The Future of Homework is … Video Games

The Future of Homework is … Video Games
iPhone Screenshot 1
by Esteban Sosnik

For many students, the mention of homework evokes a sense of dread. Ask any parent and chances are they, too, have a strong opinion about the value of homework.

Educators and researchers are divided on the issue. In the last decade, an emphasis on standardized tests has become much more prevalent, creating incentives to assign students with even more homework. At the same time, a recent study from Stanford University shows that spending too much time on homework can contribute to anxiety, physical health problems, and even alienation from society. The snowball effect of stress among teachers, students and parents over homework seems to be increasing with no end in sight. Unfortunately, homework as we know it is generally not effective. No data consistently shows that homework leads to learning or better grades, much less to development of cognitive skills not measured by traditional assessments. It is time to reimagine not only the amount of homework necessary but also its format.

Meanwhile, students are playing video games more than ever — on average, more than 13 hours per week. This time represents a huge educational opportunity. After all, play is one of the most powerful and natural ways for children to learn. Some game designers even argue that games can help to create a better world. As educators and parents, we can and should integrate gameplay into our students’ learning routines. Yes, you heard that right — let’s assign our kids some game time as part of their homework!

Recommended learning games by subject area

Early Literacy: Montessorium, Endless Reader
Math: Todo Math, MathBreakers, Motion Math, Dragon Box
Coding:  CodeMonkey, Tynker, Lightbot
Science: The Sandbox EDU, SimCityEDU, Econauts
Financial Literacy: Thrive N Shine, Collegeology
Creativity: TinyTap, Pixel Press, Toontastic

After more than a year operating Co.lab, an accelerator for startups at the intersection of games and learning, I have seen video games work effectively as learning systems for engaging children across ages and subject areas. We have worked with companies developing games for the consumer and school markets to teach concepts as varied as math, reading, computer science, and financial literacy as well as “21st century” skills like problem-solving, collaboration, and grit.

Games, particularly those designed with educational goals in mind, are great media to engage kids in the quest of learning. Why? Because they are systems with goals, rules for how to reach them, and feedback loops along the way to surface progression — these characteristics can support learning in a wide range of contexts. When developers and designers align game mechanics with educational goals, games can offer engaging and personalized experiences where the player becomes the agent of his or her own learning. In GlassLab’s SimCityEDU, players learn about factors affecting the environment and problem solving by building their own cities and instantly observing the impact of their decision-making.

We do not all learn the same way, and games can be especially effective for students who are struggling in traditional learning environments. Almost 80 percent of K-8 teachers surveyed by The Joan Ganz Cooney Center agree that games can help improve lower performing students’ mastery of subject areas such as math, language arts and science. Indeed, games can empower a wide range of learners by offering personalized content as well as the freedom to experiment without fear of making mistakes. LocoMotive Labs’ Todo Math presents students with multiple representations of elementary math concepts like addition and subtraction to support different styles of learning without penalizing students for making mistakes. Similarly, MindBlown Labs’ Thrive ‘N’ Shine gives high school students the freedom to practice making their own financial decisions in a risk-free environment and then reflect on their experiences with peers through classroom discussions.

The value of games for learning is becoming more widely accepted among educators, with schools nationwide integrating digital games into their curricula. According to the Cooney Center’s study, 74 percent of K-8 teachers are using some form of digital games for instruction — primarily to teach supplemental content and introduce new material. Games are also used to bring concepts together so students can apply knowledge in different contexts. According to Jesse Feldman, a middle school science teacher in El Cerrito, Calif., games like Pixowl’s The Sandbox “can really reinforce concepts that are being learned in other ways … allowing students to build skills and understanding of how individual concepts fit together in systems and how different topics relate to each other.” Games can also help students bridge the physical and digital worlds: Pixel Press enables children to create their own games with pen and paper, photograph their drawings and convert them into digital experiences to play with their friends.

Games are definitely more fun than homework as we know it today, but they also hold the potential to be more effective, too. Most homework is inherently “hackable” since, too often, it is the same for every student. It’s easy to receive help from a friend or parent, to search online for answers, or even to use an app that solves math problems for you. This homework paradigm is biased toward kids with adult support and other resources at home, potentially widening the achievement gap for underserved students. This is not the case for games, which take a vast amount of work to hack, and can be personalized to address the needs of children with different interests and levels of content expertise. There are still disparities in access to mobile devices, but smartphone and tablet ownership continues to increase for families across income levels.

I hear of so many parents struggling over the right amount of screen time for their kids. But the real question we should be asking is this: Which games are worth playing? With tens of thousands of choices out there, let’s focus our energy on seeking out the highest quality learning games so that the time our kids do spend on mobile devices supports their cognitive and social growth.

What are you waiting for? Chances are that someone has a game out there that could help your child with their homework.

How to rescue the American family and fix the broken school system in one fell swoop

How to rescue the American family and fix
the broken school system in one fell swoop

It starts with a mortgage…

By Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

Nowadays, Elizabeth Warren mostly gets talked about as a potential progressive alternative to Hillary Clinton’s inevitable Democratic coronation. But it’s often ill-remembered that for most her life, she was an academic. One of her most fascinating works is her book The Two Income Trap.

A lot of people have probably heard of the phenomenon of the two-income trap, but it’s not discussed enough. This is the basic idea: financially, having both parents in a family seems like a no-brainer — it brings in more money. But it can actually become a trap if the costs involved in having both parents work become equal to the extra income that the second spouse brings in. For example, in most American settings, if both parents work, the family needs a second car, with all the expense and headache associated. The parents need to pay for child care. And so on.

And if the expenses associated with those two incomes become fixed expenses (for example, you got into debt to buy that second car, and/or to buy a house with a two-car garage), it turns into a trap: once the family realizes the mess they’re in, they can’t backtrack.

Two incomes can also be a trap because they make the family more fragile. In Ye Olden Days of the 1950s, when there was typically one breadwinner, typically the husband, if he lost his job, the wife could temporarily get a job until he bounced back, thereby softening the blow. Today, if both spouses are working full-time, and, like so many American families, are already in debt, one of them losing their job becomes a devastating blow. Another example is if a family member needs care: if the wife doesn’t have a job, she can take care of the family member; if she does, then the member typically has to be institutionalized in some form, which is expensive, and only further tightens the noose of the two-income trap.

As in so many things in America, this is tied into housing, which itself is tied into schooling. The two income trap, in Warren’s telling, arises out of the perceived need to be in a good school district. Because everyone is competing for a spot in the neighborhood, the home values in places with good school districts skyrocket; the parents then get into debt to buy the right house; both parents then have no choice but to work to pay off the debt.

