Posted in Being a better teacher, Best Practices, Big Questions

being human

There must be six other drafts of writing on my mind, and yet this pushed its way up front, with force and weight. A few questions on Twitter started my brain thinking, such as what was the suspension rate at school, etc. This past year the suspension rate was next to nothing, because, well, suspensions didn’t exist unless the student was caught with drugs, weapons, or one who was unlucky enough to get caught pulling the fire alarm. (I say unlucky because we had about a dozen false alarms last year, and he was the only one I know of who was caught and suspended.)

There was no ISS room, lunch detentions were a party held on the cafeteria stage, and our restorative justice leader/teacher and room was dismantled (she went to another building) halfway through the year. There was one counselor, and two special ed teachers for three grades, and a rotating list of support staff, one quitting or being let go after the other. There were several fights, many ending up with injuries, and the parties involved would be back at school the next day. It wasn’t that big of a deal, except often they were in the same classes, and other students would be bewildered that “nothing happened.” I had my own struggles with relationship building, classroom management, and physical and verbal abuse issues this year. When I initiated parent contact, conversations were well received and support helped the student. But many parents are overwhelmed with life (as was I–our family was in crisis mode), so finding the willingness and ability to stay calm, mindful, and patient was a huge challenge. One I personally failed at. And that cycle of failure, of not being who I know I can be, is a self-grudge.

Suspensions don’t work. And I’m not sure Restorative Justice does either, but that’s because I’ve never seen it in practice. ISS rooms “can” work if, and this is a big, big IF, there is a support person in there who’s mature, loving, firm, and sees the children. But the ISS rooms in the video are cinderblock basements, with cracked floors and locked doors. Horrifying. In an Edweek article by Allison Fried, “If You Won’t Do Restorative Justice Right, Don’t Do It” the essential message is:

Clayton County has been successful because it has set itself up for success. If Denver, and other districts, are to truly advocate for restorative justice, they must go all in. We need a comprehensive set of policies to help eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline. Students need firm boundaries at school, consistent positive and negative consequences, spaces to reflect, and trusted and trained adults who can help them to process trauma, emotional responses, and typical adolescent rebellion.
Restorative justice programming should also involve strategic use of all the local resources available to schools. Denver, for example, with its access to the outdoors, and numerous youth organizations and cultural centers, can take advantage of community partnerships to enrich a restorative justice program. Finally, districts must put their money where their mouth is, through a dedicated application of funds for professional development, increased hiring of social workers and psychologists, and strategic programming.
To me, that sounds a lot more promising than a few peace circles.

If You Want Do Restorative Justice Right, Don’t Do It

My dad got “in trouble” a lot. He’s almost 79 years old (this month) and to this day remembers the name of the teacher who told him he might wind up in jail. I, too, was sent outside in the hallway or in the corner for talking, from kindergarten through second grade. (We moved from a Texas school to an open concept one in Illinois…) Being sent to the corner is humiliating, and being outside to the hallway only less so. What did I learn? That my intelligence and language skills were shameful. My younger son is ADD and over his school years just that “simple” issue became one I fought and advocated for his academic rights. (Nothing like being a teacher-momma and knowing how the sausage is made, so to speak.) But these low-level noncompliance issues are/were not our fault. We three share an exuberance for creativity, ideas, and have great senses of humor. We also share addictive behaviors, lack of focus, and misunderstood ambitions. But we did not have other learning issues, racism, ACEs, and the legion of other issues that face children.

But many of my students do. And for that reason, I have a responsibility to not wait for someone else to do anything– (not much one for waiting anyway, a bonus of ADD). Here are some resources for us all to be better at inclusion, all kinds of needs, and helping our students:

IEP Navigator

@MoniseLSeward shares an amazing Facebook group called the IEP Navigator:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/451220092312416/

Inclusive teaching strategies

http://www.washington.edu/teaching/teaching-resources/inclusive-teaching-at-uw/inclusive-teaching-strategies/

Lives in the balance

https://livesinthebalance.org/

And:

Posted in Being a better teacher, Best Practices, Big Questions, Critical Thinking, Culturally Relevant Teaching, Uncategorized

Fresh Start 101

Do students come to your classroom year with reputations? 

Well.

Yes.

And–I’m struggling with the past clinging to some students.

That’s about as diplomatic as I’m can muster right now.

How Black Girls Aren’t Presumed to Be Innocent

A growing body of evidence has shown that the American education and criminal-justice systems dole out harsher and more frequent discipline to black youth compared with their non-black peers. But while most of that research has focused on black boys, a new study from the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality specifically turned its attention to society’s perception of black girls.

