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

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Tom Petty- An Education in Rock and Roll


Soundtrack for this post

I'll be honest, tonight I don't want to deconstruct Tom Petty's music. I probably could, but you could probably read more professional rock writers do it better with a simple Google search. I want to celebrate his music. I want to tie it to education, but in the most fun ways possible. Mostly I want to enjoy the songs he gave us.

I want to talk about that guitar part that opens American Girl. And the brilliantly simple drumming in Listen to Her Heart. And how it's physically impossible to not shout "BAY-BEE" in Breakdown.

I want to talk about how Tom Cruise is forever linked to Free Fallin' but I'm ok with that because it's one of the best needle drops in any movie. I want to remember what a weird ass video Runnin' Down a Dream is.

I think Mary Jane's Last Dance is my favorite Tom Petty song, but I don't know why. I think it might be the first song that I realized was his. I think it might be because I discovered the song around the same time I found out that marijuana was sometimes called Mary Jane and then it felt somehow mischievous to sing along with it because omg he's singing about *pot*. (I don't think that's what the sing is actually about now, but it might be.)

And then I realize he also wrote Refugee (with that amazing vocal delivery in the opening verse), Even the Losers, Here Comes My Girl, Don't Do Me Like That, and I Won't Back Down and I just get angry I never got to see him live and have those, "Holy crap, that's right, he wrote this too," moments over and over.

He even got the nod from "Weird" Al, who parodied Stop Draggin' My Heart Around with Stop Draggin' My Car Around.

In writing this I realize that Tom Petty hated the suffix "-ing". Draggin'. Fallin'. Runnin'. Jammin'. It's kind of amazing the song isn't called Waitin' For Tonight.

I don't have a deeper educational point in this post. I don't know if I have any educational point at all. Maybe that we should appreciate the beauty in the simple, and the amount of work it takes to sound so effortless. Maybe it's that what we really need to be inspired is right there in the world around us, and it's up to us to take that world and reflect it back to make it brighter somehow.

Tom Petty will be missed, but his music will live forever.

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

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Pushing Persuasion


The entire lesson felt off. We were working well. The kids were asking good questions and showing effort and learning. They were accomplishing the goals of the lesson.

But still, something was tickling my Teacher Sense.

We'd just finished a story in our reading text book called Off And Running that was all about a class election. (sidebar- This story is harder to read this year because it features a debate between a super-prepared girl and a popular but lackadaisical boy with no ideas. Guess who the students in the story like more. Right.) We had already practiced debating, and the students had done a good job with that. Now we were moving on to other ways to persuade people, this time by creating posters. I went with my first instinct, which isn't normally ideal but sometimes in the day-to-day rush of teaching that's what you (read: I) end up with- I decided to create a mock election for the class. Together we built five possible positions the students could create campaign posters for: Class President, Treasurer, Secretary, Technology Director, and Time Keeper. We sketched out generally what each hypothetical position would entail, the students choose the position they would run for, and got to work.

We weren't actually going to go through with the election, but I was going to let them display their posters and the class would vote on the most persuasive, lending some reality to the process. By letting the kids choose a position to campaign for I was moderately satisfied that there was some student choice, and the kids had helped come up with the list so there was student voice. Still, the whole time the voice in the back of my head was nagging me that this project was pretty mediocre. I didn't get a chance to listen closely to the voice until the students were already rolling and had bought in, which meant by the time I was getting nice and dissatisfied there was plenty of work being done and pulling the plug would have been unfair. I'm not adverse to stopping a project that doesn't work, but this was technically working. I'd create some animosity if I let them work hard for twenty minutes then had them toss the work.

I brooded during lunch. I knew what I wanted them to make persuasive posters about, but I had to persuade myself to go there. It didn't take long to give in.

I like to think I'm a reflective teacher, and it helps to have someone to reflect against. Not in a competitive way, but in a "I look up to your ideas" way. At the top of my What Would X Teach This Like list is Jessica Lifshitz, a fifth grade teacher in Chicago. To put my level of respect mildly, if I could send my own children to anyone's classroom for fifth grade, Jess would be my first, second, and third choice. And our Vote For Me Persuasive Posters did not pass the Jess Test. Jess would push the kids harder. Jess would make the lesson truly real.

At the end of the day I told my kids to take their posters home, finish them, and bring them back the next day. I needed to honor the work that had been done. However. "We are going to try again tomorrow," I said. "I think we can do better. I don't mean you're all doing bad work, you're not. But I could guide us to better, more challenging posters."

The next day I dove in, and the kids were ready. Nothing whets a student's appetite like telling them that you the teacher could help them make something better and more difficult. I announced that Vote For Me was too simple and shallow, and we were better than that. That I know they could push further. "With that in mind we'll be making persuasive posters about real life topics." I would take suggestions, but first I put two seed ideas on the board.

Should phones be allowed in class?

Should athletes be allowed to kneel for the National Anthem?

The room went silent. One kid gave voice to many of their thoughts. "Are we allowed to talk about that in school?"

"I am not allowed to preach at you. I can't tell you what to think. But I'm not. I'm trusting that you're smart, mature fifth graders and you can handle this. I know you have opinions. I've heard them. So defend them."

