This past weekend, I worked at the event Why Computer Science Matters in Communities of Color at Teachers College, Columbia University. The event was hosted by NYC Men Teach and CS4ALLNYC. It was an incredible opportunity for educators to think about how to bring computer science to their schools and to explore how we can support communities of color. The conversation around how we can make computer science accessible to students of color and challenge implicit biases in the tech sector were a highlight of mine at this event. Christy Crawford, director of partnerships and engagement for CS4ALL, introduced how this time together was going to be about "legacies"--legacies that have been come before us and legacies awaiting to be made.
Speaking of legacies, the children of two well known computer science pioneers were present, one of Katherine Johnson's daughters and the children of Jerry Lawson. Katherine Johnson is well known for calculating orbital trajectories for NASA and was portrayed in the movie Hidden Figures.Jerry Lawson is considered one of the founding fathers of the video gaming industry, creating the first video game cartridge.
It was an honor hearing from all of them speak on the panel. I particularly loved the story that Katherine Johnson's daughter, Joylette Hylick, shared about a time when her mother was in elementary school. Katherine Johnson asked the teacher a question about math. When the teacher responded, "But, Katherine, you already know the answer to that question." The young Katherine answered, "Yes, but they [my classmates] do not know the answer."Joylette emphasized that that was how her mother always was--kind, compassionate, and always looking to help others.
The Lawson family also had many stories to share. They talked about how their father always had the original iterations of many technology devices and that many of his favorite devices were kept in their family's garage. It wasn't until his children reflected in retrospect that their father taught them many things by simply explaining and engaging them in conversation at a very young age.
After participants broke out into workshops to learn about various coding and/or robotics programs to bring back to their classroom, they were brought back to hear an artificial intelligence (AI) expert speak, Joy Buolamwini.
Joy has been doing outstanding work in breaking down biases in facial analysis technology. Her work involves uncovering that the algorithms some of the leading companies in facial analysis are using, Facebook, Microsoft, etc., would only pick up light, male faces. She spoke about how her face could not be detected and that there is an "algorithmic bias" by those who control the power and technology to write those algorithms. Questioning who creates technology and how we must include a broad spectrum of faces and give a voice to those who are marginalized, even in artificial intelligence, is one of her focuses. Additionally, she created the Algorithmic Justice League (AJL) as a way for individuals and companies to come together in solidarity to fight "coded biases" and pledge to be inclusive.
What an incredible event! Bravo to NYC Men Teach and CS4ALLNYC for hosting a thought-provoking and inspirational experience for all those who came!
I read this great article in the AFT periodical for educators titled "Does tailoring instruction to "learning styles" help students learn?" by Daniel T. Willingham, a professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Virginia. Willingham does a literature review of the research done thus far in learning styles and concludes with two important implications for education:
As a special education and general education teacher who sees students with documented disabilities and students without, I find that Willingham's arguments are discerning and offer clarity. Let me explain.
He states that rather than tailor our teaching to students' learning styles, we should instead tailor our thinking strategies to particular types of problems. This makes sense because all students have the capacity to learn in different modalities--visual, kinesthetic, auditory, or reading and writing. Willingham posits that content can be best taught through a modality that best suits the content, not the learning style of an individual. This is interesting because I certainly see all of my students benefiting from a lesson that involves pictures to describe Lenne Lenape Native American vocabulary (visual), making corn husk dolls to understand the traditions of the Lenape people (kinesthetic), or hearing stories of or about the Lenape tribes (auditory). Depending on the content, I can see how educators ought to tailor their teaching to the content, rather than having only some students engage in one task because they are auditory learners, or another task because they are kinesthetic learners.
When I speak to parents about what type of learner their child is, I recognize now that when I classify a learner as having a particular learning style of visual, auditory, or kinesthetic it can be limiting and misleading because all learners are capable of being all of those things. It just depends on the task at hand and how to best learn the content through one or many of those modalities.
