Favorite Song Friday: My Mathematical Mind by Spoon
I strongly associate the month of March with Spoon. Mostly because this was the time of year that I was introduced to the band’s music, back in my freshman year, and I spent many early spring days listening to Gimme Fiction. This song is definitely one of my favorites, and I have been listening to it a lot recently. For me, this is a “psych-yourself-up” song. Listening to it makes me feel like I’m ready for anything.
Dear Malik, We are, sadly, living in the year of hating teachers. Whether it’s Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker rewarding the super-rich while complaining about the high compensation of teachers or Obama’s education secretary Arne Duncan applauding the mass firing of teachers and endorsing the teacher-bashing rhetoric of the right, we’re having it hard these days. After decades of “devolution” of federal funding and escalating military budgets, state governments are de-funding education. Policy wonks fantasize about making schools in the US that look like those in Singapore — with compliant students who study desperately to make the grade — and the President talks about education designed to compete with China and India — as if that were the purpose of education in a democracy. The national discussion of education, driven by right wing media and think tanks, suggests that teacher education, teachers, teacher unions, and just about everything else about schools is worth trashing. Professor William Watkins may be right — these people may really have in mind closing down public education altogether.
On the teacher profession side we find plenty of despair. Teaching, like the other caring professions, has been regarded as women’s work and therefore worthy of less respect and pay. And now teachers are being forced more and more into mindless scripted curricula, which amount to low-intelligence test-prep exercises. Teacher education programs are cutting back their offerings and fewer people, particularly with math and science degrees, are willing to go into teaching. Getting that March pink slip is just another turn in the barrage of insults teachers suffer.
As I was thinking about this, and how to respond to you, something dawned on me. I think we pretty much should stop waiting for respect. It’s not going to come, not for a long, long time. We know we are creative, growing professionals who are engaged in one of the world’s most demanding jobs and we know we should be honored for our work with children and adolescents. But perhaps we should simply stop thinking along the lines of that framework of professionals who should be respected.
Here are a few other ways we might frame our job:
First, the miracles. We teachers fight for success in the classroom every day and many days we fail — like health professionals, it’s part of the job and we try to learn from the losses. But sometimes we work our magic and it comes out right. That’s when you want to leap up and give a fellow teacher or a student a high five. Yes, we get both emotions, 20 times a day. We have the honor of being with these students more than any other adults — laughing and crying, seeing transformations before our eyes. And we usually find ourselves in a wonderful community of teachers — intense, funny, brilliant, and deeply ethical colleagues who help us through.
I remember when I first went into teaching. I had been a restaurant cook for 10 years and I knew the slog of production: bring in raw materials, work on them, push product out the door, charge money, get a little pay. Mostly it was hard, physical work. I remember how amazed I was when I first started teaching: I could get paid for reading, writing, talking, and listening? What a delight. And it was the most intellectually and ethically challenging job I could imagine — on the level of course content (we are always scavenging, studying, borrowing, innovating, learning more) and even more on the human interaction dimension (constantly studying the kids, doing close observation, trying to figure out how to be successful at inspiring, encouraging and challenging them). We get joy, real joy and satisfaction, from our students. Yes, that’s the secret delight of this profession, working with inspiring colleagues, knowing these kids and being with them through the small and large changes in their lives, knowing their families and the heroic struggles of the communities they come from. We have the coolest job ever — we are privileged to be working with young people every day.
Secondly, as that T-shirt says, “Be an activist, be a teacher.” We might head off to work with more joy and positive feeling if we think of ourselves as organizers. Teaching, after all, is not only community service, it is a project of social change. We don’t go to work to blithely reproduce the inequities that exist in our society. We want students to learn, not just the ropes of the game and the gatekeepers, but their own power, their own capacity. We want them to have the creativity and imagination to know that another world is possible; we want them to have the skills to make it so. If you were organizing Mississippi sharecroppers in the ’60s or Flint auto workers in the ’30s, you would not be waiting for someone in power to say you’re great. You would expect to be insulted and vilified. But you do the work because you know it’s right. We teachers do this job because we are change agents. A lot of people jaw about social change and activism but teachers do the work every day. Like an organizer, you are fighting for broader goals, ones tied to the doors you open for this student, the progress you make on that project.
