‘About Teacher Voices -Posts’ Posts


Outstanding Teacher in the News

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We were away for a few days, escaping from all the angst in the education world. We’ve come home to find an outstanding teacher in the news. Danielle Bero, a New York HS teacher is not only featured, but the story celebrates her strategies to engage struggling students by connecting schoolwork with their lives — something that some standards advocates regard as frivolous. Danielle was nominated for a “Hometown Heroes in Education” award, a one-time competition by the NY Daily News. New Yorkers, we hope you find ways to keep such recognition going more regularly, so that your community can appreciate the hard but rewarding work that their teachers do.

We will write to the story’s author, journalist Ben Chapman, to find out how this got into the paper. We need to learn how to make this happen!

Classroom or School Videos Can Tell a Powerful Story

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Not so excited about writing to describe your great work with kids? Are you more of a visual learner & communicator? Classroom or school videos can tell a powerful story as this one from Whittier Middle School in Poland Maine very nicely shows. As you’ll see if you watch the students spent 8 weeks researching history topics. So the work is in-depth — and the kids have a lot of choice about what to investigate. It’s especially interesting that the teachers combine these valuable approaches with the Common Core standards focus on argument. Even better: the Maine Dept. of Education has featured the video, so it’s getting wider attention.

Nothing to fear in putting this kind of information out there for the public to see. And if you don’t have time to make the video, I bet there are plenty of kids in the school with the skills and energy to film it for you.

More Voices Are Urging Teachers to Project Their Voices

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More and more voices are urging teachers to project their voices into the public debates on education. We hope teachers hear them and are encouraged to speak out, so permit us to connect you with several good discussions.

First, I took part in a Google Hangout panel on this topic Wed. night, June 19th. You can see & hear it on YouTube at your leisure. You can also see the chat that took place simultaneously at the Teachers Teaching Teachers page on edtechtalk.com . I was joined by a very savvy group of educators plus one journalist who shared their strategies and struggles in getting heard by legislators and government leaders. Katherine Schulten, editor of the NY Times Learning Network website was especially helpful about getting journalists’ attention:

  • Don’t complain about tests – they hear that all the time. But you can describe what it’s like in the moment, as kids are struggling with the tests.
  • Start with a lively story from your immediate experience in the classroom. That brings to life what the reporters & readers don’t get to see.
  • Find a hook – something already in the news that your experience and ideas can shed some light on.

But we’ll try to get Katherine to tell this to us in her own words!

The second discussion is with the Education Week – Teacher Teaching Ahead Roundtable. Five teachers from around the country talk about their attempts and successes at getting to the decision-making table. As Jennifer Martin so cogently puts it, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” What a great way to condense into one smart sentence what this whole Teachers Speak Up website is about!

Mini Lesson on Writing a Teacher Story

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I urge teachers to write about their teaching to build more support for their work, and get their stories out to the public in some way. But many ask, “What should I write about? How do I start?” Perhaps this is because so many of us have had our voices silenced, as one teacher describes in a recent Education Week Teacher article.

So here’s a mini lesson on writing a teacher story – at least one way to do it. This would also work well for someone writing about a great teacher he or she had.

  • First, it’s a good idea to think about the audience and purpose for your story. If it’s going to a wider public (which I think is really important) here’s what I suggest: Avoid education jargon.  It needs to be vivid and grab people’s attention. It ought to have a clear point that non-educators can relate to. And it shouldn’t sound whiny – sure we have plenty of obstacles, but let’s inform people about what good teaching really entails and why it matters.
  • Now, think of some very specific, concrete moment in your teaching experience — a student who was a real challenge but who made a breakthrough during the year, or a class that was disengaged and you found a way to reach them. Want examples? Visit my blog on the Patch.com Evanston news site for three great stories. Or read this piece at Education Week Teacher just the other day.
  • Next, try to picture one or several very specific moments when this student or class was struggling, resisting, or having a lightbulb go off. One of my favorite examples is in teacher Megan Allen’s testimony to Congress. Write a chunk of narrative to describe this moment (or moments). Ralph Fletcher’s books on teaching writing talk a lot about the power of focusing on such moments.
  • Next step: Talk about what you learned from this professional experience — or what you’d like a reader to learn from it, or what it tells us about education policies or practices. This chunk will probably go at or near the end of your piece. You could hint about it at the start, but don’t go into a lot of theory or explanation there because that will bog things down.
  • Finally, there will be some trimmings to add — introducing yourself and/or the scene at the start, adding a punch-line at the end, some connective tissue along the way.

I’m sure there are other approaches, but I’ve seen this work really powerfully. So now write your piece and send it to me at teachersspeakup1@gmail.com !

Great Teacher Stories on the Patch News Website

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It can be really hard to get positive education stories into the big newspapers. But I’ve started a blog to publish great teacher stories on the Patch news website – at least from the Chicago area. If you haven’t checked out Patch, it’s a system with separate news sites for various local neighborhoods across the country. My blog is on the Evanston, IL site.

The story I put up today is by Chicago English and drama teacher Rob Schroeder, about a powerful moment when a special education student performed a monologue on stage for the first time. And as Rob states about the learning and success he experienced:

“You can’t get that from a multiple choice test.”

Last week’s story, beautifully written by retired District U46 teacher Jan Booth, is about how good teachers must not only teach but learn important lessons from their students.