 

Further in the article:

Black girls describe being labeled and suspended for being “disruptive” or “defiant” if they ask questions or otherwise engage in activities that adults consider affronts to their authority. Across the country, we see black girls being placed in handcuffs for having tantrums in kindergarten classrooms, thrown out of class for asking questions, sent home from school for arriving in shorts on a hot day. … We also see black girls criminalized—arrested on campus or referred to law enforcement—instead of engaged as children and teens whose mistakes could be addressed through non-punitive, restorative approaches.

 

Black Boys Viewed as Older, Less Innocent Than Whites, Research Finds

“The evidence shows that perceptions of the essential nature of children can be affected by race, and for black children, this can mean they lose the protection afforded by assumed childhood innocence well before they become adults,” said co-author Matthew Jackson, PhD, also of UCLA. “With the average age overestimation for black boys exceeding four-and-a-half years, in some cases, black children may be viewed as adults when they are just 13 years old.”

I’m sharing these articles in the hope that we all are a bit more cognizant of our implicit biases and perceptions about children, especially children of color. There are more than a few behavior issues in my afternoon classes, and I’ve been doing a mountain of reflection. I can feel my brain buzzing in the early morning from the currents of thought and concern. Juggling new, top-heavy curriculum, leveled, a prescripted reading program that flies in the face of everything I’ve researched, and thirty-minute schedules to teach U.S.History (yes, thirty minutes) along with the new committees, expectations, navigating the new culture of my new workplace and district–it’s a lot. As I remind myself I am the adult here– and if my situation is challenging I must keep in mind how difficult it must be for students. Listening and reading a book you don’t like or can’t connect with? Silent reading for thirty minutes? And then pivoting to other ideas that seem random, as instructed from the same teacher, same space? I’m going to have to do better: it’s going to take both tricks and treats to move learning along.

In the meantime, thanks to many generous donors, and getting a decent payday myself, my DonorsChoose was fully funded. I am hoping that the #projectLIT books help my scholars see themselves in narratives.

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Ordered on 9/28/2018
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Posted in Being a better teacher, Summer Series of Saves, Teacher Troubles

Summer Series of Saves: S.O.S.

I am going on my twelfth year at the same Title I middle school. That is not said as a martyred projection or badge of honor, but a statement of fact, circumstances, decision making, and choices. Every teacher I know has had a rough time this past decade. Some have gone to “easier” schools, or districts, where they found a comfortable home. Some have expressed to me survivor’s guilt, and some have ‘ghosted’ our friendships, probably because working at a school like mine is hard, and it takes an emotional toll, causing me to leak out stress. Occasionally those leaks become straight-up tsunamis. I don’t blame them for not wanting to be around me: I don’t want to be around myself sometimes.

This video got to me. She maintained her composure while rubbing her hands, refocusing on her paper, and staying the course, to its climatic ending of her resignation. Her paper may well have been a white flag, and her hands in surrender. When my husband watched it, he commented how he knew I had felt this same level of pain.

No one is to blame for this: administrators do their best, district-level personnel want and desire excellence. However,  in the championed cause of “students come first” the heads of teachers become the stepping stones across this mighty gulf. Teachers are sometimes not considered the human connection between student and world, but merely the middle management, with no real authority. And some teachers do not deserve respect. I would wager, though, that any social-emotional well-being for teachers is considered superfluous. Teachers should just ‘have it.’ If you’re a parent, you know that the hardest job in the world is given to amateurs, (as my dad likes to say), and so is teaching. We make mistakes: but dang, so do our students. So how do all of us learn to do better?

We are never to take anything personally, always build relationships, and create safe places. And we do. Or we try to. But being human, we have amygdalas, too: keeping in control of our frontal cortexes in the moment is challenging. The smatterings of misogynistic, sexist, ageist, and disrespectful things said to me by a small group of students is nothing compared to the national stage of police violence, political decrepitude, and social media bruising. But I am still charged with teaching ‘soft skills’ in a world so racist and vile it hardly seems to matter.

We were all feeling something this year. No matter who you voted for, or if you didn’t vote at all, something shifted, violently and without justice.

Maybe it’s time we’re honest with one another. If we reach out for help. platitudes and trope quotes won’t help. Prayers and thoughts are sweet, but not helpful. Listen. Truly listen. Good advice: click the link.

One of my favorite episodes –not so much hope, but we are all of us in this together:

Posted in Being a better teacher, Best Practices, Big Questions, Poetry, Reading, Technology

Moving through summer…

I wish I could say this post is urgent, but alas, I know the truth: I’m avoiding ‘real’ summer work– the projects and ideas that are supposed to rejuvenate me and get back in touch with my ‘real’ self. So here’s a deal: I’ll write this post, and then go do something. Maybe take the dog for a walk. Maybe organize my jewelry box. Or go find some Pokemon. Who knows? The world is wide open. And gotta catch ’em all.

