are good.  They are better.  They will help educators better prepare students for life after high school.

Now if we can just get the next generation science standards adapted…


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