We go back to work again and again for those goals, not for the ones defined by those who are selling off the public domain and the promise of equality, justice and the common future, the policy wonks who seem to be in charge today. My hero and heroine teachers are not the savior types you see in the movies. They are people like Septima Clark teaching in rural South Carolina, Paulo Freire organizing in the mountains of Brazil, Father Lorenzo Milani transforming peasant kids in Tuscany, Sylvia Ashton-Warner empowering Maori children in New Zealand, and so many others. They got no respect. They changed the world. Like organizers, we learn the hard lessons of social change — it never comes when we are patronizing and hand out charity; it only succeeds when we respect the people we teach and act in solidarity with them. And, like organizers, we are energized by the knowledge that we just might win together, by the knowledge that we do win small victories every day.
Thirdly… there is no thirdly. Just those two. The joy of working with kids. The commitment to organizing and social justice. The pay is bad but, really, not that bad. One can have a decent, if modest, living doing this. And we may be scorned by idiots but we are revered by parents, communities, and students. All in all, not such a bad gig. Of course I’m pretty sure you’re going to stick with it, Malik. And I hope you encourage other friends to join our ranks. We need them!
“Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”—Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country (via libraryland)
I have a semi-colon problem. I use them ALL THE TIME.
This is certainly an argument I agree with—in fact, I think that status/respect is more important than just increasing pay.
But it’s worth pointing out that the status of teachers in society is still just one small piece of the American education puzzle. We know that socioeconomic status is a leading predictor of academic outcomes in this country. Comparing our educational system to a country like Finland is problematic because our system must cope with much higher poverty rates (among other things).
“The candles of the city shine to tell the world what we want,
The candles of the city won’t rest and won’t give up,
The blood of the fighters is our own,
We won’t surrender until the regime falls.”—
Two young Libyans whose rap music is being broadcast to the front line by rebel Benghazi radio hope they are helping to maintain the morale of fighters outgunned by Gaddafi forces.
“Rap does not physically change things, but it invigorates the soul of people fighting and sends a message to all Libyans,” 16-year-old Imad Abbar, sitting perched on a paint can in the patio of his home in Benghazi, told AFP news agency.
Hamza Sisi agreed, and the lyrics (quoted here) that he wrote for their rap song “Shamat Al-Medina”, or “Candles of the City”, say all.
Started a job application for a school district in VA and it is soooo time-consuming and they want so many things. Ugh I hope every school district I apply to is not like this, considering that I will be applying to ALL OF THE DISTRICTS, but I suspect that they all will be.
PA’s hopelessly bureaucratic PA-educator site is beginning to seem inspired.
I’m a 2011 Knowles Science Teaching Fellow, guys! So excited, honored, gratified, etc. This is going to give me access to an outstanding support system and great resources during my first few years in the classroom. I feel very lucky and privileged to have the opportunity to begin shaping my practice in this context. When I was at the interview weekend I was so energized and inspired by the intellect and passion of the people I met; working with them over the next five years is going to be fantastic.
I got a voicemail about it while I was teaching and I called back during one of my plan periods. The woman who called me was one of my professors at Pitt before going to work for KSTF, so she already knows me. Here’s how the conversation went:
Me: Hi Michele, I’m returning your call. I got your voicemail. Michele: Congratulations! Are you happy? Me: I’m ecstatic! Michele: You don’t sound ecstatic.
If you know me in person the above conversation is probably more entertaining for you. I’m not terribly expressive, particularly over the phone, especially if you don’t know me well. I was pretty much bouncing off the walls, but there are only a few people who would have been able to discern that in my voice over the phone.
I’m pretty excited about this bioethics discussion lesson I’m putting together. It’s framed around embryonic screening and whether people should be able to directly manipulate the genetics of their future children. I think my students will be into it because they have been asking me questions about this kind of stuff for several weeks now, and they have a lot of misconceptions about what’s possible.
But more importantly, I don’t think many of my freshman are aware of the ethical, social, and moral issues raised by our growing genetic prowess. I’m really looking forward to listening to them puzzle through these questions.
“Snyder’s law gives the state government the power not only to break up unions, but to dissolve entire local governments and place appointed “Emergency Managers” in their stead. But that’s not all – whole cities could be eliminated if Emergency Managers and the governor choose to do so. And Snyder can fire elected officials unilaterally, without any input from voters. It doesn’t get much more anti-Democratic than that.”
