Friday, January 11, 2019

An Emerging Behavioral Crisis in Schools: Testing and Gentrification Are a Toxic Mix

Yesterday, during one of our many discussions, Jesse Turner told me that the pendulum may be swinging way from testing toward more creative approaches to learning because of a behavioral crisis in schools. As teachers on all levels confront children who are disruptive, violent, and unstable, policy makers are starting to wake up to the down side of wearing children down with test prep or making them sit in front of computers all day. Unless these children have opportunities to express themselves, have curricula which speak to their experiences, and be given time for exercise and play, they will literally turn over the tables in whatever learning environments they are placed
What Jesse told me reinforces what I have been hearing more and more from teachers who work in the Bronx and other high needs communities, including those in rural areas. Teachers in those places are facing more and more students who are angry, inattentive, violent or heavily medicated on drugs they purchase in the underground economy. The difficult atmosphere contributes to high teacher turnover, which creates destabilizing influences of its own.
I agree with Jesse about the destructive role of test driven pedagogy in this unfortunate situation. But we should not ignore the role that gentrification, homelessness and income instability play in the student behavior crisis. In every city and town where rents are rising faster than incomes, working class families are being forced to double and triple up, take in boarders, move from apartment to apartment, or join the ranks of the homeless. The toll this takes on children in terms of stress, lost sleep, hunger and too often physical and sexual abuse is devastating. Children in such circumstances are coming to schools in extreme pain, bearing stress levels few can handle. Needing comfort, care and opportunities to relieve stress, they are forced to sit still and have knowledge crammed into them by teachers with state mandates hanging over their heads. The pedagogy alone would drive many children crazy- the pedagogy applied to deeply wounded children
Is a prescription for an explosion.
The school policies of the last twenty years, along with neo liberal economics, has pushed schools into crisis. We have to humanize schools to protect students and teachers, but we have an equal responsibility to humanize our economy

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Another Heartbreaking Account of Teacher Abuse- This Time From Tennessee

Hi, Dr. Naison,

My name is Kristen Paulson and I am a first grade teacher in Tennessee.  While I am only in my fifth year of teaching, I have been working in schools and with kids my whole life in several different states throughout the country.  My kids are my passion.  

I found an article about your incredible commitment and passion towards helping teachers have a voice while I was researching teachers being mistreated.  I have been at my current school for three years, and completed part of my student teaching there as well.  It is a low income school with lots of diversity in every sense of the word.  Long story short, I am being pushed out by administration. I cannot prove it, but I feel strongly that it is because I have a very strong voice for my students and also because I am vocal about my refusal to "teach to the test."  

Every year 30-60% of my students face incredible difficulties - things that no person, never mind child, should ever have to deal with.  I advocate for them tirelessly, and I put my focus into growing them as people to help them be their best selves.  I promise them every year that I would never ask them to do something I didn't think they could do, academically or otherwise.  Unfortunately, my administration does not like that my students are not performing at a scholar level on their benchmarks and state assessments.  

My principal has put me on an indefinite "growth plan" that requires me to do outrageous amounts of work on top of the 60+ hour work week I am already working.  I have had 4s and 5s (5 is highest in TN) on all of my observations, with the exception of observations she completed over the last two years.  I was always a level 4 teacher until this past school year.

I don't know that there is necessarily anything that you could do, but I wanted to reach out and share my story with you if not for anything else, to share my voice to the community.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for all that you do.

All my best,

Kristen Paulson
M.Ed Instructional Practice K-6 and ELL K-12 Lipscomb University
1st Grade Teacher Walton Ferry Elementary School, Hendersonville, TN

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Reflections of a Recently Retired Michgan Teacher on the Destruction of a Profession He Loves

Kirk Taylor's Reflections

4:38 PM (4 minutes ago)
I retired two years ago after my 39-year career teaching mostly eighth grade English. In 1978, when I arrived at my first position, a general sixth grade classroom, I was shown a stack of books and given a lesson plan book, a grade book, an attendance book and a key. I was told to talk to the other sixth grade teachers if I needed ideas. Other than that, I was on my own. 

