Archives for category: Teaching

Mercedes Schneider is back to work teaching high school English in Louisiana. She is doing her best to keep her students socially distanced, though she hasn’t figured out how that will be possible when her class size reaches 24.

But the silver lining is that her students are wearing masks! They are not acting stupid and refusing to protect themselves and others! That’s good news for them and for her.

You have often read Gary Rubinstein’s sage insights into the hoaxes associated with “miracle schools,” charter schools, and Tesch for America.

But his fist love is teaching mathematics. That is also his profession. So, in this time when face-to-face instruction is imperiled, Gary has prepared some lessons to share with parents, teachers, and students.

With this pandemic going on and so many people learning math through videos, I’m making a series of videos that I hope helps some parents and teachers help their children or their students learn math.

When complete, this will surely be over 12 hours long, starting with addition and ending with trigonometry. So far there are three videos that go from kindergarten through about 3rd grade, ending with the dreaded ‘long division.’

This post includes a playlist and the first three lessons.

A reader with the anonymous sobriquet “Kindergarten Interlude” writes:


For my kindergartners distance-learning was never fun. And Lord knows for me it is not just a challenge but truly sad. How do you connect with five and six-year-olds through a computer screen? And the parents are losing it. I give them a lot of credit!

Of course I am trying to make the best of this for my students, but gone is the essence of teaching and learning in kindergarten: The human touch, the facial expressions, the spontaneous moments, the joy – reading and singing and dancing and yoga and Simon Says and Thumbs Up at the end of the day. And Discovery Centers (my code word for play centers)- teamwork and problem-solving and using one’s imagination and learning basic social skills like taking turns and sharing. There is great satisfaction (and joy!) in learning and practicing these skills and working together as a team. It is how friendships are planted and take root over the weeks and months of working and playing and learning together. Deep feelings of security and acceptance come from belonging to a community. A REAL community, not a screen.

So no, this was never fun and it is an untenable way to teach kindergarten and I imagine pretty much every grade.

Because at the end of the day, it is all about that beautiful community that is established. That’s the essence of successful teaching and learning in kindergarten.

Mitchell Robinson is a professor of music education at Michigan State University. He has been remote teaching, and he is not pleased with it at all.

He begins:

A friend asked me how I was doing during this pandemic, and I thought I’d share my perspective as a teacher who has struggled to find my footing in our new reality…

How am I doing, you ask?

To be honest, not well. I’ve been a teacher for 40 years now, and I really love teaching. I love the interactions with my students, and colleagues. I loved teaching high school band for 10 years–I couldn’t believe I got paid to make music with kids–and I really get a thrill now out of helping my college students find their voices as musicians and teachers, and helping them to realize their dreams; whether that’s being a middle school chorus teacher, or an early childhood music teacher, or a freshly minted college professor.

But I didn’t go into teaching to invite students to a Zoom meeting, wear a pair of noise-canceling headphones, and talk through a mic to a Brady-Bunch-style laptop screen where my most frequent advice is to remind my students to “unmute” their microphones. It feels artificial, and stale, and impersonal. Few of my favorite teaching “moves” translate very well to online instruction–no one has figured out how to rehearse a band virtually, and I simultaneously kind of doubt they will, while hoping they won’t.

Because teaching isn’t about the mere transfer of information, like some sort of antiseptic banking transaction. The best teaching is messy, and loud, and unruly, and chaotic, and unpredictable.

And I really, really miss it.

So, not so well.

Now, if there is a silver lining in this situation, I dearly hope that everyone currently struggling with our temporary reality, juggling “homeschooling” (it’s not homeschooling–it’s emergency teaching) with working from home, and mostly failing, will somehow come to understand the real value of public education. That when done well, it’s about much more than just teaching and learning, and about a whole lot more than obsessively testing every student from kindergarten to graduate school, until we’ve beaten the very last drop of joy and wonder out of learning.

The Syracuse, New York, journal has sound advice for Andrew Cuomo: Remote Learning is a stopgap. Parents and students want real teachers and real schools. Stop musing about “reimagining” education. Your musings are unsound. Listen to parents and teachers. Let the Board of Regents and the New York State Education Fepartnent do their job.

The editorial begins:

Parents, teachers and students had barely come to terms with the cancellation of the rest of the school year when Gov. Andrew Cuomo dropped another bomb: Maybe, he mused, going to school in person is simply obsolete in the age of coronavirus.

The reaction from educators and parents was swift and fierce. Aides later walked back the governor’s ambiguous and tone-deaf inference that remote instruction could replace the face-to-face kind, saying it would be a supplement.

It can’t be a replacement. You know this if you are a parent with children learning at home for the past seven weeks, or a teacher trying to instruct those students. We see firsthand much is lost in translation from classroom to computer screen. It may be necessary to use remote learning as a bridge to returning to school full time, or when virus flareups close schools temporarily, but it cannot be permanent.

Kids need to go to school. And they need to go to school this fall, in whatever form the virus permits.

