Tag Archives: teaching

The Untiring Nature of Human Giving

5 Jan

What is it a person tries to communicate from foreign spaces – I once sent a friend writing on the same problem the recommendation of Rilke’s voice, full of homelessness and spirit, and I have recently taken myself back to him, but I cannot take my mind further than his Spanish dancer or Eurydices – the woman’s dance like a burning match struck in the dark, and the wholeness of a woman who has seen her grave.

Am I so homeless?

I feel a restless wandering in me, but something so deeply rooted that I need to call it home. Do I act from this space? How can I truly bring about change?

I think of all the good people I know, making tangible change, and I recall a lesson – recalled in the brightness of day – that the only truly important task for man to undertake and ensure in tangible results is that he gives love, loves humanity, loves the human, every day. All else are just means to serving this goal.

Teaching. Purchasing food. Conversation. Discussion on tragedy. The only measure I can truly use against myself is how I expressed this singular, important love –

I recognize this to be a somewhat dangerous confession. Should I not be focused on tangible results, data, improving individual student progress – after all, I am their teacher, not their psychologist or mother.

And of course this is nonsense. I’m an excellent teacher, and getting better every day. The capability of human beings to bear many focuses at once, and to truly achieve these goals astounds me and I more fully realize each day.

Whether a student with 10% sight navigating and exceling in a business-school environment, a man actively and consciously fighting alcoholism, or a mother battling depression and working abroad – well. I can say the human being is a remarkable beast, entirely deserving of love.

And this is the goal. This is what we communicate, regardless of language, border, or culture. It does not tire.

I Lost Myself In TechnoSpace vs. You Can’t Click a Book

12 Sep

I just finished reading Maus I & Maus II by Art Spiegelman.

As you notice from the covers, the books deal with the Holocaust. They’re graphic novels.

One of the concerns of education is getting kids to read – a popular argument states that in the faster-paced, technological world, kids have a hard time focusing long enough to get into a book. Entertainment is changing. A friend recently told me that the website StumbleUpon was recently likened to channel surfing. Because of the huge access to many links within one person’s interest area, a StumbleUpon user spends less time viewing a single website than the average Internet user. This guy claims that the average StumbleUpon user spends only 5-10 seconds on each website. That’s a lot of media, a lot of clicking, an OVERWHELMING amount of stimulus and little absorption of information.

How can the analog world compete?

Books are cumbersome. They take up physical space. AND YOU CAN LOSE THEM. They don’t have hyperlinks (even those are becoming too time-consuming) and when you flip the page, nothing pops up. And the words are static. No flashes, no bells and whistles, nothing.

I have a few solutions.

1. SING the words!  Put it to a popular tune and Sing Yourself because the good Lord knows no one else will. Good ol’ Vergil once said not to consign your words to leaves, but to sing them in your own voice and the stalwart Hildegard von Bingen rang out, “The words are the body. The music is the soul,” so burnish those rusty pipes and let loose into the world! You students will have proof that you’re crazy, but the mad always draw our attention, no?

2. Let them slam the book onto the desk once they finish it. Really. I had a professor in college do this after we finished the Iliad. It was the only book we read all semester. And guess what? Slamming that book felt gooooooooooooooooooooooooood after reaching 24 massive books only to find out the surprise ending with the Trojan Horse (i.e. Hollywood lies!).

3. DON’T try to convince them that books are better than any “fast moving, new age, newfangled piece of machinery!” A) they won’t believe you and B) they’ll want to prove you wrong and therefore not read to spite you. Just help them to realize that books are worth it. Slowly and surely. Just like the old days. Remind them of that proverbial tortoise.

4. Let them get fired up about what they hate about books. Yeah. That’s right. Let it all out. I won’t be defensive or angry. I’ll just hold it all close, even though it hurts. Then, when there’s nothing more to complain about and you start feeling comfortable, I’ll sing to you. That’s right. It’ll be like soothing a fussy baby or an overemotional child at a birthday party.

Fussy Baby.

5. Use graphic novels! I never before read Maus because, like AN OLD FOGY, I doubted the graphic novel. Make them open up the graphic novel IN CLASS. Read the first page. Heavy content, agreeable medium.

6. Deal with the heavy content. Just do it. And be clever.

And did I mention linking all the ancient with the pop-culture relevant? (Jurassic Park still counts as fairly modern, right?)

