Archives for category: Teachers and Teaching

Nancy Bailey has assembled a devastating review of a three-decades long effort to destroy the teaching profession and replace it with models derived from the corporate sector.

She begins:

The pandemic has been rough on teachers, but there has for years been an organized effort to end a professional teaching workforce by politicians and big businesses.

In 1992, The Nation’s cover story by Margaret Spillane and Bruce Shapiro described the meeting of President H. W. Bush and a roomful of Fortune 500 CEOs who planned to launch a bold new industrial venture to save the nation’s schoolchildren.

The report titled, “A small circle of friends: Bush’s new American schools. (New American Schools Development Corp.),” also called NASDC, didn’t discuss saving public schools or teachers. They viewed schools as failed experiments, an idea promoted by the Reagan administration’s A Nation at Risk, frightening Americans into believing schools were to blame for the country’s problems.

The circle believed their ideas would break the mold and mark the emergence of corporate America as the savior of the nation’s schoolchildren.

The organization fell apart, but the ideas are still in play, and corporations with deep pockets will not quit until they get the kind of profitable education they want, for which they benefit.

They have gone far in destroying public education and the teaching profession throughout the years, not to mention programs for children, like special education.

Here are the ideas from that early meeting, extracted from The Nation’s report, with my comments. Many will look eerily familiar.

. . . “monolithic top-down education philosophy,” which disrespected teachers, parents and communities alike.

NCLB, Race to the Top, Every Student Succeeds Act, and Common Core State Standards disregarded teachers’ expertise and degraded them based on high-stakes test scores.

These policies also left parents and communities feeling disengaged in their schools.

Please open the link and read the rest of this perceptive post.

Chris Rufo has taken credit for creating the furor over “critical race theory,” leading about a dozen Republican-controlled states to pass laws banning it (whatever they think it is, mostly anything to do with racism). He is widely recognized for inventing the fear that public schools are teaching children to “hate” America or to be ashamed for being white. Despite lack of evidence that critical race theory is taught in K-12 schools, the issue has made many teachers fearful of teaching the history of racism.

Critical race theory originated among black law school professors, and it is in law school where students and faculty analyze the persistence of systemic racism in our laws and institutions.

To the extent that teachers talk about racism, it is because it has existed and does exist. It is literally impossible to teach American history without discussion of racism.

Chris Rufo loves attention, so he upped the stakes and increased his targets on Twitter, where he released this tweet. See @Realchrisrufo.

It’s time to clean house in America: remove the attorney general, lay siege to the universities, abolish the teachers unions, and overturn the school boards.

The comments below this tweet are worth reading.

We are accustomed to reading depressing stories about demoralized teachers who are leaving their profession. They were demonized before the pandemic and during the pandemic, accused of not working hard enough and expecting more pay, blamed for flat test scores, and denounced for worrying about being exposed to the coronavirus. And many of those teachers said they could no longer tolerate the nonstop criticism.

You can only imagine how exciting it was to attend a gala where educators were celebrated and appreciated.

Last Friday, I attended the annual awards dinner hosted by St. Joseph’s College, which has two campuses, one in Brooklyn and the other in Patchogue on Long Island in New York. The College was founded by the Sisters of St.Joseph in 1916; the Sisters urge the teachers they prepare to work in public schools, where they are needed.

I attend the event every year with my spouse Mary, who is a 1969 graduate of the College and a member of its Board of Trustees for the past fifteen years. Mary had a long and successful career (35 years) in the New York City public schools as a teacher, department chair, principal, and executive director of a citywide program to help hundreds of other principals. She loves the College, and the nuns who educated her, many of whom had doctorates from prestigious universities. She has often told me that her favorite teacher, Sister John Raymond, said that it was far better to be looked over than overlooked. Tell every child that you notice what they did right. Tell them you like their new haircut, their last paper, and their improved behavior in class. Catch them being good.

The College has a strong tradition of preparing teachers and others who work in the public sector. It infuses its graduates with a sense of service and a desire to “give back” and “pay it forward.” Most of its graduates enter the fields of education and nursing. The first person in New York City to get a COVID vaccination shot was a nurse who graduated from St. Joseph’s.

The President of St. Joseph’s since 2017 is Dr. Donald Boomgaarden, a scholar of music, concert pianist, and country fiddler. He is a charismatic yet humble leader, the right leader at the right time.

But the reason I’m sharing this story is because the event was a celebration of educators, and in a time of cultural gloom, it was a joyful and inspiring tribute to those who give their lives to teaching.

