Monday, June 19, 2017

Evaluations by Andy Jobson

It’s that time of year again.  As a department chair, I am tasked with providing an assessment of each member of the English faculty, noting a variety of issues as “excellent,” “proficient,” or “needs improvement.”  It’s a challenging task.  For one thing, I don’t get to spend very much time in their classrooms, as I stay quite busy with my own students and planning.  For another, I recognize that we are all on a spectrum of ability… where does ‘proficient’ become ‘excellent’ (defined as “it would be difficult to do any better”)?  Don’t we always think we can do something better?  I want to praise my teachers, yet I know that I also need to prod them to strive for more.  At our private academy, there is no room for mediocrity.

I also know that if I mark too many items as “needs improvement,” I can crush a younger teacher’s spirit, creating self-doubt.  So finding that balance is tricky—I want to acknowledge the good, praise the great, and point out the not-so-good while encouraging him or her to see that there is hope for improvement.

Reflecting on my teacher evaluations makes me ponder whether I’m too cavalier sometimes in my student assessments.  Teenagers are, if anything, more sensitive than my teachers.  They need praise as well as guidance.  I have found rubrics can be very helpful in this regard, as with appropriate forethought I can identify several areas likely to receive praise as well as focusing on a few new content or skill areas to assess. 

One particular challenge in assessing student work is the short attention span they have for feedback; it’s not unusual for me to write all sorts of comments throughout an essay, only to watch the boys flip to the back and look at their ‘score,’ the grade, and be done.  I may stop putting the final number on the paper and make them read the material I’ve written to find the grade buried somewhere in the notes! 

An educator of 22 years, Andy Jobson has taught government, economics, and U.S. History. Currently teaching English literature at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, GA, he’s also been an administrator, a STAR teacher twice, and taught elementary school with Teach for America.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Top 5 Books to Try When You Have Time…. by Mike Siekkinen

Teachers have a ton of extra time on their hands…during the summer.

I thought I would share some of my favorite books and why I love them. Many are read by my students and give us things to discuss or can be recommendations also so here goes:

1. Lord of the Rings – I love this story. Complex world with its own language. Most kids have seen the movie but it’s nothing is like the original tale. The original fantasy novel to start the genre! You can add the Hobbit also as it is the front story.

2. The True Game – This is a series of 3 novels that make for a great read. Science fiction with a fantasy “kick.” Easy read with a neat world where people are born with “powers.” I almost envision these as pieces on a board battling it out. I’ve never read anything quite like it.

3. The Stand - Hands down the best of Stephen King! What a story! A disease wipes out humanity with a handful of survivors. Good versus evil! A supernatural twist thrown in for good measure. Characters you’ll love and hate. Awesome read!

4. Harry Potter - Don’t scoff! Yes,they are children’s books but they are also an enjoyable read! Great storytelling is great storytelling! You’ve seen the story but if you haven’t read it, you should. The book is always better than the movie!

5. Call of the Wild - Great classic read. Adventure and coming-of-age story. Not sure if this is required reading anymore but it should be. I also recommend for you “northerners” a similar book Trap lines North. Bygone era but I used to read this as winter rolled in before I started my own trap line. I used to trap mink and muskrat to get Christmas money to buy gifts for family. 

Give these a try. I think you’ll find some enjoyable reading!

Dr. Mike Siekkinen, a retired U.S. Navy submariner, became a teacher as a second career. He teaches history at St Marys Middle School as well as Adult and Career Education at Valdosta State in Georgia.