Framing.

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Entrepreneurship Merit Badge

Students speaks out…

This video of a young man from Tennessee speaking on the topic of Common Core State Standards as been hopping around, and I linked it the other day myself on Facebook. He passionately defends his own education and his beloved teachers, from what, exactly, I am not clear yet, and should make it my business to find out. Was this meeting called to speak out against “merit” pay?  Is the issue the (constant) assessment of students? (This year alone we’ve had seven instructional class periods of testing in my content area, not including the PLC common assessment our department created, adding about three more days to the mix: I hesitate to include this because this pre-and post assessment has been extremely valuable in informing instruction). Perhaps it is to simply protest their thoughts on the means by which the CCSS came to be, and a caution to beware on its proponents and their agendas. I too believed it was a consortium of states banding together in response to NCLB, and according to this young man, that was not the case.

And before I go any further, let me be clear: I have no issue with the CCSS. Truly. For Language Arts, the verbage gets a little messy and paradoxically esoteric, but that’s okay, because Language Arts can be messy (and paradoxically esoteric): teaching students how to engage in dialogue, discourse, and “accountable” talk is an imperfect and sometimes painful process. There is no data point for a student who vehemently disagrees with something and is trying to get her point across. Creating a rubric for passionate beliefs doesn’t always work so well.

The “framing effect” may be in play here: the framing effect is how a situation is presented to manipulate choice and decision making. Let’s think about the term “merit” pay. By definition, merit is a positive trait or ability desired. When the CCSS, assessments, and merit pay are framed by those powers who benefit and profit, it takes on this tone of “If you were a good teacher and doing nothing wrong then you wouldn’t be bothered by this.” We feel guilty, and dangerously doubtful when, put to us that way, just what the heck is our beef with CCSS and assessing students? Don’t we want them to do well? Don’t we want all students to achieve and go to college? We meekly answer of course! We all want what’s best for students! What I continue to have an issue with, and will continue to fight against, is the mountains of money that line the pockets of ‘educational carpet baggers’ if you will. Those folks who profit from an $8 per students test, or sell a district millions of dollars of program after program that are all supposedly ‘research based and aligned.’ This alignment seems to go off the rails pretty darn quickly.

American teachers and students are constantly being compared to other nations, and the other nations’ children are saying it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. When trying to synthesize my own self-doubt, of ‘just what is my problem?!” I am desperately trying to synthesize all the pieces so I ensure I am advocating appropriately and correctly. It is reasonable and logical to expect students to show growth in their knowledge. It s reasonable and logical to expect teachers to continue to hone their professional mastery. What I don’t want to happen is continued waste of time and money without clear vision. That is one data point I can stand behind. The PLC work is simple: what do we want kids to know, how are we going to teach it, and what are we prepared to do when they don’t?

I’d like to also add, what are we going to do when they do get it?

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In Praise of the Helicopter Parent

Not exactly what I had in mind..

Not exactly what I had in mind..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I cannot believe it’s almost been a year since my last post. I am certain that anyone who ever read this blog has long given up on me. But that’s okay: I didn’t begin this for anyone or any purpose other than to chronicle my professional journey, and it was originally intended for students to read, too. It long shifted away from a place to share lessons and links with students, but more to share my  insights. Trust me — there have been many occasions I’ve drafted post after post in my head, thinking that maybe this time, no, that time, perhaps nowwould be the moment to jump back in. I’ve also enjoyed just dabbling in fiction writing too, an escape of sorts. I’m not done writing for fun, not by a long shot. 

But I have a few more things to say here, too.

