Your thoughts and prayers with me, please
It is only 10, and the kids in my afternoon classes are already wandering the hallways, crying, screaming, and cussing adults out. The Vice Principal of Discipline is gone, the Speech Therapist (ally and saving grace) is gone, and one of their morning teachers is gone with a bad sub.
In other news, things have calmed down, but you know when your reality sucks and you just adjust to it? That has happened. I barely teach because of behavior, which isn’t different from before, but now, I kind of plan not to teach. I mean, I have a few activities and games in my pocket and even new lessons for kids who are ready and for whom I can squeeze in a few words before the other kids start screaming or throwing things. And I always have work for them to do. But comprehensive, explicit teaching that feels good for all involved is pretty much out the window.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made lightyears of progress. I’ve gone from January—chair throwing and multiple fights per day, kids running in and out like my classroom is a revolving door, incessant verbal abuse to children and adults alike—to April—a pretty routine defiant lethargy, which when pushed, results in walkouts and blowouts. If this were October and November, I would push. I would put up with the walkouts and blowouts and, having conquered behavior, I would up the academic ante. But it’s the middle of April. We have six weeks left. I’m tired.
Is it worth it? Should I keep trying? Do I end on a happy but not academically gratifying note? Or do I push? Do I keep introducing new material, even if it also means (usually uselessly) busting my butt to stave off bad behavior? Do I end on what could possibly be a tense note that, because of the stress, may or may not result in meaningful academic progress? I feel badly either way. An enabler with low standards or a taskmaster who is too stressed to enjoy life in or out of school?
what is your opinion on standardized testing in public school?
There can be a role for standardized tests, but at present their importance has become way overblown. Ranking teachers and schools, then publicizing it, according to how students score on a single test is ludicrous. Administrators are under the gun to raise test scores and so pressure teachers to teach to the test. Students become bored and teachers are frustrated they can’t work to truly educate. Learning has been narrowly defined by sets of standards and their benchmarks. Those in the trenches know education is messy, with bursts of inspired learning and times when learning comes slow. Good educators are constantly monitoring student progress and changing strategies. Forcing teachers to follow a learning guideline in lockstep leads to frustration for all. Unfortunately, those who pass the laws in education are not in classrooms and/or are driven by political agendas not tied to what is best for students.
What's Our Responsibility?
I posed a question on Twitter the other day that was seriously on my mind:
It’s been something that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately: how do we best use the reach that we have in our networks to articulate a different vision of “reform” than the current narrative? And is there a point where our “reach” compels us to be more provocative in that cause?
Let me be clear on where this comes from in my brain at least:
- We’re living at a moment of huge change in the ways we can learn and become educated, changes that go far beyond the social media tools and apps that have exploded in the last decade.
- Lots of folks see lots of opportunity (read: money) in the education space via the digitization of learning to achieve traditional ends. Non transformative transformations, so to speak. (Read this and weep.)
- There is a huge urgency at this moment to articulate a counter narrative to the one being funded and broadcast by large corporations, foundations and politicians, a narrative which is focused on using technology to achieve efficiencies in the pursuit of “higher student achievement” aka better test scores.
- If we are unable to mount a coherent, compelling response to this narrative, schools as we know them are pretty much toast.
That sums up my view of the world in four bullet points right now. And so when I saw a Tweet from someone in the education space with almost 100K followers, someone who has some global chops and reach and valuable things to say (as well as an effective way of saying it), but someone who doesn’t seem to be using that social media reach to actively provoke and push back, I started wondering. Is it fair to place a higher expectation on that person to do just that? (I know…Sir Ken’s whole Twitter story is an outlier.)
Safe to say, the thread generated some interesting conversation and pushback. You can get a gist of it here, though please know that I didn’t include all of the Tweets in there.
I’m not trying to tell anyone how to live their Twitter lives. And I know the whole concept of “reach” is impossible to figure by counting heads. More, I know 100K followers on Twitter is still nothing in terms of the grand scheme of things, especially in the education conversation. And I also know there are all sorts of other lenses to this question that would take many, many more words to bring to light.
But given the moment, I’m still left to ask: do we as educators who have a somewhat different view of what learning and schooling needs to be have a greater responsibility to really push the conversation, to get outside of our own networks (i.e. read #edreform), to question what others Tweet and post, to engage, respectfully, in the full vetting of ideas, and to write and act accordingly? Is that a fair expectation right now, not just of the way we comport ourselves online but offline as well in our local, face to face interactions?
Or are we ok with leaving the broad brush construction of this new “reform” narrative around education to others who have a much different view of what schools and education and learning should be? #loadedquestion
How to rock at the teacher job fair:
As promised, here are some tips for surviving at the job fair based on my recent experience. I will gladly update this with more advice/tips if anyone wants to add their two cents!
- Be professional at all times: This is an obvious one, I know. But when I was waiting in line to meet with a school district and schedule my interview there were 2 women in front of me having a conversation. One was complaining about how her cooperating teacher is unfair, rude, and for some reason not giving perfect evaluations. In earshot of all the other job-seekers and school district representatives at the fair, she told how she was chewed out for being late to school. I kid you not, the direct quote was “Why does it matter if I’m there 5 minutes late everyday as long as there aren’t students in the room yet?” It was clear based on facial expressions that at least 2 recruiters heard her. So people, please, no matter where you are during the fair- in line for food, in the bathroom, waiting for an interview- always be professional! You are constantly making an impression- do everything in your power to make it a good one!
