Archives for category: Teachers and Teaching

Valerie Strauss wrote a delightful article about parents who have a new-found respect for teacher’s, now that the pandemic has forced them to become home teachers.

They have discovered that teaching is not easy. They have realized how hard it is teach two or three children and are amazed that teachers can handle classes of 24 or more at the same time.

Plenty of parents around the country — and, presumably, around the world — are finding new appreciation for their children’s teachers as they sit at home with their kids during the coronavirus pandemic and take over the role of educator.
Some 1.5 billion students around the world have been affected by school closures during the crisis, and parents whose jobs are not deemed “essential” to keep the country functioning are at home taking over as impromptu teachers. It’s a lot harder than many of them realized, as you can see from the following tweets.





One parent, Shonda Rhimes, tweeted:

Been homeschooling a 6-year-old and 8-year-old for one hour and 11 minutes. Teachers deserve to make a billion dollars a year. Or a week.”
16 March 2020.

Several years ago, I met Ken Futernick, then a professor of education at Cal State University in Sacramento, where he was director for the Center for Teacher Quality. He shared with me a report he had written in defense of teachers. This was 2010, as the wave of teacher-bashing was beginning to reach new heights. I was immediately impressed that he looked at the obstacles thrown in the path of teachers that demoralized them. His report was called “Incompetent Teachers or Dysfunctional Systems?”  It was published in the Kappan, and this was the summary:

Rather than blame teachers, we must ensure that teachers work within a highly functional system that provides meaningful evaluations, high-quality professional development, reasonable class sizes, reliable and stable leadership, and time for planning and collaboration.

I was immediately impressed by his identification with teachers and his effort to see the world through their eyes.

Recently he has been collecting what he calls “teacher stories.” He thought readers of this blog would enjoy reading some of them. Feel free to share your own with him.

Elevating the Profession Through Teacher Stories 
By Ken Futernick, ken@teacherstories.org
Professor Emeritus, California State University, Sacramento
In recent years a good number of education reformers have promoted the false narrative that the decline of America’s once-envied system of public education is mainly a result of “bad teachers” and how difficult it is to get rid of them. I’ve argued that much of what looks like teacher incompetence is actually a consequence of dysfunctional school systems that prevent capable teachers from succeeding and repel many would-be teachers from the profession itself. The resulting teacher shortagescaused not just by high levels of attrition but by sharp declines in the number of new people entering the profession, have forced school districts across the country to use substitutes and underprepared teachers—a phenomenon that disproportionately harms the most vulnerable among us–poor students and students of color. 
One has to wonder why, in a wealthy, democratic society, founded on the principles of equity and social justice, teaching has become so unattractive. In part, it’s because we don’t pay teachers enough, but it’s also because teachers in America have lost respect, a disturbing trend that’s been bolstered by the “bad teacher” narrative. 
I recently launched Teacher Stories, a website and iTunes podcast, as a counter-narrative that celebrates the teachers who have elevated people’s lives, strengthened communities, inspired a passion for their subjects, and enabled students to attain what they thought was unattainable. Teachers deserve our respect and admiration because nearly every one of us has a story about a teacher who made a difference, often a profound one, in our lives. My hope is that these stories will draw more smart, committed, and caring people to the profession and remind those already in it (and the media, and the rest of us) that their work matters. 
Here are some notes about a few of the stories I’ve collected so far. Rachell Auld’s is about Dr. John Rosario, a community college anatomy professor who convinced her she could become not just an athletic trainer, but an orthopedic surgeon. And she does, but that’s not the end of the story. After practicing medicine, Rachell finds a higher calling—teaching biology to high school students. 

In a podcast episode, New York Times best-selling novelist John Lescroart says he might still be a typist in a law office, or possibly homeless, were it not for his high school English teacher, Father Stadler, who taught him what it really takes to be a good writer. Tavis Danz tells a story about teaching “mindfulness” to his 5th graders, but he worries that this diversion from the standard curriculum will lead to complaints from parents. In fact, it does the opposite.

