Tag Archives: teaching

Sit down. Shut up. Do what I say.

diane ravitch

Ah, what would the world be like if bullies were easily identifiable? What if, when a bully spoke, a brackish green cloud formed with every word, and their bodies glowed eggplant brown, a visible aura to show their words were angry and full of fear? That ugly beacon of fear would shine from me on occasion, and at checkpoints throughout the year, and my students would know I am Angry and Afraid, the twin spawns of dictatorship.

What am I afraid of?

I am afraid that when I am refining and honing my craft, the art/science of teaching, time will be stolen from my students so they won’t see the full benefit or be able to work on a continuum.

I am afraid of being misunderstood, under-appreciated, and patronized.

I am afraid of others taking credit, not collaborating or building.

I am afraid if I speak up. share an idea or insight, even build on another’s in a collaborative spirit,  I see the inner (and sometimes overt) eye-rolls from others who dismiss my ideas.

And I am angry that many educational cultures around the country foster this paranoia, insecurity, and fear. And the fears are real. We are afraid of losing funding. We are afraid our schools will be bought out and privatized, and someone will profit (but not students in the long run). We are afraid our children will not have access to the jobs and opportunities in our own nation.

Whew, that’s a mindful. I should say mind-full. Mindfulness is the jargon word of the moment. Not a bad one, but one.

We are given pathways and signals on how to be, how to think, how to move forward. And with any of these wonderful tropes what may be lacking is the how – how to overcome when our best practices grow carbuncular obstacles?

I reposted this image a few days ago, and it took off like wildfire. 

How do you measure the immeasurable?
These great ideas may not fall on a rubric.

The article asks, among other things:

Are you flexible? In inquiry, the journey matters as much as the destination. Constant reflection is a necessity to improving thinking and doing. Metacognition encourages wisdom, the ultimate goal of any worthy education system. Flexibility tells the brain and heart to keep working, keep going—you’re getting there.

Am I flexible? 

Well, depends on who you ask these days.

If you ask coordinators, coaches, supervisors, professional development trainers, co-workers, office staff, or my students you will get a very different review of my level of flexibility. (Which, isn’t that paradoxically the very essence of flexibility? Knowing your audience?)

I am still experiencing thought thieves, and worse, time bandits. And not cute Terry Gilliam ones.  Recently I asked my Facebook community if there is one thing they could change about teaching, what would it be, and their answers are thoughtful and wise:

ideas

 I realize this is a very small sampling, but do you see a theme? Time.

This past month, I tried something new. Though I have always taught to the highest standards, provided the highest expectations, and worked to craft scaffolding that was supportive and upward bound, I took a risk and thought I would try to jigsaw The Hobbit. It’s not a bad idea. (If you would like the full unit, email me. It’s yours.) It’s chock-full of Tolkien goodness (sounds like a brand of nougat), and most of the students were getting it: close reading, annotation, etc.

Where the wheels have come off the bus lies in one simple truth: I haven’t been there, and won’t be there. I have more professional development tomorrow, and have a personal issue on Wednesday, so whatever continuity of instruction I sought is dashed against the rocks of others agendas and poor timing once again. In order to get students engaged, I need compliance. And in order to get compliance, I need flexibility from them and from my supervisors. I’m in the middle, feeling pinned in. If I say “no,” as we adults are often advised to do, there may be retribution and passive-aggressive fall out. If I say “yes,” I am working nights and weekends to make it work for everyone else, because my students are the ones who are ultimately short-changed.

I make this plea: if those in power would really, sincerely like to see change, please do away with top-down management. Like trickle-down economics, those with the power/status are not as likely to share the spotlight. Do away with the spotlight altogether. 

And one more thing: I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. With all the ‘how to reach introverts,’ (which I excel at because well, I know that world too) I am concerned about the extroverts. (I would wager most of us are ambiverts anyway.) They are often told to just be quiet. I tell them, too. One thing I’ve learned is constantly remind them of reciprocal needs: last week I held up my hand with three fingers up. I had three teaching points to make before they started working. As I made a point, I put down a finger. This way the extroverts had a visual cue to check and monitor their listening, and I kept my promise of not talking too much. We maintained a balance of power and mutual respect. (Students in a crowded sixth period class are done. I’m done.) Every year is different, every class community varies, and every student comes equipped with their own grooved brain. This tip might work for that class now, but not sure about next time.

