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

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Data Is My Leg Day

Listen, if I'm writing a post about data, I'm using a picture of Data. That's just science.
As I have written in the past and will probably continue to write, the weakest link in my teaching chain is my ability to best dissect and use data. For many years now my two main self-improvement goals have been 1) Teach math in more interesting, engaging ways, and 2) Be better at data. We can talk about what it might mean that those have been goals of mine for multiple years later. As for now, let it be known that while I continue to try, and I am getting better, I'm still not where I want to be with either.

Data collection and dissection is one of those teacher skills that has never connected fully for me. I simply don't think like that, so whenever I'm presented with a stapled packet of colored graphs and spreadsheets it's a struggle for me to remain fully engaged. Part of my brain always wants to go, "See you at the commercial break. Good luck." I don't indulge this impulse, but it makes staff meetings or PLTs harder than they should be.

My schools recently lost our Title One teacher because of budget gymnastics and various state shenanigans. Naturally, we didn't lose the kids who most need Title One services. Which means all the stuff that teacher used to do has fallen to us. My principal is doing her level best not to drop a million tons of new on us, but she also can't avoid having to lead data meetings that go much deeper than they used to, and making us teachers make calls we never used to have to make because we had an expert on staff who would make those decisions.

Last week we had the first of those meetings. Pages of data was placed in front of myself and my teammates. My admin and another district office person launched into their spiel. I became immediately confused. I took massive notes, trying to keep programs and reasons and numbers and scales straight. I asked questions. I still didn't follow everything. Which is frustrating on multiple levels.

I'm a college-educated educator who fancies himself fairly intelligent. I should get this. This is important for the education of my students. I should get this. They're not going that fast. I should get this. My colleagues seem to be keeping up. I should get this.

Then I was saved. One of the other two members of my grade level team stopped the show. "I'm sorry, I don't feel like I'm being given enough time to make these decisions. Can we slow down, please?" I couldn't help it. I sighed, "Thank you for saying that." I felt like my students with IEPs must feel when I get rolling too hard in class. New appreciation earned. Better reflection engaged. Still lost though.

At the end of the meeting all my red zone and yellow zone kids (*DIGRESSION ALERT- this is the other reason I've struggled with data, it reduces my kids into colored bands. I understand why it does, I get the purpose, I know it can still help. I don't know if I'm using my distaste for this as a justification for my struggles. "My kids aren't colors and numbers, which is good because I totally don't get the colors and numbers thing.") had been placed in reading fluency programs I'm to be putting into practice in class. I did manage to ask to observe my teammates when their programs are in action because I want to be sure what I'm doing is what they're doing. I work with two outstanding teachers, and observing them makes me better.

But I didn't know why my kids had been sorted how they had. I was like that student in class who says, "The answer is 47. Because it is." Not good enough. So once again I did something with my principal I'd never have done with any other administrator I've ever worked with. I went to her and said, "I'm very confused, and I need help." And to her credit she said, "Ok. Thank you for advocating for yourself. Let's meet after school."

Together my student teacher, my principal, and myself stepped slowly through my yellow zone kids again, and the programs suggested for them. I asked specific questions about the data I was presented with. Questions to which a lesser admin would have said, "Aren't you a teacher?", but mine said, "This is only your third year here, isn't it? We had huge training on this stuff, but it was five years ago. I forget in the rush of everything we don't catch all our newer teachers up on this."

I still don't understand everything about everything. I still get an ill feeling in my stomach when I read that we're going to be looking a data in a meeting. A feeling of inadequacy and discomfort. I can talk about student choice and freedom all day. Ask me why I'm doing something in class and I'll talk about how building with cardboard is allowing the students to self-level and work to their ability while pushing themselves and look at the cool stuff they're making, go ahead and ask what they're learning. That's my wheelhouse.

But that's not good enough. I don't need to read another blog, another book on project-based learning. Not right now. Right now I need someone to hold my hand and walk with me into fields of numbers and specific assessments and make sure I don't drown.