I am a big supporter of the teacher strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky, with Arizona on the horizon of a strike. It is important that people outside the field of education recognize the important role teachers have and begin to treat them as other professionals with competitive salaries and benefits. While some view teachers as the single agent that can bring about change (propaganda brought upon by movies like Waiting for Superman), we should recognize that teachers have lives of their own, too, and cannot devote every single bit of their time to the classroom. From these strikes, we see an assortment of educators who work multiple jobs to make ends meet. How have the working conditions in this country deteriorated so much for teachers, such that it's similar to the working conditions of the 1960s (see linked article above)? Salaries are despicably low and many states are now right-to-work states, which cannot collect dues from members to collectively bargain, effectively crippling the union.
It is inspiring to see the teachers strike despite the right-to-work laws. Something is finally being done about the low salaries we have endured. Since becoming a mother, time has become even more valuable to me and I expect to be compensated for the good work I do. I prioritize my time very carefully at work--making sure the plans and materials are ready for the week's lessons, making sure I differentiate all the lessons so all my learners can achieve in their zone of proximal development, and making sure I stay on top of my students' IEPs (Individualized Educational Plans). However, this work often takes up more time than there is in the school day. I am allotted my lunch and one prep period per day to do all of those things, so yes, I will take work home to finish once my children fall asleep in their beds. I wish special education teachers and teachers in general were compensated for the many hours they put in to teaching their students.
I think respecting teachers also means respecting and valuing their time. Respect the hours teachers work (e.g. end the professional development workshop when it is supposed to end so teachers can get home to their families) and compensate them for extra work they do outside of the school building (e.g. planning for math curriculum, preparing for project based learning experiences, etc.). The budget is part of the conversation of what's wrong with education in America these days. If politicians actually valued their teachers, they would prioritize education funding and direct it towards teacher salaries instead of the next new trendy fad that an outside education consultant with limited classroom experience advises.
Unionizing (collective bargaining at its best, even without formalized union representation) is important because unions not only protect students' interests (e.g. lower class sizes, making sure special ed students are entitled to their services, etc.), but they also help ensure that their teachers are well rested (not working multiple jobs) and have a livelihood of their own. Pay our teachers well so that we can raise our families while not having to sacrifice the profession we love.
My family and I marched in the "March for Our Lives" protest in New York City on March 24th, 2018. Since I had my 3-year old and 2-month old with me, I should have realized that we couldn't stay too long. Well, once we arrived, we had to turn around because the crowds became too overwhelming. We went home and watched the speeches in DC on TV.
Watching the Parkland youth, Chicago youth, and seeing Martin Luther King, Jr.'s granddaughter lead the crowd was incredibly awe inspiring. The speeches, which spanned inclusion of gun violence across all sectors of life (transcending race, political affiliation, etc.), gave me chills. These young adults are a force to be reckoned with; they are poised, articulate, and sharp! Having gone to nationals in speech and debate when I was in high school, I understand the courage and practice it takes to speak in front of a crowd. I'm so hopeful for our future when I see how they push for inclusive media coverage, understand their privilege, speak about their privilege, and act completely more professional and poised than our elected leaders.
I am so proud of them and am happy to have marched with my family.
The Columbine High School shooting in 1999 happened when I was in middle school, 30 minutes away. The memories of the fear and sadness I felt afterwards have been brought up again as I watch, read, and hear the stories of the students in Parkland, FL. This time though, I'm no longer the confused and frightened 13 year old student, but am a teacher and a mother who is entirely fed up with our incompetent legislators for not regulating guns, banning assault rifles, and providing much needed mental health services to vulnerable citizens. This administration, this Congress, and state legislators in FL and around the nation need to wake up and do some serious self-reflection on their priorities. I cannot stand idly by and watch as other people's lives, my life, my daughters' lives, and our lives are gambled with by career politicians who represent the N.R.A. From anger to activism, meet me on the streets of NYC on March 24th. Solidarity for my friends who are doing similar marches in Colorado and elsewhere.