The motto of the College is “Esse Non Videre,” which means “To Be, Not to Seem.” All of those who won awards are literally in the trenches, working in public schools, many of them working with children with disabilities. The woman who was selected as “administrator of the year” is principal of a school in Maryland where all the students are profoundly disabled. In the video that preceded each award, she spoke of her gratitude to do the work she wanted to do. The Educator of the Year is a district superintendent whose parents were immigrants; she has worked in the New York City public schools for almost 40 years. The “Legacy in Education” award went posthumously to Joseph Lewinger, who died of COVID at the very beginning of the pandemic; he was a beloved educator and coach at The Mary Louis Academy in Queens, New York City. His wife accepted the award for him. He was the only awardee working in a Catholic school.

In all the videos that accompanied the Elementary Teacher of the Year award, the Secondary Teacher of the Year award, the COVID-19 Educators, the Rising Stars, and the Educator of the Year award, certain words and phrases recurred: “I was born to be a teacher.” “I’m exactly where I am supposed to be.” “I can’t imagine a better job than the one I have now.” “St. Joseph’s made me the person I am now.” “Service.” “Dedication.” “I always keep learning and growing.” And as Joe Lewinger said to his students, “Rise.”

It was a beautiful, inspiring evening. No complaining. No whining. A celebration of the people who give their lives to educating the next generation.

It was comforting and inspirational to spend an evening applauding these heroes.

What a lovely way to enter the Thanksgiving break, giving thanks to those who serve our society, educate our children, and create a better future.

Peter Greene realized that supporters of public education have been lacking the very thing that catches the attention of the public and the media: reports backed by data. Especially reports that rank states as “the worst” and “the best.”

Greene’s Curmudgation Institute constructed rubrics to rate the states and developed the Public Education Hostility Index. He has created a website where he defines his methodogy and goes into detail about the rankings.

The #1 ranking, as the state most hostile to public education, is Florida.

The state least hostile to public education is Massachusetts.

Where does your state rank? Open the link and find out.

Yes, you read that right. The astroturf Koch-funded “Moms for Liberty” is offering a $500 reward to anyone who catches a teacher teaching “divisive concepts,” which is against state law. What is a divisive concept? Maybe teaching about the First Amendment is one. Teaching about the horrors of war is another. Teaching about the effects of climate change, for sure. Teaching that vaccines save lives is another so don’t talk about polio or other diseases, certainly not coronavirus.

Randi Weingarten spoke out:

For Immediate Release
Nov. 18, 2021

Contact:
Janet Bass
                            jbass@aft.org
                            301-502-5222


Statement by AFT President Randi Weingarten on
Bounties on Heads of NH Teachers

WASHINGTON—Statement by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on a $500 bounty offered by Moms for Liberty to someone who alleges a New Hampshire teacher is teaching so-called divisive concepts and breaking the New Hampshire law called Right to Freedom from Discrimination in Public Workplaces and Education:

“Putting bounties on the heads of New Hampshire teachers, much like the controversial vigilante bounties envisioned by Texas law to thwart the legal right to reproductive choice, is offensive and chilling in any context. The New Hampshire bounty effort is a result of a state law that bans something that doesn’t happen in New Hampshire or anywhere else—teaching that any group is inherently superior or inferior to another. We teach honest history and respect for all. Culture warriors offering bounties for a teacher supposedly violating the law are doing this at a time when we all need to work together. The stakes are high—unjustified accusations against teachers could cost them their teaching licenses. The clear intent is to undermine public education and scare teachers. 
 
“State Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut even set up a webpage to facilitate complaints against teachers. Perhaps Edelblut’s judgment should lead him to a different line of work. We need school leadership that believes in safe and welcoming environments, not one of fear and division. This is distracting from teachers’ focus on helping our kids thrive and excel. Teachers shouldn’t have to worry that history, literature, science or art lessons can be misconstrued and lead to a public flogging or worse. The overwhelming majority of parents support and trust their children’s teachers, value their neighborhood public school as the center of the community and are astounded by this brazen attempt to stifle learning. 

“Parents and teachers are partners in supporting children. Teachers work very hard to help our children through tough times like the pandemic and now to get them back on track. We should do everything we can to support them, not put a price on their head.”

# # #

There have been many reports in the media of teachers quitting their classrooms because of stress. This may be the hope of the groups funded by Charles Koch and other rightwingers, who would like to destroy public education and open new opportunities for private and charter schools.

Here is some sound advice from a retired teacher about how to restore teachers’ morale. Jennifer González writes in her blog about the basic problems and offers ways to solve them.

