Monday, August 1, 2016

Uncomfortable Lessons

As an English teacher, there are components to the discipline that I am not that fond of - Shakespeare, for example. Of course I can teach it, but it is not my favorite thing about teaching English or Literature. However, no matter my personal feelings about Shakespeare or any genre or subject, for the sake of my students, I teach it.

Discussions of slavery are uncomfortable for many. But it has to be taught and when taught, not in the spirit of trying to make people comfortable. Political correctness has its place, but not when slaves are termed indentured servants. That is a lie. The two are not the same. Who does this lie protect? The Black student cowering in her seat praying the teacher quickly moves onto another subject without asking her opinion? The White teacher who is afraid of appearing unknowing or uncaring? Who perhaps has not put in time to research the literature that has led to the discussion? Parents? The community? Feelings that individuals may harbor against slaves and their descendants for making them feel guilty of history's past? I am sure there are teachers who have simply strayed from such writings. Who do not connect current events to literature's past, or cultural histories. It is very tempting to do so when everyone else seeks shelter from such inspection. However, this is not the role of a teacher. A teacher cannot run and hide from the storm. That would do more harm than good. Be honest, teach. Teach it all.

I recall teaching Romeo and Juliet. Students, once they got the hang of things, loved it. What 14-15 year old wouldn't? Young love. Quarrelling parents. A beautiful backdrop. Tortured and predestined fates. The rising, collective interests of the class push you and your creativeness. Their drive makes you a better teacher and you improve your instruction each time you teach the play. Unfortunately, most students are probably not going to love reading slave narratives. This does not mean that they cannot see their value. This does mean that they cannot appreciate the challenge of reading such texts and the challenges faced by those narrating their experiences. Similarly, many are not going to be overly enthusiastic reading narratives of the wrongs settlers and frontiersmen committed. It would be easy to assign readings that idealize and romanticize the experiences of slaves and Native Americans; however, it is imperative that the literature they encounter aims to reach the truth. Teachers can discuss the past in hopes that citizens do not continue to repeat savage and painful histories played before us in forgotten textbooks.

Speaking of textbooks, teachers are not bound to or by them. When publishers distort truth, teachers have a moral obligation to reveal the truth and ask students to judge the motives of those who seek to soften, change, or distort the realities of those who lived the lives we talk about. As more people understand that no occupation is devoid of corrupt, racist, sexist, abusive, and hateful employees, education must continue to take stock of its personnel. When the rhetoric against a civil rights movement is countered with falsehoods that should have been taught in K-12 schools, as educators, some of the blame must be placed at our feet. There are ways to teach an approved curriculum that is factual and valid, while presenting facts from trusted and reliable sources. Fact checking is a skill all students need. There is no excuse for high school graduates to not know the three branches of government and the limited powers of the commander in chief. There is no reason why massive people cannot fathom that slaves built the Capitol or the White House or other historic landmarks in our country as well as helped build much of the infrastructure (roads, railways) throughout the nation. Is it because it is not on a test? Outside of our discipline? Curriculum?

I have always been a proponent of state and national assessments for this very reason. Without a test, I have feared that teachers (although perhaps only a few, but one is too many) would selectively teach "good" literature. Morrison, Baraka, Harper, and others would vanish in favor of literature without conflict and that which romanticizes a period when Africans were auctioned, bought, and sold to build and maintain wealth for the White aristocracy. There are of course criticisms that allow teachers to teach literature without mention of the writer, the history surrounding the text or the events within. I have never been able to teach to one criticism. It is impossible to speak of Langston Hughes and not speak of the Harlem Renaissance. To speak of Zora Neale Hurston and not speak of the all-Black, culturally rich, community of Eatonville. To discuss her work without mentioning the treatment of her subjects within the social context in which they lived. Reader response is helpful in getting students to discuss and connect, but I find students' lives and writings are enriched when they learn the historical significance of even the terminology used within her works, let alone the geographical importance of works like Their Eyes Were Watching God. Students who had watched the film or read the book were unaware that the referenced hurricane was the Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928 and that massive graves of African Americans were left unmarked for decades as they were not allowed to be buried in cemeteries with Whites if services were held at all.

When race enters, teaching is subversive. It has always been. It remains such. Many of the banned books deal with the taboo subject or have non-White authors whose views are seen as radical or militant. As a middle and high schooler, I was fortunate to be taught beyond the book and beyond the bell. Literature is activism. It begs you to do something, to become the change you want to see. Why else are books banned? Burned? Feared? But if your selections do not cause or champion change for the better in all of us, why assign it?

