This is my space to rant and rave, vent and vex about education, my passion. I am calling it "Mining for Hidden Gems" because of the above quote and because as a teacher, my job is to look for those gems. The real valuable ones are not usually on the surface. You have to dig deep to find them.

I am also borrowing from Katherine Bomer's wonderful book Hidden Gems: Naming and Teaching From the Brilliance in Every Student's Writing. It has changed the way I look at not just student work but students themselves and all people around me.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

If Teachers Were Doctors

Let me first give my reasons as to why teachers are like doctors:
  • Uneducated individuals are a burden to the rest of the society, as much as or more than unhealthy ones.
  • The effects of good and bad teaching are life-long and consequential, much like the results of good and bad medicine.
  • A good teacher must "diagnose" every student in order to be able to teach him or her in the most effective way possible.  This is not an easy task because many times the student cannot articulate his or her difficulty, or the teacher does not have all the resources to perform an accurate assessment of the learning problem.  In addition, one teacher usually has to manage twenty or more "patients" simultaneously and single handedly.
Now, if we agree that the job of the teacher is just as valuable as a medical doctor's, then we must:
  • Treat teachers with the same professionalism as doctors and consider them "specialists" in their fields
  • Have educators set the standards for educators and not politicians
  • Free them from administrative and non-teaching tasks so they can focus on instruction. (Would you interrupt a doctor during a visit or operation? Why do we feel then that it is O.K. to interrupt teachers during their instruction?)
  • And yes, we would pay teachers as well as we do doctors.
Of course, if we want to be treated as a professional and an expert in our field, we as teachers must:
  • Raise the standards for entering teacher preparation programs.
  • Increase the rigor of studies in education.
  • Expect teachers to keep their practice up to date and use only the most effective and research based strategies.
  • Accept to be reviewed by our peers (just as doctors do)
  • Hold ourselves responsible for our practice.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Sliver Of Something Different

Years ago I read a book by Leon Dash called Rosa Lee: A Mother and Her Family in Urban America.  It is the biography of a drug addicted, AIDS infected grandmother on welfare as well as  the story of her children.  Well written and gripping, Dash writes about how six of Rosa's eight children lived a similar life of poverty, illiteracy and crime, whereas two of them were able to escape that cycle.  One of them  started along the same path, but was arrested for robbery at a very early age.  The experience was enough to scare him straight.  But the part of this story that I keep retelling is the reason why the eighth child broke away and was able to make a middle class life for himself. It turns out that because he was a good natured, quiet child he would get invited to classmates' homes to play and he would notice that not everyone lived as he did.  He had caught a glimpse into another world and it was enough to convince him that there was a different way to live than what he was accustomed to.

Most of our job as teachers is really about showing that sliver of something different to our students.  Who knows, maybe that novel, that field trip, that special guest, that personal interest we took in them, will be the one factor that tips the balance in their lives towards a positive future.  We have no control over what goes on in their homes. But we cannot afford to waste one moment of the time they are in our classrooms with benign busy work.

A few weeks ago, I saw a student who knew me briefly as a substitute teacher in her class when she was in fourth grade.  She was working in a restaurant where I was picking up some food for my family.  Even though she is now a young woman old enough to work, I recognized her and smiled.  She came over to me and said: "I remember you!  You were our substitute teacher and you read us that book, Esperanza Rising."  Children do remember!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Would you rather educate or rehabilitate?

I am reading Stones into Schools by Greg Mortenson of the Three Cups of Tea fame, and came across these statistics:  "In the impoverished hinterlands of the western Himalayas, $20 is enough to educate a first grader for an entire year, $340 can send a girl to four years of high school on a full-ride scholarship, $50,000 is sufficient to build and outfit an eight-room schoolhouse and endow the teachers' salaries for the first five years."  I know these numbers do not compare to the cost of education in the U.S., but I do know one thing:  It costs a whole lot less to educate a child than to rehabilitate an adult, no matter where we are in this world.  The same source also cites World Bank studies that show how one year of primary school can result in an income bump of 10 to 20 percent for women later in life.  Where girls are educated infant mortality rates drop significantly after one generation, as does population growth. So whenever there is a choice we must invest in education.