Despite good intentions, we can see that homeschooling is not going well for many students — most of all the ones lacking the technology to keep up, or having to share it among siblings. Special needs students are adrift. We also can feel how much being separated from their peers and mentors in a school community is damaging kids’ social and emotional well-being. They are increasingly sad, unmotivated and glued to one screen or another. Without support from teachers and counselors, stressed-out parents are struggling to keep it together.

The governor also knows that reopening schools and childcare settings are key to getting adults back to work. And yet schools are in the last phase of Cuomo’s four-phase plan to reopen the economy, alongside arts, entertainment and recreation. This is a major disconnect. Concerts and baseball games are not essential (as much as they make life more enjoyable). Education is essential.

We’re with Cuomo’s impulse to take the lessons from the coronavirus to “build back better.” What have we learned about schools? Inequities are magnified. Homes are not always ideal learning environments. Access to computers and high-speed internet varies from neighborhood to neighborhood, district to district and region to region. These are some of the issues New York needs to solve first, before it can lean on remote learning for anything beyond an emergency.

As for Gates and Schmidt, the editorial says, “Proceed with caution.”

When your only tol is a hammer, every problem looks,Ike a nail. When you ask two tech magnates to reinvent education, they have only one strategy: more tech. And the past two months have proved that more tech is not what’s needed.

What’s needed is smaller classes and the resources to meet the needs of children. Perhaps Gates and Schmidt could spare a few billions to solve real problems.

Gary Rubinstein was one of the earliest corps members of Teach for America. He knows it’s routines well. He has long been critical of the inadequacies of its teacher preparation program, which offers a five-week training to young college graduates before they start teaching real classes. As he explains here, the teachers in training get only 20 hours of practice teaching, which he thinks should be eighty hours.

The TFA training is about to be watered down considerably, as the recruits will be remotely taught this summer.

He writes:

I learned yesterday that TFA has chosen not to cancel the 2020 Institute, but instead to hold it remotely. So this means that TFA has weighed out the pros and cons of cancelling training vs. remote training and decided that the reward of remote training outweighs the risks of remote training. I see this as a huge mistakes that harms children. But for this decision to harm children, there are three other parties that share responsibility. I will outline who these other parties are in a minute.

Teach For America surely knows that a remote training with no actual student teaching will produce extremely unprepared teachers. And those teachers will each teach 30 (or up to 150) students next year and each of those students will suffer for having such an untrained teacher. I don’t know what alternatives TFA explored, but there was another option besides just cancelling the institute altogether. If I were in charge I would take some of the $300 million that TFA has in the bank and make this summer a remote training for teacher assistants. Next year will be a challenge for teachers and having 3,000 teacher assistants who are knowledgeable about the different remote learning options can be very useful. And TFA could pay the salaries of these 3,000 teacher assistants too. This way, the 2020 corps members can actually be helping improve education and there would not be student victims who have completely untrained teachers as their lead teachers. But this is not the decision TFA went with. They are comfortable sending teachers with zero hours of student teaching into real schools next year with students who have just suffered the emotional, physical, and educational trauma of the previous six months.

But as I mentioned, TFA is not the sole culprit here.

He also blames the states that approve contracts with TFA and the principals that hire “teachers” who have never actually taught anyone before entering their classrooms.

John Merrow has some good suggestions in this essay about the month of May and how to use it wisely and well:

May has been an educational ‘dead zone’ for years. Because of our national obsession with standardized test scores, teachers–particularly in low income areas–spend class time showing students how to guess at answers, giving practice tests, and even teaching children how to fill in bubbles for the standardized, multiple choice ‘bubble’ tests that await them. These activities come with a huge opportunity cost for students, because they are of no educational benefit whatsoever and probably set their learning back; for teachers, they are an insult to their profession. And school districts spend billions of dollars buying, administering, and grading the bubble tests required by their states and the federal government.

When I was reporting I occasionally heard people complaining–in song–about “the morbid, miserable month of May,” riffing off an old Stephen Foster tune, “The Merry, Merry Month of May.” As I recall, the expression surfaced in 2003 or 2004, which is when the unintended consequences of the 2001 federal “No Child Left Behind” law became apparent. Because NCLB penalized schools that didn’t achieve what it called ‘adequate yearly progress’ on standardized tests, many districts eliminated art, music, drama, journalism, and even recess in order to concentrate on ‘the basics.’

That’s when the month of May became a ‘morbid’ dead zone, educationally speaking.

I don’t remember where I first heard the expression. It might have been in the suburban North Carolina elementary school that held ‘pep rallies’ in advance of the upcoming state exams, or in Richmond, Virginia, where a veteran middle school teacher told me “Teaching and learning are done; now it’s all test prep.” Or perhaps it was the Chicago high school teacher who confessed that he vomited in his wastebasket when he saw his students’ scores, or the custodian in a Success Academy charter school in New York City who said he rinsed out classroom trash cans every night because students regularly threw up in them during testing. Another possibility is the Washington, DC, parent whose young son couldn’t sleep because his teacher said she’d get fired if they didn’t do well on the tests.

The good news is that May 2020 does not have to be ‘morbid,’ ‘miserable,’ or ‘malignant.’ Because schools are closed and state standardized testing has been cancelled, May is a blank slate–and an opportunity for us to make it ‘magical’ and ‘memorable.’

