Monday, September 24, 2007

My reintroduction to yoga (or why teachers can make the worst students)

This fall I decided to enroll in a weekly yoga class. In the past, I would promise myself that I would go and then would find all sorts of excuses not to go. So, I paid in advance and it's the same class at the same time every week for the next ten weeks.

I'm doing this for me. It's all part of my plan to help me live a happier life. Doing so will also make me a better teacher. But, I have to say, I was not the happiest of students tonight.

I'll be honest, whenever I am in a class, I end up analyzing the teaching and learning dynamic. It's not that I want to be mean; it's what I do. So, I arrive for the class, and they have moved the location. There were no signs, and I found that vaguely amusing, until I got into the class. The instructor could not decide which way she wanted the class to face. In fact, she changed her mind three or four times in the first ten minutes. It wasn't a pedagogical tool. She simply got thrown off by the change.

OK, I can live with that. I've been thrown off by the unexpected many times. But then, she started class, and I thought I was going to lose my mind. I was once again reminded of what it was like to be the kid in the class who was bored. All I wanted was to get into the poses, breathe, and feel my body respond to the movement and holds. And then she would do things like say, "Let me show you..." and would start to explain a new pose. And of course, students would begin o follow (because she had students follow before). But then she would change her mind and tell us to watch. urgh.

The high (low) point was when she noted that she was relieved that the folks who knew what they were doing were in the back of the room. Gee, make people feel bad because they'd never taken a class before. And why not use those students with more experience as models?

My point here is that teachers can make lousy students because they have an idea in their heads about how teaching and learning ought to occur. As one of those teachers who has always worked with a wide range of students, I know not to call out students. I also know that I need to give directions and be consistent. And, I also know that I need to tell students where we are going, where we have been, and where we will go.

Sigh. I'm going to try and leave the teacher me at home next week so that I can simply enjoy the yoga. I need it. I want it.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A note about blogging

Blogging is not one of those things we don't have to do every day. Sometimes it's something that we do 3 or 4 times a day. It's the same with commenting. And, as we engage in this type of "intellectual" work, it's also important to remember that even if something is not commented upon, that doesn't mean it hasn't been read.

In some spheres, that called lurking: you hop on a blog to see what's written and commented. I encourage it; I do it. It's part of the process.

But don't stress if you don't see a comment on your blog or a response to a comment. That is, of course, unless it's December and your blog is just you and no one else.

Friday, September 21, 2007

It's a good thing it's Friday (and getting a little help from your friends)

I love weekends, and not because I take them "off". Teachers very rarely get their weekends free. I do refrain from email and spending lots of time on the web, because that's just too time-consuming.

For me, weekends are about regrouping, relaxing, rethinking, and revisioning. I know it sounds silly, but I've learned that taking time on the weekend and literally planning it into those 48 hours can make the rest of the week a more pleasant experience.

On regrouping: It's literally about mental, physical, and emotional health. Teaching well takes a lot of mental energy. Planning, teaching, grading, and making sure you make it clear for students can be a real challenge, especially when the content is second nature to you (and not your students). It's physically tiring because I move around a lot, have a lot of meetings, run between office and classroom, home and work. And teaching is emotionally tiring because I am still learning (after 14 years) how much of myself to give to my students. I never feel like I give enough. With almost 100 students this semester, there is less of me to go around to each student.

On relaxing: I have to do it. Sometimes it's gardening. Sometimes it involves movies, sometimes time with friends and family, a run with the dogs (planned for as soon as I finish this post), sleeping, music, reading... Relaxing is good for body and spirit.

On rethinking and revisioning: Ok, so this is actually more like work, but it's a different type of work. It is primarily intellectual. I think about what I taught, how it went, my writing... And sometimes, I even get some writing done, which is a good thing because it's expected.

As for getting a little help from your friends: today Marley decided I couldn't complete this post without his help. Therefore he is the co-author of this post. Of course it took me twice as long to get this done with his help, but it's all good.

Sigh. It's a good thing it's Friday.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The numbers and thinking like a teacher researcher

OK, so we've been chatting about some of the numbers. In some cases you are all falling asleep, in others, you are all fired up. Our task now is to turn our attention to thinking like a teacher researcher.

The Anderson preface talks about the importance of being a teacher researcher given today's political context.

So, being a teacher researcher, how would you use these numbers to pose relevant questions about curriculum? Why are they important? How would you answer them?

