Aug 122016

Another #BlAugust post, but this is an fired up post.


I was going to blog about my Knowing and Learning preparation today, but a comment from a college learner in my program made me more and more upset as I thought about it.

The learner (I redacted the name to protect them) said,

“I was just discussing this with another educator. He is an elementary school teacher in his third year of teaching. I’ve been buzzing a lot about how I am going to be an innovator in the classroom rather than passively following orders even if I disagree with the resulting pedagogical approaches. This educator essentially told me to “protect” myself by doing what I’m told.” (emphasis added)

Stop and think about that bolded sentence a moment. That means this three year veteran of the school district feels that he must protect his job by just following orders, regardless of what is best for the learners or learning. The teacher asked a follow up question,

“And when the parents complain? When administration comes after you? What then?”

The district here in my city is incredibly supportive. It is focused on learning, engagement, and encouraging teachers to take some risks and try to push boundaries in the best interest of the children.  Yes, I have heard that at the elementary level the curriculum is more scripted, and yes, I have heard that there are schools where the principals can be assertive in making demands of the teachers.

BUT, to instill this kind of fear in a still new teacher (he has only taught 3 years, he is still at the beginning of his career!)

I am stunned.

I am really … stunned. That is the only word I can come up with. Because this teacher that teaches in fear is passing that fear onto substitutes (my learner is a sub in the district), and that fear will be passed onto pre-service and future beginning teachers.

I call foul.

What have we, as educators, done to allow this fear to foster and fester?

What, as educators, are we doing to push back against the fear?

What, as educators, are we doing to take back ownership of our profession so that we can teach with positivity?


Teaching is a political act. We need to recognize this fact. We need to act accordingly and not allow others who are not educators to define our classrooms and our teaching.

I am fired up over this, which is a great place to be at the beginning of the school year.

Want to know what my learner said?

I didn’t want to answer instantaneously because the topic deserves so much more thought than I can possibly perform in but a moment, so I responded by saying, “I may not have the answer or strategy now, but that’s why I’m in school. That’s what I’m actively working towards figuring out.”

Freaking awesome.

One challenge I have now is to make sure this future teacher, and EVERY future teacher, leaves the program with the skills and answers to this question.

Fired. Up.


Aug 012016

I have been thinking about what the phrase “Teaching is a political act” means, and how the decision influences my actions in the classroom with learners.

As I have been thinking about this, I realize the while the learners may engage more and learn mathematics at a higher level, some of their parents may be upset at the non-traditional and non-textbook orientation of the class. So what am I to do when my classroom is buzzing with excitement, the learners are engaged and focused on mathematics, and a parent files a complaint with the principal that I am not teaching out of the textbook.

My personal reaction is a giant … er … well it would not be appropriate to say out loud my first reaction. It would not accomplish anything.

So assuming I have sound pedagogical reasons for doing what I am doing. Assuming that I have solid arguments for the class going where I am taking it, and assuming that in the end, all the standards required of me are deeply uncovered and learned, how do I respond?

I really didn’t have an answer to that question. The current political climate on Facebook yields a glimpse of how those conversations end up; a shouting match. No winner.

So how do both parties walk out winners? How can we all, parents, teachers and admins, walk away from the meeting accomplishing something positive. That is the question.

I didn’t know or have a clue until I was listening to NPR and heard about “noncomplementary behavior”.
 And an NPR article about it here.

Essentially, complementary behavior is mirroring what the other person does. If they are warm and friendly, you are warm and friendly in response. However, if they are cold or angry, you are cold or angry as well.

Noncomplementary behavior flips the script of conversations, which is difficult, but worthwhile.

I have been attempting (which means not always succeeding) to do this on Facebook conversations. When someone gets hostile and angry, I respond with niceness and facts. I can see doing this when parents are challenging my classroom as well. When they are hostile towards the political acts of teaching, I respond with positivity and facts.

This has the potential to be very powerful, but it takes practice. Complementary behavior is so easy to do, and it is natural to do. It takes some will power and some effort to be noncomplementary. Read the articles. Try it. I think it is easy for teachers to practice, because great teachers are constantly positive anyway.



