Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Layers of Instructional Change



Education is a long game. Teachers often don't see the full results of our labors come to fruition, not unless we're lucky enough to have students come back and find us years later. Even then, that's one or two students out of hundreds. And when they come back they act all weird because "Do I still call you Mr Robertson, you're not my teacher any more, how do we have normal conversations, wow you're old, this is awkward, ok I'm gonna go now, but thanks for everything kbye." We accept that change happens slowly, and we accept that sometimes we don't get to see the change we may have created.

Some change happens quicker. Sometimes a student will come to class one day and its like a switch has flipped inside them. A maturity Tetris block has fallen into place and another row is completed. Level up. *chime* This happens, or seems to happen, regularly to those of us lucky enough to run professional developments for other teachers. Those are often aimed at using or modifying tools, so in those cases our students are able to leave and implement what they've learned almost immediately. As you've read on the internet, what we hear we kinda learn, but what we do we learn a whole bunch. Well run PD allows for a trainer to throw a lot of pebbles into the pond and hope for some good ripples. Maybe a surfable wave or three.

For the most part though, education changes in bits and pieces. One person at a time, one reader or inspired session participant, one teacher alone in her room trying to come up with a better way to do something and then trying to decide how to show colleagues (just find someone and tell them, they'll dig it. They have an idea to tell you too). Snowflakes slowly piling atop one another, beginning the slide to something more.

I have more faith in teachers than some I've read, so I think the teachers more veteran than I am are also open to changing their practice, updating their ideas, modifying their existing philosophies to encompass new, shifting paradigms. In other words, I don't think we need to guilt and scare teachers into changing, we just need to show them the way and give them a few minutes of breathing time to think it over without the pressure of everything else going on all year. That's all most of us want- some space to play and think. Pressure creates great work, but some time on the beach, literally or metaphorically, can work wonders.

That's change happening within the profession proper. Those of us in the midst of doing the work. That's not good enough. Change must echo, bouncing back and forth through space and time, to get a real foothold. While changes are happening in elementary, middle, and high school classrooms throughout the country, change should also be happening in university education classes. Students training to be teachers must be getting Newer Better Different ways to teach the subject matter those of us in the classroom are teaching. I want student teachers who know how to make the computer dance in ways I was completely unaware of. I want student teachers up-to-date on the latest everything, which means their professors must be. Maybe education professors need to take some time in the schools. I'm sure some do, and more want to and will as soon as Hermione gives back the time turner. How is the change we're experiencing with our kids getting all the way to those still learning to do what we do?  This accepts, of course, that those of us doing it are still learning it too. If doctors are allowed to call what they do 'practice' then we should too. I'm a practicing teacher.*

The change goes further than that, of course. At the end of everything else I hope my students get from my class, I hope that the few of them that go on to be teachers remember what they liked and didn't like. By trying to teach all of them in different ways I'm reaching into the future and, hopefully, adjusting a classroom not yet built.

Change happens at different rates through all these layers, and can't be rushed. But I believe teaching resists stagnation and teachers fight entropy. To say I'm happy with the speed changes happen would be a lie. I wish more teachers would move it along quicker. In all aspects- equality, edtech, pedagogy. So I do what I can to pushing things along where I can. I write, I speak, I take student teachers, I rant on corners and in the hallways of conferences, and I boost those who preach their own good word.

Education happens so many places on a constant basis. It'll never be fast enough. But if we see the big picture, the long game, and all the layers these waves have to roll through, we might be able to be more intentional with our own change and it might help on those days when it feels like nothing is getting better. There are so many layers, we must always be intentional and strong, pushing in the right directions and riding the momentum to break through. Keeping in mind that as more layers begin to move it'll be easier to move the rest. Sympathetic movement. And all the time knowing that right behind the change we're pushing through there's another set of waves coming.

*I'm gonna leave this here, but it sounds like its own post. No one steal it. Dibs! 


If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird TeacherTHE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and the just released A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Fall With Probably Kill Ya

Actual sign hanging outside my classroom.
Observations have never bothered me. Formal observations, informal observations, walk-ins, whatever. I'm good. They've never been something I stressed about. I think that's probably because I'm pretty secure in how my teaching looks. How it would read to someone for an hour. Let this not be confused with me saying that my teaching is always awesome and my kids learn everything all the time. That's not true, I suffer from acute impostor syndrome just like the rest of us. In the long view.