That’s flexibility.

So back to the color-coding of emotions, an overt ‘mood ring’ of inner monologues: when we see someone is in the red-line, their amygdala is wigging out, and the lizard brain is in charge, maybe we could be more compassionate, slow down, and learn how to process and calm down. If we only had time.

Time Bandits Trailer

Read the script!

 

 

Satisfied.

 

Alice Quote

How do I know I’m mad, indeed? Well, I keep coming back for more. I am tired, I am somewhat exhausted, and I smell smoke; a sign of potential burn-out. Too many voices in the forms of e-mails, tweets, blogs, push-back, cattiness and manic, agenda-fueled piracy. Leave me alone. I’m fading out and leaving only an enigmatic smile behind.


 

But lately I’ve been thinking that true satisfaction, smug, self-reliant satisfaction, is possibly the best option for sanity. Or survival.


 

The other day I just got so teary. Voices I respect are telling me I don’t have the right to be tired, or telling me I am not being professional if I’m feeling exhausted. I realize it’s ‘only October,’ but I need to find my reset button. I haven’t been teaching that long, to be sure. I am not a veteran or old war horse. This is only my fifth year; I counted up the number of students I’ve had, and it’s close to 800 collective souls. They came in waves of years, each class thinking they are the only ones who have tried a trick on me, or been disrespectful with their special, unique brand of sass, or proudly waved their illiteracy banner, or alliterate masthead, of “I hate to read! Ha! Now try to reach me! I’m falling through the cracks, and you can’t reach me…neener neener neener!”


 

Everyone is working their fannies off right now. And at the risk of sounding like an entitled, whiney, unprofessional teacher, there are many colleagues who would testify on my behalf that I have done and given more than my fair share. I have spent hours creating meaningful, relevant, and engaging curriculum–nights, weekends, planning time, mornings, vacations — you name it. I have neglected balance and health in my own life to ensure I am “prepared.”

It is with some sense of satisfaction that I can dutifully and happily report that all the hard work is paying off, that I am reaping the educational harvest I have sown. Lots of creative lessons, on-line, technologically integrated lessons, rubrics and checklists galore, along with the big questions and the targeted assessments.


 

So why the frown, clown?


 

The half-lit thought of change has crossed my mind. I don’t really want to teach anywhere else, though. What I do want is for you, my friends and colleagues, to tell me how you keep things fresh, avoid burn-out, and still maintain strong, foundational instructional practices for all students? I remind myself that even though that even though this may be my 786th student, this is Student #786’s first time in 8th grade.

We are all balancing families, friends, health, happiness, and hope. Maybe seeking satisfaction isn’t the answer. But a little more peace and creativity sure would help.


 

Waiting for Superman? Nah. Lois Lane already had a life before he showed up.

 

Not write now.

Lady of Justice, Dublin
Lady of Justice, Dublin

Before, during, and after last night’s meeting with the Kent School District teachers, I have thought, meditated, wished, weighed and measured all aspects of this situation, and I’m not totally ready to write about all of it, not quite yet. I should let my thoughts simmer a bit more, not react, over or under, and collect my points.

But I will bear witness on how painful it was. To see so many parents, children, teachers from other districts cheering us all on, not caring what our opinion may be, who we were, or what quality of teacher we may or may not be. We could have been the worst teacher ever-sarcastic, lazy, not interested in our students or ourselves as professionals. They didn’t care if we were National Board certified uber-teachers with umpteen hours of extra time spent away from families and other duties. They clapped nonetheless.

And if truth be known, the majority of teachers in the Kent School district are uber-teachers. They are among the best and the brightest; hard-working, dedicated, moral and conscientious citizens. They did not come to any conclusion or decision lightly; and, I would guess the majority of them have never had to face a legal or ethical dilemma of this potential magnitude before.

