Apr 062016
 

Someone in my critical pedagogy class made a very astute comment the last class. We were discussing professionalism, the fact that there are many attempts at deprofessionalizing teaching going on today, and we were having a great conversation about who is benefiting from these acts. Who is pushing the process, who is benefiting, who does not benefit? These questions are all worth pursuing, and then the classmate drops a thought bomb on the class. It has stuck with me for a week now, and I still am not sure how to answer it it.

Here it is:  Aren’t we, as teachers, partially to blame for the deprofessionalizing of education? After all, we admit the first year or two of teaching are “throw-away” years where the teacher just has to learn what the need on their own. You don’t ever hear flight controllers say, “It’s okay if you crashed those planes together, it is your first year,” or “It’s okay that building you designed fell down, it’s your first year of architecturing.”

planecrash

Boom.

Drop that right on us, as teachers. As teacher leaders. As teacher educators.

Yup, we have to own that one. Professionals don’t let that kind of thing happen. Professionals support the pre and new service teacher. Professionals don’t allow for this type of failure, and let’s not mince words. A child whose education is harmed because a new teacher fails is just as bad OR WORSE than the plane crashing.

How do we stop it?

Mentoring came up repeatedly in the conversation. We must mentor pre-service teachers closely and support them completely. We must mentor new teachers with the same vigor.

Social and Emotional Learning came up in the conversation. Getting teachers right from day one to realize they teach PEOPLE, not content.

Critical Theory / Social Justice came up (duh, it is that class after all). But it came up not because we were in the class, but because this is how teachers, new teachers, beginning teachers can learn how to engage with their learners and start problem-posing instead of banking. Freire’s approach to education turns the classroom away from teacher centered to learner and learning centered. In this type of environment, the teacher gets to know their learners better, so they don’t inadvertently cause harm.

All in all, it is a very small thought-bomb that was dropped, but the implications are far reaching.

Are we professionals?

If the answer is yes, then we can not, ever, accept a “throw away year” in teaching. Every single day counts, and we have to help, support, and develop every single teacher in that focus.

Mar 302016
 

This post is a call to action. It tells a story that came out of my class presentation last night.

I am in a hostile, passion filled mood because of it.

 

I started with this video. Let me just warn you before you click play. Every time I watch this video, I cry. These three young women are so honest, so brutal, and so accurate in their portrayal of the “greatest lessons are the ones you don’t remember learning.” I think every teacher should watch this video and think about how we have ‘taught’ those lessons.

See what I mean? Race, power, gender, and a strong challenge to teachers to think carefully about what we teach and how we teach.

I showed some graphs from the recent Gallup poll of almost a million middle and high school learners. I used Scott McLeod’s graphs and the text from the blog post: The biggest indictment of our schools is not their failure to raise test scores. The blue line on this graph scares me to death. A WEEK! Not once in an entire week have 67% of the high school learners learned something interesting! Look at the engagement. I don’t think it is surprising that those two graphs are so similar. What. The. Hell.

  

The silence of teachers on these results is deafening. Henry Giroux points out that, “there exists, with few exceptions, an ominous silence regarding the role that both teacher education and public schooling should play in advancing democratic processes.” (Giroux, H. (2009). Teacher Education and Democratic Schooling.) This data is caused not by teachers involved in learning, but by non-educators telling us what to do.

We know the problem is there, but the letters to the editor in the local newspaper, the advocacy in the statehouse, the challenging people in the streets are not. We, as educators, are NOT involved in the political process that is shaping our classrooms. We are ‘ominously silent.’

I attended a CCSS legistlative session a couple of years ago. The legislators were voting on repealing the adoption of the CCSS. There were 4 or 5 educators present (myself included). There were 40 to 50 anti-CCSS protesters there, all dressed in identical red T-shirts handing out materials and signing up to speak. Guess how much time they got? Guess how much time we got? Yup, teachers voices were drowned out by the shrill, idiotic cries of ignorance. [Happy ending though, the rational people on the panel killed the bill.] Why were there only 4t o5 educators there? It was summer. It was hard to reach the teachers. Teachers just didn’t care enough to show up. Teachers felt that they were powerless to make changes. All the usual bullshit excuses.

Teachers, WE HAVE POWER! We don’t use it. We have VOICES that matter. We stay silent for the most part.

Which brings me to the title of this post.