Yes, All Black Lives Matter, especially in the context of education. As we have taken the lead in civil rights movements of the past, we must so today. Students must be exposed to the contributions of Blacks and other ethnic minorities to society, literature, math, history, and science. No one questions Blacks' contributions to music or sports, but even in those arenas much is unknown and assumed. Cultural misappropriation is a wonderful place to start. It is easy to pull up the latest back to school commercial and see ethnic inspired moves, sounds, language that sells billions in the marketplace, but is seldom highlighted beyond the neighborhoods in which these creations were established. Poverty creates necessity. Poor students struggle, often thinking no one understands, but what happens when we share biographies of those who had it just as tough. Students become empowered. What if they conducted the research themselves based on decades finding similarities between a comedian in this century and one from another. Or, answering such questions, "What award would you give to Bessie Smith and why?" Weekly reports are excellent ways to teach writing and maintain interests. Staggering them gives you more time to focus on a cluster of skills without scaring more students. Simply assigning a student a reading or writing assignment that matches her life experience is not going to solve her problems or heal her wounds, but it is a start. It begins the discussion, and as we are learning. Talk is NOT cheap! It is vitally important, it is necessary.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Week 7: The Year the College Professor Returns to School... The Week After

Calls to Return & Literacy

On what was my final week of work, I received a call asking me to consider a position at a nearby high school.  I responded that I would reply by Friday.  Needless to say, I did not accept the offer. First, I thought it would send the wrong message to the wonderful group of eleven and twelve year olds I had the privilege to teach since August. I did not want them to believe that they did something wrong; that I was jumping ship for 'better' kids elsewhere. Second, this group of eleven and twelve-year-olds number 19. Even with a brief exchange of classes, I taught only 31 students. It would be difficult to exchange 31 for 100+.  Third, and most importantly, I was troubled by my teacher-senses.  I have been the new teacher in enough settings - middle school, high school, and college/university -  to know that if there is something worth having, it is quickly snatched.  The outgoing teacher's desk is bigger, newer and better? Then, it's mine. She had newer, cleaner versions of the class textbooks? Switched. Likewise, she had a better schedule, or a class someone desired, swapped.  So I had to wonder what was it about these set of classes that other teachers did not want.

Teachers learn early not to go jousting about asking questions. You trust your teacher-senses. Mine were banging, clanging, and ringing.  My senses were triggered yet again when someone suggested a position at another high school.  But an interesting thing happened since I have been home - I have not been home.  I have been busier now than when I worked for pay.  There seems too much to do.  As a board member of the area Literacy Volunteers of America, I have grown intrigued by current literacy rates and trends, and have begun working on various projects and grants.  This work takes me back to a graduate Problems & Trends course I taught at an area university. Our topic? Literacy. That was several years ago.

Literacy entails much more than simply knowing how to read and write.  Literacy invades all aspects of our lives.  It accompanies the various printed and written material that we interface daily.  There's computer literacy, visual literacy, functional literacy, media literacy, digital literacy, information literacy, and technology literacy.  There is cultural literacy, financial literacy, environmental literacy, historical literacy, geographic literacy, legal literacy, numeracy literacy, musical literacy, scientific literacy, global literacy, multicultural literacy, and it could be argued Facebook literacy, among several dozen more. The National Assessment of Adult Literacy measures functional English literacy using three types of literacy—prose, document, and quantitative—since it believes that "adults use different kinds of printed and written materials in their daily lives" (  ETS (Educational Testing Service) utilizes the three types of literacies above with the addition of health literacy, which measures how well you can understand and use health-related information. ETS describes "literacy as a set of practical tools to facilitate work on the job, at home, and around the community and that use real-world literacy tasks" (

