A blog following teacher Aaron Jura as he plans engaging, yet relevant English Language Arts content for High School students in New Orleans, LA.
Well, we just finished up reading The Odyssey,
The students really seemed to enjoy it. I think what made it successful was that we led into the reading with a full reading of a bunch of Greek mythology. The Greek mythology we read helped students to contextually be better able to comprehend the allusions in The Odyssey.
Secondly, breaking up the book with high-engagement project work helped to keep student's attention during our 4-week long reading of the story. Students completed presentations with a partner on the structural elements of the Hero's Journey. They applied their analysis of the structure of this storytelling structure to a film of their choice and then presented to the class. The final project they did was a "mannequin challenge" project where students recreated scenes from The Odyssey in tableau set to music.
Breaking up a dense work like The Odyssey with managable, highly-engaging projects seems to be the best way to get it done.
As I have previously posted, I was fortunate enough to be selected as a 2016-2017 fellow with the LEAD program through an amazing school student and teacher advocacy organization called Stand for Children. This fellowship provides an opportunity for those in the profession of education to study, discuss, and engage on issues affecting public school children in the state and nation.
For our first module we studied teacher evaluation and observation. You can read the reports and previous study commentary on this blog post. Following our independent readings and discussions we engaged in a virtual town hall discussion on the topic with experts on the topic of teacher evaluation and observation. The conversation got me thinking about what exactly it is that makes a good teacher good.
During our town hall, Dr. Gary Jones (retired superintendent and current representative to BESE District 5) really got my mind thinking when he posed a few rhetorical questions. How do you concretely define what is an ideal student and how do you concretely define and assess the characteristics of a good teacher? Without a clear definition of what success looks like it will always be an issue to accurately judge a teacher as being good/bad/or otherwise.
Many of the esteemed representatives on the town hall panel seemed to agree that they know a good teacher when they see one. One representative on the panel talked about it as a “walks on water” teacher. While we can all determine good/bad instruction when we see it, the real question is how can we set a standardized evaluation model that takes into account all of the numerous factors that make up a good teacher.
It left me thinking, is a good teacher one that gets results (student test scores on standardized high stakes exams) or is a good teacher much more than that. I believe a good teacher is so much more than the results on a particular test. Participant Dr. Laura Goe (researcher with ETS) stated that one thing that stands out in the American system of evaluation versus other countries is that nearly no other country judges the effectiveness of the teacher on the standardized test data (SLT, VAM, or otherwise) of that teacher’s students. Why? What I got from the overall conversation goes back to the original rhetorical questions posed by Dr. Jones: what is the definition of success? One student might be successful because he or she is the first to graduate from high school in their family, while another student would feel successful based upon acceptance to an ivy league college. Success cannot be determined based upon a cookie cutter definition that doesn’t consider the fact that students are people and are unique. What makes one student a success might not be even on the realm of possibilities for another. These definitions need to be clearer in order to ensure fairness in determining what makes a successful teacher.
Another point of this debate that I found to be poignant is that good teacher provides so much more than content. If you think about the best teacher you ever had you will likely remember non-quantitative factors. I don’t think about the best teacher I ever had as the one that helped me pass this test or that test. Instead, I think about the personality of the teacher and the inspiration I got from the person. I think about how the teacher created an environment to think creatively and sometimes to fail. I would say she was a successful teacher in that I now am a teacher and think of her often. This type of logical analysis cannot be done using a rubric alone. Teachers and students alike are human beings and intrinsically unique. Teacher evaluation and judging the differences between bad and good instruction must be done with flexibility and an overall view of the teacher, their students, and the unique goals of their teaching population.
Mr. J is a high school teacher in New Orleans, Louisiana. Mr. J believes in the power of educators to help children and families achieve. Follow his blog for tips and techniques to keep engagement high and student achievement at the forefront.