As a Michiganian, this truly scares me.
It scares me, and I’m NOT a Michiganian! Hopefully we can get some of this unconstitutional bullshit repealed and get these guys the hell out of office… if not, we might have to wait two years and then whoop their asses in the polls.
I really do want to go back to the homeland someday, but with news like this that day seems pretty far off.
I had a two day sub job for a biology class Thursday and Friday. I’ve subbed for this guy before. I know many of his students and he teaches a 7th period so I didn’t have to report until 9:30. I got to sleep in and I was in a good mood.
He left a movie, Lorenzo’s Oil. Fine. I can put a movie…
Even if I were there on a day that I wanted my kids to watch a movie, they’d be held accountable for the content! Ridiculous that you were not left with a clear assignment for the students.
I teach 9th grade in a blue-collar, middle-to-low income district. It’s diverse-ish—maybe about 30% African American, 70% white. Aside from those categories, though, it’s not too diverse.
Anyway, I try to be on my toes about monitoring language in my classroom. Generally, I let swear words slide if I overhear them being said quietly among students (it’s a detention if they call out a swear word, though). But “gay” and “retard” I call out every time I hear them.
Today there was a small, not-very-serious incident that really exhausted me, though. At school, the students who were involved in the musical were putting on a performance for the elementary school kids. I was missing a few students in every period because of this. One of my freshman managed to get himself a line in the musical because an upperclassman dropped out of the show. It’s just a single line, but as I understand it he is the only freshman who gets to say anything and he’s been excited about it for weeks. He dropped by class today to drop off his work to me and to say hi to his friends. He was in costume with stage makeup, and it was obvious to me that he had timed it this way because he wanted an excuse for his classmates to see him in costume.
As he was on his way out, one of his classmates called out, “You know you look really gay.” He said it really loudly, while I was standing right next to him (I was explaining something to his group at the time). I immediately admonished him, telling him that his comment was uncalled for and unacceptable. The student then got really defensive with me and argued. ”It’s true though,” he insisted. ”I was just saying it because it was true.” I told him that it was not up for debate, and his language was unacceptable, and he dropped it, but I certainly hadn’t changed his mind at all.
At the time, I didn’t really know how to push the issue. I was so irritated by the student and frustrated with his arguing that I literally just couldn’t think of which words to use beyond, “Don’t make those kinds of comments in my classroom because I will not tolerate it.” And I didn’t really have the time or space for that conversation then; I was in the middle of trying to explain a complex experiment to a group of struggling students while keeping an eye on a classroom full of hyper 9th graders. In order to have the kind of effective conversation this student clearly needed, I would have had to pull him and myself from the classroom.
But a part of me was also overwhelmed by the thought of how much work and careful conversation it would take on my part to get this 14-year-old boy to understand the damage caused by that kind of habitual homophobia. Because I know that if I had pressed him, then and there, and told him he was being offensive and homophobic, he would argue that he hadn’t said there was anything wrong with gay people and he was “just saying” etc. Now, though, I feel guilty that I didn’t push the issue.
And I was very annoyed on behalf of the boy who had been called gay (who, to my knowledge, is not actually gay, but this clearly is not the point). He was just so excited about being in the play, his costume, his line, and when he came in to show off for his classmates all he got was a ignorant teenage boy insult.
Other tumblr teachers—how do you deal with this kind of stuff in your classrooms?
All right, so clearly I did not choose teaching for the money, and also clearly I require employment next year, but for now I am drawing the line at $40,000. I’m worth that. At this moment in time I don’t intend to put my BS/MAT to work for $32,000.
But something tells me that if I have no job offers three months from now $32,000 will look like ridiculous wealth.
The Lab School has selective admissions, and Ms. Isaacson’s students have excelled. Her first year teaching, 65 of 66 scored proficient on the state language arts test, meaning they got 3’s or 4’s; only one scored below grade level with a 2. More than two dozen students from her first two years teaching have gone on to Stuyvesant High School or Bronx High School of Science, the city’s most competitive high schools.
“Definitely one of a kind,” said Isabelle St. Clair, now a sophomore at Bard, another selective high school. “I’ve had lots of good teachers, but she stood out — I learned so much from her.”
