Snowplow Parents and Personalized Advising

snowplowI must admit, I might very well be a snowplow parent. I’ve seen a series of articles lately come across my computer screen that make me increasingly worried that I am. From the A Nation of Wimps post on Psychology Today  to the host of articles proclaiming the evils of snowplow parents (Google it, my friends- lots more out there to read), I see some of myself reflected.

Not two minutes ago, my 17 year old son popped his head in the door on his way out to an event, telling me he will text when he arrives and when he leaves. I see such behavior as respect, albeit in a 21st century manner. My parents asked the same of us, but we used a telephone connected to the wall. My retired parents even texted me yesterday to let me know they had arrived at a trip destination. Respect. And safety. I don’t see that as being a snow plow anything.  Nor do schools and communities, given the removal of any piece of playground equipment that might lead to an injury,  the legislation requiring teens to drive later and later with more and more restrictions, and the involvement of social services in the lives of families due to what would previously been considered good parenting. But these things may very well be contributing to a fundamental shift in development in our teens. If anything, we have a snowplow society. And I’m worried. How do I require responsibility when every other part of their world tells them to stay immature?

Obviously, my educational technology background has me twigging to the part technology plays in this arena. These articles seem to indicate that cell phones are an ‘umbilical cord’ that means students never truly get away from their parents. I must admit to feeling the same thing when hearing a friend discuss how her college age children text or call at least once a day to check-in. This parent believes that is a sign of respect towards the people who are footing the bill for expensive degrees.

And therein lies part of the problem. As higher education has increased in cost, so has parental involvement. Quite honestly, I understand that. We are looking at a minimum of 16 years of college for our four children…. and it’s an astounding amount of money. We teach our children personal fiscal responsibility with an emphasis on being debt-free. I personally view it as my job to decrease that amount as much as possible by advocating for my students at the high school level. There are many options available to students (and when I say that I should probably say ‘parents’) that can cut the cost of higher education in half. We now have one student enrolled concurrently in the public school system/community college and another enrolled in an early college model charter…. with the younger two planning to follow the latter path. Would they have sought out these options on their own? No. Will this impact their life for decades to come? Yes. Students can no longer work over the summer to pay for school- it would take my son roughly a full year of 60-hour work weeks at a greater than minimum wage job to pay for ONE year of college.

For my eldest, it took an adult sitting down to show him the cost of his modest educational path (in-state at a four year public university) to help him truly understand why I push and harp and press about his enrollment choices in high school. He can save a measly $38,000 by taking advantage of concurrent enrollment and credit-by-examination options. Does that matter to us? Yes! Does he totally get the impact of that money yet? No. But he will.

This video is a priceless satirical piece from The Onion entitled  “Man Doesn’t Know How Parents Are Going to Pay Off His Massive Student Loan Debt”.

In spite of this snowplow stigma, I won’t apologize for advocating for him and saving our family tens of thousands of dollars. I won’t apologize for making phone calls to verify that classes my high school student is taking at a junior college will transfer appropriately to his four year university of choice. I won’t apologize for reminding him of his options and helping him understand the ramifications of his choices.

Why not?

Because our current education system does not provide a clear path for students as higher education is getting pulled further and further back into secondary education. Students have often completed graduation requirements by junior year. Middle schoolers are taking courses that were once only available in high school. Kindergarteners are expected to read, rather than play and explore a social introduction to school.

High school students need an advocate. They need an advisor who is able to spend more than 5 minutes making sure the paperwork is completed for the following year. They need options explained to them in a personalized manner, not using formal terms in a mass student assembly.Families need involved in the process as well, given the economic ramifications of decisions made by students. They need to know about concurrent, gap year, credit by exam, internships, and personalized learning opportunities. High school advising needs to be truly personalized and tailored to each student, which takes time. Much more time than high school guidance counselors currently have available. College advising also needs to provide education in available options beyond the factory model of meeting diploma requirements. Prescriptive advising is not enough when the stakes are so high. Most importantly, there needs to be a bridge between high school and college advising for students.

If students had such an advocate, I think snowplow parents might just be able to relax. I know I could. For now, I’ll be the one acting as their advisor until I can pass that task on.