And the two-income trap becomes self-fulfilling: If the child’s mother is in the home, she can monitor and counterbalance potential bad influences at school. If the child has to spend all his time in school and pre-school and post-school activities and the parents can only oversee the activities from a distance, then it becomes vitally important that those environments be free of bad influences. This makes it vitally important to buy the right house, tightening the noose.

To some extent, The Two Income Trap is only a partial analysis: the phenomenon is much harder on the upper-middle-class than the broad expanse of American families. But, still, it highlights many of the defining features of American life today: the nagging feeling of having to run harder to stay in the same place; fears related to education, social mobility, and the maintenance of “middle class” status.

What to do to break this trap?

The first obvious answer, it seems to me, is to burn the schools. We hear a lot of rhetoric against “school choice” and “markets” in education. But the simple fact of the matter is that there is already “school choice” and “markets” in K-12 education in America; the only difference is that the “choice” occurs through the real estate market, via the public school catchment system. Better-off parents can exercise school choice by buying houses in the right district. There is “school choice” — for the rich.

This entire awful system has to go, and it remains one of the deep mysteries of American politics why the left, the supposed advocate of the Little Guy, is the most vehement force standing against change in this area, and agitating for the maintenance of the intergenerational transmission of privilege.

Every family in America should have a K-12 spending account, allowing them to spend the money on school, and on para-school activities. A mere “voucher” would not incentivize schools to cut costs, and in the era of Khan Academy, it makes little sense to mandate that K-12 education happen in “schools” as we currently conceive of them. What counts as “para-school activities” should be regulated at the state and local level to allow for as much experimentation as possible. The accounts of children with disabilities and/or low socio-economic status should be topped up, so that education startups will compete for them. Extended families as well as non-profits should be able to contribute to K-12 spending accounts (we can imagine everything from churches where the better-off families direct their tithes to the education of the less well-off members of the church, to online crowd-funding campaigns allowing a 12-year-old girl-genius to go study at MIT for a semester). This would kneecap the entire sorry system.

The second obvious answer has to do with taxes. Since it is politically impossible to get rid of the mortgage interest tax break, it should at least be capped, to curb some of the worst incentives towards “McMansionitis.” Instead, middle class families should receive an expanded child-tax credit. This is the option that allows for the most choice. An expanded child tax credit would allow some families to have both parents work full time and use the money for child care, and other families to have one parent downscale their work commitments and spend more time with the kids.

Finally, we should have a broad cultural movement that recognizes that Corporate America has been failing at its citizenship duties by pretending that we are all interchangeable cogs in the great post-industrial capitalist machine. Human resources departments should recognize that some people want to devote themselves fully to their career, and other people want to focus less on their career and more on other pursuits (family or not). This is a blind spot of our maddeningly-polarized politics: the right doesn’t want to criticize large corporations, and the left doesn’t want to admit that some parents genuinely do prefer spending more time with their kids rather than slaving at the top-management fast-track.

Teachers Receive Failing Grade on Social Media

Teachers Receive Failing Grade on Social Media

by Jason Saltmarsh

It’s every teacher’s nightmare. Your reputation, your integrity, and your character can suddenly and irreversibly be damaged with the touch of a fingertip or the click of a mouse. Whose to blame for that gut-wrenching feeling of dread and anxiety when the news breaks? Most likely it’s you.

Of course, there are exceptions. Last year, a school principal in Maine was spoofed on Twitter by a student who created a phony account. The profile included a picture of the principal taken from the school website. The situation was resolved quickly, but the incident has left lasting impressions on the minds of many parents and community members.

In 2013, a first grade teacher at Paterson Elementary School (Paterson, NJ) garnered national media attention after calling her first grade students “future criminals” in a Facebook post. A teacher at Newark Memorial High School (Oakland, CA) used Twitter and said she wanted to stab some of her students and pour hot coffee on them.

School districts continue to struggle with social media policies and rules because the boundaries between personal behavior and public behavior are blurred and confusing. What is said by a teacher on Twitter, Facebook or Google+ using their personal accounts may seem beyond the reach of school policy, but it’s not. If the statements are being made if a forum that is public or includes any members of the larger school community, then the teacher is acting a spokesperson for the school district.

Beyond the sensational cases that grab the headlines, there is a larger and more permanent social media issue plaguing school districts. Unofficial school groups and pages on Facebook have become an underground pipeline of information and misinformation about schools. With few resources dedicated to marketing and public relations, schools face an uphill battle when competing for the attention of stakeholders. Even worse, school administrators rarely know what is being discussed in these forums until it’s become a problem.

There are also good things happening on social media. Teachers are collaborating with others from around the world, students are involved in meaningful discourse with other students, and parents are able to stay in close contact with school groups via automated notifications and updates. The immediacy and pervasiveness of social media is both a blessing and a curse.

In reaction to some of the growing concerns over social media and poor judgement exercised by educators, some school boards have considered a ban on the use of social media. “I think that train has already left the station, and it left a long time ago. It’s not humanly possible to stop people from using social media.” says Evelyn McCormack, the social media expert for Southern Westchester Board of Cooperative Education Services. “They’ve tried it some places and it didn’t work.”

Educators that use social media should take the following steps to protect their online reputations and keep from making the kinds of mistakes that could end their teaching careers.

  • Use only school provided accounts for student and parent communications.
  • Don’t ‘friend’ students.
  • Don’t talk about school on your private social accounts.
  • Filter your content appropriately. Be professional.
  • Turn on privacy settings and become familiar with security options.
  • Search for your name on Google. Protect your online reputation.

No Amount of Data Can Replace a Good Classroom Teacher

No Amount of Data Can
a Good Classroom Teacher

by Randy Turner

With age comes a longing for those wonderful times of youth and like most people I have no problem in clinging to the belief that everything was better when I was growing up.

Nothing tasted better than homemade strawberry ice cream at a community gathering on a Saturday night in the Missouri town of Newtonia, population 186, give or take a neighborhood dog or two, where I spent my younger years.

Naturally, the music was better. Why else would I turn off the car radio when a Taylor Swift song comes on and pop a Roy Orbison, Elvis, or Ricky Nelson CD in the player.

And as for CDs, didn’t the music sound better on vinyl?

Those things have always been at the top of my list when my thoughts run to nostalgia, but lately, I may have gone off the deep end.

I miss the Iowa Basic Skills Test.

