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Thanks-vember 16

16 Nov

I’m thankful for people who are enthusiastic about their jobs. People for whom a career is not just something you do 9-5, Monday – Friday, to get a paycheck. Specifically, I’m thankful for educators who are passionate and enthusiastic about what they do.

Example 1: My friend Ms. D teaches Drama and English at a local high school. Tonight I am going to see her drama kids perform a modern adaptation of a Commedia Del Arte play, A Doctor In Spite of Himself. She commissioned a local playwright to adapt and modernize the play for her students. She then spent hours designing, directing, and rehearsing the show. Not during school hours, but after school and on weekends. Remember, she is also teaching English, so she has other students. Papers to grade. Tests to create, administer, and score. But because she cares about what she does, because she enjoys it and wants her students to enjoy it as well, she puts in the extra time.

Example 2: My 3rd-grade student teaching partner and I met with our principal today to present the idea of a school garden. We want to create a school garden, in the vein of Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard. It’s an ambitious project, and we knew we would need a lot of teacher support. We presented the idea, and he loved it. He had ideas of his own to add, and after we left and were inspecting a possible garden site, he literally ran out of the office to tell us that another teacher would be interested in working with us. He obviously loves his job, and our school, and wants it to be the best place possible.

I’m sure there are other professions in which people love their work to this extent, but when you work in education, passion pays off. Students respond to teachers who enjoy what they are doing. Teachers respond to principals and administrators who refuse to quit. Returning, if I may, to my post about the lecture given by Pasi Sahlberg, I believe that teachers who are passionate are more respected – because they clearly care about what they do. They can afford to be passionate because they have spent 5 or 6 years preparing to be teachers. They know that teaching is the place for them, and they work hard to get there.

What kind of education system could we have in the US if every teacher was passionate about their job?

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Thanks-vember 15: That’s so…

15 Nov

Today, I was thinking about words. Specifically, words that hurt. Words that make people feel like they are less than human. Words that have somehow become a part of “normal” speech. Words like “gay” and “retarded” – when they are used as synonyms for “bad,” “dumb,” “stupid,” etc…

The school culture at my middle school placement is such that these words are not used (at least not in my hearing). Kids are still kids, but these particular kids have been in school together, more or less, since kindergarten. Bullying is not a big problem at our school. All the kids are “different” in one way or another, and no one seems to be singled out.

I know it’s not like that at all schools. I know we are in a nice little bubble of respect, where students and teachers can mostly coexist happily. But I want it to be like that at all schools, no matter what the socioeconomic status of students, no matter what their neighborhood, no matter what their background. It’s not that way now, but maybe it could be. If we treat our students with respect, and expect them to act respectfully towards us and towards each other, isn’t that a huge step in the right direction?

Today, I am thankful for all the people in the world working towards ending hatred, ending bullying, and ending the idea that the word “gay” is a synonym for “stupid” or worse. I’m thankful for people who make things like this:

And for musicians like Macklemore and Ryan Lewis who create songs like this one:

 

Macklemore is really popular with my 7th graders, and really popular with my friends. It’s awesome to see someone with a lot of influence with such a positive message.  Words are powerful, and I think we need to make sure we are teaching our students to use the right ones.

Thanks-vember 14: Seattle

14 Nov

Every morning I try to give myself 10-15 minutes with a cup of coffee and the online news. I usually end up reading a bit of The Seattle Times, a bit of NPR, and a bit of BBC World News. I don’t get a lot of down time, and I cherish this little moment of quiet before my day begins.

This morning, on the Seattle Times front page, I saw an article titled “Finland’s educational success story: Less testing, more trusting.” The article focuses on Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish Education Minister, and author of the book “Finnish Lessons: what can the world learn from educational change in Finland” (Teachers College Press, 2011).

So, why should we care about Finland? Well, in case you haven’t heard – Finland’s education system has been ranked at the top of the pack since 2000, when the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) was first introduced. Finnish students spend less time in the classroom than Americans, and yet they routinely score better in math, science, language, etc…

Pasi gave a free lecture this evening at The University of Washington, which I and another teacher-student attended. The first thing he said was “I’m not trying to convince you that Finland has the best education system in the world… because we couldn’t care less if we are the best.”

No, what they care about in Finland is providing each student with an education that best fits his or her needs. Pasi said that Finland’s goal is: “We want to have a school system where pupil’s success doesn’t depend on their home background.” That is, students can succeed regardless of their socioeconomic status. Remember, many studies have been done in the US “proving” that socioeconomic status is the number one indicator of a child’s ability to succeed in school. Finland threw that idea out the window.