Data is the thing I know I need to do but would rather not because it hurts and it'll hurt tomorrow too probably. Data is my leg day.

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

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Second Line


"The first line is easy. It's the second line that's difficult, because it's the second line that give the first line meaning."
-Nick Cave on songwriting

The first lesson of a new topic is relatively easy. Finding that special Into that gets the kids excited, catches their attention, fires them up to know more.

But that second lesson, that's where the teaching is.

It's true with just about anything. Once isn't as painful as you think it will be. Anyone can write one blog post. Go to the gym one time. Take one guitar lesson. Start a diet.

Following through is the hard part. Finding a way to maintain. To do the same thing without doing the same thing. Doing the same thing but finding a new angle to attack it from. I'm not even talking about from year to year. Teaching that lesson again next year isn't that bad. You've got a whole year to (maybe) think about how it went and (perhaps) come up with a better way to do it. Still, that's just the one lesson. Oy, I just realized I've constantly got old lessons cycling through my brain, just waiting for the curriculum to get back there again, so I can take them apart and try them anew.

Learning doesn't happen all at once, no matter what some of our pacing guides might suggest. Yes, the students might need to see that material again. But not in the exact same way. No matter how much that jerk part of your brain might want you to try it, teaching the same thing but LOUDER and S-L-O-W-E-R doesn't actually work. It's teaching the follow-up in a way that engages the kids who got it the first time while bringing along the kids who didn't that's the hard part. And the fun part.

"So how can I make the second lesson better?" you ask. This stuff is some of my favorite parts of teaching. Taking a lesson apart and turning it this way and that until I can see it in a new light. or taking it apart and focusing on smaller bits. That's always a great way to get a fresh look at a lesson. Besides, the odds are that the kids got chunks, concepts, ideas. The second lesson is workshopping through the Big Idea step-by-step like a mechanic or a doctor. Following the internal flowchart we have. "Do you understand this? If yes, go here. If no, go back and take this path."

The second lesson is where student choice and voice become a vital part of the teaching. If I can't see the way, maybe if I give the kids the ultimate goal and tell them "Ok, go!" they'll find their way to it. This has pros and cons. How can I ask the kids to discover what it is they don't understand if they don't understand it? But how can I not guide them to that skill, since it'll be so important outside of school? Ah, the beautiful, maddening balancing act of education.

I supposed this is the point in the post where I'm supposed to use the word "grit". So...grit. There. EduSpeak box checked. Moving on.

It's the second lesson that moves the first along. A popular term, at least among the curriculum I'm using, is "spiraling". As in, "This curriculum spirals. If the kids don't get it the first time it'll come back around." Which is fine in concept, but you can't start a fire by getting the wood smoking then moving on to pitching your tent and assuming the smoke will still be there when you're done.

Chase that second lesson. Cherish the ideas that come to you during the first lesson when it's too late to use them, the ideas that come on the drive home, the ideas pilfered from social media friends, and the ideas that wake you just as you're falling asleep.

Teaching is often working as hard as you can, and then immediately thinking, "Now what?"

Now what?

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written two books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher and THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome). I have a new book about the student teacher/mentor teacher relationship called A Classroom Of One coming very soon. 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, September 12, 2017

Hooked on a Feeling


The Guardians of the Galaxy would be either the best or the worst teaching team ever.

Let's imagine they were all on the same grade level team. Quill would decide he was the team lead, even though he didn't have the seniority or organizational skills. Gamora would know she should be the team lead, because she does have the organizational skills and is more competent. Rocket wouldn't care who thought they were the team lead and would be off doing his own thing, grumbling, and either fixing or breaking the copy machine. Groot would have no interest in being in charge of the team, content to be every student's favorite teacher whether they were in his room or not, and whether they understood everything he was saying or not. And this would be Drax in every meeting.

Picture your team at school. If you can't figure out which one of you is Drax, guess what.

But under it all they all have good hearts. Each of the Guardians comes from a broken place, and they each have dealt with that in different ways. Bad pasts, bad leaders, bad experiences being created.