Unlike the ice cream, the music or those sandlot baseball games of old, the annual Iowa Basic Skills Test was not something I remember enjoying. Each spring, all students were brought into the cafeteria, we were handed the booklets, and we diligently filled in all of the circles.

It was the only time we took the tests each year, so we knew they must serve some important purpose, but it was just another tool that our teachers used to evaluate us.

It must not have been that important; they wouldn’t even let us use our number one pencils.

Things have certainly changed.

Now the test is the thing. During my last years in the classroom, I taught in a district that bought into the nonsense that the way to prepare for the high stakes standardized tests at the end of the year was to buy a series of practice standardized tests.

When our district began comparing the practice test scores of our schools, we were told to take practice tests for the practice tests (McGraw-Hill was happy to provide them for a fee) And if students were falling behind, they were even given the opportunity to take extra practice tests to practice for the practice tests that helped us practice for the practice test that prepared us for the standardized test at the end of the school year.

Soon teachers were being pulled out of the classroom for half-days or sometimes full days to review data and compute and compare scores. Our district pulled out all English and math teachers for full-day sessions in which we built curriculum and pacing guides around these practice tests.

Learning became something we tried to sneak in whenever it was possible. Enjoyment of learning, like the Iowa Basic Skills Test, was a dim memory.

Administrators kept feeding teachers the basic nonsense that we could do much better teaching now that we had data we could use.

So we kept giving the tests. It was obvious that students were not putting any effort into the practice tests, which were taking up weeks of class time and who could blame them?

When scores on the end-of-the-year tests went down, no one looked at the overabundance of practice tests. It was the teachers’ fault because we were not using the data correctly.

We were told to double down on the tests and double down on the data.

That’s why I was so pleased today when I read about the Tulsa first grade teachers who said enough was enough and sent a letter to parents explaining why they were refusing to administer standardized tests.

Karen Hendren and Nikki Jones’ letter detailed to parents exactly what tests their students have been required to take, what software teachers are required to use with the children and how much the children are losing out on because of the overemphasis on testing:

We, in keeping with best practices, are unable to administer the MAP and student surveys to your children. They simply deserve a better educational experience than what either of those elements bring to the table. We informed the district of our decision last week. However, we felt like you had the right to know as well.

Education is about finding the deeper meaning. Education is about acting upon curiosity and utilizing creative attributes to figure something out. Education is about highlighting multiple intelligences and valuing uniqueness. Education is not squelching. Education is not standardization. We realize that we are just two teachers in a sea of many. In being conscientious objectors to these two items, we realize we are a number, just like the students in our classroom where the SDE is concerned. We realize that we are jeopardizing our jobs. But, if keeping our jobs means harming children and squelching them during a prime developmental span, then we want no part. When we walked across the stage and accepted our diplomas, when we received certifications from the state to teach, when we signed contracts with TPS, when we represented the model for early childhood education for the nation, when we accepted awards and recognition, we simultaneously accepted responsibility to uphold ethical practices and do what is in the best interest of children. The SDE has robbed us of our ethics. They are robbing children of their educational liberties.

I fear for the immediate future of these two young teachers. If the response from the Tulsa Public Schools superintendent is any indication, they are about to get smacked down for daring to stand up for what is right.

A couple of excerpts from Superintendent Keith Ballard’s letter:

While I understand teacher and student frustration with testing, it is not an option for teachers to refuse to administer the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) test. We need this critical data if we are to guide and tailor instruction to students who all have very different needs.

And this one:

While I understand the frustration of these beginning teachers, it takes a person experienced at using data to know how to use it to guide instruction. We need this data to monitor growth and improve results for all of our students.

Every student is capable of learning, and our job is to make that happen. Developmentally appropriate assessments in kindergarten through third grade give us the data to identify what kids know, what they are ready to learn and what they must be taught in order to ensure all students grow. It is every teacher’s obligation to assist us in that effort and it is what is right for students.

If that is truly what Dr. Ballard believes, and I have no doubt it is, then he is part of the problem and unfortunately he represents the nightmare that education has become with this obsession with data.

When Ballard and the rest of those who have turned schools from citadels of creativity into an Orwellian nightmare of students who exist only as numbers on a data list, finish with what they are doing, bright young teachers like Karen Hendren and Nikki Jones will no longer be in the classrooms.

There is no data that has ever been created than can replace an excellent teacher.

I miss the days when the Iowa Basic Skills Test was our only brush with standardized tests. In those days, teachers were allowed to teach and the good ones were appreciated.

Let Teachers Teach 

Are You a ‘Real Teacher’?

Are You a ‘Real Teacher’?

by David Lyell

In my 13 years of teaching at over 100 schools within LAUSD, K-12, regular and special education, students have asked me this question more times than I care to remember.

While some question the commitment and contribution of substitute teachers, the tired cliche of a Substitute Teacher reading the newspaper and drinking coffee while students hang from the ceiling is just that. The Substitute Teachers I know take the job seriously, and recognize the impact we have on students’ lives. According to some estimates, students spend an equivalent of one year with a Substitute Teacher in the course of a K-12 education: (Albuquerque Public Schools).

So it’s heartening to see substitute teachers recognized in a resolution proposed by LAUSD Board Member Monica Ratliff and adopted at the November 18, 2014 LAUSD School Board Meeting declaring November 21, 2014 Substitute Educators Appreciation Day. The resolution (LAUSD) stated, in part:

Whereas, In 2006, the California State Legislature decreed the Friday of the first full week before Thanksgiving as ‘California Substitute Educators Day,’ in official recognition of Substitute Educators, by passage of House Resolution No. 32 (Karnette); Whereas, Substitute Educators are a vital part of the District community, with 462,877 requests for Substitute Educators last school year alone; Whereas, The District currently employs 4,840 Substitute Educators; and Whereas, Substitute Educators provide continuity in the learning process, provide a safe and healthy learning environment for pupils, and contribute to the establishment and promotion of a positive instructional environment within the District; therefore be it Resolved, That the Governing Board of the Los Angeles Unified School District hereby recognizes and honors the contributions of Substitute Educators to quality education in the State of California and in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and extends its gratitude and appreciation for their dedicated service; and be it further Resolved, That the Governing Board of the Los Angeles Unified School District hereby declares November 21, 2014, as Substitute Educators Appreciation Day in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Considering that between 40 percent and 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession within the first 5 years (Education Week), we really should be doing more to celebrate the efforts of all educators — as this resolution does — and work to create incentives to make teaching more attractive in order to recruit and retain the best and brightest among our workforce.