I recently interviewed education Alfie Kohn, who has written extensively about teaching, parenting, education, and schooling. In this thought-provoking podcast, Alfie says we must be clear about our shared, long-term goals for children before we can describe what good teachers do in the classroom. If we want thoughtful, life-long learners, Kohn says, then we would want teachers who encourage their students to be questioners and challengers and in control of their learning—not passive receptacles of facts. 
I told Alfie that a common theme among the stories I was collecting was that the teachers truly cared about their students. But he pushed the point further: “Students have to experience that care as being unconditional, which means [it’s] something that they never have to earn. What I care about is how students will answer this question 10 years later, “When you were in so-and-so’s classroom, if you ever acted up or didn’t do the assignment or didn’t behave well or whatever, did you ever have the sense that your teacher cared about you less, was less excited about you?” 
I hope you will take a moment to enjoy these teacher stories and will share them with your friends and colleagues. Given the current threats to our democratic institutions, I cannot imagine a more important time for all of us to acknowledge the skill, commitment, and contributions of those who educate our youth.  

 

 

Justin Parmenter is a National Board Certified Teacher in North Carolina.

In this essay, he documents the decade-long effort by Republicans to destroy public education in North Carolina and demoralize teachers. 

He writes:

Out of all the states that have struggled to provide a quality public education over the past decade, perhaps none have seen as precipitous a decline as North Carolina. Once seen as a regional model of progressive education policy, a succession of unfortunate occurrences has severely damaged our public education system. Activists now fight against difficult odds for the change students need most.

Shift of Political Power to Republicans and Impact on North Carolina Education Policy

Like many states, North Carolina was hit hard by the Great Recession and saw funding cuts that greatly impacted our schools. However, the nightmare for our public schools began in earnest in November 2010 when the Republican Party won control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives (Mildwurf & Browder, 2010) in North Carolina’s state legislature. The following year, Republicans gerrymandered electoral districts (Ballotpedia, n.d.a) to ensure they’d be able to hold onto power for the next decade and then set their veto-proof majority to work passing regressive education policies with no opposition.

The policies included significant de-professionalization of the teaching profession in North Carolina through revoking career status protection (Public Schools First NC, 2017) for teachers, terminating advanced degree compensation (Kiley, 2013), and eliminating retiree health care benefits (Bonner, 2017). The GOP majority lifted the cap (Leslie, 2011) on charter schools, worsening economic and racial segregation across the state given that charters serve an increasingly white population (Nordstrom, 2018). The legislature directed a billion dollars (Wagner, 2019) over a decade to voucher programs, despite the fact that the the schools participating in the program were not required to report on student achievement (Public Schools First NC, 2019). Additionally, the legislature cut thousands of teacher assistants (Campbell & Bonner, 2015) and created a school report card system, in which school ratings were highly correlated with levels of poverty (Henkel, 2016). Finally, state legislators passed a K–3 reading initiative (North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, n.d.), which promised to improve results through increasing assessment volume and threatening our most vulnerable students with grade retention. And when K–3 reading achievement got worse, legislators added financial pay- for-performance incentives (Clark, 2016) based on questionable value-added data.
Many of these harmful initiatives were passed in budget bills rather than being moved through deliberative committee processes, eliminating the debate and public input so essential to the creation of effective policy. In addition to promoting a neoliberal education reform agenda, North Carolina’s lawmakers passed massive tax cuts favoring corporations and wealthy individuals, which have taken $3.6 billion in potential annual revenue (Sirota, 2019) off the table, all but ensuring schools will struggle for adequate resources for the foreseeable future.

In North Carolina’s 2016 general election, Republican Mark Johnson eked out a 1% victory (Ballotpedia, n.d.b) for the state superintendency—the first time in more than 100 years the office had been won by a Republican. State legislators immediately moved to transfer power away from newly elected Democratic Governor Roy Cooper and the State Board of Education and give Superintendent Johnson unprecedented control of North Carolina’s public school system (North Carolina General Assembly, 2016).

