Archives for category: Teachers and Teaching

Mercedes Schneider penned a plea to President-Elect Joe Biden, urging him to appoint a career teacher as his Secretary of Education.

She writes:

It is about time for someone with seasoned K12 classroom experience to hold that position. Not someone with ladder-climbing, token K12 classroom experience. Not someone who is a basketball playing pal of his buddy, the president (aka Arne Duncan). And not someone who is an activist for private schools and who admitted publicly to “not intentionally visiting schools that are underperforming” (that, of course, would be DeVos).

I am tired of being tossed to and fro by ill-conceived education platforms that chain America’s education be-all, end-all to standardized test scores. And that is why I believe a seasoned K12 classroom teacher needs to be the next US ed sec: A seasoned K12 classroom teacher knows the sting of the idiocy of standardized testing firsthand. The foolishness of trying to gauge the value of American education via test score is not an intellectual exercise to a seasoned K12 classroom teacher. It is not theoretical. It is not removed. It is a frustrating reality stretching across school years and decades.

The genuine, career K12 classroom teacher knows firsthand the stupidity of wasting time, money, and personnel pretending that grading schools and teachers using standardized tests somehow informs teachers, parents, and the public about the quality of the multifaceted educational life of a school and its students.

We need to break free of this testing prison, and we need an experienced K12 classroom advocate in our US secretary of education. Not an ideologue. Not a dictator. Not a politician. Not even a higher-ed academic.

An advocate. With. Career. K12. Experience.

The Network for Public Education is allied with Pastors for Texas Children. PTC has been a courageous leader in the fight for our public schools and against privatization.

The leader of PTC wrote the following statement:

Statement from Reverend Charles Foster Johnson on the 2020 Elections
Pastors for Texas Children extends a hearty congratulations to all those elected and re-elected to serve our children in the 87th Texas Legislature! Both incumbents and challengers fought hard and often confrontational, contentious campaigns that produced untold stress on them and their families. This is the messy price we pay for open and free elections, and we honor all candidates for serving the public in this important and sacrificial way. We have held every candidate in our prayers, and will continue to do so. We note with profound gratification the emphasis on public education in this electoral cycle. Virtually every incumbent and challenger ran on a strong public education platform. It is clear that the people of Texas want their House of Representatives to be fully affirming of great public schools for all 5.4 million Texas children, promote policies that protect and provide for them, and oppose policies that harm them.  It is crystal clear what public education support means:

*Opposition to any voucher proposal, regardless of its name, that diverts funding away from our neighborhood public schools to underwrite private and home schools.

 Support for budget plans that adequately fund our children’s public education, for a comprehensive study that determines what that education actually costs in current dollars, and for new sources of state revenue to sustain HB3.  

Opposition to charter school expansion that drains money away from public schools.

Support for charter school transparency and accountability.

Opposition to burdensome standardized testing that teachers and parents clearly abhor.

Support for teacher authority and compensation.  

We will be working closely with all 150 House members and 31 Senate members to make sure these promises are put into action in the 87th Legislature. 

Universal education, provided and protected by the public, is an expression of God’s Common Good as well as a Texas constitutional mandate.  Our children are counting on us all to advocate for it.

Today is World Teachers Day. It’s a day we honor teachers around the world and thank them for their dedication and hard work, building our future.

Andy Hargreaves poses a thought experiment: Imagine a world without teachers!

He begins:

Never has there been a more important time than this moment, right now, to think about and appreciate what great teachers have done for our children and also for us. We have seen what the world looks like when its teachers are taken away from our children. We have witnessed online how teachers have struggled mightily to master complex digital platforms and to try and make virtual class interactions with children as enriching as possible. Plunged into virtual learning at very short notice, our own grandchild’s teacher has posted materials as early as 4am. We have also learned about all the teachers who delivered curriculum materials, workbooks, pens and paper to poor working class homes when many children were unable to access online learning. We’ve been experiencing a world without teachers. So it’s time to reflect on why teachers truly matter.

Andy remembers a teacher who changed his life, Mrs. Waring.

This is what so many teachers do. They inspire our children with new interests, develop their curiosity about learning, give them the chance to undertake protracted projects that enable them to explore their interests, and, to some extent, themselves in depth. And they engage with the totality of their children’s development as human beings. Even when you’re not perfect and have let yourself down, teachers like this still stand by you and help put you back on the right path again.