Betsy DeVos is now our education secretary. It is hard to believe that someone who has no ties to public education, besides being a big donor to the charter school movement, is now the head of the United States' 98,454 public schools. It's a sad day for America's public school system because the Republican Senators who voted for her, have effectively delegitmized our profession yet again. They don't believe educators should be led by experts in our own field. They don't believe we have a body of knowledge that requires you to know how to teach in order to lead. They don't believe teachers are professionals. It is akin to me becoming an oncologist because, hey, I donate to Cycle for Survival, a nation-wide fundraising event for rare cancers, and I'm a loud voice for treatments for cancer, so I can be an oncologist. It is a danger and an insult to oncology if I, inexperienced in medicine, were to treat patients just as it is a danger and an insult to education that Betsy DeVos, inexperienced in the issues of public education, is now our education secretary. Unfortunately, in the latter case, it actually happened.
Where was the governing body that was supposed to prevent this? Two senators, Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), were the only Republicans who came to their conscience--albeit because of pressure from their constituents--and voted against their party line. If anything, DeVos' confirmation galvanizes me to urge my fellow educators, many of whom have children in the public education system, to run for office and for local school boards. We need your expertise in knowing how high performing schools are teaching students and supporting teachers. We need your guidance on how to protect the rights of special needs students and English Language Learners to ensure they have access to differentiated instruction. More importantly, we need you to be an advocate for all kinds of children--poor kids, homeless kids, gifted and talented kids, illegal immigrants, students with special needs, students who identify as LGBTQ, and many more. The policy decisions that affect our children can only be led effectively by people who know what happens inside a well performing classroom, school, and community.
Educators need to have a voice in how our education is run in our country. We should not just be consultants; we need to be at the forefront of making policy decisions.
I've had a lot on my mind lately and while I have not been consistently writing on my blog because of the demands of my classroom, I think it is time to reflect on the travesty of having elected Trump to be the president of the United States and his nomination of Betsy DeVos as our next Secretary of Education.
I think of my classroom as a microcosm of the larger melting pot of the United States. Like in many classrooms across the United States, teachers are teaching their students about kindness and how to have a community that is welcoming, dignified, and respectful to all members. Teachers' jobs are already very demanding with budget cuts and trying to meet the needs of all learners in our classrooms. Throw on top of this a president who mocked a reporter with a disability, objectifies women with sexist and demeaning language, puts a ban on Syrian refugees from entering the United States, and sends a message to the world that this land of immigrants is no longer welcoming immigrants based on your national origin (which is illegal by the way). Indeed, navigating the the waters of kindness and inclusion have just gotten a lot harder because the water has just gotten murkier.
We are also at a point where the United States Senate may or may not confirm Betsy DeVos as the Secretary of Education. For those of you who are unfamiliar with DeVos, I suggest reading this article from Slate and this article from The Atlantic. Of my main objections to DeVos, which there are many, I am particularly concerned about her initial evasion of the question by Senator Tim Kaine on "equal accountability" for schools that receive public funds and then her disagreement with him that she does not believe all schools should be held equally accountable. This is very disturbing and should bring up red flags because we're basically asking for a repeat of the lack of oversight with the Detroit public charter schools, but on a national level. When she did not know the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which gives students with special needs access to the classroom as their non-disabled peers, and didn't know about using test scores to measure student growth or student proficiency, I became very concerned. The student test scores are currently being used to assess teachers and schools and if she is to be the next Secretary of Education, she should, at the very least, be informed.
These are troubling times indeed. She is woefully unqualified for the job and I hope that the Senate does not confirm her. Now is the time to contact your senator.
This summer I'm teaching computer science (coding) to second and third graders at the NYC Department of Education Summer STEM School. It's a free program, with entrance by lottery. The kids have been learning engineering concepts, robotics, coding, and mind-body wellness in gym.
I've been amazed at what my colleagues are teaching the students. As our director wrote us, the programs we are using in elementary school include:
Tynker is also available through FAMIS for schools to purchase. I've taught courses from Code.org and done the hour of code through Code.org. Both Tynker and Code.org have very well-thought out programs. The designers made the interfaces easy to use and the students really understand the concepts I'm teaching them.
One of my students coded in Tynker an animated joke, one of the lessons in Tynker, and the kids were amazed at how they could write the program for each of the actors. To see that type of wonderment, enthusiasm, and motivation to code, especially in young girls and my minority students, is fulfilling and motivating for me as a teacher. I'm looking forward to sharing my students' coding projects with their families at the end of the summer!