News reports indicate that many parents are unhappy in the role of ‘teacher at home.’ (They are also coming to realize just how hard it is to be an effective teacher!) Teachers are frustrated because nothing in their training prepared them for teaching remotely. And so, because the March-April experiment in ‘remote learning’ hasn’t been a rousing success and because May is a tabula rasa, let’s embrace ‘out of the box’ thinking. Stop thinking like educators whose jobs depend on high test scores. Think differently!

(An earlier blog post about librarians, swimming instructors, highway engineers, and gardeners is here.)

Imagine for a moment that you don’t have a captive audience (because right now you don’t). IE, think like a librarian. Public libraries are different from schools in one important way: they do not have required attendance. But even though no one is forced to attend the library, library usage continues to climb. To survive and prosper, librarians have had to identify their audiences and find ways to draw them into their buildings and electronic networks. For the most part, they’ve succeeded without pandering. That’s what’s called for in education at this moment.

The Bald Piano Guy is a very clever public school teacher in Great Neck, New York, who posts musical videos on YouTube expressing his views about education and politics, always with a smile. I erred in thinking he was a NYC teacher.

In this video, he has advice for Betsy DeVos:

Go back to selling Amway/
Teaching really isn’t your thing.”

Randi Weingarten proposes an alternative to end of the year tests. This is such a good idea that Congress should consider making it a replacement for annual standardized tests, which are inherently an assertion that teachers can’t be trusted to judge their students’ progress. Furthermore, Randi’s idea of testing what students know and can do will inspire student thoughtfulness and creativity, which is far superior to picking the right answer.

Classrooms that would have been abuzz with activity now sit empty, as most states have closed schools to slow the spread of COVID-19. These have been agonizing choices because schools are not simply where students learn, they are where many children receive meals and healthcare, where they learn life lessons, forge relationships and build resiliency. We are all feeling the shockwaves of this unprecedented upheaval.

But as educators and school staff know, the majority of the instructional year has already taken place, and students have learned and experienced much already. The federal government will waive federally mandated assessments as a result of the widespread school closures. There are still meaningful ways teachers can help students sum up their academic progress and bring closure to this school year. So, at this extraordinary time, I propose ending the school year by giving all teachers the latitude to work with their students on capstone or term projects instead of statewide standardized assessments — to choose age appropriate activities, assessments and projects that demonstrate their learning for the year. This flexibility will both allow districts to ensure that our school communities maintain the social distancing necessary to avoid further spread of the virus and give our students the chance to end their school year on a positive note.

Nearly 53 million of the country’s 57 million K-12 students have been affected by school closures. That number is likely to grow, and the situation is likely to persist, as states like Kansas decide to close public schools for the rest of the school year. Educators are building the plane while flying it. Within the span of one week, districts across the country have rushed to open “grab-and-go” meal centers, launch distance learning programs, meet the needs of our most vulnerable children, and provide child care for the frontline healthcare and other essential workers who are protecting the health and safety of all Americans. And state and district leaders are trying to figure this out with little guidance from the federal government, and what guidance they’ve gotten has often been unclear or contradictory.

As these logistical challenges continue to be addressed, our members across the country are simultaneously creating plans to ensure that their students’ learning does not end with the closure of their school buildings and trying to ascertain whether their efforts have succeeded. There are many ways outside of state accountability systems to show student learning, as teachers can attest. They just need the freedom to use their professional judgment. Teachers do this throughout the year — administering tests and guiding students on projects and portfolios. We know that students love to show what they know to people who matter to them. We need to trust teachers, in consultation with their principals and colleagues, to design meaningful, educationally appropriate tasks. For example: Elementary students could complete a composition on a favorite book they read this year, which could be turned in by sending it back on the same bus that is delivering grab-and-go meals (while observing scientists’ recommendations regarding safe paper handling). Middle school students could hold a virtual debate on the internet, or they could interview a relative for a family history, which is the quintessential American story. High school students could research a topic they now won’t be covering in class and present their research via video on their phone. Because of the digital divide, many students do not have access to computers, smart phones or internet hot spots, so the tried-and-true writing — or drawing or composing music — with pen and paper, should be envisioned as well.

Teachers will need time and support to develop plans for project-based assessments that are appropriate given their students’ ages, special education requirements, proficiency in English, physical needs and access to technology. This is especially important since many will be used in the context of remote learning. Local latitude and autonomy is important. Let’s give educators, working with their colleagues and administrators, the freedom to figure this out, including the freedom to determine how high school seniors can finish the year and graduate.

Teachers are working hard to maintain essential connections with their students. Let’s trust them to develop the kinds of end-of-year activities, assessments and capstone projects I am proposing. Let’s trust them to use their expertise and knowledge of their students, because no idea will work for every student and teacher. My hope is to capture and celebrate student learning and, in the process, show that we trust teachers.

This is a delightful post by Mercedes Schneider, whom we usually expect to write about scams, hoaxes, and frauds in the education biz.

But this time she shows off a student’s work in her English class.

What a delight!

She reminds us that this is what education is all about. Not dollars, but the joy of learning!