For the past two years, my family and I have been hosting a dinner to raise money for a very small school in one of the poor neighborhoods of El Salvador, where our daughter worked as a volunteer for 11 months.  The $500 or so that we have managed to raise each year, has paid for the education of two to three students. It may not be much, but it is our contribution to the constructive forces at work in the world.  This year's event is on February 25th.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Before I forget: The good, the bad and the ugly at the 2011 TCEA

So I went to my first Texas Computer Education Association's annual conference last week and like most of these things it was hit and miss. But I am glad to say that most of my time was spent in hit sessions. I wanted to jot down here those things that I thought I would definitely want to explore further, as a reminder to actually do them!!!

The Good

1. This blog right here is the first thing I learned from Tammy Worcester ( She knows that if things aren't easy, we won't do them for very long. She showed how you can set up a blog in 2 minutes (if you don't get too picky about fonts and layouts) and keep it updated from your phone or e-mail account. She also showed how to make your own maps on, write your lesson plans on and link them to your blog, keep one calendar of events, activities and to dos on Google Calendar and even do a live podcast on

2. I also learned how to actually publish my own book! There are several sites that allow you to do this. I used http://www.bookemon.comto publish this little book that I made back in 2003 to teach Spanish to English speaking first and second graders. It was so satisfying!

3. I met some dedicated people from Weslaco ISD down in the Rio Grande Valley who work with the parents of their students to close the gap in their child's achievement in the pre-school years. They use iPads and iPods to engage both the parents and their young ones in learning literacy and English language skills. They send home activities and materials so parents and children can spend quality time together. (Isn't that what middle class kids get from their parents?) They talked about "eduplates" (see which are a set of six dinner plates with letters and numbers and accompanying activities and songs, as well as sending home Texas Kids Learn materials from so parents can work with their child at home and during school breaks. I really appreciated their emphasis on giving disadvantaged parents the tools and the knowledge to empower themselves and their children because that is what will really make the difference.

4. I also enjoyed the idea of connecting classrooms around the world and making learning real and relevant through on-line projects. Kids can join projects to talk about books and events. Here are some examples:,,,,,

The Bad

The bad sessions weren't really that bad; they were just rehashing of the same set of Web 2.0 tools presented in a different context. I guess when you are from Leander ISD, it is hard to find these trainings completely new and interesting because so often we have seen them already in a much more relevant and interesting setting. For example, I heard about the Web 2.0 and its tools for 21st Century learners, last year at our Instructional Services retreat.

And . . .

Now for the ugly. When people, especially teachers, insult the precious act of reading with rewards (read bribes) I have to say something. A large number of people turned out to hear a session on using the Wii to teach reading. Well, that's what they thought it was going to be about. Instead it was all about how to bribe kids with time to play on one teacher's Wii if they earned enough points on their Accelerated Reader program (another insult to the act of reading.) My colleagues were surprised at my display of self-control in that particular session as I did not challenge the presenter or the rest of the very engaged audience on their belief that reading is its own reward.

I also saw a comment scrawled on one of the public posting places that said something like: Examine technology, explore teaching. Because really, it is all about teaching and there are teachers in this world that do it with a stick and a patch of dirt.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A New Start

Two years ago I started a blog and I got as far as naming it!  I got so bogged down with all the mechanical details of it that I forgot the reason I wanted to have a blog in the first place.  This week I spent two days at the Texas Computer Education Association's annual conference in Austin and one of the first sessions I attended was on blogging.  It got me excited all over again and it gave me some real cool tools to make it a manageable task.  So here I go again!

This will be my space to rant and rave, vent and vex about education, my passion.  I am calling it "Mining for Hidden Gems" because of the following quote:

"Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value.  Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures."  -Bahá'u'lláh

As a teacher, my job is to look for those gems.  The real valuable ones are not usually on the surface.  You have to dig deep to find them.

I am also borrowing from Katherine Bomer's wonderful book Hidden Gems: Naming and Teaching From the Brilliance in Every Student's Writing.  It has changed the way I look at not just student work but students themselves and all people around me.