Category Archives: teachers

The measure of a good teacher

There was a lengthy discussion on The Diane Rehm Show the other day: Evaluating Teacher Effectiveness. I didn’t hear the entire show but it’s a topic I am interested in, having been a teacher, so I will go back and listen to the whole show this weekend.

Of course I have to note the panel of “experts” was made up of a senior fellow from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, a professor of business from Columbia Business School, the chief of human capital (hey, that’s what they call him, maybe “personnel director” is too boring?) for Washington, D.C. Public Schools and a teacher. Actually an ex-teacher; she taught for four years and departed the profession.

I’m not sure why these “expert” panels rarely have teachers who have been teaching 25 years. Or a principal from a large public school with entrenched teaching staff. The big-name university and foundations have plenty  of brain power, but teachers who work in schools every day have more practical experience, insight and insider knowledge.

But it’s an interesting discussion because measuring teacher performance is not easy. Training teachers is not easy either because the classrooms teachers teach in vary widely.

The show mentions test scores as measure of teacher effectiveness. Most people not in the government bureaucracy consider test scores just one small part of the measure of student learning. So how can test scores be any more effective to evaluate teacher performance?

I have a vivid memory from one of my first years teaching middle school. I was sitting with my team of sixth-grade teachers and we were talking about rumors about paying teachers based on student test scores.

One of my teammates slammed her grade book on the desk and exclaimed, “I’ll be damned if my pay is going to be based on how (name of student) does on a test!” The student she named was a very low performing student, mostly because he had zero interest in anything going on in school. His parents were getting a divorce, so he got all kinds of attention from both of them when he did poorly at school.

Have a listen. Let me know what you think.

Daniel Friedman

Teachers and districts pursue excellence

Story and photo by Dan Friedman

Teachers have to be certified by the state in which they teach. In education classes they learn teaching methods, strategies and classroom management skills and they also must log sufficient hours in the content area they intend to teach. Middle and high school teachers must take specific classes in and/or be degreed in their content area specialty.

Truthfully though, it takes time in the classroom to make sense of the material you learn in education classes. Classroom management theories only make sense when 150 eighth graders are showing up every day.

In my experience, principals and vice-principals had little or no time to observe teachers beyond once or twice a year for a few minutes. The number of issues at any one school, both trivial and significant, is mind-boggling.

I was observed more in my first few years of teaching at Aztec Elementary in Scottsdale (when it first opened and the student body was small) than I was in the following eight years combined. That was a real luxury. There’s nothing better for a new teacher than meaningful feedback from someone who understands teaching. Especially when it’s something like, “I didn’t understand where you were going with your lesson. What was your intention?” It’s one thing to think you’re reaching a bunch of 8- and 9-year-olds, and another to know you are.

It takes time (years) to master teaching, so feedback and training is crucial.

The Scottsdale Unified School District recently honored nine teachers who received National Board Certification, bringing to 46 the number of national board-certified teaches in the district. Many districts have teachers who have put in the considerable time and effort to become certified above and beyond the state-required level.

National board certification is a process teachers voluntarily undertake to improve their teaching skills. Teachers demonstrate through portfolios, videotaped teaching and documented accomplishments outside the classroom their understanding of their students’ needs and their ability to meet those needs.

This is not a weekend seminar or an online class. It takes at least one year to complete. The certification process costs $2,565; of that, districts or the State will kick in $500. Fortunately, the national certification can lead to career and salary advancement. Nearly  100,000 teachers nationwide have earned national certification.

School districts also undergo significant processes to ensure they are meeting their students’ needs and making continual improvements. The Peoria Unified School District is the first Arizona school district to pursue AdvancED District Accreditation. AdvancED accreditation certifies that your child’s high school provides a program of study that results in meaningful high school credits when students apply to colleges and universities.

AdvancED also  works with districts to help ensure that K-12 systems meet the highest standards. The Peoria district has 40 schools, so the process is lengthy, complicated and will involve ongoing efforts. A meeting Feb. 8 in Peoria will provide information for those interested in the process.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona launches seventh Walk On! Challenge

For six years, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona’s Walk On! Challenge has been a component of many fifth-grade classrooms around Arizona. The challenge, now accepting registration for 2012, supports schools in efforts to teach the importance of good nutrition and physical activity.

The Walk On! Challenge is a free health and fitness challenge implemented in classrooms each year in February and designed to motivate fifth-grade students across Arizona to incorporate healthy habits into their daily routines for a healthier future.

“This program is having a positive impact in the lives of our students and they are more aware of healthy choices on a daily basis,” says Victoria Bonavito, P.E. teacher at Desert View Elementary in Washington School District, Phoenix. “At our school, the 5-2-1-0 goal helped point out our need for bottled water instead of juice at breakfast and lunch, something we may not have considered without the Walk On! Challenge.”