Education Ordo Amoris v.2 (Updated for Ever-developing Beliefs)

15 Aug

Ordo amoris. What is it? What does it mean?

“Augustine says the “order of love” (ordo amoris) is the “brief and true definition of virtue.” According to this order, the human person must love everything in creation according to its proper relationship to God, which means loving God above all creatures and not inordinately loving any creature as the human person’s ultimate end.” – MUSE

So Augustine has the universe whittled down to a hierarchical pyramid, with the quest for god sitting on top. This is the standard, the bar, the student who always, no matter the circumstances, throws the curve by getting an A. According to Augustine, all love must be measured in relationship to god. No exceptions.

So what of the love of learning?

If I may define the quest for god as a human being’s inherent need/search for meaning in the universe, then I will draw similar conclusions to the quest for learning. For what other reason do we learn than to explain ourselves and the world? And we love it. Just watch a baby looking at colors and shapes.

In the Zone.

Therefore, the love of learning cannot be far below the love of god on Augustine’s scale. We loved learning so much that we thought it should be accessible to everyone. So we institutionalized it and gave birth to Formal Education. Let’s take a look at how our current society feels about education, specifically those doing the educating:

Oh you pathetic teachers… You are glorified baby sitters who leave work at 3 p.m. You deserve minimum wage.”

“Teachers are using students for their political props”


Come on. Not even Mister Rogers is on our side?

“Students can’t master simple division or fractions because today’s teachers — churned out through lowest-common-denominator grad schools and shielded from competition — have barely mastered those skills themselves. Un-educators have abandoned “drill-and-kill” computation for multicultural claptrap and fuzzy math, traded in grammar fundamentals for “creative spelling” and dropped standard civics for save-the-earth propaganda.”

Rather than stockpiling up rage to spew out a phonetic frenzy of teacher hate, one might consider using all that time and energy to, perhaps, DO something about the system so detested. Like vote in a local school board. Demand better evaluations for teachers. Support public voice by supporting public institutions.

Parker Palmer states in The Courage to Teach, “People who start movements do so not because they hate an institution but because they love it too much to let it descend to its lowest form” (p. 177).

This is the movement – return the institution to its higher purpose by loving it, and therefore undertaking action to change it. We cannot allow our public schools to fail.

Love the institution by changing it. Education Ordo Amoris. Let’s bring it back.

A Student, A Person, Not a Number

8 Aug

Woo-hoo for local news! I’m all about it and the most recent is sent to me from my mom via the Escanaba Daily Press (check them, out, they’re alright).

However, the most recent local news is somewhat… depressing. Are we surprised?

“With the state’s unemployment rate stuck in double digits and school districts struggling financially, even experienced teachers are finding themselves out of work. ”

Well, let’s be a downer. As a soon-to-be graduated pre-service teacher, I’m not finding that news particular uplifting. But what media organization reports anything positive? It seems, in the modern world, that positive news is for saps.

Yes, unemployment is up. Yes, teaching jobs are shrinking. But we buck up, we get on. The real alarming news is the following:

“Since peaking at 117,973 in the 2004-05 academic year, the number of public school teachers in Michigan has shrunk by nearly 9 percent, a loss of about 10,000 jobs, according to the Center for Educational Performance and Information. That number tracks the 8 percent drop in public school students, to 1.56 million, that Michigan has seen over the past five years.

Why is the percentage of public school students dropping? Could it be that we’re opening our doors wide open for private education ventures, closing hundreds of districts, and closing networks to the public sector?

Dear Michigan,

Stop telling your citizens and public employees they’re not worth a damn. Fund public schools. Don’t close them. End of story.

Sincerely, Much Love,

A Student, a Person, Not A Number.

Thanks to the Daily Press (and Mom!) for the great article.

Fast Moves with Fast Cash: the New Cure-All for Education!

3 May

Just don't read the small print.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is pairing up with the Pearson Foundation to fund a new curriculum for schools! Yee-haw!

The project will develop a comprehensive, 24 course curriculum in English Language Arts and Mathematics. The curriculum will, of course, follow the Common Core Standards and include digital resources, tools for professional development, and (get ready for this!) pre-fabricated assessments. How wonderful!

Of course, only 4 of the 24 courses developed will be offered for free. Continue reading

A Near Impossible Task: Saving the Detroit Public Schools District

25 Feb

The Detroit Public Schools District is closing half its schools.