Each literacy council, adult learning center, English to speakers of other languages program, and community organization choose which literacies to focus.  The majority focus on the following big three:
  • Prose literacy – the ability to understand and use information found in newspapers, magazines, novels, brochures, manuals or flyers.
  • Document literacy - the ability to find and use information in forms, schedules, charts, graphs and other tables of information.
  • Quantitative literacy - the ability to use numbers found in ads, forms, flyers, articles or other printed materials to get the information you need. 
They then select one or more that fit with their mission or purpose. Thus, for example, the organization I work with secured a grant to focus on health literacy and it has been an eye-opening experience.  There are so many things that people who are well versed in health literacy take for granted. For example, reading and understanding the labels on food.  You must know percentages and be able to interpret them appropriately and then use that information to make wise decisions about whether or not to eat the item.  If you suffer from hypertension (even using proper medical terms for ailments fall under this literacy - we all know people who use 'sugar' to refer to having diabetes. But do you have sugar 1 or sugar 2?) and the item you are considering eating indicates that its sodium intake is 75%, do you purchase it? Do you eat it? Since 75% means that this food item contains 75% of your daily recommended intake of sodium, you may want to steer clear of that item.  If you are on a 1500-calorie diet to maintain your hypertension, how do you determine what a 350-calorie candy bar will do your eating plan? Math.

Can you read the following and properly explain the implications of eating the following? This is one aspect of health literacy. Fun stuff!

Though a brief foray into literacy, I hope I have piqued your curiosity and invite you to explore others. The  problems we face as a nation within the educational arena are numerous and mounting, and literacy plays a major role.  According to the August 13, 2012, post on's The Rundown: A Blog of News and Insight ( the United States ranks 7th in high school graduation (see The Education Olympics graphic to the right courtesy of Certification Map) even though we once ranked first.
Literacy rankings are harder to pinpoint. One report said the US ranked 7th when compared to world countries, others said 15th, 17th, 21st and 27th. However, there appears general consensus that the literacy rate within America is 99%, or not. "Rates of literacy in the United States depend on which of the various definitions of literacy is used. Governments may label individuals who can read a couple of thousand simple words they learned by sight in the first four grades in school as literate. Other sources may term such individuals functionally illiterate if they are unable to use basic sources of written information like warning labels and driving directions. The World Factbook prepared by the CIA defines literacy in the United States as "age 15 and over can read and write."(

According to a presentation given in DC on December 7, 2010, Secretary General Angel Gurria of OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development)  stated that "[o]verall, the U.S. comes out as an average performer in reading (rank 14 in OECD) and science (rank 17) but the U.S. drops below the OECD average in mathematics (rank 25). Also, there is a very wide gap between the top 10% and the bottom 10% of 15-year olds in the U.S, similar to that observed between top and bottom performing PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) countries. Unlike most other federal nations, the U.S. does not yet (emphasis is mine) collect PISA data for individual States, but we understand that there are important regional differences in performance." (
This brings us back to the Common Core and how its use will or may eventually lead to the US collecting PISA data for individual states but it is late and I have to go... 

TTYL (Yes, this is a type of literacy as well!) LOL!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Year: The College Professor Returns to School, Week 6

It Feels Good to Be Wanted and What Irks Me

Calling all bets! Calling all bets to a close!

Those who say they know me best would have made a mint if betting on how long my most recent foray into the classroom would last.  I was certain I would be there through the academic year, then Christmas, then the end of the first nine weeks.  There were some things that I had forgotten, least of all being that I am not a morning person, and then there were other things that I had never experienced, remaining with the same set of students for the majority of the day.  The first time I taught middle school I was a recent graduate-school graduate and single.  I had the time, energy, and inclination to remain at school until after 6 PM even though the school day ended at 2:45. I had the gumption to plan the high school pageant and Student Government Association elections while continuing to tweak my year-long lesson plans.  I was heavily involved in some of my students' lives.  Even though I married the following year, things remained the same since my spouse was completing his college education.  Fast forward to teaching 10th grade in Miami-Dade and except for the drive to work from Pembroke Pines to Kendall (I know) and the newly earned PhD, I still could spend hours each day planning, grading, and becoming acquainted with students.  What was missing then that made my recent return to the classroom so brief? Kids. My own. 