With a formal observation I take more time in the writing of a lesson. Not to say that care and thought doesn't go into every lesson, after all what the kids think is more important than what my administrator thinks, but what my administrator thinks matters too. So I write the most kick ass lesson I can for when she comes in. I already incorporate technology and movement and discussion and student talk on a regular basis, but for a formal observation I might make extra sure those bases are covered super hard. A formal observation is what you'd see if you came into my class on a random day, but more-so. Because the audience is bigger.

There's only one exemption to this rule, and it falls under the category of Do As I Say, Not As I Do. I had a vice principal I hated one year, and she couldn't stand me either. Our philosophies didn't match up. I thought school should be fun and she thought she needed to be a hard ass to get respect. Anyway, she thought an observation was about watching me teach, so I decided to make it about watching my kids learn. So I the lesson was literally me giving the kids three lines of direction, then mixing with them as they worked on a project. Come watch me teach instead of watching me Teach. Put that in your form.

I'm not always very smart.

Anyway, I've gotten to thinking recently about the kinds of lessons I write when I know I'm going to be formally evaluated. I choose vocabulary or comprehension. I weight the deck completely in my favor. As I should, as is my right. An administrator should never have final say about the kind of lesson they'll observe, let that rest with the teacher. I've have too many bad administrators to say they should be allowed to pick how they sharpen their knife. But my current principal is different. I've written about her before, but she's got my back. She supports me. Her attitude is very, "Your room is different but as long as your kids are learning I'm good with it." I would let her dictate a lesson to be observed, just to see what would happen.

I kind of did that with the formal observation that just happened. I went into her office the day before our pre-observation meeting and asked if there was anything specific she wanted to see. Anything she'd never seen me teach that she wanted to. I was honestly hoping she would say, "Teach math, but use technology." Something like that. Something that would be more of a stretch. But she knows the power dynamic is such that she ought to leave that up to me, so she gave me other things she wants to see, reminded me of the goals we've set up for this year and how I could accomplish those. I taught a vocabulary lesson. I killed it. Knocked it out of the park. Kids were engaged, everything worked as well as you could ask for.

And I'm kind of dissatisfied by it. I know she'll have good feedback for me at our post-conference. But I think I should have challenged myself more.

What would happen if I purposefully reached too far in a formal observation? What would happen if I picked an observation to be the first time I taught a lesson, or a specific project, or used a specific computer program? What would happen if I set myself up for failure in front of my principal?

That's dumb though, right? Who would do that? That's not what observations are for, they're for checking a box and getting good marks and staying safe for another year. Right? (Note- If you have a weak union or a bad admin or both, that's totally what they are and you should feel free to scoff at the next part.)

So what if she knew? What if I planned a lesson that I knew would have a high probability of failure for an observation, but then told my principal that's what I'd done? So that she could see and we could figure out how to make the lesson better together? So that she could see me really improvise mid-lesson when I noticed everything was going to hell and I needed to save it? I'm not saying I'd purposefully plan a bad lesson, but an overreaching one.

Wouldn't that be a better use of the hour for me? Oh, and is it selfish to take an hour of teaching and make it more about making myself a better teacher than to use it to help my students learn? To put my professional growth ahead of theirs for a short while? That's better in the long run though, right? It's not like I'd do it every day, or every week or even every month.

I wonder what would happen if I broke an evaluation on purpose in order to making a better learning tool? I know that my current principal would embrace the idea, because she's cool like that. I know that I'm speaking only for myself here and for no one else, because I'd never ever suggest even for a minute that any other teacher should try to do worse on an evaluation because of some cockamamie idea I have. 

What would I even teach? I'll be honest, I'm kind of excited by this idea. I like the thought of maybe crashing in an environment where I normally thrive. Because my school is safe for me right now. So why not leap a little further? How often in one's career will a situation like this present itself?

As I'm struggling to find a way to end this that doesn't involve me petering off into endless hypothetical questions until I talk myself into trying this at the next possible opportunity (a strong possibility at the moment), I will instead close with a clip from BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID that more perfectly sums up my feelings on risks like this or any other.


If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird TeacherTHE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and the just released A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Solve The Math Problem In Another Way

From many parts, art

My district just adopted a new math curriculum. Everyone on the selection committee loved it. None of the other choices even came close. If the curriculum choices were the NBA, the one we adopted was the Golden State Warriors. It had a strong focus on process rather than repetition, it had a cool online component, all the pieces worked together well, and it could shoot threes from anywhere.