As State Superintendent, Johnson has been a disaster. Having only two years as a TFA teacher, he was over his head. His inept leadership outraged teachers and provoked mass walkouts.

Parmenter says that teacher activism is exhausting but worth it.

This year there is an election for state superintendent. The Network for Public Education has endorsed educator Jen Mangrum for the post. There is a chance to revive public education in North Carolina.

 

John Merrow learned about the latest trending idea in teacher training. Give a teacher a script, put a “bug” in his or her ear, and let the teacher follow instructions.

This is what he calls “insect-based” teacher training.

He decided to visit some schools to find out how it was working.

Part 1 begins like this:

The latest development in the never-ending struggle to improve teaching involves “A bug in the ear” AND “A fly on the wall.”  This insect-based approach has a highly-trained but distant observers watching (on closed circuit video) teachers at work and giving them instructions and suggestions in real time, so the teachers can modify methods and instantly improve their instruction. 

According to Education Week, what’s called ‘Bug in the Ear Coaching”  is being used in about a dozen states. “The premise is simple: A teacher wears an earpiece during a lesson, which is being live-streamed for an instructional coach who is somewhere else. Throughout the lesson, the coach delivers in-the-moment feedback to the teacher, who can add something or switch gears based on what she’s hearing in her ear.”

I reached out to some of the sources I developed in my 41 years of reporting for a closer look. One enthusiastic superintendent, who requested anonymity, said that the system would pay for itself in higher scores on standardized tests. “While the initial investment of $500,000 per school for cameras and directional microphones for every classroom, a dedicated room of monitors, the cost of a half-time tech person, and the salaries of the instructional experts who monitor the teachers, looks like a lot, once those standardized test scores go up, it’s smooth sailing.”

Are there other costs, I wanted to know?

“Our experts wanted all the teachers to wear identical loose-fitting shirts and blouses to minimize sound interference.  I had a great deal worked out with the company that makes the uniforms they wear at the federal penitentiary in the next county.”  He chuckled, “But without stripes, of course.” However, he explained, the teachers union shot the idea down. 

He (and some educators cited in Ed Week) say that most teachers like the immediacy of the system, saying that instant feedback is really the only kind that sticks.  “It was really nice to feel supported and get direct feedback in the moment,” a special education teacher in Washington State told Ed Week.

However, when I reached out to some veteran teachers I respect, I found no support for the approach.  (Stop reading here if vulgar language offends you.)

I stopped reading right there, but you don’t need to!

Then he posted Part 2, where he continued his investigation. 

Last week in this space I took a poke or two at what I called “Insect-Based Teacher Training,” specifically the practice of wiring teachers so that remote observers can hear and see what they do in their classrooms.  What they call “Bug in the Ear training” enables experts to interrupt teachers and tell them what they are doing wrong. In theory, that allows teachers to improve on the spot.  You may remember that the expert I observed in action wasn’t particularly effective.

(Full disclosure: In last week’s essay I took a small liberty with the two veteran teachers whose opinions I cited: neither of them actually referenced ‘ants in underpants’ or ‘ticks on dicks.’   I owe my readers an apology because the teachers did not say that.  I made that up, just for the fun of it. 

Why would I do that?  Well, after so many years of reporting for public broadcasting, where the emphasis is on truth, making stuff up gives me a huge adrenalin rush.

However, everything else in that essay  is 100% accurate.  You can take that to the bank.)

But I digress. What I want you to know is the morning after “Insect-Based Teacher Training” was published, I received a call from the School Superintendent whose district I had visited.   He was upset about my portrayal of the process, saying that the observer had a bad day.  Moreover, he said, I had failed to grasp the subtle, significant ways that technology improves education.  Would I come back and learn more, he asked?

I rushed out the door, and a few hours later the Superintendent and I were in the school’s monitoring room, staring at the 30+ video screens that showed all the school’s classrooms.

I wanted to hear his defense of the “Bug in the Ear” approach.  Would he have wanted to have a bug in his ear when he was teaching, I wanted to know?

