Wow- what a great post- love love love it.

2 02 2007

This is seriously how I’m feeling now.  -e

Art, Passion and the Job of Teaching…

By (Chris Lehmann) on General Ed

I debated leaving this as just a comment response to Dan from my entry, but I think there are enough ideas in here to stand as its own entry…

Dan wrote in his comment:

    I agree that right now we need less cynicism. But I disagree that inspiration and uplift are the answer.

    We need to advocate realism. Specifically, we need to get teachers to talk more realistically about teaching.

    Even more specifically, no matter how plainly teachers feel these things, we need to stop calling our job "a calling." (You’ve called teaching "a calling" in one of your comments on my blog, so I am cognizant of where we stand on this one.)

    We need to avoid terminology like "passion" in describing the prerequisites of our job. We need to eschew terms like "artist" in describing our vocations and completely strip martyrdom from the discussion.

    Gals like Gruwell (not that I’ve seen the movie) have done more for students in a year than I have in three, but she, and movies like Freedom Writers, do teacher recruitment a disservice by implying there is something superheroic and otherworldy about our job. Every time a movie like Freedom Writers comes around, I get a little melancholy and think about how close I came to becoming a CPA. From how Hollywood and so many teachers describe this job, to succeed you have to possess some rarified blend of passion, artistry, and martyrdom and you’ll know if you do because it’ll smell faintly of crayons and coffee.

    But this job — like all jobs — needs hard-workers more than it needs saints. It needs problem solvers and creative thinkers. It needs people who are confident and well-spoken. The public’s perception of teaching, I fear, mirrors that of the clergy, where teachers have been summoned to this crusade by some spiritual force. Passion is then their reward and it’s on them to absorb the financial burden of their calling.

    But this is just a *job*, one which eagerly accepts dedicated workers and puts them to good use. My last semester at UC Davis, I took an internship in a high school in lieu of a PE class. I realized within a week that every talent I had ever developed was out in that classroom in steady rotation, often simultaneously. The same is true of every skill I’ve adopted since. If we’re interested in selling this job to fiercely dedicated undergrads and under-fulfilled graduates, that there is our sales pitch, not a mantra of superhuman self-sacrifice.

First is, I’d actually encourage anyone to read about Erin Gruwell and her students because she would never claim that there’s something "superheroic" about our job. In every interview I’ve seen with her, and as I read her book, she always talks about how much she’s learned from her kids, and that this wasn’t some superhuman effort, but rather what happened when she cares.

But that’s really not what I wanted to address in this post. There are a few ideas that Dan brings up that I want to explore a bit… first is this comment:

    We need to eschew terms like "artist" in describing our vocations…

A teacher isn’t an artist, however, there’s a hell of a lot of artistry that goes into teaching. Teaching is made up artistry, craftsmanship and social science (which explains why Marzano is so popular these days.) There is a lot about the craft of teaching that we can and do learn — something like learning how to make strong transitions from question to question or topic to topic, something that you can and do get better at over time. There are many research-based strategies for teaching and curriculum development that really are almost scientific in their methodology — there’s a reason we use Understanding By Design as our curriculum development model at SLA, for instance. But then there are the moments when you get to see a master teacher ply their craft, and I’m sorry, but its artistic. Watching teachers who know how to listen, who know how to take a bunch of ideas and thoughts that are floating around a classroom and move an entire class somewhere deep and powerful and meaningful… that’s artistry. I still think of great teaching as a jazz piece… yes, the lesson plan are the notes on the page, but the coolest stuff happens in those moments that take us away from that, the unexpected moment, the flash of a new idea, of understanding, of shared meaning… of transformation. I loved it when we came to ideas in classrooms that gave me a new lens for looking at the world… I do think some teachers talk about the art of teaching while neglecting the craft and science of it as well, and that’s wrong. But it’s just as wrong to think that the artistry isn’t important as well.

Which brings me to my next point:

    We need to avoid terminology like "passion" in describing the prerequisites of our job.

The hell we do.

We need passion. I want passionate teachers. I want teachers who love the stuff they teach, but who love the kids they teach even more. I want teachers who can’t wait to get into the classroom. I want teachers who think powerfully and deeply about their unit plans. I want teachers who believe deeply in what we do, and who work hard to do it. I want teachers who care and who inspire kids to care.

