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.
Near the end of December 2011 when I graduate from TC, I plan to post and share:
- Reflections on my growth as a teacher in a Teacher Education program
- Reflections on the field of education, especially in the area of New York City
- Reflections on the national debate on education and current arguments. I want to present my viewpoint as a teacher.
I have grown so much as an educator since I taught on my Fulbright Fellowship in Taiwan in 2008-2009. I have learned a lot and am excited to share my thoughts and criticisms of what I have learned.
Thank you for your patience and I look forward to your comments in the future!
My long long overdue update from my trip to China. I went to China in August 2010 intent on finding a special needs school or any public school to visit. I was, and am, still curious about the education system in China. However, there is not a lot of research being done on special education pedagogy or policy, a specific interest of mine. On my trip, I really wanted to talk with some local administrators, teachers, and parents, to see what their experience has been like in China. It was not until the last day of my time in China, did I find a school nearby still in session. I was lucky enough to organize a trip to the school Beijing Xing Guang Road Development Center with my friend Xiao Ai.
THE ATTITUDE IN CHINA
From speaking with the parents and teachers, one thing is for certain, China's emphasis on special education is not nearly as strong as in the United States, for various reasons. Disabilities in general (learning, behavioral, emotional, physical, etc.) is very much looked down upon in China. There is a very strong social stigma against people with disabilities. China is a society where guanxi, or who you know and who is in your network, is one of the only ways to climb up the social ladder and get out of your impoverished or difficult living conditions. The rung you step on, isn't made from your hard work, it's the shoulder of another person that you are stepping on. Understanding that Chinese society is structured around relationships of people using each other to gain leverage or benefits in society, whether it means getting a job in government or an inside acceptance to Beijing University, helps us understand why it is that people with disabilities are shunned and literally hidden from view in society. It is a prevalent idea in China that people with disabilities have no immediate benefit to society; it is argued they harbor no political connections to let people in on certain jobs or positions and thus, people see no use in getting to know them or understanding/improving their conditions.
Chinese people with disabilities from an early age have grown up with this idea that they do not belong in society, that they should stay hidden if guests come over. This marginalized reality, I'm sure, is not just isolated to China. Depending on how society is structured and the openness of that society to talk about disabilities regardless of stigma can affect policy and how families get services.
In China, there has been some improvements in helping finance the education of kids with special needs, according to the administrator I spoke to at Beijing Xing Guang Road Center. There is not enough funding, however, to support para professionals, social workers, physical therapists, and other various support staff at special ed schools. Much of the 1-1 individual work that students benefit from in the United States from social workers and physical therapists, is work that teachers have to do in the classroom in China. The teaching responsibilities are much greater in China because there is less staff to help.
These classrooms, though, are not integrated with the mainstream population of kids. In other words, they have no inclusive classrooms where both special ed and general ed students work side by side. Taiwan and the United States have integrated classrooms, but it is only slowly getting started in China with a special needs class visiting a general ed classroom once per week, at best. I asked how the general ed students reacted to new students coming into their classroom and the administrator said that although their aim was amicability, there were some hostile reactions by both groups of students. As you can imagine, many students did not know how to interact with students who were very different from them. I hope that the teachers held discussions with the students about different and inclusion that would have eased misunderstanding, but it's very hard to operate in a society that still holds a strong stigma against people with disabilities.
Eventually, after touring the school and having long discussions with teachers and administrators, I gave a presentation on teaching methods that I have observed as a teaching assistant in a Kindergarten CTT (Cooperative Team Teaching) class in New York City.
The teachers were particularly fascinated by the "body breaks" and "use of pictures" as strategic tools for helping students. Body breaks, which I will also include in the "Teaching Special Education" part of my website, are essentially 2-10 minute breaks that students can take out in the hall where they do three physical activities like pushing a heavy object up and down the hall, a hand stand, crab walks, or pushing against the wall for ten seconds. These "body breaks" let students release the extra energy they may have. Body breaks interrupt the classroom and are seen as ways to help a student's body calm down.
Pictures are used in special ed to help the student identify with either themselves or friends doing the activity. By visually seeing themselves and others doing the task, they are more able to identify with doing it. There are many activities that can be constructed around this idea, which I will write about more later.
The presentation was informative to the parents and although I do not consider myself an expert on special education, an ever changing dynamic field, I told them what my experiences have been with special ed and teaching techniques I have seen work.
The teaching at Beijing Xing Guang Road School is primarily 1-on-1. The school is primarily geared for the younger grades, Pre-K to first grade. As such, parents will spend either the morning or whole day with their child, teaching them how to write and how to behave. Most classrooms have a 9:1 student to teacher ratio with parents allowed in the classroom. Many of their students need support (hence the presence of parents in the classroom), especially since there are no extra support staff. One area the school would like to improve upon is professional assessment of students, or writing Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for their students. The next time I return to this school, I will bring sample templates of IEP reports for them.
