Posts Tagged ‘2011’

Top 10 Best Children’s Books of 2011

December 18, 2011

Liz Rosenberg of the Boston Globe recently released her Top 10 children’s books of 2011.


“Little Owl’s Night’’ by Divya Srinivasan (Viking, ages 3-7)

This is the most visually and verbally gorgeous picture book of the year. Owl loves the beautiful night and hearing about mysterious daybreak when “[d]ewdrops sparkle on leaves and grass like tiny stars come down . . . the sky brightens from black to blue, blue to red, red to gold.’’ Simple, dazzling – and simply dazzling.

“E-mergency!’’ by Tom Lichtenheld and Ezra Fields-Meyer (Chronicle, ages 5 and up)

What happens when the letter “E’’ has an accident and slides out of the language? Sheer madness, enhanced by Lichtenheld and Fields-Meyers’s unceasingly witty, manic visual, and verbal jokes. “O’’ does most of the hard work; the reading is easy for children and their adults.

“Wonderstruck’’ by Brian Selznick (Scholastic, ages 9 and up)

A worthy follow-up to his Caldecott Medal-winning “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,’’ here Selznick creates a fast-paced illustrated novel full of mystery, pathos, beauty, and, yes, wonder. Whatever book you miss this year, do not miss this one. The twists and turns of plot are breathtaking, Selznick’s use of graphics nothing less than stunning.

“Jim Henson: The Guy Who Played With Puppets’’ by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson (Random House, ages 4-10)

This tribute to the creator of the now iconic Muppets is among the year’s best children’s picture book biographies, alongside my next pick.

“The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps’’ by Jeanette Winter (Schwartz and Wade, ages 4 and up)

Both the Henson book and this one about anthropologist Jane Goodall celebrate the eccentricity and passion that drove these two very different characters to become pioneers in their fields.

“The Flint Heart’’ by Kathleen and John Patterson, illustrated by John Rocco (Candlewick, ages 7 and up)

Almost nothing is tougher to do well than a classic middle-grade fantasy novel. The Pattersons have created an inventive confection full of literary allusions, eccentric heroes and heroines, wild adventures, and oddities worthy of a new Alice. Not for the timid, but for adventure lovers with a sense of humor. Great read-aloud.

“The Romeo and Juliet Code’’ by Phoebe Stone (Arthur A. Levine, ages 9 and up)

Phoebe Stone introduced us all to the most irresistible 11-year-old British children’s hero since the inimitable Harry Potter. Felicity “Fliss’’ Bathburn Budwig is no wizard, but an ordinary, touching, witty girl who ferrets out the secrets of her family’s past and present. The prose simply sings.

“Okay for Now’’ by Gary D. Schmidt (Clarion, ages 10 and up.)

“Okay for Now’’ manages to juggle themes of family, bullying, abandonment, greed, art, friendship, and – believe it or not – John James Audubon, all in one remarkable novel. Gripping, hilarious, realistic, the perfect book both for avid and reluctant readers, “Okay for Now’’ should win some major prizes.

“The Barefoot Books World Atlas’’ by Nick Crane, illustrated by David Dean (Barefoot, ages 8 and up)

This atlas does more than simply provide a vivid and up-to-date view of the world -though it does that, too. It shows cultures and connections between countries, bringing a truly global perspective to children in eye-popping color. An altogether invaluable resource.

“What We Keep is not Always What Will Stay’’ by Amanda Cockrell (Flux, ages 12 and up)

When the stone statue of St. Felix comes to life, 15-year-old Angie wonders about more than miracles. Add Jesse to the mix, a troubled Afghanistan veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder. Cockrell balances on the knife’s edge between comedy and tragedy. The depth and darkness of her themes makes an absorbing read for older young adults.


Time to Show Support for Teachers

January 12, 2011

Something tells me 2011 is not The Year of the Teacher.