Here is what she says are fake answers to the problems:

PART 4: THINGS THAT ARE NOT THE SOLUTION

Before we talk about the things that will really make conditions better for teachers, here’s a list of things that won’t:

  • Jeans day or other clothing-related “rewards.”For the love of Pete, we are pulling out of a global pandemic. Just let your teachers wear jeans whenever they want.
  • Donuts, bagels, pizzas, etc. Food is always appreciated and enjoyed, so there’s no need to stop offering it; just know that it does nothing to fix the bigger problem.
  • Surface talk about self-care without any structural changes. Encouraging teachers to meditate, do yoga, practice mindfulness, take bubble baths, get mani-pedis—none of that addresses the real problem. In fact, more than one teacher has pointed out how insulting it is to have leaders give lip service to self-care while upholding conditions that chip away at mental health.
  • Surface-level invitations for teacher input. If a teacher is invited to participate in a focus group, complete a survey, or otherwise give input into school decisions, their input should actually carry weight. If a decision has already been made for all intents and purposes, or the teacher input has no impact on the outcome, then the teacher’s time has been wasted.
  • Unpredictable or short bursts of free time. When it comes to doing challenging cognitive work, “free time” is not the sum of its parts. Five minutes here, another seven there and another 20 there is not the same as knowing you have a full hour of protected, uninterrupted time. Although it’s nice to randomly end a meeting 10 minutes early or show up in a teacher’s class to give them a surprise bathroom break, teachers can’t really make the most of this kind of free time. What they need is longer blocks that they know about in advance so they can plan for them and make good use of the time.
  • Pep talks. Telling a room full of teachers that they are doing a great job will likely go in one ear and out the other of those who are worn out and demoralized.

That’s her list of what teachers don’t need. Read the post to learn what she believes will help teachers. She breaks it down into Time, Trust, and Safety.

Do you agree?

At a time when teachers are burned out and leaving, when teacher shortages are growing, it’s useful to learn about a beloved educator who inspired many children, including her own. And, as it happens, she was the mother of philosopher Cornel West.

Journalist Seth Sandronsky writes about Irene B. West here:

Irene B. West was a trailblazer on many levels. As Elk Grove’s first Black classroom educator in what was a rural community, she enjoyed a long career as a teacher and principal.

The Elk Grove Unified School District named an elementary school after her in 2002. West died in April at age 88…

The school now showcases a stunning memorial mural of West and her favorite saying: “If you can’t be a highway, then just be a trail. If you can’t be the sun, be a star. It isn’t by size that you win or you fail, be the best of whatever you are.”

The National Education Policy Center is a think tank known for its incisive reviews, studies, and reports. In this post, it demolishes five myths about teaching.

Myth 1: Evaluating teachers based on student test results is fair, objective, and effective. Wrong.

Myth 2: We’d get better performance out of teachers and attract better candidates to the profession if we handed out bonuses. Doesn’t work.

Myth 3: Five or so weeks of training prepares you to start teaching. Experience and preparation matter.

Myth 4: Education is more equitable and more rigorous when teachers are required to use a scripted curriculum that tells them what to say and when. Bad idea.

Myth 5: Teaching is easy—after all, you get the summers off and you play with kids all day! Try it for a day.

About a decade ago, when policy elites were bashing teachers on a regular basis, Ken Futernick was writing about the challenges that teachers face every day, including lack of support by administrators and poor working conditions. Recently, he has been creating podcasts in which teachers explain how they teach about important issues of the day, like teaching about racism and the Black Lives Matter movement, teaching during the pandemic, and teaching history in a way that is relevant to all students. He shared these three podcasts with me.


Brown University Psychology Professor Malik Boykin Teaches about Prejudice and Invites us to Dance for FreedomMalik Boykin (aka Malik Starx) is an accomplished musician and a professor of psychology at Brown University where he teaches a course on stigma and prejudice. Boykin shares two transformational teacher stories–the first from second grade when he was sent to the principal’s office for raising questions about Christopher Columbus. The second is about Dr. Jaia John, his social psychology professor at Howard University who carved out time at the start each class for students to share a poem, a personal story, or even a musical performance that had some relation to the course content. 

Inspired by Dr. John, Boykin became a social psychologist and, like John, encourages his students to share something personal at the start of his classes. One of his students, Gabrielle Tanksley, describes what it’s like to be one of Boykin’s students, and she reads an extraordinary poem she shared recently in class. Starx wrote and performed “Dancing for Freedom,” the soundtrack played in this Teacher Story episode. At the end, he reflects on the inspiration for the song.

The Power of Stories and Early RelationshipsWhen 4th grade teacher Miriam Marecek turned down the lights and lit the reading candle, magic happened. Pediatrician and journalist Perri Klass describes what it was like being one of Ms. Marecek’s students and the impact it’s had on her life and professional career. Now, as national medical director for Reach Out and Read, Dr. Klass, promotes reading aloud together starting at birth.