I have two sons. Correction: I have two amazing sons. Each picked up not only alternating genetic physical traits between my husband and me, for they look nothing alike, and have very different personalities. Yet at their core, they are both two of the most kind-hearted, intelligent, funny, and generous young men anyone would ever hope to meet. However, they have been a case study of how our current educational practices work, or don’t. The older one is inherently organized, driven, almost a perfectionist, and the younger one is not. Through chemistry, genetics, luck of the draw, whatever, they are different. The older one is a teacher’s dream: well-behaved, studious, and organized. I was behind him every step of the way, but seldom had to remind him of assignments, etc. He will tell a different story of when he was in 8th grade and all the wind went out of his sails. He struggled to get things done, he had zero motivation, and quite frankly, was burnt out. I’ve also been behind my younger son every step of the way, but the shoes I’ve worn have been more hob-nail boots than running shoes. For the younger son I’ve been in contact with teachers, principals, and counselors since a red flag waved in fifth grade when a big assignment slipped past him, and none of his team of teachers seemed to notice. It’s been a struggle ever since to balance between advocating for him and trying to get him to be independent.

Bottom line: the world doesn’t give a damn if you struggle with ADD, ADHD, organizational skills or lack thereof, if you’re amazing at creating, building, and talking about science but don’t fill out your journal correctly, or if you slip up and completely space out on an English book report. The world doesn’t care if you make mistakes. Repeatedly.

My own anxiety levels have gone through the roof. I know what’s at stake here. If the GPA isn’t high, the SAT scores are high, and he doesn’t walk across the stage during graduation with some kind of sash around his chest then…what? What exactly are the consequences? As a parent, the only tools we have are to reflect on our own academic careers, and somehow, someway, even though I got a D in Chemisty and in Algebra II, I still made it into colleges. I am not sure that would happen today. And not only am I not sure, but the ‘there is only college or the military’ paths have become so constrictive and limiting to our nation we are forced into two chutes via cattle-prod. Who makes the cattle-prod? The big testing companies. This week alone we’re giving the second district-mandated assessment; this will total six instructional periods of bubble-filling. This does not include our own department assessments on the learning targets for the quarter, which took two instructional periods: pre and post. From those assessments I informed more about the neccessary instruction for my students that the bubbles that fly away into the ether, never to be seen or data-collected again.

Now I’m rambling, sorry: back on point.

So, helicopter parents. Those parents who drive teachers crazy with their poking, prodding, assistance, help, micro-managing ways. But guess what teachers, principals, and districts? Sometimes…in fact many times…we make mistakes, too. Big ones. We are complicent in our over-testing. We get steam-rolled by grading systems and confusing technology infrastructures that demand our students to not only be technologically astute and savvy, but offer parents a 24/7 on-demand access to every little blip with children’s grades. We try out new ‘math’ that gives 5/10 points for math homework when a child has done 8/10 problems (this is true: this is the first time I had to have one of “those” meetings with my younger son’s math teacher and principal–my son was getting a F on doing 80% of the problems correctly).

And we have bullies in our profession. Bullies who treat children as if they are adults, and beat us (parents and students) over the head with their grading policies and syllabii that no one questions until the bully teacher is inconvenienced. But hey, this is what bully bosses do, too, right? So it’s just getting students ready for ‘the real world.’ I am not sure anymore what this ‘real world’ looks like: if it’s the vision of a particular bully teacher, it means robotic obedience to a draconian agenda. It means not spending time with family. It means not having an experience outside of his/her realm.

So if it means I need to swoop in and monitor what is going on, so be it. And I welcome parents who ask questions, seek understanding, and want to know how their child is doing. The only times I am ever uncomfortable or feel awkward is when parents ask me about the testing, the grades that may fluctuate, or the moments their child is struggling and I haven’t done every thing in my power to help. We are on the same side, though: we both want our sons and daughters to learn, to grow, and be ready for the ‘real world.’ Whatever that is. Pretty sure it’s not on the test. Parents are responding to what we in education have created: yes, I am suggesting we made this monster. Now it’s up to us to dismantle it.

In the meantime though, I’ll report a conversation I had with my younger son this afternoon. I told him I thought he may want to drink alternative things and get back in his habits of drinking water. He told me, “Someday I’ll be able to make my own decisions and you won’t have control over this…I’ll be working at JPL Laboratories and if I want a Diet Coke, I’ll have one…”

You know what I said? Hallelujah. 

