Teaching is far more than just wanting to

Wonderful and inspiring and challenging words to start the 2015 2015 school year from Frank Bird III.

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The daily meanderings of a teacher

Bird Droppings August 13, 2015
Teaching is far more than just wanting to

“I want to say one other challenge that we face is simply that we must find an alternative to war and bloodshed. Anyone who feels, and there are still a lot of people who feel that way, that war can solve the social problems facing mankind is sleeping through a great revolution. President Kennedy said on one occasion, ‘Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.’ The world must hear this. I pray to God that America will hear this before it is too late, because today we’re fighting a war.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

When I saw this quote earlier today it reminded me that wanting to in any endeavor is a powerful force. A few days back in an email a friend asked about the idea of…

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Getting into the Back to School Mind Set – Two Free Musings

My Back to School Musings for August 4 – T minus 20 days until I meet with a whole new crop of at-risk teens.

Today I decided that I am going to keep track of the aha moments I see this school year. The aha moments . . . when a student makes the connection between text and life;  when creativity is sparked and a new concept is created; when a block is finally taken down and my student can read, speak, or write with freedom and joy; when a student finds boldness and shares learning and wisdom with the world around her. The moments that come from pure “WONDER” and the joy of learning.

Those aha moments are why I teach and have nothing to do with common core or with high stake testing except to place those external aspects of the day in the correct perspective. That too is an aha moment – for me and for my students.

So this year, I am going to keep track of this moments and run with them and let them be the fuel to keep on keeping on.

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August 1st is for me the start of the new school year. It is today that I start planning for the next wonderful crop of students. It is today that I start looking at how to revise old lessons and create new lessons. It is today I set a goal for the year and a tone for the first day of school.

It is with more trepidation than ever that I begin this school year. I fear this year will be a terrible one for public education. But today I choose to put aside my fear and cling to a glimmer of faith.

In 24 days, I will meet a new crop of at-risk teens – some of them brand new and some of them returning but all of them ready to be touched by love and by wonder.

All I have so far is my motto for the year – the quote that will go on my lesson plan book and on the bottom of each and every email I send out. It is:

“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.”
― Socrates

My prayer is that we all catch hold of wisdom and ride the wave of wonder.

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It’s Common Sense not Common Core by Stacy Stelmack Biscorner

It’s Common Sense not Common Core by Stacy Stelmack Biscorner

I’m a good teacher. I know how my students learn best. I know this because I talk to my students like they are human beings. I greet them with hugs and smiles every day. I take time each day to have a morning meeting, where two to three students get to share something. Maybe it’s that their dog was hit by a car and died last night. Or maybe one of them is sad because everyone is talking about making Father’s Day presents and his dad is in prison and he won’t be seeing or spending time with his dad.

What company out there is coming up with ways to add relationship to the CCSS? What will that look like? Will there be a required statement to make at the beginning of each day? “Good morning student A.” Will the kids have barcodes on their foreheads so they can be shoved through the lunch lines faster and get back to class for the next assessment?

Guess what? When I went to college, it didn’t prepare me for what I would face when I stepped into my classroom that very first day 14 years ago! Nothing could have. You see, when working with human beings, young, developing human beings, there is nothing inside a college textbook or any lecture even the greatest professor could give to prepare for that. Why? Because EVERY CHILD IS DIFFERENT.

I don’t buy into the notion that every kid must learn the same exact thing in the same exact order at the very same rate of speed with the very same words. Differentiate, but use a script, they say. Uh, that doesn’t sound idiotic at all. Use various methods of delivering the lesson, too. What would that be? Reading the script to the kids as a listening comprehension activity? Or having all the students read the scripted lesson as a reading comprehension lesson?

Bottom line here is I’m a good teacher. I know what each of my students need because I TALK WITH THEM, not at them. I work WITH them. I read WITH them. Every single child is unique and learns differently. So how much sense does it make to teach them in a common way? Teaching kids to live healthy lives in an unhealthy way is insane. It makes absolutely no sense. I’m very able to assess and evaluate my students without a rubric on a clipboard in my hand.

Believe it or not, I have found that it works to ASK, not tell my students to explain their thinking and show me either verbally or in writing how they know the information. It also works pretty well to give kids CHOICES. Let them show the way they solved a problem ANY WAY THEY CHOOSE. There’s more than one way to show proficiency and understanding.