Rocket and Gamora became what they are against their wills, and they both harbor a tremendous amount of anger about that. As someone who bangs on and on about the mentor teacher/student teacher relationship, I am worried about creating Rocket. But it doesn't stop him from doing what is right, even though he's going to gripe the whole time. Not exactly the best person to have on a team, but he does get things done. Gamora turned her anger into a more productive energy, laser focused and deadly. I know teachers who I would not get in the way of when they're on a mission.

Quill felt abandoned and mistreated, and so he learns to depend on himself only. Like, say if you worked at a school with a terrible administrator who didn't threaten to eat you, but might as well have. Doesn't stop you from being good at your job, but doesn't exactly instill a sense of authority in you either. Still, who needs authority? Until you find yourself in a position of authority. At least a negative example is an example.

Groot and Drax are the easiest teachers in the school to get along with. Especially once you get over Drax telling you exactly what he thinks about your lessons. Like that time he saw your book report packet and didn't respond encouragingly.
I do know one thing for sure- this grade level would have the best music coming from their rooms at all times.

Thinking of ourselves as Guardians of the Galaxy isn't a good teacher mindset. Guards are passive. They wait for something to come after them. Same with Avengers and Defenders to be honest. Our superheroes are all reactive. Because in fiction it's the baddies who attack. If there were no baddies, the Guardians would bum around space having a good time. Heck, they'd probably become the baddies just to have something to do.

Teachers are aggressive. We attack ignorance. We diagnose and pursue. We defend our students, but we teach our students to defend themselves. Unlike the Guardians, who will move on to another planet, it is our students who will move on. We can't save them, we can't fix them, those aren't the jobs and aren't what's needed anyway. We can prepare them.

Teachers aren't guardians. We aren't superheroes. We are preparing others to be their own superheroes.

I guess that makes us Nick Fury?
If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written two books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher and THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome). I have a new book about the student teacher/mentor teacher relationship called A Classroom Of One coming very soon. 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

Monday, September 4, 2017

On The Eve



On the eve of another first day, another year, another class. My thirteenth, their sixth. All weekend, and of course it's a long weekend, I've paced. I've fidgeted. Jiggling leg, ready to go.

I wonder what they're doing on the eve of their first day. New grade. New teacher. New room. With strange desks and off chairs and are those puppets we saw at Open House? "I heard he doesn't give homework." "I heard he plays music in class." "I heard there's something about cardboard."

"I heard he's fun."

On the eve of another year I take stock again of what's important. What'll be new? New student teacher. That's exciting. It means more opportunities for learning, for the kids and for me. New computers, 1:1. Something I've wanted for years, now I have. Ball's in your court, Robertson. Time to show you know what you're doing. Again.

So much pressure, on the eve of another school year. Pressure from myself, to be my best. To find yet more creative ways to teach, be more flexible and responsive to the kids and what they need. Pressure on myself to finally get better at my weaknesses. "I will collect better data," I say to my understanding admin. She knows my room doesn't work that way, but I know the district does. So much pressure to find a better balance between the two, better than last year or the year before.

Of course, this is the eve of a whole new group. So the center of gravity has shifted once again. Which is part of the fun, balancing on a moving platform.

On the eve of the year, trying to find more goals. But goal setting in teaching is strange. The goal posts move, and there are so many. Each kid has dozens. Each classroom, each subject. I will be better at teaching math creatively. I will be better at assessing reading explicitly and recording it. I will use my class set of computers. But not too much. But not just to substitute. No digital worksheets. Unless there's a sub. Maybe.

On the eve of new building, new creation. A whole new start with a whole new crew. I hope they like me. I mean, it doesn't matter if I'm their friend.

But still.

Another marathon. But marathon is a bad metaphor. In a marathon all you have to do is run. There's so much more to it than that. Triathlon? Still too easy, too simple. Decathlon then. But without the breaks, and over and over, with different weigh discs and hammers, different height hurdles. And all with a smile and a laugh.

