Be the change, education reform, Student-centered, voice

When Students Speak Do We Even Really Listen?

Get us out of our seats.  Less homework.  Not so many tests.  More projects, more hands-on, more fun.  All things students will tell you if you ask them how school should be.  All things we have heard for years and yet many of us have yet to react to them.  We chalk their statements up to students being lazy; they don’t want to work, that is why they want less homework.  They don’t know their curriculum so they don’t want to be tested on it.  I have too much to cover so they have to listen and stay in their seats while I lecture.  We have a plan, a program, and students are just another piece to plan for and to fit into everything we need to cover.  They are obstacles to be conquered, to be molded and shaped until they fit perfectly into our round holes whether they started out square or triangular.

So as the education debate rages and more and more voices join the discussion, I wonder why we don’t listen to the one that should carry the most weight; the student.  Where are the children at these meetings.  Where are the future generations?  Not even invited.  And I don’t mean just the high school students but the young ones, the ones that have just started school that still like to come, that still like to be excited, the ones that haven’t been burned by a system that progresses whether they are with it or not.   Those students should have a seat at the table and when they speak we should really listen.  We should stop with our excuses and our assumptions of why they say these things and want these changes.  We should listen to their message and then actually believe it.  Let them speak, let them be heard, and let us change.

It is possible to make school fun through projects and student choice.  It is possible to cut out homework and still cover everything you need to cover.  It is possible to not test and still know where your students are academically.  It is possible to stop talking and let them be the leaders, the guides, the teachers.  It is possible…if you believe in it.

being a teacher, education reform, Student-centered

Want to Shut Educators Up? Tell Them "It Is For the Children…"

The oldest excuse in the book for change in education is, “We do it for the children.”  And it works!  Throw that baby on the discussion table and people just go silent.  After all, if it is for the children then it must be good.  If it is for the children then if we decide against it we are deciding against children.  If it is for the children then it must be researched and proven to benefit them.   And yet, we have all been fooled by this statement.  Purchasing a Smartboard – it is for the children.  Creating more tests – it is for the children.  Slashing school budgets – it is for the children.  Proposing merit pay – it is for the children.  Common Core standards – it is for the children.  Asking teachers to take pay cuts and freezes – it is for the children.  Bigger report cards with more homework and tests to report – oh yes, it is for the children.

Except most of the time it is not.  Because when were the children ever asked?  We say it is for the children and yet they never enter the actual decision-making or even discussion.  If you asked a child if they wanted more “rigor” in their education, I can almost guarantee that most of them would look at you like you were crazy.  If you ask them if they needed more grades or more tests, their answer might surprise you.  When teachers are asked to take pay cuts because otherwise our children will get hurt, most children would be sad to hear it.

So let’s cut the crap, sorry.  Most decisions in education is not for the children, but for the test company, for the district to look good, or for someone’s life to be easier.  It is not for the benefit of the children.  And yes, of course, we know more than the children but the fact that their voices are left out of the education debate and reform should be frightening to us all.  So start small; ask the children in your room and then tell me it is for the children.

being a teacher, education reform, power

Every Day I Make a Choice

Every morning I choose how I see the day.  I could view it through the lens of most that I will not do enough to help my students, I will not be able to get them where I need them to be because the system is against us.

I could view the students as obstacles that need to be conquered and my colleagues as people who take up too much time or none at all.  I could view my administration as the enemy, and my standards as chokeholds around my teaching.  I could blame the system for my lack of progress and I could feel good that at least I tried.  But I don’t.

I choose every morning to believe in my own abilities as a teacher and as a human being.  I choose to be positive, thinking that today will be the best day I could ever make.  Today my students will conquer mountains and guide me on new paths.  My colleagues will inspire me if I reach out, and then will support me through my journey.   My administration will hold me to high standards because they believe I will soar.  The standards are simply guides and they can be worked with much easier than worked against.  The standards do no tell me that I have to prep my students for tests, or even how I should teach, but only what our goals should be and those can be reached in many ways.  I choose to fight the system from within and change it the way I can.  I do it for my own sanity and for the curiosity of my students.

Every day I have a choice in how I will view the world, and although I wake up grumpy (just ask my husband), and bogged down by all of the forces working against me, I slip on my teacher super power suit and I stay positive.  The last thing schools need is another person bringing it down.  The world is already trying to do that.  So what do you choose?

alfie kohn, being a teacher, education reform, Student-centered

We Say And Yet

We say we don’t want to be micromanaged as teachers and yet then we do it to our students.

We say we want democratic schools, where our voices are heard, and yet we rule our students with an iron fist.

We say we are working as hard as we can and that merit pay will not boost our dedication or our effort, and yet we dangle grades in front of our students to try to incentivize them.

We say we work too many hours as teachers without getting paid for it and yet we assign hours of homework to our students.

We say our voices are not being heard in the educational debate yet we do not listen to the voice of our students.

We say we want to be invited into the educational policy decisions being made and yet we do not invite parents and students into our own decisions.

We say that we want freedom to teach and yet we allow little freedom to our students in learning.

