I think we would all do well on Teacher Appreciation Day, to listen to this amazing talk by distinguished education researcher, Vanessa Siddle-Walker on the little known role of Black teachers across the South in the civil rights movement, specifically how they provided the groundwork for Brown v. Board of Education.[Note: When you click the link, you will have to do a free registration to play the video].
Her documenting of our predecessors' heroic advocacy on behalf of their students is particularly ironic when we learn (as I wrote about in American Public School Teacher), how many of these teachers suffered professional and personal retaliation for that work in the aftermath of the Brown decision.
The lessons from that period are worthy of our attention today, as they are pertinent in the current struggles over education and social reform.
TeachMoore is moving! Follow me at my new home--www.teachingquality.org
Fawn Johnson, at National Journal/Education Experts blog, asked guest bloggers to respond to an intriguing post that ended with these questions:
What are the best ways to foster honest student-teacher relationships? How do teachers mask dislike for students? How should they deal with their own problems while teaching? How important is the passion in teaching? Are there practices that can help compensate for a not-passionate teacher? How can schools encourage professional camaraderie among teachers? Do students really need to like their teachers in order to learn?
Here’s what I shared:
When students say they don’t like a teacher, it most often means they don’t like how the teacher is treating them as persons. Those who do not work with young people may be surprised to learn students also do not like teachers who don’t respect them enough to actually teach them. As I often counsel newer teachers, we should not confuse students “liking” us with their respecting us. Part of my teaching philosophy from the start of my career has been: “I am my students’ friend, not their peer.” It tickles me to overhear my students talking about me to each other. Hey, I’m an English teacher; many of my students tolerate or even despise me in the short-run. Oh, but how many have come or written back later, grateful that I neither gave up on them nor gave in to them. Too many teachers have wrecked young lives and their careers by stepping over the line of appropriate teacher-student relationships.
I appreciate what NYC teacher-blogger Ariel Sacks wrote about teachers seeking approval from their students:
The lesson here, though, is that I should be making meaning of student responses so that I can determine next steps for their learning. Not to tell me whether I'm a good teacher or not. That's an egocentric response on my part.
We need to have compassion for ourselves as teachers, so we can, in turn, give this to our students as they make their way through learning. Their response to us is often determined by whether they think we like them and believe in them. It's egocentric of them, but they are the children! They are allowed this!
I would argue that the teacher-student relationship is a powerful aspect of formal language arts instruction. For over ten years, I conducted classroom level research on the issues surrounding teaching and learning Standard English with my African American high school students here in the Mississippi Delta. That research yielded much information that is still being used by me and by teacher educators around the country. One critical finding came from interviews with many groups of parents and students who repeatedly insisted that the most important quality in a teacher was whether s/he “cared about the students.” Not what last year’s test scores were, not her alma mater, or his college grade point average, but does this teacher see my child as a unique and worthy human being? That was the question on my mind, and often on my lips when I met with my own children’s teachers at the start of each school year: “Will you do for my child what you want done for your own?”
That wasn’t just a rhetorical question for me either. The first two years I taught, I had two of my own children as students. Both earned a failing grade for the first grading period (one did it on purpose; the other actually thought she was exempt from classroom requirements because Mama was her teacher). Both had to sit through a parent-teacher conference with me and their father. Those experiences taught us all some valuable lessons, not to mention establishing my reputation at the high school.
Most people who enter education do so because they have a love of children and/or a love for a particular subject that they want to share. The best teacher preparation programs and mentors wisely emphasize that passion alone is not enough. As the Bible warns, zeal without knowledge can be dangerous. A well-intentioned person can be passionate about wanting students to succeed, but inept at dealing with their social immaturity or disrespectful of their families and cultures. Likewise, another candidate could be passionate about building up children’s self-esteem or helping them with social issues, yet be totally incompetent at teaching subject matter.
It is no coincidence that great teachers tend to be passionate about their responsibility to their students, about learning, and about the profession. That’s one reason National Board Certification for teachers was created—to set standards for highly accomplished teaching that recognize the critical dual qualities of passion and excellence to which every career teacher should aspire. Passionate, highly accomplished teachers should be advocates for the educational needs of their students, particularly for those who might be especially vulnerable.
As my Teacher Leader Network colleagues and I have pointed out many times, whether working with students via digital tools or in face-to-face settings, human relationships are still at the core of the learning experience. If we believe, as I do, that “public education is fundamental to a democratic, civil, prosperous society” (Forum for Education and Democracy), then all the relationships within public education are part of creating and advancing that society. Students learn much from their relationships with their teachers. What few have acknowledged is how much students learn from watching how their teachers interact with others. Children learn what they live at school, too.