On the eve of another community. How well will they gel? Last year we struggled. This isn't last year, this is new, fresh, shiny. Use last year, absorb, integrate, move forward.

On the eve of so many long days and long nights. On the eve of another adventure bundling joy and stress together. Finding ins, finding paths, finding the wrong way to say something on the way to the right way.

An eve of I hope I remember how to do this.

An eve filled with excitement and nerves. It'll probably never go away.

I hope they're excited this eve. I hope they're ready. I hope I am. I am. I hope.

Let's go already.

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written two books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher and THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome). 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

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Buzzwords and EduSpeak by Sarah Joncas


Sometimes I wonder if people in education fully understand most sentences from meetings, books, and PDs. It seems like every day contain more acronyms and buzzwords, all expected to be memorized and fully understood. But what’s at the heart of it? What words actually matter? What actions actually matter? If school is for students, we need the best way to cut through the buzzwords to find what we value. Not in teacher-speak, not in alphabet soup acronyms, but in simple plain English.

Tonight’s chat will run a little different - BW# is a “buzzword bonanza” challenge related to each question. When you see BW1, tweet BW1 with the buzzwords around the topic with the #WeirdEd hashtag. Use more than one tweet if needed, just like Pokemon your goal is to catch them all. Then, Q# relating to the buzzwords will be sent, and answer with A# and #WeirdEd. Let’s challenge ourselves in answering Q’s is to use as few of the buzzwords as possible and move past alphabet soup.

Let’s get some buzzwords and some real answers as we survive this busy BTS season! 

This post was written by Sarah Joncas.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Talking About Talking About the World

Regarding #WeirdEd- I want to talk about what we're going to talk about. Unfortunately, I'm at the tail-end of my vacation and I've been on the road for days and days with my family and tomorrow, Weds, Aug 23, is the last travel day and I won't be able to lead the conversation we're going to have during the chat. Even with stuff like this, which I wanted to get to last week, family gets put first. I'm afraid this won't be the last time we'll have to talk about it either. But it can't not be talked about. This chat isn't about a section of education, it's about all of it. To turn a blind eye is to admit you're ok with Both Sides talk and to pretend teachers don't have a part to play. I don't care if other chats do it, I don't run other chats. But #WeirdEd is mine and it ours, and the teachers who come to #WeirdEd want to be honest as much as they want to have goofy chats. I tapped Nathan Stevens to run the chat this week because I trust him and he's got interesting views on things. The blog is mine, the questions will be his. Thank you.

The president is unhinged. Let's get that out of the way. I know this because I've been paying attention for the last two years, but also because tonight he gave a speech in Arizona that was a ranting, raving bucket of lies. He's as mad as a bag of cats.

It used to be controversial to say something like the above about the president. People would still say it, but there would be a significant portion of the population who would be like, "Woah woah woah, hold on now. Let's look at this rationally." But now? Nothing you could say would feel like it's far enough. He's openly courting white supremacists. His main cheer leader is David Duke, the former Grand Dragon of the KKK. There are Nazis marching in the streets of America, and he thinks that pretty cool. AND THAT'S JUST STUFF THAT HAPPENED IN THE LAST WEEK.

School is starting again soon or has already started. Students are back in classrooms, teachers are finding new and interesting ways to reach their new and interesting kids, and things are moving along. Curriculum is being delivered. But there's an undercurrent through everything because there's a man in the White House who courted nuclear war on a whim from a golf course. Every teacher, even more than last November, is thinking, "What do I say when he comes up? Or when the Travesty Of The Day happens? How do I handle this?"

There's some great stuff going around on twitter under #CharlottesvilleCurriculum to help with that. Well, part of that. But what about the rest? What about what's coming?

The go-to answer in these cases is Listen To The Kids. Let them talk, let them share. We can't endorse one politician over another, but we can talk about various political positions. We can discuss racism and white supremacy because those are real things that are really happening (have been happening but are now more on the surface than ever), and that's called Current Events. That's in the PBiS lessons, my friends. Bullying, lying, and the like. It's all there. One way or another we're going to talk about it.

