A Future Of Edublogging

Seems like the edublogosphere’s favorite topic of conversation nowadays is the edublogosphere and, specifically, what’s the point of it anyway. Most of the explanation and hand-wringing so far has put the cart several hundred yards in front of the horseHm. Felt strange not adding a hyperlink there. though Bud Hunt gets it right in a post that’s too moderate to get the round-the-world linkage it deserves.

Meanwhile I have a good idea that needs to get a lot better. There is ample research I haven’t even begun to dig through but here are the basics.

The Past

The attrition rate for new teachers hits 50% within five years. The same studies report the largest mitigating factor in that mass exodus is mentorship. Therefore, in California, some 14,000 new teachers participate in a (mostly compulsory) two-year induction program, which, depending on its execution, can be as bad as no mentorship at all.

At worst, it becomes a thing of rubrics: rank yourself along sixteen metrics from one to five where one is [inscrutable pejorative eduspeak] and five is [inscrutable superlative eduspeak], submitting either a rote lesson plan or a rote handout for evidence. Then re-rank yourself along the same metrics several months later, presumably finding progress.

A group of three or four of us met at Starbucks once a week. A veteran teacher from my district presided over these introspections. Our spitballing sessions over classroom challenges were by far the most productive aspect of induction but that too could be spotty. In my two years, I was paired with a) a history teacher and b) a science teacher, one of whom had more heart for the $5,000 stipend than for us new teachers, neither of whom could offer this math teacher much advice past general class management.

The Future

I’m not about to suggest that online mentorship is a superior alternative to face-to-face mentorship simply because it’s online and shiny, just that:

  1. we need stronger pairings between mentors and mentees, matching them along criteria like geography, age, and especially content area, etc.It’s still bizarre to me that they couldn’t find a math teacher mentor in the seventh largest district in California.
  2. the rubrics need to expand to include multimedia evidence of growth. One of the worst things anyone ever did for me as a new teacher was convince me that my lesson plans would ultimately take the form of paper (handout) or lecture (voice). If an inductee submitted, eg., this single photo and explained how it turned into twenty minutes of math, that should satisfy a standard.

There is need here. I’m getting more e-mail, more contact from new teachers. This weekend it was Renjie in Alabama and Glenn in Nevada, both first-year teachersGlenn reportedly burned through the dy/dan archives in a week, which may be a little too much bitter narcissism at a stretch..

Can a group of interested and qualified edubloggers form an online consortium, crossing Match.com with course management software? You log in and see the five inductees on your caseload, their most recent journal entries, their progress towards each teaching standard the consortium has established.

I’m not suggesting any pro bono nonsense. We would need to get in on some of that stipend cash. Or non-profit status. This would be a charter induction program. Something like KIPP for new teacher training. There is need.

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I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.

18 Comments

  1. BTSA drove me nuts (I was fortunate enough to be able to do regular classwork to clear my credential). It was a lot of energy and paperwork and time to go to meetings and seminars that had very little payoff. As an exhausted new teacher, it did more harm than good. I lasted about 5 months, waiting for a payoff, but it never came. It should be noted that my mentor had reluctantly taken the job because few others were available, and then only because she could use the stipend.

    On the other hand I think that, just as with teaching, mentoring is something that needs to have a lot of face time to be effective.

    I’ve been meaning to write a post on how to differentiate professional development. Maybe this’ll spur me on…

  2. I had a great mentor so that wasn’t the problem in my case.

    The problem for me and what I think you’re suggesting is that good teaching doesn’t come out of a box and in California BTSA attempts to force good teaching into one (literally).

    The edublogosphere, such as it is, gives teachers a chance to seek out their own inspiration.

  3. I’m with Mathew on his last point. I find that when I speak on the edublogosphere, I find myself thinking of the little things that could make us stronger on many different levels, and this is definitely a good detail to add to that movement.

  4. Just got back from exercising, came back with Mathew’s conclusion.

    Your first two years teaching are years you don’t need someone limiting your scope to the possibilities in this job.