I've been using it for the last few months. I've had two or three multi-hour training sessions on it led by trainers who are very excited by their product and seems to be among the fully converted.

It's pretty good. The focus on understanding the Why of math rather than repeating steps over and over really turns me on to it. What makes that hard is we're doing a ton of, "Solve this another way" in class now, and they aren't really used to that. The first time you hit kids with this they do the quizzical dog head-tilt. "Why? 12 + 15 = 27. Why do I have to do (10 + 10) + (2 + 5)?" "Because," I explain patiently. "The first way shows you can repeat steps back to me, like parrots. The math works because it works. Because magic. The second way shows you understand what the numbers actually are. It's not really one plus one because that's not a one in 12, it's a ten. Place value matters." At the end of that most of my kids looked at me like Nigel Tuffnel looking at Marty DiBergi when he asks why they can't just make ten louder. It takes time. They're coming along.

Because of things like this the book reads like the team that wrote it had a giant sign that read "RIGOR" hanging in the office where they were working, and every time they got caught up on a lesson they looked to the sign, put their hands over their hearts, closed their eyes, visualized success, and got back to work with renewed vigor. The book is real hard. Excuse me, the text. You see, the book is like a mix of text book and work book, where there's some instruction, but there's also problems (but not a whole ton, just five or ten real dense ones). When we called it a workbook in a session the smiling trainer corrected us, "We call them worktexts." K, whatever you say Susan. I can play the Teacher Euphemism game too, and this session was very static and direct.

The book (text) doesn't work great for most of my team or our students. So we're changing it. We're not ditching it, the district spent a lot of money on this. I'm not tossing a tool away, I'm just going to break it and use the pieces to accomplish my goals. Some of the questions are good. I'll take that and that and this, thank you very much.

The same goes for the direct instruction portion of the curriculum. As a show of good faith, because it's new, and because teachers I respect said that it's good, I've been trying to follow the instructional section, with its slides and not-script as closely as I can while still being responsive to my kids. But it's awfully teacher talky. So I'm breaking that too. The slides, for the most part, are good. It's certainly easier than writing all my own questions. The processes the program wants us to teach are things I agree the kids should know, and I don't mind the broad strokes ways it wants those processes taught. Again, I'm not going to round file a tool. I'm gonna strip it for parts to build my own Greased Lightning. *arm movement*

We're still working on perfecting instruction using the online component. The Machine is making all the decisions about what my students will do next on its own based on its own diagnostic, and I'm not a fan of that. Yes, it's using the data to make informed choices. The kid took the diagnostic, holes were registered in division, so the student will be given division lessons. But I'm not terribly comfortable with an instructional algorithm that seems like the distant cousin of the Amazon one that says, "I see you bought BABY DRIVER, would you like to also buy the soundtrack on vinyl?" (side note- BABY DRIVER is amazing and so is the soundtrack. Still, just because HAL is right doesn't make it not a little creepy.) I'll get under the hood eventually, once I have time *stops to laugh for ten minutes*, and when I do I'll be able to rebuild how it works into our classroom for the better.

That's three different pieces of just one of the many subjects I teach that I'm working on fixing to it is a better whole for my students. The process is slow but steady. We've even been told that we can do it. My district is currently embracing the Curriculum Is a Tool Not a Bible theory of leadership. I admit I'm lucky. There are schools out there, I've worked at them, where the district says Thou Shalt Teach With Fidelity, it's laaaaaame, and you do. Or you do while getting away with as much modification as you can. It sucks, even though becoming part of The Resistance and dancing closer and closer to the line can be a self-destructive kind of fun.

There are always ways to make something that isn't great work for your students. Sometimes you have to turn it over, upside down, inside out, and break it into smaller chunks, but there's a tool there. There's something that will reach someone somehow. One of the joys of teaching is solving problems multiple ways, because if there's one thing our students need, it's lots of ways to do things.

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird TeacherTHE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and the just released A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

EduMadLibs

Tonight we're playing EduMadLibs. Assuming I set this thing up right, after you fill out the Form you should get an email which contains a link to the your completed MadLib. Much thanks to Shawn Beard for his YouTube tutorial on how to do this. I think I'm gonna use this in class.