We're supposed to provide a view of events that allows students to make their own decisions, right? But this isn't a Both Sides issue, no matter what the Russian puppet says. How could we teach what's happening and not point to the swastikas and say, "This is awful. This is wrong. This was wrong before, it's wrong now, and it'll be wrong forever. There are no two sides to this." There's no two sides when one side's position is, "Most of you don't deserve to live." That's not a side that you need to hear.

I like to think that kids will know that. What will be harder is teaching the white supremacy stuff, because that's in deep. Again, making the classroom a safe space for kids to talk is going to be what starts this process. Teach history, talk about the statues, when they went up and where. This stuff fits into Common Core. Kids should be reading more non-fiction anyway.

Talking about talking about all this is a first step. But it's the easiest step. Reflect, look inside, decide what you'll do when you say the words "white supremacy" to your class in an educational, pedagogical way, and a parent in one of those red hats comes red faced into your room the next day. Is that conversation worth the truth you'll be having in class? It should be. This is probably something administrations should be addressing head-on with their teachers immediately.

Nevertheless, we can't Both Sides this. We can't let evil, actual literal evil that's so evil when a video game or a movie needs bullet sponges the player or viewer won't care about dropping they go with Nazis because who cares, live in schools or in this country.

Education is an inherently political act. Education acts against ignorance, and if you can't see that there's one side building a wall to Keep America Ignorant I'm not sure what else there is to say to you aside from please maybe not teach anymore because you're ok with someone who hates the students you teach.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Good Drumming vs Bad Drumming

First, watch this video, because it's the whole point of the post and if you don't watch it nothing that follows will track as well. It's four minutes long.




Brandon Khoo just answered the question of how you can tell a good teacher from a bad teacher.

I am in love with this video and Brandon Khoo's patience and clarity when answering what was probably meant as a jokey question. Because this is an important question: How can you tell something good from something bad? This seems like a subjective question. I think it's good because x, and you think it's bad because y. That's ok, we're allowed to think those things, because that's what opinions are for. But he spun it into a deeper question about the meaning of good and bad, and made what seems unquantifiable understandable.

There's an old story about the Beatles, possibly apocryphal, where an interviewer asked John Lennon if Ringo was the best drummer in the world. John responded, "Ringo isn't even the best drummer in The Beatles." John was a jerk.* This narrative of Ringo being good enough but not great, the lesser of the Fab Four, is always going to surround Ringo. Unfairly, as Brandon explains in the video. Ringo's job was to serve the song. That's what he did, every time. The Beatles weren't great because of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The Beatles were great because they were John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr coming together, creating something as a whole. Look at any of their solo projects. Still great, but not the same. You couldn't put just anyone behind the drum kit and create The Beatles. It had to be Ringo.

Brandon does two types of drumming in the video. He Drums, with flash and fills. And he drums to serve the song. One is incredible to watch. The other makes the whole incredible. So which is better?

What makes a teacher Good is a  question that's tossed around all the time. Test scores? How the students feel in class? Quality of projects? Whether or not they talk to the whole group? Lesson creativity?

A good teacher is the one that best serves the learning. It's easy to become a Teacher with a capital T. A Good teacher best serves the song of each student, and our classrooms are the most eclectic mixtape ever assembled. Ringo didn't just keep the beat, he created the backbone of some of the greatest songs ever written. Sometimes he just needed to tap gently on the side of the snare. Sometimes he needed blisters on his fingers!

Some lessons, some students, need the apps sometimes. Sometimes we need the tech. Sometimes we don't. There's an urge to chase the flashy teaching. All The Apps, All The Tech, All The Time. What hashtag needs to be in my classroom this week? We lose the song in the technique. We, and I include myself in this, should try to teach more like Ringo. Strip it down, streamline it, and find the groove that each lesson needs, the beat for each student.

It wasn't a flash drum solo or a million fills that propelled The Beatles into the atmosphere. It was this.




