0161: A few tools missing from my teacher toolbox…and how to get them
#education #SOSchat #advocacy
When I first stepped into a classroom I had an incomplete box of tools. I had your basic tools. I knew a bit about planning lessons. I had taught a few myself during practicums and student teaching. I knew a bit about literacy. How to write rules. How to teach the basics. On top of that I had some knowledge of language and linguistics, and other content/social knowledge. I also had experience teaching some dance forms. I had tools but not enough. None of us do when we enter. That should be expected. There’s always stuff to learn once you get on a job. But, you have to know that you need to know more. And, the people with whom you’ll be working should know the same. Schools should be a learning environment for both students and teachers. Experience helps you build tools, but which ones? How could teachers enter the classroom with a few more tools?
The tools that I have developed over the years, and the ones I deem most important are advocacy, communication, and organization (of resources and people) skills. As teachers we must learn to advocate both for our students and ourselves. We must know (through critical questioning) what is important, ethical, and right, and be damn determined to stand by that, whatever the cost. Advocacy has many forms and can be linked strongly to the communication and organization skills mentioned above. Advocacy can be as simple as providing support to a fellow teacher in order to help them embrace a new idea that can revolutionize or slightly change their practice. Or, it can involve working with outside organizations to affect legislation relating to education. Communication and organization skills correlate beautifully with the advocacy tool. As thoughtful, aware, radical teachers we have the opportunity to unite the faculties for which we work and create a powerful force of educator-advocates. We have the power to lovingly communicate ideas as we build relationships with students, fellow teachers, principals, government officials, and so forth. Small conversations lead to lasting relationships that can empower you to make changes possible. We win more through building relationship than slashing red tape with a sword.
I’ve had the opportunity to develop these tools over my career through work with non-profit advocacy groups, experienced teachers, professors, government workers, and stubbornness. I get a little better, a little quicker each time I use them. Even better if I help someone else develop their toolbox. We learn what tools we need as we wander along the path that reveals itself just as we take the next step. The important thing is to commit to developing your toolbox and knowing it was never full to begin with.
What can we do to help our fellow teachers develop their toolboxes? Could teacher education programs offer some training in some of these other areas such as advocacy? I think it would be beneficial.(?). What is a good first step? How are you an advocate? Do you see yourself as one? Is there anymore information I can help you find?
0152: There’s Power in the Blog: How #socialmedia is improving my practice
#SOSchat @coopcatalyst #education
Originally posted at http://coopcatalyst.wordpress.com/2012/04/19/
I’m sure this topic has been explored to some extent, but I’d like to add my perspective. I’ll attempt to work towards a concise explanation, but I surely won’t arrive there on the first attempt. I’ve digressed before beginning.
Beginning. My initial purpose for beginning my blog, educatedtodeath.com, was simply as a means of maintaining sanity and hopefully to reroute some developing cynicism. As many teachers are, I was isolated, exhausted, and becoming disheartened. My classroom was going the way of my dwindling spirit. I started to blog. Very quickly writing required reflection and a thrust back to some theory. I started reading with regard to my practice again— something that is easy to do after leaving academia. Quickly my writing evolved or evolved me into a more honest person. Not necessarily in word, but in deed. All I was doing was putting my thoughts down— and publishing them. I’ve journaled quite a bit about my practice in the past, but have fallen out of practice either because of contracted technical or academic writing. Writing that was to be seen was very purposed and directed by a force outside of myself. This writing was beneficial to me, but not on a terribly personal level. But again, I digress. So first, the blog has forced me to take my personal experiences, thoughts, rantings, idiosyncratic thinking, and so forth and put them on paper (a seemingly anachronistic and abstract word now)— oh yes, and make those thoughts public.
That’s the kicker. The making it public part. That’s where I have found the most benefit. It’s the community. Social media has become, for me, a professional learning community (That should be stating the obvious, by the way, but it is not universally obvious to those who don’t, for whatever reason, participate). Participation in this learning community has taught me more about my practice and myself than formal institutions or private reading has. I have access to quality professional development, that is free, experts, and the understanding that my expertise as a teacher is also valuable to others. It is quite empowering to be able to informally and semi-formally interact with colleagues in a way that lends itself to collaborative problem solving on an often global scale. Participating in social media has provided me with a sense of community. With that sense of community also comes a new awareness.
