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!
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!
OK everyone! Let’s celebrate and share the second Chicago Sun Times Teacher Essay on Kindergarten Complexities, by Mia Valdez Quellhorst. It’s in the newspaper’s Sunday June 22nd edition and on their website under “Other Views.” What a great way to help the public understand that teaching kindergarten is serious work that requires real skill and deep knowledge of child development, and makes a difference in children’s future success in school and life.
Watch for the next teacher-written essay on a timely education issue, which should appear on or about July 3rd. They’ll be published about every two weeks.
And please, Chicago-area teachers: I will need more teacher-written pieces, to keep this series going, so contact me at email@example.com .
As TSU followers know, I’m organizing a bi-weekly series of essays by Chicago-area teachers for the Chicago Sun-Times. Not every teacher necessarily feels ready to write a short feature article for a wide public audience. So the very savvy teacher voice organization VIVA will offer writing help for teachers in a webinar scheduled for Wed., May 21st 7:00-8:00 PM. I will be co-leading this with VIVA Leadership Development Director Tina Nolan.
While this teacher-feature effort is for active classroom teachers in the Chicago metro region, we hope that educators in other locales will be inspired to get a similar project going. Perhaps if the public and policy-makers keep hearing more about the powerful work that teachers do in their classrooms, they will be more supportive and consider policies that aid real teaching and learning — instead of impeding it.
If you’re teaching in the Chicago area and would like to participate in the webinar, please contact Tina at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Following up on New York, opposition to excessive testing is heating up in Chicago. Teachers at two Chicago schools, Saucedo and Drummond, supported by large numbers of parents, have unanimously voted to boycott the upcoming state tests, which are about to be replaced by the PARCC exams. Kids are over-tested as it is, these teachers are saying, so why take precious time and energy for tests that are already seen as outmoded? Read about it here.
Of course, we know that the Illinois tests never really reflected many of the most important ways that teachers help their students learn — and the new tests coming promise to be even more problematic. Nevertheless, not surprisingly, the city administration is threatening punishment.
Now it’s time to support these courageous teachers who are simply saying out loud what so many of their compatriots are already thinking. If a groundswell of teachers were to stand up with them, it would be impossible to simply fire them all. The more teachers involved, the less the risk. So if you are a Chicago teacher, or know some, it’s time you added your voice as well.
Here’s a quick report on the New York testing struggle: The NY Regents’ recommendations for delay in consequences for the new tests includes a number of important points. And even state legislators are getting in on the act. It’s really important for teachers everywhere to be aware of what’s happening, and to speak up in support of New York teachers. The new tests there were chaotic and brutal, as we’ve previously reported. And similar events are coming to YOUR state as well.
We’ll continue to follow this situation and encourage teachers to support their New York colleagues.
OK, with the new year I think it’s time for some RED MEAT. You need to be angry enough about how public education is being changed that you will decide it’s time to speak up.
So here’s what teacher Anthony Cody has to say about what rigorous new tests will do to children. Do read it for yourself, but to whet your appetite let me summarize. He draws a parallel to the tradition of testing in China, which was originally designed long ago to make access to government positions more egalitarian. But it ultimately has led to graduates with high test scores but low levels of real knowledge and skills, since everyone puts their energy into preparing for the tests. And he further sees the new tests that will yield just a 30% pass rate as a way for the privileged to “prove” that many kids simply aren’t “college and career ready” so it’s their fault if they can’t get jobs.
Do you agree with Cody’s analysis? Or perhaps you see the Common Core as a way to insure that everyone gets at least some education, even if individual students’ and teachers’ talents, strengths, and interests are ignored? OK I’m baiting you. Any takers? And would you be willing to send your response, anonymously if you wish, to a local newspaper?
The latest PISA international test score comparisons are out, and they portray US education is pretty mediocre. According to the charts, we ranked 20th among other countries in reading, 30th in math, and 23rd in science. As parents, community members, politicians, and education critics begin asking about these numbers, we teachers need to be well informed about them. So along with knowing about the report itself, it’s wise to understand some of their limitations. An excellent article on the Education Week “Curriculum Matters” webpage outlines these. For example, the difference between scores in many cases is not statistically significant, so the actual order in which countries are listed means very little. The best we can actually say about the ranking for US reading scores is that we’re somewhere between 19th and 31st. Rather, we’re grouped among a cluster of countries, with no clear difference among them.
But while we must acknowledge that American schools are not overall high flyers these days perhaps the biggest question is what we should be doing about it in schools that struggle, and this is where teachers’ voices need to be heard. Of course we’ll hear plenty from advocates of harder tests, blanket standards, more charter schools, and firing lots of teachers. But thoughtful educators should do all they can to inform the public and policy-makers about the factors that really can make a difference and that continue to be neglected in too many of the efforts presently called “school reform.” Read Sonia Nieto’s new book, Finding Joy in Teaching Students of Diverse Backgrounds. Or study the role of student attitudes and the classroom contexts that influence them, in the Chicago Consortium on School Research study, Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners: The Role of Non-Cognitive Factors in Shaping School Performance. And then speak up about these things and what you do to address them in YOUR classroom.
If your swamped with your own teaching responsibilities, you might not have followed some of the news — for example the latest chapter in how teacher voice has made a difference in New York, where new state tests have had a disastrous roll-out. First, check out some of the thousand responses that Lucy Calkins received from teachers when she set up a website to gather them. Smart kids crying and concluding they’re stupid, questions that could have various right answers, confusing multiple materials booklets, not enough time to do well, but too much time spent altogether, inappropriate reading levels, etc., etc.
Criticism rose from parents, teachers, principals, superintendents. The state education commissioner, John King was shouted down at a hearing and cancelled further sessions. But now he’s back-pedalling, reducing the testing somewhat, but not addressing the main issues –yet. Here’s one news account in a local Brooklyn paper.
It’s unfortunate, though, that the hue and cry came so late in the game, with teachers and kids really suffering before the voices grew strong and numerous enough. So are the rest of us going to wait until similar new tests arrive in our own states — and then try to overturn them after the fact?
Just trying to say why it is that teachers need to be speaking up NOW.
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.