 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Words We Use (OR Wherein I Get Pedantic)

Words are weapons oft wielded too wildly.

A picture can be worth a thousand words, but unless your name is Nick Cave, Neil Gaiman, or Octavia Butler you don't speak in pictures. We teachers need to be more aware of the words we use and the context hidden within them.

There are dozens of examples of this, but I'm going to focus on one. One example that gets under my skin every time I hear it or read it. One way that we talk about our classrooms that we should be better than.

These are trenches.
This is not.



I know what we mean when we describe our work as "the trenches". Teaching is hard. It's exhausting. It often feels like a battle. Not in our classrooms, but from the outside. I haven't yet experienced a year where public education didn't feel like it was under attack from somewhere, be it a district or governor fighting against a fair contract, or an Education Secretary who's stated goals are contrary to public education. These external forces can push us into a battlefield mindset.

That doesn't translate when we talk about teaching using battlefield language, however. Non-educators don't think about all those external forces when they think about teaching. They think about us in a room with kids. Period. When we say we're in the trenches, whether we mean to or not, we're putting this image of a classroom into the world:


This is not a place of joyful learning. This is not where someone wants to be, wants their children to be. This is a hellscape. This is where the young of a country go to be destroyed. These are trenches.

Words matter. Words should be chosen with care. I may have dozens of mini-education crusades, but this one comes up every time I'm allowed to speak to a group of teachers. If I do nothing else for the profession, I hope to eradicate the use of "trenches" to describe anything even adjacent to education. 

Classrooms are places of joy, love, and a fantastic madness. The word should call to mind images of rock and roll unicorns prancing on rainbows. Colorful, bright, and still a little confusing. Or whatever imagery best describes your ideal classroom. Find the language to express that. Please.


If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird TeacherTHE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and the just released A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Hip- My Music At Work

One thing I always try to keep in mind as a writer is to not tackle topics that others can tackle better. Last week was a perfect example of that. This week is too, though for a different reason.

The Tragically Hip are a band I had never heard of until Canadian Twitter exploded with them sometime around when their lead singer, Gord Downie, was diagnosed with brain cancer. Some time after that they played a final concert that the entire country stopped to watch. (No really. The freaking Prime Minister of Canada was at the show.) Shortly after that I keynoted a conference in Canada. Hanging out with the conference organizers and friends the night I arrived, I was treated to a Hip playlist. As every song started one of the guys in the room would look at me and say, "This is a great fucking song."

But that's the extent of my connection to The Tragically Hip. While I understand how my friends feel about the loss (science help me when James Hetfield or Henry Rollins die), I'm not the one to write about the band and the man. So it is here that I hand the blog off to my Canadian brothers and Hip fanatics Jay Nickerson and Ian Landy to talk about what the band means to them and to education.

- Doug

It’s nearly impossible to capture in words what The Tragically Hip mean to a Canadian. A lot of people have been trying in the past week, because Hip frontman, the whirling poet at the helm, Gord Downie passed away. Though he gave us a long goodbye, performing and releasing music in the year and a half after it was revealed that he had terminal brain cancer, Canada was stunned.


In this last year or so, one of the most remarkable things about Gord and The Hip is the sense of community that grew up around the band. This was Canada’s band, and we were shook to realize that it would no longer exist as we had always known it. The nation came together around The Hip, lining up for tickets for the last tour, openly crying at those shows, and ultimately, coming to a halt when the last show of that tour was broadcast. Inspired by this, two Canadians, from opposite coasts of the country, answered Doug’s call to set the stage for the most Canadian #WeirdEd ever. We’re hope to give some sense of the impact of The Hip, and Gord, and how that impact comes into the classroom.