The new awareness/es are many. First, with the awareness that what I am writing is being read and taken to heart by others adds a level of responsibility, just like speaking to a group does. I am responsible by choice for providing my readers/partners with pieces that are at least thought provoking, informative, and at best transforming. I don’t, however, think I should attempt to be clever, careful, or overly responsible. I have tried, and am trying to chart my growth by writing or attempting to write what is truthful to me in that moment. I try to save heavy editing for higher stakes writing. This allows for risk-taking.
I think risk-taking in this setting is important because it allows my input and understanding to be accepted, denied, or transformed by the community. The community appears to function as a collective consciousness that is constantly morphing. The power is democratic and dialectic for the most part. Ideas that are accepted are amplified, others are shot down, and others still become points of contention that can produce an even greater learning experience for involved parties.
So in the cloud above, I have submitted some ideas that will be viewed, and supported, dismissed, augmented, diminished, etc., etc. Either way, My experience has been incredibly fruitful. Help me understand it more.
Addendum: I didn’t manage to discuss twitter participation. It has affected me in a similar, but different way than blogging. Tweeting, especially in chats, has been tremendously beneficial. It’s nice to have near real time communication. I’m steadily learning more about its uses as a political, social, activism, grassroots, professional tool. I’ll write more, and do share.
0136: On #Classroom #Management, General Mayhem, and Other Evil Sundries Pt. 1
#education #behavior #SOSchat
I’m reluctant to discuss classroom management as I don’t like the terminology or many of the reasons behind it. Nonetheless, it can be a problem for all of us from time to time. It can be especially daunting for new teachers. Additionally, classroom management, if we must refer to it in such a way, is presented as a formula with little discussion as to how or why some things work and others do not. Running a classroom takes experience, skill, patience, and reflection. Allowing learners to learn to run the class takes even more. But, for now we’ll touch on the concept of classroom management with little criticism for the purpose of keeping me focus (I’m sure we’ll discover this statement to be a falsehood).
The broad and brighter idea behind classroom management is if behavior is “under control” or a non-issue, then instruction/learning can more easily take place. In other words, if you’re not having to deal with behavior problems, more saliently, general confusion, then teaching becomes the focus of the class.
Of course, the active definition of classroom management is usually determined by administration and can range from the pragmatic orderly classroom where learning can take place, to a judgment based simply on number of office discipline referrals, to demanding a silent class. But, for the purpose of our discussion let’s try to stick with classroom management for the purpose of learning. However, I don’t think it will be possible to avoid drifting into some of the darker reasons and necessities for classroom management.
Back to the thesis, if a classroom is orderly then learning is more probable. By orderly, I do not mean silent, automatic, dead, etc.; rather, I mean safe and fairly predictable in terms of the behavior of the teacher and the learners. Order can provide an environment conducive to learning. The ways by which order is achieved and maintain also weigh heavily on this discussion. Order can be maintained through fear or love. Fear is punitive and generally authoritative, overt or covert. Love involves a more democratic and humanistic process. The more humanistic approach functions to allow students to work within a given framework with great freedom. Their ideas, goals, and curiosity direct the class. This is difficult to pull off in our current environment where the test dictates all, but it’s still possible to allow students a level of freedom and still work within the prescribed curriculum. Parameters still will be drawn, and the test will still be the final punitive dictator of action.
Theory aside, let’s look at some specific components of classroom management and why they work or fail. We’ll take rules, procedures, and directives. We’ll count the rules and procedures in the category of more permanent classroom governance, and directives will be the day to day, moment to moment communication between teacher and student. I used the word “directive” to reflect the punitive nature of the testing environment. We are positioned in a system that requires a level of punitive action. We will also look at ways to lessen the punitive effects, if they can be lessened. Maybe they can only be disguised. I’ll attempt to unravel that, too.
Tune in tomorrow for more mayhem.
0114: “Why’s”, “How’s”, and Other Critical Questions for Teachers
#education #SOSchat #teaching
It’s possible to pass through one’s own education and into the teaching field without contemplating the reason for our learning, or a motivation beyond our teaching. As students we learn segmented bits of information, skills, and algorithms. If we’re lucky we happen upon poetry or quantum physics— anything to boost our minds into the metaphysical realm. Entering the metaphysical realm in thought might serve as a catalyst for one asking the age old question “why?”. Schools as they are don’t instill or stir the curiosity that spawns the “why’s” and “how’s” that lead to deeper understanding; rather, those questions are suppressed.