    If I recall, BTSA’s standards were all well-minded though horribly written. The problem was the evidence expected of you all kinda looked the same. Which is to say boring.

  5. I’ll just reiterate how incredibly grateful I am that I found your blog and along with it the rest of the edublogosphere the week before I started teaching (and not this far into the year).

    And why didn’t any of my training point me to blogs? The best I was told about was online textbooks and edhelper. (I’ve since decided that the lesson planning sites aren’t worth even glancing at.) Honestly, no one told me about I Love Math or the math worksheet site.

    Next year, I’ll be the experienced teacher in my department. (Here’s hoping they hire someone else.) I’ll be passing on a list of blogs. If someone gets this idea running by then, I’d be happy to recommend it. And sign on for some mentoring myself.

  6. Your “Starbucks” meetings made me smile.

    In fact, there was more than one raised eyebrow this year when I arrived at my new school and threw out the previous “new teacher” activities. These primarily consisted of mandatory after-school meetings and in-depth review of outdated literature on classroom management. For crying out loud – the District puts them through enough of that. On SATURDAYS for heaven’s sake!

    Instead, we have optional monthly meetings during lunch. I provide the sustenance, they provide the agenda items. We talk about what’s bothering them that day – what’s going right and what else they need. The feedback I’ve gotten has been overwhelmingly positive. Come if you have something on your mind and want a free meal. I’ve had almost perfect attendance (primarily, I’m sure, due to the high-quality catering I’ve secured…).

    The situation isn’t any better for new administrators……….

  7. I too did BTSA my first 2 years teaching in an elementary school with very disadvantaged students. I found it to be, well, in all not very meaningful. I was struggling everyday. How could what ended up as more paperwork help?

    After a few years teaching I moved out of the city and to a small town. The educational systems are like night and day in the 2 locations. I can see how a program like BTSA could help a new teacher with some minor difficulties in a functioning school.

    In the hard case schools though, pretty much only a “in the room” coach is really going to help. When it is really hard I need to see someone step in and do it, show me how it can be done.

    Next step after that is improvement. This to me is where BTSA and blogs come in. If the BTSA program offered a motivated mentor with the skills a beginning teacher needed I think it could be very successful – but that match may be easier to come by in the blogs.

  8. $5000 stipend! I think being a mentor is part of the deal and a great way to learn and stay fresh. My pro bono work has been rewarding but on the other hand, I wouldn’t pass up the cash.

    Stipends aside, I am thankful for the edublogosphere because it is where I also venture for inspiration. Veteran teachers need “juice” too. New teachers have more challenges than ever before. This is due in part to many administrators who are out of touch with the day-to-day needs, who have forgotten their roles as instructional leaders, who are clueless about the technology they push, and who have sold their souls to the world of standardized testing. Evaluative matrices used in many states are to cya. You should be on the mentoring end of a teacher who’s on an “action plan!” I think we need to consider Alvin Toffler’s ideas and start over. See: http://www.edutopia.org/future-school

    DAILY face-to-face contact, observations, reflections, and in depth discussions with your peers are by far the best method for honing the art and science of teaching. This is true for veteran teachers who long for such opportunities. We could all use a secretary just for “documentation” detail.

    Using edublogging has tremendous potential for lesson study as well as collaboration. Build it and they will come. You’ve already started.

    It will take time. Back to Toffler. For instance, I may be the only teacher at my school who even reads blogs much less have one. I actually had to teach a new teacher how to use e-mail a couple years ago which begs the question, WTH are they doing in the universities?

    Finally, my best mentoring efforts occur many Fridays during our “Geography Meetings” at a local brewery where egos are washed away and teachers let it all hang out.

  9. ok. great idea. I think it important to point out what has worked with mentoring for people… ala Scott Elias comment. But, I fear that most mentoring breaks two of my cardinal classroom rules… Don’t be boring and no joy sucking (we need to have more joy, not less in schools, imho:)). At the end of the day, we go into this profession to positively impact the lives of the students, to engage an intellectual environment that stretches our abilities and to meaningfully participate in building a community. The reason we lose good teachers is that we don’t do enough to support those important teaching moments, we make them sit through meaningless meetings and generally bore the snot out of them with minutia, while the big picture is being totally ignored.