Here is an excellent article, written by Richard D. Kahlenberg in the American Educator magazine by the AFT (America Federation of Teachers) Volume 39, no. 2| Summer 2015. In it, Kahlenberg details the history of unions and why due process is so important to maintaining high quality teaching that is inclusive and free of politics. Indeed, tenure is a fundamental aspect of "workplace democracy" (Kahlenberg, pp. 8). This is an excellent read for those of you that want to understand the reason why teachers should be unionized and have tenure.
PDF of article available for download here.
Kahlenberg, R. (2015). Tenure: how due process protects teachers and students. American Educator, 39 (2), 4-11.
People who support this idea:
People who support this idea:
NYC, do not be a bully to your teachers and don't treat them like commodities.
With the onset of the release of public school teacher's ratings, I read this very good article on why one teacher is abstaining from participating in justifying the scores the NYTimes is planning to publish.
A few notable quotes from the post:
"No. I don’t want to justify or get validation for whatever the reports say about me. With this huge body of evidence and the growing backlash against such reports, why would any respectable publication diminish their own journalistic credibility by publishing them and systematizing them in their website? I have serious doubts about the validity of doing this insofar as asking teachers to contribute to the further deprofessionalization of teaching.
The logic is simple: if we give in to telling the New York Times about our data reports, then we’re actually responding, and by responding in the manner they’ve chosen, they’re actually telling us to defend ourselves in the court of public opinion.
I get that it’s the New York Times. I also get that the UFT chapter leader Michael Mulgrew encouraged us to give in to the process, probably as a form of protest. I respect that this is an opportunity to talk to the establishments that need our assistance in this matter. However, I just don’t think this is the right way to go about it.
All these intangibles I can’t quite calculate, and all these numbers I’d rather not validate.
Jose, who just won't accept it..."
I recently went to one of the screenings for a film featured in the New York Disability Film Festival. The film I saw was a selection of various award winning short films from around the globe. It's titled Reel Encounters 2012.
I chose to see Reel Encounters 2012 because I wanted to see what type of variety was being featured in the disability film festival. This was the first time I went to any film festival and the film proved to be provocative, intriguing, meaningful, and extremely real. The films brought to life what it means to live with a disability and what experiences people of any age endure.
I especially liked the focus on the angst adolescents feel during that period in their lives and how that can be exacerbated by a disability. The disabilities featured in Reel Encounters 2012 included blindness, cerebral palsy, and the competition and affection between a child in a wheelchair and his non-disabled peer.
I highly suggest seeing this film or the other acclaimed films in this film festival.
This is an excellent article on the "schools we [should] envy" in Finland. I encourage anyone who wants to become more interested in education reform in the United States to read this article:
"Even the corporate reformers admire Finland, apparently not recognizing that Finland disproves every part of their agenda."
I graduated from Teachers College, Columbia University (TC) last December and have a few reflections on teacher education and training in general. In the United States, there are many ways to obtain certification to become a teacher, via Teach for America (TFA), an online certification process, non-profits like The New Teacher Project (TNTP), and other organizations that supposedly prepare teachers for the state certification exams. I have friends that are in TFA, who complain that there are not enough support structures. While I commend my TFA friends for wanting to do good and to try teaching, if they are serious about entering this profession, I suggest they participate in an apprenticeship with expert, mentor teachers in a MA-level program. To me collaborating with peers in a reflective, democratic, and critical education is more conducive to shaping stellar teachers than these quick and easy certification programs. A MA-level program that supports its student teachers, helps shape their curriculum developing skills, and integrates their thinking on a range of racial, social, and economic problems facing a heterogeneous student body is what I call a stellar education in education.
Any profession has extraordinary, excellent, good, mediocre, and still developing workers. In education, you will find the same, though I have no idea where in the spectrum of teachers the mode lies. Is the mode, or most frequent reoccurring data set of teachers, in extraordinary teachers or mediocre teachers? We do not know because we do not yet have a universally agreed upon metric for evaluating teachers that is accurate. Since this is the case, let's instead look at what candidates consider when they want to enter the field. What are the assumptions underlying their choices?