We also now have much research and field experience to confirm that students learn more when their teachers collaborate. More and more examples prove that the most effective way to “turnaround” a struggling or failing school (or better yet, to prevent a school from becoming one) is for the adults in the building to model being a true learning community. Building successful learning communities is not easy (hint: it takes more than teachers liking one another), but it is possible and essential. Much of the impetus and some of the best resources for how to build productive, collaborative professional relationships among teachers within schools and across boundaries are coming from grassroots work among teachers ourselves. Many of these efforts have been helped by teachers’ increasing use of social media for their own networking and professional development. Here’s a growing list of such networks, courtesy of Steve Hardagon. Effective school leaders are encouraging and participating in these learning communities as well.
I’m really curious what others of you thing about Fawn’s questions. What is your take on the role of relationships in teaching and learning?
Take the time to read this piece by respected education journalist John Merrow, and join the conversation. The testing tide is turning...
Across the country, parents, teachers, and students are beginning to pushback—hard—against the misuses and abuses of standardized testing in our educational system.
First, most people do not understand what standardized achievement tests are actually designed to measure. They are not designed to measure what students have “learned” over a specific period of time or from a specific teacher. Therefore, attempts to use them for that purpose are at best misguided, at worst, deceptive. For more on this point, I recommend listening to the recent interview of Jim Popham by Steve Hargadon at Future of Education.
An expert on tests and testing, Popham reminds us that standardized tests by nature of their design sort students based on socio-economic backgrounds, not academic accomplishments.
Because our federal and state governments have tied such high-stakes to the results of these misused tests, we have created additional crisis situations for students and teachers, particularly for those already facing the most challenges, as my colleague NYC teacher Jose Vilson reminds us.
I cannot do justice here to the many aspects of the testing/evaluation issue, or to the far-reaching debate over it among teachers and students around the country. That debate is yielding some important ideas, however, that deserve closer attention. In a series of articles sponsored by Education Week’s Teacher Magazine, several teacher-leaders connected with the Center for Teaching Quality have offered some much needed clarity and advice on better ways to assess what students are learning and how teachers are teaching. In one of those series, Testing at the Crossroads, teachers look at the growing resistance to standardized testing starting with the much publicized refusal of teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School. In another series, another group of outstanding teachers offer ideas from the field on how to better measure student learning.
How can we evaluate such rich complexity with all the varying levels of performance and experience they represent across the largest profession in America—with a few five-minute walk-bys and a checklist? Hardly. The old factory evaluation model, which was never a good fit for education, will be even less so as we move further into the potential of immersed learning and interconnected teaching. One principal trying to evaluate an entire faculty whose members practice a dizzying variety of pedagogical skills will be painfully ineffective. Like our students, teachers need assessment of our work based on a combination of measures and reviewers, with teachers taking responsibility for our own professional growth based on mutually established, student-centered goals.
To get there from here will require transformed thinking and some significant power shifts, neither of which, history reminds us, come easily. But I believe we are on the verge of such a shift as teaching finally morphs into a true profession. One of the trademarks of a profession is peer review of each other’s' work against high standards established by the profession.
Some of America’s best teachers have been offering up our expertise on how to improve assessment of students and teachers for quite a while now. Thankfully, there are signs that those valuable ideas are gaining well-deserved attention, but the fight against politically expedient assessment and evaluation must continue.
Cross-posted at National Journal: Education Experts
I’ve just returned from a meeting of the Board of Directors of the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), and I am thrilled about where this important organization is headed.
I also feel the need to set straight some disparaging rumors about NBPTS and encourage people to look more closely at what is an important front in the education reform battle in this country.
First, it is important to note that while the staff of NBPTS has been reduced due to reorganization, that staff now includes a significant number of NBCTs—including the Chief Operating Officer, Andy Coons. Another is the Director of Standards, Kristin Hamilton.
NBPTS has also matured to the point that the majority of the Board of Directors (15/26) are NBCTs including (besides me): Kimberly Oliver-Burnim (former National Teacher of the Year), and Glenda Ritz, newly elected state superintendent of Indiana. The majority of the NBCTs are practicing classroom teachers.
Under the direction of new president, Ron Thorpe, NBPTS has made some important changes and earned some much-deserved respect both nationally and internationally. Responding to the needs of NBCTs and candidates, the Board has recently (some would say, finally) shifted to electronic submission of the portfolios, upgraded its website, and other moves to make it more accessible and user-friendly for NBCTs and potential candidates.
Another exciting development, again thanks to the prodding of NBCTs, has been to make better use of the vast NBPTS database of accomplished teaching resources (videos and teacher reflections). Thus was born ATLAS [Accomplished Teacher Learning and Schools].