A kindergarten teacher told the story of how her administrator walked into her classroom and noticed that she had a play kitchen in her room. In KINDERGARTEN. What else should she have? Right? That is an amazing piece of equipment to do math, English, and so many other contextual learning scenarios. She was asked why. She spent an hour detailing why she has it, how she uses it, what the research says on play learning, and when it was “suggested” to her that she remove it, she said no. She said, “unless you tell me to explicitly remove it, I will not.”

But that is not the worst part. Her administrator specifically said, “You can have it back in your room when we are a 4 star school.”

Yea, that’s right. Let me translate this admin’s words, “Educational opportunity, engaged, and contextual learning is being held hostage until those test scores increase so we are a 4 star school.”

This kindergarten teacher folded. The power was stripped from her and she moved the learning materials to her parent’s basement.

Here is another story from a different school.

An elementary teacher was frustrated with the principal’s capricious decision making and decisions that harmed teacher moral and classroom learning. This teacher pulled 10 or so other teachers together, they asked for a meeting with the district superintendent, and got one. This school will have a new principal next year, and the teacher who started the process is on the hiring committee.

Two situations, two different outcomes.

TEACHERS HAVE POWER, when we use it. Why do we allow it to be stripped from us?

Why in the hell aren’t we using it?

Why are we allowing “stars” to drive good teaching?

Why are we punishing learners because of the school’s ‘test scores’?

Why are we allowing, yes allowing, non-educators to make political decisions about how and what is taught?

Why are we complicit in the educational malpractice of the extreme amount of testing that is occurring?

Why are we sitting on our hands and remaining silent?

WE. HAVE. POWER. We have power in the system. We have power to affect change in the system. But we too often ‘don’t want to make waves’ or are ‘afraid of the repercussions.’

Screw that.

It is time to act.

It is time to look at the Gallup data above and say, “No more.”

This is a call to action. I will write letters. In the upcoming legislative season, I will ask candidates if they support schools. If they will raise money for schools. If they will raise taxes for schools. If they say no, I will challenge them on why they are advocating for stupid policies.

I will write letters to the editor to challenge the stupidity and idiocy of the anti-education movements.

I will advocate for teachers to stand up for themselves.

And,

I will advocate for classroom policies and strategies that can change the outcomes found in the Gallup survey and video above. So much advocacy for this.

What will you do?

 

Mar 102016
 

I am still thinking of my critical theory journey and how it is and will continue affect my teaching. I don’t think I can ever stop thinking about it now, to be honest. In observing classrooms and teaching teachers, the idea of “authority” has come multiple times. Which led me to this topic. We have a problem about questioning authority. A very important part of critical pedagogy is the willingness, the desire, and / or the ability to question authority and stand up for yourself or others.

Question-Authority-Not-Mother-Magnet-(9383)

In our case, the quote would read “Question Authority, but not your Teacher.” But is that really what we want to be teaching? And is that what I did? (if you want to skip the following section, the tl;dr is hell no.) But to think about what I want message I want to teach, I need to examine what I learned as a learner in school.  Honestly, I have written and rewritten this post about 12 times. I have deleted it in its entirety twice, and as I go back in the revision history, I realize I started it on 25 February. It is now 2 weeks later, and I just have to hit publish on it and call it good enough. This is a post that will never be perfect.

Where I started (a personal story)

I don’t remember a lot, but I do remember two things about my ES education. I remember I was tested and placed in the gifted and talented program at some point. I remember them pulling me out of class and doing ‘fun’ activities. I remember thinking these were stupid. I remember looking at the teachers and telling them the activities were boring and uninteresting. I told my parents I thought they were stupid. I clearly remember having a meeting and the teachers agreeing to put be back into the classroom because, “these activities are stupid, why can’t I go back to class where I can learn something?”

I also remember taking the workbook home in 5th grade and completing the entire year’s worth of social studies worksheets in two or three nights. I got in trouble from the teacher. I didn’t care. I learned stuff. I was not a very inquiry based learner, was I?

In middle and high school in Montana, I remember every single interaction with a Counselor ended with the statement, “You will take the hardest classes you can handle now, so that it is easier later.” I never fought back against that. I also remember (and my Mom loves to tell the story, bless her heart) that I came home one day and said,

“Mom, I am the class comedian.”

She asked, “Don’t you mean the class clown?”

“No, the comedian.”

“What’s the difference?”

I replied, “The clown is the idiot streaking across the football field naked. The comedian is the guy who put him up to it.”

