Tuesday, August 25, 2015

#WeirdEd Week 71- Strong Beginnings

"It was the best of times, it was the BLURST of times?!?"
For most of us the school year has just started or is just about to start. Personally, I just finished two days of new teacher training (new to the district is still new) and I spent all day today in my classroom fretting over what goes where and when did I get all this stuff? If all is going according to plan I have already had one quiet total freak out about not being ready as well.

With the new year here all of us are ready to rock and roll. There's always talk of starting the year strong, as there should be. The first week sets the tone, and we all want that tone to be a good one. Will the kids like me? Will they see how much work I put in? Did I put in enough work? Why isn't that red bulletin board blue? It should have been blue. Everything is ruined now. Did I remember to tell them my name yet?

In the spirit of new beginnings tonight's chat is going to use famous first lines. There is little more important in grabbing someone's attention than a great opening line. It's a skill. Think back to your favorite books and authors. I guarantee there's some killer opening lines. I'll supply the Quote*, then I want you to synthesize it into something to do with teaching or your classroom. This is #WeirdEd and I'm not going to hold your hand. You be creative. Stretch yourself. You want to make an impression with your kids, we're practicing flexible mindset right here right now.

For bonus points you will also name the thing that the first line is the first line of.

My favorite first line will be in the chat. Can you guess which it is? I will share my second favorite opening line ever. Do you know what it's from?

"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."

*This way I can still use Q1 for Quote 1. Golly Doug, you're so creative and clever. I know, I know. Please stop, you're embarrassing yourself.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

#WeirdEd Week 70- Mean Girls

Credit to #WeirdEd co-mod Shawna Briseno (@nolagirlfromtx) for both suggesting the movie for the chat and writing the questions. Why aren't you following her on the tweets?

Mean Girls is unique among the High School genre. It's a movie about high school, so it feels artificial because no one has high school dances and parties like that, but at the same time it lands a lot of blows right on the chin. Yeah, you've never been to a Halloween party quite like that, but you have heard those conversations. You knew those girls.

The movie is a cartoon, to be sure. The main villain gets hit by a bus at the end (spoiler alert). There's hallucinations where high schoolers become wild animals. Everyone is closer to an archetype than an actual character. But that works. It makes Fey's point brilliantly and cleanly. The cliques. The student-teacher relationship (no, not the coach-student one). The dead funny satire of high school life and social classes. Tina Fey feels like she pulled no punches and used a lot of what she never let go of from her own high school time.*

What can we learn about our kids and our teaching from Mean Girls? Aside from being drop dead funny most of the time, and almost painfully on point the rest of the time, we can dig deep into lessons about our kids and ourselves.

This is a movie that passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors as well, something that I never noticed until I started paying attention. The speaking percentages are basically the reserve of every other movie. There are three important men in the film- the love interest, the gay friend**, and the principal. The other men, the dad, the mathlete/DJ, and the coach, have few lines and little screen time. Tina Fey gets credit for a lot of things, but she can never get enough. (Side Note- if you haven't read Bossypants read it. Even better, she reads the audiobook.)

This week's chat is going to be so fetch. You're going to get a candy cane, not give one. But if you don't wear pink you can't sit with us. And yes, the more quotes you fit into your answers (and damn is this movie quotable) the more popular you'll be.

*Note- all writers do this. Remember that when you're friends with a writer.

**Not played over the top FLAMING gay, but still with gay signifiers. No more a stereotype than most of the other characters. In Hollywood this kind of restraint counts.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

On Choosing Experts

 I'm not a fan of most education books. As a genre I find the writing to be dry and hard to get through. This is a generalization. If you're reading this and you wrote an education book I'm obviously not talking about your book. Your book I love. I'll still read some of the drier books because I like good ideas, I like well researched points, and I like learning. More recently the decision to read or not to read is swayed because I know many education authors now. On the whole though I'd rather be reading Pratchett (which has also made me a better teacher).