Again, Who would have known that having a caring relationship with students and creating an environment where it’s okay to step away from the 15 page lesson plan and use the professional judgment you worked so long and hard for is a great way to foster a love for learning. That it would encourage students to feel safe and willing to take risks. Most importantly, it would actually raise achievement scores because teachers would be allowed to use their intuition, their gut feeling, their professionally trained brains instead of a script.

The lesson plans that are being required are not only ridiculous, cumbersome, and insulting, they are robbing children of what every competent teacher knows their students need most.

Students in poverty? Newsflash, they don’t care about doing well on a test. They can’t. Their little minds are consumed with worry that they won’t get to eat dinner. Their worry isn’t that they won’t get a good score. Their worry is they won’t get to see their parents because they both work two jobs and their older siblings, if they have any, will be caring for them.

Kids don’t need CCSS and all the testing that comes with it. Kids need teachers and all the love, care, compassion and security that comes with having him/her. My students don’t need me writing 15 pages of lesson plans each week. They need my stress free mind, my present, face to face interaction. They need me to be aware of what makes them happy or sad.

My students care about what I know because they know I care. I find time to ask about my students’ interests outside of school that could be embedded into a lesson. How many good teachers go strictly by the written plan? I don’t. Why? Because I’m constantly taking the pulse of my students and if what I have written in the plan is too easy or too difficult or not going well, I ditch it. I teach by reading my students’ cues, facial expressions, body language, etc. If I had to keep reading off a written piece of paper, I would miss all of the things that matter most. Here’s the lesson that this country needs to start implementing all across the country:

It’s common sense, not common core our teachers need the higher ups to implement.

Oh, and another thing. I’ve seen some pretty bad teachers with some beautifully written plans. Which teacher would you rather your child have? One who writes lengthy, detailed, meticulous lesson plans including each CCSS the lesson addresses, but has really no rapport or relationship with your child, or the one who spends extra time thinking of ways to help your child feel confident and excited about going to school?

There’s no time for recess, gym, art or music anymore, either. But that’s an entirely different subject I’ll address some other time. If I didn’t have to spend two hours every night documenting proof to show I know how to be a good teacher, I’d write it tonight.

And does that flawless lesson plan guarantee that the teacher will actually use it? Engage students? Assess by observation and discussion? No, because there’s a script for that.

Wouldn’t you rather your child be with a teacher who can multi task like no tomorrow, move around the room talking to and observing students working, and assessing with their brain instead of a rubric?

This isn’t to say there’s not an outline of the daily/weekly plans. There is an outline, but the teacher is forced to spend the hours writing long, drawn out lesson plans trying to prove she’s worthy of her job. This insults her deeply, by the way, because of all the voluntary training and PSD she attends trying to improve her craft. Which teacher would you want? I want the teacher who acts as if my child has a living soul, a beating heart, and who wants to build a relationship with my child built on trust and understanding. One who knows that my child isn’t like all the other children.

My child, and all the children in the class are special, unique and shouldn’t be spoken to by a robotic adult who treats him as if he’s the next part on the conveyor belt of the public education system.

My child is not a machine. My child needs a relationship, not rigor. Do away with CC standards and codes. Do you really think the teachers have time to memorize them? Do administrators have them memorized?

Will anyone even do anything with the lesson plans, other than glance down at it just to make sure all the teachers obeyed the demand?

Wouldn’t it make more sense if teachers put those hours into making fun activities that will make a lasting impact and excite the students to start exploring and creating and finding real world purposes for their new knowledge?

It’s common sense, not common core our teachers need the higher ups to implement.

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“It’s All About the INHUMANITY” – an Anonymous Teacher’s Tale

Summer School- Turning the Heat Up On Achievement
by – One Fired Up Teacher

NOTE: This was written by a teacher in a high poverty district somewhere in the US. Child and Teacher Abuse in full effect

A time to maintain achievement, right? To prevent the “summer slide” and keep students engaged and excited about learning. After all, it’s building relationships with our students that can extend far beyond the confines of classroom walls.

But what happens when the school offering summer school has no air conditioning? Does that sound beneficial? Healthy? Safe? Temperatures inside the classroom reading 98 degrees on the thermostat. How about that for the student with Epilepsy who’s seizures are triggered by heat exhaustion and dehydration. Sound safe? Healthy? Beneficial?