So it’s a disgrace and a shame that for more than 20 years, in many countries, politicians thought they could lower the cost of government spending by disinvesting in public education, and by demeaning and discouraging its teachers. They thought they could privatize schools and deregulate teaching so that teachers would be less qualified, less unionized, and less well supported, and therefore move on quickly before their salaries started to climb. And they thought and still sometimes think that teachers were expendable and could be substituted with digital devices. They claimed that education could take place anytime, anywhere, with teachers or without them. And they believed that impersonal algorithms could replace teachers’ professional judgments. Government leaders, media and business critics, and more than a few thought leaders, promulgated crude stereotypes of bad teaching that was allegedly ruining children’s lives. In-person teaching was portrayed as being teaching from the front, in the boring classes of factory age schools. These portrayals, as fictitious as the US voter ballots allegedly dumped into unnamed rivers, have then been used to try and replace teachers with online learning.

Then, all of a sudden, the biggest natural educational experiment in human history – taking nearly 2 billion children out of school – has made everyone think again. What is a world like without teachers?  

It’s a place without an economy because parents can’t go to work if their children aren’t in school.

It’s a place where teenagers can’t be with their peers, developing their senses of identity and responsibility away from their parents.

It’s a place that can’t protect young people from being bullied, or prevent many others from turning into bullies.

It’s a place that builds no sense of community or of how to participate in society.

It’s a place where teachers can’t be the high water mark that separates order from chaos, where they can’t intervene calmly when there’s trouble, and where there’s no-one to help children focus, when they are otherwise easily distracted.

A world without teachers is also a place where children have no way to learn how to express their own ideas and listen to others, to take their turn, and to value differences.

Teachers ignite new interests, show you the difference between your first effort and your best effort, and help you achieve things you never would have thought possible if you had been left to yourself.

Teachers help young people learn about racism, prejudice, climate change and the Holocaust, even and especially when youngsters’ parents don’t.

A world without teachers is a world deprived of learning and with a lot less love.  Appreciate your children’s teachers, and reflect back on the teachers who made a difference for you.

It’s time to bring our teachers back, not just physically in our schools, but also morally, at the very center of our societies. Please celebrate World Teachers Day.

Victoria Theisen Homer writes in Salon about the ways that remote learning distorts and devalues human relationships.

She writes:

Think of your favorite teacher. Whenever I ask people to do this, they usually tell me about a teacher who saw them: the one who took them aside and encouraged them to pursue art or computer science, who helped counsel them through a personal issue, who attended their Quinceañera — who, ultimately, just cared. By connecting with us in meaningful ways, these teachers not only earned a permanent place in our memories, they also engaged, challenged, and inspired us. Today, our nation’s 56.6 million elementary and secondary students could all use teachers like this, to help shepherd them through the pandemic and into a better future. But even in the best of times, school structures are more conducive to punitive discipline than meaningful teacher-student relationships, especially in our least-resourced schools. Today, with the challenges of virtual learning and the urgent messaging around “COVID slide” – the learning loss students may have suffered while they were out of school – relationships in schools are under further threat, just when students need them most.

Across the U.S., the pandemic has put a strain on families and children, many of whom continue to suffer from food insecurity, job loss, or the death of loved ones to COVID-19. So as kids begin school this year, they require connection, understanding, and nurturance from their teachers. While positive relationships with significant adult figures like teachers help children cope with trauma, such relationships also facilitate better learning. When students have meaningful relationships with their teachers, they are more likely to engage in class, more likely to feel like they can complete their school work, more likely to grow and achieve academically and personally. This is because learning is profoundly social.

But the pandemic has turned everything upside down.

Homer has prepared teachers. She studied some that entered affluent progressive schools where encouragement was the norm, and another group that taught in “no excuses” public school where conformity and obedience were customary.

The pandemic has extended “no-excuses” discipline into many schools that rely on remote learning.

She writes:

Schools across the country that primarily serve students of color and those from low-income backgrounds often adopt an approach to learning that centers on standardized test scores and control. For example, the other teacher education program in my study was situated in a “no excuses” charter school, the most prominent type of urban charter school (think KIPP or Success Academy), which aim to efficiently improve the academic achievement of children of color from low income backgrounds by eliminating anything they feel might distract students from learning (e.g. colorful socks, poor posture, indirect eye contact, talking in hallways).