This is the first  post I have made. Shooting for 1 post per day this month!

MTBOSBlaugust2016 Thank you Shelli Temple!

Jul 282016

Yesterday I posted about deciding if teaching really was a dichotomy between agency or conformity, and I decided that yes, it really is a dichotomy. It is impossible to be a teacher and straddle the ideas of teaching to change the world or teaching to reinforce the world as it is.

And then Andy Pethan hits me with this:

I wonder if you can put student thinking and classroom behavior on independent axes. For example: you want to be a +10 on creating student agency in your classroom by encouraging thoughtful questioning and being approachable about nearly everything as the adult in the classroom. At the same time, you want a consistent environment that matches the reasonable expectations and rules of the entire school (potentially a -10 depending on the school). You can be open to discussing rules with students and offer a pathway that may lead to changing your rules or advocating for students who want to change a school rule (encouraging agency), but doing this while continuing to live within the rules (conformity). Over the past 5 years I have become both a more consistent school-rule and personal-rule enforcer while becoming better at encouraging students to question, wonder, and appropriately push back in the academic and rule-realms. I feel like this is the direction I want to keep moving in, but I’m curious to see where this discussion goes.

Because I am kind of a little mathy and like visuals, I turned that question into this graphic:

Axes of behavior

To which the question then becomes, does “rule following” end up on the x-axis (B position) or y-axis (A) position. And if rule following ends up on the B axis, then can a teacher be in the middle somewhere or only at the two ends. OR, if rule following ends up on the y-axis, can a teacher navigate the line in a positive sloped direction (whatever that slope may be).

Option A or Option B?

My personal take on this is that in this case, we are not talking about a dichotomy, but a continuum. It is clear to me that a teacher can be in the middle. A teacher could have some very strict rules of behavior (no bubble gum for example), but allow learners to sit on the floor or wherever is comfortable for them to learn. A continuum is possible in this case, where it wasn’t possible in the case yesterday.

Therefore, the first question is where does rule following land? Is it opposed to agency, or is it compatible with agency?

  1. Can a system  start off learners while they are young and teach them to be strict rule followers, and then as the learners age and develop more maturity teach them to be questioners? (This would be a negative sloped line from position A to the right instead of the positive I drew initially, OR it would be the blue dot moving from the left to the right each year.)
  2. Can a system start off with equal parts rule following and agency, and balance the two in the middle year after year while the learner is in school?
  3. Can a system stay fully in the rule following (okay, that is easy, of course. See North Korea, or some of the hyper-strict charter schools here in the US.) Do we want that? We are currently allowing it to occur here. Jose Vilson at TMC16 shared the fact that in New York, some of the charter schools are so strict that children have literally peed themselves while trying to learn math facts.
  4. Can a system stay fully in the agency mode from kindergarten through 12th grade? What would that look like? Maybe more like the High Tech High‘s or along the direction Chris Thinnes advocates for.
  5. Can a system have certain rules that are followed consistently, but then teach learners to question everything else?

Those are the five options I see. Honestly, I don’t see how the positive sloped line is possible. How can anyone teach simultaneously to be more of a rule follower and to be more of a questioner. That is ruled out.

I think this conversation is one that every single teacher has to have for themselves. I know for myself (and I speak only for myself on this) I fall into the #5. My personal graph looks like this:

Personal question v rules

I placed the line at 1 for a reason. I had 1 rule in my classroom that I enforced.

“Your behavior must contribute to the learning of every person in the room, including your own.”

That’s it.

I was pretty comfortable with pretty much anything else as long as everyone was learning and could show they were learning. My classroom was loud. It had learners sitting on the floor. It had learners looking at notes or Desmos on their cell phones (and yes, that means they occasionally did a little Facebook or texting).

This is how I personally balanced the two goals. Having a classroom that was conducive to everyone’s learning, AND teaching agency and allowing learners the freedom to make decisions for themselves.

I think I had lots of room for improvement. I think I made mistakes, but I think as teachers, this balance is crucial. Would this work at the Elementary level? I don’t know. Would it work in Middle School. Again, I have no clue. Did it work for me in high school? yes. Not always. It burned me. I had learners push it too far. But I was able to pull them back in the end.