Those same questioned often go unasked in the teaching profession, and many others, as well. Sure, we’re asked to write our philosophy of teaching in our undergraduate teaching programs and on some job applications, but do those questions continue? Do our answers evolve? Are we aware that they have evolved? I submit that it is better to ask these questions of ourselves regularly than to be forced to ask ourselves these questions under duress. If we are seeking answers to the “why’s” and “how’s”, we are active. We are alert. The answers often lead us to participate in ways beyond our perception. These questions and answers are good to share and struggle through with colleagues, friends, etc.
The questions should be asked on a macro and micro level. We have to connect our experiences. We have to be in the process of knowing why we do what we do. We must be active.
Why do you teach? How has your philosophy evolved over your career? What questions do you need to ask?
Please share in the comments section, submit your answers/questions, or email me email@example.com
0077: #Teacher Training, Professional Development, and the Mysteries of the Hotdog Fold
#education #critical #edreform
I gave my students a quiz this morning and I asked them to fold their paper lengthwise and pass it in. They didn’t exactly understand lengthwise so I said “a hotdog fold”. They quickly made the correct fold and passed in the papers.
The term “hotdog fold” brought about a series of flashbacks to undergraduate education classes and useless professional developments I’ve attended that spend a disproportionate amount of time discussing and explaining the difference between a “hotdog” and a “hamburger” fold. I mean I’ve had this explained to me at least fifteen different times in different settings. I’ve been appalled every time. The instructors or professional developers have defended that teaching a common language for folding paper is important for classroom procedures. And, that instructional time was often lost because of things as simple as passing in papers. I couldn’t agree more. But, how wasteful and insulting is it to send a teacher, pre-service or in-service, to a workshop on folding paper. Additionally, the reason behind folding the paper is never explained without the presenter being asked. Wouldn’t it be better to help teachers learn to reflect properly about their practice? Or, teach them how to conduct effective discussions that foster critical thinking and dialogue. Teachers could be taught how to teach lessons in a way that allow students to arrive at answers on their own, or even how to design problem-based learning activities. They could be instructed on ways to properly teach and help build their learners vocabularies, so they can read, write, and think more freely. Instead, teacher training is often limited to a few principles of classroom management, memorizing the definitions of the elements of literacy, a class or two in how to write lesson plans, and of course a lesson or two in folding paper. These basic lessons are repeated in new teacher orientations and at schools PDs. They’re all focuses on standardizing teacher methods to produce a similar product. I had one professor in Undergrad who focused entirely on critical literacy and social justice. One three hour course out of who knows how many was the only reason I completed a degree in education. That combined with past study of linguistics and literature.
Teaching is not limited to coloring within the lines. Thusly, neither should teacher training or education or whatever you call it be limited to such narrow outcomes either. I am not suggesting that teacher education programs produce only activists and social reformers, that would be ludicrous. Such activity must come from passion, awareness of injustice, and deep reflection. But, programs should produce cognizant and critical teachers who understand that their roles go far beyond that of folding paper and writing plans. Teachers should understand their roles as advocates for their students and themselves. They should have the skills walking into their classrooms not after they’ve been struggling as a teacher or five years. There is an abundance of literature focusing on teacher training. It should go beyond preparation for the praxis and a lifetime of coddling children. That is in no way what teaching is. And, regarding PD, it’s seldom that it is more than an occupation of valuable time that results in blank stares and checking cellphones. If you teach paper folding, perhaps shake things up, and focus on the way the information and critical thought is going to be put on that soon to be folded paper. Teachers are dedicated and hardworking people who are far more capable of complex thought than they are treated. Give us some credit.
0066: Third Party Mercenaries to Save Our Schools
#education #testing #bullshit #SOS
There is a new hope! There are educational mercenaries for hire who will rescue our schools from the idiot teachers who wrongfully subject students to activities specifically designed to teach kids thinking skills and innovation. What are they trying to do? Create a critically thinking citizenry? Why? But, don’t worry. We have people to quell these pinko teachers. They will come in and enforce the Glorious Testocracy that we have. All Hail the mighty Standards! As one we will bubble. As one we will thrive.
