Friday, January 17, 2014 Wednesday, September 18, 2013

0207: On Blogging as a #Teacher - #Learner

#blog #education

I have taken a valuable break from the blogosphere. I think this break has allowed me to distance myself from my blogging and consider the value of blogging: in general with value manifesting itself in the practice and mind of the blogger; blogging in terms of value to a greater community of bloggers, i.e., my (every blogger’s) contributions are valuable to the community and co-construction of knowledge; and value to me as a consumer of other bloggers writing an experience. We shape each other beautifully. This was most helpful to me as a teacher. My position in education has changed, but the value of this will not.

More benefits from my hiatus: I’ve considered some of the ethical implications of blogging, especially within the world of education blogs. The things we say have weight, potentially. Our position in popularity rankings etc. give us tremendous influence over consumers of the things we put forth. Should this limit what we say? I don’t think so. While I-you may have influence, it is our combined contributions that have power. Blogs are not static. They are not books on which a society may someday be built; rather, they are a portion of dynamic thought that shows our growth or changing as connected individuals who work in convert for change of some sort.

How has blogging helped you?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

0205: #Teachers accountable to teachers: busting #bureaucracy organically

#education @coopcatalyst #occupyedu

Suppose we looked at teacher accountability in a new way? I propose we trust teachers—a little laissez-faire education if you will. This might require higher pay and a serious look at teacher education and quality, but it’ll balance itself out. With less money thrown at testing and corporate remediation materials plus the slew of highway robbers and scripted consultants there would be billions leftover for real improvement.

Let’s start by looking at real professional learning communities like tumblr education or Cooperative Catalyst (http://coopcatalyst.wordpress.com/). These are communities of educators who engage in constant self-assessment and community growth. They are teachers who challenge each other to be better teachers. There is constant debate and discourse. The collective knowledge and understanding of the teaching practice is ever growing and changing—it’s a lovely organism.

Teachers can be professionals. We are. Put it in our laps. We’ll make the changes. Hell, give us a politician to answer to, just see to it that we’re making the decisions. Many of us do anyway. The education revolution begins with us. It’s our ability to engage and organize—not politically, but intellectually, dialectically, and professionally?— that enables us to make tremendous changes with or without the support of our beloved bureaucrats.

Change occurs in our classrooms. It is spawned from our learning communities. Let’s keep pulling others in. You have made all the difference in my career.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

0204: Yes Men say “No”. An accreditor tells the Truth

#education #ccss #occupyedu

I was asked to sit on a panel of teachers to represent my school district during the accreditation process. I assume I was chosen because I am eager to speak in meetings and apparently speak well. This makes me think my administration has only enjoyed the sound of my voice and not the content of my O so bold oration.

I noticed quickly that I was in a room full of yes men and women who teach in the more affluent schools in our district. They all smiled and sat nicely. They were there to be slaughtered like good little lambs. The team of teachers surrounding me, my co-teachers, were, not unlike me worse for wear and doubting. Lips pursed, eyebrows cocked, notepads out. We were prepared for whatever we were going to he expected to swallow without question. Of course, my group did not act in complete accord. One just parroted off whatever was expected. Another would nod in agreement with the rest of the flock.

This accreditation team is from Advanced Ed, a voluntary “quality assurance” company that comes in for a hefty price and helps ensure that schools are quantitatively meeting standards. They provide services ranging from professional development to teacher evaluations to curriculum development to brainwashing desperate administration. The people on the teams I have met are high paid zealots who offer instruction in best practices from corporate research done in schools far different from the ones they are currently serving. This is no shock. I’ve been impressed with their ability to stick to their script even when challenged. They utilize a method similar to Bill O’Reilly’s when challenged. They simply repeat their original point in a different tone and then say “well we don’t have time to continue this” or “for the sake of time we have to move on”. But they’re generally nice people.

Back to the meeting and the flock.

We were asked general questions regarding the state of our facilities, safety on campus, professional development related to Common Core, whether or not the professional development was useful, and many more. Most people nodded along in agreement with the flock.

And then we were asked if we thought our kids were prepared for college and/or the “real world” when they left or high school. The flocked bleated, “Yes”. They provided examples, “I am a product of this district and I was more than ready.” Several referenced themselves as examples.

I asked the “accreditors” who were superintendents from other states if they thought the students leaving their districts were prepared. They paused and looked at one another. I continued, “is it possible with the way things are segmented, and the focus on testing and extreme standardization for anyone to leave a school completely prepared?” The other teachers in the room began speaking. One shouted out, “I teach at the community college in the summers. Our students almost always have to enter remedial reading courses.” Another offered her child as an example stating how his first year of college was devoted to college prep courses.

The accreditors said we had to move on, but first he said: “off the record, we’re all in trouble.” And was back to the agenda. It was an interesting moment to see a stone face break for a moment. It was a nice moment of breaking from the flock for the teachers around me. It’s nice to see a Yes Man say no.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

0199: Good Morning: A less than bland way to talk about arts #education

#arts #equality #teaching

I have two dreams that I have been able to articulate in my life. One is for me and the other is seemingly more benevolent. As I get older I see they can be intertwined. The first is to work as a performer. I want to be a musician, a dancer, and an actor. I love being on stage. I do it a lot. So that dream can happen. Daily I work with a great group of artists.

