Infantilizing Teachers

It seems “professional development” at Chicago Public Schools aims to strip teachers of any shred of professionalism, dignity, or respect they have left. It hurts my heart to watch this.

Teaching is a professional pursuit and needs to be treated as such. None of us would expect a physician or an attorney to sit through something like this, so why is it acceptable to treat teachers this way? Teachers must reclaim the respect our profession deserves.

Professional development should be led by teachers themselves – real, master teachers who are in the trenches, modeling and sharing lessons and strategies that have been effective in their own classrooms.

Now, you might be thinking that this clip is out of context. Perhaps this admin was modeling a strategy that teachers should use for students.

But even if that is the case here, having students (of any age) mindlessly repeat everything a teacher says, word for word in unison, is not a teaching strategy that creates understanding or independent thinking. It’s not an effective teaching strategy that fosters real learning or real thinking. It is an effective strategy in teaching someone to blindly memorize and regurgitate information. It’s also an effective strategy brainwashing.

What Students Remember Most About Teachers

I wish I could go back and tell my 22 year-old self this.

Pursuit of a Joyful Life

Dear Young Teacher Down the Hall,

I saw you as you rushed past me in the lunch room. Urgent. In a hurry to catch a bite before the final bell would ring calling all the students back inside. I noticed that your eyes showed tension. There were faint creases in your forehead. And I asked you how your day was going and you sighed.

“Oh, fine,” you replied.

But I knew it was anything but fine. I noticed that the stress was getting to you. I could tell that the pressure was rising. And I looked at you and made an intentional decision to stop you right then and there. To ask you how things were really going. Was it that I saw in you a glimpse of myself that made me take the moment?

You told me how busy you were, how much there was to do

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Deny Them the Data: Naison on Fighting the Common Core

Fordham University professor and co-founder of The Badass Teacher’s Association, Dr. Mark Naison, speaks out against the Common Core in this February 4th talk in Cortlandt Manor, New York.

Naison discusses the Common Core “stealth attack” on teachers, students, and communities, in which Common Core has been handed down by the collusion of government and corporate powers without the consent or even the input of the ordinary citizens it affects – students, teachers, parents, and their communities.

Naison notes that when the teachers, parents, and students who are impacted by the Common Core have spoken out or questioned the new national standards, they’ve been treated with contempt and ignored by the corporate and government powers that be, who have never taught in public schools and whose children do not attend public schools.

Corporate entities stand to make a nice profit from this particular brand of education “reform,” as do the political players that are funded by these corporations.

How can educators, parents and teachers reject such blatant corporate and government profiteering on the backs of our public school children and their teachers? How can we defend democracy and make it known that our voices matter in decisions about our schools that our children attend in our communities?

“The one thing this whole system thrives on is data. They need the data to make this thing work. Deny them the data, they cannot have a national curriculum. They cannot have an educational dictatorship,” explained Naison.

Read more about the Opt-Out movement and how to opt out your children from excessive corporate standardized testing here. View Dr. Naison’s talk below.

The Poverty Trap: Slack, Not Grit, Creates Achievement

The high-stakes testing/accountability movement punishes children for their poverty. “Slack, not grit, creates achievement.” This is the best way I’ve seen it explained. Thanks for this, Paul Thomas.

dr. p.l. (paul) thomas

Poverty is a trap children are born into:

No child has ever chosen to be poor. Children have never caused the poverty that defines their lives, and their education.

Yet, the adults with political, corporate, and educational wealth and power—who demand “no excuses” from schools and teachers serving the new majority of impoverished children in public schools and “grit” from children living in poverty and attending increasingly segregated schools that offer primarily test-prep—embrace a very odd stance themselves: Their “no excuses” and “grit” mottos stand on an excuse that there is nothing they can do about out-of-school factors such as poverty.

Living in poverty is a bear trap (and it is), and education is a race, a 100-meter dash.

“No excuses” advocates calling for grit, then, are facing this fact:

Children in poverty line up at the starting line with a bear trap on one leg; middle-class children start at…

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Is Current Education Policy Destroying Teacher Morale?

Valerie Strauss’s article today in The Washington Post comes as a criticism to the Center for American Progress’s recent report that teachers aren’t actually all that dissatisfied with (or demoralized by) their jobs.

In her article, Strauss discusses the importance of teacher autonomy and morale as key elements in job satisfaction, citing decades of research by sociologist Richard Ingersoll of the University of Pennsylvania. Strauss notes:

 “Ingersoll has produced a powerful portfolio of studies on teacher autonomy and satisfaction and their relationship to teacher attrition from the classroom. Over the years, Ingersoll has shown that:

  • Teaching has far higher annual turnover than many higher-status occupations—e.g., lawyers, engineers, architects, professors, and pharmacists
  • High-poverty, high-minority, and urban public schools have the highest rates of teachers both moving between schools and leaving teaching—and the majority of those who leave report they do so because of dissatisfaction with their jobs; and
  • Schools that allow teachers greater professional autonomy in their classrooms, and that provide better opportunities for teachers to learn and grow as professionals experience significantly less teacher turnover—especially in math and science.

Teacher autonomy is an important issue—and so is morale”

So what do we think? Are teachers feeling demoralized or empowered right now? How are you (if you’re a teacher) or your teacher friends feeling about Race to the Top, the “Accountability Movement,” and/or Common Core?

Michelle Rhee Backs Out of Debate With Diane Ravitch

Former Washington DC Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee was set to debate leading education historian Diane Ravitch at Lehigh University on February 6th, 2014. Rhee has since cancelled the debate with Ravitch order to speak in St. Paul at the Minnesota Education Summit.

Ravitch and Rhee

Rhee, infamous for her short-lived tenure as DC Schools Chancellor which included the firing of over 200 DC educators (including the firing a DC principal on national television), the closure of 23 schools, a high-stakes standardized test cheating scandal, a plummeting approval rating from teachers and DC parents alike, and resignation from her post in 2010 after just three and a half years, is a controversial figure who is generally despised or revered in the education world.

Founder of Students First and The New Teacher Project, Teach for America alumnus, and self described education “radical,” Rhee favors an accountability model of education reform in which inadequate student results on standardized tests lead to punitive measures such as teacher and principal firings and school closings. Rhee also supports monetarily rewarding teachers and schools whose students make significant progress on standardized tests. Rhee is also a fan of charter schools as an antidote to what she deems “failing” public schools.

Ravitch, a career education historian, researcher, policy analyst, author, and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, is often often referred to as the “Anti-Rhee.” Ravitch argues that business-model competition that may work in corporate America is inappropriate in the education world. Pitting schools against each other to compete for funding, and pitting teachers against one another for financial rewards destroys collaboration among teachers and creates a high-stakes environment that can lead to cheating scandals (such as the one Rhee faced in DC). Further, labeling schools as “failures” and closing them is damaging to students and their communities.

Ravitch has stated that, “The best predictor of low academic performance is poverty—not bad teachers,” and believes that giving schools and parents the power to broaden their curriculums and providing teachers and schools with more support, resources and funding in our neediest areas is a way to uplift low income students, rather than through punitive means that create further stress and instability in their lives.

I was very much looking forward to watching these two incredibly passionate women go head to head in an education policy debate this week. Rhee did request that they debate in teams of two rather than one on one, and then later requested teams of three, to which Ravitch complied.

If Rhee is so incredibly steadfast in her beliefs about education reform that she can comfortably fire 241 people and end the career of a principal on national television: Why won’t she debate Ravitch one-on-one? Or even three-on-three?  What is she afraid of?

The only time I’ve seen these two in the same room was in a 2011 panel discussion, shown in the video below.