Yet teachers in LAUSD haven’t seen a raise, not even a Cost of Living Adjustment, in more than seven years, per pupil funding in California still lags around the bottom of all states (Education Week), and affordable housing in Los Angeles is increasingly becoming even more scarce (Curbed Los Angeles).

Some would say if you don’t like it, get another job. While true, if teacher quality is as important as everyone says it is — one way to improve teacher quality is to make the job more attractive — not less competitive. Yet when regular teachers are absent, they are having to spend a disproportionate amount of time trying to find ever fewer available Substitute Teachers (Frontline Technologies). -It’s becoming ever more difficult to find effective, responsible, professional Substitute Teachers willing to do the job due to the low pay and, in some school environments, the lack of professional respect.

In much of the rest of the civilized world, if a student were, for example, fighting in class — the question would be, ‘why were you fighting in class?’ But in America, oftentimes when students fight, we blame the teacher: (Newsweek).

The Obama Administration’s latest response is a repeat of what we’ve already seen — an order to states to devise “plans” to increase the number of “excellent teachers” in our most underserved schools: (Washington Post).

Yet there isn’t even consensus on what effective teaching actually looks like. Nor does the proposal address the very real impact poverty has on our schools (Education Week).

But that’s the nature of the education debate nowadays — a hyper focus on “teacher effectiveness” — to the exclusion of other vital issues such as poverty, funding, attrition, pay, morale, respect, and support. Reformers often respond to such complaints with feel-good, roll up your sleeves statements such as that poverty is no excuse for low achievement, and anecdotal evidence about how some of their friends have been laid off while ineffective teachers remain on the job.

At the same time, if we are to improve public education, there has to be a middle ground. Reformers need to embrace the notion that unions are not the enemy. Union leadership needs to recognize that calling for accountability is entirely reasonable, and that if someone doesn’t agree lockstep with their vision, that doesn’t mean that person is some sort of evil corporate reformer bent on working to privatize public education. As the Democratic party midterm election losses have shown us, unions need to lean closer to the center in order to attract disenfranchised union members — or they risk becoming marginalized. It is possible to have principled differences.

So am I a real teacher?

Among my qualifications, I have a B.A. in English from UC Santa Barbara, an MFA in Screenwriting from The American Film Institute, I’ve been enrolled in and completed a quarter of training in an accredited teacher credentialing program, I’ve passed a fingerprint background check, a TB test, I have thirteen years of on the job classroom teaching experience, and I’ve also taken and passed the CBEST, as well as Subtests I, II, and III of the CSET Multiple Subjects Subtests. I’ve also worked multiple long-term assignments where I have performed all of the same responsibilities as every other full-time regular classroom teacher.

While a resolution does not increase my take-home pay, it does formalize recognition for the efforts of Substitute Teachers, and in today’s politically divided environment — where it seems that much of the time all the adults ever do is argue and point fingers — every bit of recognition is greatly appreciated.

If you can read this, thank a substitute teacher.

The One Question Every Parent Should Quit Asking

The One Question Every Parent Should Quit Asking

by Scott Dannemiller

“It’s like she’s not even practicing.”

Audrey’s piano teacher was standing in front of me, giving her honest assessment. Her eyes were kind, and her voice soft, but my parental guilt turned her statement into a question. One I couldn’t answer. So I just faked a diarrhea attack and ran to the restroom.

Once we got home, I was determined to show Miss Amanda that my daughter could be the next Liberace, only more bedazzled than the original. So we opened her music book and got to work.

We sat side-by-side at the piano for all of 10 minutes when Audrey began to fade. She wasn’t even looking at the notes. Her back slouched. Her fingers barely pressed the keys. I tried to be encouraging, but every half-hearted effort from her quickly depleted my well of schmoopieness.

“Sweetheart,” I said, in a tone that didn’t match the pet name. “Don’t you want to be good at this?”

She didn’t say anything. She just made a weird sound. Like a dolphin moaning. So I asked again.

“Honey. Don’t you want to be good at piano?”

“No.” She answered, with a look.

Has my 6-year-old mastered the art of spitefulness?

“Fine,” I said, calling her bluff. “I guess we just won’t practice anymore. And we’ll keep wasting Miss Amanda’s time going over the same things every week.”

I got up and walked to the kitchen where my son was busy not doing his homework.

“Jake! What are you doing?! Finish your homework! We have to leave for basketball practice in 10 minutes! Let’s go! You’re not even dressed!”

Not my best parenting moment. The entire evening went on like this, with me incessantly jabbing at the kids and them fighting me every step of the way. Piano. Basketball. Homework. Hygiene. Lather, rinse, repeat. A never-ending well of cajoling. I thought to myself,

They are both getting saddles for Christmas. That way, at least I’ll be comfortable when I’m riding their asses all the time.

I am not proud of it, but the simple truth is that I worry about my kids and their level of engagement. And maybe you do, too. As a dad, I frequently feel myself getting sucked into the vortex of expectations. All the other parents are talking about great opportunities they are providing for their kids. Special summer camps. Foreign language learning. Private tutors. Music lessons. Coaching clinics. And when I hear how other kids are participating in these activities, I can’t help but feel that my children will be left behind or left out if they don’t take part. I “awfulize” a future where other kids are having fun together, solving quadratic equations and getting six-figure jobs out of junior high while mine are both sitting in the corner eating Elmer’s Glue straight from the bottle.

And it’s all my fault.

So, in an effort to prepare our kids for the dog-eat-dog, competitive world before them, we fill their days with activity. Schedule them from dawn to dusk to maximize their potential. So they can learn. And grow.

But I fear that in our quest to help them, we may actually be hurting them.

“Free time” for kids has been steadily declining since the 1950s. In one particular study, from 1981 to 1997, kids experienced a 25 percent decrease in play time and a 55 percent decrease in time talking with others at home. In contrast, time spent on homework increased by 145 percent, and time spent shopping with parents increased by 168 percent.

But is that bad?

I think it is.

A research project by Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State, looked at psychological trends in youth during a similar period and noticed a sharp increase in anxiety and depression. Our kids are more stressed out than before. And that’s not the only change. Another Twenge study shows a surprising shift in motivation over the years, with kids in the 60s and 70s reporting being more motivated by intrinsic ideals (self-acceptance, affiliation and community) while kids today are more motivated by extrinsic ideals (money, image and fame).

And we’re the ones pushing them in that direction.

As parents, we focus 100 percent of our energy asking the wrong question:

“What might we miss if we don’t take advantage of these opportunities?”

And we need to stop.


Because the motivation behind this question is fear. And the fear is all mine.