“I actually never taught,” came his response. “I came up the ranks through coaching.”

Then he chuckled.  “That’s an old joke, superintendents starting out as coaches.  I was never a coach either.”

What was his background, I wanted to know?

“I studied organizational behavior in college, and then, for my MBA, I focused on management.”

He continued:  “But that’s not why I asked you to come back,” he said. “I want you to see another way that monitoring and advanced technology improve teaching and learning.”

Go on, I said.

To get the inside scoop on “insect-based teacher training,” this is a must-read.

In case you wondered, the first time I ever heard of the bug-in-your-ear approach to teaching, it was in the description of the methodology of Bridge International Academies, the private sector effort to take over schooling in certain African nations. The BIA approach was to give each teacher an iPad (or similar device) with a curriculum written by TFA teachers located in Boston. Then each teacher got a bug-in-the-ear to make sure that they were delivering the curriculum precisely as directed by the device. BIA charges a fee and was engaged in trying to turn a profit by enrolling hundreds of thousands of students in the world’s poorest countries. Its investors included Bill Gates, Pearson, Mark Zuckerberg, Pearson, and the World Bank. The problem with its approach was that it had the effect of discouraging the government from taking responsibility for building a universal, free public education system. Furthermore, if students couldn’t pay the fees, they were kicked out. BIA says it gets higher scores, which is not surprising since it accepts students only if they can pay. Strange that BIA’s methods crossed the ocean back to where it was started.

Arthur Goldstein, veteran teacher of many decades, thinks he knows a thing or two about teaching English. The State Education Department doesn’t trust him or other English teachers. So they have distributed new mandates about how to teach “advanced literacy” to make sure that he does what he is told. And he doesn’t like it. 

Frankly, it sounds like Common Core in a new dress.

Goldstein writes:

Forget everything you’ve heard and read about education. There’s a new paradigm, and it’s called Teaching Advanced Literacy Skills. This is revolutionary, of course, because it appears clear to the authors that no English teacher in the history of the universe has ever taught advanced literacy. Also, since no one in the world will ever go into a trade, and since everyone will spend their entire lives doing academic writing, we need to start work on this right away.

No, evidently we just do the whole phonics thing, and once students are able to sound out words, we give up on them for the next eleven years or so and hope for the best. Thank goodness these brilliant writers are here to let us know that students need to be able to identify a main idea, and that this indispensable skill is actually an amalgam of other vital skills.

Not only that, but we now know that it’s important students use a variety of sources to support their arguments, as opposed to just making stuff up (like the President of the United States, for example). That’s why we, as teachers, should hand them several sources on which to base their writing, as do the geniuses in Albany when they issue the NY State ELA Regents, the final word on whether or not students have advanced literacy.

Never mind that students who’ve passed the test with high grades don’t seem to know how to read or write well. Never mind nonsense like writer voice, mentioned absolutely nowhere in the book. Never mind whether or not anyone actually wishes to read whatever writing the students produce, because that’s also mentioned absolutely nowhere in the book. The important thing is that they be able to produce academic writing. Do you go out of your way to read academic writing? Neither do I.

The book is big on synthesis, that is, using multiple sources. Like the awful English Regents exam,  students are generally provided with sources. I suppose this is some sort of training to write research papers. Here’s the thing, though–if you write research papers you will have to find your own sources. I recall being in summer classes at Queens College, in their old crappy library searching through shelves with a flashlight trying to find things to write about. No such issue for our advanced literacy-trained students. Here are texts a, b, c and d. Get out there and tell me which ones are better.

We don’t need to teach students about logical fallacy either, which is good news for politicians everywhere. Students need not recognize ad hominem or straw man arguments. No guilt by association for you. We don’t need to bother showing them why some arguments are less logical than others, as per this book at least. I suppose when Donald Trump calls whatever doesn’t suit him “fake news,” that’s okay. It’s just another academic source.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this book, to me, is that the project they spend the most time on is one in which students discuss whether or not their school should adopt uniforms. I wrote in the margins, “great topic,” Why? Because this was a topic that had a direct effect on their lives. This decision would change their behavior, and perhaps change their entire school. There was an intrinsic motivation for students to be involved in this decision.