I was that kid. My friends and I celebrated elaborate pranks on each other and others, but we never damaged property. I also carried around a copy of Einstein’s Special and General Theory of Relativity my junior year and taught myself the math and physics to understand it. Sentence by sentence. I would get in trouble in study hall (we actually had a class called study hall) because I would not do homework, I would spend the entire hour every day with Einstein. I still have the book.

Yea, I was jerk. It didn’t get better. I transferred to Westwood High School in Mesa AZ 3 weeks into my senior year. So, take a smart, physics oriented kid, force him to move across country (as far as I was concerned) during my senior year. Exponential jerk. My first interaction at the school was with the high school counselor. I told him the classes I was in and showed him my transcript. My Montana high school did not do AP classes. AZ did. And they tracked. I was not allowed to take AP as a senior, because I was not in AP as a junior. The counselor finally allowed me to take AP Calculus because I threw a fit, and then handed me my schedule. I went to the book depository to get my books. There was no physics text book in the pile.

No. Physics. Textbook.

My head exploded. I walked back to the counselors office and literally forced the person in the office out. Can you imagine? As an educator now, I am shocked that I was allowed to do this. I walked in and said, “You, get out” to the student in his office. I then said, “You, fix my schedule. I told I was taking physics.” The counselor eventually fixed my schedule, and then arranged for me to take chemistry at the local community college (I think just so he didn’t have to deal with me any more) to replace the organic chem class I was planning on taking in Montana. I graduated from a high school in Arizona. I don’t admit that very often.

I do not know one single person I graduated with. Not one. No wonder. I was a raging jerk. I questioned authority, I made demands upon them, and I won. Honestly, there is not one single encounter I can remember in my K-12 schooling where I did not get what I wanted. I never got in trouble (but should have repeatedly).

I learned to challenge authority and more importantly, HOW to challenge authority. Have a plan. Know your rights. More importantly, know the rules and use them to your advantage. I refused to allow those authority figures to hold me back from what I wanted. And, what I wanted was education.

I remember being told repeatedly growing up that I should never plan on attending college. We could not afford it. I should put it out of my head, not think about it, not plan on it, not try for it. It was too expensive. Not once. Not twice, but repeatedly. It was, really, the only fight I had with my parents, but it was a regular battle.

I showed them, however. I attended a community college on a full ride scholarship, and refused to earn a diploma. An AA wasn’t good enough. I transferred to a nationally ranked, private college, Knox College, for three years and paid for less than one year of school by working the rules of financial aid to my benefit. I took out student loans to do a M.A. in Philosophy from University of Iowa, and don’t regret a single penny. I paid cash for a M.Ed. from the University of Nevada, Reno. And currently have a full ride private grant that is paying for my Ph.D.

I love my parents, but I realize that much of what I did after high school was to give them a giant finger.

As I look back, I fought authority often. I usually won. But there were very few consequences for failure in school.

Question authority-BF

Where I am at now

Now, I am now teaching teachers. That scares me, a little. Think about the fact that I questioned authority consistently in my educational journey. I did the same thing as a teacher. I advocated throwing away my textbooks in 2012 (and I did stop using them that year). I was thoroughly willing to re-think how lines are taught, and challenge every other teacher to do the same. That post ended with the statement:

After all, if we are going to be arbitrary, at least let us be arbitrary consistently.

Challenging authority and being subversive is kind of what I did on my blog for the last 4 years.

And now I am teaching teachers. That is scary.

I observe classrooms where the teacher is leading 4th graders through amazing math and science discussion. The learners in the classroom blow my mind with how ahead of the game they are. They also respond instantly to “Class Class” with “Yes Yes,” stop talking, and give 100% of their attention to the teacher.

I have seen a class that was doing high school level mathematics (again a 4th grade classroom). This teacher is amazing. A Title 1 school where every learner is engaged and learning. They stand up, push in their chair, speak to the class, pull out their chair, and sit down. Every time they have something to say. In this class, if they are called on and don’t know an answer, they remain standing and ‘phone a friend’. That learner stands up, pushes in their chair and helps.

Question authority.

Are these learners being taught to question authority? They are being taught, for sure. They are learning math, science, English, etc at an amazing high level. They are learning content. But are they learning that “First Reponsibility” of Franklin’s?

Question authority.

