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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.

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!

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.

Great Discussion on Teachers Speaking to the Public

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I hope you’ll read the great discussion on teachers speaking to the public, started by Peter Smagorinsky. Peter is the outspoken education prof at the U. of Georgia who writes essays about education issues and portraits of great Georgia teachers, that are published on the blog of a reporter for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. We could all learn from his example. Just think how we could boost attitudes toward public education and counter the widespread anti-public-education propaganda if news media everywhere were regularly receiving and publishing such pieces. (I know, I just keep harping on this).

Peter’s opening salvo on this is on the blog, Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care. If you belong to NCTE you can also read it on the NCTE Spokesperson’s Network.

SO READ IT AND ACT!

Breakthrough with the Press in Chicago

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Greetings everyone. I’ve been away for a bit — busy with an Illinois Writing Project conference, working on a new book on teaching and learning with social action, and helping with Restorative Justice at Farragut HS in Chicago.

But I’ve also gained a breakthrough with the press in Chicago and I need help! I’ve worked out a plan with editorial page editors at the Chicago Sun-Times to run a bi-weekly series of essays by Chicago teachers in the web edition of the newspaper. This is a major opportunity for teachers to tell their own story to the public, to counter all the negative, misinformed news about public education and teachers.

Essays must be by practicing classroom teachers in Chicago or the surrounding suburbs, and no longer than 600 words. I’m seeking pieces that both

  • speak to current education issues that the editors want to hear about (standards, testing, teacher evaluation, school closings, diversity, school climate),
  • and provide snapshots of powerful teaching and learning — since so much of the public has no idea what we really do in our work.

If you are a Chicago-area teacher and wish to write, or know someone who is and does, please contact me ASAP at stv.zemelman@comcast.net & I’ll send detailed guidelines.

This is a great opportunity to get thoughtful teacher voices to the wider public, rather than just on blogs and websites that only other teachers see.

Administrators Speak Up Against Attacks on Public Schools

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We’re especially pleased to see so many administrators speak up against attacks on public schools. This includes — can you believe it? — over 230 Arizona school SUPERINTENDENTS through their organization. And the courageous New York high school principal, Carol Burris.

Hopefully, if administrators start speaking truth to power like this, more of the rest of us can begin to as well.

Pitiful Preparation for a Pointless State Test

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If you haven’t already seen it, take a look at this pitiful preparation for a pointless state test, in Chicago. And next here’s an explanation of the occasion for the video, since some people questioned whether it was taken out of context (I hope you can access this — it’s on Anthony Cody’s Education Week – Teacher blog).

So the teacher who outed this has spoken out, though she needed to remain anonymous in doing so.

How much do teachers need to be demeaned before we stand up against scenes like this? Perhaps someone would like to comment on this in a letter to the editor for a Chicago newspaper!

Passionate Parent Speaks Up Against Common Core Testing

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She may now be a darling of Fox News, but at least this passionate parent speaks up against Common Core testing. Watch her on Youtube (sorry if an ad comes on first – you can skip past it). We’re going to need lots of people speaking out like this if we are to stop the endless march of testing that is inevitably going to hurt kids in poor neighborhoods the most. A blizzard of state-wide piloting of new tests will be coming to Illinois in the spring. Perhaps that will wake people up, here.

Refocusing Teachers Speak Up

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Friends–

As the year draws to a close I’ve been thinking about refocusing Teachers Speak Up. While I continue to believe that teachers need to re-brand our profession with the wider public, I haven’t had much success making that happen, even on a small scale.  Yes, people tell me the effort is important, and yes, they like to visit this website. But there are so many pressures limiting folks from doing the writing, or getting other teachers to do so. You know what they are, so I won’t recount them. But the options are limited, too, for getting teachers’ stories published in media that will be seen by the larger community. For example, I organized a roundtable discussion with a small group of teachers and editors at a big city newspaper. The editors seemed jazzed by the exchange of ideas, but never followed up, never even answered my later emails. This is not fun. I’m a person who needs some response and success in order to keep going.

I’m not abandoning this effort — but I intend to shift it a bit. This was helped along by a conversation with Sonia Nieto, a courageous, long-time campaigner for a more just and supportive education. I’ll seek to use teachers’ stories to encourage fellow educators to stay with good, meaningful instruction, in spite of the pressures that in many places seem to be undermining it. Teachers need this. Meanwhile, I will continue to invite and share stories of great classroom moments. But I will be putting more effort into identifying individual teachers willing to do this and helping them with the writing (to the extent that they need/desire such help). And I will continue to work on finding venues for sharing those stories.

So in that spirit, here are several such sharing opportunities. I hope you’ll take a look, either to consider submitting something to them, or just for your own encouragement:

  •  Why I Teach — where educators and share their stories and thinking. This is a branch of the Learning Matters TV education news organization. You may not agree with all that Learning Matters appears to support, but Why I Teach is open to your voice and your ideas.
  • Talks with Teachers — describes itself as “Inspiring stories from America’s great educators,” a cross between how-to stories and reflections on teachers’ struggles.
  • Scholars Speak Out page of the Journal of Language and Literacy Education — mainly a list of educators’ blogs. But you can propose to tell your story on it by contacting Meghan Thornton (thornton@uga.edu) at the University of Georgia.

Joyous holiday wishes to all!

–Steve Z