Tuesday May 14, 2013
It's that time of year again. Time to watch as the future of America march across a stage, shake a few hands, move their tassel to the other side, and emerge as graduates. Part of the graduation tradition is listening to a variety of speeches. Superintendents, principals, and guest speakers will take center stage as they give words of wisdom to the graduating class. However, many students will be most interested in the speeches delivered by their fellow students.
Writing and delivering speeches can be quite daunting. Many valedictorians and student leaders will want to do something different in their graduation speeches. Some will integrate music or video. Some will sing. Others will use prompts. Still others will attempt to get a few laughs. However, all of these tricks will not produce a great speech unless the speaker also chooses to focus their words and ideas around a central theme.
A theme is simply an overriding idea that is referred to throughout the speech. Typical themes are usually deal with setting and achieving goals, although there are many others that also work quite effectively. I've come up with 10 themes that students can use as they create interesting speeches that will keep the audience's attention.
Realize, however, that having a truly memorable speech is much more than selecting a theme and peppering inspirational quotes throughout. A great speech should have a narrative arc instead of simply meandering from one thought to the next. The writer should think of a central argument and make the case for that argument. For example, 'We can find inspiration in the world around us' could start with the declaration that we don't need to wait for huge events to find inspiration, but instead can find inspiration for success and joy all around us. Then the speaker could expound on a number of examples:
- Inspirational memories from senior year
- Examples of local human interest stories
- Inspirational events that happen each and everyday in nature
Then in the end, the speaker would come back to the central idea. Throughout, the speaker must truly believe what they are saying and speak from the heart.
High school graduation ceremonies are special rites of passage. They provide closure to childhood. They celebrate the achievements attained over many years of education. They give classmates one last time to be together before they scatter towards their future. They inspire students to go forth and achieve. In this environment, a speaker's words can have a huge impact on their listeners. When they can walk away from the even having touched even one of their listeners, they they will have truly achieved success.
Thursday May 9, 2013
Here's a question for you: Would you notice if your principal took a month off of work? Would it make any difference to you, the students, or the school in general? If you did notice, would it be in a positive or negative way?
Principals, like teachers, come in many types. Some are truly effective administrators while others can't seem to be bothered. Some are great at finances and 'administrative' duties while others are better at people skills. The truth is that a good administrator can make a world of difference at a school. On the flip side, a terrible administrator can ruin a school faster than you might think. Most administrators are somewhere in the middle, not causing much harm but also not leading the charge for effective educational changes.
I was chatting the other day with some fellow teachers about the qualities that we all look for in a good principal. Surprisingly, many of these qualities are the same as those in effective teachers. Basically, we all want a leader who:
- is fair, consistent, and discrete,
- supports their teachers,
- solves problems,
- listens effectively,
- values and empowers their employees,
- is visible and dedicated,
- has a clear vision.
Over the years I have worked with a variety of principals and administrators, both good and bad. The best of them were always striving to improve and shared many of the above characteristics. The worst principal in my teaching career was an individual who was petty, dismissive, and rarely available to teachers or parents.
In the end, the best principals are those who motivate others to be better: better students, better teachers, better guidance counselors, better staff.
Thursday May 9, 2013
Today I watched a video posted on YouTube that shows a high school student speaking his mind about the quality of education he's receiving in class. You can view the video here: http://youtu.be/98_cmS-M9dQ. It is a sad and shocking commentary about what I hope is a minority of teachers who do not truly teach. The student mentions that everyday the class is given packets of information to learn - basically handouts and worksheets to complete. That is no way to teach children. As he put it, "If you want a kid to change you have to touch is freakin' heart. You can't expect a kid to change if all you do is just tell 'em."
According to CBS DFW, the Duncanville School District released this note after the video was put up on YouTube:
"The district is aware of the video and we are currently addressing the situation. As a district with a motto of Engaging Hearts and Minds we focus on building positive relationships with students and designing engaging work that is meaningful. We want our students and teachers to be engaged, but the method by which the student expressed his concern could have been handled in a more appropriate way. We are and will continue to be open to listening to students."
Obviously, this student picked an inappropriate way to express his opinion. He stood up in the middle of class and made a scene. But that point should not cloud the frustration that is obvious. This student wants a good education from an effective teacher. He doesn't want to sit at a desk and complete worksheets. Who does? I feel sad for him and for the others students around the nation who will leave high school remembering little but sub-par teaching that lacks inspiration and variety.
What can we do about this? We need to ensure that student teachers are will prepared. We need to help teachers who suffer from burnout. We need to be excellent mentors. We need to ensure that teachers continue to be given professional development opportunities. We also need to respect the teacher evaluation process so that the rotten few can be culled from the profession. Sadly, bad impressions hurts the educational system in the eyes of students, parents, and society at large.
Wednesday May 8, 2013
Recently I was eating out with one of my younger relatives who is 23, let's call her Sally. I was shocked that when the time came to determine the tip, Sally pulled out a 'tip cheat sheet'. When I asked her why, she said it was because she always had a hard time figuring out percentages in her head. I asked her how much she planned to pay. She said 20%. I asked her if she could figure out 10% of the total, which she could easily do. Then I asked her if she could double that amount, which she easily did. Then I pointed out that 20% is just double 10%, to which she said, "I never thought about it that way!" Now, this young woman is normally quite bright. She's a rising star in her profession and praised for her writing skills. However, this basic consumer math alluded her.
Interested, I began asking about her high school math career. She said that she had successfully passed Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, and Statistics. She had never been a stellar student, but never made below a B- in a math class. I asked her about when she last remembered learning about consumer math topics: percentages, interest rates, budgeting, figuring out taxes. She said that some of that was covered briefly in Economics in her senior year, but most was covered in middle school. She admitted to me that she wasn't very good at budgeting her money and that she never did her own taxes. She just assumed that she had a 'math block' and left it at that. I thought about and decided that there are at least nine essential consumer math topics that every students should learn before they leave high school.
My question, then, is did the system fail Sally? She passed math and graduated. She passed the statewide exit exam and did well enough on the SAT to make it into a four year college from which she graduated with a BA. However, on some basic math concepts that are encountered on a daily basis, Sally lacked confidence and experienced math anxiety.
Now, obviously, Sally is just one person. I have not made an educated study of the situation I'm describing here. However, I have done some additional anecdotal polling of friends and family and have come to one conclusion: many people do not connect the math they do in classes like Algebra and Geometry with the math that is required of them everyday. I'm wondering if part of the disconnect is due to a lack of understanding the real world connections of math concepts taught in class. Alternatively, it could be that someone who feels they are just rubbish at math does not have the confidence to make these connections beyond the confines of the classroom. Whatever the cause, consumer math skills are necessary in everyday life, and ensuring that students graduate with some basic understanding of them is essential.