We, my husband and I, soon realized that we had grown very accustomed to the professor way of life.  He taught on Mondays and Wednesdays, I on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We could still attend plays and meet with the teacher each day as we dropped our eldest off to school and picked him up. One of us could chauffeur him to acting, gymnastics, Spanish, and soccer. We saved a small fortune since we did not need daycare providers.  My mother could step-in in a pinch.  We had so much time because even after an exhausting day with our son, we could work while he slept.  It also helped that I planned and created each syllabus the semester before and unless something catastrophic occurs, the syllabus remains the same from August to December, from January to April. Assignments and assessments varied in length and purpose, and I had summers and national conferences to re-energize and update each syllabus with the latest assignments, technology, theories, etc.  I could sponsor clubs, but leave the day-to-day operations (posting minutes, calling meetings, scheduling events and fundraisers) to adult students.  Our family even benefited from conference presentations.  We could easily turn these business events into mini family vacations.  Our eldest was able to visit and tour New York City and Philadelphia for example while I presented and or kept my duties as an elected representative.  Some fellow colleagues and their families would remain in a conference city post-conference for several days to sight see and enjoy the holidays (the National Council of Teachers of English convention backs up to Thanksgiving) before returning to work often for finals week. But this was not my schedule as a classroom teacher; how could I have forgotten?

After only five weeks, our house looked a mess.  Being a neat freak - a place for everything and everything in its place - I found it difficult to straighten as desired before heading to bed.  Bedtime came later and later, but time to awake did not. The alarm was set at 6AM. I felt guilty the first time our son reported his spelling test grade and we had no clue one was scheduled.  We felt as if we were missing chunks of his day.  I am the homework supervisor, backpack organizer, and fact checker, and I love my role.  Until now, I was able to do that, organize the furniture, clutter, mail, calendar, etc. with ease.  Once I returned to the classroom, all that changed.  Our son earned a C on a reading assignment, not because he did not know the material but because I had not had time to review his homework close enough to see that he misread the instructions. I had become what I feared, a parent who spent more time working at home than working at work. There is a difference. Although I was teaching at the school where he attended, I was so consumed with planning (I did not begin the week of pre-planning) and getting to know students and new material that I was not going to bed until the wee hours of the morning.  I don't like loose ends. 

I also realized that I was not only neglecting my 6-year-old, but my 70-something mother, husband of 16 years, and five-month-old baby boy.  The later was the hardest to reconcile.  I had taken my breastfeeding role seriously.  I had frozen  many bottles, but they were soon depleted since I was not home to feed him. I could not pump at work because there was no time to do so. I had morning planning and since I would have just pumped before leaving home, I needed to have an opportunity to do so later.  I am sure had I asked, something could have been worked out, but I also hate to impose or appear as if I am receiving accommodations that others are not. My mother's medical complaints grew.  She kept the baby on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but remarked that she felt dizzy.  She had to have a cardiac catheterization performed.  As an only child, I must assist her in tending to her medical decisions and finances.  There was mild blockage and her doctors decided it best to treat with medicine.  More medicine.  Her dizziness, it is now believed, was due in part to the blockage.  Prayerfully, the medicine and a quick visit to an inner ear specialist will alleviate her immediate issues.  Hats off to those who can do all of this, tend to all these people and things, not because they are "on top of things" but because they can ill afford not to.  Thank Heavens that my life has been ordered so that I have the choice and chance.

Thus, my decision to leave was personal and selfish. I thought it interesting how quickly our lives flattened, straightened. For now, I am able to spend Wednesdays with my son at his school.  I am able to assist him with his homework. I am able to read with him and play games.  I still take him to his extracurricular activities which made Thursdays (acting) and Fridays (Spanish and soccer practice) and Saturdays (soccer games) so hectic. So much so that I was left with only Sunday afternoon to plan, review, assess, align, and prepare for the week. Once I tenured my resignation, my discoid lupus agitation and a persistent cough that developed began to subside. But then questions began, but not from the principal. She understood totally. Unfortunately or fortunately, those with questions have never had me as a college instructor.  I make it a habit to practice what I preach, or at least attempt to do so with all my might.  I have always told prospective teachers that if their heart is not in what they are doing, if their passion drops, if they would rather be elsewhere, fishing, diving, driving, writing, whatever, go to it. Do it. Teaching is too important a task for the halfhearted.  The educational attainment that students seek is too valuable to leave in the hands of someone who, for all intent and purpose, is mentally absent. For me, it was an easy decision....

Do you know what's wrong with education? 
No, but I bet you don't either.

