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The Answer to Lack of Social Studies Instruction More Tests?

The Answer to Lack of Social Studies Instruction More Tests?

I read a story in the Omaha World-Herald, called Teachers “Say Social Studies Suffers”, and it has me has me riled up.

As I was reading I totally agreed with the thoughts that Social Studies is being put on the back burner to focus more on the numerous amount of state testing that is done. I also agree wholeheartedly with the dire ramifications this will have on the next generation of Americans and what that means to the citizenship of our country.

Then I hit this paragraph, “Several board members agreed that social studies, which includes the study of history and geography, are being crowded out of the classroom. But the only way to put them on a level playing field with math and reading would be to require a state social studies test.”

Really? The answer to the problem is to throw more state testing at the students and teachers? Really?

Teachers and students are already so overwhelmed with state/standardized testing that true teaching and creativity is being lost!

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and the Every Child Succeeds Act of 2015, with the excessive focus on testing has depleted the schools of true learning. Teachers are so focused on meeting those test goals and focusing only on those narrowed skills that they don’t have the time to really teach and let students use their minds, imagination, and creativity.

Most states have added the Common Core Standards or standards that are similar but with a different name, creates a whole new dimension to the paperwork and hoops that teachers need to jump through. From various blogs and forums I read I see post after post of exasperated teachers that simply just want to teach again. They are so fed up with the testing and standards that are supposed to “fix” the system!

Also, in a climate of more and more budget cuts, schools simply can’t afford to spend on all this testing. Testing students cost a fortune for school districts (meaning YOU the taxpayer!)! Wouldn’t the money be better spent on additional teachers and smaller class sizes?

These educational bureaucrats are as messed up as Congress is. Sadly, it is the future generations of Americans that will pay for it. As an educator that upsets me, but as a parent that makes me very angry! I am sick and tired of these so-called “experts” stealing my children’s learning opportunities. How many of them have actually stood in front of a classroom for a school year and worked with children? It is outrageous!

The most successful teaching years I have experienced were when I had a principal with the philosophy that as college-educated certified teachers we were qualified to teach. Unless he saw a problem he stepped back and let us do our job as we saw fit. He knew that we knew these kids better than any administrator or board member and he knew we would strive to take these kids as far as we could. In those years my students blossomed the most and they achieved the most.

In my experience the more the board or administration gets involved the less the children succeed! Teachers are trained professionals. We have college degrees, many of them advanced. We take ongoing development courses throughout our career and we are there in the classroom every day, the closest to the student outside of their parents. We are educated, we are qualified. Let us do our jobs and teach! Save the taxpayers money and save the American education system by scrapping all this unnecessary and excessive testing!

Teaching a Fish to Climb a Tree

Teaching a Fish to Climb a Tree

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

This a great quote that is often mistakingly attributed to Albert Einstein. He didn’t say this, but the quote is powerful just the same.

This quote is the premise of the book, Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. The main character is Ally, a sixth grader, who hates school because she feels stupid and thinks she will never be successful. Ally has isolated herself and does not take any risks towards academic work or towards making friends. She feels everything is hopeless until a new teacher, Mr. Daniels, comes in as a long-term substitute. Mr. Daniels recognizes Ally’s talents as an artist and is impressed by her “out of the box” problem-solving skills. He leads Ally to admit her fears and helps her to take risks that lead to a diagnosis of dyslexia. Mr. Daniels helps Ally build confidence and realize she’s not stupid, she just learns differently, which opens up the world academically and socially for Ally.

This is a very inspirational book for all students to read, not just those that may have dyslexia. It showcases through the many different characters that everyone has a talent and everyone has value, sometimes it takes a little more work to discover!  Research shows that 80-90% of all students that are identified as learning disabled have some degree of dyslexia. In fact, it is hypothesized that about 20% of the population is afflicted with dyslexia to some degree.

This book gives those students hope that they are not alone and that there are ways for them to shine and learn. It also helps to build empathy among the students that may not struggle in this way so they can better understand their classmates and encourage kindness to all.

Fish in a Tree is a wonderful book to use as a whole class novel study or for literature groups and book clubs.

How Does Copyright Affect YOU as a Teacher?

How Does Copyright Affect YOU as a Teacher?

You’re working in your classroom and doing the best you can for your students on a very limited budget most likely!  What’s the big deal if you take whatever you can find if it helps your students with a concept?  Most of the time as a teacher you do have a lot of leeway in regards to copyright, but where is the line that changes from just trying to help, to breaking the law? As teachers, we need to be positive, ethical role models for our students and to do this we must model the best ethical practices. If we ask them not to plagiarize and cheat from the internet, we can’t be doing it either!

