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Teachers Stating What Matters in Their Classrooms

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Good morning! We may be snowbound here in Chicago, but I’ve uploaded to YouTube two new videos with teachers stating what matters in their classrooms. You can view one here and the other here.

The pictures were taken in a session scheduled for the purpose at last November’s NCTE convention. Sonia Nieto spoke to inspire us, and then people wrote their statements on placards, used their phones to snap pics of one another holding their placards, and emailed the pics to me. I then tried my hand at editing them into a video. There are free editing programs that enable one to do this pretty easily (it’s time-consuming though, I’ll admit).

With so many voices, mandates, and tests undermining public schools, this seemed like one way for educators to speak up and tell about what’s right in their work. So what if teachers everywhere did this and flooded YouTube with their stories? You should try it!

Four Seattle Area Teachers Decided to Truly Speak Up

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WHOA! Four Seattle area teachers decided to truly speak up, testifying to their school board about the agonies that are being visited on their students and themselves by the Smarter Balanced test that is pointlessly discouraging everyone, and declaring that they’ll refuse to give the tests in the future. As you’ll see from their account and their statements, they organized this very carefully and smartly, with a large number of fellow teachers in attendance. Several others came forward to speak as well, including a candidate for the state legislature.

Since time was limited to 3 minutes per speaker, the teachers planned their parts to go in sequence. Their statements were measured but passionate, as you can see by reading them: Becca Richie’s statement, Judy Dotson’s statement, Julianna Dauble’s statement, Susan duFresne’s statement. Several quoted Martin Luther King: “Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.”

And Susan DuFresne explained in her account that both they and the other teachers present experienced a real sense of empowerment and professional pride.

It appears that there are indeed caring teachers who simply cannot remain silent when they see children being psychologically and developmentally hurt, whether their jobs are threatened or not. Let this be a lesson for the rest of us.

Yet Another Fine Teacher Portrait by Peter Smagorinsky

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Please enjoy reading yet another fine teacher portrait by Peter Smagorinsky and published on Maureen Downey’s “Get Schooled” blog for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Smagorinsky emphasizes first grade teacher Becky Cross’s use of laughter in the classroom, in contrast to the Dickensian sooty-factory approach to education that has become current. In light of her leadership and mentorship of other teachers, Ms Cross was asked to become an assistant principal, but she turned down the offer in favor of staying in the classroom.

People across the country, you should all be writing such portraits of outstanding teachers and submitting them to newspapers everywhere. That’s one way we can counter the negative stereotype of public education today.

Multiplying Voices of Teachers and Others Against New Tests

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There are multiplying voices of teachers and others against new tests. So which do you want first, the good news or the bad? OK, how about sandwiching the bad between the more positive stories.

Let’s start with Michelle Gunderson’s lovely piece on teaching first graders to be thoughtful young people — showing what school should really be about. Featured in Anthony Cody’s blog, “Living in Dialogue,” Gunderson describes how she provides sensitive guidance for two boys to apologize to a girl they insulted, while the girl asks how to respond, in “I don’t know what to say next. Please help?”

Then there’s the in-depth inquiry by Meredith Broussard in the Atlantic on how the total lack of resources in Philadelphia schools insures that teachers won’t have the Pearson-published textbooks needed for kids to succeed on the badly designed Pearson-created PARCC tests — an abomination inside an abomination when you think about it. If you wondered how poor and minority students are being ripped off by the powers that be, this will help you understand.

Finally, here’s a great collection of recent articles, blogs, essays, and presentations by teachers, students, news reporters, and others on the growing backlash against standardized testing, and the many ways it is undermining schools, teachers, and children’s education. Nancy Patterson provides the listing in the 3rd post, after one by Kimberly Feldman and a reply by me, in a discussion about teacher voice on the NCTE Education Policy Forum. Of course the testing problems described are awful, but it’s very hopeful to hear the growing voices denouncing them.

Essays by 14 Area Teachers Published in the Chi Sun Times So Far

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As 2014 draws to a close, it’s great to have seen essays by 14 area teachers published in the Chi Sun Times so far. They’ve appeared as op-ed pieces, mainly in the Web edition — which is excellent because they stay there to be read by more and more people.

We can’t be sure how large the audience is, but at least Chicago area teachers are getting their voices heard and informing the public of the valuable contribution they make to our children’s growth. Not all of the writers agree on all education policy issues. But only when a wide range of parents and other citizens come to appreciate the complex challenges that good teachers take on, will they be prepared to support public schools with more resources and better policies.

Yes, it’s important to speak out and point out the ways that arbitrary standards and stultifying standardized tests undermine good schools and hurt the very minority children they claim to be helping, as some outstanding spokespersons are doing. But the other essential piece of the argument is to make clear just how valuable public education is and what elements within it need to be promoted.

So if you haven’t already read these teacher essays, please enjoy them now, share them with colleagues and friends, and help get them out to more of the public:

Adam Heenan — Common Core Threatens Good Teaching

Mia Valdez Quellhorst — Teaching Kindergarten, We Work to Find Joy

Jean Klasovsky — How to Make Chicago Schools Safe

Jessica Staff — Choosing Between Testing and True Learning

John Paulett — Teaching is an Art, Not a Science

Tammy Haggerty Jones — Undermining Kindergarten One Test at a Time

Rana Khan — Overcoming Odds in Poor Schools Requires a Personal Touch

Kristi Brooks — Let CPS Counselors Do Their Jobs

Phillip Cantor — When Kids Connect They Learn More

Alexa Lee-Hassan — Teaching Reading — and Tolerance — with Comic Books

Laurie Hendrickson — Making Magic in the Classroom

Christopher Bronke — Embracing the Good in Common Core

Hen Kennedy — Standardized Testing Stops Learning

Lillian Degand — Teacher Home Visits Transform Learning

Happy and meaningful holidays to all!