I wrote the phones one first because I knew some of my kids wouldn't even know about the Anthem controversy. I knew some that did wouldn't want to talk about it. All of them would have an opinion about phones. But my real seed was the second one. This was the real example. When I said I want them talking about real things, I meant it. Inspired by the two seed topics, and with a few false starts and weaker topic ideas - "Should we get free time on the computers?" - we eventually built a fairly strong list.
List- Should phones be allowed in class? Should athletes be allowed to knee during the anthem? Should people be made to recycle? Plastic bags v Paper bags v Cloth bags? Should schools have dress codes? Should schools have uniforms?

Concerns from students melted away as they chose their topics and got to work. It was actually easier this time to get them to write detailed reasons. Part of that, I'm sure, was because this was the second persuasive poster in two days. But I believe the bigger reason is they had something to be passionate about. The two most popular topics were For/Against School Uniforms, a few kids had been in schools with uniforms and they were strongly against, and For/Against Phones In Class. A surprising number of students argued against phones. I'm looking forward to extending those conversations, since most of the reasons revolved around, "Students will be distracted by their phones." "Oh, so you're saying I shouldn't trust you with tech? Or you're saying I shouldn't trust your friends?" And at least two of my girls picked Dress Codes and jumped all over, "Dress codes are always about girls, and never about boys. What's up with that?" Their points, I didn't say anything.


Only two kids went for the Anthem topic. Interestingly enough, they're best friends, or at least best friends in class. And they took opposing sides. They sat next to each other and had a polite conversation as they made their posters, hashing out their views and reasoning. The only guidance I had to give was clarifying the reasons behind the silent protest. I didn't tell them how I felt (of course they should kneel, how is this a debate) They both were struggling with the deeper issues within it, which was the point of the assignment. Most of the students ended up thinking deeper and harder about their posters than they had the day before. We practiced real skills. Success!



I'm not sure if there will be any fallout from this. You never know. Last year I talked about attending a Women's March and had to explain myself to a few parents, but nothing happened. It's possible there will be parents who won't be happy we were thinking about this stuff in class. My admin has my back, and I've got curriculum and standards to stand on. I can't build lessons overly concerned about what parents might say. I keep the parents in mind, but they're behind the kids and the best way to get at the learning. Finding the truth and the real in assignments is one of the big goals of education. Occasionally you need a second chance.

Sometimes you need to turn back not because the road is too difficult, but because it's too easy.

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 3, 2017

A Classroom of One


When you have a student teacher you have two classrooms. The classroom you now share, full of children waiting to learn. And the classroom of one, you and your student teacher, also waiting to learn.

The most powerful thing I've done as a teacher is to be a mentor teacher to a student teacher. To bring a future educator into my class and do everything in my power to guide them through those rough seas of early teaching. Every time I've done it I've reflected more fully and more deeply than I do when I'm alone in my room. I'm forced to. It's part of the contract I sign with my student teachers. I will prepare you as best I can to be a teacher all by yourself, and to do that I will expose every form and function of my practice to you in the hopes together we can best understand how to do this thing.

I think I'm a pretty good teacher. I'm not the best, and I've got plenty of weaknesses in my practice. I do everything in my power to be sure that my students get the best possible education, just like anyone reading this does. And just like most of us, I worry about what happens to my students when they leave my room. I wonder how I could leave a bigger imprint in education. Not for myself, not how can I be more EduFamous. But how can I make my ripples bigger?

I believe we need to go to the source. Books and blogs and chats for current teachers are great. People can grow and change. But I want to get to teachers before that. Enter student teachers.

Student teachers are the most malleable of educators. They have no practice, and if they have an educational philosophy it's ripe for refining. I'm not saying they don't know what they want or what kind of teacher they want to be. I am saying that knowing those things and putting them into practice are two different things. By taking on student teachers I, we, can nurture those instincts, hone and sharpen them, and hopefully help them become the teacher they want to be.

I'm not trying to turn my student teachers into me. I am trying to get them past the awkward early years of teaching where you're finding yourself and finding your voice while they're still with a mentor teacher, rather than all alone facing a roomful of kids. To experiment and risk with a net below them. I tell my student teachers, "Try things. Break the class a little. It's ok. We can put it back together." If this becomes habit, then when they are left to their own devices they won't need to learn it. It'll be there.

I wonder if all mentor teachers feel the same. I always hesitate to question how someone else teaches. But I do know from many conversations with student teachers and current teachers that the student teaching experience was not always the most helpful or safe. That many mentor teachers do not feel the way I do about handing their class over to an untested college student. And that is too bad, because it weakens the student teacher, which weakens us as a whole.

A Classroom of One is written for student teachers who are ready to but nervous about taking the leap into teaching. It's also written for mentor teachers and potential mentor teachers who are often not given much guidance from the universities their student teachers are coming from. The purpose of the book is to help both groups grow together, and become stronger.

When we strengthen student teachers and allow them to strengthen ourselves, we better serve our students, current and future.

I am lucky enough to have gotten ten short stories of student teaching from current educators, which are included in A Classroom of One. These contributors are Knikole Taylor, Sarah Windisch, William Chamberlain, Patrick Harris, Josh Stumpenhorst, Megan Schmidt, Rusul Alrubail, Scott Bedley, Shana White, and Jose Vilson. Their input broadened the messages and viewpoints of the book in the best possible ways, and I can't thank them enough.

While the explicitly intended audience for A Classroom of One is mentor and student teachers, I believe there are universal lessons within that would benefit any teacher at any point in their career. And if it inspires you to reach out to your administrator or local university about taking on a student teacher, mores the better for all of us.

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