For a small price several organizations can come in and tell what your teachers are doing wrong, and might can even give a few tips to the administration. The first thing they may do is set up a triage unit. They’ll help you pick out the students who are worth saving and find something to tide the others over. You we as a society must understand that there is no one in your school system who knows what they’re doing. No teacher, no principal. It’s a mystery to everyone. “What am I supposed to do with all these kids,” a teacher might ask himself. Or worse. the teacher might think it’s important to build thinking skills that would help them better understand texts and their worlds alike. That is ridiculous. Every kid needs to be a better test taker. Our Glorious Testing Company needs our offering. Think of it as a tithe to them who have our true interest at heart. I mean look at all the jobs that have been created. Now we can put more students in a classroom with one teacher. Fire the ones that are old and get paid too much. And hire mercenaries to come in and let the solitary teacher know what she’s doing wrong. Surely it’s classroom management and the inability to differentiate. Consultants need jobs, and consulting firms need contracts. Testing is so important to our education. I didn’t learn to bubble tests as a kid, and now I’m lost. A fool hearted teacher trying to teach. How foolish of me. I am a blasphemer and a heretic, but I’m getting better. Soon the rebellious spirit of free-thinking will be dead in my heart and then I will be able to bubble peacefully.
0037: Ode to Standardization and Guerilla #Teaching
#humanity #edchat #testocracy #revolution
I spend a lot of time bitching about standardized tests. They’ve done a terrible thing to our society and our educational system. They’ve created students who think in terms of multiple choice and think no. 2 pencils are tools for performing strange religious ceremonies. They have turned teachers into prison wardens who speak only in terms of a, b, c, or d and the process of elimination. They’ve turned writing into the act of selecting the best passage with the fewest errors, rather than actually writing to find out what one thinks. Standardized tests are our keys into colleges, graduate schools, and many jobs. We all think in terms of a, b, c, and d. If you don’t then you are separate. You will never have access. You will be damned! Damned to what? A thoughtful and peaceful existence?
All of this is quite dystopian and chilling, but what can we do? We could all refuse to give them. Maybe no one shows up on testing day. No one. Or maybe teachers show up and students sit in the parking lots. Maybe someone breaks in and eliminates the tests. Guerilla test forces pop up in school districts across the country, and end corporate testing. It would be nice. But, what can we do as teachers who are chained to the assembly line?
I submit that we teach around the test. Let’s just take a year, and really teach. Teach your subject passionately throwing caution to the pacing guide. Teach at a pace where your students can really learn. On top of that, help them learn to think, and question, and reason. Present the test as a problem, for a problem-based learning activity. We, the class, have this monster of a test before us, that serves to dehumanized all of us. How can we beat it? Let that be the starting point. Standardized testing is a brutal reality of our budding society today. We have to find ways to interrupt the consequences of testing and teaching to the test while still meeting our impossible “quotas”. We’re working hard to cultivate people, not test takers. We have to help our kids transcend their scores of minimal, basic, proficient, and advanced and become real people with faces. Sure, pass the test, but, in our souls and hearts we must always say: fuck the test. I am not a score. I am a human.
0033: Notes from an Education Underground (teachers become radical please)
#teaching #edreform #revolution
We must move beyond things that are only quantifiable. Our people are being neglected as we focus more and more on quantifying their intelligence. Teachers and students are forced to work mindlessly. Critical thought and the human spirit are being neglected. Students are leaving schools semiliterate and unprepared. We are working toward an undefined and nonexistent goal. We are simply a consumer culture. Do we want a mindless future. Or an underclass?
The value of the arts. The production of culture. The transformation of an individual through the creation of culture thereby transforming a community. We are a spiritually impoverished nation. Beauty and truth unnoticed because of the focus on empiricism and survival. The wasted time in classrooms. Students are neglected because there is no time to explore. Can we look for life in our students? It’s when they’re fully engaged in something meaningful. It’s when they’re given power. We need radical teachers. We need bureaucracy to be lessened in schools. Teachers need to be quality, but so do the people and policies policing them. Learners need to be free. Teachers need to be radical. Good teachers step outside the boundaries of what is expected. They connect with their students as people not students. Teachers empower and lead because they are good people who care and are intelligent. Teachers are and should be radical. The predicament we are in requires a a radical change. Our country needs a revival of arts and beauty and truth. We are poor. The daily grind no longer serves to help our people. We need a breath of spirit. No longer can we toil away in factories. We must innovate and join together. We need a change. Rather, we must demand a change. Let our souls be acknowledged and then awakened. There is life to be had.
