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Posts Tagged ‘Art of teaching’

There ARE No Two Sides When it Comes to Condemning Racism… BUT

July 19, 2019 Leave a comment

This USA Today op ed article is correct in its assessment that there are not two sides when it comes to condemning racism… but what is a teacher to do if her boss or the majority of the school board supports the position of all but 4 GOP congressmen that the President’s recent tweets and subsequent behavior is not racist? I dare say SOME teacher will encounter this dilemma.

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Sanity Prevails in Florida Dismissal of Holocaust Denying HS Principal… BUT…

July 14, 2019 Leave a comment

I read a NYTimes account of the dismissal of a Boca Raton HS Principal with a sense of relief… but also a sense of bewilderment. According to an article by Sarah Mervosh, William Latson, the Principal of Spanish River Community High School in Boca Raton, Fla., wrote in an email exchange with an unidentified parent in April 2018 that:

…the school offered an assembly and courses on the Holocaust, but that they were optional and could not be “forced upon” all students.

I can imagine that an irate Holocaust denying parent writing an email to a Principal complaining about an elective course offering and, perhaps, a school-wide assembly on the topic… and I can see where a Principal’s appeasing response might be taken out of context as evidence that his personal equivocation on the issue. What I found astounding was what followed:

“I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event because I am not in a position to do so as a school district employee,” Mr. Latson wrote, making a distinction between his personal beliefs about the Holocaust and his role as the leader of a public school. “I do allow information about the Holocaust to be presented and allow students and parents to make decisions about it accordingly. I do the same with information about slavery.”

I cannot fathom how anyone “…can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event” and then justify such a stance based upon his status as a “…school district employee”. Then, in case the reader has any doubts about Mr. Latson’s wisdom, depth of knowledge of history, or political savvy, he indicates that he not only allows students and parents to make up their own facts about the Holocaust, he invites them to do the same thing with slavery!

Thankfully, the citizens of Boca Raton did not take kindly to Mr. Latson’s thinking and the school district did the right thing:

The comments set off an intense backlash in South Florida, which has a significant Jewish population and has among the highest concentrations of Holocaust survivors in the world. Thousands signed an online petition calling for Mr. Latson’s resignation, and on Monday, the Palm Beach County school district announced that he would be stripped of his position as principal and reassigned to another job in the district.

In response to the rise in anti-Semitism in the state, the Florida legislature has mandated instruction on the Holocaust in order to ensure that every student who graduates from Florida schools is aware of the horrific genocide that occurred in World War II. The Palm Beach County School Board Chair, Frank A. Barbieri Jr., emphasized that the district’s curriculum exceeds what is required by the state mandate.

“Every generation must recognize, and learn from, the atrocities of the Holocaust’s incomprehensible suffering and the enduring stain that it left on humankind,” he said. “It is only through high-quality education, and thought-provoking conversations, that history won’t repeat itself.”

And leaders in the Jewish community also weighed in:

Mr. Levin, of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, said that the Holocaust should be treated like other undebatable facts throughout history, from the Roman Empire to the Revolutionary War to slavery.

“We simply don’t let educators pick and choose what is a philosophical debate and what is not,” he said, adding: “There is no way to be politically correct about the Holocaust. It is a fact of life.

It IS a fact of life… like climate change, like the need for vaccines, like many inconvenient facts of history and science. When the day comes that we get to choose facts democracy dies.

Teacher Shortage is Real and Relentless and Requires Respect, Resources and TRUE Reform

June 25, 2019 Comments off

This report from NBC draws from the EPI report cited in an earlier post… and it underscores the Importance of transforming teaching from a robotic presentation of material that can only be measured by standardized testing, a demeaning assignment that does not warrant the status of a professional, to a role of a caring and informed mentor— an assignment that is increasingly needed in this day and age… an assignment that requires talents that defy ready measurement and warrant much higher compensation.

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Virginia Teacher’s Embeds an Explanation of the Root Cause of Our Teacher Shortage… Our Obsession with Tests

June 23, 2019 Comments off

A recent Economic Policy Institute blog post by Fredericksburg VA Middle School teacher Joy Kirk provides a spot on explanation for the persistent teacher shortage we face today. The opening section of the post describes how her state’s decision to mandate that education degrees be offered only at the graduate level resulted in increased debt for students, a predictable obstacle given the low salaries many teachers in her state encounter when they apply for jobs. But the mid-section of the post gets into the real problem: teaching is no longer the profession it once was:

Many teachers who enter the field quickly leave. The number of teachers leaving the field with less than five years of experience keeps growing. Why? Everyone has their own reasons but some of the reasons cut across schools, school divisions, states, and our nation. Teachers do not feel supported and the role and responsibilities of teachers just keep increasing. When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s my teachers taught us, supported us, disciplined us, attended a few meetings and our testing was a nationally normed standardized test that was given a few times throughout my K-12 education.