I do not fault people for expressing their opinions about how best to "fix" education; it is a free country and the first amendment grants them the right. However, I do fault educators for listening.   I do not think that the American Dental Association would grant me membership or listen to me pontificate about my views on dentistry once they determined that I was not a dentist; whatever views I had would be discredited and disavowed.  I would be verbally assailed.  Why? I have been to a dentist twice a year for most of life.  I have been poked and prodded and hurt. I know what they do and how they do it. Still not enough? Then why, pray tell, for all that is righteous and holy, do we, teachers, practitioners, researchers, instructors, professors, administrators, etc., allow those who could not teach or chose not to do so dictate policy, laws, and procedures? Their only means of entrance is that they were once students. I know the argument could be made that going to the dentist is not compulsory; there is no law that says you must go and that you must go until you are 16 or 18. However, those with good oral hygiene and access to healthcare are more apt to receive early screening and preventative care, whether they are high school graduates or drop outs.  Longevity does not equate to educational attainment any more than home ownership and healthcare and prosperity, but once your health fades, it fades forever. So again, why do we listen to those who offer no facts, data, or proof? Would you allow me to perform your root canal because I had one several years ago?

I am not saying that stakeholders should have their voices heard or be invited to the table to discuss the state of education. Please, come, share. However, there must be a line drawn when it comes to instituting policies that address only teachers.  You have to tread carefully when you hear people spout of returning to the days of yesterday. As a person of color, any 'day' prior to the 1970s, and even then is suspect, and you can return alone. I have heard teachers say that education was better when they could beat, excuse me... spank; when students were segregated; when teachers were segregated; when prayer was in schools; when students did not have so much technology; when students had something to overcome (racial segregation, inequalities, housing discrimination, job discrimination, etc.); when students did not have it so easy; when teachers had all the rights... Clearly, I could continue to infinitude.  Perspective is powerful.  Again, I am not suggesting that parents and stakeholders should not be afforded a spot at the table, but they should not be the keynote speakers while teachers are not invited to the table and the meeting is held when they are teaching and no one thought it pertinent that they be in attendance. 

It maddens me that so much is done to teachers by those who purport to know best.  Add one more assessment, teachers can handle it.  Slowly increase class sizes, teachers can handle it.  Fail to provide a cost of living increase, teachers can handle it. Require more documentation and paperwork, teachers can handle.  Yes, they can, but the question is should they?  I am sure if you look across the various school districts around the state and country, you will find that there are still teaching positions to be filled.  I think this trend will increase and unfortunately hit troubled districts the hardest.  People fail to remember that in the end, when your child has a permanent substitute for the year, he or she is still required to complete and pass all benchmarks, objectives, and assessments to go to the next grade or graduate and be deemed college ready.  These same people fail to realize that teachers have at least one degree, many have multiple degrees, talents, and skills and can find employment elsewhere, if willing perhaps to relocate.  I do not think that it is any coincidence that English and English education majors heavily populate the business sector.  Their skills are honored, coveted, and respected.

So imagine my surprise when the business model that many states now propose are treating teachers like their previous counterparts.  The same people they coaxed to come over to their side, they now lump together and see nothing but bottom lines, numbers, and profits. What of paying those who increase student outcomes more? Did you ever establish an equitable and just formula? Did teachers who demonstrated consistent year-to-year success make a mad dash to those lower performing, troubled schools to increase their salaries? Of course not.  Chicago's public schools has a CEO, not a superintendent.  Was not the business model suppose to cure all ills within education? Remember, it was those educated, tree hugging, environmentally conscientious, multiculturalism supporting education majors who ran the previous system amuck, right?

Still to come, weeks 7 & 8... From school to life.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Year: The College Professor Returns to School, Week 5


Week 5. Progress reports.  What can I say?  I made sure I stressed the difference between earning and receiving grades.  Earning grades comes with satisfaction like no other work, especially when your only job is to go to school and EARN good grades.  It means studying even when no one told you to do so, the creating practice problems when none were assigned, teaching a new concept, vocabulary, or math procedure to anyone who will listen - teddy bears, grandparents, siblings, parents, friends, neighbors, even the dog (or cat).  It includes writing down questions to ask the teacher while reviewing the day's lessons at home.  It includes setting aside two hours, at least, to review, reread, rewrite, and organize your notebook or class binder.  This is not limited to high school or college students. This type of commitment to learning must occur early in the lives of students. Yes, even as early as 10, and earlier if materials are sent or available at home via the internet.