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I am an American teacher.

As we all are trying to sort out the horror of the murders of innocent children and adults, a horror we will never fully understand, there is one area I need to sort through myself. I am afraid of this, and don’t want to face it.

I may be a coward.

Every teacher would say that he or she would die for their students if need be, that they could not live with the guilt if they could have saved a life and didn’t. I think this is true for all humans, not just teachers. And yes, I would like to believe that this is true for me, too. If someone was trying to harm my students, I have a sacred, unwritten honor to protect them at all costs, even at a cost to my own children. But there is a shaky side to this feeling, a sickening, quaking view, that I don’t want anyone, ever, to be put in this position in the first place, especially teachers. Or me. I don’t want to die a hero: I don’t want to die, period, as a result of my profession. I don’t want anyone to, ever. Hear the fear?

This is the conversation that prompted this post. Thank you to the teachers and Look At My Happy Rainbow for sharing their thoughts. http://lookatmyhappyrainbow.com

One thing I teach my students is that there are many paths to personal success and happiness. Some choose to be police officers, or emergency technicians, doctors, nurses, etc. Some choose a military career. Many of these involve life and death decisions, and in the case of fire, police, and other first-responder personnel, sometimes the ultimate sacrifice of lives. These professions do everything in their protocols and power to see that this doesn’t happen, to prevent this, and when it does happen, the magnitude and loss is horrific. Those professions are directly involved with the ‘bad guys,’ and they are trained to do so. And even with all that training, their hearts are broken, the psychological effects can be everlasting, and sometimes they are broken. They may have gone into this line of work with their eyes as open as they could, but nothing prepares any of us for the realities that come with any grand and large hope: parenting, careers, marriage, or love. We learn as we go.

But I want to look at this from the teacher’s perspective. And make no mistake: there are truly heroes, those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and it completely, utterly shatters my heart. Stories such as Victoria Soto’s will never be forgotten, and nor should they. I can’t untangle or analyze the monster’s motives; I can only honor and pray for those whose lives were taken, and those left behind.

What I wish, though, is that we take this and turn it into action. Not just prayers, not just wishes. But honest conversations, hard conversations.

When I got the news yesterday from an acquaintance, (who didn’t know that I am teacher) he was suggesting all teachers should be trained with guns and carry them. I would suggest that his remarks, while ludicrous, are also dangerous and extremely misguided, but I also believe he is not alone in his opinion. More guns, more violence. Ironically, as my husband said yesterday, the NRA would argue that by not allowing their version of the Second Amendment rights, we allow the government to set up a police state, and yet, many of their members would advocate for more armed personnel in our schools, thus making it a police state. (Please do not try to engage me in a pro/con discussion of the NRA: I know many responsible gun owners, and responsible NRA members.) There is no logic to a gun. There is no purpose other than to kill, and kill quickly. We’ve all seem to have forgotten Trayvon Martin and our outrage over vigilantism. We respond to our fears, rationale or not, with more violence. We try to find the quick fix, like telling people not to wear hoodies.  One thing we are is amazingly reactionary: in times of crisis, we Americans are emotional, compassionate, and forgiving. But we are perhaps too “forgetting” as well.

Every one of us has different reasons for going into teaching, but one thing we all have in common is we love one another. This love comes in the form of sharing our time, hearts, knowledge, and spend hours reflecting on our practices to improve, to reach, to make the path clear for our students. To guide, to instruct, and we learn from them, and the reciprocal love we share cannot be denied. Our professional relationships with parents and communities can be at times antagonistic, when we believe they are harming their own children (and quite often, they are) or undermining a course of action. But I remind myself every single day, every single day, that that child in front of me is somebody’s baby, someone conceived in love, brought into the world, and wrapped in hopes, worry, and care. I am never far from this promise. My students are on the edge of young adulthood and all the angst that this brings.