At schools like this, educators maintain that there is no valid excuse for children’s failure to learn or behave. The teacher education program grounded in this context approached relationships like a formula: applying a series of discrete moves to accumulate “professional relationship capital” with students to increase their behavioral compliance and academic achievement. The director explained, “I think the foundation of the relationship is that my job is to try to generate maximum effort in thinking from you. That’s my job. It’s not to be your friend.”

Again, I followed graduates of this program into their first year of teaching at no excuses middle schools that primarily served students of color. These teachers also began the year by faithfully applying what they had learned about connecting with and disciplining students. They walked around their classrooms with timers in hand, smoothly assigned merits and demerits for behavior, integrated “little nuggets” they had recalled about students into brief interactions with them, and conducted “rebuilding conversations” after removing students from their class for infractions. It was all very efficient and controlled. Students were often silent, and hoped this approach would help them “succeed.” But they did not feel truly seen or understood as human beings by their teachers. One student explained, “I don’t think any of the teachers [know us].” And by the end of the year, one of these teachers admitted, “I think a lot of the kids sort of feel like it’s run like a jail…They’re very smart kids, and they understand that some of our rules are unnecessary, and overly strict, and un-empathetic.” The urgent insistence on academic achievement and behavioral conformity in these schools not only eroded opportunities for nurturing teacher-student relationships, it also conditioned students for subservience. This might be why some research indicates no excuses schools improve student test scores, but not life outcomes.

No excuses schools are not alone in this approach, though, and it now seems to be extending to virtual school. Desperate to counteract COVID-slide, educators are implementing plans to monitor and control student behavior during virtual class, including their attire, location, camera-use, attentiveness, and snacking. This is unfortunate but not surprising, because whenever the focus of schooling turns to quantifiable educational outcomes like standardized test scores or budgetary efficiencies, students are treated like products that must be regulated. Of course, humans are not products, and we all have very good excuses not to be performing as others may want us to right now, but the forces that govern schools don’t seem to get that. Because affluent and white students are more likely to attend schools with the resources to support meaningful relationships and less likely to be penalized for virtual or in-person violations, students of color will bear the brunt of this coming “discipline crisis,” which is really a crisis for relationships. For while relationships connect children to teachers and schools, harsh discipline severs ties.

Efforts to close the academic “gaps” that grew wider during COVID have facilitated the worst kinds of teaching.

Melanie Sirof is a teacher in the Bellmore-Merrick School District on Long Island innNew York.

“Let’s start rowing in the same direction”.

“Posting this now, before I walk into the first day of meetings that signal the start of school. I’m sure by three o’clock I will feel overwhelmed & frustrated, so I write this now, while I am still clear-eyed:

Know this, parents, we teachers are going to make the most of this lemon of a situation. We want your students to have a great year & not just “a great year, all things considered.” We are aware of our place in the story of your child’s life, understand that they only get one “senior English teacher” (or Math, or Chem, or Gov), one sixth grade experience. So we are going to do our best to live up to that mythology. We want your children to discover things about the world & themselves they had not known before our time together & our time starts now.

Can you help? Can you stop talking about what a disaster this is going to be? (Perhaps it will be, but let’s not lose the game before we get on the court.) Can you help your kids to respectfully reach out to us when they are struggling? Can you set them up for success with a mindset that says “yeah, this is the hand we were dealt, & look how everyone is doing the best they can with it.” Can you give them some agency in this, help them understand the buy-in? Can you stop calling out teachers you feel did your students wrong on social media? Give them the benefit of the doubt (a rough day, an honest but not malicious mistake) or the professional courtesy of handling the issue privately?

This will not be a lost year, it will not be a year of treading water, this will be a year in the story of your child’s life & you & I & they have the power to create some true greatness here. That is how we would like to be remembered when they come together in 10 and 20 years for reunions, when their own children (should they choose that path) start school & they are sitting around the dinner table swapping stories. We want your kid to say “Oh yeah, I remember my __th grade teacher…” & then start to tell funny stories about class or remember something they learned that year & never forgot, a new way to look at the world, a new part of themselves.

It’s a big ask, to want be remembered that way, maybe selfish and a bit self-aggrandizing to want to seize the opportunity given every teacher every September. But so many of us are in front of the classroom for exactly that reason, we had teachers we still talk about, people we met at 15 who continue to influence us at 45.

Let us do that -in person, or remotely, or some combination of both- we want the best for your children. Yes, we are all in the same boat, let’s start rowing in the same direction.”

