Sunday, February 27, 2011

What Does It mean To Be A Teacher?

This has been on my mind a lot these days.
This morning, listening to the radio, the Governor from WA state was interviewed about the current budget situations and how states were dealing with this 'so called crisis'. She mentioned how she worked with the teachers in her state where they could come to an understanding about the sacrifices that needed to be made. Gov. Gregoire said that when you choose to be a public servant, you are not doing it for the money, you are doing it for the service. That teachers must therefore sacrifice their benefits and wages for the greater good. Really?

I wonder how many teachers believe this? How many teachers are really willing (or more importantly able to) give up their dreams of a good life, of being able to support a family, of living in their own home, so that the greater good will prosper? And how do we define this greater good? Does it fall under the same economic principle that gave us the trickle-down theory? Do all those tax-breaks for the wealthy (both individuals and corporations) fall into this category? Where is the sacrifice from the private sector?

I just spent a week off from school, winter break here in NYC. I am excited to go back to school tomorrow, and am enthusiastic about the things that my students are doing. But this attack on teachers and unions and pensions and wages has been relentless of late. It wears me down to read about it and think about it. Maybe I shouldn't take it personally, maybe it is all politics and nothing to worry about. But it is an attack on my chosen profession and it demonstrates a lack of any understanding about what a teacher really does every single day of the year, whether in the classroom or on vacation.

One thing about getting back into the classroom tomorrow is I'll probably be too busy to spend any more time thinking about it...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened my 12-1 class this week. We are working on Glogs, they are really enjoying it. Previously they had created some awesome animations using Animation-Ish and I wanted the students to have a place they could share their work online. They worked on creating their Glogs for 2 classes, and getting a feel for what Glogster was all about. We have extremely slow internet connection at school, painfully slow, dial-up modem-like slow. It is difficult and frustrating enough for these students to write and express themselves, without being challenged by slow loading graphics and delayed responses to clicks. It was hard for them to include the introductory text I wanted them to write.
Next class I told them that we were going to use Text-Edit to write the couple of sentences that described their animations, and explain to the viewer what they were most proud of in the work. I said it would be easier to type it here first them copy and paste to the slower Glogster page.
Then I watched them sit there, frozen, in front of the computers, there was so little work going on, no excitement, no motivation, for the rest of the class. After that class, where maybe a few complete sentences in all were written, I thought about what happened.
I thought about how discouraging it must be to not feel comfortable with the written word, to feel at war with writing, at expressing oneself in this way. Such a fundamental way of communicating with others. So I decided to ask them about it.
Next class (I see them twice a week), I asked them about how they felt about writing (they had negative feelings...) and what about communication (of course, everyone wants to communicate...). I asked them if they text their friends, (yes) and if that was the same as typing something for school, (no).
So I told them that the reason I wanted them to add some written work to their Glog was so they could share with others their excitement about what they had produced and explain it to their audience. I told them to pretend they were just "texting" their friends, to not care about spelling and grammar and mistakes, that was the easy stuff to fix later and the important stuff was the ideas and what they wanted to tell their audience about their fantastic work.
By the end of the class they had all written something, and funny thing was they didn't have horrible grammar or mis-spelled words at all, and they added that to their Glogs and we are almost ready to publish them to the world!!!

So what is my point here? This is a groups of students who have been at odds with school since they started attending. I have been watching them begin to light up when learning and producing includes more creative forms and less traditional forms of literacy (the pen and paper and worksheet). Each week I see them they arrive to my class more engaged and excited to be there. The power of many of these so called Web 2.0 tools is in getting students excited about learning, something many of them have equated with "schooling" for far too long.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Roar of EduCon

One of the exciting things about spending the weekend at Educon is listening to all the voices. Everyone has so much to say and so many opportunities to speak. At my school I don't really have a voice. I don't teach a core subject so I am not asked to contribute to the dominant conversations which take place. So I guess it feels exciting to be a part of an education conference where the conversations are diverse and imaginative and engaging. There is a place for everyone's voice because it us recognized that all ideas and experiences are relevant.

This past weekend I listened to and participated in, conversations about seeking better ways to assess students, about ways to allow students to demonstrate their mastery or expertise in subject matter, about building better schools. It is so refreshing to be in a place where it isn't just about ELA and Math but about learning.

Instead of rambling on about the specific sessions I attended (or wish I had attended), I am going to go right to some of the many voices I made a note of which gives a sense of the sounds of Educon. (in no particular order...and a very very tiny slice of all the conversations taking place at any one time)
  • Stop rubric-ing them to death.
  • Not all problems have solutions
  • Definition of students as thinking of themselves as innovators.
  • There are other ways to teach skills.
  • The arts should be in all schools.
  • We are not going to change the world just by being right-brained.
  • Grades are often no indication of what the student did.
  • We are an aspirational nation. Have we lived up to it?
  • They need the skills in order to do stuff. 
  • But can't innovation be part of the way the kids learn the skills? 
  • Using 2 disciplines to solve a problem.
  • If you don't expect them to succeed they will live up to that expectation.
  • A zero is a ticket out, absolving of responsibility
  • What is the purpose of a grading system?
  • A shallow way to look at school and games: if games are fun, to make school fun, have kids play games in school.
  • “Play is a child’s work....”
  • The best thing about games is that tension between failure and success.
  • Alfie Kohn “you can’t practice understanding”
  • What is a fundamental concept of literacy????
  • Have we institutionalized what we consider to be literate?
  • Writing for different channels.
  • Teaching collaboration in the digital space just as important as collaboration in the physical space.
  • Getting students to show their engagement with the material.
  • Students are not just “turning this in”; they are “turning this out”. They are turning this out to the world!
Chris Lehman tasked Educon participants to not only think about what they can take back to the classroom and schools from their Educon experiences but to  immediately act upon it when we return to our classrooms and teaching and "real lives" in the afterglow of the Educon excitement.  This is a huge challenge because many of us return to places where top down decision-making gets in the way of innovation. But surely when all these voices that were roaring from a single building on 23rd St in Philadelphia for one weekend in January head back to where they teach, or collaborate, or administrate, or coach, or parent, or write, whatever their role in education may be, we can surely try to speak loud enough so these voices are heard for those who were not in attendance to hear. And since actions speak louder than words, it should be a very exciting thing to see.