Gord’s performance style was unique. Words like manic, unhinged, and unpredictable were thrown around. These things made the performances memorable and engaging. Watching him perform, there’s no doubt that many teachers thought, “If I was in a band, I’d do it just like that.” Teaching, well, it’s kind of a similar thing. Downie had fun, he energized and engaged the audience, and he moved and worked with the moment he was in. We do that in the classroom. Do we have weird spontaneous dance moves? Not as regularly as Gord, but yeah. Do we drop entertaining non-sequiturs into the middle of things sometimes? Guilty as charged. Do we care about my audience, and what they’re walking away with? Yes, we do.
The craft of his lyrics was marvelous. These are songs that are steeped in Canadian history and culture, but aren’t jingoistic anthems. They’re unflinching in their nature, revealing, often at the same time, a deep seated pride as well as a struggle with the negative implications of being a country. In his writing, Gord was able to simultaneously specific and vague, present ideas with a foot firmly planted in the concrete and the abstract, making perfect sense, while completely mystifying us. This was a poet, fronting a tight as hell rock band. Rock and roll has never been as literate and accessible at the same time.
The Hip were only too aware that some of their thinking (and singing) was ‘ahead of the curve’. Writing songs ranging from rants about social issues including wrongful conviction to the treatment of our First Nations Communities (Gord’s last song was connected to a graphic novel and an amazing video about Canada’s Residential Schools: The Secret Path https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g1ln-izMHpE with larger tv component on one of Canada’s darker pasts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGd764YU9yc
It’s safe to say that it is sometimes tragic to be hip - there is sadness in knowing what should be (what is hip) and what really is.  It’s why whether the Hip were playing at a dorm party at the University of Manitoba, at an open air festival, on Saturday Night Live (where they played Grace Too https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d18UWu4dRv4 and Nautical Disaster https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8Fi46BFAF0 ) or performing for a ‘final concert’ for Canada: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLOf5t_TzkDbW7yfmz3NrYX7BXHpU12eX7
Gord was always willing to use his medium of creating socially aware, yet consistently great, music to send messages - Wheat Kings https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xIaBcfL6vU told the story of someone (Dave Millgaard) sent to prison for a crime he did not commit. The lyrics artfully bring up the idea and question about what we do when we do something, and then later need to figure out what we should have done differently once we are aware it was a wrong decision.
One of their bigger hits, New Orleans is Sinking https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xIaBcfL6vU is about remaining resilient against ongoing obstacles - specifically that the city of New Orleans has an eroding coast (not including hurricanes) which works against the city - yet it remains enduring and strong - and inspiring us to consider what we do that keeps us “strong”.
At the same time, The Tragically Hip were able to show how a country is made up of many subcultures - Blow at High Dough https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGRNEJiD3PY helps show that even when we have a common history (in this case materials) - sometimes our cultures have sayings and actions that don’t necessarily easily translate to other regions. Ian’s own experience has had friends shaking their heads to me when he supports sports teams that are on the right side of the content (#westcoastbias) rather than teams in Toronto - which according to some would be the Canadian-thing-to-do… (but they usually live on the other side of the Rockies ;-)
The playlist of songs of The Hip is strong and deep - even their ‘greatest hits’ package Yer Favourites doesn’t have them all, but is an easy compilation to hit ‘shuffle’ on. It will bring up songs that make you have to consider how you deal with friends/families/schools that think different - politically, religiously, etc in songs like At The Hundredth Meridian https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCFo0a8V-Ag where an natural boundary can mean the changing of a world….. or the underrated (but often pops up in ‘top 3 lists’) Bobcaygeon which has us wondering - is it better to have an evil in the open, or just below the surface…. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6QDjDPRF5c
“Music is also a popular rallying point — at its central core, it’s a way for people to get in touch with the best parts of themselves and to voice the love in their hearts.” Gord’s words speak volumes. For many of us, music is an integral part of the human experience. Watching his courage as he went on that final tour, a tough task at peak health, was inspiring. There was a moment, as Jay was in the audience, the last night in Winnipeg, when it was clear that he was saying goodbye to the people in attendance, which broke every heart in the crowd. The moment this week, as he listened to The Hip in sadness, his oldest daughter, caught up in the music, unconsciously channeling Gord’s stage mannerisms, letting the music take her, hit his heart just as hard, because not only was he gone, but we are left with his music, which will continue to move us.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

#MeToo- Voices of Women in Education

We preach that we should be teaching kids to be ready for "the real world", and yet in what many call professional development conversations we shy away from anything that gets too real. Better to talk again about homework than to talk about why athletes are taking a knee, why women are marching, what happened in Vegas (and Sandy Hook, and, and, and). It's safer that way. We claim to have these conversations, or some semblance of them, with our classes, yet not amongst peers. I can't stand by that and never have. I believe everything that happens in the world impacts my classroom, everything has to do with education. Not just trends. Not just Pokemon Go and fidget spinners.