The most common question I am asked by my future teachers is, “How do we handle a learner that won’t do what we ask?” They have clearly bought into the idea of “Question Authority, but not your teacher.” My responses are: make lessons that are engaging and interesting. Get learners up and moving. Allow for exploration (one of the steps of inquiry learning). Stop lecturing at them. “Telling isn’t teaching, Listening isn’t learning.” Etc.

Question authority.

As an educator, I encourage teachers on Twitter and my blog to stand up to admins who make unreasonable demands. I know I stood up to my admins repeatedly. I was called into the principals office and asked to stop several times. I said no. I never lost my job. I was still rated Highly Effective. Teachers have power, but often are afraid to use it.

Not every teacher does exercises their power. Not every teacher can exercise their power. Some teachers can’t or won’t because they fear repercussions. Some teachers will absolutely lose their job, status, or ability to teach if they question authority. That is horrible, but it does happen.

Question authority.

So I really end up where I started. Questioning authority is standing up for yourself or others. My future teachers need to unlearn the idea of “Question authority, but not your teachers.” They also need to be supported when they start teaching and question authority when they stand up for their learners.

The process of unlearning this message is vital, and it is my job now to guide them towards that goal. But how? How can I effectively teach new teachers, freshmen through seniors in college, to challenge authority in education?

They already have cognitive dissonance because they are being taught effective teaching techniques. Math and science ed is being grounded in inquiry based methods, activities, and engagement. ANNNND then they walk into the lecture hall of 200 students and are talked at for 50 minutes.  Do I want them questioning authority when a grade is on the line and it could cost them hundreds of dollars and to retake a class? No. I don’t.

Do I want them questioning a principal when they are a provisional teacher their first years out when they can be fired at will? Not really, but at the same time, yea, I do. When the questioning is because it is in the best interest of their learners, I do want them to question authority. I know I would. Even during those first years. But would I have really done that during the first years? Probably not.

The reality of questioning authority is hard.

The calculus of questioning authority takes into account the repercussions. But honestly, the catch phrase “Pragmatically Question Authority” loses a lot of value.

I think in the end, for my future teachers, I have settled on this for now. I would like them to practice “Thoughtful respect for authority.” That at least encourages them to think hard about whether the authority is making decisions in the best interest of learners.

quote-unthinking-respect-for-authority-is-the-greatest-enemy-of-truth-albert-einstein-226475

 

Feb 202016
 

As I have been examining my practice through the lens of Critical Theory, I asked myself how would I teach differently now than I did even a year ago? Great question.

If-you-change-the-way__quotes-by-Wayne-Dyer-40  It is time for me to look at AP Stats differently.

The last year I taught AP Statistics, I created great connections through the entire year on each topic, how each piece fit together, and how the end results started from the beginning topics. I carefully planned it so that every element of the year connected. And then, after the AP Exam, we had 4 weeks where I challenged the learners to come up with a question, do the research, and answer the question. Topics ranged from bullying, treatment of gays in stores, to trash on the side of the road. A huge, broad range of topics.

But, we did not do anything about those topics. We didn’t share them with the community. We didn’t have time. We collected great information, but we did not ACT on it.

If I teach it again, the first week is answering the following questions.

  1. What problem in our community do you wish to solve?
  2. Is this problem something on which we can we collect data?
  3. What data do we need to collect before we can formulate a solution?
  4. Share with class.
  5. Are there any similarities in problems?
  6. Can we consolidate any of the ideas?
  7. Discuss.
  8. Revisit 1 – 7 until we can not do 6 any further.
  9. List the topics for the class.
  10. Form groups for each topic based on your own interest and your own passion.

After that first week process is over I would think we have between 2 and 7 different projects in each section. I would have to be flexible and let the class drive the number and type of projects. The only thing I can think of why to reject a project is if we would have to deal with FERPA violations, incredibly sensitive topics like rape or incest, or other legally sensitive issues.

This is the truly difficult part of the teacher’s role, is playing the gatekeeper. I would want the learners to make decisions on what they want to study, but I know that there are some topics that are not researchable by high school learners. We don’t have an IRB to do experiments on people, for example. But we want some groups to do experiments. So I would need a committee of people at the school willing to be the final Yes / No on some topics. This is actually true to the real practice of research.

After we have decided on the specific topics, then we start into the process of answering the following questions:

  1. What types of data are there in your question?
  2. How do we display those types of data?
  3. How do we collect the data in the most scientific manner?
  4. etc, etc, etc.