If that doesn’t have your attention, let’s turn up the heat a little more. Requiring teachers to supervise lunch for the students but not allowing them to eat. Not allowing them to sit down. Oh no, teachers must waste instructional time. While students eat inside the fiery furnace called the cafeteria, their teachers are commanded to stand and do flash cards or another educational task. Teachers are expected to not only suffer these conditions themselves, but to sit by and watch their students suffer, too. Every minute counts, right? Don’t waste precious time walking kids to the drinking fountain, either. The water is not only warm, it’s “against district policy” to use instructional time in too many transitions.

Yes, the fire has been lit, folks. Our kids, who deserve better, are being burned. They deserve the best and brightest education. Your highly qualified, certified teachers and their students are suffering in silence while those at the top are sitting inside their air conditioned offices on the phone with the next best corporation who’s in the running for the silver bullet. The next “new program” they will demand the teachers use in the classroom to bring up those test scores. Here’s an idea for administration and school boards.

If you want to bring up the scores and raise the achievement gap, turn down the heat on your teachers. Take some of the pressure off your teachers. If you can’t do it for them, do it for our students. Provide them with safe and healthy learning conditions. Foster an environment built on the foundation that our teachers and students deserve nothing short of the best. Stop burning the candle on both ends with the corporate world. They don’t know our students. You don’t know our students.

We, the teachers know our students. You want to know why your good, hardworking teachers are leaving the profession? They’re sick, physically and emotionally. They’re tired. They can’t stand being on the front line every single day sacrificing blood, sweat and tears, all to no avail. They, along with their students, are dying inside while fires set by you rage beneath them, threatening to extinguish all they’ve ever known and loved. Each other. Hang up the phone, step away from the computer in your chilled office and save our teachers and students from the blazing inferno you’ve put them in.

Signed,
One Fired Up Teacher

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Why are URBAN TEACHERS being TRAINED to be ROBOTS?

I am re blogging this piece from my friend and fellow activist Jennifer Berkshire – EduShyster.  This is just about the most horrifying expose on what I can only call “Professional Undevelopment” that I have ever read.

When I first read this, I was sure it was a piece of very clever satire. Unfortunately, I was wrong. This is how we make the “achievement gap” a national program – we make sure our high performing districts have freedom and choice, while we make sure our urban low performing districts treat their students like trained seals in a zoo.

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Please read and share EduShyster’s story far and wide.

“I am not Tom Brady”
Why are urban teachers being trained to be robots?

By Amy Berard
*Give him a warning,* said the voice through the earpiece I was wearing. I did Tom Bradyas instructed, speaking in the emotionless monotone I’d been coached to use. But the student, a sixth grader with some impulsivity issues and whose trust I’d spent months working to gain, was excited and spoke out of turn again. *Tell him he has a detention,* my earpiece commanded. At which point the boy stood up and pointed to the back of the room, where the three classroom *coaches* huddled around a walkie talkie. *Miss: don’t listen to them! You be you. Talk to me! I’m a person! Be a person, Miss. Be you!*

Meet C3PO
Last year, my school contracted with the Center for Transformational Training or CT3 to train teachers using an approach called No Nonsense Nurturing. It c3powas supposed to make us more effective instructors by providing *immediate, non-distracting feedback to teachers using wireless technology.* In other words, earpieces and walkie talkies. I wore a bug in my ear. I didn’t have a mouthpiece. Meanwhile an official No Nonsense Nurturer, along with the school’s first year assistant principal and first year behavior intervention coach, controlled me remotely from the corner of the room where they shared a walkie talkie. I referred to the CT3 training as C-3PO after the Star Wars robot, but C-3PO actually had more personality than we were allowed. The robot also spoke his mind.