Nowhere in the book did the writers deem this worthy of mention. I have no idea whether or not they even noticed it. I did, though, and it was hands down a better topic than some of the crap students must wade through on the English Regents exam. Don’t get me wrong–I understand that students, like us, will have to wade through a lot of crap in their academic lives. To me, though, it seems smarter to make them love reading. It seems smarter to motivate them to do so on their own. Then, when they have to read some crap to which they cannot relate, they’ll be better equipped to do so, having developed the skills this book advocates in a far more positive fashion.

One thing that makes me love writers is something called writer voice. A great example of this is Angela’s Ashes, a non-fiction work (!) by the late and brilliant Frank McCourt. They made a film out of it which faithfully told the story, but was total crap. That’s because the allure and charm of this story was all about the way McCourt told it, his humor, his deft and inspiring use of language. He had me at the first sentence about childhood, and kept me hypnotized until the last sentence. I couldn’t put the book down.

Why should students today have the same pleasure? Why do experienced teachers know about teaching anyway? Nothing, by the lights of the bureaucrats in Albany.

 

Steven Singer writes here about how economic thinking has distorted the purposes of schooling and is wrecking our society by turning everything into a transaction.

Here is an excerpt, in which he defines the transactional view of teaching:

 

The input is your salary. The output is learning.

These are distinctly measurable phenomena. One is calculated in dollars and cents. The other in academic outcomes, usually standardized test scores. The higher the salary, the more valued the teacher. The higher the test scores, the better the job she has done.

But that’s not all.

If the whole is defined in terms of buying and selling, each individual interaction can be, too.

It makes society nothing but a boss and the teacher nothing but an employee. The student is a mere thing that is passively acted on – molded like clay into whatever shape the bosses deem appropriate. 

In this framework, the teacher has no autonomy, no right to think for herself. Her only responsibility is to bring about the outcomes demanded by her employer. The wants and needs of her students are completely irrelevant. We determine what they will become, where they will fit into the burgeoning economy. And any sense of curiosity or creativity is merely an expedient to make children into the machinery of industry and drive the gross domestic product higher to benefit our stock portfolios and lower corporate taxes.

And since this education system is merely a business agreement, it must obey the rules of an ironclad contract. And since we’re trying to seek our own advantage here, it’s incumbent on us to contain our workforce as much as possible. This cannot be a negotiation among equals. We must keep each individual cog – each teacher – separate so that they can’t unionize together in common causeand equal our power. We must bend and subject them to our will so that we pay the absolute minimum and they’re forced to give the absolute maximum.

 

 

Peter Greene does not like stupid analogies.

He rejects the dumb idea that “a good teacher is like a candle that burns out.”

Hell, no!

 

Mercedes Schneider writes here about a program in New Orleans to recruit new charter teachers. In the all-charter district, the teachers seem to be dropping like flies. Almost 40% of its teachers have less than three years experience.

The program at Xavier University issues a certification for life, but here is the catch: the certification is valid only in New Orleans!

On September 09, 2019, the Hechinger Report published an article entitled, “A New Teacher Vows to Help in a Classroom Full of Need: ‘Under the Right Conditions, They’d Be Stars.’”

The article features a teaching intern who is part of the Norman C. Francis Teacher Residency, an alternative teacher certification program specifically aimed at recruiting individuals who already hold a bachelors degree in another area to agree to teach three years beyond an initial “residency year” at an assigned New Orleans charter school in exchange for roughly $29K in residency-year financial assistance toward earning a masters degree in education.

From the site’s “about” page:

Who we are

The Residency is a first-of-its-kind partnership not only in New Orleans, but nationally.