Monday, September 17, 2007

There are some things a teacher education program can never prepare you for.

Let's face it. We can teach you the theory, the history, etc. We can teach you how to develop curriculum, write appropriate lesson plans, help you to understand the needs of different learners, use assessments wisely, etc. But there are some things we can never teach you how to do. We can tell you our own experiences, we can brainstorm solutions. But, it's all different once you are out in the real world.

I could talk about some of what I've learned as a teacher, but I'd rather share the reflections of a second year teacher here. I came across this a few minutes ago. It's worth the read. And it really does the job of posing an important question: What is the relationship between schools and US society?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Numbers, numbers everywhere, but what do they mean?

Numbers fascinate me. Actually, how researchers and demographers collect information and turn that information into numbers, specifically statistics, really fascinates me. That's because numbers can lie. Not the numbers themselves, but how people collect, compile, and represent the numbers can be misleading. Take for instance the idea of a dropout rate. In most districts, students are considered dropouts if they sign out of school. That means going into the office, signing paperwork, meeting with a counselor, etc. Many students simply don't do that. So, when I look at the statistics presented in The Public Education Primer I'm not surprised at the numbers, but I am skeptical about them.

It doesn't shock me that something like 79% of teachers are women. Nor does it surprise me that 90% of teachers overall are white. After all, research has shown that women have moved into professions that were traditionally considered to be the domains of men. But the reverse has not happened. Men who become kindergarten teachers are often looked at with suspicion. After all, why would they want to work with young children? The same goes for nursing. In the case of minority teachers, it's also an issue of access. Prior to the Civil Rights Movement, many college-educated minorities, particularly African American, were blocked from most careers, except for teaching. In fact, being a teachers was highly esteemed within the community. When schools were integrated, many highly qualified minority teachers were shut out because white teachers were moved into predominantly minority schools, but minority teachers were not moved into white schools.

Whenever I see statistics like these, I wonder what questions were asked, what data was collected (and more importantly, what data was made available), and how they will be used to develop policy (that is, the plan of action or arguments that drive institutional practices). After all, I can look at a statistic and conclude something completely different from someone else. I guess that's the heart of the matter, we need to learn how to critically read statistics and how they are interpreted.

It's freakin' 7:52 AM

And they start in with the jack hammers.I thought they weren't allowed to make that much noise until at least 8AM. I know it's only 8 minutes, but come on! Some of us are still sleeping, and some of us have not gotten enough sleep to want to hear that noise. Where's the coffee????

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Life with Dogs

This post has nothing to do with education. It's more about the joys of life.

I arrived home today after 6.5 hours at the university to discover that Kehli (pictured here) had a bit of separation anxiety while I was gone. I should add that she is only four months old, so it's not surprising that she gets a little wacky. But, she's 31 pounds, and getting pretty big.

As, I was saying, I returned home to discover that Kehli chewed up the pile of catalogs on the coffee table. She didn't chew any bills, journals, or work-related papers (as far as I could tell), but she SHREDDED everything else. If I had thought about it I would have taken a picture. Now that I've cleaned up and gone for a run (both with and without dogs), I can laugh. Sort of.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The New School Year

Let's face it. Every new school year starts off with some level of chaos. I had the luck to find a blogger who is an artist (A life in scribbles), who's mom is a teacher. She drew a cartoon, which I think captures the fun of the first weeks of school, particularly the weather we've had so far this week (I had on my purple rubber ducky boots yesterday. I will be buying the matching yellow slicker in the next day or so. I think farce can be a good thing).

The challenge of the new year is not just the nerves (teachers and students have them), it's the changes that happen over the summer, AND the changes that happen in the first few days before and during school. Gotta love it. One thing I can definitely say about teaching is that you have to be OK with chaos and change.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

It's just like riding a bike

Once you get back on, it all comes back to you.

First class down, and the nerves are settling. I just hope that the second one goes a bit smoother (and I don't spend 40 minutes trying to park).

In the meantime, I got this really disturbing message from a colleague crowing about how wonderful it will be if we apply NCLB-style testing to higher ed. I wanted to scream, for so many reasons. Part of it was the fact the person doing the posting knows nothing about NCLB "assessments" and how it has narrowed the curriculum. There is also this assumption that the tests really indicate what students have learned, which is far more complicated than a multiple guess test can indicate. And, if the feds (and the states) were to require testing at the college level, in what content areas would we test students? How would that affect choices of majors? Would it result in closing down certain programs? The President and others have gone on record saying that they want to streamline college majors to better reflect the needs of the marketplace. That is very dangerous in my mind, because it will fundamentally change the role of higher education in a democratic society.