This is part of the current state-approved deficit-elimination plan drawn up by emergency financial manger, Robert Bobb. The Detroit News predicts an influx of 60 plus students per classroom as a result of the closures (Huffington Post, see source below). While Robert Bobb assured the press today that there would not be 60 plus students per classroom, he did not give an alternate figure. Many Detroit schools are already overpopulated and understaffed, with 30 plus students per class.

Does this make Robert Bobb the bad guy?

In November 2010, Bobb lobbied for the $400 million in state tobacco revenue to be redirected to the DPS district. He hoped to convince state legislators that the money was needed to dig schools out of their current poor academic and financial states. If the money was not granted, Bobb argued, DPS would face severe, detrimental, “draconian” cuts. Bobb needed a political leader to back his proposal. No one stepped forward.

Fast-forward to February. Detroit Public Schools are failing academic standards; the vast majority are not making AYP. The city and state are strapped financially and continuing to hurt academically. What does the state do?

The state orders Robert Bobb to immediately implement his proposed deficit-elimination plan that includes closing half the district’s schools and consolidating academic operations. Bobb needed to find some way to do his job; the state had ordered him to reduce the $327 million deficit in five years. Initially, legislators demanded that he balance the debt in two years. Lucky for Bobb, they threw him peanuts.

Robert Bobb’s job is admittedly not easy to accomplish. Where does one make cuts from a district already plunged in academic and financial straits? Schools have already bumped up class size, laid-off staff and faculty, and minimized academic and extracurricular programs. How does one cut fat from bones?

Bobb clearly does not have a good solution. The state is shirking responsibility by passing off the impossible task to one man. Bobb himself has admitted that the proposal is not good for students academically or educationally.

So why is this plan approved?

The plan has been approved because politics have overthrown the responsibility of government. It is the responsibility of a government to protect its people, especially those people who cannot defend themselves (i.e. children). While reducing the deficit is included in this description, the disregard of an equal education opportunity for over 70,000 plus students is NOT. Just because a plan exists that shows “zero” figures to the eyes of politicians in five years does not mean this plan should be automatically endorsed. Rather than simply look at numbers, politicians should look into the eyes of the children they are cheating. A classroom of 30 students is difficult to manage, difficult to ensure academic progress. A great teacher in the best circumstances can reach many of the 30. Teaching in a class and ensuring the academic success of 60 students, many who are placed at-risk from living in a low-SES, high poverty district, is like being asked to cut a $327 million deficit in five years in a district that already cannot compete financially or academically with its suburbs. The state is asking Robert Bobb and the district’s teachers to achieve a near impossible task.

What is the solution? While I cannot offer any solidified plan, I hope that our state rethinks its current agenda with the Detroit Public Schools. We must remember that schools serve children; equal education for our kids is the goal of our schools. Closing half the schools and jamming 60 kids in a classroom is not a service to our kids. Legislators and policymakers need to undertake the task of creating a new deficit-elimination plan for the DPS district, instead of throwing the weight of the world on one man’s shoulders. They need to sit down, work hard, and develop a long-term deficit-elimination plan for the DPS district, instead of asking for immediate, impossible results. If our legislators can work toward a new, less severe proposal, Detroit schools will still struggle, but they will struggle less each year. We cannot resign the Detroit schools to the mercy of the economy. We need to rebuild them. We cannot give up on our state’s neediest children; we must rise to the challenge and help them.

Bobb is set to re-work a new budget, due to the state by May 31st. While I lack confidence in one man to solve all the deficit problems of an impoverished district, I’m rooting for him. Better yet, perhaps our state will come to its senses and form a committee to help him in his endeavor. This is the least Detroit’s kids deserve.

Huffington Post Source:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/16/robert-bobb-400-million-for-detroit-schools_n_784353.html

Scoring Consistently Better than the Average – Schools still not making AYP

19 Feb

Preble High School is not making AYP in all the areas required by No Child Left Behind.

As part of my teaching training program, several future colleagues and I visited Preble High School in the Green Bay Area Public Schools District. The school is huge, the third largest in the state with over 2,200 students. While Preble was initially built to house only 2,000 students, its school-of-choice title and impressive academic and athletic programs have drawn media attention and higher student enrollment. Preble students still consistently score above state and national averages in academic areas.

The date we visited was Friday, February 18, 2011, the day after the Wisconsin State Senate was stalled in voting on the controversial bill regarding state workers’ rights. 45 of the school’s 168 teachers were absent, taking personal leave to join the growing protests at the Capitol. Multitudes of students marched outside the building, demonstrating against passage of the  bill. Most school faculty and staff wore red. The school was abuzz in the political climate, yet the school day continued and I was able to see how Preble operated.