And so I did what any new teacher would do: I got to work, made mistakes, learned from them, and improved. 

However, because I was given as much space as I needed to figure out who I was as a teacher, at the end of my first year my students hosted a “Welcome to Summer Festival” that included a film we made together, a poetry recital, skits, dancing, and even stand-up comedy. My students did five more festivals over the next five years, and then came the 13 middle school plays I directed, the 25 student films my students and I made together, the literary magazines, the newspapers, the songs my students wrote and performed, the dialogue journals (best in show, PM me for the details), the field trips to the Holocaust Memorial Center and the Detroit Institute of Arts, the pen pals, the intensive studying of musicals like “Sunday in the Park With George” and “Evita,” watching, discussing and writing personal essays about the original “Degrassi Jr. High” TV show, the countless second recesses in which I played on the playground with my students, the 30 years of coaching basketball, etc. 

All of the above happened because I was trusted to dream and reach for my dreams. You know, what guest speakers exhort our students to do on graduation day. 

I did my best. Mistakes were made, but I was given space to learn from them and grow without fear of reprisal. And so I did. 

Ah! But what did I experience at the end of my career? 

While I was told that I was a master teacher and that I was appreciated—and I did feel appreciated—I was also handed a curriculum guide designed to improve test scores. The guide included a few tiny spaces for “teacher’s choice.” 😂 And like the other eighth grade English teachers in my school, I was given scripts to read for the sake of grade-level uniformity. And I attended meetings to study test score results and afterwards the curriculum guides became stricter. Among other redundancies, the guides included an entire month devoted to our students writing pre on-demand argumentive essays, reteaching argumentative essays, and having our students write post on-demand argumentative essays. Yes, it is good to teach argumentative essays—you will get no argument from me!—but can we do it without crushing our students’ souls? 

More important to me, I looked carefully at my curriculum guide but there was no time allotted for “Welcome to Summer Festivals” or anything that resembled it. 

That was when I knew it was time to move on, and so I did. 

I will say that those imposing this madness on us meant well and that they had good intentions. But as the German-Jewish writer Kurt Tucholsky once wrote during the time of Hitler, “The opposite of good is good intention.” As Michigan’s Republican Party made their now mostly successful attempt to destroy Michigan’s public schools, our public schools needed to be defended. But the administrators did not; and we teachers did not; and so standards and test scores took over.

I do understand that it is a big deal for an administrator or a teacher to put his or her job on the line. I know I did not want to lose my job! But I also did not want to leave behind my chosen profession because I did not buy into teaching to the test—teaching was and is my destiny. 

There was no easy answer. In fact, because we were all so insanely busy spinning on our legislated hamster wheels, the only easy decision we had was to pretend that what was happening wasn’t happening, and sneak in the humanity when no one was looking. Sigh. I know that everyone wanted to be humane, they just could not figure out how to squeeze it into the curriculum guide. 

And so it goes. 

As I look back, the truth in my case—a truth I know beyond a shadow of a doubt—is that TODAY, where I spent my career anyway, my 23-year-old self would never even be given an interview let alone be hired to teach. Ha! My 23-year-old self would have tried to “play the game,” but his innate desire and need for independence would have been impossible to fully conceal. Therefore, his resume would have been glanced at before being tossed onto the “nope” pile. 

We can do better. 

I hope that our “schools” possess their own innate power to make happen what needs to happen for our students to learn and thrive. After all, evolution cannot be tamed. 

But we can do better. And so there’s nothing to do but get smarter so that we can do better. After all, I may be retired, but every school day here in Ann Arbor, I listen to the children joyfully playing on the nearby playground. I listen and I know, they are my children, too. 