In this episode she says, “If children grow up in literacy, rich environments, if there’s a lot of back and forth…they will, by the time they come to school, understand how books work. They will understand how print works. They will understand all kinds of things about stories and sequence that will help tremendously with learning to read. This is about growing up, enjoying the back and forth around early literacy in books with the other people in your family.” 

Three Educators Reflect on How to Teach about the Insurrection Like most Americans, these three veteran teachers were horrified as they learned about the insurrection at the nation’s Capitol on January 6th, 2021. But each of them had to decide how to address this highly controversial topic with their students. What’s the proper role for a teacher with an event like this? What if some students’ parents or the students themselves supported the insurrection? Is there any way to talk about this and other controversial topics with very young students? Listen in as each teacher reflects on these and several other challenging questions. 

David C. Berliner, one of our nation’s most honored researchers of education, shared this essay for readers of the blog.

                                             A Hug for Jennifer

          I met Jennifer for the first time at a party. She taught elementary school to mostly white, mostly middle-class kids in a suburb of San Francisco. We chatted about education for a while and she invited me to visit her class. I like visiting classes, in part, because they are always so difficult to understand. It is an enormous intellectual challenge to witness and make sense of the interaction of teachers and students with curriculum materials in a classroom setting. Sometimes, with teachers you come to admire, it is like trying to put together a recipe after  tasting  a delicious food. It’s hard to figure out the ingredients that made it so special. 

More frequently, my observations struck me as a bit like trying to study what comes out the end of a funnel–without much confidence that you know all about what went into the funnel. It’s hard to figure out the ingredients—the stuff that makes a classroom hum or fail. Some of the things that are sure to have entered the funnel are: all of society’s values; the pop culture of today, particularly as represented on television; the individual child-rearing practices of 25 or so different families; the economic, physical and mental health of the people in the neighborhood around the school; the teaching skills, content knowledge, prejudices and personal family concerns of the individual teacher; the leadership skills of the principal; the educational directives issued by the school district and the state; and so forth. After the large, open-end of the funnel receives a thousand items of this type, I wander into a classroom to observe a teacher attempting to create something sensible and unique out of whatever comes tumbling out the small end of the funnel. You really never know what you’ll see and hear when you go to observe a classroom. 

         Besides the challenge of trying to unravel what goes on in such  complex environments, I also visited classes regularly for another reason. It was because of my profound distaste for the many people who freely comment about education but spend no significant amounts of time visiting schools and classes. These education bashers regularly provide the media with false descriptions of America’s schools, inadequate critiques of the educational system, and unfeasible suggestions for school improvement. So, I took Jennifer up on her offer and I began to occasionally drop in on her class since her school was on the way to my work. On one of those visits, now many years ago, I learned a lesson about teachers and observing in classrooms that affected the rest of my career.

         Jennifer taught fourth grade. She had the self-confidence to let me drop in any time, unannounced, to observe her class. I timed one of my visits so I could avoid the taking of attendance, the principals’ announcements, and other morning housekeeping activities. As I had planned, I arrived just as reading was about to start. From the seating chart Jennifer had given me I soon identified Alec. He had caught my eye, though I was not yet sure why. Alec sat at the side of the class, his face a blank– impassive, masklike. I somehow was compelled to watch him a lot throughout the reading period.  Despite the generally upbeat lesson in which the class was involved, Alec displayed no emotions. He seemed to barely follow what was going on around him.  I was surprised that Jennifer, who usually was so equitable in her interactions with the children, seemed to be ignoring Alec. When reading was finished, and the children went out for recess, Alec remained in the class, the same blank look on his face, and with Jennifer still showing the same pleasant, but unconcerned manner. 

When the children returned from their break, no one talked to Alec. To his teacher and his classmates, Alec seemed not to exist. To me, the outside observer, it looked like a modern version of an old punishment–Alec was being shunned!  I was losing my curiosity about what was happening and, instead, began to get angry at Jennifer and the other children.