Melanie Sirof
English Teacher
Mepham High School

Mercedes Schneider heard an interview with Jill Biden in which she pledged that a future President Bidennwoyld choose a Secretary of Education who has spent time “in the classroom.” That set Mercedes’ teeth on edge. “In the classroom” could mean a Teach for America tyro who spent two years “in the classroom.”

No, sir-ee. If you want the votes of millions of teachers, you have to do better than make a fuzzy promise.

She writes:

On the surface, that sounds fantastic. On the surface.

The problem is that the education reform movement specializes in its members having temp time “in the public schools” as a resume-padding device designed to catapult them into leadership positions in K12 education, such as district and state superintendents. So, technically, one of these classroom-exiting, sleight-of-experience resume padders could slide right on in as the next secretary of education, without spending but a moment’s time as a classroom teacher, and you, sir, might not know the difference because the person is *technically* able to declare having been “in the public schools.”

The schools of Sarasota, Florida, have adopted what they call “a concurrent model,” with teachers responsible for both in-person and remote learning. Some teachers say this is like working two jobs at once and wonder whether this is sustainable.

School in Sarasota County started a few days ago, but some educators say they are already overwhelmed and exhausted by the new way of teaching amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Teachers knew this year was going to be a challenge with social distancing, extra sanitizing measures, technology issues, projecting their voices through a face mask for hours on end, and juggling students both in the classroom and at home — something the district is calling concurrent learning.

Four days into the new school year, some concurrent teachers aren’t so sure the teaching model is doable long term.

“I am worried that after a month or two of this, teachers that are really trying their best are going to start breaking down because it is not a sustainable way of teaching and we will burn out,” said Sarasota High School teacher Sarah Sturzu.

President of Sarasota Classified Teachers Association Patricia Gardner tells 8 On Your Side she’s been getting emails and teary-eyed phone calls one after another since school started Monday.

“They are finding they can’t give the attention to both groups. They just don’t feel like they are doing the job they should be doing and they feel the kids aren’t getting what they deserve to get on either side of this,” said Gardner.

Mercedes Schneider is preparing for the opening of her high school in Louisiana. Teaching during a global pandemic is a twilight zone, where everyone is groping to do the right thing.

She is aware of the difficulty of planning when there is so much uncertainty. Yet that’s what educators do: they plan.

She’s aware of the contradictions that will make every day challlenging.

The one constant that she pledges to hold on to iscrelationships. With students. With colleagues. The days ahead will be hard on everyone. Be kind.

Jen Coleman, a teacher in Alabama, explains why she keeps a sharpie in her emergency bag.

I’m thinking about one Sharpie pen in particular. It’s black, medium thickness. And it stays in the blue emergency bag that I keep on the filing cabinet closest to my classroom door. Our school’s emergency bags are remarkably sparse. No band-aids, no first aid materials. We have one flashlight, one sign with my name to help my students find our class if they get separated during a mass exodus, one copy of my class rosters, and one Sharpie marker. Why a marker? Someone asked that very question at a staff meeting. The nurse explained, in a completely emotionless tone, that the Sharpie was so we could identify students and write their names on their bodies in the event of an incident.

Samuel Jayne Tanner and Ben Stasny write a satirical posting for a middle-school English language arts teacher that appeared in McSweeny’s.

Area School District is looking for a Language Arts Teacher/ Cheerleading Coach/ Custodian/ Nurse to help lead our COVID-19 and anti-racism instruction during this unprecedented moment.

The Language Arts Teacher/ Cheerleading Coach/ Custodian/ Nurse/ COVID-19 & Anti-Racism Specialist will be responsible for providing equitable grammatical, emotional, health, school spirit, and hygiene counsel to students. In these turbulent times, guidance for our students is more important than it has ever been before. This position will also provide an overall vision for COVID-19 relief and anti-racism throughout our middle school program as well as design a non-contact floor routine. The Language Arts Teacher/ Cheerleading Coach/ Custodian/ Nurse/ COVID-19 & Anti-Racism Specialist must step-up and deliver the steady, immersive leadership that is required in this new normal…

Applicants should drive up to the first available COVID testing tent in our faculty parking lot and call our front office to alert school admin that you are there. Depending on how many staff have called in sick or are carrying out a job action, someone will eventually come out and greet you. Be ready to take a COVID test, teach a practice lesson using White Fragility that demonstrates Common Core standards, lead a verse of the school fight song, disinfect 27 doorknobs, and give your interviewer a COVID test. Good luck!