30 November 2010

Proposition 1

As you may have read, I've decided NOT to pursue National Board Certification, at least at this time. I've not written the process off completely, but I won't be doing it as a part of this Master's Program. However, that doesn't mean I am immune to the good practice that NBPTS promotes and cultivates. Thinking about the core propositions is a good idea. So, what about Proposition 1?

It states the following:

Proposition 1: Teachers are Committed to Students and Their Learning

  • NBCTs are dedicated to making knowledge accessible to all students. They believe all students can learn.

  • They treat students equitably. They recognize the individual differences that distinguish their students from one another and they take account for these differences in their practice.

  • NBCTs understand how students develop and learn.

  • They respect the cultural and family differences students bring to their classroom.

  • They are concerned with their students’ self-concept, their motivation and the effects of learning on peer relationships.

  • NBCTs are also concerned with the development of character and civic responsibility.

I'll take it one bullet point at a time:

"They believe all students can learn." Do I really believe this? Well, I struggle with this for two reasons (actually one, but it sounds better to say two). As a science teacher, I don't believe anything! I either accept the evidence or reject the evidence, there is no room for belief in science (other than a basic belief that most people are honest and are not out to fleece their fellow man/woman). So, what does the data say? Where is the evidence that all students can learn? I have run across a few students who seemed not at all interested in learning what I was trying to teach. So, does that mean they weren't able to learn? I doubt it. What it probably meant was that they were being "taught" by a teacher who was bull-headed and very inexperienced. As I move further into my teaching career, I am building a fantastic toolbox from which I can pull more and more specialized tools. I am learning to engage learners as they come to me, instead of trying to engage them as I come to them. I can see growth in my teaching methods, specifically in my engagement of difficult and un-motivated students. In fact, I'm trying to learn what motivates students by asking them that exact question.

"They treat students equitably." I strive for this in every aspect of my student engagement. Whether it is harassing every student who is roaming the halls during my plan (harassing is too strong a word, more like challenging) or whether it is recognizing that my students come from a variety of backgrounds with a multitude of worldviews. This really seems like a no-brainer since we begin the year talking about perception and how that colors your worldview and affects the way in which students observe their surroundings. For instance, what I might perceive as yellow might look more orange to another person and this is based on both nature and nurture. In the same way, students might perceive the importance of an education in different ways. It's my job (and privilege) to engage them on in a way that makes what we are learning relevant to their lives.

"NBCTs understand how students develop and learn." If a teacher doesn't understand the basics of human development, specifically as it applies to the age they are teaching, they have absolutely no business being a teacher. Teachers must understand this or students will be getting instruction that might not be age (or developmentally) appropriate. Enough said.

"They respect the cultural and family differences students bring to their classroom." I personally have had a difficult time with this issue since I was just a little blond-haired kid, growing up in Southwestern Louisiana. I was not necessarily brought up to respect those people who were different from me. I was raised to notice those who were different than I, but taught to believe they were inferior to my "type". It was very difficult to realize this as an adult. I firmly believe that education, at least for me, has been the Great Equalizer. My education has taught me tolerance for others and respect for those who "look/act/believe differently" than I. My students do not come from the same culture as me. My students do not have the same experiences I had as a child. My students do not come from the same cultural/socio-economic/religious background as I. However, that doesn't make them "worse" than me. Who in the world can define "worse" anyway? It's all about perception! (Please see previous paragraph.)

"They are concerned with their students’ self-concept, their motivation and the effects of learning on peer relationships." As a person who has sturggled (and still does struggle) with self-concept, I can empathize with students. Maybe it's the result of self-imposed doubt or environmental factors that cause students to not be able to see that they are important and have something constructive to add to every situation. No matter the reason or cause, every student is able to achieve their best. I recognize "best" means many different levels. This is why teachers must differentiate instruction to meet each students needs. As a result, teachers need to know what student's needs are before they can be successful at meeting those needs. I have recently been discussing the issue of student motivation with students. Many of them aren't even sure what motivates them. As a teacher, its extremely difficult to motivate students when they aren't even sure what makes them want to be their best.

"NBCTs are also concerned with the development of character and civic responsibility." Surely there are not teachers who still are in the profession who don't want their students to be upstanding citizens with some sense of civic duty? After all, don't taxpaying citizens pay teacher salaries? I know, this isn't a legitimate reason to be concerned with this. Character and civic responsibility begins with classroom behavior. A classroom is a community and student's have to learn to how to be a part of that community. If they do, this can put them on the road to functioning as citizens who add value to the community of which they are a part.

So, what grade would I give myself on these issues? I would say "Needs Improvement" and say that with pride. I would say that I always need improvement in every area of my practice. However, that's true of any teacher and the best teachers are the ones who recognize it and do something about it. That's the reason I write on this blog. Reflection. It helps my students and it helps me.