According to, nearly one-third of all children in Arizona are either overweight or obese. These children have an elevated risk for a range of health and social problems — now and in the future. And according to the American Public Health Association, among children and adolescents, the annual cost of treating obesity-related diseases has increased more than threefold, from $35 million to $127 million between 1979 and 1999.

“Making a difference in Arizona’s childhood obesity rates is going to take the work of a lot of different agencies, organizations and businesses working together,” says Richard Boals, President and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona. “The success of our program over the past seven years and the feedback from teachers tells us we’re on the right track with the Walk On! Challenge. It’s now one of our core goals in the company to make an even bigger impact on the childhood obesity rate in Arizona in as many different ways as possible.”

In addition to providing information and materials for teachers to use in the classroom, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona offers five $5,000 grants to schools that participate in the program so they can continue teaching the importance of physical education and nutrition after the Challenge has ended.

The Walk On! Challenge is open to all fifth-grade classes in Arizona. Registration is required to ensure students who reach the 5-2-1-0 goal at least 15 days in the month will receive their rewards and be entered into a drawing for prizes. This year’s prizes include drawstring backpacks, iPod® Nanos and gift certificates for sporting equipment.

Arizona fifth-grade teachers and school administration members interested in registering for the Walk On! Challenge or who want to know more about the grant criteria can visit

Teacher tea time

I met a longtime librarian from Gilbert during a recent author booksigning event at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, where she was exploring a tall rack of costume-type hats with her adorable granddaughter pictured above in the princess hat that was clearly her favorite.

I hope she’s heard that Changing Hands Bookstore is holding its annual “Teachers’ Tea” this Sunday, Nov. 13 at 2pm. They’re inviting teachers, librarians and educators to the store for “appetizers, wine, tea, sweets, a 20% storewide discount, our recommended fall 2011 booklist, raffle prizes” and more.

The “Teachers’ Tea” is meant to honor teacher contributions to the local community. It’s part of a three-day “Teachers’ Appreciation Sale” inviting teachers to enjoy a 20% storewide savings Nov. 11-13.

Changing Hands Bookstore, a member of Local First Arizona, is located at 6428 S. McClintock Dr. in Tempe. They carry books, t-shirts, jewelry, puppets, holiday ornaments, educational toys, gift baskets and other goodies for folks seeking unique gifts for family, friends and teachers.

You can find Changing Hands Bookstore online at But visit them in person too, because half the fun is trying on all those hats!

– Lynn Trimble

A science competition and teacher grants

Two opportunities mined from our inboxes — one for high school students and one for teachers.

The Siemens Competition  in Math, Science & Technology awards scholarships from $1,000 to $100,000. With an Oct. 3 deadline, it’s probably too late for this year’s competition, but with $100K on the line it’s worth considering for next year.

Have a look at the 2010 winners. Brace yourself; the $100,000 individual winner’s project is titled: The Close Binary Fraction: A Bayesian Analysis of SDSS M Dwarf Spectra – Astrophysics. It’s by Benjamin Clark of Penn Manor High School in Millersville, Pa.  Clark is now attending CalTech.

A red dwarf star, type M near a spiral galaxy. Photo:Sloan Digital Sky Survey,

Siemens awards some monster scholarships, so they expect some serious science. If your child has what it takes, putting “won $100,000 Siemens Competition” on a college application would make him or her stand out, not to mention take care of a serious chunk of tuition.

For teachers, the Qwest Foundation, now CenturyLink, has $95,000 for Arizona Technology in Education Association (AzTEA) education grants. Grants will be awarded to “preK-12 teachers who demonstrate a project-based innovative use of technology with students.”

There is no guarantee technology works wonders, so teachers who have effective teaching strategies enhanced by effective use of technology will benefit from submitting their ideas.

Robert H. Goddard, Ph.D. (for whom Goddard Space Flight Center was named) is shown teaching physics at a blackboard at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. in 1924. Blackboards, which have been replaced by whiteboards and Smartboards, were an indispensable teaching technology for many years. NASA photo

Grants are due Nov. 4, with the option of getting early feedback on ideas for ideas submitted by Oct. 3.

Find out more about AzTEA grants.

–Dan Friedman

Veteran teachers offer test-taking strategies for college-bound students

Valley students can sharpen their test-taking skills through a PSAT preparation class offered several times throughout the year at the EAJ Institute, a division of New Vistas Center For Education.

The one-week class prepares students for the PSAT exams, also known as the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test. The exam is offered to students in grades 10 and beyond as preparation for the National Merit Scholar competition and the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).