After the disappointment of the New York Supreme Court ruling that teachers alleged to be underperforming can be named and shamed by the media, an unfortunate trend is becoming clear –  teacher blame.

Teachers I am told, are the most bullied of all professionals.  They are subjected to bullying from a variety of sources; their superiors, parents, colleagues, students and as we see from New York, the Government regulators.  For a profession desperately looking for fresh, talented and passionate recruits, teachers have never had it so bad.

Today I read of the rise in bullying from parents through the use of social media such as Facebook.

The NAHT (National Association of Headteachers) says it receives hundreds of calls every week from teachers who are being ‘cyberbullied’ – and the majority of complaints are about parents using the web to criticise teachers or heads.

In 2009, research by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and the Teacher Support Network suggested 15% of teachers had experienced cyberbullying, and it is believed this figure is growing.

One English teacher in the West Midlands told the ATL: ‘I found teaching stressful already but when it got to the point where I was getting home and finding messages about me on social networking sites, or horrible photos on my computer I couldn’t cope.’

The ATL says that one teacher had a fake Facebook account set up in his name containing false sexual allegations.

Another teacher suffered stress after a video of her teaching appeared on YouTube.

The 2009 ATL research showed that 63% of teachers who had suffered cyberbullying personally said they had received unwelcome emails. Over a quarter had had offensive messages posted about them on social networking sites such as Facebook and 28% described being sent unwelcome text messages.

A 24-hour counselling helpline called Teacherline set up in October 1999 for stressed teachers in England and Wales now receives thousands of calls a month.

Teacherline reports that teachers are four times more likely to experience stress at work than employees in other professions.

It is true that not all teachers are good at what they do.  Many are way below standard.  But it’s not an easy profession and it usually isn’t the career path a person just falls into.  People usually take on teaching because they have an affinity with either child, subject or both.  Instead of bullying teachers, how about we call for greater support of teachers.  Help them improve with a positive framework rather than negative cajoling.
How about starting pro-teacher Facebook pages?  Facebook pages which call on Governments around the globe to stop using teachers as scapegoats and stop stirring mass hysteria about the quality of teachers through the media?  How about Facebook pages that seek to empower and revitalise the teacher rather than tear them down even lower, and inadvertently, tear down the fabric of this great profession with them.

Time to Take Better Care of Our New Teachers

January 6, 2011

My school recently employed a teacher straight out of University.  He will commence teaching his first ever class in February.  As I moved out of my classroom, so he could move in, I spotted him staring at the room in adulation.  I asked him what was going through his mind, to which he replied, “This is it.  This is my classroom!”

I know how he feels.  Whilst I was going through the rigours of teaching training, I would drive past schools along the way and be filled with envy at the teachers already able to ply their trade.  I so much wanted to skip the rest of my course and move straight it to my first classroom.  People told me I was an idealist and those feelings towards teaching would erode two weeks into my first school year.  It didn’t.  It still hasn’t.

This leads me to a very important issue.  If young teachers like my colleague have such a love for the craft and such a desire to become effective teachers, why is it so hard for them to get jobs?

I was reading an article which illustrates the plight a teacher has to face, to get their first solid job:

LAST year Melbourne Magazine named teacher Michael Stuchbery one of its top 100 Melburnians for using social media to revolutionise the teaching of civics.

His year 8 students at Caroline Chisholm Catholic College, many of whom previously could not name the electorate in which they lived, transformed into political animals, using blogs and Twitter to follow the federal election, and were interviewed on Channel Ten’s The 7pm Project.

But instead of being rewarded for his innovation, Mr Stuchbery, along with thousands of other Victorian teachers on short-term contracts, is out of a job.

January is a fraught month for teachers employed on fixed-term contracts – about 18 per cent of the workforce – who are faced with job interviews and uncertainty about their future.

”A lot of positions are filled in January, which is why contract teachers are nowhere near the beach right now,” Australian Education Union state president Mary Bluett said.

Annual surveys by the union repeatedly show contract employment is the top reason beginning teachers give for why they do not see themselves teaching in five years.