And the thing is, Dan, you are one of those teachers. Let’s be honest — you spend weekends writing mini-theses on math assessment. You spend hours arguing education policy on blogs. And you question your methods and your ideas, and you ask people you’ve never met how to be a better teacher. If that’s not showing a passion for your chosen career, I’m not sure what is.

Onto the next thing… (so much for the craft of smooth transitions…)

    Even more specifically, no matter how plainly teachers feel these things, we need to stop calling our job "a calling." (You’ve called teaching "a calling" in one of your comments on my blog, so I am cognizant of where we stand on this one.)

Here, it’s a personal thing, I suppose. Where I am right now, doing what I’m doing… this is what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m a teacher. Two hundred years ago, I think I probably would have been a rabbi… and for me, my teaching is wound up in two of the lessons I learned as learned about the history of Jewish culture. I view my teaching as part of the linage of a love of knowledge and wisdom and the belief in social justice, both of which are deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition. Obviously, that particular motivation isn’t for everyone, but it’s part of where I draw my inspiration and strength. Is there room to talk about teaching this way, and also get bright, hard-working people who want a good, fulfilling job where they might just make a difference? I think so.

But I’ll get even more mushy. I think classrooms are sacred places, not any sort of religious way, but in that those rooms … our buildings… are the embodiment of the idea that we can learn and become wise and create meaning in our lives. Our classrooms — in their ideal — are places of learning and hope and progress. The thought of that geeks me out. The idea that I get to serve that ideal and strive to be worthy of it… what better way to spend a life?

Which brings me to what might be what I believe to be the most important part of this post (way to bury the lede again….) In the context of talking about artistry and passion, you wrote:

    We need to… completely strip martyrdom from the discussion.

Here, I agree, but I also say that you never heard me suggest I was a martyr (nor, for that matter, do I think I’m a saint). I’m no one’s martyr. I knew the pay scale when I signed up, and I had a decent idea that I was in for a fair amount of work, but more than that, here’s the best part:

Twelve years in to my educational career, I love what I do. I love my life. I loved being a teacher in a classroom. I loved coaching girls basketball. I loved coaching Ultimate. I love figuring out new ways that technology could make a school better. I love that I’d learned enough that someone thought I was worth entrusting a dream to. I love building SLA. I love sharing that vision with anyone who will listen. Martyrdom? Hell no… save that for the folks working 9-5 in some corporate gig because they can’t see themselves doing something else. I do what I do because it matters, and yes, I know that along the way I’ve changed a life or two. But my students have changed my life too. They have made my life richer than I could have ever imagined, and I’m a better person for knowing them.

Do I wish I had more money? Sure. But I’ve known plenty of people who make a lot more than me who don’t enjoy themselves anywhere near as much as I do. Martyrdom? Not a chance.

Dan, we’ve got the greatest job in the world — we teach.

One last thought… and it’s a lesson someone had to teach me.

Dan, you’re bright and multi-talented, you could do any number of jobs really well, and I know someone will soon offer you a job to leave teaching. They’ll offer you more money and more societal prestige, and given that you still think about how you almost became a CPA, you’ll probably be tempted. So I’m going to tell you something that my boss Steve told me the first time someone offered to triple my salary to leave teaching and go work for them (hey, it was the 90s in NYC, what can you do?) He said, "If you want to go do something else, go do it. The offers won’t go away, but more importantly, you need to decide what you want from your life. If you want to be a teacher, teach. This is the life, this is the pay, and you’ve got to decide what you want. If this is what you want, do it, don’t apologize for it, and don’t spend your time second-guessing it."

I’ve never regretted my choice. It’s an incredible, fulfilling, fun, artful, passionate life. Although, I do admit, I probably smell of coffee.


NCLB- Dig It

1 02 2007

Truthdig – Reports – Leaving Children Behind

Leaving Children Behind

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Posted on Jan 30, 2007
Signing ceremony

President Bush signs the No Child Left Behind Act at Hamilton High School in Hamilton, Ohio, in 2002.