Over the weekend, in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein truth coming out and out and out and out, a hashtag was born. #MeToo. Women took to social media in solidarity, using the hashtag to tell their stories, or note that they too have a story to tell about sexual abuse, harassment, and mistreatment. And it grew and grew and grew. The silence, for the moment and hopefully for the future, was broken.

Men, hopefully, shut up and listened. We internalized the stories we were reading and reflected on our own actions, past and present. The hard truth is that if that many women have #MeToo stories, many of us have stories hashtagged #ByMe. See the impact. Believe it. Take steps to see that it never is done to anyone else. By listening, and then by standing up and standing beside, or behind. 

This is not just a space for me to tell my stories. This is a space where I try to let others tell theres. So I reached out with a tweet.

The following are some of the stories that were given to me. It's important to see that education isn't impervious to this behavior. These things happen in schools by co-workers, to co-workers. Just as America should be working to flush this poison from our country, so should we be working to flush it from our profession. See the issues. Hold them up to the light. Confront them.

I thank the women who wrote to me with their stories for their bravery. If their name is on the piece, they gave me permission to post it. If you would like to add to please do so in the comments. 

-D

soundtrack for afterwards to get angry in a forward motion

***

A middle school teacher asked me if I was wearing anything under my pajamas. It was a spirit day so every student was wearing pajamas. This teacher also made inappropriate comments to other students who reported it and nothing happened. So I did not report it and the other comments he made to me that school year. I had already learned too quickly nothing would come of it.

As an adult who is an elementary teacher, I witnessed and sometimes endured the same harassment by someone in an authority position. The latest just a few years ago. This person was reported. This person still holds the same authority position.

How does this affect our kids, our schools? It is embedded into our culture. One is made to feel you have to tolerate it, keep your head down, and get out when you have the opportunity.

My own girls (ages 10 and 7) saw the impact my situation had on myself and my colleague. My own girls knew it was reported. My own girls know this person is still working at the school. What is this teaching my girls? What is this teaching our kids when they witness this? They are learning, just as I did when I was in middle school, the victim is powerless to stop it.

If we cannot stop this from happening in our society, then it will keep happening in our schools, with our kids, with your kids. Something must change.

- Jennifer Druffel
Teaching since 2001
Fifth-grade teacher, avid reader, and tech geek


***

When student teaching, a student groped my chest. My cooperating teacher didn't think it was worth reporting ("You said he faked grabbing your lanyard. Maybe you misread it.") The secretary wouldn't give me the proper form to fill out because, "I'm not sure that's really wise. Can't you just leave it be?" The principal relented and allowed a sitdown with the student's parent. There was no discipline. No report filed. Nothing. I was encouraged not to apply for a job there at the end of student teaching because, "while you're a good teacher, that incident could have created a PR nightmare."

I think the worst part is that story doesn't even register. Like, if someone asks if I've ever been harassed or assaulted, I usually forget about that one. It's sad that something objectively awful is common place enough in my life to be a blip on my radar.

-Sara Philly

***

A Weighing of Worth

Human beings seek meaning through sharing stories and participating in collective reflection and action. This sharing, reflecting, and acting happen across multiple venues, including – notably -- classrooms and social media sites. Some recent examples that come to mind: the ice bucket challenge for ALS, the women’s march on Washington, solidarity with France after bombings, taking a knee in protest. Some – probably most -- collective movements on social media have political implications that can quickly escalate into controversy and toxic dissent, a digging in of the heels where we gain power from numbers in our “corner,” against an onslaught of vitriol, of trolling, of unfriending. To take a stand – or take a knee – on Facebook or Twitter inescapably means to position oneself publicly in one or another corner. And invariably, these movements seep into classrooms as students tumble in, smartphones in hand, to stake out their positions. These movements also often spring from the voices of the marginalized speaking out for justice.

Good classrooms provide opportunities for students to process their beliefs and values, to share stories both formally in class discussions and assignments, as well as informally through lived moments and interactions. In classrooms, teachers mold, guide, and inform lives – including (perhaps especially) those of marginalized groups -- in the process of making meaning. It is impossible and irresponsible to ignore the social media movements that sweep our students along in their wake, and we need to find ways to negotiate individual positioning against the need for community protocols of civility and respect.