We have to do better.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

"The Bastards Won"- A Heartbreaking Post by a Chicago Teacher About the Destruction of Her Profession

A heartbreaking post by a great Chicago teacher, Karen Moody, about how the job she loved was destroyed by the Accountability Police and other agents of “School Reform”
Read it and weep!
“When I started teaching:
When I started teaching, my principal worked WITH me, she encouraged me, she applauded me, she valued me. 
When I started teaching, I had the freedom to choose our reading material and design lessons without templates. 
When I started teaching, I was not judged by my kids' performance on standardized tests.
When I started teaching, I wasn't scared all the time.
When I started teaching, there weren't teams of scowling administrators in my classroom with open laptops, tap, tap, tapping away at my self esteem.
When I started teaching, I didn't cry in my car. 
When I started teaching, there was laughter in the classroom and joy on my kids' faces - well, oftentimes.
When I started teaching, I liked going to work. 
When I started teaching, I felt proud to say, "I'm a teacher."
When I leave teaching, I will be completely emasculated, chewed up, and spit out. The bastards won.”

Monday, December 3, 2018

Testimony to NYC City Council Education Committee About Discrimination in School Sports

My name is Dr Mark Naison. I am a professor of African American Studies and History at Fordham who has written extensively on Race and Sports in US History. But more important, for purposes of this hearing, I was a graduate of New York City public schools who ended up as captain and number 1 singles player on the Columbia University tennis team, and who had two children, Sara and Eric, who attended New York public schools and played varsity tennis and baseball at Yale University, None of us would have had that opportunity had not we played on public school teams in middle school and high school. It is simply unconscionable that many students in New York City public schools, the vast majority of whom are Black and LatinX, attend schools which have a tiny number of school teams or no teams at all.

Not only does an absence of school teams undermine student morale and academic engagement, it maximizes discrimination against Black and LatinX students in college admissions. As James Shulman and William Bowen point out in their book "The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values" being a recruited athlete is the single most powerful admissions advantage in getting into the nation's top colleges, having more than twice the impact of being an under represented minority or a child of an alumnus. Since 20 percent of students at Yale, Harvard and Princeton, and 40 percent of students at Williams, are recruited athletes, lacking access to sports puts Black and LatinX students in New York City at an added disadvantage to those they already experience due to race and class

As my mandated two minutes of testimony comes to a close, let me talk about a specific school where this criminal denial of educational opportunity takes place. On the Roosevelt Educational Campus across the street from Fordham, there are five high schools which have no men's and women's soccer teams, even though a good portion of their students come from West African and Central American countries where soccer is the major sport, What this means is that there is a whole generation of future Fordham, Columbia and Yale students in the Bronx, students who only differ from me and my children in race and class, whose talents and opportunities are being suppressed because of lack of access to athletic teams

This discrimination has to stop NOW. Every New York City public high school student must have, at the very minimum, opportunity to play on school teams, in soccer, tennis, track and field, baseball and softball,  baketball, volleyball, and swimming, Until that happens, New York City is not only out of compliance with Title Six of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is out of touch with the egalitarian values this City claims to stand for to the nation and the world


Jerome Krase, Ph.D.
Emeritus and Murray Koppelman Professor
Brooklyn College
Former Football, Baseball and Track Team Member, Brooklyn Technical High School 1956-1960

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Luis Torres and Steven Ritz- The Heroes of PS 55