I worry that that my kids will be made fun of if they don’t have socially acceptable “stuff.” I worry they won’t become elite athletes unless they specialize in a sport by age 10. I worry that they won’t get into college if they don’t do well in school.

But the fears are largely unfounded.

The “stuff” issue is easily overcome with common sense. No one in the history of the world has ever been able to buy a true friend. And in the athletic realm, kids who specialize in sports are no better off than those who don’t, and in some cases, the specialization is actually a detriment.

As for the academic worry, that may be the biggest unfounded fear of all. We buy into the hype that college is much more competitive today, so we push our kids to take advantage of every learning opportunity under the sun. The truth is, in the past 10 years, admissions counselors saw their average number of applications nearly double because of parents like us. We’re frantically submitting applications out of fear. Even so, colleges are still accepting two-thirds of all applicants on average. A number that has hardly decreased in a decade.

But we still believe the hype.

Bottom line: we parents need to chill out and change our questions. Here are two that can help us all gain some perspective and start finding more genuine joy in our lives.

Question #1: “What are we losing in our quest for success?”

If you are like me, most valuable parts of your childhood did not take place in a special classroom or perfect practice field. Sure, you had teachers and parents to encourage you to do your best and work toward a goal, but that was balanced by plenty of other worthwhile pursuits such as tearing apart a Stretch Armstrong doll to see what was inside, building bike ramps in the driveway, and racing leaf boats through a drainage ditch in a rainstorm.

But we’ve sacrificed these things in pursuit of an ideal, and we’ve turned our children into little mini-adults in the process. Tiny professionals who have no time for brain-building, soul-boosting play during the week, so they desperately cram it into a weekend schedule packed with structured sports and recitals.

It’s sad.

But the bigger issue is this:

Question #2: “What’s the ultimate goal?”

Encouraging a child’s potential is a good thing. And there is nothing wrong with extracurricular activities. They teach worthwhile skills and instill core values in a child. Values such as discipline, commitment, goal-setting, and persistence. And providing these opportunities is my job as a parent.

But there is a big difference between wanting what’s best for your kids, and wanting them to be the best.

Wanting what’s best for your kids is all about the child. It’s about helping them find something they are passionate about so they are intrinsically driven to reveal the strengths that God gave them, whether in art, music, sports, writing, academics, or community service.

Wanting them to be the best is all about me. My expectations. My fears. So I yell at them from the stands, correct them after lessons, and coax them into activities that suck the fun out of childhood. And in the process, I teach them that their worth is wrapped up in how they perform. I teach them that second place is losing. I teach them that judgment is more important than love and acceptance.

And it is so wrong.

Because being the best should NOT be the goal. If I asked you to name the last five winners of the Academy Award for best actor, could you do it? How about the last five World Series winning pitchers? Last five Nobel Prize winners in medicine? I’d venture to guess, based on absolutely no scientific evidence, that only 10 percent of you could do it. At the most. And these are examples of people who have achieved the pinnacle of their profession. Known the world over.

And we forget them.

But what if I were to ask you to list the five people who have meant the most to you in your life? The ones who taught you what it means to be a true friend. A person of integrity. I know without a doubt that 100 percent of us could do it in a heartbeat. And the list would be filled with people who never had a highway or high school named after them. People who never had their name carved on a ceremonial trophy.

But here’s the kicker.

The mere thought of their faces likely makes your heart swell. Might even bring a tear to your eye.

And this, my friends, is the goal. To be on the list for our kids. So that they might be on someone else’s list someday. And no amount of fear and anxious prodding will accomplish that for us. In this constantly correcting, constantly evaluating world, there has to be space for acceptance. Space for presence. Space where time isn’t measured in tenths of a second, but in turns taken on a colorful Candy Land board.

And only love can do that.

So my prayer today is that we have nothing but love to give. May we offer it daily.

Without condition.

Without worry.

Without regret.

How poorly designed classroom space puts student learning at risk

How poorly designed classroom space puts student learning at risk

By Lennie Scott-Webber

Space matters. For over 200 years we have been teaching in row-by-column seating. Many experts argue that this classroom style has conditioned both educators and students to ineffectively utilize space.

Researchers have said that space affects human behavior in powerful ways. So it is striking to realize that in education, empirical research on space is largely underutilized.

University of Florida’s Learn Lab in the College of Design, Construction and Planning.

Typical classrooms are designed with one-quarter to one-third of the space allocated for the educator and the rest for all of the students. Hierarchy is built into the design; sometimes as an actual stage raised above the rest of the floor. As a student you are expected to sit and listen. You are not in control. You are to passively receive information provided by the educator. You sit facing forward looking at the back of your fellow student heads and at the front wall where content is being shared.

As an educator, my role is to deliver information and control student experiences throughout the timeframe provided. I look out onto a sea of faces and it is my job to keep up with curricula demands and facilitate learning. Is this truly effective? Many would argue that this is a classic teacher-centered educating place, not a real learning place.

As stated by Patricia Wolfe in Brain Matters: Translating Research into Classroom Practice, brain science tells us unequivocally we have to move to learn; this movement helps push oxygen to the brain for maximum efficiency. Research published nearly 100 years ago in Democracy and Education by John Dewey argues for a more learner-centered approach, that is one in which the student is an active participant.

However, few educational institutions are implementing pedagogical practices to address these important issues and focus on the learner. Current spatial designs aren’t keeping up. As humans we are some of the most adaptable creatures on the planet.

So, we just continue working and teaching and trying to learn in a centuries-old design paradigm – a rectangular box with row-by-column seating in a double-loaded corridor building. The power of the design of this place has kept us from actualizing the learner-centered paradigm. Architects, designers, academics must all take responsibility for this lack of innovation. Unfortunately, it is often our students who suffer as learning becomes a chore.

So what can we collectively do? In terms of Academic Leadership, we can stop teaching to the test and focus on critical thinking and creative problem solving experiences; it’s not about content, it’s about context! Keep politics at bay by knowing what empirical findings tell us.

Educators can acknowledge and incorporate empirical research findings from cognitive neuroscience, learning research, environment behavior and for support to change the physical design paradigm as well as the pedagogical one.

A 300 student classroom at University of Windsor, Canada.

It is important for architects and designers to help educate educators in terms of what is possible spatially; knowing what future practices can and should look like is important. Architects must educate themselves regarding this changing landscape as well as how empirical research should impact classroom design.

They must back the full design. They must insist that the interiors and furniture are a part of the holistic design to ensure the classroom emits the power of supportive, active learning environments.