*I think I'm going to make the above video part of any professional development I run and see what conversations come out of it.

**Full disclosure- my favorite drummer of all time is Neil Peart. Which, if the metaphor I'm working with in this blog post carries any weight at all, says something about my teaching. In my defense, Peart is never more indulgent than the songs he's writing need him to be. He manages to be incredibly complex without derailing the music. Peart serves the music first too.

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written two books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher and THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome). 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

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Goal Of Teaching





“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”



-Maya Angelou

This quote is not wrong.

This quote should not be the goal of teachers.

I can see why teachers latch onto it. Dr. Angelou tapped into a basic human truth here, as she did so often and with such facility. But here's the thing- teaching is more than basic.

This quote is a great way to live. It's a fantastic guiding light for leading people and for being a human in general. But I am not going to look at the parents of students in my class and say, "Your son might not remember what I teach him, but he'll remember it was fun."

I imagine their response would be something along the lines of, "Aren't you a teacher? Shouldn't you be teaching my kid things so he remembers them?"

I don't teach for the test. I don't teach for an assessment. I don't teach to get praise from my administrator or superintendent or parents. I teach because I love it and believe arming students with knowledge will prepare them for the present and the future.

But wait, as they say on the QVC, there's more! Because I believe teaching to be a holistic practice that cannot be split into sections and retain truth, I also teach so that students learn to learn. I teach so students love to learn. I teach so that, in case students do forget what they learning in my class, they know how to get it back.

However, I want to do my job well enough that they don't forget. I'd like to think I'm finding ways to teach that increase student retention of the information I am presenting in class. I believe this is called learning. As a fifth grade teacher, I appreciate it when the kindergarten, first, second, third, and fourth grade teachers teach their students in a way that they retain the information. I imagine that my students' future sixth grade teachers, seventh grade teachers, and on up through high school and college, would appreciate it if the students who were in my class remember the things I taught them way back in fifth grade. Because learning is a continuum.

Maybe it's because I teach stuff like multiplication and reading comprehension. Skills that will be used over and over in a student's life. I'm only familiar with third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grade curriculum. Those are the only grades I've taught. At some point, perhaps, the actual information taught loses value.

There is a tendency to take a smart thing, and the above quote is a very smart thing, and make it a guiding principal without considering the ramifications of that choice. There is a tendency, in other words, to go whole hog into a philosophy before attempting to make that philosophy mesh nicely with previously held and also true beliefs. Now, I believe in loving something like crazy, and going into things full bore. But I believe more in ideas and philosophies as gears in a larger machine. The power of gears coming together, gears of different sizes spinning at different speeds, but all their teeth fitting and working as one to create more power than any one gear could alone. Anyone who's ever tried to ride a bicycle up a hill will tell you it's easier with more choices than on a fixie. Tools for jobs.

My job, as a fifth grade teacher, is to teach the fifth grade curriculum. This is a fact. I assume, though maybe I've never been explicitly told this, that part of that job is to teach the fifth grade curriculum in such a way that the kids will remember it. Will they remember everything? Probably not. Let's be realistic. But do I teach everything with the goal that it will stick and stick forever? Yes. I want to teach so well, I want my kids to learn so completely, that they will remember the information forever. Like the other quote says, "If you shoot for the moon and miss, you'll still end up in orbit around the Earth or possibly sailing out into space forever, light years away from the nearest star."

Dr. Angelou's quote says nothing about students or their learning. She was a smart woman. If she meant for that quote to also say, "people will forget what you taught them" it would say that. But it doesn't. It says "what you said" and "what you did." Maybe the lesson to take away from the quote is if people are forgetting what you do and say, do they should do it and say it instead. Hey, that meshes nicely with project-based learning and student voice.

I refuse to wave the white flag and resign myself to the belief that the content of my teaching is so unimportant in the long run that my students will just forget it. Because if the students won't remember what we teach them, why teach them anything? Why have curriculum? Why all the planning and goals and study?