And from the “what to expect” page:

Residency Year 1

The Norman C. Francis Teacher Residency merges the best of Xavier University of Louisiana’s teacher preparations practices with the work of five of New Orleans’ leading charter school networks.  During the residency year, a cohort of 30 residents enroll as full-time graduate school students, while also apprentice teaching at schools in the NCFTR network. Residents attend graduate school classes as they work alongside a mentor teacher in a classroom throughout the week.  They build confidence through practice and reflection, and over the course of the year, they gradually take on greater responsibility in the classroom.

Employment in Years 2-4

After year 1, the NCFTR team works with teachers and schools to ensure that the transition into year 2 is smooth. Residents who successfully complete the residency year move into classrooms of their own as full-time teachers of record. While working to complete their remaining Master’s Degree coursework, they apply the skills and knowledge they have built in order to take on the responsibilities of lead teaching. They continue to access the network of support that they have built with their residency year cohort.

Residents commit to teach for three consecutive years immediately following the residency year. After Year 1, Residents are highly likely to remain in the same school or CMO for their additional three-year commitment. Participants who leave a NCFTR partner school before their four-year commitment ends may be responsible for paying back a portion of funds received in their residency year.

 

My favorite line in the Hechinger Report article that Schneider cites is this one: Though it was just her first year of teaching, Molière, 49, was already an expert at motivating students, who raised their hands high in the air and vied for her attention, then beamed when they got it.

Presumably the teacher had begun work only a week or two ago (the start of the school year), but she was already an expert!

Only in New Orleans are teachers considered “experts” in this first few weeks on the job.

Larry Cuban writes that efforts to standardize teaching invariably fail because teachers adapt whatever they are given to the students they teach.

The past half-century has seen record-breaking attempts by policymakers to influence how teachers teach. Record-breaking in the sense that again and again (add one more “again” if you wish) federal and state policymakers and aggressive philanthropists have pushed higher curriculum standards in math, science, social studies, and reading decade after decade. With federal legislation of No Child Left Behind (2002-2015) and Every Student Succeeds Act (2015-) teaching has been influenced, even homogenized (following scripts, test prep, etc.) in those schools threatened by closure or restructuring. Now with Common Core standards, the push to standardize math and language arts instruction in K-12 (e.g., close reading for first graders) repeats earlier efforts to reshape classroom lessons. If past efforts are any indicator, then these efforts to homogenize teaching lead paradoxically, to more, not less, variability in lessons. But this increased variation in teaching seldom alerts policymakers and donors in their offices and suites to reassess the policies they adopt.

The take-aways from this post are first, policies aimed at standardizing classroom practice increase variation in lessons, and, second, teachers are policymakers.

Policies aimed at standardizing classroom practice increase variation in lessons

Gary Rubinstein has a keen eye for teacher-bashing disguised as research.

In this post, he takes apart a new paper from Michelle Rhee’s old outfit TNTP, which blames teachers for “low expectations.”

He begins:

Before Michelle Rhee was a board member for Miracle-Gro she was the founder and CEO of StudentsFirst.  Before that, she was Chancellor of Washington D.C. schools from 2007 to 2010.  Before that, she was the CEO of The New Teacher Project.

And even though Rhee is not a public figure anymore in education, she continues to influence education policy through The New Teacher Project which has since changed its name to TNTP.  TNTP puts out slick papers that it calls research but is really propaganda disguised as research.  Their first one was called ‘The Widget Effect’ which laid out the case for replacing salary schedules with a system based on merit pay based on statistically inappropriate analysis of standardized test scores.

And over the years they have put out other papers with clever titles like ‘The Irreplaceables’, ‘Rebalancing Teacher Tenure’, and ‘Teacher Evaluation 2.0.’  These papers are often quoted by ed reform propaganda sites like The74 and Education Post.

One of their most recent papers is called ‘The Opportunity Myth.’  Its central thesis is something that reformers love to use in their teacher bashing arguments, which is that too many teachers shortchange their students by having low expectations for them.  The work they assign is not challenging enough and since students always rise to the challenge of whatever you assign to them, these teachers are negligent in their duties.