I don’t know if that answered Andy’s challenge, but it does clarify his question for myself. I look forward to hearing from others on this issue as well.

Jul 272016

Brian Lawler posted this today:

This statement hit me in the feels, as it is intended.*** Then my brain took over. I realized I should question first whether or not it is really a dichotomy. Does it have to be one or the other? Can a teacher, no, stop. Let me be clear. I am not calling out anyone. I am not directing this question at anyone but myself.

Starting over. Can I teach with one foot in both camps? Is there a continuous line between “teaching conformity” and “teaching to change the world?” What would that look like?


Put another way, if this is our scale of -10 to +10,  is it possible to be at a neutral 0?

I know teachers like to tell themselves that they are at the +10 all the time. I did for the first few years of teaching. I was doing great things, I was teaching math dog-gone-it!

But was I really? Was my practice and my vision aligned? I don’t think so. I think I told myself I was at +10, but was really down around -10. What changed? When did it change? When did I realize that the vision and the reality were not aligned? And back to the original question, is it a dichotomy, or is it a continuum?

No feels here. No emotional response. My heart says “go positive, all the way.” But this is a brain question. What would a zero look like in the classroom?

I would be punishing non-compliance sometimes? So on some days I expected compliance, but other days not? Or is it on some subjects compliance, and other subjects not? That just seems to me to be a recipe for disaster in the classroom. Learners have no idea what to expect every day when they walk in.

The idea of memory and memorization is interesting. Do I reinforce memorization of some topics, but not others? So you have to understand and be able to explain how to transform quadratics into all 3 forms (standard, intercept, and vertex form) but you have to memorize the translation rules and just spit the rules back to me with no conceptual understanding.


I think a lot of topics are presented as dichotomous when there are gradiations between the two sides. Politically this is very true. Very few people are actually Democrat or Republican, but in truth some version of purple in between. We stereotype the “other” into the two camps, and yet sit down and have conversations with friends and family (well usually we do.)

But is there a middle ground here?

I don’t think so.

I think we have to choose one or the other. As math educators we especially must chose. Mathematics is too often a gatekeeper that reinforces social stereotypes and serves as the barrier to higher education. Read the works of Danny Martin or other educators, or follow the #Educolor hashtag if you need evidence for this statement.

I don’t see any cogent arguments from the “recreating what is” side. The status quo is broken, and it is breaking a large segment of our population. I am part of the status quo, or I am part of the agency that transforms the status quo into something new.

So to answer my question, “Is it really a dichotomy?” I have to answer with a yes. It is one, or the other. I don’t understand how there can be a continuum on this issue.

I am fully open to discussing it. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I haven’t been reading the right articles. If there is evidence to the contrary, please let me know. In the mean time, as a teacher educator, a teacher of teachers, this quote will be front and center in my thoughts.

[As an aside, I am building the reading list and teaching the ed theory class in my program this semester. Yes, this will be an issue brought up in the theory of education for math and science teachers. It is too important not to discuss.]


*** Brian sent me the link he was paraphrasing from. The original article is:

May 302016

I chose to examine my district’s math results for my final project in my Critical Pedagogy class. It made me seriously depressed and angry. It is one thing being told that we have “gaps” in our math outcomes, it is something completely different to do the research yourself and find just how large, systemic, and blatant the gaps are. Doing this project affected me greatly. I realize that I was in a funk for about three weeks afterwards.

With that in mind, I think it is important for me to share it out. I need to get the information out there, and challenge myself to make an impact on these issues.

Critical TheoryA look at the values of my math community.

I want to preface this discussion with the statement that I don’t believe any of the math leaders in my district actually believe any of the things written below. I know them. I respect them. I hope they respect me.

BUT, the things written below end up not very favorable to them. This is unfortunate, because I know and believe they are just as passionate about the problems and solutions as I am. It makes writing this all that much more difficult, and it also contributed to the malaise I felt about the topic. But it is an important topic, and one that is rarely discussed.