Money, time, and quality. Those are the three undeniable factors that go into consideration when choosing any graduate level program and education program. How much money will it cost a person to get their education, how much time will it cost, and how qualified is the program? Those who choose the quick and easy route, I argue, may operate off the assumption that "I don't need to spend my quality time to get a quality education because the knowledge required of me does not really require a MA degree. This route is cheaper and I can probably learn the material very easily because anyone can teach." This route may also just be convenient for the individual at this time. If anyone can teach and the knowledge is so easy, then it makes sense to spend the least amount of money and just get the necessary certifications and licenses to become a teacher. Snap, snap, it's quick and easy. Hence, the existence of such quick and easy programs that allow people to become a teacher with minimal credentials. When people wonder why we have such variety and variance in teacher quality, it is because there is such variety and variance amongst the quality of programs out there that allow individuals to become teachers with only minimal credentials. Despite the variance in programs for teachers, the assumption that anyone can teach is more problematic. Granted, people do teaching all the time (college courses, video presentations, tutoring, etc.), but K-12 public education teaching with a diverse student body 5x a day is an altogether different issue that I will be addressing.
TEACHING IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS IN THE UNITED STATES
Teaching is not right for everyone. Not everyone has great rapport with students or knows the development of children and youth. Not everyone knows what is appropriate for a particular age group either. Not everyone knows how to manage a class. Not everyone knows how to teach, being receptive to the needs of the student and how the teacher is presenting the material.
Teaching is challenging, exhausting, and incredibly rewarding. It is rewarding because of how challenging it is. When a student learns, you reap much satisfaction from the fruits of your labor. The challenge of helping a student acquire on his or her own a particular concept, to get excited by the acquisition, and to want to acquire more research/information is no easy task. It involves stamina, to keep trying after failing; it involves creativity, to keep thinking of innovative ways to solve a problem; and it involves excellent judgment by the teacher to know when to intervene and guide, and when to stay hands-off. If teaching and learning were so easy, it would not be as rewarding or meaningful as it really is. Nothing worthwhile ever comes easy.
In other professions, one would want to try to go to the best school possible within their means such that thy could obtain a top-rate education. However, I find time and time again potential teachers questioning whether they should go to the best school within their means, or go to the quickest, cheapest, and easiest route to get teacher certification. I was once asked, "Why do you want to spend so much to go to TC just to become an elementary school teacher?" Again, the assumption that the content and knowledge required to be a K-12 teacher is not worthy of an Ivy-League degree. While the cost of TC is certainly very steep and could be cheaper (or have incentives that appreciate how little teachers earn), there is a prevailing belief in society that teaching is easy, the knowledge is easy, and anyone can do it. Ask them what knowledge is actually required to be a good teacher and I bet they would balk and not give you a straight answer.
A teacher in heterogeneously mixed public schools teaches not just content, but also how to sustain creativity and curiosity to learn. Teachers spark the fire of curiosity in students that help them sustain their curiosity in science, math, social studies, art, music, etc. Teachers facilitate opportunities for individuals to develop their leadership and collaboration skills. Teachers are in it because they are devoted to their students. Teaching in the United States is not easy because the public school classroom is a great equalizer that brings people of many different cultures, races, and classes together. There is bound to be conflict and one hallmark of the many hallmarks of a great teacher is the ability to have conflict resolution skills that promote critical, insightful, and safe discussions about hard issues. Teaching is not easy.
DIFFERENT LIFE PATHS
I understand that individuals come from many different backgrounds and life paths before deciding to become a teacher, but those who spend a decent amount of time to learn how to teach material, who took the time to investigate whether they were knowledgeable in their field and really sought to be the best they can be should be commended. Managing 25-30 children every single day, not being tardy or absent, is already a feat in and of itself. Teaching and subsequently shaping youth to be the next critical thinkers and innovators of our time is a whole different story altogether. What goes into a teacher education program can help support you throughout your career. The quick and easy route may not always be the best route. I believe that those who want to become great teachers will invest the time and energy to become just that.
ON EDUCATION BLOG
Advice To First Year Teachers
Professional Development- Teachers
Teachers College Columbia University