When the NYC Department of Education put a Success Academy elementary school on the 4rh Floor of PS 55, an elementary school located in the middle of the poorest and most decayed public housing complex in the Bronx, the Claremont Houses, they probably thought they were dooming the public school in the building. Their expectation was that the charter school would siphon off enough parents that the public school's enrollment would shrink to the point that the charter school would take over more and more floors and eventually get the whole building
What they didn't count on was the brilliance, creativity and tireless determination of the PS 55 principal, Bronx born and raised Luis Torres. Under his guidance, not only has the public school in PS 55 blossomed, it has become a center of educational creativity which people from all over the world come to visit!
How did Luis Torres do this? It was through a combination of old school administrative skills-bonding with teachers, students, and parents- and the kind of new school educational entrepreneurship that is needed in today's hostile educational climate. Not only did Principal Torres fund raise tirelessly with local business like the New York Yankees to bring in funds the school needed for better technology and equipment, he was determined to give his children everything schools in wealthy areas have plus programs catering to the special needs of youth in the Claremont neighborhood.
And here, in addition to bringing in instructors to organize dance teams, basketball teams and a tennis program, he decided to create a home for another resident Bronx genius viewed with skepticism by the NYC DOE, Steven Ritz, the founder of the great science and urban agriculture program, the Green Bronx Machine. Ritz, pushed out of a Bronx high school where he began his remarkable program, was not only given a huge lab on the third floor of PS 55, he was given a large area on the school grounds for an outdoor space to grow vegetables. What Ritz was able to do in those spaces was nothing short of miraculous. Not only did he grow enough vegetables and greens- both indoors and outdoors- to help feed the more than 500 families who attended the school, he created a hands on science curriculum based on his gardens which energized teachers, inspired students, and uplifted the morale of everyone in the building
If you go visit PS 55, as I have done with my students, you will see an oasis of energy, health, and creative activity in the midst of one of the poorest communities in NYC's poorest borough. Vegetables growing out doors and indoors, a full service medical clinic, a schoolyard resurfaced for softball, soccer, and tennis, special programs for immigrant students, and an atmosphere filled with hope.
Luis Torres has created a school that is a gift to the children, parents and people of New York City. But let us not forget that it was once a school designated for failure.
We need more principals to follow Luis Torres example and for the DOE to transform public schools, not charter schools, into showcases for educational innovation

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Importance of Bring "Brave"

There were many great reflections by the four wonderful panelists at the Town Hall Forum on Fordham and the Bronx held two weeks ago, but the one comment that stayed with me the longest is when Michael Partis, FCRH 2008 grad and executive director of South Bronx Rising asked students to "be brave." Only by getting out of their comfort zone, only by taking chances, only by risking things which might lead some people to dislike them, could students change things, at Fordham and in the country, which they thought were wrong.
What made this remark so powerful is that it is something students are rarely told at Fordham or any other university. They are told to care about the suffering of others. They are told to work for justice. But they are almost never told to put themselves at risk, even in small ways, to make the institution they are part of serve the cause of justice better than it does now.
When Michael Partis said that, it helped me better understand how I have approached teaching this semester. Never have I done more unconventional things with students than I have this fall. I have taken them on walking tours of the Bronx, held a class at a beach, played golf and tennis with them, brought food in to class almost every week, introduced them to 
guest speakers ranging from a newly elected state senator to Regional Chief from a West African country, and invited them to have a class with, and then go to a party with, rappers, dancers and beat boxers from Paris and Berlin.. Tomorrow, I top it off with a full court basketball game and a dinner at a great Bronx restaurant "South of France."
Why have I done all these things? Part of it is that I have the most adventurous, intellectually curious group of students that I have taught in some time. But part of it is the demands of the moment. Our country is more divided than it has ever been, facing daunting racial and political conflicts, made worse by an acceleration of Climate Change that threatens the future of life on the Planet. If young people do not take action we and the world are in deep trouble
But telling them to take action, by itself, is meaningless. I need to provide an example of taking action, of breaking rules, of doing things that no one else dares do, things that bring joy, things that educate, things that build community. And that requires a little bit of "bravery."
So I am doing things that everyone tells me is crazy, ranging form inviting students to a dance party at my home to having a class which involves wading in the water at a public beach, to playing full court basketball with them
But if my students look at me and say "Naison is crazy, but he doesn't just talk the talk, he walks the walk", then my message
and Michael Partis' had gotten across.
You can't change an institutional culture without being brave, without taking changes
Thank you Michael Paris, for putting words, on something I intuitively understood, but couldn't articular with such clarity