In fact, why should I go to any professional developments? That's learning. Is my learning so unlike the learning of my students that I am expected to retain the information long-term but my kids aren't? Or should I be picking PD based on how I'll feel at the end? "Well, Mrs. Principal Lady, I don't remember what I learned, but I feel really good about learning, and that's what matters most, isn't it? PD credit, please."

What I teach matters. How the kids feel also matters. These are not different ideas. They go hand-in-hand. They work together, like gears in an engine. Teaching the information well involves helping the students appreciate the process of learning. But the teaching and learning of information is vitally important.

If I have truly taught the information in a way that the student took on board and integrated into their existing knowledge then I have done my job well. Part of the doing of that, part of what makes that possible, are the connections and relationships formed in my classroom. But the connections are not the end goal. It's not good enough that my students remember how they felt. I need them to learn and to remember. Because love of learning isn't enough. It's only part. Knowledge must be gained and retained for it to be any good.

That's the goal.

Post Script- If an answer to any of this is, "Google has made knowing or remembering things obsolete," may your phone battery never die, and may you someday find the urge to depend on yourself again. Google cannot critically think using a base layer of knowledge. Google is a gear in the machine too.


If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written two books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher and THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome). 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.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Teacher Parenting


I have two children. My wife and I call them the Weirdlings. Before you think it odd that we'd give our kids a collective nickname that echoes my own sobriquet, their name came first. In fact, we decided our kids would be called Weirdlings before we were pregnant, before we were married, before we were engaged. It was one of those long-term relationship vacation conversations, and we acknowledged the truth that we're both goofy nerds, so our kids, at that point totally hypothetical, would have no chance and no choice. They'd be weird. They'd be Weirdlings.

This is a post about Weirdling One, our eldest. For those of you looking for education thoughts in this space, we'll get there, I promise. Enjoy the journey. It matters.

He's four years old. Four and a half, I guess, since when they're this small those fractions still matter as a lot happens in those first six months. That's still a significant fraction of the child's life. He's smart and funny and, if pressed to describe him in two words I'd say, "Blurry noise." He hasn't stopped talking since he was born, and he hasn't stopped moving since then either. He's great and great fun and greatly exhausting. He's a Labrador. He loves you immediately and fully and do you want to play come on let's play watch this look at me I love you come on.

Recently he and I have started having trouble getting on. Not huge trouble, he's four. He's not sneaking out in the middle of the night and staggering in at 4am smelling of cheap apple juice with stolen Legos hanging out of his pockets. When he tells me I'm the meanest daddy it doesn't come with the vitriol only a teenager can summon up. In fact, he rarely tells me I'm the meanest. He's got a favorite stuffed monkey, who is named Monkey because when we named him we didn't realize that Monkey would be The One. Monkey has been around since Weirdling One was ten months old. When hurt or scared or tired he wants, in order 1) Monkey, 2) Momma, 3) Me. I don't begrudge Monkey or Momma third position. I get it. They're both pretty great at snuggles. So he doesn't normally tell me I'm the meanest, he tells Monkey. These are normal four year old grumps. These aren't the problem.

The problem is recently he began lying to me. About all kinds of things, most of which are things that, to quote every parent and teacher ever, "...would not have gotten [him] in trouble if [he'd] just been honest in the first place." I don't know what triggered this change. It started all at once, out of the blue. I didn't think we were giving consequences that would be so awful that he'd do anything to avoid them. I think it's probably a developmental phase (and wife research corroborates that). Funnily enough, he did just finish his first half year of pre-school, and I'm curious if he learned it there. Darn kids at school, teaching him bad habits. (That's a joke, I'm not blaming his school, his teacher was amazing.) The lying is about silly things, but things that become less silly when he looks me in the eye and protests, "No, I'm serious. I'm not lying. It's true. Really." Emphatically. Repeatedly. There will occasionally be the throwing of his brother beneath the bus.