How can you protect yourself so that you can stay compliant and still utilize every resource you can find?

In the classroom, a teacher is generally protected by the “fair use” guidelines of copyright. Fair use is a legal doctrine that promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances.

From the site, “Section 107 of the Copyright Act provides the statutory framework for determining whether something is a fair use and identifies certain types of uses—such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research—as examples of activities that may qualify as fair use.

So while you are in the classroom with your group of students you pretty much have free rein on what you can use to help them learn concepts. This means the use of books, lyrics, videos, etc. Of course, you will want to make sure the materials you are using aren’t themselves copyright infringements. You don’t want to benefit from stolen work! Make sure you use the original source, for example, a clip from a movie that you have legally purchased vs. a pirated clip from a website or a TpT product you purchased, not one that was improperly shared around the school for free.

So where does a teacher lose that fair use?

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) states that you cannot place copyrighted work on the internet where it can be shared in a google search. So it’s okay to use within the walls of your classroom, but once you start to share it on the internet you are falling into a shady gray area that could hold some fairly hefty monetary punishments.

Any site that you upload to MUST be a password-protected site. You cannot create an open teacher/classroom webpage and start placing copies of resources (textbook publisher, TpT purchases, copies of novels for students to read, song lyrics, etc) there for students to access at home unless it is password-protected. If it’s not password-protected even if you aren’t linking to the site anywhere it gets picked up in general Google searches and is then available for the world. You’ve moved from a teacher with wonderful intentions to an internet pirate!

Most textbooks publishers and teacher authors have a Terms of Use (TOU) page within their resource that gives guidelines on how and where their work can be shared. It is always best to read these and abide by them to model good ethical standards for your students and to cover yourself from any unwanted legal and financial issues!

I know that 99.9% of the teachers out there putting items on the internet have no idea that they are making them available to the world. They think they are just uploading them to their personal classroom page and that only their students and parents will ever look there. Teachers as a group are generous and honest and want to make access as easy for their students and parents as possible. Hopefully, this post will help guide you so you can stay compliant and model the best practices for your students. In this world of constant teacher bashing, we need to be cautious to keep the honesty and integrity in the industry.

Hook Reluctant Readers with Hatchet!

Hook Reluctant Readers with Hatchet!

One of the biggest frustrations I have as a parent is that my oldest son is a reluctant reader. He reads fine and does well in school but he has zero interest in reading for pleasure outside of an assignment. When he has read books for assignments he just gets through them and rarely enjoys the process.

When he was assigned to read Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, that attitude changed. He came home from school and started talking about Hatchet. It was sparking an interest in my son! He told me it was a fantastic book and he hated to have to wait until the next day to continue reading. He wanted to sit down and read it as fast as he could! He’d never felt that way about a book before!

Each day my son would come home from school and voluntarily, which you know isn’t common with a middle schooler, tell me all about the chapter he had read that day! Seeing this book spark so much excitement in him made me realize this was a  novel study that I needed to create!

Summary of Hatchet (from the book jacket):
Brian is on his way to Canada to visit his estranged father when the pilot of his small prop plane suffers a heart attack. Brian is forced to crash-land the plane in a lake and finds himself stranded in the remote Canadian wilderness with only his clothing and the hatchet his mother gave him as a present before his departure. Brian had been distraught over his parents’ impending divorce and the secret he carries about his mother, but now he is truly desolate and alone. 

Exhausted, terrified, and hungry, Brian struggles to find food and make a shelter for himself. He has no special knowledge of the woods, and he must find a new kind of awareness and patience as he meets each day’s challenges. Is the water safe to drink? Are the berries he finds poisonous? Slowly, Brian learns to turn adversity to his advantage; an invading porcupine unexpectedly shows him how to make fire, a devastating tornado shows him how to retrieve supplies from the submerged airplane. Most of all, Brian leaves behind the self-pity he has felt about his predicament as he summons the courage to stay alive. 

A story of survival and of transformation, this riveting book has sparked many a reader’s interest in venturing into the wild. 

Hatchet is a great novel to accompany a study of:

  • Research the Canadian oil fields.
  • Investigate the purpose of flight numbers and flight plans.
  • Research how airplanes work.
  • Study search and rescue practices.
  • Learn about heart attacks and CPR procedures.
  • Research dehydration effects.
  • Learn about survival skills such as making fire.


Using Hatchet in the classroom is a great way to hook those reluctant readers and turn them on to reading!

Hatchet is a riveting book that will grab the attention of even the most reluctant readers.

Why Are Teachers Leaving?

Why Are Teachers Leaving?

