Tag Archives: Current Events

No more theory, put it into practice.

15 Mar

I need a break. I can’t remember what I did this morning (which feels like three days ago), let alone what I blogged about five weeks ago. Thankfully, I have technology to do most of my remembering for me. I have been taking on more teaching responsibilities in the classroom this week, as well as pounding out and polishing up final papers for my teaching courses. I will be thrilled when the last paper is submitted and I can maybe sleep more than 5 hours or even go for a run.

This quarter has been a roller coaster. December was hard. It began with a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school, on December 14. I sat down and cried, and found solace in a song. Later in December, I had a huge change in my life, and was lucky to discover people who truly care about me. I initially didn’t want to blog about it, but I found it was profoundly affecting my life – and I began to wonder about students who have trouble and changes at home, and how it affects their learning. So I shared. A little. I opened up my private life to the internet and made my thoughts public. It was hard, but I feel it is important to always remember that our students have a lot going on in their lives that they may not tell us about, but that can immensely impact their school life.

This quarter, I have been inspired by teachers who are not afraid to take a stance and to dive into the politics of education. The many teachers in Seattle who refused to administer the MAP test have been receiving national attention. I wrote a post about it, which prompted some interesting dialogue in the comments. Additionally, I have greatly enjoyed reading The Jose Vilson blog, and this post about white teachers teaching black history month was very striking. I commented that I often wondered about the “right way” to celebrate all of my students. He responded to me (and to the other commentors) with this post, giving some examples of what white teachers SHOULD (in his opinion) do to teach black history.

MAP testing is a hot topic, as one of my cohort-mates, For Whom The Bell Rings, wrote about a recent blog entry from our local weather guru, Cliff Mass. I commented with my own ideas, and the conversation that began in these blogs seeped out into the real world – our carpool, classrooms, and lunch times became sounding boards for ideas and arguments about this way of thinking. It’s just one example of how a blog post can create dialogue and push people’s thinking, on and off the internet.

So, there’s my blog reflection for Winter Quarter. In a week, full-time student teaching/co-teaching begins. We’ve learned the theory, crammed it into our heads, hoping something will stick. We’ve worked with fantastic educators and professionals, and even more fantastic (fantasticker? yeah.) students. Now we’ve got to put it into practice. Blogging isn’t required for the remainder of our program, but I think I would like to continue reflecting on my teaching on a blog, perhaps even collaborating with some of my cohort-mates.

Now, here I go on to the next assignment.

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What love means

17 Feb
Image

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.

Picking up

27 Jan

broken_heart

 

Without going into detail, my world shattered in late December. Though things have “settled” a bit, I still find myself, in the middle of one task or another, suddenly standing still, wondering “How on earth did I get here?” and “This is NOT where I am supposed to be.” And to be quite honest, I’m having a hard time focusing on anything, from cooking (which I love) to school (which I usually love).

This happens to students all the time. Parents lose their jobs, or divorce, or even die. Families move across town, across the country, or across the world. Shootings. The fear of shootings. Violence at home, or in the neighborhood. Bullying. Family members who fall ill. Numerous other events that happen every day.

Just like me, these students – these children – are expected to go on as if nothing has happened. Rarely are teachers even aware of what, specifically, is affecting their students lives – but usually they can tell something is going on. Students lose focus, act out in class, neglect their homework, and otherwise “act out.” At this age, they are not capable of putting their feelings into words, they only know that something is wrong, so they do these things, to prove that life is not working right for them.

I have been lucky these past few weeks, to discover who my real friends are. Family members and friends have provided support, encouragement, and help, as I struggle to pick up the pieces. As teachers, we must be a rock for our students. Even when we don’t know what is wrong, it is our job to sift through the clues, be the glue and the support, and help our students “fix” their lives, as best we can.

It’s not all about teaching reading and math. As John Spencer says, it’s about love. “Real love. Muddy love.” Really, that’s what life is all about, isn’t it?

Buy-Nothing Day

23 Nov

As a person, and now as a teacher, I am constantly trying to “define” myself. Who am I, really? What is important to me?

Today, “Black Friday,” is a big part of who I am. Because, instead of waiting in line at 4 am (or even overnight) in order to get the “best deal” on things I really “need,” I celebrate Buy Nothing Day. The main concept is to pay attention to what is really important. As I mentioned on Wednesday, I think the more you concentrate on what you don’t have, the more you lose sight of what you do have. What I have is amazing friends and family. A roof over my head. Enough to eat, clothes to keep me warm and dry, and a great university program in which I am learning to become the best teacher I can be.

Last year, I worked retail on Black Friday. I got up at 5:45, and worked for 8 hours, selling things to people who had waited in line for hours. I didn’t even have it that bad. Some stores open even earlier, and this year many large stores were open on Thanksgiving night, so people could “get their deals” even earlier. Let’s keep in mind that retail employees usually arrive at work 1-3 hours before a store opens. Which means, if you really need to buy your discounted TV at 8pm on Thanksgiving night, the employee who sold it to you probably missed dinner with his or her family.

Ok, but what does this have to do with education? A lot. As a teacher, I hope to give my students a sense of pride in what they have, what they can do, and who they are. A big-screen TV doesn’t define you, a good deal on the hottest video game doesn’t define you – your actions define you. A grade doesn’t define you, the work you put in to earn that grade does.

I am also well aware that it is likely I will be teaching the children of parents who are expected to give up their Thanksgiving to ensure a good retail turnout. As a teacher, it will be partially in my hands to remind these students that they are important in this world. As William Ayers says in the final chapter of To Teach:

The fundamental message of the teacher is this: You must change your life. Whoever you are, wherever you’ve been, whatever you’ve done, the teacher invites you to a second chance, another round, perhaps a different conclusion. The teacher posits possibility, openness, and alternative; the teacher points to what could be, but is not yet. The teacher beckons you to change your path. (p 161)

Whoever my students are, I want to be a teacher who helps them to know that they can change their life. And that they can change the world, simply by changing their own path.

I am thankful today for all the people who do have work. The people who gave up their holiday (or the day after) to sell or cook or serve things. The people who don’t have a choice, but who work hard to make sure their families are taken care of.

I am also thankful for the people who choose not to participate in the craziness of the day. It’s a small act, choosing to sit out of this retail madness, but I think it can help define who we are as a culture – are we people who care about others, or do we only care about ourselves? Can money really buy happiness?

“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” – His Holiness The 14th Dali Lama

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.

Eleven Years Later

11 Sep

I choked up during the Pledge of Allegiance today.
I realized that these students were born in a world where it is possible for people to fly airplanes into buildings as an act of political terror. They were born into a a world where “terror” is a thing that can be done to you. They were born into a world at war.
While in AmeriCorps, each September 11 I participated in Patriots Day, National Day of Service. We turned the day into a day to make positive impact.
Last year, I was unemployed.
This year, I am surrounded by these 8 year olds, born three years after the world changed. We are in charge of the world they will live in. What kind of world will it be?

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