The idea of the lecture was not to say “Finland is better than you” or “Here is how to make the US’s education system exactly like Finland’s,” but instead to point out some key differences, and perhaps how the US can improve education based on Finland’s ideas.

I would say that Pasi’s message was broken into two main points: equity and professionalism.

40 years ago, the Finnish government looked at their country, and at their education system, and knew that something needed to be fixed. They worked on creating equal footing for all students – on improving equity (the well-being of students, providing resources to those in need, etc…) and then worked on improving education. Students who aren’t fed breakfast can’t learn. Students who have to stay home to take care of their younger siblings can’t learn. These things needed to be fixed before the actual problem of school could be tackled.

Additionally, teachers are respected in Finland, on the same level as doctors and lawyers. In fact, it takes as much schooling to become a Finnish primary teacher as it does to become a lawyer or doctor. All teachers must have Master’s degrees, which usually takes about 6 years to obtain. The programs are not easy to get into – the University of Helsinki received about 2,000 applications last year and admitted 120 people to the program. Once these highly qualified teachers are in the classroom, they are given control over what they teach – there are no standardized tests, and loose curriculum standards that must be met.

Pasi shared a video with us, contrasting the high-pressure schools of South Korea (another top-scoring country) and the schools of Finland. I couldn’t find the South Korea part to share with you, but here is the section on Finland:

The lecture was recorded, and will be put up as a podcast on the UW Finnish Studies Webpage. I’ll post a link to it when it’s up.

What does this have to do with being thankful? I am thankful for the opportunity to attend events like this. I’m thankful to live in a city with a highly respected university which attracts speakers from all over the world. I’m thankful for the opportunity to hear about education systems in other countries. I’m also thankful for the opportunity to connect with my fellow teachers and discuss these new ideas.

Giving thanks, November 11

11 Nov

It’s Veteran’s Day.

My father is a Veteran of the Vietnam war. He avoided most combat by becoming an officer, and living in Japan flying supplies to aircraft carriers. But for a long time he wouldn’t talk to me about it, until he was sure I was old enough to understand.

War changes people. And so today, I am thankful that my dad is alive, that he wasn’t changed too much by being part of a war, and that he is the man he is today.

That’s something I’m thankful for today, but I also want to share a story with you:

I work an occasional job as a manager of Performing Arts Centers at some local schools. I manage events ranging from orchestra concerts to week-long conferences. I meet a lot of interesting people. (I’m often yelled at by these interesting people, but I try not to take it personally.)

Today I worked an event hosted by The Church of Christ, Scientist. It’s not a religion I know much about, and the event was an hour long lecture titled “The Power of Prayer.” I listened to a little of it, and learned some of the history of the Church of Christ Scientist.

While working at these schools, I work in close contact with the custodians. Today I worked with an older gentleman, originally from Vietnam, who struck up a conversation about religion with me (being that we were working at a church event.) He told me about Buddhism, the way his people celebrate holidays and come together at temple. He told me about how close families are in his culture, and how he is sad to see children “running away from home when they are 18” in America. He asked me if my family lived close by, and was happy to hear that I see my parents regularly.

While people were coming into the school before the lecture, a man came in with his dog. The custodian stopped him, and tried to tell him that dogs were not allowed in the school. This man, seeing the Vietnamese custodian talking to him, began speaking in Japanese. The custodian shook is head, and again said that dogs were not allowed.

“Oh, you aren’t Japanese?”

“Sir, you cannot bring a dog in here.”

“Ah. Arigatou Gozaimasu.” And then he left, with his dog.

The custodian, as I mentioned, is originally from Vietnam. And yet this man insisted on speaking Japanese to him, even when he was not answered in kind. What kind of awareness (cultural or otherwise) did this man have? Not much. Was he open to understanding a new experience? Not really, he wanted to make it into something familiar to him – and when it wouldn’t fit that mold, he tried to force it anyway. You know the story of the square peg and the round hole?

I learned things about two groups of people today that I previously had no knowledge of. I am a little more informed, and have a slightly better understanding of two new cultures. Cultural understanding is more than a classroom presentation. Cultural understanding is listening to people tell their stories, gaining understanding of people’s experiences, and using that new knowledge and understanding to see the world through a different lens.

How can we apply that kind of learning to a classroom? How can we teach our students not to force their ideas onto situations where they don’t fit – to find the round peg, instead of forcing the square one where it doesn’t fit?

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.

Image

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!

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