We say we want to teach in our own way, infused with our passion, and yet we expect students to all learn the same way.

We say that we need to time to teach and to learn all of these new things being thrust at us and yet we expect our students to all find the time and to master it at the same time.

We say we want to be respected as individual teachers and yet we show little respect to our students as individuals, expecting them to fit into whatever we have decided the perfect student should be.

We wonder why our students are losing interest in schools and never stop to look at what we do to them.  Education should not be done to them, it should happen with them.  Give back your classroom to your students; give them a voice.

being a teacher, education reform

The Emerging Age Bias – a Post for Edutopia

This was posted on Edutopia this week – what a thrill

“You know I was worried at first, because she was so old, but it turned out she was really good…” A friend and I are discussing her child’s teacher. Her words resonate with me because I have heard them a lot lately; she was so old…old… and I wonder since when did being a veteran teacher become a negative quality in America?
Rewind to my first year of teaching and how I wished to be a veteran, how I yearned for years of knowledge and experience that could really wow parents and engage the students at such a high level that they would love coming to school every day. Instead, I bumbled my way through, figuring out my style, using the students as test subjects to all my untried ideas and staring wistfully into veteran teachers’ classrooms. I envied their orderly, calm lessons, their seemingly endless project ideas and angles to reach every child. I could not wait to be a veteran.

The Case for Veteran Teachers

Now it appears a new trend has emerged; veteran teachers are no longer “experienced” — they are simply “old,” with every negative connotation of that word. The media and politicians portray these older teachers as stubborn and stuck in their ways. They are labeled static and washed out. The way to resuscitate America’s “failing” education is now to get rid of the veterans and pave way for the new teachers, those with boundless energy, passion and fresh ideas. It’s truly a case of out with the old and in with the new.
But those working in education can see just how flawed this method of thinking is. Those of us who breathe education recognize what these veteran teachers really bring to us all — knowledge, expertise, methods that work, and a deep-seated passion for a job that has done little to reward them. We realize that by creating a bias against experience, we are all losers in the world of education. Now before I forget: yes, there are experienced teachers that do fulfill the stereotype, much like there are new teachers that do. However, the majority of experienced teachers do not.
Thanks in part to the rhetoric of the “reformers,” the anti-veteran bias seems to be taking root in society, too. Now when teachers are searching for work, the more years they have, the less likely it seems that they will get an interview. Some districts say tight budgets are to blame, which as a teacher in Wisconsin I can appreciate, and yet, you would think that a district would spend the bulk of its money on getting experienced teachers in front of our students. Instead, we see a stigma that says the more years of teaching you have, the less open to new ideas you must be. Parents eagerly tell us how they want that new young teacher because he or she will have something new to offer. Students hope for the young teacher because they are sure he or she will be more fun.

Our Most Valuable Asset

So what can we do? Youth is the ultimate desirability in America, and it is warping the educational world as well. Youth now seems to be the one trait that everyone agrees will save our schools. Get rid of tenure, and with it the more experienced teachers, which frees school districts to hire as many brand new teachers as they want. Brand new teachers that also happen to cost less. Brand new teachers that come off as confident and brimming with new initiatives. Brand new teachers that lack the foundation that only years of teaching can provide them with.
I think back now to what I put my students through my first year — and I shudder at the thought. There were the make-no-sense rules just to ensure control, tests upon tests because I thought that was the only way I could assess, and just a small stockpile of ideas to pull from. I had the confidence but lacked experience, and the only thing I knew that would make me a better teacher (besides more years) was turning to my mentors, veteran teachers that shared their knowledge and inventiveness. In those master teachers I saw everything that had drawn me to teaching: passion, dedication, innovation and an unstopping sense of urgency to reach all students.
That is what we’ll be removing from our educational system — experience; because in the view of society, old = bad. So when we dismiss and run out our master teachers, we drain our schools of one of their most valuable assets — knowledge. When we place teachers with experience at the bottom of our respect pole, we set students up to be every new teacher’s test subject over and over, throughout their years of schooling. Yes, new teachers bring new ideas to the table, but so do veteran teachers. How anyone can claim otherwise baffles me.
Thankfully, there are others in our profession who agree with me. Veteran teachers are joining social media such as Twitter to reach out to new teachers. They are blogging about their experience, thus creating a database of knowledge accessible to anyone in need. They are creating networks within their schools, ensuring that new teachers have someone to turn to. They are not being run out of education quietly, and we should all be grateful for that. We are only as strong as the weakest link in our schools, and our mentor teachers are doing everything they can to empower the people they work with. That power transfers to our students.
education reform

Why Are So Many Students Absent?

Today Education Week is running a poll on their Facebook page asking the question:
What do you think would be the most effective in combating absenteeism?

The choices:

  • Reaching out to parents
  • Harsher discipline for students
  • Establishing truancy officers
  • More before – and after-school programs
  • Community-based efforts
And while some of these ideas are not bad, the most effective method isn’t even mentioned:  
Have engaging curriculum with student choice.  Until we make school worth coming to, students are not going to be invested.
Really, Education Week, you couldn’t think of that?