       Mathematics work began and Jennifer called small groups of children to the desk where she presented some new concepts, while most of the rest of the class did problems in their workbooks. Alec did nothing. He never took out his workbook and Jennifer never criticized him, and she never invited him to the desk, as she did the other students. I couldn’t stop myself from focussing on this situation, to the exclusion of whatever else was happening in the class. I grieved for this child, remembering my worst days as a school boy and my terror of being ostracized, even for a short time. I remembered the games we sometimes played, games in which we were so cruel to one another. My memory filled suddenly with an event from junior high school. A time when we once had “Don’t talk to Bobby day!”–a day when my classmates and I purposely set out to hurt another child. But never had I seen a teacher join in, as seemed to be the case here. As my fantasies about Alec’s plight merged with my own resurrected childhood fears and embarrassment, I began to get angrier and angrier at Jennifer. When the lunch bell finally rang, and the children filed out with Alec, still alone, but now among them, I approached Jennifer’s desk. I tried to keep the anger I felt under control and I pushed away, to the farthest reaches of my mind, the shame and the embarrassment I felt about being both perpetrator and victim of such exclusionary practices in the past. I said to Jennifer, in as controlled a manner as possible, that Alec did not seem to be participating much in classroom activities. 

         When Jennifer responded, I learned a lesson about the importance of understanding the intentions, thoughts, feelings, and beliefs of the persons you intend to study. It is difficult, of course, in any communication setting, to genuinely understand another person’s thoughts and feelings. But when you try to be a social scientist, and are not just an ordinary person chatting with others, this commonplace problem in interpersonal communication looms much larger. A lack of understanding, or a misunderstanding of another person’s intentions, can lead a social scientist to make dangerously flawed inferences about that persons behavior.  

      Jennifer responded to me, saying that Alec’s brother had been shot and killed by the police the night before– a rarity in the middle class neighborhood the school served. And it happened at home, in front of Alec. Before I had arrived that morning Jennifer had taken Alec aside and told him how sorry she was for his whole family. She thought the day might be a tough one for him, so she told Alec that he should feel free to participate or not that day, to do whatever he felt like. She would let him decide how he wanted to use his time. She also told him how glad they all were that he was in the class and when he felt like getting involved with everything again to just start doing so. The other students had all heard about what had happened and were not shunning Alec, but giving him some breathing room. My anger, of course, was gone. In its place was a sense of wonder.

      How many incidents like this one did Jennifer have to deal with per week or per month, on top of her academic responsibilities? Who taught her to confront this awful event in such a straightforward and sensible manner? Actually, I am still not sure it was the best response to Alec’s loss and sadness, but it sure seemed to be a sensible response to me. Did she have such sensitivity to youngsters when she first started teaching, or is this part of what teachers learn as they gain experience? How could I have been so blind as to what was going on that I grew angry at Jennifer? How many other times have I observed classes and reached completely wrong conclusions about what was going on?

         After this incident, when I was working in classrooms, I was sure that I had become a better social scientist. I tried always to understand the intentions of the teachers that I studied. I spent time with them, trying to learn what they were going to teach, what special constraints they were under, and what they thought I should know before I began watching them. When I did this, I was sure that my conclusions about what occurred in their classrooms were different than before I had met Jennifer. More importantly, however, is that my views about observation in classrooms had changed. I once thought that some kind of “raw” observation was possible, that a kind of neutral, objective mirror of classroom life could be obtained. But Jennifer taught me that is just not true.

          Observations can be relatively undistorted, relatively objective, but never completely so. In fact, it is likely that observations and interpretations of classroom life without understanding teachers and their intentions, are likely to be more distorted than observations and interpretations made with such knowledge. I believe this despite the obvious loss of objectivity and neutrality that must occur as teachers and researchers get to know each other better. I’ll say it clearly: Interpretations of a teachers’ behavior without knowledge of the teachers’ intentions are either useless or, worse, inaccurate and unjust. My visit to Jennifer’s classroom that particular day, as an outsider, had led me to inaccurate and unjust conclusions about what was going on. It was sobering.

         There is also a bigger issue to which this incident is relevant. Since we cannot adequately interpret life in classrooms unless we have an insider’s understanding of that classroom, how is it possible for principals, department heads, and others who evaluate teachers, to do so when they visit a teacher’s classroom infrequently, stay for only the briefest period of time, and try to distance themselves from the teacher to maintain a goal of objectivity? The unbiased observations of the outsider may be a requirement in physics, chemistry, oncology, and other natural and biological sciences. Doing “good science” certainly requires the illusion of total objectivity, even though the best of scientists acknowledge that such a goal is impossible to achieve. But in areas of social behavior and especially those research areas concerned with classrooms and schools, such calls for objectivity are probably misplaced. Perhaps the only way to understand life in classrooms is to visit frequently, stay for a lengthy period of time, and have a shared vision with the teacher of what is intended. Evaluations of teachers that rely too heavily on formal observation instruments, notions of objectivity, and the outsider’s view of the classroom are likely to report, as I might have, that Jennifer was an insensitive, uncaring, human being. A more appropriate evaluation system would have caused the observer to hug Jennifer and give thanks that she chose to teach children rather than sell computers.

DAVID C. BERLINER is Regents Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona.