Archive | May, 2012

On testing

24 May

I liked the story Bill Ayers told (in To Teach, 2010) about his son taking a standardized test:

Once, when Malik was telling me about his week of standardized testing, I asked “Did you learn anything from it?” He looked at me with mild disgust. “Bill,” he said patronizingly, “it was a test.” (p 125)

However, Ayers definitely believes we can learn things from standardized tests. Like the bias of those who wrote them. I found this cartoon on Pinterest and was struck by how aptly it applies to Ayers’ disgust for standardized tests.


Singing in the classroom

23 May

One of our readings earlier this quarter described a classroom where the students all sang together. Remember, we don’t have to sing “Twinkle Twinkle” or “Old MacDonald.” We can sing things like Matisyahu, and have amazing classroom moments like this.

My Desk

23 May

Inspired by the video “people and their desks” and by EduSuz, here is a picture of my workspace.

I can’t even call it a desk, because there are five pieces of furniture in the mix here. The black piece is an old vanity, which is theoretically my desk. My computer sits on our dining table because there is no room on my desk (it’s very small, and I am more of an “Einstein” when it comes to my desk. There is a filing cabinet upon which my printer/scanner sits, and behind the table is a bookshelf where I keep all my textbooks, notes, and supplies. The cabinet with photos on top holds most of the equipment that my business partner and I use to make natural beauty products – inside is beeswax, shea butter, and all sorts of fun goodies.

This “desk” space is temporary – in July I will get to move into our second bedroom and pull my actual desk out of storage. I’m excited to have a little more space to spread out.

Sunday I was having brunch with one of my friends, telling her that I felt like I was completely unorganized. She laughed and told me she thinks I seem like one of the most organized people she knows. I guess everyone has a different definition of organization!

Becoming a kind teacher

22 May

On Friday night, I had the opportunity to attend a screening of Finding Kind, a documentary about aggression in girls.

We’ve been talking about bullying in class, and I thought the film would add an interesting element to what we’ve discussed, especially in the Middle School Learners course.

But I didn’t expect it to affect me so personally. I had literally blocked out a lot of the bad experiences I had in school, with girls being nice one minute and mean the next. I can think of three separate instances in which I suddenly without any friends because the girls I considered to be my “best friends” had suddenly decided they no longer wanted to be friends. I’m sure I was just as mean to other girls. Exclusion, gossip, name-calling, even physical bullying happen to girls, and it extends into adulthood. Our popular culture enforces it. Magazines scream at us about what female celebrity is fat, which actress is cheating on her husband, and who wore the ugliest dress to the Oscars. Reality TV focuses on women trying to outdo other women, and usually include at least one session of hair pulling/screaming/name calling (slut, whore, bitch, etch…) Our society has made it normal and expected to be a Mean Girl.

In her “Bill of RIghts for Girls” in Rethinking Our Classrooms, Volume 2, Mary Blalock says, out of 2600 girls surveyed, 60% of the elementary aged girls said they were happy with themselves, but only 29% of the high school girls surveyed agreed. What happens to young women between elementary and high school to cause such a shift in how we see ourselves? Why are we so mean to each other, when we should be helping each other out?

The book Queen Bees and Wannabes, by Rosalind Wiseman, is an exploration of why teen girls act the way they do, and how parents can help them survive their teen years. As you may know, the book was the basis of the movie Mean Girls. If you haven’t seen this movie, please do. Not only is it hilarious (as it should be, since it was penned by the one and only Tina Fey), it is also a pretty spot-on depiction of “girl world” in high school.

Ms. Wiseman talks about the movie and the book:

She has since re-written the book, including information on how “girl world politics” affect younger girls, and how technology is affecting girl-on-girl bullying. Cyberbullying is becoming more and more of an issue in schools, and no one seems to know how to deal with it.

So, bullying exists. Girl-on-girl bullying is a big problem that doesn’t get as much attention, because it’s usually not physical. However, it can cause lasting harm. What can we, as educators, do about it?

After the screening of Finding Kind, the audience had the opportunity to fill out “Kindness Pledges” in which we could pledge to spread kindness. The audience was about 95% female, with girls as young as 8 or 9. A few women and girls stood up to read their pledges, just as girls and women do in the film, and in the Finding Kind workshops that happen all over the country.