My second dream is to ensure others who want these opportunities have access. I want to see equal access to the arts and quality education. I want to see kids learning to read, write, and create—never domesticated. Empowered. Literacy through the arts is deeply empowering. It isn’t the sort of literacy that involves just calling words or even gleaning meaning from a textbook. It is a new and wider literacy that can encompass those things, but it reaches far beyond that. It leaves children, humans, empowered to do what makes them happy. It gives them the power to see what is important. It gives them the ability to choose their path instead of leaving the choice in the hands of another. It is empowering to create. It’s equally beneficial to learn the discipline and perseverance required to master and art form. Arts puts power and responsibility in the hand of the creator. The internal discipline required spreads to every area of life. It allows a drive that otherwise would not exist to develop, and it’s self-reinforcing.

From time to time I forget why I do what I do. I remembered this morning.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I was giving my students a stern talking to this afternoon, what my grandmother would have called a “come to Jesus meeting”. An evaluator walked in in the middle of our “meeting”. I continued as usual. The kids have given up, or have just decided they’re finished trying until after the holiday break. I understand. These things happen. Sometimes we all need a little motivation, even if it’s a little stern, a little loving, and a little not in line with the chosen objective that’s on the lesson plan on the board. I will hurry to my box in the morning to see what charming remarks my dear friend left me. We have to teach. I have to teach. Nothing happens if I keep jumping through their hoops.

0196: Living with Pirates on Your Ship…and getting back to the teaching.

#education #learning #k12 #piracy

I’ve written a series of depressing posts. Perhaps I’m in my blue period as a teacher. I certainly find the mess surrounding me depressing. My conversations with teachers at my school are similarly hopeless. But, we are not without hope. Before proceeding, the juxtaposition of my position, and the position of the students I serve and the educational bliss experienced by the kids and teachers across the railroad tracks is a bit disheartening at first glance.

What is “my” situation? Why is it so awful? Is it as awful as I perceive? What can I do?

To begin, I am not without hope or fight. I am greatly concerned for my students and the teachers with whom I share this sinking ship. Our vessel has been boarded by pirates who have the golden elixir that will systematically heal all that ails us. I could have called it a coup. Intervention is too benevolent of a term. You intervene when you care, not when you wish to take control. And that’s what’s happening here (and in many other places). Our “interventionists” are here to “organize” our already ineffective system into a smooth operating system that will close the achievement gap and heal the societal wrongs that can only be measured with a standardized test. How can this be done?, you may ask. You take an existing structure that is dying or in crisis (a created crisis, mind you) and you hire outsiders. Pay them at least three times as much as the teachers. It never hurts if they drive and wear their wealth. It makes it easier to distinguish the teachers from the saviors. These saviors will bring with them a plan to be implemented by the teachers and administration. It will involve a lot of paper work and extra meetings. In these meetings teachers should analyze every aspect of the school function, from finance to curriculum. The kicker is that you must ask the teachers for suggestions how to make improvements and then shoot them down kindly. Say something like, “that’s a really great idea, but it probably won’t work for us.” Do this until teachers understand that their voice will not be heard. Also, pit teachers against one another in meetings. Give then things to debate and use emotional topics to divide them. Or better yet, just frustrate them with opposing ideas that could never be mitigated. And so on so on so forth.

We have three outside organizations in our school working to help us “fix” the problem. That comes to approximately 3 evals a week with at least 4 more walk throughs. We have quality in house academic coaches by the way, but they’ve been deluged with even more paperwork. We’re under constant surveillance. We’re internalizing that and beginning to function as we are being watched constantly, and not to the betterment of our students. We’re following a simple algorithm for staying out of trouble, not teaching.

The answer? Conversation. We, as a faculty have to talk. We have to join forces. I’ve seen it work before. The faculty came together and agreed to teach regardless of the outside forces. We supported each other. We banded together. We talked. We became closer in and out of the work place. We made a huge impact on our students, each other, and not surprisingly test scores. We’re just a little further down the hole here. This faculty has been incredibly divided for some time now, but the other one was too. That’s the answer, we have to give voice to our problems. We have to wade through the never ending pile of papers and constant observations and observed meetings and really work together. I don’t know if I’m in a position to do this at this school, at least not overtly. We’ll see what happens.

And, then to tackle this on the systemic piracy.

Monday, November 26, 2012

0195: Drowning as an Educator or Finding the Surface

#education #teaching #SOS

Over the past few weeks I’ve struggled with my problem with top down models of education. I attempted to allow the thought “this is for the greater good” into my mind. I tried to hold it in my mind and make it fit. It only made me sick the way the body rejects foreign objects. I’ve labored over the necessity of my concern. Will contemplation of this directly benefit my students? Will it benefit me? Or should I simply give in and follow orders in order to be at peace? If I can’t fall in like with the system perhaps I should quit? Is resistance futile?