Teaching is so many things that “no one ever told me.” There are more facets to being a teacher than any course of teaching certification can possibly prepare us for. But it is clear that many of our routines and practices are directly related to saving lives: fire drills, earthquake drills, and now lock-down drills. We’ve recently had suicide prevention training at my own school in light of the loss of a student last year, which I am just now able to talk about, barely. I am sure if I went to my district and said I need counseling they would provide it. The presentation and training were a two-part statistics and ‘how to’ talk to a student one may suspect of being suicidal, and the signs to notice, and levels of potential risk.

What struck all of us in the face during these very tough conversations was our collective question, “Okay – we have a student in danger. Then what?” And the flummoxed, pained body language answered the question: there is very little help out there. I learned that students can seek counseling under the age of 18 without their parents’ consent, however, they must show proof of insurance. This is a deadly Catch-22. But help isn’t something, or someone else: it’s us, it’s the teachers, who are there witnessing the bullying, the friendships, the academic struggles, the writing, the art, the clubs and interests, that shape and mold our children’s worlds. We are the first responders.

The first day, a Tuesday morning, we had our presentation on suicide prevention, the regular security guard was out on a family emergency, and word got around the school, and on Facebook, and some of the key investigative students formed planned fights. That Tuesday, there were seven fights in our building. My conversations with my students was to share with them my insight into their worlds: they have been raised in a world of violence as entertainment, and not just ‘make believe’ violence. This violence is in the form of them staging fights to film and upload to YouTube. It’s happened among my own students. It may have happened where you live. An amazing student of mine told me later, “Mrs. Love, I know you said that kids are bored and do all this violent stuff to be entertained, but I think they also do it because if they look at someone else’s life that’s worse, it makes them feel better.”

How could I have forgotten the trellis of human misery? 

I cannot stop all bad things from happening. I can’t. I can only prepare. If I work in a profession that requires lock-down drills in addition to fire and earthquake ones, then so be it.  My students know I have always taken these extremely seriously. My children were toddlers when Columbine happened. This is what they have grown up with. They have never not known a time of school shootings, increased violence, marginalized lives, and guns, guns, and more guns everywhere. I would like to start working toward a time when this are seen as “quaint” as a 1950s “duck and cover drill.” A relic from the past, from a time when the US was violent.

This is a screenshot only. Please click on the source to view further.

This “interactive map” shows the horror and disproportionate violence that has become all too common for U.S. schools. I hate that word ‘disproportionate’ in terms of this conversation: one shooting is too many.

 

This is a screenshot only. Please click on the source to view further.

 

 

 

 

So if I am a coward because I am asking the question, “In what other ways can we better serve our students, our nation, and ourselves?” as opposed to continuing the arms race that has become our nation and our schools, then so be it.

 

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Old dog.

I have a question for you: How do you keep up to date on new things, learn to keep what is old but works, and learn to let go of past bad teaching habits?

These questions were sparked by an anecdote, an epiphany, one of those, “So this is when it happens…” moments. The other day a young woman I am acquainted with is expecting her first baby any day now. He may even be in the world as I type. She was sharing that she was going out to buy some swaddling blankets, and emphasized they would be made of muslin. Some folks asked what swaddling was, and then muslin. “Swaddling” is when you wrap a newborn up like a burrito. It comforts many babies, although mine were so large at birth, swaddling was not really their gig. I chimed in and said swaddling blankets  could be made of flannel, too, and then she exclaimed that no, flannel swaddling has been linked to SIDS. Of course, I looked this up later, because this seemed like “let’s terrify new parents” meme versus actual scientific data. But anything that may keep a baby safe is usually a really good thing to know. Now, three thoughts: 1. I think this is a bunch of baloney, but would never question a woman about to have her first baby. New moms are a skittish lot, having been one myself. 2. I am now “of that age” when the expertise I gained as a new parent from reading books, information, and hands-on experience (nothing like on-the-job training!) has now become passe and irrelevant; 3. Old people don’t know anything according to young people. In this moment, this horrible moment, I imagined myself years hence, talking to one of my sons and fill-in-the-blank daughters-in-law when I become a grandma, and how I will be of no value to them. I will know nothing. I will be one of those women who says, “Well, my boys survived!” while pointing a bony, claw-like finger at them while holding a basket of apples and wearing a hooded cloak.