Consider the most recent #MeToo movement – a tsumani of collective empowering of women’s voices across the country and the world. At first glance, we might reasonably ask, where’s the controversy in women standing up in solidarity to say – sometimes for the first time publicly – me too? (And wow. I just wrote -- and edited out -- the words “allowing women to stand up,” as if we need permission to post two words.) Yes, me too, we say together in one very loud voice echoing across continents, I have survived sexual assault, harassment, unwanted touches and words.

No controversy there, no corners to brace against. We are saying, together, “It happened, it happens, it will continue to happen if we don’t do something more than the status quo, if we don’t teach our children – our boys and girls and non-binary students -- to do and be better.” And yet… and yet… I thought long and hard before posting my #MeToo. Long and hard. Because it’s painful to say it, to read it from so many others, to expose the self so publicly. Because it’s hard to know why we are posting it and how it might help (or hurt) to so do. Because I’m reluctant to jump on a bandwagon of another social media fad that dies out by next Tuesday. Because I am not entirely sure how this corner – my corner – will take shape. And how and whether my MeToo will help shape that corner. And whether it matters at all.

And because I find myself fending off a frustrating annoyance niggling at the back of my head: My experience was based on circumstances of deep trauma, but surely (some) others are posting about something “less” than mine, an inconvenient brush-up for example, or an unwanted grope. I fleetingly wonder, are we trivializing sexual assault by making MeToo too broad, too easy to say?

And wow. Again. It dawns on me that that very question minimizes the reality that virtually ALL women – by nature of identifying as female -- live with a fear, a doubt, a shame, a guilt, a reality, a diminishing of the self, an apology, a need to be “allowed” to post two words – that propels us as women to start to “rank” our gropings, our abuses, our brushing-up-against on a bus, our rapes, our “oops, I got drunk and maybe didn’t want that after all,” our catcalls, our being-rated, our FEMALENESS.

A weighing of worth.

A couple of days ago, I read a comment on Facebook from a white male who, while expressing respectful sympathy for women, simultaneously expressed frustration that too many women were using the hashtag as (his words) “attention seekers.”

Bam.

Attention seekers. Let me translate that for you: Your moment of being catcalled isn’t worthy of attention. Your incident of an unasked-for groping doesn’t deserve the focus of my sympathy. Your self-victimizing is whiningly annoying.

But, you know, this guy is a good man who cares about women. And maybe too many people are willy-nilly slapping up a “MeToo” who don’t deserve the attention. And maybe we can’t see the forest for the trees – too many voices keeping us from seeing individuals in deep pain. And maybe I shouldn’t have posted my own “MeToo,” because who am I to say how my experience compares, whether mine is big enough, whether I am worthy enough? And maybe my lifelong gut-wrenching self-doubt makes me wish I hadn’t posted anything at all. A weighing of worth.

Maybe. We. Should. All. Stay. Silent.

And yes, that’s the point: If the individual cry-out of “My experience matters” is getting swallowed up in the overwhelming collective voice of “We matter,” then it’s long past time to sit up, stand up, and pay attention. This isn’t about a corner; it’s about the air we breathe. It’s a voice crying out in the wilderness, individually, collectively.

And what does all of this have to do with teaching? How do teachers choose to incorporate into classrooms, or not, collective movements like #metoo (or #takeaknee or the women’s march on Washington)? How do teachers negotiate allowing marginalized voices and issues of social justice to thrive, while simultaneously honoring the voices – and silences -- of those who feel threatened or triggered or otherwise angry or hurt? How do educators avoid the shut-downs and shut-outs by those who cry “attention seeker!” thereby suddenly placing “metoo”ers on the defensive, backing them into corners they were trying to claw their way out of?

How do we work on confronting our own biases and assumptions around gender that trickle into our classrooms? How do we hear the stories of our students, and how do we help them create a better tomorrow?

I don’t know. But I do know this: the answer to these questions is not to remain silent, to dismiss the issue as a passing social-media fad, to get on with the so-called real lesson of the day, to tell students to talk about it later somewhere else.

- Anita Charles, Director of Teacher Education, Bates College

acharles@bates.edu


***

To live as a woman has meant, for me, to learn that I am never fully in control of my own body. There has always been someone, usually a male someone, who thinks has has rights to my body: to stroke my hair, to massage my shoulders, to turn a handshake into a hug and sneak in a kiss, to force himself into my presence unasked for. 

I am one of the 3 out of 4 women who hasn't yet been raped. I try not to wonder which of these encounters might end my "yet", which might transfer me into the category of the 1 in 4. 

