Saturday, November 16, 2019

Ask the Narrator: Apps

Warning: The narrator of this blog is "going there".

Ask the Narrator: An App

What do you think about an app that helps parents to easily communicate with teachers towards the educational welfare of students both at school and at home?


I’d have to look at it to be able to say. A few things about your question jump out, though.

“app” & “easily communicate” — you mean like email, texting, facebook clone, instagram, whatsapp, slack, messenger, facetime, …?

As a teacher, I don’t want this much communication with every one of my students parents because my job is teaching, not socializing. The biggest problem teachers have with parents is getting them to let go the reins, stop the constant hovering, … essentially to back off and let their children learn in peace.

Younger children need more oversight, but high school kids much less so. Juniors and seniors are nearly adults. HS is the time to learn self-control, self-motivation, learn from mistakes, break away from Momma and get out of bed on their own, take responsibility for their own education …. now, before it costs $30,000 per year.

“Educational welfare” — what does that even mean?

“at school and at home” — Children at school are my responsibility not the parents’. Children at home are their parents’ responsibility, not mine. Mixing these is where the most egregious problems happen.

Unless, of course, if you’d like me to express my opinions on your ability to cook a nutritious meal, refrain from attending that ridiculous church, comment on your parenting skills, criticize your gun control views, tell you that your kid should be studying rather than having a part-time job, question your support of Trump despite all the evidence, point out that being poor is your fault … and let’s not get into the fact that your divorce from the third man in your kid’s life is really messing her up and causing psychological problems.

Before you argue that all of that would never happen because teachers are just peachy-keen and awesome, supportive people, I have to mention that each one of those comments did happen in local districts or in my own district, and everyone wasn’t particularly happy. (Side note: being a union representative can be soooo interesting, sometimes)

I guess I’ve answered your question, after all.

I don’t want that app.

Fortunately for me, you don’t either.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Ask the Narrator: Taxes for Education

"I'm sick of paying for everyone else's kids to go to school. Why can't people without children pay smaller amounts of school tax than people with children?"

Ask The Narrator

Because you’re not paying for a child to go to school. You are paying taxes in a town, and that town is funding a school for any child who lives in the district. You aren’t driving on every road the town maintains, nor using all of the services available, or even paying all that much and you may have children in that district someday.

Mostly, you are living in a civilized society and that society believes that every child deserves an education.

Some numbers. I pay about $3000 per year on my property taxes for education. I will probably pay those taxes from age 24 - 64 (after that, education taxes are minimal or zero) - so a total contribution of $120,000, which sounds like a lot but it's over 40 years. However, the town guarantees an education to any child … all of mine, any step children, foster children, grandchildren if the kids get in trouble and can’t take care of them, children of relatives if we all want them to be in a better school system, immigrant children if we decide to sponsor them, … each one costing about $15,000 per year. And that’s just my household. Homeless or orphaned, single parent or two, black or white or something in between, disabled or genius or both or neither, athlete or nerd.

My lifetime taxes pay for one child, K-9th grade. Cheap at the price.

It’s just like buying home insurance that you never used because your house never burns down ... but you bought it anyway.

Then, we have the argument that "I don't want my kids to go to public school ... why can't I spend MY money the way I want to? Gimme a full-tuition voucher to a private school."

Because it isn't your money. You don't get to contribute $3000 per year and get a check for $30,000 to send your two kids to Catholic School. And, as above, that tax money is being used by the town to provide an inexpensive education for its citizens. If you don't want to take advantage of that offer, that's fine, but you don't then get to demand they pay for your whims.

If your local school sucks, perhaps you might consider helping to change it and fix it instead of selfishly trying to destroy it with no replacement.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Ask The Narrator: Mandatory College For All

Recently, the Narrator was asked if college would ever be made mandatory like K12 is. The narrator says no.

Ask The Narrator

"Will college ever be mandatory?" 

K-12 students, by and large, are not yet adults. You can’t require college for adults. 

Being the Narrator allows for extending the question.

"Should there be college for all?"

College isn’t for everyone in the first place, isn’t appropriate for many who do wind up going, and isn’t appropriate for everyone at the exact age they graduate high school.

No, the most you can do is put policies into place to encourage college for all, but you need to have some mechanisms to keep out those who don’t really want to be there.

"Should there be programs to offer aid (up to free tuition) to all?" 


Four-year college is the pinnacle in the minds of most Americans, but that's ridiculous. Two-year degrees are just as worthwhile to many people because of differing aspirations, abilities, and life situations. So are tech programs, certifications programs and that sort of thing. 

If we can provide tuition for a four-year degree at a State School (which I think we can and should do), why not also help out with the retraining costs for someone who wants to be a long-haul trucker and help them get a CDL? Why not help the office worker who wants to retrain as an accountant?

Why should we wait for the plant to close and lay off all its workers before we help them get training in another field if they want to put in the considerable time and effort?

Monday, November 4, 2019

Ask the Narrator: SAT prep tactics

Ask the Narrator

Q: How do I prepare for the math SAT?

A: Hard work. There is no "Royal Road to Success."

Learn math every day.

Practice math every day.

Take your courses seriously every day.

See math problems as a challenge you can beat, not a chore you have to suffer through.

It takes deliberate practice, like the stuff you do to improve at soccer or chess, instead of half-assing your way through something just to finish it; that's the only way to succeed at anything, especially math.

Improve your arithmetic skills: mental math (for quick estimation), fractions, percents. Not having to worry about these will free your mind for more complicated parts of the questions.

Practice reading word problems and converting to algebra - there are plenty of questions like this on the SAT. You can find 8 sample tests on the collegeboard website - download them and take them.

Find out if anyone in your school has taken the SAT and requested (and paid for) the wrong answer report. If you can afford it, request it yourself when you take the test. Reviewing these questions helps a lot.

Finally, understand that the SAT is made up of the stuff you learned in:
  • Pre-Algebra (the statistics questions are at this level), 
  • Algebra 1 (especially word problems in systems of linear equations), 
  • Geometry, and a smidgeon of trig (mostly the right-triangle trig from ch8 in Geometry),
  • Algebra 2 (the raw, pure algebra of weird-looking expressions that factor nicely, etc.).

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Ask the Narrator: Class size

In the spirit of all of those movies with a Narrator voice-over ...

It's the Inaugural Episode of ...

Ask The Narrator

What is the optimal classroom size for creating the best quality learning environment?

I like my math classes between 10 and 18.

Fewer than 10 leads to too much of a tutoring situation. The student has to be “on” at all times, and misses out on being able to sit back and consider while someone else asks that same “dumb” question.

More than 18 allows students to hide and you can’t “check in” with them enough in a class period and they don’t learn as much or as well.

More than 24 kids in a class means that the kids on the edges are essentially taking a live-action but on-line class. They don’t ask questions, they don’t work very hard, they skate through and maybe learn something - or not; it’s as if you weren’t even there.