We must see to it that the status quo is upset, because it already has been. Our education and culture and grasp of beauty is famished, and so will be our people.
Our youth are innovators, but education is not meeting that inquisitiveness. Schools are wasteful places where children learn to wait in lines and hide their cell phones while ignorant teachers numb their minds as theirs have already been numbed by countless directives from blind administrators. This must change. The school must change. The best work I did as a teacher is when I engaged the learners in my care in dialogue. Whether they were 8 or 18. Our intelligences sharpened each other. We worked together. The curriculum stands as a guide, but in reality is a step by step manual. Is there a step by step manual to becoming more fully human? If you say yes than my words a null and so is the concept of freedom. Freedom is an unexplored concept in our culture and our schools. We are killing America.
0025: How Social Media (namely Twitter) is Making Me a Better Educator
I would like to see teachers, myself included, become more aware that they are a part of a global community. Within our own schools and classrooms we become myopic. The education system becomes a weight bearing down so heavily on us that we are forced into submission and silence. I started researching various technologies as literacy tools a few years ago, and was blown away by their effects on teachers. We’ll get to the students later. I looked specifically at social media sites like twitter. What I was surprised to find was a worldwide community of educators who are all connecting to and supporting one another with advice, research, and professional development tools. I’m slowly becoming a better user of social media to benefit my own practice. Almost every PD tool I uncover on twitter is more valuable than any staff development I’ve been subjected to. And, they were free of charge. Districts pay $1000 or more for professional developers. I’ve gotten to do some myself. I like making the money, but districts could save millions a year by using free resources at their fingertips. They could start by treating their own teachers as professionals, but I digress. Teachers working in communities of teachers are more effective, hands down. Beyond professional development and networking their are, of course, myriad classroom resources available.
I’m learning to communicate globally by experimenting. I’ve grown up with technology, but social media is relatively new for everyone. If your new to it, experiment. Go to your search area and type in #edchat, #ctchat, #sschat, or #____________ anything else like literacy or whatever and you’ll be linked to a worldwide conversation on your topic. Creating this blog has given me an outlet for reflection, and a bit of feedback. As I learn these skills I’m learning to convince administration to allow these skillsets to be integrated into the classroom. Our school has a few iPads that are minimally used by administrators. I try to get them to play with new apps. The learning and convincing is slow. As I progress I’ll share more.
My point is try to expand your education experience to the global community. Engage educators. The worst thing any of us can do is stand silent or alone.
0023: Burnout or Crossroads? Where am I and where do I go?
I am concerned that I’ve become better at talking about teaching than being a teacher. I am plagued with constant doubt of my practice, and my motivation. I do not see myself as the same teacher I was when I started. When I started I taught in a districts “worst school”. The students were violent, the gang problem was out of control, and the kids were the greatest challenge to reach. I managed and thrived there. I felt like I was an amazing teacher and all I was doing was holding on for dear life. Those kids impacted my life greatly. They’ll be graduating this year.
I barely knew anything then. I wasn’t cynical, I was eager. I had a fight for the kids mentality. We were fighting an unfair system together. We engaged in amazing conversation about community and fear and hope. There were times was terrified. A kid brought a sawed-off shotgun in the first week. No one was harmed, but it scared me. Scared my wife too. Kids couldn’t read, they had been put in that school as a dumping ground. But, the teachers there were dedicated. The principal was die-hard. I was bound and determined to succeed.
The kids I teach now face the same problems the kids I taught then did. I just feel half as effective. Half as motivated. I sometimes feel I’m going through the motions. I know tons more about the theory behind teaching. I have more experience. I’m more educated. I’ve done consulting work and written quite a bit. I’ve had myriad opportunities to help other teachers, and blah blah blah. I’m only applying what I know half the time I think. I’m barely here the other half. I have moments when I’m an amazing teacher. I have amazing moments when I’m working with other teachers and the find themselves awakening to new thoughts and ideas in their own practice. I help them reach the genesis of new ideas. I enjoy that. I feel like the teacher I was when that happens. And those moments happen in my classroom, I’m just barely aware of them I think.
I understand that I’m evolving, but I don’t know how. Where do I go from here?