It took me a year to get my first job.  I had the hunger, the good University grades, I was well read, an excellent communicator – but not what they were looking for.  Each application required extensive responses to a set of about 8 Key selection criteria. It took me a day to respond to each schools criteria (as each school had different selection criteria I couldn’t cut and paste).  Most of those applications didn’t even land me an interview.

Why is this the case?

A number of reasons.

1.  The University training offered is completely and utterly inadequate.  The training is so useless, I can’t recall an important fact or skill I learnt from my training.  Schools know they would be employing a very raw teacher that will require a lot of patience and support.  They are too lazy for such an undertaking.

2. With initiatives like the My School Website which ranks every school against each other on how they perform in the national test, the NAPLAN, schools are careful not to select a teachers they don’t have confidence will show their worth from the outset.  They have their reputation to uphold.

3. Parents tend to be weary when a first-year teacher gets appointed to teach their child, in the same way a patient prefers to see some wrinkles in their surgeon.  Schools like to avoid parent intervention by making safe, low risk choices.

All these factors are completely beyond the prospective new teacher’s control.  They have no say in the strength or weakness of their course, the can’t control Government initiatives like the NAPLAN and My School Website and if a school wants to avoid risk, there is nothing they can do about it.

This reality is a crying shame.  I would have thought that the best, most vibrant staff rooms feature teachers of all ages and experience.  Surely, the horrendous plan to make new teachers “school cloggers” by shipping them off to a under-funded and under-performing rural school is exactly not how to deal with the problem.  The answer is for schools to show some backbone and create a framework where these teachers feel welcome, supported and mentored.

The new teacher that enters their classroom for the first time with a sense of joy and calm.  Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Education New Years Resolutions

January 2, 2011

These are some New Years resolutions I suggest the Education sector should take on for 2011:

1. Stop Putting Unnecessary Pressure on Teachers – Sure it is important to scrutinise teachers and ensure that poor teachers don’t preside over a classroom.  But if you base whether a teacher is good or otherwise on a test you run the risk of the following consequences:

  • Teachers teach to a test rather than typical authentic teaching
  • Inexperienced teachers will be frightened off from continuing in the profession due to the pressure to perform
  • Teachers will be labelled in a manner we have never seen before
  • Some good teachers will be mistakenly called poor based on circumstances partly beyond their control.

2. Continue Fighting Bullying – 2011 has to be dedicated to making students feel better about school, by striving to create an environment that is tolerant and bully-free.  School cultures must change where necessary.  Exterior programs are fine, but they are often at the mercy of endemic school culture deficiencies.

3. Stop Playing Public and Private Schools Against Each Other – The media has been chipping away at this one.  Comparing public and private schools for funding and achievement can be counter-productive.  Instead of pitting them against each other, Governments should be trying to improve the quality of all sectors for all people.  Let both Public and Private schools flourish.

4. Pressure the Education Union – The Education Union needs to step up and show us they are relevant.  Of late they have come across as pussy cats, giving in to big issues without even a fight.  The rule that all teachers in a school must be Union members before they even consult with the staff about conditions and wages, puts teachers under pressure from colleagues to sign up whether they want to or can afford to.  This is not acceptable.

5. Lessons Must Come Alive – The trend towards direct instruction teaching means lessons are becoming more turgid and less engaging.  Similarly, there needs to be a greater emphasis on problem solving and critical thinking.

6. Forget about the National Curriculum – The draft was a huge disappointment.  New curriculums don’t change outcomes.  Improved conditions and support does.

7. Look After New Teachers – This includes improving the quality of teacher training, which at the moment is not up to scratch.  New teachers require more support.  The idea of filling holes by putting new teachers in remote schools is just the tonic for scaring away potentially phenomenal teachers.  Don’t let them sink or swim, but rather, put structures in place that allows them to be nurtured and supported in the crucial early years.

Please feel free to add some of your own suggestions.

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