You would think the Department of Education would want to replicate Ms. Isaacson — who has degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia — and sprinkle Ms. Isaacsons all over town. Instead, the department’s accountability experts have developed a complex formula to calculate how much academic progress a teacher’s students make in a year — the teacher’s value-added score — and that formula indicates that Ms. Isaacson is one of the city’s worst teachers.
According to the formula, Ms. Isaacson ranks in the 7th percentile among her teaching peers — meaning 93 per cent are better.
Why is no one bothered that all of this nonsense was instigated bu conservatives who were intentionally misrepresenting themselves as a Muslim potential donor group? This is that ACORN bullshit all over again.
Williams deserved to be let go from NPR. He was at the time a paid analyst for a transparently partisan “news” organization who publicly made xenophobic comments. That should not have been a controversy.
I love NPR, and even in this story about their CEO leaving, controversies, etc, it’s just transparent, precise, honest journalism. I don’t understand how anyone could read this and then conclude that NPR is biased.
(Although I am totally on the “reality has a liberal bias’ bandwagon.)
“In a 2002 study led by the psychologist Paul Davies, two groups of male and female undergrads were shown three minutes of television commercials. Students in the first group were shown a variety of “gender stereotyping” ads, such as a woman gleefully touting the benefits of a skin product, or a “slender female” talking about the deliciousness of diet soda. (All of the ads were real.) Students in the second group, in contrast, were shown a mix of gender-neutral ads, such as a pitch for an insurance company and a commercial about cell-phones. Then, the women were quizzed about their interest in pursuing a career in math or science. Once again, the results were depressingly clear: Women exposed to the gender stereotyping ads were far less interested in anything quantitative. Instead, they were more than twice as likely to choose careers in the verbal and service industry, such as retail, sales and communication. The pattern was reversed, however, in the women who saw neutral ads. They were actually more interested in pursuing quantitative careers. All it took was the absence of a blatant stereotype to increase their interest in math.”—The Scientific Gender Gap | Wired Science | Wired.com (via robot-heart-politics)
One of the many nice thing about the DNA unit is that it is simple to create multiple versions of a single assignment. Varying the DNA sequence takes only a minute on my part, and since I am fluent enough to do transcription and (some) translation mentally I don’t need multiple keys or anything. I can grade on sight, and students have a much more difficult time cheating.
“I don’t understand why they have evaluations on some of these things. You need to be able to build a relationship with students before you can even do many of these things, and this is just not enough time to do so.” —-Supervising Teacher
I had my evaluation today. It went much better then I…
I feel like I understand a lot of this.
I had my “final evaluation” yesterday, and it was a little frustrating some of the things on the sheet. The evaluation sheets are made for student teaching, but they certainly do not look that way when the questions are really read.
Yesterday I was marked “accomplished” in every area. While I am flattered, I am far from believing I am perfect. I want something to work towards and to think about while I teach. However, I only have two more days of my placement before I have my own spring break and then move on to middle school.
Today I gave 2 of my 3 junior classes a survey. Bad idea. I thought they were mature enough to handle it, but the results show they weren’t. While I did get some thoughtful feedback, a lot of it was bitterness about grades from weeks ago or small things—apparently, to my students, ‘busy work’ is defined as any work that is done without being graded. Sigh.
I think surveys work better after a longer period of time (ie not 4 weeks), and they work better when the students can handle them. I believe most of my students felt like this was their chance to really bash on me for one reason or another, but really, some of them are just so immature it didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. I read one class’s surveys and then threw them away. I read them; I was done. When I give back papers the next day (graded! long answers/paragraphs I had to read from 99 students), and the students mark me as a 2 on a 1-5 scale (5 being strongly agree) with the statement “My papers were returned to me in a timely manner,” I know my kids are just not mature.
Sigh. Maybe this is another one of those things that has to wait for a real classroom experience.
I can’t imagine student teaching in a classroom for 4 weeks. I’m struggling with a class section I’ve had for 8 weeks—and I have 10 more weeks to go with them!
American students are doing well in science and math. American children in low-poverty schools outscore students in nearly all other countries on international science/math tests. Overall scores are unspectacular because over 20% of our children live in poverty, the highest percentage among all industrialized countries.