I need help on this one, because I need to respond to this colleague. I have a good deal of the research (from both sides of the aisle that point to problems), and I also know about the shady deals individual states have made with the ED. I need to hear from other people what they think before I compose a response.

Any thoughts?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

T minus 12 hours

In less than 12 hours, I will meet my first group of students for the semester. The butterflies are there; as usual I don't feel prepared. I'll probably be feeling this way 50 years from now (assuming I'm still breathing). Like most teachers, there are the usual questions that run through my head:

Will they like me (not really crucial, I'll settle for respect and positive regard)?
Will they come back (My syllabus is notorious for bringing about some student attrition)?
Will they get my sense of humor (If they do, class is great fun. If they don't, the crickets are really loud)?
Will I get them to love the subject matter?
Will my breath smell?
Will I make some horrible gaff (like tuck my skirt into my underwear--joke. See sense of humor question above)?
Will the technology work (always a crap shoot, which is why I have a back-up plan)?

Don't let anybody fool you that teaching is boring. If my nerves are any indication, it's like the Indy 500, only you have to race around students rather than cars. Oh, and the crashes are not nearly as heart-stopping.

Monday, September 3, 2007

The new NCLB, or, how can we once again punish urban communities for being, well, urban?

I will not deny the fact that I have been highly critical of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) for a very long time. True, I was hopeful when it was first released in January 2001. A lot has changed since then as I have watched the federal government narrow public education to tests, scripted curriculum, and more tests. I have been enraged at how poor and under-resourced communities have been expected to produce the same results with fewer resources, only to be further financially penalized when they missed the mark. So imagine my reaction when I read this New York Times article this morning.

NCLB is up for reauthorization this year, and a number of different groups have been weighing in on what ought to be changed. There are the “accountability” advocates who say that they will consider no plan that weakens testing. There are those who want to change teacher licensure so that it can be easier for anyone with a Bachelors degree. And now there’s Miller’s latest idea: to ease requirements for suburban schools.

That’s right, folks. Middle class and suburban communities would be held to different standards. Then again, the article notes that states with large immigrant communities would also have different requirements. So why am I not screaming about the changes for immigrant students? It has to do with understanding privilege and language acquisition. This proposal would relax adequate yearly progress (AYP) requirements for suburban schools that have small numbers of students in different groups. What that means is that as long as the schools aren’t failing across the board, it’s OK that a student group or two (as long as it’s small) don’t make it. I thought that was the purpose of NCLB: to ensure that all students are counted. Under this plan, suburban schools don’t have to count all their students.

The changes for states with large immigrant populations are equally problematic. Rather than require schools with large English Language Learner (ELL) populations to test their students in English after two years, schools would have five years. This is good because the research on language acquisition indicates that it takes five years of instruction in English before ELL students would excel academically in an English-only classroom. The downside, of course, is that ELL students will be tested in their native languages for five years, which means that schools need to provide tests in many different languages (in my “suburban” district, that would mean up to sixty different languages). That will be a huge burden to individual districts, to say nothing about the educational impact on ELL students.

So why am I so crazed after reading this article? Because it once again indicates to me that NCLB is nothing more than a shell game to achieve the end of public education. If suburban schools aren’t held to the same standards as urban or rural schools, then the federal government is punishing the students who attend urban or rural schools for being “urban” or “rural” students. And, given the fact that urban and rural public schools tend to have fewer economic resources than their suburban counterparts, the federal government is engaging in a very pernicious form of discrimination. Let me be honest, I am a former inner-city school teacher who is committed to urban education. To have a proposal floated that exempts suburban districts because of their access to academic resources and their lack of “diversity” (read: predominantly middle class and of western European descent) while continuing to punish urban districts is unconscionable.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Less than two days!

Gack (similar to a gagging noise, but not quite as disgusting)!

I'm not ready. I'm not ready. How will I ever be ready?

OK, this is pretty much my state of mind every year before the beginning of a new academic year. I'm never ready. There is always more tweaking of the syllabus, one more manuscript to finish, 100 more email messages to be written and sent, 3 more proposals to review... it never ends.

Wahhhh! I don't wanna go back to school!!!

OK, I'm over it.