These are questions that come out of the AP curriculum word for word. The only difference is that I, as the teacher, will be phrasing the lessons in the context of their projects. We will be learning from the different groups why we need to know about categorical and quantitative data. We will be learning from the different groups why bar graphs work for one type, but not for another type, and we will have to dive deeply into cluster, stratified and every other type of sampling in order to come up with the BEST way of collecting data for each project.

The goal now is to dive into the AP Stats curriculum deeply. We won’t need to come up for air because we will be inhaling the vapors of our excitement for our project. (wow, that metaphor was tortured, wasn’t it?)

  • What if a learner wants to switch? I don’t think there is a problem with that. Let them choose their enthusiasm.
  • What if an entire group decides they are more passionate about different other projects? Great, then we dissolve that research group and form a new one.
  • What if they decide to start over with a new question 1/2 way through the year? If they really want to go backwards, and redo all the work they have done on experimental design, research design, question creating, data analysis, and all of the rest of the topics then why stop them from relearning the material in a different context? Granted it is a ton of work, but they are learning, relearning, and taking charge of their education on a topic they are interested in. Why block them artificially?

Second semester is about finishing probability so the learners can moving into confidence intervals and tests. This is where the decision making comes into play, and as the learners become confident in this area, they will be making decisions on their topics.

Those last four weeks of school when I used to do projects would now be turned into “Action.”

  • Meet with the administration or counselors of the school about the data collected and share the statistics and conclusions. Work with the them to come up with a plan to solve problems, or at least come up with a plan to work on solving problems.
  • Write letters to the newspapers and media.
  • Write letters and meet with politicians.

The end goal is to allow the learners to drive the content of the class. They would be much more engaged in their own questions than any question I could come up with.

They would still be learning 100% of the AP Statistics curriculum, but now they would be more engaged and see the purpose for each “module” of the curriculum in a more solid, substantial way. This should help with AP scores (but I have no data to support this).

And in the end, hopefully it would make the community (however the learners bounded this) better.

What it would take from me is a huge willingness to give the learners power over their own education. They would have the ability to make decisions, and be allowed to follow through on those decisions. Some of those decisions will not turn out with positive (statistically speaking) results. They will get negative results. That is real life.

It would take time to plan, to organize content around their projects, and to think deeper about the connections. It would take time to connect with admin and parents to explain why I am doing this. It would require the admin of the school to be willing to allow learners to have the power.

It would absolutely weaken the oppression of the learners done by curriculum designers.

I want to do this. I am not in a classroom any more to do it.

Is anyone willing to partner? I will help. I will support. I will do everything in my power to make your life easier while doing this.

I think it is worth doing.

Feb 192016
 

Learning is funny. There is an entire realm of things to know out there in the real world. Yet until you start looking, it is so easy to gloss over all of those things.  I started looking with a more  critical eye at the world and at my own practices, and realized that I was not meeting my own objectives of inclusiveness and change. This post is an extension of my last post: My Critical Pedagogy / Theory Journey.

Early this week, Adisa Banjoko and Arash Daneshzadeh posted an article named: Why Don’t The Black Kids Like Math and Science?: Easy Answers. I was intrigued. They promised easy answers, and I doubted there were any such things. I suggest everyone read the article. I will have my learning pre-service teachers read it this semester as well.

easy-button

Have you read their article? Go do it. It is worth it. Just promise you will come back.

There are two paragraphs that explained  teaching pedagogy I want to point out.

I explained to one of the math teachers, a White female, how crucial this was. “If your students are mostly Latino then you need to tell them about how the Mayans invented the concept of the zero several hundred years before the people of India and they had no contact.” I talked about how Aztec and Mayan architecture is something that should be used to as a cultural bridge for them to understand their legacy in math and science.

Her vacant eyes she blinked in hollow despair “But I don’t know all that stuff.” Her unwillingness to pursue new racial and cultural paths to math told me she was not interested. She still struggles to keep her students engaged to this day. via (Emphasis mine.)

Ms. Banjoko and Mr. Daneshzadeh give resources that will take any teacher from zero to … well, not a hero but at least a sidekick, pretty quickly. There are so many resources offered in the post that it will take me hours to read them all, but I am in the process of doing just that.

But, think about the teacher in the quote above. “Her unwillingness to pursue a new racial and cultural path…” Ouch. How many teachers are willing to take on the task of teaching content AND teaching culture? That is the problem the White female teacher in the post had. This teacher defined her job as only teaching math.