Steelcase Education researchers have added to the body of environment behavioral knowledge in the Planning for Higher Education Journal article. We focused on student engagement, a high predictor of student success and tested evidence-based design active learning solutions. We surveyed student and faculty relative comparing ‘traditional’ (row-by-column) situations to any one of our evidence-based design/active learning settings. Students and educators both reported the design of the place and what they were able to do in these environments made the difference.

It’s simple. Design the classroom environment to support active learning – pedagogically, with appropriate technologies and space. Don’t settle! Place can make a powerful difference.

And our students deserve the opportunity to truly learn.

Dr. Lennie Scott-Webber is the director of education environments at Steelcase Education.

Want to Toke on Campus? Not So Fast

Want to Toke on Campus? Not So Fast

by Alyson Martin

Colleges in the four states where marijuana is now legal are
having a tough time figuring out where they stand on the issue.

Each year, the Princeton Review assembles dozens of different rankings for colleges and universities around America. There are lists of schools with the most generous financial aid, the most impressive lab facilities, and the most accessible professors, as well as rankings for schools with the most jocks or tree-hugging vegetarians.

Another category is Reefer Madness, which lists the schools with the highest on-campus cannabis use.

The fact that such a list exists, even in the face of a federal prohibition on marijuana, is a reminder that college administrations have complex approaches toward cannabis use. While they may firmly adhere to the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act—taking measures to prevent recreational drug use and penalize students for it—the reality of cannabis on campus is much hazier. From coast to coast, school administrations are having a difficult time establishing policies that align with the substance’s legalization in their state.

Nearly half of all states have passed medical cannabis laws. Four states—Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and Alaska—and the District of Columbia have passed social use laws. Making the legal territory even harder to navigate: more than a dozen cities and states have decriminalized cannabis, meaning there is little or no penalty for possessing small amounts of the substance.

As a result, while campuses officially continue to just say no, students in states with legalization are free to say yes to cannabis off-campus when they’re 21—and a majority of Americans support that option. In the fall of 2012, the impending passage of Initiative 502 sparked discussions on campus at Washington State University, said Melynda Huskey, the school’s dean of students. Huskey began deliberating with on-campus law enforcement, the city police force, and the health director about what legalization would mean for WSU students.

Now that students have returned to campus for the fall semester, some students and parents have asked questions. Generally, they’re pretty easy to field because WSU—and every other campus in the country—has a clear policy: “No cannabis consumption of any kind” on campus and follow the law off campus, Huskey said.

Still, some campus officials say it’s the school’s responsibility to educate students so they make healthy decisions. In states without legalization, if a 21-year-old student were to mention partaking in a cannabis brownie on a Friday night, administrators would likely cover their ears. But on campuses contending with legalization, administrators might remind students about the law, or talk about, say, the potency and effects of edibles.

“I think our drug education is generally more nuanced than ‘just say no,’” Huskey said. “We try to make that sure our messaging is very clear about what students need to know to stay clear of any possible entanglements when they’re on campus. And then in terms of health promotion and legality, make sure that they have access to really good information about the choices that they make once they’re 21 and off campus.”

Before Amendment 64, Colorado’s social-use voter initiative, a student 21 or older in possession of one ounce or less of cannabis on campus at the University of Colorado, Boulder could be cited by law enforcement for possession. Now, students 21 or older in possession of a small amount of pot on campus might just face disciplinary action from the school, according to Ryan Huff, spokesperson for University of Colorado, Boulder.

“You cannot smoke it in public. You cannot possess it in the residence halls. So all the same rules still apply,” Huff said. “I’d say that all that we’ve really done is increase our messaging, just to be clear, especially with out-of-state students. Because I think there’s some misperception that after Amendment 64, anything goes with marijuana.”

But an interesting shift has since occurred at the school: drug violations, including those for marijuana, dropped from 1,145 to 588. One of the reasons for this decrease, according to Christina Gonzales, the university’s dean of students, is that the school has moved away from a disciplinary approach toward a more instructive one.

“We have students who are still developing and figuring things out,” Gonzales said. “So, if we have to be punitive, we will, but we would rather be educational and have conversations with our students, remind them of policies, maybe send them to some educational workshops—rather than going the route of just citing them right away. Knowing that [marijuana] is legal if someone is 21 or over, yeah, we see it more like a low-level alcohol than a drug violation.”

Meanwhile, evolving medical marijuana laws also create tricky situations for school health administrators: campus health departments dispense medications, but they can’t obtain and give students medical marijuana because it’s federally prohibited.

WSU for its part will waive the requirement that freshmen students live in on-campus dorms if a student presents medical-marijuana documentation. CU Boulder does the same.

Lynn Pasquerella, president of Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, a state where possession and consumption of medical marijuana is legal for qualifying patients, said she raised the issue with the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts.

But the association also finds itself treading murky waters.

“Bottom line: there’s a clear conflict between state laws, public opinion, and current federal statute,” said Richard Doherty, the association’s president. “Informal—and, in some cases, conflicting—Department of Justice guidance is not enough. Desire for clarity continues to grow as more and more states adopt differing laws.”

Mount Holyoke is reviewing its medical marijuana policies. While no students currently use medical cannabis, and no students have requested to use it, Pasquerella said the administration is “trying to be proactive.”

“The best we can do is to come up with a policy that we think best meets the health-care needs of our students and then to look at what our options are under federal law,” she said. “So, if we propose to our attorneys that we would like to be able to administer medical marijuana in the health center, and we’re told, ‘no, you can’t do that,’ then could we arrange to have it distributed and taken off site? Would that still place us at risk?”

“I think one of the best things we can do is to draw attention to the dilemma that we’re faced with and try to be an advocate for the health-care needs of our patients who are residents here—and the risk that we’re under as a result of the inconsistency with federal law,” Pasquerella continued.

While schools must adhere to the Drug Free Schools and Communities Act, some students have endeavored to implement small-scale or symbolic changes to make on-campus and off-campus policies more consistent.

Students at the University of Connecticut, pushed for reform on campus several years ago after the state in 2011 decriminalized small amounts of marijuana possession. The UConn chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy launched a successful campaign to standardize the responses to underage drinking and cannabis possession. As a result, instead of immediately calling police, resident assistants have more discretion in how they handle disciplinary action.

“That’s the one minor victory—when they sort of listened to us,” said Tyler Williams, president of UConn’s Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter.

With voters in Oregon, Alaska and Washington D.C. this election approving various social-use initiatives, more administrators and students will likely tackle the same questions of how to talk about cannabis and when, if ever, it will have a place on campus.