The National Board is getting its first look at the use of ATLAS in a three-year project funded by the U.S. Department of Education through its Investing in Innovation (i3) program. Working closely with Linda Darling-Hammond and the Stanford-based Teacher Performance Assessment Consortium (edTPA), along with AACTE, the two teacher unions, Deborah Ball’s team at Michigan, and evaluator AIR, ATLAS will be introduced into teacher prep and induction programs.
While ATLAS was originally imagined as a support for teacher preparation and early career development, pilot programs in the states of Washington and Maine are now using the resource to train principals to be better observers and evaluators of teachers. National Board has received other inquiries, too, regarding professional development for teachers faced with implementing the new Common Core State Standards and other content areas. Whenever and wherever this resource is used, it extends the teacher voice into the way the profession works. (Building a True Profession, Part III)
One rumor I would like to smack-down is that the NB certification process is being run by Pearson. That is an insult to my fellow NBCTs, Board members, and staff who have fought hard and long to maintain both the independence and the quality of National Board Certification. Currently, Pearson is contracted to handle the logistics of the certification process. However, the development of the standards, as well as how they are assessed, scored, and reviewed is all under the control of NBPTS. The unfortunate glitch in release of candidate scores a couple of years ago, was a problem with Pearson’s logistics, but the scores were never lost (just regretfully delayed). National Board Certification was and remains a process created and run by teachers, for teachers.
Most important, NBPTS stands poised to help bring the teaching profession to one of its most elusive, yet essential goals: The development of a true profession. If we, educators, want to be treated like professionals, we have to be a profession. That means setting and maintaining standards for who enters, stays, and excels in this profession. It means holding ourselves and each other accountable for standards and ethics we have developed. To paraphrase Thorpe:
Governments do not create professions. Neither do businesses nor foundations. By definition, professions are created by those in the profession. If teaching is going to claim its rightful state as a true profession, then teachers and other practitioners must make sure [our]voice guides the work. That voice should exert itself through the standards of accomplished practice and the path that all teachers travel to become accomplished. Both will put teachers in a position to define the key terms of [our]work and will create the habits of mind that need to become the profession’s norm. ]We] teachers must realize, however, that no one will do this for [us]. [We] either do it for [ourselves],or through [our]silence agree to comply with the vision others have for [us].
Much of the discussion today around writing at the secondary and community college levels focuses on remediation or developmental writing (aka getting students ready for “college-level” writing). Never mind (for now) that there is much debate within higher education over what college-level writing is. Too many people, even within the teaching profession, equate good writing only with having technical proficiency in using grammar conventions.
We reinforce this emphasis on technical correctness through high-stakes testing and more recently by increased use of essay grading software. Sadly, the result of this overemphasis on conventions has been a marked decline in students’ actual writing proficiency and a simultaneous crucifixion of their desire to write.
Thankfully, pushing through these thorns are examples of writing, good writing, by our students, in spite of our misdirected policies.
I recently had opportunity to see and celebrate such budding talent at our Mississippi Community College Creative Writing Association Annual Conference. Along with some very helpful advice from professional writers (who also served as the judges of the student writing competition), the conference featured inspiring examples of students’ poetry, stories, plays, and essays.
like most teachers of writing, I plow through my share of poor writing, half-hearted attempts, and stolen works. The payoff, however, comes in watching people often intimidated at first by the prospect of writing for an audience, learn to develop pieces that are not just functional, but beautiful.
When that happens, I remind myself that I am not here just to produce people who know where to put the parts of language on an assembly line of mediocrity, but rather to help real people learn how to communicate with a world that has often pre-determined that they have nothing of value to say.
Wouldn’t trade it for anything.
As a parent (we have raised 11 children and put them through public school) and as a public school teacher, I deeply resent much of the rhetoric being used to promote so-called “school choice.”
Much of this rhetoric is aimed at parents in communities that have been historically underserved by public education systems. Therein lies the hypocrisy.
I’ll use my own community as an example; you can change the names to fit your situation.
For generations, our community has had an openly unequal educational system for black and white children. The court battle has focused on the issue of desegregation; the bigger issue is unequal resources. Parents, students, many teachers, and even some administrators have been fighting to change these flagrant inequities (e.g., one school had fully-equipped science labs; the other had none, etc.) As the community would try to take these issues up the chain of authority (local school district, local school board, state dept. of education, state school board, federal department of education, federal elected officials…) we got promises, a superficial change or two, a committee, a plan, and more years of frustration.
Meanwhile, the state of Mississippi enacted legislation in 1997 called the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP). This program is a funding formula created by the Mississippi State legislature, after lengthy study and debate.
What is MAEP?
The state formula used to establish adequate current operation funding levels necessary for the programs of each school district to meet a successful level of student performance as established by the State Board of Education using current statistically relevant state assessment data.