Her job, my job, is not to teach math, it is to teach PEOPLE. What is the best way to teach people? Well, it depends upon the person, really. That is the point.

The New Teacher Center created this meme several weeks ago. I saved it because it spoke to me.

3 habits

Why? Because of the statements embedded in it. “Seek growth opportunities, take responsibility for learning.” Hmm, the White teacher above did neither. They had an opportunity to grow AND take the responsibility for learning by learning themselves. That is a no brainer.

“Take risks and try new strategies.” Holy Hell Batman, the authors of the article handed the teacher a new strategy laid out in detail. The White teacher above walked away.

Ms. Banjoko and Mr. Daneshzadeh promised easy answers in their post. I am not confident the answers are easy. I think it takes a lot of work to learn about the individuals who are in my classroom. I think that work is mandatory, however. It is part of teaching people. It is part of leading while following, to paraphrase Freire.

If we want to have classroom where we are not subjugating the learners, where we are not oppressing them and holding them back from learning, we need to start celebrating them and giving them back the power that has been stripped away from them.

Reading the multitude of links provided by Ms. Banjoko and Mr. Daneshzadeh is a first step. Learning how that applies to the learners in the room with you? That is a great second.

Feb 142016
 

This is a class assignment. Not to blog about it, but to write a paper about it.  The “it” is critical pedagogy/theory. Do you know what that means? I didn’t (and probably still don’t) either. I realize that I acted in ways that inched towards critical pedagogy, but I didn’t understand the theory. When I say, “I inched towards,” I mean it. I think I was heading in a direction that was taking me towards being a critical educator. I was not there.

quote-we-cannot-all-succeed-when-half-of-us-are-held-back-malala-yousafzai-59-1-0176
When I first read this quote, I thought “Females are the half being held back. Right, I have to teach to all learners, not just the male learners.” But, as I developed ideas of critical pedagogy (again, before I knew what it was) I thought about my learners who didn’t like math. Was I holding them back? What about my Hispanic learners? Or the gay learners? Or what if they are gay, Hispanic, and female!

The next question I started asking myself is, “If I am not teaching to Hispanics or females, am I holding them back? After all, If I am teaching ‘neutrally’ then isn’t their problem to learn, not mine?” I have heard a version of that question from many teachers: I teach, learners learn, that is the way it goes. I once told a teacher, “A teacher who says I taught it, but they didn’t learn it is the same as a salesperson who says I sold it, but they didn’t buy it.” (No, really, I told that to the teacher’s face. They were … not happy with me.)

If I am not teaching TO the female learners, or TO the Hispanic learners or TO the low SES learners, than I AM holding them back. Purposefully, with foreknowledge, and now with malicious intent. I am using my power as an educator to purposefully hold back some learners over others.

I can’t do that. I will not be that teacher who doesn’t teach to ALL my learners, to get ALL of the learners to their maximum potential. I will not be the teacher who abuses their power.

But does that mean I am a critical educator?

The short answer is No.

The long answer is also No.

Because I didn’t create a classroom environment where I challenged the learners to engage and change the world. I changed my classroom for them, but what did I encourage them to change?

That is the difference between being an aware, a reflective, educator and a Critical Educator. And the more I learn, the more I believe every teacher SHOULD be involved in critical theory / pedagogy. It should not be an option to opt out. Being neutral on this topic does harm to learners.

Being neutral on the topic of power is wrong There is no such thing as being neutral. Yes, those are pretty strong words. I believe them. I will act on them.

I will put the rest of this “paper” below the fold, so it is not taking up tons of space. However, I encourage you to read on. I am going to try to become explicit in understanding what critical pedagogy is. I won’t apologize for that. It will be technical. And yet, I don’t see what I write below as optional practice in the classroom.

Critical Pedagogy / Theory: as I see it today, February 2016

Continue reading »

Feb 052016
 

Anne Schwartz wrote a wonderful post this morning about “Why I am not quitting teaching.” It is a extremely thought provoking post, and it made me think. She wrote many times “I am not,” “I do not,” etc, but it is easy to turn it all around and see the positive in every statement. Because, IT IS a very positive post, hiding behind many negative statements. She ends with,

Mostly, I am committed to never reading another fucking letter from a disgruntled teacher about their decision to quit.  If you feel like writing one of those let me know and I am happy to give you suggestions just where you can put it.

I made it a habit of mine to follow this advice daily.