“I expect that as more states come on board and there’s more legalization of recreational marijuana in more states, which I think is going to happen, that this is going to get more attention at the federal level,” said Norm Arkans, a spokesman for the University of Washington. “And they’ll either have to amend federal law or develop guidelines or figure out some way to make it easier for people in these sort of circumstances where we’ve got two different laws and we’re trying to figure out how to behave.”

What it really means to be a public school educator today

What it really means to be a
public school educator today

By Valerie Strauss

There was a big furor among educators around the country recently when Time magazine ran a cover that said, “Rotten Apples:  It is nearly impossible to fire a bad teacher.” The cover, accompanied by a story that was somewhat more nuanced, sparked a mountain of response, including a post by Nancy F. Chewning, assistant principal of William Byrd High School in Roanoke, Va. on her blog, Leading by Example.  You can read her entire letter to Time magazine here. Following (which I am publishing with her permission) is the part of Chewning’s letter to Time that talks about what life as a public school educator is like today in the era of high-stakes testing and “no-excuse” reformers who ignore or give short shrift to how much a student’s life outside school affects their academic achievement and puts all of the blame/credit on teachers:


…. First, let me clarify what it means to be a public school educator in the United States today. Unfortunately, at college campuses around this country, [education students] are berated by their peers for their career choice. I was told on many occasions at the University of Virginia that I was wasting my time and talent on teaching. After graduating, the Rotten Apples are then afforded what the Economic Policy Institute calls “the teaching penalty.” The EPI’s studies and those of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development show that teachers earn 12 percent to 14 percent “less than other similarly educated workers” and “60 percent of what their peers earn.”

These Rotten Apples then spend their summers attending conferences and classes, which most pay for out of their own pockets, to learn skills and knowledge to enhance the instruction their students receive when they report in the fall. They return to their classrooms in late July or early August using their own money to pay for essential supplies for themselves, for their classrooms, and for their students.

Is anyone in Silicon Valley paying for their own office supplies? I can assure you they are not.

The Rotten Apples come into work between 6:30-7:30 a.m. because most are helping students in some way before the school day ever begins. They often feed their students breakfast. They teach all day even during their planning periods. They get less than 30 minutes for lunch, and many have students with them during their lunch breaks. The Rotten Apples then work with students after school either in the classroom or out on the playing fields coaching. After a full day they go home and grade papers, prepare lesson plans for the following day, maintain an online classroom and gradebook, and answer emails. Most don’t stop until at least 10:00 p.m. The Rotten Apples do this day in and day out throughout the school year. The OECD report indicates that “American teachers work far longer hours than their counterparts abroad.”

In addition, they have now been asked by society to be counselors watching for both signs of drug use and mental health issues in their students. They buy students clothes, they provide them with meals, they purchase medicine for them, and they worry about their safety after they leave school and go home to what are often unsafe neighborhoods. In our society, they are expected to keep every student safe at school as well. How many times have we recently seen where teachers risked their lives or gave their lives for their students? ….

In the spring of each year, thanks to No Child Left  Behind, the Rotten Apples are held to a standard in this age of high stakes testing that no other profession is held to: a 100 percent pass rate. If teachers are held to this standard, why wouldn’t their working peers whom we have already established are paid significantly more be held to this same standard? Let’s look at doctors and nurses, for example. According to a new study from the Journal of Patient Safety, 440,000 people per year die from preventable medical errors. In fact, this study found that medical errors were the third leading cause of death in the United States today.

Have you characterized doctors or nurses on your cover as Rotten Apples? You have not. Is the government setting impossible benchmarks for doctors and nurses to make to correct this problem? No, they are not. Why? Because money talks in this country. The American Medical Association spent $18,250,000 in 2013 and $15,070,000 so far in 2014 lobbying our government; in fact, they rank Number 8 in terms of organizations lobbying our government for influence. The NEA [National Education Association] isn’t even in the ball park with the AMA, as they rank 221st.

As Senator Elizabeth Warren has so aptly stated, “The system is rigged,” and it is definitely rigged against public education. In the latest Gallup poll, 75 percent of American parents said they were satisfied with the quality of education their child was receiving in public schools. However, the latest Gallup poll showed that only 14 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress is handling its job. Have you done a cover calling Congress Rotten Apples? Why no, you have not. In fact, I checked your covers for the last two years and not once have you said a disparaging word about Congress on your cover. Yet, the approval rating for teachers is 75 percent, and you have chosen to go after them….

You should be ashamed that you have not written about and publicized what is the civil rights issue of our generation: poverty in this country. As I was writing this response to you, JAMA Pediatrics released a study by Dr. Glenn Flores and Bruce Lesley. Some of the highlights of their study are as follows and directly quoted from there:

*Childhood poverty has reached its highest level in 20 years
*1 in 4 children lives in a food-insecure household.
*7 million children lack health insurance.
*A child is abused or neglected every 47 seconds.
*1 in 3 children is overweight or obese.
*Five children are killed daily by firearms.
*1 in 5 experiences a mental disorder.
*Racial/ethnic disparities continue to be extensive and pervasive.
*Children account for 73.5 million Americans (24 percent), but 8 percent of federal expenditures.
*Child well-being in the United States has been in decline since the most recent recession.

When schools open their doors to kindergartners, some of the most important connections in their brains have already been formed. Those in poverty have had their brains in a stressful state since birth. Moreover, they arrive on the doorsteps of school with a word deficit compared to their fellow students who did not grow up in poverty. Address poverty and students will be more prepared for school from the very start. As Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the School of Law at the University of California in Irvine, wrote earlier this year as they took away teacher tenure in his state:

“The problem of inner-city schools is not that the dedicated teachers who work in them have too many rights, but that the students who go to them are disadvantaged in many ways, the schools have inadequate resources and the schools are surrounded by communities that are dangerous, lack essential services and are largely segregated both by race and class. Taking the modest job security accorded by tenure away from teachers will address none of these problems.”


Addressing poverty as a civil rights issue will. A majority of the American public agreed in the latest Pew Research Global Attitudes Project that inequality is the greatest threat to our country and to the world….

Your cover infuriates me because it is an indirect attack on poor defenseless children who so desperately need these people you have characterized as Rotten Apples. For your information, most people are not reading print media any longer … but they will see that horrid cover depicting every American teacher as a Rotten Apple as they stand in line to get their groceries at the grocery store. And so you have perpetuated an attack on the only people left it seems in this country fighting every day to help children.