The PSAT test measures a student’s critical reading skills, math problem-solving skills and writing skills. The test opens the competitive door to college entrance, scholarships and the National Merit Scholar Program, which qualifies and honors students who exhibit extraordinary academic capabilities.

Language arts teacher Stacey Trepanier. Photo courtesy of New Vistas Center for Education.

“There is such a thing as test-taking anxiety,” says Eleanor Jordan, Ph.D., director of EAJ Institute. “The only way to overcome this is to show students what to expect and equip them with reasoning strategies and tactics to arrive at the correct answers. When students take this five-session class they will be equipped, confident and prepared to perform at the pinnacle of their capabilities.”

The class is taught by language arts teacher Stacey Trepanier and math teacher Jim Barnette.

Trepanier is a Shakespearean coach and teacher of 18 years. She gives students tools to critically analyze reading passages and discern Greek and Latin root words to assess unfamiliar vocabulary. She also offers tips for constructing powerful essays.

Math teacher Jim Barnette. Photo courtesy of New Vistas Center for Educaiton.

Barnette, a 34-year veteran teacher, offers components of reasoning to give students the competitive edge in everything from simple math to data analysis, statistics and probability.

The PSAT is the preliminary requirement for taking the College Entrance Exam and serves as the initial step for participation in the National Merit Scholar Competition, an academic competition for recognition and college scholarships that began in 1955.

Class sizes are limited and specific schedules will be announced in September, 2011. Registration is required.

EAJ Institute, a division of New Vistas Center For Education, offers specialized classes and testing services to the Phoenix area at large. Its services include: academic and diagnostic testing, reasoning ability testing, PSAT/SAT preparation classes, gifted enrichment classes and workshops and a summer day school for pre-K through 2nd grade. The Institute is located on the New Vistas campus at 670 N. Arizona Ave, Suite 35, Chandler AZ 85225. For more information call 480-963-2313 or visit

Awarding all-star educators

There is nothing more critical to a child’s education than passionate, dedicated and enthusiastic teachers and school staff. With this school year coming to a close, now is the time to nominate those staff members you and your child consider exceptional.

Excellence in Teaching

The Arizona Educational Foundation is seeking nominations for Teacher of the Year, to recognize public school educators from pre-K through grade 12 who stand out as leaders within their schools and the community at large. An extraordinary teacher should demonstrate strong commitment to helping students perform at their best, and unparalleled talent for engaging students that is recognized and admired by students, parents and colleagues alike.

The winning teacher, to be chosen in November, will receive much more than a plaque and a handshake. He or she will be awarded $20,000, a laptop computer and a full scholarship to earn a master’s or doctorate degree in education at Argosy University. Additionally, the winning teacher will have the opportunity to compete for the honor of National Teacher of the Year, and to meet President Barack Obama!

Anyone who knows a deserving candidate for Teacher of the Year is welcome to submit a nomination, and outstanding teachers are free to nominate themselves as well. Nomination forms are available online at, or by email at, and will be accepted until August 5.

Excellence in Afterschool Programs

The Arizona Center for Afterschool Excellence is seeking nominations to recognize outstanding afterschool programs and staff across Arizona. The 2011 Afterschool Awards of Excellence include individual, program, and leadership categeories. On Nov. 9, a luncheon will be held to recognize those voted most exceptional in the state.

Nomination forms are available online at through June 15.

If your child had a great year in school thanks to  a superstar teacher or awesome afterschool program, please take this chance to thank those who worked to make it possible all year long! — Sadie Smeck

Young artists debut at Phoenix Art Museum

Desert Palms Elementary fourth graders on a field trip at the Phoenix Art Museum. Photo courtesy of Peoria Unified School District.

If you are proud to display your child’s artwork behind a magnet on the refrigerator, just imagine it hanging in a real art museum! For some Valley parents and kids, this dream came true.

Amidst of the exhibitions of work by famous artists and designers, 60 young students of Desert Palms Elementary School in Peoria had the chance this month to see their original artwork on display at the Phoenix Art Museum.

A donation of exhibit space from the Phoenix Art Museum made this unique opportunity possible for the lucky students. The museum also held a reception for the students and their parents, who were able to experience the student exhibition, as well as others in the museum.

The art teacher at Desert Palms, Marian Meadows, has collaborated with the museum in a year-long initiative to bring art into classrooms and students on field trips to see art on display at the museum.

Desert Palms is scheduled to display again at the Phoenix Art Museum in May 2013, the museum’s soonest available opening for exhibit space!

The student exhibition will be on display only through Memorial Day, so if you would like to see it, May 29 is your last chance.