I was impressed.

When we arrived, we were greeted by Preble’s MAC scholars, a student group devoted to promoting diversity on campus. These students gave us a tour of the school and we learned about the following aspects of a Preble education:

  • an Advanced Engineering Program
  • the Technical Education Department (which is currently building racecars)
  • the Culinary Arts Program
  • the Advanced Placement Science, Math, and Language Arts Departments
  • the Agriscience Department and corresponding greenhouse
  • the Library Media Center (which recently implemented “Noodlebib,” a new program that guides students in the process of source citation)
  • the five World Languages offered: French, Spanish, Italian, Mandarin, and German
  • the school’s Smartboards
  • the Special Education Department

We also learned about Preble’s initiatives to integrate diverse student populations through their ELL and MAC Scholars program. I sat in on a Spanish 5 class, where the students proficiently read and discussed Gabriel Garcia Márquez in Spanish.  I learned about the Phuture Phoenix Program, which assists kids placed at-risk by providing them with one-on-one tutors from University of Wisconsin Green Bay’s education department. The program is wildly successful for students.  The best part of my experience at Preble, however, was the distinct feeling of community. Every administrator, teacher, and staff personnel I spoke with (a librarian and AV Coordinator) cared about their school, their job, and most especially, their kids. The administrator for Student Enrichment called out five students by name while he escorted me  to the Spanish room (about a eight minute walk). He made his high expectations clear to each student he interacted with, mentioning conduct, academics, or getting to class on time. One of the Associate Principals walked the hall to ensure a hospitable atmosphere in the midst of the politically charged day. The Spanish teacher talked about how she collaborates with all the Spanish teachers in the district to create a more uniform foreign language education for all students. The students were responsive, engaged, and respectful. The spirit of learning was palpable.

Right before we left for the day, I learned that Preble wasn’t making AYP in all the required areas. If the school doesn’t improve by the next evaluation, Preble will face serious repercussions, including the potential threat of a state take-over.

I did not know what to make of this. Preble offers their students some of the best technological education available; they have a staff of well-educated, caring professionals; the school offers vocational studies in addition to AP curriculum; there is a “Zero Hour” in which students and teachers arrive before school begins for additional coursework; a night-school is offered for students who may not “fit” the typical school day; there is a distinct focus on diverse education for exceptional learners; their students consistently score above state and national averages. What more could be asked?

The demand that no student be left behind could be asked; the demand that Preble perform better than its overstretched best could be asked. The educational opportunity these students are receiving is incredible; for the above-average, average, and most especially below-average student, Preble has a wide array of programs and incentives to help each individual student achieve. Yet they are still being told by the federal government to improve.

I believe that in any occupation, there is always room to improve. However, when a school is producing the type of results that Preble does while at the same time educating a largely diverse student population and serving more students than its original capacity called for, one must ask themselves, “Why is this considered failure?” Under No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top legislatures, public schools are being asked to do more with no additional funding, even when the schools already have a reputation for academic success. The idea that Preble may one day face a state take-over is ridiculous; the environment of learning and community was the best I have ever witnessed in a public or private school. The students are respectful. The teachers care. The administrators are constantly looking for ways to be better. This is the learning environment I want my child to experience.

NCLB has proven to be the failure, not the academically successful schools. The Department of Education needs to seriously reconsider, restructure, and redesign the law. If NCLB had been working over the past ten years, public schools would be drastically improving. However, schools that struggled before the law for the most part remain struggling and successful schools are being labeled as failures. This is wrong. It is time for our government to reassess the validity of laws like NCLB and contests such as Race to the Top. While the goal is to help all schools improve their standards for the good of the kids, we must create legitimate pathways to meet this goal with success. Without hard research and better evaluation methods of teachers, administrators, and schools, the majority of struggling public schools and students will continue to struggle.

Preble High School Website: http://www.greenbayprebleonline.com/index.html

Preble High School Stats: http://www.greenbayprebleonline.com/assets/2010%20PHS_profile.pdf

Preble AYP Info: http://www.greenbay.k12.wi.us/01/info/board/10/MINUTES10_25.htm

About AYP: http://www.nea.org/home/18081.htm

Phuture Phoenix Website: http://www.uwgb.edu/phuturephoenix/