- Think carefully about your wardrobe choices: It’s an oft quoted piece of advice that you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have. But don’t forget that you are interviewing to be a teacher, not the superintendent. If this is an all-day event like the one I attended, cut yourself some slack and make sure that you are going to be comfortable. Ladies, this means you don’t necessarily need the power suit with the 4 inch (or taller) heels. (Although if that’s what makes you comfortable and you feel powerful and confident in it, then by all means that’s what you should wear!) I wore dress pants, comfortable flats, and a dressy top, and was extremely grateful for those choices.
- Be prepared with things to keep you occupied: Bring stuff to keep you busy. At the job fair I went to, there was an area filled with information about the school districts and the certification requirements for each state. I perused the booth and got everything there that I needed, but I still had time to kill before interviews, and I was desperately wishing for a book, crossword puzzle, or laptop to keep me entertained and calm.
- Have a gameplan: Make a list of the districts you want to visit, and if possible, get a map of the layout so you know where the representatives will be. Do your research before meeting with districts. Although the fair is an opportunity for you to find out more about the different schools, you should not be meeting with people if you have absolutely no background information. How big is the district? How many students? What is the reputation of the program? What kinds of challenges is this district facing? What are the education requirements for teachers? These are some basic questions to get you started.
- Sell yourself: This is another tough year for schools, and another tough year for teachers trying to break in. Do whatever it takes to set yourself apart from your competition. Print your resume on professional resume paper. (I almost forgot to do this and ran to Staples at the last minute to get some, and I was really glad that mine wasn’t printed on regular ole computer paper). Think about bringing a teaching portfolio of your lesson plans and sample student work, and incorporate it into your interviews when the opportunity arises. Be specific when answering questions so that you show the interviewer exactly what would make you an important part of the school community.
- Take notes: If you are fortunate, you will have several interviews in a short amount of time. (I had 5 over two days). Do yourself a favor and bring a notebook or pad of paper and take important notes during the interview- enough so that you will remember essential points, and show that you are interested in the school. Immediately after the interview, write down everything of importance that you can remember. Make sure you mark at least 2-3 specific pieces of info about the interview to incorporate later in a thank you note (see next point for more on that) and definitely write down how the district wants to proceed later if they give instructions. I’m glad I wrote down which schools wanted me to complete an online application, which ones wanted me to wait to see which jobs were posted, and which ones needed recommendations mailed directly to the school because I definitely was getting schools mixed up at the end of a longgggg day. Also remember to write down names of people who interviewed you, their titles/positions, and make note of contact information.
- Follow up after the interview: This is particularly important at a job fair because of how many people the districts are going to interview in a short amount of time. In my humble opinion, handwritten thank you cards are the way to go. These serve multiple purposes: thank the interviewers for their time, reaffirm your interest in their school, and one last chance to sell yourself. Include something specific that you talked about in the interview. (For example, one school asked me about ways to incorporate technology in my lesson plans and after I got home I realized I could have answered better, so I briefly included this in my thank you note). This is a great chance to make sure the district remembers you and is an important part of the professional process. The faster you write and send them, the better!
0146: Education, Big Words, and a Concerted Effort
#education #SOSchat #edreform
I have, perhaps, sullied our interaction by not offering you a window into my classroom. I’ve offered the impression of looking into other windows and unfairly describing the experiences of others. I do not wish to ever make light of the successful and hopeful experiences of others.
Unfortunately, some points cannot be made, in order to be clarified, without making some generalizations and accusations, at least at my skill level. While there are places that offer children who live well below the poverty line an equitable education, there is a plethora of others that do not. This is not to say that there aren’t teachers giving their all and busting their asses to maneuver around and through multiple impasses. Teachers, principals, and communities often do incredible things with meager resources. Many are able to do these amazing things despite punitive and restrictive top-down measures. Schools are people not buildings. I’ve taught in schools where I could see the dirt through holes in the floor, with no heat or A/C. The teachers were dedicated and gave less than a rats ass about just appeasing auditors. However, changes had to be made to ensure the school remained open, jobs were maintained, etc. Some tightening of the belt was needed, and the school began to more closely resemble a test factory. Teachers and students were dealt with more harshly. This is not an uncommon practice—not just in schools where I’ve been, but anywhere schools are in trouble. Perhaps, I digress.
I will make the commitment to you, dear reader, to open my window a little wider. And, I will commit to sharing the things I see, hear, and begin to understand. A system cannot change if we worry too much with niceties. Education, in many places for many people, is inequitable. Equally society is inequitable. We have a third world hiding in our backyards. Many do not see it. We continue to live in a place that has a significantly fossilized system of segregation. Education systems are a part of this and will continue to be until _______. Continue to offer your scrutiny and your experiences— they’re far more conducive to generating thought and change than peer review and higher institutions. It is only through authentic human interaction that we change. I, in turn, will continue to grow and learn. We must tell our stories, the story, a story. We must push, complain, fight, agree…until we find a place for all our children, people, neighbors, and anyone else seen or not. It’s up to us. Cheers.