By Paul Cummins

Recently I was asked to join three others in a radio interview concerning the pros and cons of the No Child Left Behind debate.  The others were temperate, balanced and guarded in their judgments.  One, from the Fordham Institute, offered several intelligent insights and speculated that it is probably too soon to render an accurate assessment of the program’s efficacy.  The other two interviewees were public school principals who, I believe, were trying to be fair and politically careful in not leveling any harsh criticisms.  When asked by the moderator, Warren Olney, what’s good and what’s bad about the bill, both stated that it was good to design clear standards and to identify, by groups, who is and who isn’t measuring up.  When addressing the “what’s bad” question, they suggested—rather guardedly, I thought—that perhaps not enough resources were being allotted to enable the schools to really succeed, and that some teachers may believe that the test narrows the curriculum too much and forces them to teach to the test.

In the face of all this politeness, I felt compelled to fire away with both barrels—as best I could, given the sound bites that radio compels one to issue.  So, unlike the other three, I intemperately, unguardedly and one-sidedly made the following comments about No Child Left Behind (NCLB):

1. In fact, NCLB does force the teachers to teach to test; consequently it squeezes the joy out of teaching for both teacher and student.

2. It narrows the curriculum to math and reading because those are the areas tested.  The arts, human development, physical education, community service, environmental education, field trips and other electives are given short shrift, at best.

3. Several teachers I have spoken with even say they are so depressed by the pressure and narrowness of the test that they are about to quit the field.  In reality, I have yet to talk to one classroom teacher who has had anything positive to say about NCLB.

4. I will say quite boldly what one of the two principals only alluded to, namely, that public schools—particularly inner-city schools—are hugely underfunded.  Overcrowded classes filled with non-English-speaking students, bereft of books and supplies, need dramatic increases in funds.  In Los Angeles, for example, the per-pupil spending is $7,000-$8,000 per year; by contrast, quality private schools—which offer what public schools should but cannot provide—spend more than $25,000 per pupil.  Unlimited billions for Iraq, but not enough for our children.  But that is a rant from previous blogs—a rant I will no doubt continue to hurl into the tax-cuts void.

5. The real problem is that students are disengaged from their education, and disengaged students ultimately drop out, as more than 50 percent do in large urban and poor rural schools.  The antidote to dropouts is a rich and diverse curriculum offered under improved teaching conditions.

6. If we really wanted to see that no child was left behind we would cut class sizes by half in inner-city schools, which would require hiring 100 percent more teachers in those schools, and we would obtain top-quality additional teachers by providing a pay increase of $25,000 a year across the board.  If prison guards can make $75,000 to $100,000 a year, why can’t teachers?  These changes would, of course, demand increased revenue that would, alas, require everyone—including wealthy individuals and corporations—to pay their fair share of taxes.  Good luck!

So I say, fine, let’s test children periodically and let’s set high standards for our schools and our children.  But beyond testing, let’s realize that diagnosis is just the beginning.  To solve problems, you need to be willing to go the whole way down difficult roads, and to do this will require a far greater commitment than the federal government and civic leaders have given any indication they are willing to make.  Our teachers and inner-city schools are facing overwhelming and heartbreaking odds, and we are letting them down.

Water gets Oscar nod…

30 01 2007

Deepa Mehta’s ‘Water’ Goes From Being Banned to Oscar Nomination – NAM

Deepa Mehta’s ‘Water’ Goes From Being Banned to Oscar Nomination New America Media, Q&A, Sandip Roy, Posted: Jan 28, 2007Deepa Mehta’s film Water has been nominated for an Academ

NCLB from the State of the Union

29 01 2007

SCHOOL MATTERS: Bush Bails on Education – NAM

NCLB began auspiciously with the right emphasis on enabling urban students to improve their school performance. It provided a frame for establishing high standards for all students and making schools responsible for student progress.

But for all its good intentions, the law has created huge problems for educators, students and parents, and has failed to deliver in crucial areas.

In a feeble attempt at a remedy, once again the Bush administration is playing the voucher card. In his speech, Bush said he wants to enable "children stuck in failing schools the right to choose some place better."

The Department of Education reauthorization plan allocates $4,000 scholarships for students to attend private, other public or out-of-district public schools. This does not address the problem that in many cities, there are simply no schools in which to use the scholarships. Private schools are exclusive and are not likely to accept large numbers of under-performing students from public schools. The tuition of the best private schools can range from four to seven times that of the scholarship money. And there is no sign that suburban schools with high performing students are lining up to accept these students, either.

So far, the transfer aspect of NCLB is a failure. In 2005, nationwide, only 1 percent of eligible students chose to transfer. Critics also question spending money on busing students when funds are needed to hire better teachers, improve instruction and provide books and computers.