Earning a grade happens when motivation and the desire for success intersect and dedication, ethics, and hard work are plotted along the way.  Receiving grades is a lot simpler.  It takes no effort at all. In fact, the effort usually falls outside of the student's purview.  It includes, but is not limited to, the lineage of the child, political pressures, or even familial ties.  It could be that you, as the teacher, are new to the community and are fearful of assigning the student the grade he or she earned because the student is the grandchild or grandnephew of the mayor.  It could be that you have all Advanced Placement courses and all of the students are used to receiving, in many cases earning as well, all A's and who are you to break tradition?  Perhaps, you are quite sympathetic to the plight of many of your students and are asked, or pressured, by a coach (including academic coaches as well) to bump a student's grade (from let's say an F to a C, or C to an A) in your class so that he or she can 'play' whatever game or participate on a given team.  

I am a believer in the Golden Rule.  Teachers often discuss their levels of comfort with giving additional points to final course averages.  I do not mind a maximum of three points, but it is not a given.  The student needed to have contributed to class discussions a lot, have near perfect if not perfect attendance, show good citizenship in class, complete assignments on time to the best of his or her abilities, arrive on time and prepared to begin the day, etc. It is not simply that you are popular, your parents are popular, or that you feel a sense of entitlement.  However, I am amazed by the number of grade school teachers who strictly enforce the belief that if you have an 89 then come hell or high water, you are going to receive a B. I have secretly always wanted to request their college instructors' grade records to see if they have not benefited from those who are not as stringent.  I know I tell students that I don't curve, but what I don't tell them is why.  I do not curve scores on individual assignments, because I will give up to three points on their final average.  It seems to balance everything in the end.  Is this perfect? No! I have boosted a student's final average by 3 only to place him or her a point or two away from a higher grade. Do they receive it? No.

I am sure as 9-weeks grades become due across the county, that there are teachers who dread the frustration that grades emit.  Sarah is a good student. She comes to school everyday, but not always prepared. There are some things going on in her home that distract her. What, she has never said. Her grades are hit and miss.  She misses easy questions and assignments, but scores above average on the hard stuff. Her average is a 67 (on a scale where a D is 60-69 and a C is 70-79).  I would like to think that most of the teachers I know would not pause or blink and assign her a C.  But there are those who believe that she EARNED her D and if she wants a C or better then she had better work harder.  Yet, there are those who feel that a D would shatter her confidence and send her plummeting into failing grades, low or lowering self esteem and depression.   I wondered why teachers completed their grades at the local bar or restaurant during Happy Hour, but never looked happy. Why some went on a bon bon binge or smoked only once in awhile, the one day of each 9-weeks when grades were due. The issue of grading was not covered in any course I completed. I am sure it falls under ethics, but that is not enough.  And it is more than scoring essays using a cleverly crafted rubric. Teachers deal with ethical dilemmas daily.  As a teacher educator, I now have a plethora of lessons and discussions and assignments to add to prospective course syllabuses to flush out issues like this that are on the hearts and minds of day-to-day classroom teachers.

This self sabotaging behavior got me to thinking about sabbaticals for teachers.  Would teachers turn to spirits and chocolate and food if they could release, relate and relax for several weeks or a months during the year?  Don't offer conferences as a substitute for the aforementioned 3R's.  As an often regular conference attendee, you don't have time to rest if you intend to attend workshops, lectures, and presentations.  Most major conferences pack your days and some nights with more than enough to keep you busy and thinking about improving instruction.  I am talking about a break. A mental break to keep not only the mind healthy, but the body as well.  Attend your next conference and notice the spreading waistlines, crooked walks, and frowning faces.  I am not suggesting sabbaticals for teachers who have been teaching for decades, but sabbaticals for those who apply for them as necessary, have their application reviewed by their peers, effectively demonstrate what they plan to bring back to the classroom and how the sabbatical will keep them in the profession.  The sabbatical, like that of a Fulbright, could last from a few weeks to a year or more.  Sabbaticals in higher education are common. You apply, are approved, complete your plan of study, and then return to share your findings with your colleagues.  They keep the college faculty alive and focused. Sabbaticals are not maternity and paternity leave.   Clearly, sabbaticals would be beneficial to all.  