Inspire your fledgling artist this weekend with a trip to the art museum to see what their young peers have been able to accomplish! — Sadie Smeck

Everyday heroes at Glendale Elementary School District

News from the Glendale Elementary School District:

Photo of Erik Parry and student courtesy of GESD.

Band teacher Erik Parry has a full schedule. Teaching classes at both Horizon and American schools is more than enough to keep him busy. But his passion for music lead him to offer free guitar lessons to fourth and fifth grade students at Horizon after school on Mondays.

“I figured I might get 20 kids to show up,” Parry said recently. “But they just kept coming, and coming, and coming.”

Parry never turned one student away.

It is because of this extraordinary effort that Parry — along with 49 other Glendale Elementary School District volunteers, parents and employees — will be honored at the inaugural GESD Everyday Heroes Award ceremony Wednesday, May 18.

Parry, who is in his first year with GESD, uses lessons and a book he developed to teach students how to play the guitar. By color coding the strings, his students begin to learn the fundamentals of guitar and music. The color codes are a set up that will allow students to play at higher level later on. They also lead to greater music knowledge. Color coded strings will give way to letter notes, and finally to sheets of music. Students play and solo throughout the class, and by the end of just two classes many of the students were able to play two or more songs.

“I just want them to be successful,” Parry says. “Success fixes everything. It keeps them playing and it keeps them coming.”

Others being recognized include:

Carlos Olivas, Jr., a seventh-grader from Don Mensendick school, who raised more than $2,000 at his school to benefit Francisco Felix, an Arizona resident in need of a liver transplant;

Virginia Ramos, an administrative secretary from Glenn F. Burton School whose efforts have increased parent participation at the school;

Connie Carpenter, a parent at Challenger school who serves on her school’s site council, and was instrumental in revitalizing her school’s parent group;

Cynthia and Mike Huerta, parents from Discovery Elementary School, who have volunteered innumerable hours as members of the school’s parent group;

Louise Jones, a 17-year volunteer at Sine and Coyote Ridge schools;

Tony Clemente, a prevention specialist from Desert Spirit whose intervention strategies have improved student behavior;

Sara Frentz, an art teacher at Isaac Imes, who not only works tirelessly in her classroom, but also has coached several Imes teams, and has organized her school’s annual Spring Fling arts celebration.

New Vistas students send love to the troops

Some people less than half her age are keeping track of U.S. Marine Platoon 2nd Lt. Emily Lyren. Second and fourth grade students at the New Vistas Center for Education, a private school in Chandler, have adopted Emily and her entire platoon as they serve a year in Afghanistan.

Joseph Nseir, Trevor Burgoyne and Runeli Hatalkar load up a package to send off to Afghanistan. (Photo by Nancy Machain)

A mother/daughter teaching team, Andrea Pearson, and her daughter Mandy Pearson, have personal ties to this group. Growing up, Mandy and Emily were best friends through elementary, middle and high school. After losing touch for a few years, Mandy heard that Emily would soon be deploying and they reunited.

Andrea then presented the idea to send Emily’s platoon some cards and gifts. Ever since, the students have been working on projects to make the troops smile.

“They are all for making the troops’ journey over there better, or at least more bearable, and love showing them that they care,” says Mandy.

All 40 members of the platoon have 46 pairs of little hands working hard at the Chandler school to make sure every soldier has something to look forward to when mail call rolls around. Whether it’s a letter with a joke, or a box filled with goodies like Pringles, the soldiers will be able to get a little taste of home,

“These soldiers often work 18 hour days in grueling heat at a remote combat post where personal time is in short supply,” says Andrea. “So imagine a soldier during ‘mail call’ hearing his or her name called out, and being able to physically hold something from home that instantly takes them away from the harshness of their surroundings, even if it’s only for a few minutes.”

2nd Lt. Emily Lyren, an Annapolis graduate, is commanding officer of a 40-man platoon deployed to Afghanistan in January 2011.

Emily made time to send a “thank you” back to the thoughtful students:

“It means more than people realize to get the cards and gifts from the students,” she wrote. “These packages bring such smiles to the faces of all my Marines. They love the pictures and take them and plaster the insides of their trucks and their rooms with them. They are a sweet reminder of home and they give the Marines a real boost in morale. They remind us of who we are fighting for. There are a small percentage of my Marines who don’t get many care packages, so to share one from these kids really makes their day. The drawings, the poems and letters — they are all so much appreciated.”

Recently, the platoon received another package of goodies, magazines and books. The soldiers especially loved the Debbie Macomber books and National Geographic magazines. — Veronica Jones

2nd Lt. Emily Lyren's platoon.