I started with going to and looking up the results for the Mathematics High School Proficiency Exam (HSPEM) for the most recent year on file, which was 2015. After doing several different reports, several different combinations of “and” and “or” tables, and lots of copying and pasting into excel, I create the following table:

2015 math data

I won’t try to address why we are under serving the learners who aren’t White. The reasons for that gap are wide, varied, and far beyond this little blog.

However, the question of what do math leaders and educators claim to believe about mathematics in my district can be easily found. Every math document the district produces has the following six “core beliefs.”

  1. All students will learn and be successful.
  2. The achievement gap will be eliminated by ensuring every student is challenged to learn at, or above grade level.
  3. Effective teachers and principals, dedicated support staff, rigorous curriculum, measurable outcomes, ongoing monitoring and assessment, collaboration, professional development and a culture of continuous improvement will ensure classroom success for all students.
  4. Superior performance will be achieved through clear goals that set high expectations and standards for all students and employees.
  5. Family, school and community engagement will be required for student academic success.
  6. Leadership and passion, together with accountability and transparency, will be the keys to reform and success. (“Curriculum & Instruction / Math 9-12 Course Guides,” n.d.)

The fact that the first belief is about “all students” and not ‘each student’ is important to recognize. This wording suggest that the “all students” are being considered successful from the dominant culture’s perspective, not the individual culture of each student (McLaren, 2009).

Reinforcing the dominant culture is the vision found in the second belief as well. The focus on grade levels and stating that each learner must be at or above their grade level is a hegemonic act of domination (McLaren, 2009, p. 67). No teacher or parent would argue with the goal or belief that learners should be at or above his or her grade level, but the implementation of the grade level curriculum based on the dominant White, middle class culture makes it an impossible argument. Algebra 1 in the first year, geometry in the sophomore, and algebra 2 in the junior year is the standard progression, regardless of the learner’s previous educational opportunities or struggles. By defining this progression as the culture and standard of mathematics education, we have created a situation where a parent or teacher who argues against it needs to take on the entire mathematics establishment. In addition, it means the parent or teacher is openly advocating FOR the achievement gap and unsuccessful learners. Challenging the hegemony of the mathematics curriculum cannot be done without simultaneously shouldering the burden of arguing for failure.

The fifth core belief sounds like a very positive value, from the position as a member of the dominant culture. However, reading the belief not as an attainable goal but as a statement of fact, it becomes a way to dismiss subordinate cultures. All three elements, family, school, and community engagement will be required for success. The lack of the family to engage with the school or community will automatically create failure for the learner. This is a convenient way for the district mathematics department to absolve themselves of responsibility if the family is not able to, unwilling to, or incapable of engagement with the school. As long as it is a family failure to engage, the school has met its condition of the belief, and the lack of success becomes the responsibility of the learner and family.

Finally, it is disheartening to that Equity is not a key to reform and success in the district mathematics documents. Equity could be an element of leadership belief given the inclusion of ‘reform’ in the statement. However, the lack of explicit identification, the emphasis on “all students” instead of “each student,” and the dismissive use of family points to a department that is not aligned with the Access and Equity Principle of the NCTM or the Social Justice principle of the NCSM (National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics & TODOS: Mathematics for ALL, 2016; National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2014).

I stress again, that the leaders in my district have never made the arguments I made above. I think they would find these arguments as reprehensible as I do. However, I don’t think we, as a community, are addressing these arguments. Without openly discussing them, and changing our behaviors, curriculum maps, and values based on that discussion, all we are doing is agreeing implicitly that the results in the table above are okay.

I don’t think anyone is willing to do that.


McLaren, P. (2009). Critical pedagogy: A look at the major concepts. In A. Darder, M. Baltodano, & R. D. Torres (Eds.), The critical pedagogy reader (2nd ed, pp. 61–83). New York, NY: Routledge.

National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics, & TODOS: Mathematics for ALL. (2016, Spring). Mathematics education through the lens of social justice: Acknowledgement, actions, and accountability. Retrieved April 16, 2016, from

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (2014). Principles to actions: Ensuring mathematical success for all. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Nevada Department of Education. (n.d.). Nevada annual reports of accountability. Retrieved from

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.”



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.


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.


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.



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.


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.