Edupunk for Hire

[media-credit name=” stock.xchng” align=”alignright” width=”202″][/media-credit]I’m now an ‘edupunk for hire’ ((The edupunk part right now, and always.  The ‘for hire’ part as soon as I get my CDE Alternative Certification papers.)).  As I completed my Bachelors of Arts in History this semester, I began very earnestly researching the best way to further my education.  Did  you catch that last phrase? Read it again. The best way to further my education.

What furthers my education….. is certainly not the boxed solution that graduate programs in the field of education offer. ((It’s amazing to me that we continue to ship graduate degrees in a ‘one-size-fits-all’ box given the level of differentiation that occurs in the public school system.))  I was almost sold on Western Governor’s University because they are so ‘outside-the-box’.  As a matter of fact, I plunked down $65 to begin the application process.  I appreciate their willingness to think outside the traditional education paradigm, and to try to offer something new and different- namely a competency-based approach.  However, this week I learned that although the wrappings are more a la Anya Kamenetz ((Author of DIY University[openbook booknumber=”ISBN:1603582347″ templatenumber=”1″])), the underlying principles are still very traditional.  My question to my enrollment counselor was this:

“If I begin the MAT with Licensure program, but find a full-time teaching position through the Alternative Licensure program in my state and gain a license, do I have to leave my job in the classroom in order to complete the student teaching portion of my Masters?”

Guess what they said? YES.  Let’s review.  Teaching full-time as a certified teacher, but must stop to student teach in order to graduate and become a certified teacher.  What’s wrong with this picture?  The most frustrating part of this is that WGU will not convert ANY of the credits from the MAT with Licensure program towards the strictly MAT program.  None. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Here’s where I decide to go all ‘edupunk‘.  I’m done trying to make a graduate program work for me. ((It’s interesting to note that it doesn’t make much of a salary difference- a BA plus 15 classes is the same as a Masters on my District’s Salary Schedule.)) I’m tired of hearing teachers tell me they didn’t learn things they needed to know in college. I’m tired of being the customer, and being treated like a recipient at a local food bank.  Seriously, if you wanted into Wal-mart, and they gave you a pre-loaded shopping bag that you had no choice in selecting, would you go back there?  What happens if you already have a case of Tomato soup?  Do you need the one they gave you?  What happens if you know that fresh vegetables are better for you, and don’t want the canned ones they’re force feeding you?  Doesn’t the same thing apply for our education? I want to pick my own goods, thank you very much.  Note that this does not mean that I’m opting out of learning- quite the opposite.  I’m opting IN to learning in a way that feeds my needs.

Since I’m half-way through my second year in the classroom, I’m feeling very aware of my own ‘incompetencies’.  This is the opposite of WGU’s competency based approach.  Rather than show mastery of concepts they think I need to know, I’d like to gain mastery in my areas of incompetency.  Yes, that’s a very negative word to use, but it is the antonym of competency.  I’m reminded of a discussion I recently participated in regarding the evaluation process, in which we discussed how easy things would be if the evaluee came to his boss with a prepared list of growth areas based on his self-assessed weaknesses. If self-assessment is so valuable for students, shouldn’t it be even more so for us as educators?  If we don’t already know where we’re struggling, the battle for competency is much harder.

I know my weaknesses. ((As I define these more clearly, I’ll post on them and the things I am doing to overcome them.)) I know, roughly, the areas that will cause me to struggle in the classroom. Daily, my PLN helps me clarify those weaknesses.  They stretch my understanding, challenge my assumptions, and generally keep me humble. Weekly, my local co-workers show me areas where I need to see with different eyes or hear with different ears… or take a walk in their shoes!

I know my strengths, too. This means I don’t need to spend time on courses that teach how to use the Internet for research or how to teach children to use computers.  That’s my first love, and passion in education.  It is worth acknowledging these, and being aware that they can be the flip side of a weak area.

Next semester, I’ll turn in all my Alternative Licensure Candidate application papers. I’ll be starting a few carefully selected courses through Adams State University to make myself a better teacher.  I think what excites me most is that I’ll use many of the assignments in those courses as blog posts because they are about reflective learning.  One course even centers around a book by Daniel Pink that’s already on my “To Read” list.

I am taking responsibility for my own learning, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that personalizing my own higher education will make me a more effective and excellent teacher.  The challenge? Selling that concept to potential employers and co-workers in the traditional education realm.  Edupunk for hire, anyone? ((If you’re in the Northern Colorado area and think a passionate educator with a fresh perspective is just what you need in your building next fall, I’d welcome the opportunity to talk with you.))