0117: Teaching: Love, Science, Foolishness, and Persuasion— an Algorithm for Success
Teaching is an action that requires love, science, foolishness, and persuasion all to work in concert. It’s a near impossible task to teach anyone anything, but somehow, through the above formula, people learn. Have you ever tried to teach a small child to blow their own nose or to tie a shoe? It’s miraculous that anyone ever learns either of those skills. Reading is no different. There are all these little bits that must be assembled by someone for reading to become meaningful. There is nothing simple about it. The credit cannot go to one person alone. Every experience a child has becomes a tool, a cog, a weight and balance in the odd amalgamation of skills and experience that are eventually referred to as print literacy. It comes with steps forward followed by numerous steps back. Theory has a big role in explaining this process/es, but the role of dogged perseverance is stronger.
Just to teach a simple skill requires the love, science, foolishness, persuasion algorithm. Teachers have to have great love for their students, and perhaps for humanity, to engage in such a daunting task. Without love we would quickly turn away from the deluge of frustration and seek higher more quickly rewarding ground.
The science behind teaching and learning, whether or not it is understood in scientific terms, is vast. First, research based methods are implemented in classrooms daily. There are, of course, basic learning theories, crowd psychology, neuroscience, and so forth. All teachers are not versed in the science of their practice, but undoubtedly implement solid research based strategies, that are recreated and invented over and over again because that is what is required. Teachers are constantly experimenting with different ways of teaching. Each year, each day, each class period the dynamics of the classroom change. What worked for one group may fail miserably. Teachers adjust, many so fluidly that it isn’t even noticeable to the teacher or observer. It’s a think on your feet kind of job.
Teaching requires a level of foolishness. What is the limit of perseverance? When do people give up? I teach alongside forty year veterans who have day in day out taught the same subject, never ceasing to try and teach basic multiplication to kids who are years behind. Teachers who patiently help high schoolers sound out words they should be reason fluently. These teachers see students grow, struggle grow some more, experience set backs, and keep going. This can all happen over the course of a day, hour, year, whatever. Teachers don’t quit. Each year regulations get tighter. Teaching becomes more impossible. We see budgets cut. We dig deep. We become less revered, more hated. Teachers are abused. Abused. Abused. And they/we keep at it. Foolish? Perhaps, but people need to learn. There is no time to hang on a cross. Each generation has needs. Our society needs literate people. We’re trying. It’s difficult, but God knows we’ll find away.
Teachers must be incredibly persuasive. Could anyone learn algebra if they weren’t? Teachers must motivate a group of students to learn to learn. We are perpetually leading people to water, and trying to help them learn to drink. We try to stir hope in hopeless people. We try to help students see their own potential. We stoke the fires of curiosity, when not impeded by test prep. We stoke the fires anyway. We try to keep learners learning even though learning seems futile.
It seems cold and pointless when it all seems to lead to a cold and pointless test. But, we don’t teach for a test. We teach for humanity. Education has a chance to be a great equalizer. It is turning quickly into something different. The great equalizer is not education as a system, but the ability to learn and navigate systems. We are fighting to give tools to people who can take them and transform their own worlds. We are fighting for our own worlds. We are fighting, hopefully, for humanity. We will continue without regard to blockades on our journey. We will
stick to love, science, foolishness, and persuasion. Say what you want, but we are teachers. We are committed. We enable our neighbors to transform their own worlds as we change ours. Keep at it.
0111: What can be done to empower teachers? More Rules for Radical Teachers
#education #revolution @educatoral
I’ve heard a lot of talk from the “higher ups” and some media outlets that “we need to make teaching a respected profession again”. There are several problems here. First, teachers have always had to fight for their dignity. We’re constantly fighting the image of “coddler”, “babysitter”, replacement parent (in loco parentis), “bad teacher, whatever. The teaching profession has struggled for any bit of dignity it has been given. Second, any dignity it has been “given” has been earned by teachers who have stood up and demanded changes be made.
For there to be any solution, we have to create it. Waiting for Mr. Duncan or anyone else to make the teaching profession respected again will result in nothing more than twiddling thumbs and more of the let down that has accompanied our profession for so long. The solution must begin with teachers becoming educated for creating change. Teachers must become activists, agitators, and advocates. This will not and cannot happen all at once, of course, it will require patience and commitment to becoming empowered, and then empowering those around you.
Foreseeable problems: Many teachers (in certain situations most teachers) have either never been in a position to advocate for themselves
Many teachers have existed in passivity throughout their careers. Their passivity has been either forced or allowed. Teachers who’ve advocated for themselves have often been forced back into passivity through threats, reprimands, or worse. These teachers are reluctant to bother with anything that might expose them to trouble.
Other teachers, similar to the first type, have been rendered subservient through years of subtle conditioning. If you do this, then this will come. Retirement being the carrot.