But I need more stories for this blog — so Chicago area teachers send me your stories of great moments in your classroom! If you need to remain anonymous as the author, I’ll honor that. But with summer coming, you should certainly have a little time, even if you’re holding down a summer job or teaching gig to supplement your limited school paycheck.

Education and Poverty Add Up to a Social Justice Issue

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Education and poverty add up to a social justice issue . That’s why I keep writing these posts and urging more teachers to speak up.

Increases in U.S. childhood poverty by 4.5 million over 11 years are unconscionable, as the numbers are showing. Can education help? Studies by the Chicago Consortium on School Research show that schools with strong internal conditions such as inclusive school leadership and strong professional community can make a difference in any community. They also found, though, that the challenges are much greater in neighborhoods and communities where social supports are weak and children face more day-to-day obstacles.

Can more rigorous standardized testing help? In another study the Consortium also found that the more time Chicago high schools spent on preparing students for standardized tests, the WORSE their scores.

But Here’s one teacher, Casie Jones, in Memphis, who asserts that she can and does make a difference for the struggling children she works with. And it’s great to learn that she and other strong teachers in that city are being recognized publicly for their work.

Of course it takes resources to make that difference, and it’s especially painful to have policy makers around the country demanding greater success for children at the same time that those resources are being cut.

So our challenge is how to tell three stories at once: 1) the successes that teachers achieve in their classrooms in spite of great obstacles; 2) the obstacles of poverty and weak social supports that absolutely must be addressed for children; and 3) critique of education policies that undermine great teaching and learning instead of helping it.


Google Talk Discussion on Teacher Voice

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I promised myself I’d spend less time on these Teachers Speak Up posts — but it looks like I haven’t broken the addiction yet.

Tonight I’m joining a Google Talk discussion on teacher voice, moderated by Paul Allison of Teachers Teaching Teachers. Also in the session will be Jesse Hagopian of Garfield HS in Seattle, where teachers spoke out to boycott the use of the MAP test. They pointed out how it wasted precious resources and time because it didn’t even match the curriculum they were required to teach.

In a related article that is linked in the piece about Seattle (that I linked to just above) one educator agonizes about the understandable fear and pressure teachers experience when considering whether to speak up like the Garfield faculty did. Interestingly, when parents speak out, as they have in Texas where the legislature voted to drastically reduce the number of standardized tests required across the state, officials sometimes begin to listen. Another occasion when teachers find their voice is when the pain becomes too great, as it has in New York, where the new state ELA test has caused so much agony in the classroom. Lucy Calkins’s website for teacher testimony about this situation has received HUNDREDS of teacher letters and responses. It’s just too bad this has to develop after the pain has already been inflicted.

Anyway, I hope you’ll listen in on tonight’s discussion!

Celebrate Teachers Who ARE Speaking Up

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It’s Memorial Day, when we honor fallen soldiers and eat barbecue. But we educators are never quite off duty, at least in our heads. So let’s celebrate teachers who ARE speaking up.

First, harking back to Teacher Appreciation week, Janet Ilko, on the National Writing Project iAnthology, honored our Teachers Speak Up effort (Many thanks, Janet!) and then invited teachers to tell stories about what inspires them in their work. You might need to create an account with NWP to read these (if you don’t already have one), but they’re fun and moving, so it’s worth the trouble. And you’ll learn from Kevin Hodgson about a website for creating your own four-panel cartoons.

Second, a group of 11 teachers in the VIVA NEA Writing Collaborative created a report, “Sensible Solutions for Safer Schools,” and presented it in Washington the the NEA and the Dept. of Education. If enough of us were doing that, government and legislators might begin to listen.

Time for This Site to Find a New Strategy for Teacher Voices

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Dear TSU followers–

I’ve been developing this website for nearly a year now. Lots of people tell me it’s great . However I haven’t seen it lead to many more teachers writing and publishing pieces that better inform the public about our work. Or if it has, then people aren’t telling me. Yes, I’ve shared lots of examples of the stories teachers have told, and I’m glad to do that — but those were already happening anyway.

So I think it’s now time for this site to find a new strategy for teacher voices. I believe the effort needs to focus more on a single issue that impacts teachers & kids, plus a specific place to gather teachers’ comments on it, and then some specific way to get the comments out into the wider world. I have some ideas, but I sure could use your input.

Here’s what I’m thinking. Focus on OVER-TESTING CHILDREN. Ask teachers to complete the following starter:

If we weren’t spending so much time prepping for and giving standardized tests, here’s what I’d be doing with kids, and what they’d be learning.

I’d ask that the writing focus on an especially powerful classroom activity or strategy & how it affected one student or class. Additional reflections on the limitations of the tests could be added — but this approach keeps the writing positive. Meanwhile, I’m working on finding a good media outlet for the pieces.


(If you have any trouble entering a comment, you can also use the link to the TSU gmail account provided on the homepage.)

Hear Great Teacher Stories at Story Corps

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It’s still Teacher Appreciation Week, and people can hear great teacher stories at Story Corps so go to their site and listen now. And you can record still more of these at the Story Corps booths in Chicago, Atlanta and San Francisco. Just make a reservation on their website.

We especially like these because most include a teacher and a student or two, so it’s not just the teacher bragging. And what’s great is that these are seen by people throughout the country — though it’s a good idea to alert your school community to go online and watch, to make sure you get seen by the people you want to influence.