Notwithstanding the need to establish stronger benchmarks for success, the testing regime established by NCLB has delivered no more than minimal results.

In his speech, Bush cited the progress minority children had made in closing the testing score gap between them and other students. Fact-checkers working after the speech and others say that Bush’s claim that NCLB is closing the gap is exaggerated.

Results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2005 indicated that the reading scores for fourth grade Asian, Hispanic and black students went up modestly. Native American scores went down. For the eighth grade, scores for all groups except Asians went down. The achievement gap between black and white students from 2002 to 2005 widened a bit.

For sure, teachers around the country are reeling under the weight of a testing regime. Some out of desperation are resorting to deadly drills that sap the spirit of students and deaden the joy of learning.
Harnessed with poor teaching conditions, unruly students and inadequate training, teachers do not last. There should be more federal money going directly for salaries and training for those teachers willing to take jobs in schools with vast numbers of under-performing students.
The war in Iraq and tax cuts for the rich have depleted the treasury, and now that the Democrats rule Congress, Bush has forsaken the route of deficit spending and is trumpeting the virtues of a balanced budget.

Yet there is no more important challenge facing the nation than turning out, in Bush’s words, "a public with knowledge and character." It will take more than a warmed-over NCLB to meet that challenge.

Testing in NYC

29 01 2007

  • teaching strategies instead of just teaching….

     – post by del_ambiguity

January 28, 2007 — For a month, third-graders at one Brooklyn elementary school had only two social-studies lessons.

Their teacher said she was too busy teaching kids test-taking strategies.

"The kids can’t tell you who the president was during the Civil War," she said. "But they can tell you how to eliminate answers on a multiple-choice test. And as long as our test scores are up, everyone will be happy.

"That’s education?"

The teacher, who requested anonymity, said she was ordered by her principal to "forget about everything except test prep" over the four weeks prior to this month’s statewide English tests.

"All anyone cares about now are test scores," she lamented.

Since the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 brought high-stakes testing to the nation, city teachers have complained that statewide tests and test preparation have dominated class time. Now, they say, the situation is getting worse.

Another teacher called it "institutionalized child abuse."

There are no systemwide rules for test prep. Individual schools decide how much is necessary.

Principals are partially evaluated on test scores, so "naturally, they want the scores up, [and] that’s our priority," one teacher said. "Actual education is second."

Tests are crucial because they "give schools valuable information that they use to pinpoint students’ strengths and weaknesses and create academic plans to address them," said city Department of Education spokesman Andrew Jacob.

NCLB- commentary re: special ed

29 01 2007

Schools Matter: Testing and the "Darkest Underbelly"

In the meantime, of course, there are the millions of children, parents, and teachers who are being sacrificed each year in order to attain the assured failure that has been planned for them. The choking canaries in this dark poisonous mine are, of course, the poor, the disabled, the immigrant, the minority–the ones supposedly for whom the title of this legislation was stolen from the Children’s Defense Fund. No Child Left Behind, indeed.
Bush and Spellings have shown zero interest in acknowledging the impossibility of children reaching their 100% proficiency target in math and reading by 2014.
At this time, about 40 percent of our student body is special-needs students. One part of the No Child Left Behind Act requires special education students to meet the same benchmarks as their counterparts in general education.
A little-known aspect of this policy is that a school can be judged deficient solely on the basis of the Education Department’s judgment that special education students are not successful on state assessments. This indeed is the mechanism by which Campus West was designated as needing improvement. The policy of judging an entire school program by measuring special education student achievement on standardized testing precipitates much more negative fallout than the simple label implies.

Lastly, and the reason for this explanatory piece, the policy of judging a school by the success of its special education students on standardized tests affects student responses to their educational program. One bright student, perhaps reflecting her parent’s comments, was recently overheard: "Campus West is a "bad’ school because we have "dumb’ kids taking these [standardized] tests."

Much more could be said, but to me, this statement reflects the darkest underbelly of the unwarranted use of standardized testing and provides its own commentary.

School’s Out

16 01 2007

School’s Out

Leaving So Soon? Feature: School’s OutTeachers speak out on why they stay. Or leave.

-This article was great, showing reasons to stay in and leave public education.  I especially enjoyed the link to the teachers they interviewed who were talking about their own experiences.  Listen again to the young one.