Teachers inspire other teachers

Anne is one of those people.

But, I have been questioning myself the last 8 months because I kind of feel like I did quit. I am not in a classroom daily. I am not interacting with high school learners, and this has caused me to have a crisis of confidence. Am I a fraud, now? Did I sell out?

Anne’s post made me think deeply this morning. She uplifted me, and inspired me to think. And I realized something.

I did NOT sell out.

I moved into a different category of teaching. I didn’t walk away from my learners, and my colleagues. I didn’t walk away from the challenges of teaching, I embraced them more, and deeper than I did before.

I now have the added burden, challenge, and yes, job, of telling young adults how they should teach. Most importantly, I must communicate WHY they should teach.  And if I am not 100% clear to myself and the world that teaching is the 100% best use of my time, energy and effort, than I have sold out and am a fraud.

Screw that. I loved teaching. I LOVE teaching.

#WhyITeach

Because for 8 years I knew I can walk in the door of my building and know with absolute certainty that I worked with the absolute best people who cared about people. I may not have agreed with them every day. But no one could ever question their commitment to our learners.

Because it was about my learners. Every single day. It was about their success, not mine. It was about our learning, together. It was their bad days (because they had them) and my bad days (because I had them) but it was always how to get better and do better.

Because content is great, but people are better.

Because standards are important. You must know know where you are going, or you just wander around aimless.

Because my worst day teaching was still better than my best day in the private sector (10 years of that prior to teaching.)

Because I hated grading, hated grades, but knew they were a necessary annoyance to the process. So I focused on what was important, learning, and not the grades.

Because after 9 years in a classroom, I still can’t believe they paid me to talk math with people every day? And I had the privilege of talking addition with one learner one day, and calculus with another a different day, and stats yet again on a different day. And each day, each learner needed a different conversation.

Because each day was a new day. The blow up by a learner yesterday was yesterday. Every day was new. With a new beginning, a new morning, and a new opportunity to fix a misconception or a misunderstanding.

Have I “sold out” like I was accusing myself? No.

I have embraced it more. I have become a bigger cheerleader.

Now, I am in elementary, middle, and soon, high school classrooms. I am in college classrooms recruiting future teachers. I am telling them, honestly, why I teach.

Thank you Anne. You helped me resolve the internal, nagging voice that was telling me I was a fraud. (Damn Imposter Syndrome.) Screw that.

I teach.

I teach people.

I used to teach people math.

Now I teach people teaching.

That is so cool. Can you believe they pay me to do this?

Good morning. It is a new day. Let’s go teach someone.

Feb 022016
 

On Friday last week at the end of the Step 1 class we were talking about engagement, high fives, enthusiasm, and why we are teachers. The conversation started with these two questions:

  1.  Write about a lesson / teacher who you remember using a 5E model.
  2. Write about a lesson / teacher who you remember did NOT use a 5E model.

The conversation led to the idea that the teachers they remembered from #1 were teachers the learners in class remembered fondly, they remembered their classes with enthusiasm, and they remembered specific lessons from those classes. The teachers in category #2 were still good teachers (I did stress this) but the entire conversation was less enthusiastic. No lessons specifically were brought up, and it the words “favorite teacher” was never mentioned. As in, not even close.

And then I challenged the class. “What category of teacher do you want to be?” I let them think about it.

And then, I brought up the fact that I had high fived them the last two weeks. I asked why they thought I did that, and how did it make them feel. The conversation was epic. They realized how connected and interested just that one little thing made them.

At this point, after I explained my High 5 philosophy.

Then, as I do, I ask, “What other questions do you have?” That opened the door.

One question was, “Why do you call us learners?” Answer, because students study, and I don’t care how much you study. I care how much you learn, so I refuse to call you students. Also, if you have students in the room, then you also have …. [they said a teacher] … So, if I call you learners, that what am I? A learner, too. And I promise, I will learn as much from you this semester as you learn from me.

After I explained about my “learner” philosophy, someone in the class said, “You should make a mix tape.”

That statement stuck with me all weekend.

So, here is a mix of Waddell’s greatest hits. Now, before you say, “Well, anyone can be egotistical enough to write these,” know that I did not write these. I asked my learners from last year on Facebook to tell me what stuck with them. These are things they reported almost a year after being in my class. This is “My Mix Tape.”  My comments are in [].

——

“I don’t care how much you study, I care how much you learn.”

“If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth your time.”