I have some Teacher Guilt because of this. I do read teaching books. I am interested in being in the know and learning more. But not having kept completely up to date on the latest education writing (or even some of the older books, to be honest) means that I'm sometimes at a disadvantage in teacher conversations. I'll be making a point based on observation and experience, trial and error, and someone will chime in with, "Actually, Author McWriterpants says this about this topic." Then comes the mic drop. (Note- stop dropping mics. It's not good for them. Respect your tools.)

Here is where I become torn. I Google said Author McWriterpants to check the quote. Not because I'm trying to catch the other person in a lie, but because if it's a good point I want more context than 140 characters can convey. If I respect the person I'm talking to (good odds) and they are trying to share information with me I want to know what that information is.

But I also check out if Author McWriterpants is a teacher. How long? How long ago? If Author McWriterpants has never been Teacher McEducatorpants it adds layers to my thinking about the data.
I'm not suggesting a non-teacher can't say valuable things about teaching. We should be listening to researchers, parents, and students. Sometimes even superintendents have valuable things to say about teaching*. I am saying experience counts. It matters to me if the theories you're writing about are more than just theories. If they come from experience in front of real live children. Practice matters more than ideas.

This is a weird push and pull for most teachers because we are academics. We believe in research and experts. We respect the work that goes into writing papers and books, citing sources, following up on hypotheses. But at the same time we're wary of outsiders telling us our business. We've been burned before. We're still on fire.

My instinctual reaction, and I think the instinctual reaction of many teachers, when being told what to do is, "How does this work in your class?" That is not as confrontational as it might sound. "No really, how did it work? What would you change? How can I steal this?" We want concrete things we can move to our own rooms.

If the answer is, "I'm not a teacher," that doesn't immediately make Author McWriterpants sound like, "Blah blah blah, don't listen to my face anymore." But it throws the theories and ideas into relief. I do question more deeply how the ideas and theories would look in a real classroom. I assume it won't be as clean as the writing always makes it sound. Often education writing takes a hard line and anyone who's ever been in front of more than one child knows what works once might not work twice. Hard line is not the way to approach anything about teaching.**

The magic words, "researched-based" are great. But I prefer to paraphrase the Philosopher Kix- "Kid tested, teacher approved."***


**except taking away recess. Don't do that.

***ideally there's a balance between the two. (thanks, Megan for reminding me)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

#WeirdEd Week 69- This Is Not a Test

Guest Moderator- Jose Vilson

Thank you, Doug, for inviting me to speak to your people on the WeirdEd chat. I was inspired to take part because I found myself needing to push the conversation further about race and so many of its intersections. Often, we catch ourselves in conundrums when we don’t speak directly to these issues, and that’s when things get weird. On the one end, we implore our kids to push the boundaries, go beyond their world view, and do better by each other. Yet, we as adults have a hard time doing so when it gets uncomfortable. How do we model that for students?

Let’s find out for #WeirdEd.

Notes for the chat

Tonight's chat is going to be different from other #WeirdEds (I almost said "normal" #WeirdEds) in that it will come in two parts. Jose is going to be asking us questions but I also wanted him to, and he wanted to, talk about his book This Is Not a Test. This chat then is going to be a mash-up between me, as moderator, asking Jose questions about his book and us throwing follow-ups towards him, and him asking us questions like a regular #WeirdEd. It's a two-fer.

We'll start with Jose answering Qs about This Is Not a Test, which we can all have a conversation about. That'll be three questions. Then we'll move to him asking us questions. The set up is a lot like our chat with Bobak Ferdowsi.

I'm going to differentiate the questions (even though it'll be pretty obvious from the wording) by marking my questions to Jose as J1, J2, etc. And his questions for us will be the traditional Q1, Q2.

I'm thrilled Jose has come to share with us and I know we know what kind of a community we are. Many thanks to Jose. Buy his book.

Friday, August 7, 2015

We Need to Talk About Week 68

#WeirdEd is a good chat. It's a strong chat. It's got the best crowd in the business.

And we failed this week.

We failed our guest. We failed as teachers.

Last week, led by Rusul Alrubail, we talked about prejudgement, racism, bias, and discrimination. I asked Rusul to come. I have a lot of respect for her and I knew she'd bring something powerful. I promised her a safe space. I told her this community has never failed, never faltered during the hard conversations we've had. We're here for each other. Hell, she brought me a first draft of questions that I thought were too easy, too soft, and I pushed her to push the chat harder.