Ensure that every Mississippi Child regardless of where he/she lives is afforded an adequate
educational opportunity, as defined by the State Accountability System. (from Mississippi Department of Education)
Since it’s adoption, the formula has only been fully funded by the legislature twice (both times in an election year), which has led many opponents of the program to call for its repeal (MPB). This year, legislation to expand charter schools has raced through the state legislature, being pushed by the governor and others. Yet, once again, the MAEP will be underfunded.
Don’t give the schools, especially those serving Black and poor communities, the resources they need and deserve to at least reach minimal thresholds of adequacy; then act shocked at their underperformance. Is a school a failure when failure was clearly the intention all along?
The same political structure (in some cases the same individuals) that have conducted or colluded with decades of deliberately making the schools that serve children like mine inferior to the ones that serve their own children, now feign concern and offer longsuffering parents the “choice” of charter schools.
Here’s the lie: It’s a false choice.
Had these public officials and institutions fulfilled their legal and moral obligations (or would they yet), I wouldn’t have to make a “choice” for my children or grandchildren between continued inadequate education and a real one. That’s not choice; that’s extortion.
The concept of charter schools is not a bad one, and I know there are some very good ones that have made a difference in the lives of children and communities. But let’s be clear: True school choice means I live in my chosen community, surrounded by great public schools and other educational options. Maybe there’s one that specializes in innovative fine arts programs, another that has pushed forward with hybrid classes, and yet another known for its community service learning projects. Every public school in every community adequately funded, staffed with fully-trained, qualified teachers, and housed in safe, clean facilities.
I've joined with some great education friends to encourage a broad grassroots defense of public education. The Network for Public Education hopes to build what fellow co-founder and NPE president Diane Ravitch describes as "a huge social network of parents, students, teachers, administrators, school board members, and all others who believe in public education and sane educational policy that focuses on a full and rich education for all children."
Fulfilling the uniquely American promise of public education has been an unfulfilled dream for too many of our children for too long. It's time for those of us who understand the value of public education to stand up, loud.
A wonderful piece from Hechinger Report on the often overlooked, unaddressed, and largely avoidable obstacles that prevent qualified students from entering college.
This is about education.
Lately, there have been increased references to the absence of Black fathers as a cause, possibly the cause, for all manner of social and economic ills in the Black community, including poor academic performance, especially by black boys.
Well, this is a case study about a Black family [and there are many of us] in which the fathers are present.
My husband has worked full time since he was 16 years old. Often, he has worked two jobs at a time, while also putting himself through school and helping to raise 11 children. He has multiple college degrees and other certifications. He has never earned over $20,000/year. Forced to retire a year ago, at age 62 due to failing health, he now gets around $600/month in social security. Were it not for my job-related health insurance, he would have none.
Our son, has some college, but not finished a degree. He has a wife and child. He can only find minimum wage jobs.
My three black son-in-laws all work. One has a college degree from a prestigious program at a local university. But when he applied to work in a new project launched by that same program, he was rejected.This son-in-law made a conscious decision to do something with his life; resisting pressure to join the gangs or get involved in the drug trade. He now works for a retail store, at low wage and has a health plan that covers only him, not his wife and two children. (She is also working as a sales clerk, but her job offers no health insurance to those who work under 40 hours a week—she is routinely assigned to work 30-35).
The other two son-in-laws are high school grads. One is a cook; the other works at a lumber yard. The wages are low; the work is hard; only one has health insurance, and that is for him only because they can’t afford the family coverage.
One of my daughters did the math and figured out how financially, at least, she and the children would be better off if she were single. “But,” she quickly adds, “I’m glad he’s here.”
This is not every black family’s story. There are still the occasional rags-to-riches accomplishments that we applaud and admire. But those stories are increasingly the exceptions in our community.
The men in this family are black fathers who have tried so hard to do the right things.
Go to school. Study hard. Pass the tests. Graduate. Get a job. Get married. Work hard. For what? To watch as their dreams crash, and their familes suffer? In America?
This is about real education.
We’ve drilled a generation with the lesson that the purpose of getting an education is to get a job. Yet, many young Black look at people they know and respect, like the men in my family, and ask, “Why bother?”
Maybe it’s time to teach the rest of the lesson. That the purpose education in a free nation is to prepare well-rounded, intelligent citizens who can work together to find real solutions to the problems in our society.
Hat tip to @TheJLV (aka Jose Vilson) who inspired this one.
Renee Moore has taught English and journalism for 20 years in the Mississippi Delta region at both high school and community college levels. A former state Teacher of the Year and National Board Certified, Renee has written for Educational Leadership and other professional publications.