Some teachers follow the “don’t make no waves” policy. In many cases education is a field of self preservation. The survivalist mentality that is promoted through high stakes tests, evals, and other fear-mongering strategies keeps teachers separated, isolated, and passive. So what can be done?
Possible solutions: Foremost, the silence must be broken. Teachers have to come out of isolation. They have to be able to articulate their issues— publicly. Many teachers are quite skilled at venting their problems, but will not stand behind what they say behind closed doors. There is a lot of talk with little action. So, maybe stating the “problem” is not the answer. Maybe it lies in discussing pedagogy. I submit that if you get
teacher talking about teaching they (we) can’t shut up. Teachers want to teach, and they want to arrive at solutions. If you’re the catalyst for change that is on its way, it might behoove you and your cohorts to engage any teacher, especially the reluctant ones, in conversation about solutions to the problems they’re having— behavior, academic, etc. This builds an atmosphere of collegiality that is non-conspiratorial. It’s less threatening. Talking about teaching is not a coup; it’s a productive activity. The revolution, if you will, must develop slowly as the teacher/person/student becomes actively involved in reflection of their own practice and
begins to feel mildly in control.
How do these conversations begin? Carefully. No teacher wants some pompous activist, consultant, or hoodlum coming into their classroom and telling them what to do. Teachers need people who listen first. So, if you’re involved in change, remember to listen. Help neighbors arrive at their own solution. Help them realize their own power. Revelation happens quite easily once one begins to reflect. Revelations bring about internal revolutions.
So, take your planning period, lunch period, chat in the parking lot, whenever, and ask a fellow teacher for help. Get them to help
you solve a problem. You need their help. By engaging them in solution building you are gaining a colleague and acting as a catalyst for your neighbor’s transformation. Be a listener and a learner. Engage everyone. As many as you can.
Change takes time, humility, and a
willingness to engage everyone. If you can engage even the most treacherous administrator you’re taking a right step toward sustainable change.
(Rules for Radical Teachers http://educatedtodeath.com/post/16870273089 ).
0106: Teachers, new and seasoned, remember you’re a person first, then a #teacher
#education #revolution #EtherSec #humanity
Friends who give your lives to the education of others please don’t neglect your own humanity. You are a human first, and then a teacher. We live in a society that so often ties who we are to our careers. Teaching is a commitment, a very deep one. It requires all of your love and humanity if you are to be successful, that is, if you are going to reach your students (testing aside). Teachers have many expectations to meet, and many more stresses that go along with those expectation. It’s easy to watch your humanity—friends, family, hobbies, identity, etc.—slip away as your focus on teaching increases. For new teachers this is a trap. You want to do a good job. You want to measure up. You want to change the world. You’re not achieving your goals or meeting expectations. You want to keep your job. The truth is, these are thoughts that fill the minds of all teachers, veterans an new, but as a new teacher you haven’t always learned to cope with the stresses. New teachers burnout quickly in many cases. Veteran teachers are focused on keeping their jobs, and have weathered many storms. Some have maintained their humanity some have had it stripped from them little by little. For any and all teachers, if you feel like you had no life, you must do anything and everything to begin one or maintain the one you have. It’s not just a matter of social and psychological health, or even a matter of effectiveness (you are in fact more effective if you’re psychologically, socially, and physically healthy). Rather, it’s a matter of dignity and pride. Humanity is the most valuable thing we possess. It’s how we value ourselves. If you have pride and dignity, you will by nature resist oppression. You will have no choice but to advocate for yourself. You will refuse to be a victim. If you value your own humanity, you will be better able to value the humanity of others. You will be better able to connect with the people around you and in your care. You will understand the need to advocate for yourself and others. When you lose your humanity and job becomes just a job. You revert to mantra “one day at a time”. Life becomes drudgery. Regardless of your level of humanity and self-awareness, do something, anything, to move in that direction. Read a book. Write one. Seek beauty and truth. Seek to know thyself. “Treat yo’self.”
Find a friend. Go dancing. Do whatever it is (or was) that makes you feel alive. Don’t fall prey to a dehumanizing system in a dehumanizing world. Arise and celebrate your humanity. Rage for your humanity.
0102: Stop Abusing Veteran Teachers
#education #edreform #agism
Over the past year or so I’ve noticed an increase in improvement plans among veteran teachers. These have been skilled teachers with a record of providing quality education. Many of these teachers serve as advocates for students, teachers, and public education. These are people who have given their lives to educating children. They are being harassed at the end of their careers because they cost the district a little bit of money, but that is not the story told to them. They are called ineffective, poor classroom managers, out of touch, among other things. Harry Wong and Marzano texts are being handed out to these teachers to help them “improve”. These teachers feel eyes upon them at all time. There is recourse for their every indiscretion, from arriving a minute too late to sending a child with severe disciplinary problems to the office. These teachers emerge from an era when administrators were to be trusted only to find their once trusted boss is laying the groundwork for their dismissal just before their retirement. Difficult students are placed in their rooms. They receive no help. They are stripped of every ounce of dignity they have. Their careers will end in obsolescence and strife. They are not supported.