Here’s my kindness pledge:

I pledge to model kindess in my daily life. I pledge to show my students that kindness is always the best policy. I pledge to stop judging other women before getting to know them, and to stop using derogatory words like bitch, slut, and whore. I pledge to be kind to my students, friends, co-workers, colleagues, and even to strangers, because everyone deserves kindness.


Here’s a final clip from Mean Girls, because Tina Fey just says it so well:

(plus, hilarious.)


Becoming a passionate teacher

9 May

Watching the talk given by Ken Robinson really got me thinking about my educational history.

When he said:

Math, science and English language at the top, then the humanities then the arts way down at the bottom. And in the arts there’s always another hierarchy. Art and music are always thought to be more important than drama or dance. There isn’t a school system in the world that teaches dance every day, systematically, to every child, in the way that we require them to learn mathematics… Why is dance such a loser in the system? … People never saw any economic point in it.

I recognized my educational history, and pictured how arts education is always the first to go. I saw a school I once worked at with no art program, so the teachers tried to incorporate art into their classroom lessons.

When Sir Robinson went on to say: “You probably found yourself benignly steered away from things you were good at in school towards things that other people advised you would be more useful to you.” I saw myself, and my experience in high school. I saw my advisor forbidding me to take auto shop because I “needed” more Advanced Placement classes. I saw my teachers faces when I announced I was going to attend an Acting Conservatory program instead of go to Tulane.

Sir Robinson (yes, he’s been knighted) has really inspired me and I’ve been looking into more of his talks, watching this TED talk he gave with a group of friends (I can’t embed it, but it’s a short video)

This led to a pretty interesting discussion – most of the people I watched it with are involved in theatre as performers, writers, designers, or directors. The “Orange juice” was also flowing pretty freely, so people were getting quite passionate. This led to watching a lot of other TED talks, and talking about how education is changing and what needs to happen to foster creativity. Have you heard of TED? It’s a nonprofit group for “Ideas Worth Spreading.” TED stands for “Technology, Entertainment, Design,” and they have two annual conferences where they “bring together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes or less). ” There are a ton of awesome talks on the website, and I hope to incorporate them into my personal learning as well as my teaching.

I’m lucky to have found my own passion, even if it meant flying in the face of everything I was “supposed” to do – go to a good school, major in Western Lit or Business, and become a good little worker with a house in the suburbs. I’m also lucky to have supportive parents, friends, and to have found a community of like-minded people with whom I can have these awesome, random, discussions.

Becoming a compassionate teacher.

2 May

Read this article about discipline in a Walla Walla, WA high school. It’s amazing.

Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA tries new approach to school discipline

Becoming a teacher who makes a difference

2 May

We’ve been doing all these readings for my classes – how race affects learning; how gender affects learning; how poverty affects learning; how the education system affects learning… combine that with the statistics I’m getting from my Geography of Current Affairs course (approximately 400 million people in the world have malaria, 33% of the population of Swaziland have AIDS, and there are over 14 million AIDS orphans on the continent of Africa, to name a few of the grimmest), and sometimes I feel like “what’s the point?” Or even “I shouldn’t be teaching – I need to be doing something BIG to help the world.”

The man-friend and I have discussed joining the Peace Corps. It tends to be somewhat of a joke – “Can’t find a job? Let’s join the Peace Corps!” “You have to be married to join the Peace Corps together? Gee, mom will be thrilled!” – but there is often more than a hint of reality in those jokes. We are people who like to do things, to help people, and to make a difference. I was in AmeriCorps for two years working with students from all walks of life – but mostly in poverty. He volunteers with unions and social movements and works for a non-profit.

I have to remind myself sometimes that teaching is, in fact, a great way to make a difference. Not in the “If I can only reach one child” sort of way, but in a more realistic, I want to teach ALL my students to love learning kind of way. Because education is the way out of most of life’s hardships. Donna Beegle worked for years to get herself and her children out of poverty, the road wasn’t easy, but she now has her PHD and works to help others out of the poverty cycle.

First Place School, in Seattle, is a school that provides quality education and a stable environment to homeless students, and help to their families. This is an awesome video that I have been watching a lot of recently. It helps remind me that as a teacher, I can make a difference.

So I don’t need to go to Africa or find a cure for AIDS. I can help out right here at home.

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