Sunday, February 21, 2010

Caring Teachers and Zero Tolerance in Schools

Teachers care, let's just start with that statement. People enter the teaching profession for many diverse reasons, some have a passion for a certain content area, others want to make a difference in the lives of children, while still others like the vacations. Once people enter the field, they either become a statistic and leave within a few years, or they stick around. For those who stick around, something invariably happens, they begin to care very deeply about the students they work with.

Caring for others and having a positive impact on their lives is the very essence of humanity.

“The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.” ~Elie Wiesel

For teachers, all it involves is looking at students as more than just numbers and scores, or labels of proficient and not proficient. Once you pull back the veil and begin to appreciate students for who they are as individuals, the job of being a teacher becomes a part of who you are, a part of your identity.

That's why when I hear stories of "zero tolerance," or idiots cracking down on students for no reason other than the fact that their job of teaching or being an administrator is nothing more than that, a job, it not only makes the rest of us look bad, but more importantly, it has the potential to destroy the education for many children.

This morning I came across a story on titled Girl's Arrest For Doodling Raises Concerns About Zero Tolerance. Reading about the extreme level of reaction to a girl doodling, in marker, on her desk, is a cause for concern. The article discusses the fact that police are being asked to step into schools at younger and younger ages and more and more often. What is the reason for this? Have schools become this bad?

If you listen to a lot of what you read about in the media, yes, schools have become that bad. If you're actually in the schools, you know this isn't the case, especially in middle schools, which is where the above story happened. It's one thing to teach children about the difference between right and wrong, and to discipline a child for writing on a desk when it is forbidden, because part of being human is knowing the difference between right or wrong, but when we enact these zero tolerance policies, whose good does it serve?

When children are handcuffed, or expelled, the chances of them getting arrested or dropping out of school increase dramatically. In a society that seems so driven on punishment without rehabilitation, we can't afford to go down this path. Children make mistakes, children do stupid things, it's part of being a child. Responsible, caring adults take the initiative and educate them, that's the very essence of education. It's not all about literacy and mathematics. This is just a thought to ponder at this point.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Do Schools Kill Creativity?

I show this video to a content area literacy course that I teach at the university each semester. I think it's important to hear what Sir Ken Robinson (a leading researcher from England on Drama and Theater in Education) has to say about creativity in education and how the hierarchy of the educational system globally crushes creativity. 

Friday, February 5, 2010

Battle of the Books

I originally put this link up for my own Battle of the Books students to be able to practice author names and book titles, which is a part of the "battles" that are coming up.

Anyone else who is doing New Mexico Battle of the Books for Elementary students can follow this link and use the Quizlet I made up to practice. My students have enjoyed using the flash cards and games to learn authors and will continue to use it in the following weeks leading up to the first practice battle that's on February 27th.

New Mexico Elementary School Battle of the Books author and book practice. 
(the above link will take you to a Quizlet that I made up for this. Quizlet is a free to use site that you can set up for vocabulary practice, and is something that I use frequently with my reading class)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Expert Teachers, the #1 Reason Kids Succeed

Recently I've been reading some research that pertains to the effects on student achievement of pre-packaged programs and curriculum designs that are being sold to schools across the world. Program A claims to raise student achievement higher and faster than ever before, while Program B makes the same claims. Sometimes these programs do make positive gains on achievement (usually measured by standardized and/or norm referenced tests).

The first few years of my doctoral studies have been focused on looking deeper at the negative aspects of business models in schools, of pre-packaged programs (Success For All and DNG to name a few), and of what actually has the most profound impact on student learning in the long term. It's a hard thing to study, because as a teacher-researcher I've decried standardized testing as inherently unequal and inaccurate. Of course the current studies, some of the best I've ever read, agree with this, but go a few steps further.

To put it quite simply, these articles, that I won't name here yet, because that's not the point of my discussion here, claim that the single biggest factor on student learning is quality teaching. Of course, quality teaching is almost impossible to define because it means different things to different students.

This is something I've tried to keep in mind every day when I enter the classroom. There's 28 young kids in my classroom, and what works for him may not work for her and so on. In the current era of test reform, rigorous political factors, and money being put at a higher level of importance than kids, it's hard for teachers to ever reach the level of teaching students, they're so focused on teaching content and teaching tests that they are afraid that actually *gasp* teaching to their students needs will be seen as subversive. I can confirm this, in my short five-year career, I've focused on teaching students and have been considered quite the rebel because of this.

I hope to continue looking at and pegging down indicators of great teaching, and hopefully researching it more in depth some day. If we can define it, if we can prove that it serves the best interests of children and scores them proficient on those ridiculous standardized tests, there might be a compromise out there that actually hands the reins of education to teachers while keeping the politicians at bay.