Because when so many men think they have rights to you, there's no way of knowing where they think their rights end. Some men might just want to pet my hair, the way William Carlos Williams just couldn't resist those plums in the icebox. I knew you were saving them, forgive me, they were delicious; I knew you didn't want me to touch you, forgive me, you were so attractive... 

Rape is about power, not sexual desire. And all its preludes are of its kind. The little touches, the unwanted and soul-destroying comments, they are messages: I can if I want to, and there is nothing you can do about it. And of course they are right. Fewer than 10 in 1000 rapists do any jail time. Is there anyone who will take a woman's cry for justice seriously when the violence is less than immediately life-threatening? 

Not all men, not all men. But I can't know which are and which aren't, which will and which would never. I am always ready to fight for my life. But I have to keep that panic leashed. She lunges, but I haul her back. She growls, and I shush her, but I wonder if I will regret it afterward. I wonder if this biting bitch will be my savior or my downfall. 

I am standing in the line for the cafeteria, and there is a hand in my hair. 

The hand is attached to a middle school boy, a gentle barely pubescent creature, and how do I know what chemical stirrings found him reaching into the icebox when the plums were, suddenly, so sweet and so cold? How can I trust the stunned map of baby fat and wide eyes, eyes his mother must have stared into endlessly during the long watches when she fed him from her own body? 

I am the adult, the teacher, the professional. 

I am the fearful, the raging, the robbed. 

It is my professionalism, the endless posture of the teacher, the pelican who tears open her own breast to nourish the young, that silences the voice of the woman who needs to seize and conquer by the sword the sovereign territory of her own body. 

What do I do? What will I do? What lesson will I teach this young thief? He is confused and afraid; he did not know it was wrong, or anyway not really wrong, just a little wrong, just a few plums in the icebox. He is afraid of detention, of losing his cell phone for a week. I am afraid of crushing him, afraid of crushing me, afraid of my responsibility to his female classmates, his girlfriend, his colleagues, his wife. I am afraid of being fired. I am afraid of being silent.

- Rebecca Miller
***
It is hard broaching #MeToo as a subject in my classroom, as it can be difficult to negotiate talk about the human body. I've been chastised for bringing my "opinions" into the classroom before, not regarding this topic but others, so I try to work carefully around the subject.

We are often put in the uncomfortable context of dealing with harassment when it is enacted by young men (and women). Sometimes, teachers are subjected to it. We would not put up with employees who work under us talking about how "hot" we were, but I hear students talking about "hot" teachers all the time. The concept and commodification of the "hot teacher", most notable in pop culture in the Van Halen song, is really a sort of sexual harassment. And it has been so normalized in our culture. As has happened with teachers for decades and happens with women all over, we become not just people but objects for public consumption.

I have had students in the past, as recently as this week, comment on the size of my butt. In front of me. The hardest part about this is both that we as teachers are the recipient of some form of harassment and at the same time, we're the ones responsible for re-teaching expectations to those same students. Commenting on my butt has not even been the worst that I've heard from kids, and I have had it easy compared to other teachers.

And in Band & Chorus, as well as in orchestra, P.E., theatre, or dance, we have to talk about the body: position, posture, how we sit down, and the likes. For middle school teachers, this comes at the worst time possible, as students' bodies are in a complete state of flux and their senses of body image are at near crisis level. In the past, I have always tended toward self-deprecation, setting free the elephant in the room and bringing up a nickname I received in pre-K -- "Bertha Big Butt" -- when demonstrating how students should sit in our specially-bought posture chairs.


I really need to change how I do this. Without even thinking, I'm reinforcing decades of gendered commodification that has been shoved down my throat, without me realizing that it was even a problem. It has become such a part of the fabric of our society that a woman's body is to be commented on, freely & openly, that we often aren't even aware that we're doing it or that it's wrong. Or that wrong has been done to us.

As much as we have to endure as teachers, we also have a unique opportunity to change things. We have to hold our students responsible, particularly the young men who have never been told differently. We have to challenge the idea that we allow our young men (and women) to openly and without consequence comment on whomever they come across. They have to understand that the bodies of women, men, and non-gender conforming folks are not objects for consumption or discussion, especially in an educational environment. We have to change the way we think in our classrooms, and maybe even the way we think about ourselves.

- Emily