The Reader You Test, The Teacher You Get

I thoroughly enjoyed preparing for the exam this week because it felt like reminiscing. It was an easy walk down memory lane because the fundamentals of chemistry have not changed since my high school tour in the 70’s. Catching up with everything else, however, may be a Rip Van Winkle experience.

Testing has certainly changed. I was instructed to bring two forms of photo identification and be prepared to submit to a palm vein scan. Hopefully no needles will be involved. No personal items, including watches, are allowed in the exam room. When I asked about pencil and paper, I was told that for “security reasons, a white board and a dry-erase marker” will be provided. The test will be 255 minutes long with 125 questions.

My attitude has changed. The closer I came to the exam, the more excited I became. I circled around each chapter to get different perspectives. I was online with the likes of Kahn Academy and in person at the Public Library.  I realized that this is the first time in my life that I have had the luxury of focusing on one subject for long stretches of uninterrupted time and I wanted to make the most of it. Former classmates will vouch for the extent of this change, if they believe it.

I imagine that teaching has also changed. I wonder what smart phones, teacher evaluations, content flipping, new standards, online text books, and BYOD have done to the classroom that I remember. I wonder about the teachers that I remember: how would they feel about today’s expectations? Parker Palmer describes teaching as a communal, moral, internal journey. Charlotte Danielson models that teachers are masters of four domains, 22 components, and 76 elements. TeachPlus proposes that teachers are leaders and shapers of public policy. State Departments expect that teachers provide continuous improvement as measured by student test scores.

Which leads to the biggest question of all: How have the students changed?

I hope to learn the answers to some of these questions at Interface 2014 this week, or at least meet teachers who have the same questions. Meanwhile, as Vitale wrote and Walsh sang:

“I can remember all the good times

Put ’em in a book of memories

Hopin’ that our book will never end

Hopin’ that our book will never end.”

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Parker Palmer

Charlotte Danielson


Interface 2014

The Beginning of the End

I learned a few things about pressure last week. It started when I looked at my syllabus and realized that there are only two chapters between me and the final exam. Suddenly, visions of my first day as a bumbling novice loomed large with lots of sweaty details. Then my usually latent test anxiety kicked in. I agree with philosopher Peter Koestenbaum that anxiety “is not something to get over” and that understanding it is “the beginning of an authentic life”, but between the writer’s block and the sleeplessness I was not having fun.

Fortunately, we chemists know how to use pressure to our advantage. We compress gases every day so that you can fill up tires and basketballs, transport truckloads of hydrogen, and dispense just enough helium to make funny voices.  The Ideal Gas Law, PV=nRT, gives us a way to understand how pressure (P) varies with the volume of the container (V), the amount of gas molecules (n), and temperature (T). R is a constant that holds it all together. Solving for P= (nRT) / V we see that as volume goes up, pressure goes down. As the amount of gas or the temperature increases, the pressure also increases. This is probably the most intuitively obvious formula that exists.

Since there is no formula for self-inflicted pressure, I decided to change my isolating equation of study+quiz+blog+repeat by adding a reality constant. First step: I scheduled my final exam for February 27th. It felt good to take control of my fate, or at least my schedule. My home coach always encourages me to get classroom time during my training, so I contacted Appleton City Public Schools and Rockhurst High School for some classroom observation and substitute teaching. Finally, I talked to a retired teacher. Her repeated assurances that there is no amount of work that will adequately prepare me for the first year were not reassuring. However, I did appreciate her recommendation to attend Interface 2014, which is a three day conference sponsored by Missouri University and the Missouri Department of Education for high school Math and Science teachers.

Will I find other people that feel the same way I do about Chemistry? Will I find my “Community of Truth”, so beautifully drawn by Parker Palmer, in The Courage to Teach?  Stay tuned.

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