10 November 2010

apathy vs. empathy

Tonight, during class, I heard two different presentations about parenting of students of poverty. Specifically, parents in poverty deal with issues about which we, as middle-classers, have no idea. Have you ever thought about the fact that parents, as decision makers, have limited options for where they can live? These parents aren't any different than any other parents, other than they are not as able to provide for their students as other parents.

  • What if you only had about 10 places in town you could choose to live because those are the places that would provide assistance with your rent?

  • Would this affect your mindset on getting involved with your child at school?

  • If you had to take government assistance to put food on the table would that change how you saw the world around you?

  • Would that affect whether or not you wanted to go to the school and talk with people who might have as many as 10 more years of education than you do?

  • Would that intimidate you?

  • Would you care at all about whether your student got their homework done if all you could think about was where you were going to get your next fix of drugs? What about if you were working 2 or 3 jobs and needed your older students to take care of their younger siblings, would you care about whether the homework got done?

  • If you were going to lose your job for being late one more time (because you have to take public transportation since you can't afford a car) would you leave your child home alone until the baby-sitter got there?

  • Would any of these situations change the way your parent your kids?

I recognize these may seem extreme to those of us who live our lives in the middle-class. However, for those folks who live below the poverty line, these situations are the reality that they live with everyday. I think it's pretty easy to say "Well THEY shouldn't make those bad decisions" but this is like saying "Well, the government shouldn't borrow money from China." The problem with that is that's just not realistic. I mean what other choice do we have when we need to borrow money? About the same amount of options poverty parents have when the electric company is about to shut of the lights, you are down to one more bottle of formula with no WIC coupons left, and payday isn't scheduled for another week. You go down to the ACE Check Cashing place and write a hot check (much like the government does with China).

As you may have heard me say before (if not, I'll say it in my next blog post), "We can talk all day about the problem, but in the end, what are we going to do about it? 'Cause bitching and moaning about the problem will only go so far. In the end, we have to DO something and stop just talking." Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs says that students must have the basic needs met before they can even begin to focus on learning. I think the same is true of the parents. We have to help meet their needs.

I recently taught a class at SNU in which I asked the class the question: "Who should be responsible for those people who are not prepared after a Natural Disaster happens?" I don't think that question is very much different than the situation these parents deal with every day. So, I would hazard that many people would say that we should do away with government programs that support people of poverty should be done away with because "we simply can't afford it". I say this because I hear about it when Kevin Ogle lets the viewers speak on The Rant and living here in Conservative Oklahoma, that's the prevalent attitude.

There is a strong resentment that there is a (perceived?) redistribution of wealth and some of "us" are working hard while most of "them" are sitting around enjoying the day. By "them" do you mean the mom with 5 kids who works 2 jobs to support them and still gets welfare to help put food on the table? What? She ought not to be having that many kids? Maybe her reality was that she struggled/struggles with her self-worth and therefore her sexual identity comes from the decisions she made while being intimate with multiple sex partners. This is her reality.

Maybe you think she should have gotten abortions? But wait! Conservatives are against abortion! Oh, abstinence? Why don't you come spend a day in MY classroom and listen to teenagers reality and then talk to me about abstinence. I'm sure they will be happy to listen to what is being said.

Yes, this has been a soapbox. I'm sorry. But when I see students coming to a teacher's classroom to get peanut butter crackers at lunch because they don't have money to buy lunch, it tends to put things into perspective. It tends to change the way I think about what's going on in my students lives. It tends to make me realize that my problems pale in comparison to the reality of my student's family life and all the (expletive deleted) they have to deal with every day.

So, what should we do about it? We need to keep funding programs that support, both financially and nutritionally, people who find themselves in poverty. We need to have some compassion for those around us in need. We need to look beyond "what people are getting from the government" and try to find out "why they need to take from the government". If the taxpayers shouldn't be responsible to help these folks, then who? (This is the question I asked in class about the uninsured/underinsured after a natural disaster). I think many would say "the Church/Charities". Okay, so what specific things do you see being done? What ever happened to that adage of "teach a man to fish feed him for life". Aren't we simply putting band-aids on a gushing wound by simply feeding people? What are we doing to actually get them out of poverty? What are we really doing to break the cycle of poverty?

Do your students know you care? Do you ever wonder why "that student" has so many bad days? What's going on behind the scenes? It may seem like I'm preaching or griping, but in reality I'm talking to myself, too. I hope, as teachers, we take our jobs seriously. I hope we think about more than just testing. I hope if we are teaching we are there because we care about students and aren't just trying to "have summers off". As I tell students: "If you aren't serious about learning, I'd rather you just not be here. Why don't you leave?" I think the same applies to teachers. We'll go out and get some folks who can have a burden for student learning to replace you.