She knew it would be a problem. She told me she was nervous about the chat. I said no no, you'll be fine.

She knew better than I did.

How? How did that happen in my chat? In our chat? How is it when someone in the chat suggested that she just take off her hijab so she didn't get hate directed at her only Rusul and two others  responded to it?

Rusul, Christina Torres, and Jaison Oliver were right on it. Our guest and two teachers who deal with this kind of behavior all the time because they talk about it all the time. Because they put their beliefs front and center and because they are ToC (Christina gets the added bonus of catching flack simply for being a woman). They were the only ones who stepped up. The rest of the chat, we were busy patting ourselves on the back for how progressive we were. I'm lumping myself in here too. I was trying to keep an eye on all the tweets. I was trying to look out for her and that whole thread totally passed by me somehow. No excuse. Then someone else chimed in to the same thread and told Rusul to have thicker skin. Someone came into our chat, a safe space where we celebrate differences above all else, and we let someone suggest thicker skin is the answer.

We are better than that. I tried to console myself with, "Well, there were almost 900 tweets in that chat. Ten crappy tweets out of 900 means we did pretty well overall." But I was wrong. I primp and celebrate #WeirdEd being safe and different and we let abuse happen right under our noses. And no one but Rusul, Jaison, and Christina said anything.

Where were we?

Then I saw this.

Some coward invoked terrorism to warn Rusul that she ought to think before she tweets. Some coward too weak to speak openly warned her that her words could end up hurting the people who hurt her. The writer suggested she might somehow lead people to violence. That it would be her fault. And framed it as a reasonable plea. Framed it as, "I'm being reasonable here. You were awfully mean to those people who said you should pretend you aren't who you are to avoid getting hurt." And tagged the chat into it.

Rusul (and Christina and Jaison) handled all of this calmer and more reasonably than I ever could have. I already respected the three of them, and that respect has only deepened. As has my realization about how safe I am to have a chat about the confederate flag and get zero hate. Imagine if she'd run it. Even when I recognize my privilege I still don't see how far it stretches.

I invited Rusul to #WeirdEd.

I promised her it would be a safe space.

I was wrong in this case and it is deeply troubling.

Why did we let this happen? Is #WeirdEd all talk and no action? Sure, we have these conversations, but that's where it ends? Even inside the chat.

We owe Rusul, Christina, and Jaison thanks.

We owe Rusul an apology.

Then we need to start putting our money where our mouth is. This is a place where we can talk about candy and narwhals and Monty Python, but if it's not a place we can also talk about racism and other relevant, difficult topics then we're just playing at learning. I love having fun and being goofy and making #WeirdEd the chat you come to when you want to cut lose and be silly. But that's never been the only point. This topic and topics like it will come back around. Maybe sooner than later.

We're in this together. That's what #WeirdEd is. That's what makes us special.

We will do better.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

#WeirdEd Week 68- Pre-Judgments with Rusul Alrubail

Blog written by guest moderator @RusulAlrubail

Some of you might know my story, if you’ve been following my writing and my tweets. I don’t often talk about my background, and when I started to, it was after I joined #Educolor. This was because I felt that there was a group of people who stood behind me and supported me if I shared a sensitive topic on race, ethnicity and culture, especially my background and things that touch the heart.

My family and I came to Canada from Iraq after the gulf war. Growing up in Canada as an immigrant child for a few years and learning to speak English was one of life’s tough curveballs that were thrown at me. Most of my teachers were great, kind and supportive, but I did have the occasional teacher that was clueless as to how she could help me in terms of language as well as social and interpersonal interactions. However, dealing with kids my age when you do not speak their language was a very difficult experience that I don’t wish it on any student.

I am writing this today because prejudice, discrimination and bigotry still exist. It might not impact me in the same way that it did when I was a kid, or an adolescent but still impacts me nonetheless. I am writing this today, because prejudice, bigotry and racism still impacts millions of people around the world. But why start so big? It still impacts your students, and that’s why you should care! Let’s change that little by little through small conversations, an open mind, and a big heart.