In the course of the week that I wrote this response, let me tell you what my Rotten Apples did. Rotten Apple One made sure a student had the basic necessities needed to attend school. Rotten Apple Two and Three made sure a student had the proper medical care when no one in the community responded. Rotten Apple Four stood up and begged for a judge to have mercy on her student when no other adult spoke on his behalf. Take away these people, drive these kinds of educators away from teaching, discourage others from joining the teaching force, and who will fight for children today? Who on a daily basis will look after the American schoolchildren?

Marian Wright Edelman said, “If we don’t stand up for children, then we don’t stand for much.” And Martin Luther King, Jr. said so eloquently, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” I have been silent for too long. I will no longer be silent as the media attacks public education.

The real question is who will stand with me and raise your voices to protect our children?

Education Is a Becoming Process

Education Is a Becoming Process
by Isa Adney

“Success is not a doing process, it’s a becoming process.”

Jim Rohn said that, and the quote in its entirety hangs in both of my offices.

I also think education is a becoming process. And becoming
– personal growth, change — can be a hard thing to measure.

Tests can measure a change in knowledge, and there’s certainly an important place for that. One thing I’ve noticed from all the heated debate regarding education and testing, though, is that people aren’t really debating about tests. What they really care about is what education is helping our children and students become.

Focusing on tests can make students become good test takers (and/or become really anxious students, depending on how you look at it). But tests can also help assess where a student is at, how much they’re learning, and where there may be gaps on their road to becoming. Tests also help ensure certain qualifications before someone can do certain things, like getting a driver’s license, or certain professions, like becoming a doctor, lawyer, or nurse. I think most of us are okay with preparing students for these kinds of tests and helping them become good test takers in order to get past these hurdles that, like it or not, do and will exist.

Becoming only good test takers, however, at the expense of real growth, is what really scares us.

I think most people on every side of the debate really do want the same thing — for students to become educated and engaged citizens, excited and able to contribute their skills and talents to the world.

I know that’s what I want.

There’s a lot of debate on how to get there, and I certainly don’t have the answers. But what I do know is this: Education is a becoming process, and becoming takes a long time.

I was recently thinking about this as I prepared a speech for a group of California career counselors who work with students from middle school through community college. I decided to share my defining “career moments” from middle school on — the moments that had the biggest impact on getting me where I am today.

What astounded me was how many moments and great people there have been, as well as how integrated, connected, and long the process of discovering your career in and after school actually is.

Formal education should aim to help people prepare for a career. That is obviously important (and especially crucial when we talk about education helping break cycles of poverty). I also think the becoming process is just as important, because the person you become directly impacts the career success you can have — it’s almost impossible to separate the two.

But how do you measure who someone has become after an education, a class, a teacher, a degree? How do you measure hope, trust, citizenship, critical thinking, art, respect, self-esteem, or a desire for growth and contribution?

I’m no social scientist or testing expert, but I’m guessing this would be a very difficult feat. Sure, something could be created, but could it really capture the full depth and breadth of the lifetime of becoming that is growth, growing up, and education?

I don’t think so. It’s too complex. Too variable. And yet it’s crucial.

I had this English teacher who died before I was able to tell her what an impact she really had on helping me “become” in my life. She died before I was able to realize how large that impact really was — it was hard to see immediately because she had shaped the person I was becoming; becoming is a slow, gradual process. It can’t be quickly measured. And sometimes it’s not quickly realized.

While this English teacher helped me become many things — a better writer, a better thinker, a better researcher, a better student — she also literally helped me visualize what I could become, something more than I ever thought possible.

She helped me do this via an activity where she took our entire 9th-grade English class through a guided visualization of what our life would be like in 10 years. She played soft meditative music in the background, and she walked us slowly through imagining our future self: What did we look like? Where were we living? What were we doing? What was our job? How did we feel? What did it smell like? What did it look like?

If I had any painting skills I would be able to paint for you exactly the picture I saw. I can still see it in my mind, clear as I can see this computer in front of me.

The image I saw was of me as a writer, surrounded by flowy white curtains (which I actually have in my new office, I’m just now realizing) sitting on a couch, working from home, my condo being cooled by a salty ocean breeze dancing through the open window (I was living on the beach, obviously; still working on making that part a reality).

This image is burned into my brain. And it was so much more than a passing exercise. It honestly made me think I could actually become that person, A Writer. Because, through visualization, I already had.

Sure, the reality of getting to that place would be (and has been, and will be) very hard. But in that moment, the first hurdle I needed to get over before I would be ready to get over the others was to believe that I could become that person.

That, to me, is the first step in any good education, formal or informal. You have to believe you can become the person you want to become and that the education you’re pursuing will help you get there.

This teacher helped me become who I am today before I even became it. Becoming is a long process, but she found a short cut. She helped me “become” instantly, and then the rest of my education became a process in becoming someone I actually felt like I could be, because I had already lived it in my mind.

She also taught me so much about writing itself and the vital skills I would need to become who I wanted to become. She praised the skills I already had, the natural sense of good writing I’d gained from being such an avid reader, and yet was still liberal with her red pen, showing me where I could improve.

She taught me how to do a big research project, how to break a big thing into small parts, strategies I used when writing my first book.

She also taught me things that helped me pass tests, eventually an AP test. She didn’t do this all in one class, one course, or one semester, though. I had her for two years.

Education is a becoming process, and becoming takes time.

I’m glad she taught me things that helped me pass tests. But that’s not what I would have told her if I’d had the chance to thank her in person before it was too late. I would have thanked her for all the things she gave me that can’t be measured on tests. I would have thanked her for helping me become a writer in every single way.

Don’t wait to thank a teacher, or anyone who’s been crucial to your becoming process. Think about who you are today, who you have become. Who has made that possible? Say thank you, and explain why. (Feeling awkward about reaching out to someone you haven’t talked to in a while or saying thank you to someone you talk to all the time? Just tell them you read this article and it made you think of them… trust me. You. Will. Make. Their. Day.)

And then, don’t stop becoming. Be the kind of teacher she was, no matter what your profession. Become someone who helps others become. Grow so you can help others grow. See more in you so you can tell others what you see in them.

Education is a becoming process. And I think you can tell education is working when students become the kind of people who realize that the best life is one where education — the process of becoming — never ends.

Thank you Mrs. Hernandez for helping me fall in love with writing, with becoming, and with education. Thank you for giving me skills. Thank you for giving me encouragement. Thank you for helping me understand how much work is required of becoming. And thank you, so much, for helping me become that person you gave me permission to dream about thirteen years ago.