Today, teachers teach, discipline, support, remediate, attend countless trainings, prepare students for dozens of evaluations at the local and state level and are told to do more with less. This mantra grew louder during the recession and continues today. During the recession our responsibilities and accountability grew while our support and financial assistance shrunk. It is time that those making laws and regulations that impact educators and students start having conversations with those teachers and students.

Ms. Kirk’s post focused on compensation and professionalism, but the root cause of the de-professionalization of teaching and the centerpiece of policy-makers discussions about compensation is testing. The contrast between the testing protocols of the 70s and 80s and those in place since NCLB is stark. The impact of the testing protocols, though, is subtle, persistent, and demoralizing. Increasingly, teachers in “failing schools” are subjected to “countless trainings” on how to prepare students for tests. Test preparation strategies have replaced curriculum development workshops and teachers who have unique ideas and specialized interests are pushed to the sidelines as school districts adopt highly focussed packages developed to prepare children for tests. Ms. Kirk closes her post with this lament about staff development:

…We need to find a way to show educators that they make a difference and acknowledge their skills and trainings.

Our school divisions need to get creative. Some… are making professional development more meaningful by letting individual teachers determine what skills or knowledge they need to be effective. Some are making mentoring programs more effective so our young teachers feel supported and stay in the field of teaching. Still others provide work from home days instead of requiring teachers to make an appearance on a teacher work day. There is still more that could be done.

There IS still more to be done… but the first step in showing educators they make a difference and acknowledging their skills and trainings is to abandon the notion that standardized tests are the ultimate measure of learning. Truly creative and innovative individuals will never be drawn to a job that requires them to act as humanoid robots, following a prescribed curriculum designed to ensure that more children pass a one-size-fits-all test. A truly creative and innovative teachers wants some degree of autonomy and the chance to “...determine what skills or knowledge they need to be effective”… and they DON’T want effectiveness to be defined by their students’ test scores.

How to “Bully-proof” Your Child? Teach Them the Serenity Prayer

May 30, 2019 Comments off

I just finished reading a NYTimes article by Estelle Erasmus titled “How to Bully-Proof Your Child“. The bottom line answer is provided by child psychologist Izzy Kalman who suggests that if a child is bullied they should “...treat the person insulting you as a friend rather than an enemy, and not to get defensive or upset.” The article offers several examples of how to apply Dr. Kalman’s principles, including this one:

The Reflexive Response

“I didn’t. Tessa is a liar!”

“No, she’s not!

“She is! I didn’t cheat!”

“Everyone knows it’s true.”

“It’s not true!”

Mr. Kalman’s Approach:

“Really? Do you believe it?”

“No.”

“Good.”

Or, if the answer is “Yes”:

O.K. If you want to believe it, how can I stop you?”

“You can’t. So I’m going to tell everyone you cheated. And you can’t stop me.”

“That’s right. I can’t.”

After reading this example, I was reminded of the Serenity Prayer ascribed to Reinhold Niebuhr:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

In dealing with the false accusation, the bullied individual is acting on this prayer: They accept the thing they can’t change— the accuser’s beliefs— have the courage to stand up to the accusation— but ultimately accede to the accusation because they see that changing the accuser’s mind is an impossibility.

From my experience, all bullying can be resisted in this fashion. A bullied individual cannot change the behavior of the bully on their own and they cannot change the bullying incident itself. The bullied individual, then, needs to have the wisdom to decide whether to seek the intervention of someone who CAN change things or to continue accepting the bullying.

Ms. Erasmus’ elaboration of Dr. Kalman’s theories reinforce the notion that the Serenity Prayer might be applicable across-the-board, as my italicized notes indicate:

Instead of having adults act like law enforcement officers against bullying, Mr. Kalman advises teaching children the following four facts:

1) The real reason they are being picked on is that they get upset when they are picked on. (i.e. they are not accepting what they cannot change) 

2) They have been making themselves upset. (i.e. if they ACCEPT what they cannot change they will not make themselves upset) 

3) Fighting back and acting defensive fuels the bullying. (i.e. IF they accept what they cannot change it will diminish the bullying behavior— in this case courage IS acceptance) 

4) By not getting upset, the child wins, and gets the bullies to stop.

“The way to reduce bullying is to not punish kids for exercising their freedom of speech,” Mr. Kalman said. Teaching children that everyone is allowed to speak freely removes much of the power of the bullying and enables children to be their own advocates.