Deep breath. Okay. Not there yet.

But this led me to think of late I’ve been wondering if my teaching has stayed fresh. We get new programs, acronyms, and philosophies thrown at us constantly. We are told metaphorically that flannel blankets are bad, and muslin is the savior, in other words. And yet, with all this new new new–there are still so many parents who are not getting the fundamental message: Read to Your Child. If I could do one thing for new parents it would be to have them buy-in to the one thing that helps children grow and think. Yes, of course make sure they have well-fed and nourished tummies. Yes, make sure they have a clean, safe place to sleep. Keep them in routines. Don’t let them watch too much TV or stay no the computer. And read to them. But I cannot control what new parents do. I can only reflect upon my own best practices and try to keep them sharp: in this, I am fortunate to have an amazing mentor. Not only is she one of my dearest friends, but has such gentle insight into how to get all students to learn and think–she has a cache of teachers, too, who have thirty or more years of experience. These ladies know a thing or two about true, authentic, education.

Teaching is similar to medical practices in that we first want to do no harm. And yet, I also encounter teachers who have demeaned or bullied students, said a few things that bruise and pinch. I am not perfect, either. I have misinterpreted situations or actions, and encountered some broken children I have not been able to help. So I guess I am asking two questions: how do you first keep on top of your moral and ethical best practices, and then your pedagogical ones? Not an easy one to wrap up.

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Explore

I have ten minutes to write this. I have more than ten minutes of thoughts. Good thing I drafted it in the shower while brushing teeth and brewing coffee and feeding dog and looking fabulous. Sure. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

This was inspired by a Facebook post by Happy Rainbow, about wishing those of us who may have had Columbus Day off yesterday a good one. When I was a little girl, our schools in Texas took Columbus Day off, but haven’t enjoyed that holiday in years. I say ‘enjoy’ lightly. Columbus Day, and the adventures of Signore Columbus are fraught with all the pain, disease, cruelty, and general foundations for xenophobia that anyone can discuss. This is not about Columbus, or his exploits. This is a sticky-note of a thought: I would love more time, and I want more school. I know – this seems contradictory.

These are just wishes, and may never materialize, but maybe. I know in my sons’ school district, they decided to go every Friday as early release, and the teachers use this time for planning, professional development, etc. Students like my older son who are in their senor years, and have so much to do it makes me ashamed every time I feel overwhelmed, and others like my younger son who are desperately trying to stay organized, but who are so intelligent and creative, need time to explore the world. My younger son is happiest doing actual science and thinking about the world than siting in a classroom taking notes. Go figure. But my school district is still wrangling over time teachers are allowed to use for planning versus the district’s directions and mandates, and let me tell you, the whole thing has an undercoating of fear.

I do wish we would take a serious look at how kids spend their time, and how teachers meet and collaborate. This feeling of being pulled without effect or growth leads to exhaustion, and it’s not just me: http://theeducatorsroom.com/2012/09/the-exhaustion-of-the-american-teacher/

I want time for mini-sabbaticals. I want time to plan and create amazing lessons. Everything being done by the seat-of-my-pants is feeling a little…scabby. The gift of a schedule breather would be welcome to me. Now it comes in big swaths of time, and I think we end up doing so much review, that the continuity of learning never gets reached. Most importantly, I want my students to get the best from me, so I can truly help and guide them.

I don’t know – I do have more to say, but the clock tells me it’s time to go, take kids to their zero-hour events, and my crack-of-dawn meeting, where I am going to have to shut down conversation in order to get anything done.

Not good.

 

 

http://www.nanowrimo.org

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