Whatever you believe, think happy thoughts for all of us, no matter what. We seek guidance and support. Know that none of us reaches decisions lightly, or frivolously. We’re teachers, after all. That means we’re learners, thinkers, reflectors, and dreamers. We seek to inspire children, and motivate them to be the best citizens and critical thinkers in a difficult and dangerous world.

 

 

To read more on the lastest vote, go to: http://www.komonews.com/news/local/57666952.html#idc-container

Control issues.

All together now...
All together now…

So, I wasn’t surprised this morning when I woke up to read a front-page story on the Seattle Times Internet page regarding that the teachers’ union and the school district still haven’t reached a compromise. Maybe the word “compromise” is too generous. Compromise suggests that both sides are willing to give up a little bit to gain a little bit to make everyone happy, or at least satisfied. I’m getting the sense that both sides have become entrenched and are not willing to budge. This is my impression, and I don’t know what the truth is.

The individuals in groups are usually well-intentioned, caring people. And when you get them in a large group, sometimes mob rule can get out of hand, or “group think.”  As Agent Kay said in Men In Black, “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.”

And having never been in the middle of this type of negotiation, many things have surprised me. I guess if I had really thought about it, I wouldn’t have been taken aback. (I’m building schema, making new inferences, drawing conclusions, and synthesizing information!)

When the union called for the strike and the majority of teachers voted for it, I knew from my gut and experience that it would take a few days for it to really “sink in” to feel the effects of this. Check that one off the list.

When we receive updates and new information, I knew from my gut and experience that the information presented would still be unsatisfying, emotional, full of rhetoric, both useful and trashy, and not very detailed. Check.

Detailed? That’s where my personal control issues come in, and why I’m a little emotional right now. The ‘nuts and bolts’ of what it means to go on strike were not presented in a very clear manner. I keep thinking I missed something, didn’t get enough information, that maybe somewhere, somehow, there is a clear list of what precisely happens when a teachers’ union strikes. The information presented from both groups is murky, riddled with inaccuracies, and covered in muck. My instincts are to dig deeper and ask more questions. For example, why are teachers required to belong to the union in the first place? Are there alternatives? Who decides when things have gone far enough, and in order to ‘save face’ what are the two sides willing to do? When does strength in unity become stubbornness?

Well, here’s what I do know: The only things I can control are what I’m doing today. I will move forward with organizing lessons. I will go ahead and write my congratulatory notes to some of my students from last year, and get them ready to mail. I will read more regarding National Boards and start to organize my thoughts on the portfolio entries. And, I will empty the dishwasher and fold some laundry. Check, check, and check!

And I will keep waiting for tomorrow, and what I’ll know.

Between a rock and a hard place: decisions, decisions…

mrs-love_help-me-obi_2Well, my wonderful MC students, we’re at a juncture, and as your fearless leader, even I am scratching my head, wondering where to go next. Do we take a left, struggle with Charybdis the whirlpool, or venture past Scylla, knowing a few of our crewmen are bound to be chomped up?

Well, how many times have you heard it’s about choices? You’re given a set of options, and you determine the best course of action. As my students know, we are very fortunate to have technology at our disposal – to use to enhance your learning, and my teaching. I thoroughly enjoy using technology to learn more about topics I’m interested in, how to become a better teacher, how to develop interesting lessons, etc. And you, my students, can choose to teach me new things, interact, and grow as a people, too.

That’s one path.

The other option is to use the laptop like an expense See and Say toy, something to push buttons, and try to hide as much of your distracting, off-task behaviors as possible, from a simple music file to something that is completely inappropriate and possibly even illegal. To say I’m disappointed and discouraged by those of you who have chosen this path is not only an understatement, but it feels defeating – like you wanted to “win” a game by not having your laptop available to you, but “losing it” you would “win” at some imaginary game only you were playing. I’m not sure what rules you came up with for your game, but as your teacher, I can only tell you that you are in true danger of losing.

So…do you want to go 100% doom of Charybdis’ whirlpool, or take your chances at surving Scylla? I will continue to do what I can to help you survive, to succeed, to learn, to grow, to prepare for your present and your future.  

What’s around the bend, the corner, the towering rocks? Well, it’s your choice.