Bullying has been going on for decades… and trying to stop it by developing elaborate rules and protocols can be self-defeating. I’m with Dr. Kalman on this issue:

Mr. Kalman explained that when we punish kids for using certain words, it teaches them that words are very harmful. And when an adult punishes a child for saying something hurtful, it magnifies hostilities and takes the solution for fixing the issue out of the child’s hands.

Nobody can guarantee their children a life without difficulties. If you protect your children from the social challenges of life, it weakens them,” he said.

I Hate the Idea of Public Employee Strikes… But… They ARE Working AND They Might be Showing the Way for Others

March 4, 2019 Comments off

For the past decade or so, no profession has been as demeaned as public education. Instead of facing the fact that schools and social service and public health agencies are woefully underfunded and the fact that the safety net for families has been shredded, school reformers and politicians blame “failing schools” on bad teachers and poor parenting. In doing so they have turned parents and taxpayers against public— make the “government”— schools making it increasingly difficult for public education to get out of the death spiral it’s been put into.

But thanks to persistent work by public school advocates like Diane Ravitch, Jeff Bryant, and a host of progressive politicians and writers the public is beginning to understand that the public schools aren’t “failing” because teachers are failing, they are “failing” based on meaningless data gathered from irrelevant and time consuming standardized tests that are making schools joyless places to learn. And now, after over a decade of stagnant pay and nearly two decades of test-driven instruction, teachers are coalescing around these issues AND the issue of privatization and getting some favorable attention and favorable results. As Axios writer Khorri Atkinson reports, there is no end in sight for the nationwide wave of teacher strikes because the teachers’ calls for “…smaller class sizes, fewer annual standardized tests, and opposition to the expansion of private-school voucher programs and charter schools” resonate with parents. Like the teachers, parents are tired of overcrowded classrooms, the mind-numbing test-driven curricula in many schools, and the closure of neighborhood schools to effectively push students into private for-profit schools located far from their homes and not necessarily with the playmates their children grew up with. And they are also tired of seeing teachers come and go from the schools in their communities and in many cases not seeing their children’s teachers in the community because the teachers cannot afford to live there.

Maybe… just maybe… the tide is turning and the respect for teachers will return and with it a chance to restore public education to its rightful place as a hallowed institution in our country.

College Board’s Two Key AP Courses COULD Put Democracy on the Right Track

February 13, 2019 Comments off

As readers of this blog may hove noted, I often disagree with NYTimes columnist Thomas Friedman, who reliably supports neoliberal ideas about “school reform” and often reinforces the ideas set forth by Anand Giridharadas’ MarketWorld proponents. But I found myself nodding in agreement with his column today that supported the College Board’s assertion that two AP courses are needed to set a better course for democracy: Coding and the US Constitution.

The coding course focuses not on a specific computer language. Instead it focussed on the self-actualization that is possible when one learns how to DEVELOP uses for the computer as opposed having the computer dictate uses to students. Here’s the pitch the College Board used to attract a larger and more diverse enrollment in AP Computer Science:

What is it that you’d like to do in the world? Music? Art? Science? Business? Great! Then come build an app in the furtherance of that interest and learn the principles of computer science, not just coding, (College Board President David) Coleman said. “Learn to be a shaper of your environment, not just a victim of it.”

Both Mr. Friedman and College Board President David Coleman view the AP US Constitution course s being essential for future success. Why?

Every student needs to understand that, as Coleman put it, “our country was argued into existence — and that is the first thing that binds us — but also has some of the tensions that divide us. So we thought, ‘What can we do to help replace the jeering with productive conversation?’”

It had to start in high school, said (Stefanie) Sanford, (the College Board chief of global policy), who is leading the “two codes” initiative. “Think of how much more ready you are to participate in college and society with an understanding of the five freedoms that the First Amendment protects — of speech, assembly, petition, press and religion. The First Amendment lays the foundation for a mature community of conversation and ideas — built on the right and even obligation to speak up and, when needed, to protest, but not to interrupt and prevent others from speaking.”

This becomes particularly important, she noted, “when technology and democracy are thought of as in conflict, but are actually both essential” and need to work in tandem.

I completely agree with Mr. Friedman’s thinking about the essential need for informed citizens of the future to have a deep and fundamental understanding of both coding AND the constitution. In tandem they offer an opportunity to develop both convergent and divergent thinking and, most importantly, provide the skill sets students need to function in a democracy.

And while I generally oppose high stakes tests, I DO think that requiring all students to pass two AP tests like these would improve the pool of voters substantially. So here’s the question: which state will sign on first to make this happen?