Sometimes, I really need a reality check for what students are going through and that's what this is. I hope it helped you get a reality check, too. If you were offended by this post, I'm sorry you were offended, but I'm not sorry I wrote it. I'm learning to look beyond my own reality and this is the result of what I see now everyday.

08 November 2010

Reflection in Education? What's the point?

Reflection in education may be (other than critical thinking) the single most important skill we, as teachers, should be teaching students. I remember my undergraduate work here at SNU very well. We worked on our portfolio and each artifact had a reflection form with it. I even remember reflecting on a reflection once! I will tell you; even as a student who was an adult (I went back to school when I was 36) I didn’t really see the point in reflection.

It was not until I began my student teaching that I began to see reflection/journaling as an activity that was worth my time. I started to blog during my 6-week student teaching assignment at Cooper Middle School. I started to do it because I wasn’t allowed to teach (except for 1 week). I didn’t have anything else to do, so I started cataloging my days, reflecting on what I would do differently if I were the one pushing the buttons in class. I quickly learned that this was a great way to process and think through what was going on in my brain. I’ve learned since then that it is also a great way to chronicle events for later reflection. I love to go back and see just how much I’ve grown in my practice since I first started teaching.

Unfortunately, I only have students for one single year (sometimes I get them for two if they take AP Physics) and this generally isn’t enough time to instill the practice of reflecting. But maybe, just maybe, I’m planting a seed! Just this year, I have started having students blog each week using the following prompts:
1.    The thing that really stood out as being really significant to me this week was....
2.    The things I did this week that helped me learn best included....
3.    The things that hindered my learning this week included....
4.    I felt frustrated sometimes when....
5.    I was curious about....

While this is my first real attempt to have students do any kind of reflective writing, I feel like it could be improved upon (and will be). I have encountered some resistance to forcing students into the act of reflection. Many do not see the point and don’t want to work with the prompts. Even my own children (who are both in my class this year) are resistant. I definitely need to work on making this meaningful and useful for them. I hope, at some point, to have them go back and look at what they were thinking now at some later point in the year. Growth! It’s all about growth! They will see it, I just have to figure out a way to make it plain enough for everyone to “get it”.

Top 5 ways for me to be different

An excerpt from my journal. I'm trying to process and change the way I do things, this is for me:

In my opinion, a major part of this process is to give students ownership of their education. Students need choices in education, but first they need to be taught to make responsible decisions. When I first started teaching, I would get frustrated if students didn’t “get it” the first time around. When I am explicitly telling them information and they don’t “get it”, how can I expect them to pick up on the implicit lessons I’m trying to teach (like social democracy and decision making)? I’ve learned that students need to be taught numerous times, especially when we are learning life skills. I mean who cares if they don’t understand why the Earth has seasons (fall, spring, winter, summer)? Who cares if they don’t understand why when they flip a switch the light comes on? Okay, I care. But really, who cares? Will they not be successful in life without the knowledge they should get in my class? No. But if they don’t pick up on the life skills I’m trying to pass on to them, then we really have a problem! It no longer is an individual student problem; it becomes a systemic problem because education begins to fail society.

This is (in my opinion) the problem with our world. We have a generation of former students who see education as irrelevant to their everyday lives. All of the testing in the world won’t fix this problem. As I discuss these issues with other educators, I always end with a final question to them: Are we just going to sit around and complain about it? Or are we going to do something about it?

Our school has done challenge day the last few years and they have a saying: “Be the Change”. It comes from a quote by Mahatma Ghandi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” So, is the education system broke? Yes. Are students apathetic about learning? Yes. But what are we going to do about it? I’ll tell you what I’m going to do about it (because I can only control my actions, not anyone else’s):
1.    I am going to be the best teacher I can be. If this means I need to learn something new, I will; professional development is not just a requirement, it is a duty!
2.    I am going to build relationships with my students that instill trust and give them the opportunity to take risks in our learning environment. If this means I need to open myself up to students to show that I deal with issues in my life (get out of my comfort zone), okay! Show me the way out of my box!
3.    I am going to reflect on my practice and always work at being better. If this means I have to take time from my leisure activities to make my practice better, then let it be so!
4.    I am going to constantly look for new ways to make my curriculum relevant to student’s lives. If this means I have to learn new technology, I will! Students use tech outside the classroom to communicate, why should they be required to “disconnect” when they come into class?
5.    I am going to focus on speaking positively of my students. This means even though I get frustrated with the current state of my building, I will maintain a positive attitude so that I don’t bring others down. I will find anonymous outlets for my frustration (think an anonymous blog here).