Archive | February, 2013

What love means

17 Feb
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Image by @Lel4nd via Flickr

Love has many meanings. We tend to think of romantic love, especially at this time of year. However, it really means whatever you want it to. Romance, family, friends, people who touch our lives – that’s what love is about.

On Thursday, as I was dancing the chicken dance with 24 3rd graders at a Valentine’s Day party, I was overcome with such a strong feeling of love that I nearly cried. It was a silly moment, but one so full of beauty, I almost couldn’t stand it.

We teach, because we love.

As I was driving north yesterday, to see my best friends (who I love dearly), I listened to This American Life on NPR. The entire episode (part one of two) followed teachers, administrators, and students at Harper High School. Harper High School’s attendance area includes more than 15 gangs – and last year 29 current and former students from Harper were shot, and 8 of them died.

Listening to the staff talk about their students – listening to them talking to their students – you can tell that they are motivated by Love. Love with a capital L. They Love the students who drop out, they Love the students who have no choice but to join a gang. They Love the football players who worry about rival gang members on the team. They Love the student who accidentally shot his little brother.

These teachers work hard every day to help their students simply survive high school. Administrators often drive students to and from school, so they don’t walk through dangerous situations. Social workers meet with students and their parents on a regular basis. On a day after a gang-related shooting, some students are sent home for their safety – so they don’t have to walk home through rival gang territory at dismissal time.

Love.

As the Beatles say, it’s all you need.

The best lesson

10 Feb

Teachers at several schools around Seattle have refused to administer the MAP (Measure of Academic Progress) test in the past few weeks.

The boycott initially began in December, with a few teachers at Garfield High stating that they would not administer the MAP test to their students, for a number of reasons. Two of the biggest reasons – it interferes with student learning and doesn’t give teachers any valuable information about their students. You can read a full petition presented by the Garfield teachers here, at change.org.

The administration has reacted cautiously, especially as teachers from many other schools have joined the boycott. Community support is varied, if one is to believe the comments on online news articles. (Which, to be honest, I usually skip. Too many people think they can hide behind their computers and spew hateful comments.)

But what’s the big deal? Why won’t teachers just sit down and administer this one test?

Because it’s not just this one test. The MAP is one test in a long list of tests that Seattle students must take over the course of the year. Regardless of what information is gleaned from these test scores, the more time students spend in testing, the less time they spend actually learning. The MAP test is conducted on the computer, which takes computer lab time from other students who could be learning things about technology, programming, etc… or even just the simple typing skills that everyone needs today. Many students don’t have access to computers other than at school.

Whether or not you agree with a boycott of the MAP test, it is exciting to see teachers coming together to try to improve the education system that they work in. PTSAs and parents and students are all supporting these teachers. Parents are writing letters to exempt their students from testing. Students are refusing to take the test, and voicing their support of the boycott.

This sentiment against mandatory, unnecessary testing is not unique to Seattle. Chicago teachers were told that the MAP was going to be used as part of their student-achievement based evaluation process. In case you forgot, that didn’t go so well, for any party involved. (Though the testing was just one thing on a list of teacher grievances that led to that strike.)

Teaching is not easy, teaching is not a job for those who “can’t do” – it’s a job for those who do, every day. These teachers are showing their students that they can make a difference, that they can stand up for what they believe in, and that they can be heard.

That’s the best lesson any teacher could hope to teach.

The Power of Please

3 Feb

We have a student who some might describe as “defiant.”

He refuses to follow directions. He won’t come to the carpet. He won’t complete his worksheets. He won’t do his homework. When told to do anything, he refuses, about half the time.

Friday, I was fed up with him. He was doing his math homework, with a pen, during independent reading time. I took a deep breath, and said, “Scotty, can you please put that away and get out a book?”

He looked at me, blinked, and put away his math, got out a book, and said “sorry.”

All because I said please? Maybe not, but I am nearly positive he would have ignored me had I given him another order to follow directions and get out a book.

Saying “Please” and “Thank You” is something we insist on teaching our children from an early age. However, teachers don’t do it. We give orders. Is it too much work to say “please” and “thank you?”

It’s so easy to to get in the mindset of “I am in charge, do what I say.”

“Line up.”

“Use a pencil.”

“Get a book.”

“Sit down.”

“Don’t talk.”

What does this teach our students? It teaches them that they have no power. It teaches them that they have no say in their own lives, no free will. It teaches them that we, the teachers, are in charge, and they are not. It teaches them that the person in charge can give orders. Can make demands. Doesn’t have to be polite.

When we, the teachers, enforce these ideas of unequal power, we prevent the creation of a democratic classroom.

What about when the teacher is white and the students are not? When we are educated and the parents are not? When we speak Standard English and our students do not?

It’s easy to say please and thank you. It’s easy and it’s powerful.

 

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