Chris Heumann's Classroom Contemplations

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Graduation Speech, 2011

I had a plan you know, before I got to this school.  
I was to coast passively towards early retirement over the next few years.  
But you kids, your families, and this staff thwarted that complacent plan, and
awakened in me an enthusiasm and exuberance that had been dormant for far too long.  
You see, while I taught at Kennedy, academic excellence was king,
but it was often at the expense of their desire for learning;
and at Peterson, last year, objective detachment had to be king,
and it was certainly at the expense of passion and personality.  

But at DCS, life is based on better values.  
We are governed by common sense rather than complex policy,
and learning emerges naturally from exploration, engagement and enthusiasm.  
Respect is abundant, dignity is the default, and community is king.  

As this class leaves the school that they and their families helped create, I have a new plan -
to honor your legacy, embrace the possibilities that this school empowers,
and live up to its (and my) fullest potential for years to come.

Class of 2011, you have taught others as much as you have learned yourselves,
you have modeled more humanity than has been asked of you,
and you have built healthy habits of mind and solid houses of morality.  

So, what can I offer you as parting words of wisdom?  
None of my own, actually -- I lack the required brevity and poignancy.  
But keep at least one of the following famous quotes at hand -
it may help you put a strange situation into perspective or guide you through a tough decision.

  • Always be a first-rate version of yourself... rather than a second-rate version of somebody else.
  • Those who say it cannot be done... should never interrupt those who are actually doing it.
  • Keep in mind that neither success nor failure... are ever final.
  • If you always know what you are doing... you'll probably just get bored.
  • Common sense is instinct...  and enough of it is pure genius.
  • A slave is a person who waits for someone else to set them free.
  • And my favorite “If the people lead, the leaders will follow”.
Go take the lead.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Frontage Road Meets the Freeway

Education is a journey that can take many paths. An “alternative” education is one that takes the experiential and scenic routes through the varied landscapes of learning as compared to the fast paced straight and narrow freeway thoroughfares of traditional education. The philosophies, passions, and practices of the former are grounded in the belief that students thrive when they have influence over the content, style, and assessment of their own learning. The latter, in drastic contrast usually follows a prescribed one-size-fits-all model where individuality is the exception and conformity is crucial to the efficacy of the system.  Visualize, then, the onramp from the frontage road to the freeway -- where those drivers who are accustomed to the pace and peace of the rural route are merging with the tunnel-visioned drivers who are accustomed to the speed and straight lanes of endless interstate.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Arriving Home and Taking Root
After meeting the students, parents, and colleagues at DCS, I realize that I was likely separated at birth from my true family and now I'm back home again. My teaching practice had become a bit sterilized by the pressures of large-institution protocols and yet I barely knew it -- frog in the heating water syndrome. As I've assimilated into DCS, I find my core beliefs about teaching surfacing and taking root in the fertile soils of this school's philosophies, practices, and personalities. There is likely to be much growth during this first year, and I feel great about it.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Getting Fired Up for Fall
Starting in the middle of August I will be embarking on a journey into a landscape that is new to me but looks very exciting. Adventure awaits and it is accompanied by a bit of trepidation and insecurity. I am accustomed to "having it all together" as each year starts -- a solid course outline, a plethora of tried-and-true lessons, and an efficient set of procedures and routines for almost anything. So, this coming year will be a test of my versatility, trust, and the strength of my convictions that student-centered cross-curricular educational practices.
Many pages of my website are new and in (very) draft form.... brain-dump level notes from and to myself. But the strong structure and endless cabinets (digital and actual) upon which I could draw daily activities and curricular context doesn't exits yet. So, for this first year of teaching ELA and PhySci I think that it will be best to focus on creating great lessons and learning experiences rather than on creating the "ultimate game plan" for the entire year. I have 3 weeks to go so I better start gettin' to work.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Six Months That Saved My Life:
After teaching 7th grade science for 21 years, I'm doing something new... not doing it. I'm on leave for 6 months and certainly making the best of it. I've lost weight, worked on the house, gotten to know my kids' lives, visited my dad, and biked through sunny days and winter storms.

Friday, April 24, 2009

New growth and new hope. My December post had quite a bit of gloom in it, so I thought I would balance it with a more positive attitude that reflects the improvements in student grades. Regarding work load and student performance, I simply changed the expectations in order have grades based more on class time activities and less on homework. The number of F's dwindled and more than half the kids in all my classes moved into the A range. Did they amp up their efforts? Not really. I just made the high grades more attainable. Plus... after the grades were high, I didn't add many 'hard' assignments until the quarter closed. Copout? Maybe. But, I'm also a firm believer that students like to continue to get good grades once they are getting them.
It is now the beginning of fourth quarter and I'm back to pushing hard and challenging the kids with extension activities that are open-ended and are designed to go beyond the "just for the points" level of motivation. Funny thing about things like extra credit, though... the kids that don't need it, do it, and the kids that do need it don't do it. More on that topic next time.

Friday, December 12, 2008

It Takes Hard Work to Learn Well
The scores on the unit 5 test have me frustrated. For almost every kid who didn't do well, I can pull up many images and instances of them tuning out in class, being off-task with friends, and/or not responding to my abundant requests for them to pay attention, participate, and follow directions. I wish I could make them see the clear connection between their classroom actions and the grades they receive.
For every test item I gave, I could find the part of an assignment, reading, or activity from which and understanding of the content should have been gained. Everything we do in class is important and every assignment I give is important. The kids have to work hard and play along with me in order to learn the science topics and ideas for this year. Hard work seems prohibitively repulsive to some of the kids in my classes.
No matter how much I try to present each lesson with relevance, engagement, structure, and reward, there is still much action required on the part of the kids for the lessons to turn to learning and the learning to turn to understanding. I'm struggling with the whole idea of how much harder I should work to set them up for success, and how much they should have to work to achieve that success. At this point, I believe that it is in their court (and power) to take me up on what I have to offer.

About Me

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Teacher of seventh grade life science in Sunnyvale and Director of the MERIT Teacher Technology Training Program at Foothill College..."Making Education Relevant and Interactive through Technology"