No Nonsense Nurturing
If you’re not familiar with No Nonsense Nurturing or NNN, let’s just say that there is more nonsense than nurturing. The approach starts from the view that no nonsenseurban students, like my Lawrence, MA middle schoolers, benefit from a robotic style of teaching that treats, and disciplines, all students the same. This translated into the specific instruction that forbade us from speaking to our students in full sentences. Instead, we were to communicate with them using precise directions. As my students entered the room, I was supposed to say: *In seats, zero talking, page 6 questions 1-4.* But I don’t even talk to my dog like that. Constant narration of what the students are doing is also key to the NNN teaching style.  *Noel is is finishing question 3. Marjorie is sitting silently. Alfredo is on page 6.*

Robot moves
My efforts to make the narration seem less robotic—*I see Victor is on page 6. I see Natalie is on question 3*—triggered flashbacks to Miss Jean and Romper Room. All that was missing was the magic mirror. But even this was too much for the NNN squad in the corner. *Drop the ‘I see’* came through my earpiece. All this narration was incredibly distracting for the students, by the way, to the point where they started narrating me. *Mrs. Berard is passing out the exit tickets.* *Mrs. Berard is helping Christian.* *Mrs. Berard is reviewing the answer to question 4*

*Tell them you are like Tom Brady*
The students were also perplexed by my new earpiece accessory. *Um, Miss, what’s that in your ear?* they asked. I looked over to the three adults in the far bill-belichickback corner of the room for my scripted answer. *Tell them you are like Tom Brady. Tom Brady wears an earpiece to be coached remotely and so do you,* was the response. I never would have said that, and mumbled instead *But I’m not Tom Brady. No I’m Tom Brady.* The students, who could hear me, but not what I was hearing through my earpiece, were more confused than ever. At which point I explained to the students that I was being trained by the people in the corner who were telling me what to say via their walkie talkie. I’m all for transparency and simple answers to simple questions.

What kind of message does this send to students? I wondered. That their teachers are so incompetent that they need an ear piece and 3 people sharing a walkie talkie in the corner to tell them what to say?

What kind of message does this send to students? I wondered. That their teachers are so incompetent that they need an ear piece and 3 people sharing a walkie talkie in the corner to tell them what to say?

Joyless joy
I struggled to adopt the emotionless monotone that NNN required. I was told that my tone was wrong. My voice was too high, and that I came across as too happy—I smile a lot; I celebrate a lot, including every two weeks when the flowers on my cactus bloom, again. When I asked the NNN trainer to elaborate on what she meant by my tone being off, a critique she delivered just hours after meeting me for the first time, her response included a full blown, and exaggerated, impersonation of me delivered in front of my behavior intervention coach and assistant principal. When her performance was done, the NNN trainer winked at me. *But don’t lose your joy,* she said.

Mountain pose
I was told to stand in mountain pose and not to favor one leg over another. I C-3PO-3was told not to cross my legs. My body language must be in no way casual (or human). And I needed to stop conveying so much excitement at the students’ accomplishments. After one session of C3PO training, I was told that I was too happy that a student had legible writing. I shouldn’t praise basic things that should be expected. Another time I was chastised for pointing out to a child: *Woah, this is great. This is your best work so far this year!*

*Don’t turn*
I felt awful after that critique, like I had let my students down with my excessive enthusiasm. I went back and apologized to them. The student whose handwriting I’d praised said it had made him happy to be complimented. *I didn’t take what you said in a bad way.* *Just be yourself,* another student told me. *Don’t be who that want you to be. Don’t become like the rest.* You see, the students were old enough to see what the school and the trainers wanted the teachers to be and what their teachers were becoming.

They begged me not to turn.

Amy Berard grew up in Lawrence, a half a mile away from the Guilmette Middle School where she taught ELA last year. She was let go at the end of the school year after administrators determined that she was not the *right fit* for Lawrence.

Here is the link once again to the EduShyster blog post.

An Excellent Day

May your day be EXCELLENT – full of the little gifts that make up moments of peace.

To awaken to birdsong and puppy kisses,
to the scent of brewing coffee and browning toast,
to greet the morn with meditation and sweet silence,
this is an excellent day.

To meet each student with a smile and a happy word,
to execute my lesson the way it is planned,
to correct with kindness and to praise with integrity,
this is an excellent day.

To write with freedom and with power,
to create word pictures with my pencil,
to share my writing with my students and friends,
this is an excellent day.

To greet the night time with joy and gladness,
to sleep in peace and restoration,
to have all around me bathed in glorious blessing,
this is an excellent day.

Now – BE HAPPY

To Test or Not to TEST? STOP THE INSANITY NOW – great new web film from Michael Elliott coming SOON!

There is another powerful video coming soon that will seal the fate of the high stakes test movement in the United States. A Parent, a Teacher, and a Principal are interviewed in this amazing web film from producer Michael Elliott.