“You can’t memorize math, you have to learn it to understand.”

“Things don’t ‘cancel’ out.”  [did you know teachers use the word “cancel” to mean as many as four or five completely different things? This is a huge pet peeve of mine.]

But this is the whole quote of what was written: “Things don’t cancel out.” I know it was for math because things don’t disappear they become a 1 or 0 but it applies to life on how things don’t just disappear and cancel out. There are reasons, hurts, joys, etc that come. There is so much more to things than just “canceling” them.  [Seriously, can I cry now?]

“Amazeballs”

“You’re awesome remember that.”

“Use your Awesome brains.”

“You have all the knowledge, remember to use it.”

“Stop complicating things take a second look.”

“Once you know the basics to math, you know everything you need for any problem.”

——-

And, finally,
Learner #1: You were and are the most amazing teacher I have ever had
Learner #2: Can I second that?

 

—–

Okay, Now I have some tears. For realsies.

Jan 272016
 

I have not blogged much because I … well I haven’t been very reflective, more reactionary. I have been focused on building a program, recruitment, developing resources, and collaborating with my fellow Master Teacher, but I have not stopped and reflected at all on how this process has gone.

That must change. For me. So I can grow and get better at this new position (because I am in the second semester, and it really can’t be called new much longer.) That raises an interesting question. At what point is a “new” job no longer “new”? Hmm. I think about now, 8 months in, it is no longer new. It is me. And I need to stop and think; reflect; realize what I am doing poorly, what I am doing well, and start improving.

So what brought on this bit of soul searching? I read these two article in the same day:

Detroit teachers want you to see these disturbing images

Michigan Court: State Has No Obligation to Provide Quality Public Education

And, I am in a Critical Theory course for my PhD, which is challenging my perception of philosophy and what I am willing to accept as “normal.”

No way in hell will I ever accept that the content of these two article is “normal”. Teachers in Detroit are putting up with what? And Michigan judges have ruled (yes, in a very technical manner, but they ruled) that the State only needs to offer education, not a QUALITY education!

Oxygen Magnesium, are you freaking kidding me.

<<breath>> <<breath>>

Okay, this is not okay with me. I don’t live in Michigan, and this is not okay with me that this is going on in Michigan. It will never be okay in Nevada where I live. I will fight tooth and nail to make sure of that.

I am fighting to make sure of that. I will teach my new teachers about social justice, and Critical Theory. I will make sure they know to stand up for their learners and do what is right by them.

More blogging. More reflecting. It is important to me, and I have missed it.

Nov 122015
 

I have been in Elementary school classrooms this semester observing my learners teach lessons. They are amazing, and the UTeach model of teacher education is one with which I am completely on board. My learners will have spent so much time in the classroom being observed and getting feedback that they will have no choice but to be amazing teachers. Add in the fact that my math teachers will only be taught to use interactive and engaging methods like the 5E model, and you have a home run.

BUT, as I have been in 3rd through 5th grade classrooms, I have noticed a very disturbing trend. Like this board I saw in a 5th grade classroom.

2015-11-02 12.20.48 (2)

Notice that the objective here was to “Reacquaint yourself” with the math terms by designing a city. OMG. Seriously. This was in the 5th freaking grade. No wonder geometry is such a difficult class to teach in HS, the learners are bored stiff and resentful the teacher is lecturing them on something they have spent time on already.

Next up, a 4th grade classroom. The terms I heard LEARNERS using today were; expression, equation, identity, and inverse.

No joke. 4th grade. The learners were using the terms correctly, and identifying the difference between an expression and equation and using inverses to construct identities while solving equations.

This was not a Gifted and Talented classroom, this was an at risk, high needs, pretty normal, typical classroom.

If I were to summarize what I have learned this semester as a teacher of teachers, it is this. High School teachers, we need to seriously up our game. We need to realize that the reason our learners look bored and apathetic is because we are rehashing what they already know.

We are NOT connecting to what they already know (even if we think we are.)

We are NOT challenging them to reach for deeper understanding (even if we think we are.)

And, we are NOT realizing the learners are entering our classrooms with a great deal of prior math experience and love. Connect with it. Pull it out. Create engagement.

My eyes are open, and it scares me to death what I have done in the past to my learners. The CCSS standards are working. The shifts in mathematics education are working. We must be leaders and take advantage of it.

Go spend time in elementary school classrooms. It will shock you what the learners are doing today. What are we doing?