–Steve Zemelman

Something had to give

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So much has been happening for me this fall that I had to take a break from posting on this site. Something had to give. But it’s all part of the work. Here are some updates:

  • Teacher essays continue bi-weekly or so in the Chicago Sun Times to let the public know how much great teaching and learning take place in our schools. Enjoy pieces by Laurie Hendrickson, Hen Kennedy.
  • At the NCTE convention just past, the session on teacher voice that I organized featured talks by multi-cultural education expert Sonia Nieto and teachers Adam Heenan and Noelle Jones. Then at discussion tables, participants wrote statements about their teaching on placards and snapped photos of each other holding them. These will be compiled into 2 videos to go up on YouTube. I’ll post the link when these are ready.
  • I’m working pretty intensely on my book, From Inquiry to Action, on action civics. It should come out about a year from now. It focuses on projects in which students identify an issue in their school or community, research it, and carry out actions to help address it. These projects affect students’ learning and attitudes tremendously. If you have or know of classroom stories illustrating such activity, please contact me at stv.zemelman@comcast.net .

Stay tuned!

Hearing More Teacher Voices and More About Teacher Voices

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Today let’s celebrate that we’re hearing more teacher voices and more about teacher voices. Read Alexa W.C. Lee-Hassan’s fine piece on using comic books to teach reading and tolerance. And then friend Kevin Hodgson’s essay, “Advocating Advocacy: Raising Voices to Make Change” in the journal Knowledge Quest, in which he highlights the necessity for teachers to speak out publicly on the extremely controversial education policies challenging their work and children’s meaningful learning.

Hodgson highlights Meenoo Rami and me as advocates for advocacy, and quotes a teacher who wrote a piece for his local newspaper. But perhaps like so many teachers, he’s still a bit shy about his own role, not mentioning that it was he who began the partnership with his local newspaper to publish those monthly teacher op-ed pieces. It’s he who inspired me.

A note on the sparseness of my recent blog posts: I’m working on a new book on teaching and learning with action civics — through which students research issues in their school or community and take action to address them. I want to help teachers to guide students in using their voices to influence public policy and become active, responsible citizens now — not just in the future. This leaves less time for blogging. But the purpose is really the same as teachersspeakup.com . So please don’t abandon this blog when you haven’t heard from me in a while!

Fall Action for Teacher Voice in Chicago

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9/11/14  I’m extremely pleased to be contributing to fall action for teacher voice in Chicago — the Chicago Sun Times  teacher essay series that I have organized, will continue through the fall, under the series title, “Fall Semester.” To see all the essays written throughout the summer, simply go to the Sun-Times website, and search “Summer School Teacher Essays”.

Meanwhile, life grew pretty busy and I’m only now alerting people to the latest essays:

  • Let CPS Counselors Do Their Jobs” by Kristy Brooks, published 8/30 — an expose of how the “case manager” role given most elementary school counselors takes up all their time so they can do any counseling with kids
  • When Kids Connect They Learn More” by Phillip Cantor, published 9/10 — explaining how all the faculty at his high school collaborate to learn about and address students’ social-emotional challenges

Now, people: I need more essays! If you are a teacher in Chicago or the Chicago metro area, we want to hear your voice. Essays are maximum 600 words, should provide a vivid picture of some important aspect of teaching and learning and present a strong argument for why and how it should be supported.

Here are the guidelines for writing an essay.

Contact me at stv.zemelman@comcast.net for more detailed information.

The Flood of Testing in Kindergarten

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Just out today in the Chicago Sun-Times teacher essay series is Tammy Haggerty Jones’ well-documented piece on the flood of testing in kindergarten. Is this really how Americans believe very young children should be schooled? Is this how we help them grow and achieve new abilities at home? And does the public really understand how the tsunami of tests is washing over the young people they so love? And will teachers everywhere just go along with this?

Who does not doubt that this is destructive and pointless? I want to know that more and more teachers, parents, and policy-makers are speaking out and acting to change the direction of “reform” in this country. We can’t just moan only to our colleagues. I’ll keep doing what I can to help get our voices heard by a wider audience.

True Teacher Growth vs a Mechanized Model

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In this week’s Chicago Sun-Times teacher essay, John Paulett explains the difference between true teacher growth vs a mechanized model that corporate-minded reformers advocate. This Golden Apple winning teacher and teaching coach describes his realization that classroom “tricks” and strategies work only when they are integrated with the personal style of the teacher. We’d guess that this applies to students as well.

This explanation is especially relevant at the moment, as news columnists and commentators are suddenly jumping on the bandwagon of labeling teacher education programs and teachers in general as inadequate. They’re spurred by the attention to Elizabeth Green’s writings in the New York Times. And while she may have some excellent ideas, her book title, Building a Better Teacher suggests a mechanical approach that she herself may not intend, but the pundits like it.

So as usual, I’m urging readers of this blog to not only spread the word about John Paulett’s essay, but add your voice to the conversation. Otherwise the public and policy-makers will never get it.