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Latest Teacher Essay That Tears Testing Apart

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Everyone should read in the Chicago Sun Times the latest teacher essay that tears testing apart piece by piece. Fifth-grade Chicago teacher Rachel Schwartz explains how the test fails to help children learn, causes them mental anguish, eats up days that could be devoted to learning (on top of the other tests that Chicago imposes), and doesn’t even align with the Common Core. And Rachel doesn’t rant educationese. She includes a vignette of a real student’s experience, to help ordinary non-educators understand what the imposition of this badly-designed testing means for our kids.

This is the 16th teacher essay that the Sun Times has published over the past year. WE NEED EVERY MAJOR NEWSPAPER IN THE COUNTRY TO BE RUNNING STORIES LIKE THIS.

What Our Work Really Is and It Is Not Tests

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Belleville, Michigan teacher Jason Strzalkowski explains what our work really is and it is not tests. Read “I Love My Job. Really.” — a succinct and affirming essay on Nancy Flanagan’s blog, “Teacher in a Strange Land. Strzalkowski explains how he helps his high school history students “navigate poverty, reputation, academics, and self-worth on a daily basis.” And once he’s listed all that he does, he points out that “None of what I just talked about is on a standardized test.”

So please share this fine piece with everyone you know!

Chicago Sun Times Teacher Essays Are Back

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We’re excited to announce that the Chicago Sun Times teacher essays are back, with an excellent piece by 3rd grade teacher Evelyn Pollins explaining very concretely how teaching reading oriented to the Common Core destroys kids’ love of books. It’s on the paper’s website as well as in the Monday 3/22/15 print edition.

The series had paused for several months while the paper’s editors were consumed with covering Chicago’s mayoral election battle between Rahm Emanuel and Chuy Garcia (to be decided in a run-off April 7th). This itself is a major education story, with Rahm attacked for having closed 50 schools in primarily black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

The essay can be hard to find on the web, since the Sun Times website isn’t very user-friendly. So just tell your friends to Google “Evelyn Pollins Chicago Sun Times.” Oh, and don’t be shocked to see just above her essay a picture of a message to parents about how great the Common Core is. Go figure!

 

Illinois Writing Project Teacher Leadership Institute

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The 2015 Illinois Writing Project Teacher Leadership Institute focuses on both writing instruction and strategies for teachers to take formal and informal leadership roles in their schools. It’s scheduled for July 13-28, with an after-school pre-meeting in May and a followup gathering in Sept.

Teachers who speak up for supportive policies for our work and kids’ learning need to be both strategic about using their voice and effective in our own classrooms. This summer institute, widely recognized for its quality and engaging experiences, is for teachers of all grade levels as well as for coaches and teacher leaders who are promoting effective practices in their schools.

Go to the IWP website for more information and an application form.

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!