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