I am a teacher who has left the classroom. My reasons vary from the norm a bit. Why I left and why I have not returned are two very different stories. I would actually really like to return to the classroom but over the past 10 years, my hearing loss has worsened to a point that it would not be appropriate to return. I have a rare type of loss that is not really helped with the current technology of hearing aids and other adaptation technology. I rely very heavily on lip reading and body language and cannot even imagine the disaster that behavior management would be having to depend on that! I do love the education field and really miss being in a classroom. I stay involved with my curriculum creation activities, but when I volunteer in my children’s classrooms I always walk away with a yearning to go back and work hands-on with the kids again. I miss it!

I did not leave the classroom due to my hearing loss, however, I left because of a burnout that was caused by an absolutely worthless administrator that was placed at my school. I had been teaching for years in a high poverty, 100% Title I school. Our students lacked for the basic daily needs and it could be quite challenging but also quite rewarding working with them. For the first few years, I was there our school had an outstanding principal. He was respectful and supportive of teachers. He treated us as professionals and he had the best interests of the students at heart. He helped balance the challenges with the rewards and made teaching there a joy! Sadly he retired and was replaced by a new principal who had no prior experience being a principal. There is no way to sugarcoat it, she was a nightmare! She was disrespectful to staff, students, and parents. As a staff, we went to the upper administration and even met with the superintendent begging for help with her. Our pleas were ignored. Sadly she remained at that school for 10 years and ran it into the ground and teacher turnover was very high. She was finally removed with the help of the teacher’s union. For my sanity and health, I took advantage of a leave program with the district and chose to stay at home with my children. It was a way to get out of the situation with that principal and still be able to return to the district in another position.

I loved being a stay-at-home mom to my children. I also quickly realized that staying home was not as much of a financial burden as we had expected. We paid fewer taxes, saved money in gas, childcare, clothing expenses, etc. One of the biggest surprises was looking at how much I was saving by not teaching. I poured a ton of money into my classroom, at least one full paycheck per year!

I did start to feel that pull back to the classroom, however, at this same time, a mild hearing loss that I developed in my early 20’s suddenly worsened to a degree that took away my ability to return. That is when I started taking the materials that I had created for my classroom and preparing them to sell to other teachers. I tested the market on eBay and Amazon before discovering Teachers Pay Teachers.

I know my overall story is an odd one, but the experiences with burnout and bad administration are all too familiar to many teachers. There are many articles out there talking about just this issue.

“It’s the demands,” said Jamison, who is beginning her third year in the classroom. “There are state demands, district demands, and parental demands. We haven’t even mentioned the needs of the individual student. It’s tough.”

“I’m doing more work, but I’m getting less money every year,” a teacher told NBC News. “Instead of being excited about a job and looking forward to your job, you begin to fear your job. It becomes stressful, tiring and takes a toll not only on your health but on your family.”

There are also many articles that focus on the difference in turnover in a school with a positive working environment versus one with a negative one. I can attest to the truthfulness of this!

Many “experts” feel that changing teacher prep programs at colleges could be a  solution. Personally, I am not so sure. Do we want to better train our teachers so that they are ready for bureaucracies and teaching to a test or do we want them to be focused on opening young minds? It angers me to hear repeatedly about teachers getting bashed for the problems in the education system. I firmly believe we need to stop blaming the teachers and start to seriously look at the administrators and bureaucrats that are running things. I don’t think the general public really realizes how little power the teacher has in the educational hierarchy. There are so many fantastic teachers out there that are leaving, not because of money, but because they aren’t allowed to actually teach which their passion!

Speaking of new teachers:

“And too often, they soon realize that their jobs aren’t what they thought they would be: Teaching to tests and fighting bureaucracies rather than experiencing the thrill of opening up young minds, educators say.”

“While education experts caution that lack of experience isn’t necessarily an indication of a teacher’s ability, student achievement scores do show that on average a first-year teacher is not as effective as a third-year teacher, said Susan Moore Johnson, an expert on teacher recruitment and retention at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.”

Are standardized test scores the only measure of success? We live in a quickly growing district so there are a lot of new teachers being hired every year. My kids have had a first-year teacher several times. It has always been extremely positive. I find that first-year teachers are so enthusiastic. What they lack in experience they make up for in passion. They love their jobs and it shows in every interaction with their students. I know it was true of me in my first year!

As a society, we need to value and retain the passion of those new teachers. If every classroom had a teacher full of passion we would be on the right track to fixing this system.


What can we do as educators and parents to retain that passion? What can we do to support our teachers so the passion doesn’t defuse? How do we keep the fire alive?