When the school year starts again, it’s closed, boxed, a hedge maze of navigating rules and schedules. And consistently over the years I’ve tried to shape and refine my teaching practices. Sometimes those practices come at the will of administration and changing district policies, but all in all, I know those are in alignment with my personal teaching values more than ever, and truth be told I am feeling a great confidence of agency. As long as I can honestly say what I’m doing is in the best interest of students as my litmus test, then every decision holds integrity and intention.

The “A” Word

One such is the notion that teachers grade everything. We’ve gotten in this feedback loop of complaining about when students aren’t motivated, even for grades, and then use too many sticks and run out of carrots. In this post about accountability, I should have said ‘punitive’ — but was trying to be too soft-edged, I suppose. I am really starting to dislike the word ‘accountable,’ and I know that bias is all mine. Accountability is an accountant, a bean-counter, a points-shiny-stars-gamificationated-hoop-jumping word. Please– any other word but ‘accountable.’ If, in my book club, the other ladies said, “we are going to hold you accountable for reading all the books” I’d be so out of there my wine glass would shatter from the squealing of tires. We read each other’s book choices because we get to discuss things with those of various points of view. And there are snacks.

The conversation became a bit derailed, but no matter. That's what we teachers do -- talk about it!
The conversation became a bit derailed, but no matter. That’s what we teachers do — talk about it!

The question became side-tracked, naturally. And that’s fine. Let me see if I can get this back on point: the 40 book challenge is meant to create readers. There are multiple ways for students to share what they’ve read.

The post I linked above says many things, but mainly this:

An unfamiliar parent emailed me to complain. She tracked me down on the Internet after asking her son’s teacher about the “outrageous requirement” that students read 40 books and complete 40 book reports this school year. Her son’s teacher said the assignment was based on my work, and this upset mom wanted me to know that I was hurting her son. I responded that while I expect my students to read 40 books, I don’t tie any assignments or grades to this expectation.

Consider this: when doing something like a 40-book challenge, weave in the next two concepts about technology and grading policies. Consider carefully what the goal is. It takes students some getting used to doing something because it’s amazing. Maybe I can do a mash-up between books and Pokemon? Wait, what am I saying?!

Technology:

If you want to know exactly how to best use technology for any student, underserved or not, read this article by Molly B. Zielezinski @mollybullock. What a Decade of Education Research Tells Us About Technology in the Hands of Underserved StudentsThe article provides clear constructs for how to use technology in the classroom. 

Grading Policies

Hope. It’s all about hope. 

Do No Harm: Flexible and Smart Grading Policies by Andrew Miller. Our new admin had their plates full last year; I wonder if a discussion about grading policies will hit the meetings this year? I hope so. As a staff, learning new ways to grade and assess effectively and meaningfully would sure go a long way to help our students we serve. I had a great conservation about grading policies in Twitter at #edchat the other day. It’s on everyone’s minds, and something that the current grading software programs we use don’t provide much in terms of true reflection of growth or stagnation, for that matter. I am going to integrate Miller’s ideas in with my syllabus for this year, along with some of the grading policies and explanations for parents.

Tardy Slips

This is one of those issues I didn’t think was a big deal until I encountered an interpretation I had never considered before. If a student is talking to another teacher, and receives a late pass, but another teacher still marks them down tardy as his/her only means of showing that the student missed instruction, what is the point of this? If a teacher’s class runs over a few minutes, and then asks that those students are not marked tardy, why wouldn’t people honor that? Perhaps, like the word accountable, there needs to be different shades of meaning: if a student is clearly hanging out in the bathroom avoiding class, then yes, tardy. But for those times where students need to confer with a teacher for a few minutes, but another teacher needs to show that they missed the entry task, perhaps a ‘conference’ demarkation would be a good idea? That way they’re not punished or disciplined in any way, and it shows that the student was attempting to get clarification on something, and allows for flexibility for the entire staff.

Rethinking Everything

Many teachers are going to have a hard time with some of the new Washington State guidelines regarding discipline and suspensions. 

Good.

If we truly want this school-to-prison pipeline to be shut down, it’s time.

And now to go read more Nikki Giovanni poetry.
And now to go read more Nikki Giovanni poetry.

Well, I made a deal. This post is done. Time to honor summer again. I felt as if I haven’t gotten anything done, or accomplished, but that’s not true. I made this, and others are going to share it. I hope you will, too.