Bottom line – if you take the test, you are supporting the education reform movement. If you refuse the test, you are sending the message that the reformers are just plain wrong for America.

Refuse the test – use your PARENT, TEACHER, ADMINISTRATOR VOICES!

We have more power and influence than we think we have.

So watch for this ground breaking video coming out in just a few days.

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The Personification of Pearson: Always Earning

By Lucianna M.  Sanson – Poetic Justice Editor and Blogger

My daughter was in Kindergarten when she first met Pearson. According to my daughter, Pearson was the bully that chased you around and around the playground until he finally got a grip on your blue denim jacket- and- with a mighty heave, stopped you dead in your tracks, spun you around, grabbed you by the collar, put his face right up close into yours, demanding not only your lunch money, but anything else you had in your pockets: coins, pencils, rubber bands, erasers, paper scraps, chewing gum, jawbreakers, even lint. Even Lint. Yeah, Pearson was THAT kind of bully. It seemed that he wanted everything that every kid had- all of your money, paper, ABC gum- you name it.

 

Needless to say, I marched myself down to the elementary school and discussed Pearson with my daughters teacher. I was told that Pearson was a challenge but that he had been adopted by the state and would be staying in my daughter’s school. As a ward of the state, there was nothing the teacher could do about that; however, she would make sure that my daughter was exposed to Pearson as little as possible and that she would never have to be in the same room with him during testing. Time passed- and my daughter- through lack of contact- rarely saw Pearson during the remainder of elementary school.

 

Fast forward to Middle School. Orientation. Guess who greets us at the door???? Yup.  Pearson. This guys is everywhere AND suddenly he is popular!!!  POPULAR! He is the darling of the new Teach for America teachers and old school testing gurus alike. He is still a bully, only now he is a sly one, a sneaky one, a slithery serpent of a bully who insinuates himself into the good graces of both Guidance and Gradebook alike. My daughter is wary of him, but this time, they are in every class together. She said that he doesn’t pick on her anymore but sitting next to him still makes her uncomfortable. I told her to just do her work and ignore him unless he becomes a real issue during testing and essay writing time. Thankfully, other than his overbearing and popular persona, Pearson doesn’t influence my daughter much during middle school. High school, however, will be a different story.

 

In high school, as luck would have it, my daughter actually began to enjoy spending time with Pearson. I don’t know what she saw in him, but she liked working with him on the school computer programs. The more time she spent with him, the more she began to like him. She had no problem with how much personal information he wanted from her.  As much as it creeped me out, it didn’t seem to phase her. Perhaps this is due to a “generation” gap,  but I can’t seem to shake the image of that pilfering bully on the playground all those years ago.I can’t stand the thought of his nimble fingers picking her pockets, rifling through her purse, or picking her brain.

These days, Pearson isn’t so much a bully as he is nosey. He wants to know everything about my daughter.  He asks her questions about her name, ethnicity, her likes and dislikes, questions about her parents. He records all of it in his data-bank of a brain, squirrelling it away for use at a later date. What is he going to do with this data? Where is it going? Who sees it? My daughter has even told me that he asks about us, her parents. Where we live, how much money we make, our phone numbers, our email addresses. I told my daughter our personal information is none of Pearson’s business and she doesn’t have to tell him anything about us- or her- if she doesn’t want to. She can refuse to answer any of his questions.

 

Hopefully, my daughter will take my advice about Pearson to heart. She will start college before too much longer, to become a school teacher, and Pearson will be at the same school.  Pearson, it seems is EVERYWHERE. Apparently, Pearson isn’t going to a four -year college; high school (and some dual enrollment classes)  gave him all the tools he needed to be college and career-ready.

 

Ironically, although he isn’t going to be attending my daughter’s college as a student, he IS going to be there. He got a job working for a company where he is in charge of monitoring the student teachers at my daughter’s college. Although he has no formal degree, he is working for the company  my daughter will be PAYING  to grade her student teaching experience! So Pearson, with his lack of education and lack of teaching experience, will be making money grading videos of my daughter ( which she has to pay money to upload ) while evaluating her as a student teacher. Wow. Pearson certainly does get around. In fact, you could say that from the moment my daughter met him, he was always earning.

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Poetic Justice is so honored to welcome Lucianna M.  Sanson as an editor and blogger. We are so happy to have you with us Luci!
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