A facebook friend and wife of a former student, Taneshia Toussaint, recently updated her status

I find it quite ironic that when the refs were on strike from the NFL people were ready to give them whatever they wanted to get them back on the field. Yet when teachers in Chicago went on strike for better learning conditions for other peoples children, many people were mad and upset they were being inconvenienced ... just saying priorities...
Clearly, sabbaticals would help reduce the fatigue and stress and lack of appreciation that teachers feel that often fester unattended until, POW, the explode. And dare I offer, that perhaps, just perhaps, sabbaticals could slow or derail strikes?!  First, let me say that I love football.  I mean I L O V E, LOVE, L OOOOO V E football.  I watch reruns until the season starts anew.  I go through withdrawal post BCS Monday and Superbowl Sunday. I think that the debate here is not about competing forces.  The debate is about workers' rights and fair compensation. The NFL is a corporation. It is a business. The owners, individuals, own their teams and make billions, but there is parody in the sport.  Some teams' cache far outweighs others.  When there are disagreements that cannot be resolved, they go on strike.  The Commissioner seeks a quick resolution, after all time is money and missed games mean a lot of missed money.  The Commission represents all teams regardless of their location.  There are not state commissioners, thank Heavens.  The game is entertainment. We could live without it, although my stomach tosses and turns with the very notion, but it is not a right or requirement of being a citizen of the United States.  It could possibly be offered that an education, especially a free one, is not a right or requirement as well, but it provides the pathway for individuals to attain their "unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." 

Teachers, like football players, should have the right to strike.  I say this as I type this in a No Strike state.  I have always wondered why a group of people, teachers, firefighters, or other service providers would allow their greatest leverage to be taken away.  What threat can teachers impose if they do not have the freedom to express their displeasure by choosing to stay home? Did I support Chicago teachers' right to strike? Yes. Should they have? Yes. If you have it, use it. If you are not being treated as vital contributors to the success of the team, if you have filed so many grievances that you could work for Legal Aid, if you have tried to work within, around and through the system to no avail, then I believe you have a right to force those in command to notice you.  Parents often forget that their son(s)' and daughter(s)' teachers have options.  They choose to teach. Most parents work and know what they would do if they felt their boss ignored simple requests, passed them over for promotions even when overqualified, or demanded unreasonable work hours in unreasonable working conditions - they would file a grievance, quit, strike, they would do something. Yet, many deny teachers this very right because they would be inconvenienced by not having the funds or the availability of sitters. Teachers either need sabbaticals or more vacation days.  They seldom spend time with their own families while tending to the needs of kids who have parents.  

As a former University Observer, one of the questions I frequently asked teachers was to identify their biggest regret. It served as a way to forewarn graduating pre-service teachers of pitfalls to avoid.  The response I received most often was not spending enough time with their own children.  Through misting eyes they would recall spending countless hours planning lessons and grading papers and projects while they had to push their children toward other preoccupations and people.  They spoke of missed tryouts, productions, playoffs, homework help, and competitions while being present at those of their students.  They spoke of seeing their children take their first steps, speak their first words, or shed their first tooth via the lenses of a camera or worst still the babysitter's or spouse's reenactment. This is an extremely high price to pay for continuing criticism, decreasing paychecks and respect, and ever increasing demands, expectations, accountability, and production. The great state of Florida is increasing test requirements on many of its certification exams, many counties within the state have or are considering freezing step pay increases for veteran teachers, and more teacher preparation responsibilities are being given to 2-year colleges.  At this rate, I wonder who will teach the next generation of scholars? What will be their motivation? Most importantly, I no longer wonder if they will stay, I simply wonder how long?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Year: The College Professor Returns to School, Week 4

The First Lady of the United States, End of Course Exams, and Thunderstorms

Education is the cornerstone for many.  It was for the Obamas. Whether you support the President and his family or not, they are an example of the American Dream.  However, there are those who would argue that people born with privilege who do not always see or understand that what they have did not come from the sweaty brow of their parents, ancestors, or themselves, are true heirs of the American Dream.  

When the First Lady of the United States spoke recently at the Civic Center in Tallahassee, Florida, my son was ecstatic. He cheered and fist-pumped himself silly. I chuckled when I thought to myself, This is the same little boy who did not want to stand in line for the ticket? Who kept saying repeatedly that he was going to give his ticket to his father? Truly kids often speak without understanding that they are living historians.  They speak from the here and now; the most important thing to him at the time was that he had to leave while in the middle of his Friday test.  This, too, is how adults miss out on the better opportunities in life.  It is easier to remain in our comfort zones than to try something new. Take a chance or a new risk, elevate ourselves and solve a challenging dilemma.  As Mrs. Obama spoke of student loans and not having family members from which to simply ask and be given enough money to cover the costs of their higher educations, I thought of the educational system many children in this great nation are inheriting. It is not just that the educational opportunities afforded some are becoming farther out of the commoner's reach, but access to consistent quality schools and teachers is becoming the great divining rod.

Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and its generations and parts are giving way to End of Course (EOC) exams.  An exchange of one high-stakes test for another, with more administrations, some starting as early as sixth grade.  The new tests have the urgency and stress that is often expressed of New York's Regents. I have always believed that some form of assessment is necessary.  For example, English Language Arts and math teachers often bemoan when new tests are created and implemented because both fields know they are the central tendencies. So when Science was added to the test pool for Florida public school students, many teachers felt it was about time some other discipline felt their pains.  So imagine my disgust when I learned from an elementary teacher that although students begin taking the science test in 3rd grade, science does not appear as a dedicated course in Pre-K, Kindergarten, First, or Second grade.  She stated that they receive sprinklings here and there.  Interesting.  Is this "sprinkling" going to spark students to enter the STEM+M (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine) related fields?  

Thus, I agree in part,  but not in whole with the Common Core.  I agree with national standards as a means for addressing those who travel from place to place whether with the armed forces or with their careers, and for eroding the ever evasive belief that "Northern education is better" than any offered in the South or south of Virginia.  One set of standards for the nation appears harmless, but does that not eventually equate to one set of assessments and one set of pacing guides? The question then becomes: Who creates such assessments? Nagging and tugging at my ear and heart are such questions as, What of elite schools? Private schools? For struggling schools, won't this increase the  'brain drain' that continues to belie these communities? I would think the purpose of an EOC (End of Course) exam for a course I taught would be to measure mastery.  If so, shouldn't I create my own assessment? Of course you see the inherent, supposed problem with this line of thinking... Teachers are not psychometricians, they can't create a fair and balanced assessment. 

My son uses SRA's Imagine It! series.  It includes a number of components but it offers a pacing guide that could lead one to believe that each teacher in a given grade level must be on the same page at the same time.  How else to ensure that you all end at the same place?  I am not offering an endorsement or critique, but does it matter if I am on page 45 and my neighboring teacher is on page 30 as long as we have the same goal - that each student works and achieves at his or her optimum best? Suppose I am more technologically inclined than my peer(s) and I wish to supplement the lesson with digital and audio/visual content.  This places me a day and some pages behind, what are my consequences? Who sets and delivers punishment?

While waiting in one of the longest, winding lines of my life, the faster we approached the entrance to the Civic Center to hear the First Lady, the worse the weather grew.  By the time we gained entrance, nearly two hours later, we were drenched.  However, as life often does, our dark clouds hid a silver lining. Kinda. Once inside the Center we were eventually ushered to the higher sections where we found seats and began to dry.  Those who came later, much later, avoided the thunderstorms and torrential downpour and simply walked into the Center and directed to the main floor which was standing only.  I wondered would their take on the historical significance of the night's events be different from mine.  After all, even though Mrs. Obama's speech was A W E S O M E, I was miffed for half an hour that the women's restroom did not have a changing table.  I had to spread paper towels over the bathroom floor in order to change the baby's diaper.  The fact that this was the week he decided to practice spinning and turning over has yet to be lost on me.  

I wonder when we tell of this day later in life, how will my 6-year-old's testimony differ from my own?  Will his be grand and emotionally charged, while mine is filled with belligerence toward the Center's management? Will our takes lead listeners to think that we are describing two separate events? This led me to ponder the reinventing of history that is taking place in states like Tennessee, who proposes to teach that the KKK was a good ol' fashion Southern social club, and in Texas, who not only want to denounce multicultural education and literature, but teach that Native Americans were the aggressors during the War of Expansion and that they themselves were not squatters. People can believe what they wish, but caution and care must be taken on the part of textbook companies that decide to include such foolishness in printed material, give it their seal of approval, and package, sell and distribute such falsehoods.  Since Texas, Florida, New York, and California wield much power when it comes to textbook creation and adoption (which came first I wonder), smaller states will have to "pick and pull" components of prepackaged units to form their book(s).  Thus, what was intended as some personal retribution for losing the war, now becomes a teachable 'fact' by social science teachers who may have come to education from some other field.  He or she may have the best intentions, but not the depth and breadth of subject or discipline to navigate students toward authentic primary and secondary sources to right their miseducation.