But, is this actually because they are obsolete? Surely not. These teachers have endured the span of modern public education. They know what they’re doing. They have committed and they’re being pushed out. This is not to say that all veteran teachers are good teachers, some are not. There are many ineffective, bad, low-quality, whatever you want to call them, teachers, but this certainly is not all teachers. The unfortunate truth is many veteran teachers are being abused simply because they cost the district too much. They don’t cost the district more than they’ve earned, they have done what they were supposed to do for years. They’ve stuck with it. The districts just don’t want to pay them, and they certainly don’t want to pay them their retirement. It’s a problem. It must be stopped. Share your stories with newspapers, in blogs, wherever. People need to be aware.
Rules for Radical #Teachers: Rule 5
If you get fired don’t quit. Tell your story to whoever will listen. Tell the story of what good you did as a teacher. Share the ways you taught. Become an advocate for students and good teaching. Turn your blog or website into a tool for activism. Continue to show your value, but kick it up a bit. Show what students have lost. Talk to people. Write. Read. Go back to school if you must. Take a break, but for God’s sake try to do whatever you can to progress education.
Rules for Radical #Teachers: Rule 4
Be flexible. Excellent teaching involves risk. By not teaching to the test your students may not make the gains on the tests that are required. The test doesn’t necessarily measure learning. It measures score differentials. So, you may lose your job anyway. The school could just let you go for other reasons. If you have followed the first rules, then you should scream bloody murder—in a collected and professional manner, of course. You already have your case built. If you’re a member of a union or professional organization contact them before you sign or agree to anything. Use their counsel. If it doesn’t work out move on. Your peace of mind matters. You taught to the best of your ability. If you did right by your students, then you should rest well. Find another job (that’s tough right now).
Rules for Radical #Teachers: Rule 3
Keep your nose clean. Be on time. Do your job. Be professional. Turn in lesson plans, etc., etc. Don’t give them extra reasons to dismiss you.
Rules for Radical #Teachers: Rule 2
Teach excellently, not to the test. If you’re teaching, then students are learning. When you teach, and then share your practice with the world you are building a case for real teaching. Testing aside, you must show the world what good teaching looks like. That’s why, referring to the first rule, you must be visible. Students need an opportunity to learn without being bound by mindless teaching or training. They need to think, create, solve problems (real problems), collaborate, and so forth. Teaching to the test does not allow for this.
You have to keep your job, so teach the curriculum. Give your students the tools they need to pass the test. But, teach them the value of learning over testing. Help them build their identity as learners not test takers. If you don’t cover everything, but your learners really learn they will be able to at least improve their scores, and they will have learned. We are at a point that we may have to put our jobs at risk to give our students what they need. Worry not, by following the first rule we have a little more freedom. Your teaching is giving good PR. Your test scores don’t all come up, you’re still valuable. You’ve tilted the balance slightly.
Rules for Radical #Teachers: Rule 1
Make yourself a visible valuable asset to the school district. What this really means is to make yourself a PR liability. If they fire you, the school and district will look bad. Schools are struggling to maintain positive public images, the last thing they want is more bad publicity. To do this you must do things to get yourself noticed. Do a project with your students and invite the principal, superintendent, city officials, school PR, local news, parents, and anyone else you can think of to see what wonderful things your students are doing. Build a public case for your value. Positive publicity helps school/district image. The administrators will be praised for having such an active teacher, and this keeps you visible. Additionally, you will be benefitting your students with project-based critical learning with real outcomes. Publicity for good work is far better than a grade.
Keep a class website, keeping in mind district policies and confidentiality laws. This website or blog can function as a place for students to interact, if they have access to technology. If they don’t keep a website or blog anyway. Post their work. Show them in class. Email it to the administration. Again, it’s good PR. It helps your students. It helps you.
Participate in school board meetings when you can. Go to public forums. Speak positively about things that are happening in your classroom. Get on the docket at the school board or city council meeting and use your two minutes to brag on your students’ achievements. Show that they’re learning and you’re not teaching to the test. This is good PR for the school and the district. It’s also modeling best practices for teaching in a public forum.
Seek out partners for your classroom. You’re not looking for donations here; you’re looking for support. Invite a community member to teach your class. Maybe a bank president to teach students to balance a checkbook. A store manager to talk about leadership. An attorney to teach an English lesson. A carpenter to teach Pythagorean theorem. Have an artist teach the Golden mean. You get the idea. Get people in your class. This doesn’t need to be constant, just a few times.
Don’t forget to bring your colleagues along with you on the ride. Build participation and connections among faculty members. Break the silence.
It is of the utmost importance that you bring a positive light to your teaching practice. This will give you liberty to speak candidly against injustices (not the school or district) in other instances.
Positive, free PR is an invaluable resource for schools and districts. If you’re at the center of it, then you become a loss. They can’t afford to lose someone like you.