The thing he doesn't realize, probably because he's four, is he's got the exact wrong parents for this. My wife was a teacher, and I am one, and we both have the Teacher Senses that allow us to detect Obvious Lies (I mean, he's four so he's not exactly fooling the CIA here anyway). We know the tricks to get a child to confess to a lie without meaning to. I'm guessing these are muscles non-teacher parents have to build up after they have kids. I want to stress here that I'm not saying being teachers makes us better parents. I'll get to that.

In my classroom I believe in positive reinforcement, the five positive statements to one negative statement ratio, focusing on catching kids being good rather than catching them getting into trouble. I'm pretty good at all of that in a room full of 5th graders.

I found myself struggling to remember those things with my own kid. It's one thing when a student lies to you, it's something else when your own kid looks you dead in the eye and makes claims you know aren't true. And I was having a really hard time handling it well. It was so frustrating and took me completely off guard. He's four! Really, this already? My wife doesn't get the lying, he only does it to me. In fact, he's told her the truth and then admitted, "I lied to Daddy about it."

I'm not flying off the handle with him. But I have let my reactions go right around my Teacher Brain, straight to Idiot Parent Brain. I just started taking toys away. My thought- He loves his toys. This will work. Then I did the thing I repeatedly tell student teachers not to do- I made a promise/threat/condition that I did not want to follow through on. "Next time you lie to me, I will take away your bike."

Why would I say that? I'd never say that kind of thing in my classroom. This was different somehow, he's mine. And, of course, because he's four, he lied to me again the very next day. Because I hadn't actually done anything to help him.

I was so frustrated. With him, sure, but mostly with myself. What a stupid thing to do, taking away his bike. He loves his bike. I love watching him ride his bike. He and his brother ride bikes all the time. Now, because I said a stupid thing, I have to do the stupid thing. A thing I know isn't actually going to help the behavior.

I'd have asked Dr. Google what to do, but no matter what symptoms you put into Dr Google it turns out you've got cancer of the eyeball and seventy-eight seconds to live. So instead I did exactly what Weirdling One does when he's upset- I called my mom.

Mom used to work for the City of Where I Grew Up as a parenting counselor. Basically, if the county took away your kid for some reason, she ran and taught the classes you had to take. She also, if I do say so myself, did a pretty good job with me. My sister too, I guess. But my sister is second, she had to practice on me.

I laid it all out for her, and when she started giving me advice and tips it finally struck me- These are exactly the things I'd be telling a new teacher who came to me with this problem with a student. "You should come up with a sticker chart and he gets stickers for good choices and when he gets five he gets to choose a reward." "You need to make sure the consequence is a logical extension of the poor choice." "Make sure you're focusing on the good things."

It's here that I point out that my wife also came up with the sticker chart plan and we just hadn't gotten around to implementing it yet because I was ignoring the teacher instinct that says Start as soon as possible too.

"Why didn't I think of these things! I know these things! This is how I'd teach it." I said.

"Because it's harder with your own kids. You're not teaching, you're parenting. You don't know what you're doing, you're figuring it out. It's ok."

I guess I needed someone to say that. An outside view. Extra eyes that see things that I'm too close to. I just kind of assumed being a teacher would help me be a better parent. I think it helped, but it's also not the same. Much in the same way that becoming a parent has made me a more empathetic teacher. Having kids didn't magically improve my lessons or grading or feedback, but he helped me better see the parents on the other side of the equation.

I'm incredibly lucky, because Weirdling One is an amazing kid with more love and joy in his body than you'd think one person could contain. We're going to work together, along with Momma, to help him see that the truth is the way to go. Here come sticker charts and all those other things that are worth trying. We'll work through this phase and whatever phases and challenges come after. If I can, I'll use what I've learned teaching. Mostly, I think, my wife and I will muddle along as best we can.

And when Da Squish hits this stage, we'll be a little more prepared. Of course, he's very different from his brother, so who knows what that preparation will be worth.

Post Script- I want to note that I could have asked my Dad for help too. Still probably will. Especially since he's going to text me about four seconds after reading this post asking how his grandson is doing.

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written two books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher and THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome). 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.