The families, teachers, and administrators were very curious and it was interesting to see what their opinions were on special ed. Despite their being an even bigger challenge and hurdle to overcome in a country that does not support financially or philosophically people with disabilities, everyone at that school was hopeful. Hopeful that things would change and hopeful that a better future could be built that improves the education of their students, an under-served and alienated group.
Here are a few films on the system of education in the United States, especially in New York, to watch or put on your film queue.
Waiting for Superman and The Lottery.
After watching these films, read some of these counter-narratives to get an overall perspective on the education debate (taken from my program blog at TC):
“Waiting for Superman” site and trailer http://www.tc.columbia.edu/news/article.htm?id=7655
TC article on the screening of “Waiting for Superman”
Rethinking School’s “NOT Waiting for Superman” movement
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/08/opinion/l08educ.html?_r=2&part Series of letters to the editors entitled "Who Will Rescue America’s Schools?" http://neatoday.org/2010/10/05/waiting-for-superman-resources/
National Education Association’s collection of resources http://nycpublicschoolparents.blogspot.com/2010/10/were-still-waiting-for-superman-here-in.html
“We’re still waiting for Superman here in Charterland” (A charter school parent speaks out)
DemocracyNow! analysis of “Waiting for Superman”
Coalition for Public Education/Coalición por la Educación Pública response to the film
The Nation article on the film
Trailer for “A Community Concern” a documentary on the power of community organizing to improve public education. Offers one counter-narrative to “Waiting for Superman”
Trailer for “The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman” offers another counter-narrative to “Waiting for Superman”
I am currently in Beijing and just had an interesting conversation with a local family regarding the education system and parenting practices in China.
The family I spoke to has one daughter who is currently 3 years and 8 months old. They told me that as parents in China, they are pulled in two different directions regarding what is best for the education of their child. In one direction, they are pressured by the test- oriented society to place their child in cram schools, or "buxiban." These cram schools, or intense after-school programs where students study one subject intensely for at least three hours, give students the opportunity to get ahead in society by learning the material (arithmetic, algebra, biology, English, etc.) earlier. Unfortunately, so much time spent studying hardly gives the child time to explore, create, and play on their own accord--skills crucial, I argue, in developing their motor control and social skills. Playing and being able to have good hand-eye coordination is not only important in learning how to throw a ball, but also in being able to hold a pencil comfortably to write, using scissors to cut, coloring pencils and markers to draw, etc. Being able to use and manipulate these tools require control of the mechanics of your body that are developed in child's play where they are uninhibited and free to explore their abilities and push their limitations. Eliminating play from a youngster's childhood not only severely limits their potential to grow and understand their body, but it also stunts their growth as social beings who need to learn how to negotiate, play fair, and peacefully resolve conflicts. Additionally, isolated in a room to study hour after hour, day after day, is not conducive to a happy childhood.
The family I spoke to was well aware of these issues. On the one hand, they wanted to preserve the happiness of their child and allow her to naturally develop an understanding of her abilities. However, in an ever mounting competition amongst Chinese families to let their child be number one and improve the family's social standing, it is hard for a family to go against the norm and not give their child the opportunity to "get ahead" by going to the cram schools. The pressure to succeed is so great that parents are willing to sacrifice the happiness of their child just so they can get into a top elementary school.
The top elementary schools in China are feeder schools into top middle and high schools. It is quite sad that a student who has a lower entrance exam score at eleven years old cannot go to a good school down the road. Their life trajectory is mapped out just by how well they score on their exams. Furthermore, without money you cannot have access to the cram schools, which cost a tremendous amount and without "guanxi" or connections, it is very hard to get ahead politically and socially. To climb the social ladder is to step upon the shoulder's of another.The pool, then, to obtaining a good education is already sharply downsized.
As parents who have their daughter's happiness in mind, they tried to give her time to do what she wishes, to explore her own interests to maintain an inner drive and motivation. But in the end, they had to succumb to the pressures of society and family to give their child opportunities to succeed.
The family said that China is facing a shortage of school facilities to house their already bulging population. Attempts to control the population like with the One-Child Policy have only caused more of these families to spoil the one child. As the only child in the family, they also face overwhelming pressure to do well. Such pressure undoubtedly is not good on the psychology of the child.
So, as a working parent, what do you do? You know the benefits of a happy childhood, but the entire society is participating in a race to get ahead . Do you pay additional fees to give your child the rote memorization and practices he/she needs to quickly learn the material before others? Or, do you let them play, daydream, imagine, create, and come to their own independent thinking free of at least some pressure from you and wider society?
What would you choose?
ON EDUCATION BLOG
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