I’ve also questioned the purpose of writing and publishing these internal quarrels. Do I write to benefit others? Am I simply an exhibitionist? Am I writing so someone, anyone, will hear my cry as my ship sinks slowly? Am I looking for a rescue? Support? Perhaps I’m planting a revolutionary seed that will grow beyond my imagination? I hope all of the above are true. That is for you who finds this message in a bottle to decide.

But, back to my original aim and/or question: should I resist or acquiesce? Certainly, if you are familiar with me or my rantings and raving you know that acquiescence is not an option. Compromise is a possibility and is best, but is not always possible. I have to also wonder if my rantings are spur me, or someone, on to action or am I merely bitching. If my reflection does not lead to action it is nothing more than mental and rhetorical masturbation which is the utmost waste of time and energy.

So, has my worry recently been of use to me? I think so. It’s helped me to understand where I am and what I’m doing professionally and personally. I’ve certainly lost sight of why I teach for a stint. My focus has shifted from the students to pleasing evaluators and jumping through hoops. I’ve tried to keep the devil off my back, and in doing so I’ve forgotten the world of which I’m a part. I’ve simply lost sight of anything. I can only compare to the panic that occurs when one believes they are drowning. The only fight is for life. I’ve been in that fight as a teacher. I’ve spoken of that fight theoretically, but no matter how much we practice or reaction to drowning there is no comparison to the real thing.

I’m fighting to regain footing to I can teach what I know is best. I am a mediator between curriculum that is prescribed, which is not necessarily to be rejected, the curriculum that is needed, and the human beings that are, or should be the recipients of what will be taught. I think I’ve found the life vest. It’s time to move forward. It’s time to teach, and resist, and voice my dissent. It’s time to reconnect. Thank you for your constant support, dear reader. May my confusion ever be of some benefit to someone.

Monday, October 8, 2012

0191: Swallowing the Pill: It’s good because I was told

#education #occupyedu #subversive #revolution

It’s sad to see educators so committed to their prescribed “job” that the question, “Am I really doing what I should be doing?” becomes impossible to ask. Unquestioning subservience is an easy trap. It’s required to an extent. If teachers are to hold onto their jobs, they must, at least, pay lip-service to their prescribed roles as test trainers. This sort of unwavering support for the dying and toxic system must be in place throughout the entire system. Dissidents are deemed insubordinates and will quickly find themselves without jobs. There is no need to seek out the verbal rebels, those who complain about the system. Most bend their actions to meet the requirement of the state. We’re evaluated, audited, and constantly watched. We turn in self-evaluations. We tell on ourselves, and trick ourselves into believing we are doing what is best by doing what we’re told. Eventually, we find ourselves resigned to the fact that we are powerless against such a powerful system. That or we become so cynical that we should leave the classroom.

Are our only options to submit or leave? Surely not. Our rebellions must be tactical and individual. Support often can be found outside of our schools, often on blogs, and throughout social media where subversive teachers gather and speak openly about the tactics they use to actually teach in a system that has replaced teaching with training.

I’ve minced my answers and comments with my own questions I’m seeking to answer. Have you, dear reader, found it as productive as I have, or necessary as a human, to foster discussions that lead to a discussion of the education system among students? The discussion often has begun with a student asking why we must bother with a test rather than actually learning.

I aim to be honest in my practice and allow some free drifting, though I’m subject to inserting my own bias.

We teach people not curriculum.


(I apologize for not opening comments on this blog. I write from a smartphone. I cannot figure it out. Please feel free to post questions or comments, or email me @ educatedtodeath@gmail.com and on twitter @educated to death. Thanks.)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

0189: Highway Robbers, Test Evaluators, and then the Kids

#education #SOSchat #teaching #fascism #rebellion

Teachers are having “Lesson Plan Counseling” sessions with administration to ensure that lesson plans meet the expectations of the evaluators. There seems to be less interest in the quality of the lesson than the structure of the lesson plan. Time is being spent rewriting plans that are not formatted correctly, rather than devoting time to gathering materials and really making sure lessons are accessible. Teaching in this district, we are not alone, is becoming a juggling act in a dog and pony show.

We have more meetings than usual. They’re all attended by the nicely dressed silent evaluators who sit and watch our principal utter something he barely understands which makes it even more difficult to understand. It’s like he’s talking with a gun in his back. It always takes away from the puppet show when you can see the puppet master.

This profession is feeling more and more eerie. There’s so much we do that has little to nothing to do with the well being of our students. Rather than teaching and planning so we can improve the quality of life for an individual or a community, we are jumping through hoops to meet the expectation of some silent goon who works for who-the-hell-knows.

We had a near 40% turnover in faculty last year. They left by choice. That kind of turnover isn’t great for kids in transition or communities. I expect the turnover will be the same.

I want a revolution. Schools should aid in enlightenment and liberation, not suppression and imprisonment of minds.