    So, what next? Who knows how to make this whiz-bang idea come to fruition… what are the steps… who’s in? Because if you have any criticism of the edublogosphere, Dan, it’s that it’s all talk… let’s get to the action part of this here edublogosphere.

  10. Business models, filing non-profit status, researching current models, hectoring state house committees, joy-sucking stuff I know nothing about.

  11. the previous link appears to be along the lines of what you propose, but the site is in somewhat disrepair… lots of broken links

  12. What ever happened to forums? I’m not convinced anything web 2.0 has fully replaced their value for exactly this sort of thing.

  13. @diane, that website looks like that organization is awful good at jumping all them hoops that dan is talking about. but they don’t have a single male web mentor teacher – where’s the diversity? :)

    @dan, you find that stuff joy-sucking? i don’t have a clue about any of what you listed, but i think it’d be fun to explore. the problem is the huge amount of time it takes to do it all on your own when you’re also trying to hold down a full-time teaching job. every time i become involved with starting something new outside of the classroom (two summers, two separate summer programs), it has a significant effect on my sleep / teaching / overall well-being. a negative effect.

  14. Great idea to capitalize on the vastness of the edublogosphere and provide dedicated, interested mentorship to new teachers that might otherwise be stuck with a disinterested and/or limited resources within their own school district.

    Is it practical though? I’m not so sure. Yeah, yeah, it’s easy enough to hop online, complain a bit with some folks, blow off some steam, and then get on to good stuff like classroom management tips, ideas for assessment, etc.

    However, at the end of a hard day (and I’ve had many in my first 5 years), I don’t want to sit down at a computer and start up a chat with half a dozen people across the country (or world) that are probably busy watching video clips or answering e-mail during the same time I’m trying to commune with them.

    I want to walk across the hallway, sit down with a veteran teacher (whether they’re my mentor or not), and share my successes and failures for the day with them. Why? Because they’re in my building, they’ve probably interacted with my students, and they have a MUCH better understanding of my circumstances without ever having to ask. The human/connected elements of mentoring can be easily lost online, especially when you consider that the individuals you talk with online are dedicated to helping educators, not necessarily your school’s or classroom’s issues. Mentorship face to face presents (when done properly) a way to address not only your own efficacy as a teacher, but also provides a way for teachers to invest in their own environment; help make the new teachers better, and you’ll in turn make your school a better place for teaching and learning.

    An online consortium starts to sound a lot like those induction programs that companies sell districts, and then expect them to excel with. I would much prefer something hone-grown, like your experience at Starbucks :)

  15. This is basically where the experience splits. I think a majority of new teachers (like you & me) would enjoy a face to face experience over the digital but is it worth getting paired with a lousy, disinterested mentor and conforming to a really stifling definition of what a teacher is?

    Some say yeah. Some say no.

  16. TheInfamousJ

    June 9, 2008 - 9:27 am -

    I just finished up my second year in a new teacher induction program. (Never mind that I taught at the college level before coming to high school.)

    My mentor was spotty at best and the principal finally got me a good mentor for my final semester in this program. I had to write weekly reflections which, for a beginning teacher is HELL on top of the paperwork I already had to do and the grading and the lesson planning and …

    And of course we had to submit our reflections to HR. And they counted them. How do I know? Because I was one short. I got “audited” and almost was put through the first year induction program again.

    And the meetings we did have didn’t even discuss outmoded classroom management techniques. They were meetings to discuss the requirements of our beginning teacher paperwork.

    All that said, I did manage to find ementors over at LiveJournal’s Teaching Community which, while a blog, does somewhat approximate a forum. However, they have many many more elementary educators than secondary ones.

    Dan, I’m with you. I’d prefer an ementor (since I’ve somewhat had the experience) to my real life spotty mentor any day. But what I’d really prefer is Scott Elias :) It sounds like he understands the needs of a beginning teacher.