The Road Block

It nears. I’ve been trying to keep the thoughts and worries at bay, but now there is no controlling it. We have March, April, and a week of May to get our evidence together and prove we deserve to be teachers.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think it is absolutely necessary for us to prove ourselves as being at least somewhat competent before we are handed the humbling responsibility of educating children. And I think throughout our career, we should be given the kind of support and professional learning opportunities to grow in our competency.

But I can’t help but be skeptical of any kind of high-stakes assessment that is far enough removed away from context that we start being worried, what are we really being judged on? What will the assessors of the edTPA be valuing when watching our video evidence? When reading our words we have written to try to prove ourselves as teachers. Any cursory look at the rubrics will tell you that there are certain aspects of teaching being seen as more valuable than others, and it is clear with the use of academic jargon the attempt to “professionalize” teaching in a way that makes me thing: “Are you assessing me on my teaching? Or my ability to decipher what you are telling me to do?”

A while ago, when the mumblings and grumblings of the edTPA first began, I Googled the edTPA and found a blog post from Diane Ravitch’s blog, “What is edTPA and Why Do Critics Dislike It?” I think there’s some valid criticism there, even while I think the edTPA has its value as a way to “award” certification. 

If you read the blog post linked, and think about what you know of teaching, do you think the edTPA is the best possible way to judging competency? Can you think of a better, plausible way? 

Inspiration From a Teacher…in Illinois?

So I was browsing Twitter the other day, and as always, Twitter had some suggestions to make, trying to widen my social (media) circle. I was particularly intrigued by that of a teacher, and as I browsed his feed, I got really excited because he’s got a blog with a TON of resources about using technology in the classroom, and not necessarily in a 1-to-1 program (of course this makes it easier and more accessible), but really the powerful way the internet can change how students learn and how students show us what they have learned–in the classroom. It seems like schools still have this idea that the internet is relegated to the world outside of school, that sure, it’s a useful tool, but not much more beyond that. In my own experience, this is what I see in our schools today. It’s exciting to see that the kind of innovative education we talk about in our program is being done, and that the teacher is talking about it!

I particularly like the idea of ePortfolios as a way of assessing student learning, because it puts the power in the hands of the students. It’s not a test, where I hold all the knowledge and now you show me what I’ve taught you. Instead, it’s an authentic way for a student to show me, and her friends, and her family, and her community, and the rest of the world, what she is now knowledgable about. But don’t just read my opinion on why ePortfolios are great and actually work; read my new favorite blogging teacher’s, replete with examples of students’ ePortfolios, and a video describing how students make them.

As I learn more and more about the work real teachers are doing in their classrooms, and as I become inspired by the ways they use technology to improve the learning of their students, I can’t help but keep myself from dreaming too big, because I think we all know that sometimes, the things we want to do as teachers can be very restricted by the school we are in and the resources available to us.

Oh what the hell. I’ll keep dreaming. And then I’m going to do it.

Writing, Writing, Writing

Everyday, my kindergarteners have Writer’s Workshop. And I mean, everyday, unless there is some extenuating circumstance. As much writing as they do, they never tire of it. Sometimes I get the, “I don’t know what to write about,” but it’s usually easy enough to ask a question or two about something the student has done recently, and their writing starts pouring out (or, as much as it can pour out from a kindergartener. We’re aiming for 2-3 sentences, with a picture, right now). I haven’t seen such excitement for writing than when my CT changed one of our Choice Time stations to The Post Office.

Students writing Valentine’s letters:

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You can see the “mailboxes,” which are labeled alphabetically. Students who have written to a friend in class can put the letter in the box that their friend’s name begins with, and the CT “delivers” it to the friend. Also, POSTMAN HAT:

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The reason for all the writing goes beyond just helping students learn and practice doing it, but it’s also to build stamina. My CT is constantly thinking about ways to build motor skills and strength in the students so that they have the mental and physical strengths to continue doing these academic things, for longer periods of time, which they will be expected to do in their academic career. It’s eye-opening for me to see this building of foundational skills at such a young age; people who don’t think academics take place in kindergarten need to think again.

Not to mention, watching ALL of our kindergartners rush to the Post Office to write each other letters and put stamps on the envelopes is very adorable.

Project Learning Tree Workshop

I talk a big game when it comes to being environmentally conscious, but to be honest, there’s a lot of things I can do better. I could drive less (some of the places I drive to are an easy bus ride…or even walk…away), I could be more careful about buying locally grown produce, I could buy less STUFF (read: SHOES AND CLOTHES). But then I tell myself, ” It’s cool. I recycle. I compost. I take my reusable bag to the grocery store. At least I recognize climate change is a reality.”

This comes to a head when I think about how to incorporate environmental education into a classroom’s science curriculum, and nothing was more powerful today during our Project Learning Tree workshop than the following idea: The basis, or “bottom of the pyramid” of environmental education should be in nurturing children’s emotional connections to the environment. This is what leads to the action part of environmental stewardship, not haranguing them about what they and their families are doing wrong and hoping the guilt will change behavior.

What makes the above statement so powerful is the universal truth of it; when have people ever changed their behavior simply out of guilt? Simply because someone told them it was the right thing to do? I wonder what future generations’ treatment of our natural world and the life that surrounds us could look like, if we started with the bottom of the pyramid, nurtured and stoked children’s curiosity about the environment, if we showed them how it can be appreciated, if we exposed them to the beauty of that part of our world.

I’m excited that the rest of the workshop was then centered around explicit objectives and lessons that we could use with our future students, and I already know I’ll be using the Activities book this year in my work with urban youth in an after-school program.

First Week Back

The first week back at my main placement since the break was just…perfect. Perfectly chaotic, perfectly loud (I don’t know that the kindergarteners understand the difference between a Level 1 voice and a Level 4 voice), perfectly hug-filled, and perfectly educational–for me.

I didn’t do a lot in the instruction way, but I did get to do a lot of the day-to-day task stuff like picking up the kids from recess and specialists leading some of the daily routines. I observed a lot of writing and math and even some science, with the kids studying the three main different types of clouds integrated with art (pictures to come!) My favorite writing activity was definitely the shared writing of a letter to the Seahawks. The Morning Meeting almost always involves some kind of shared writing, most recently with letters. My CT models what a letter looks like with the date and the salutation, then the students dictate what will be in the letter, offering up ideas about what should be said. When one of the students said, “We liked the game against the 49ers,” another child said, “No, they’re not the 49ers, they’re the forty-WHINERS.” My blue and green heart just about exploded with love…and laughter. After finishing the letter, they all signed and my CT mailed it off the Seahawks. It would be exciting if they responded, but we aren’t expecting it.

It was cool to see this kind of shared writing activity, especially after reading so much of Routman, and what she says about modeling writing and having shared writing activities that allow for modeling and make writing engaging and for an authentic purpose.

It’s likely that my future students will be writing lots of letters to the Seahawks…

I’m the Meanest Lady You Know

It had been a long, tiring day, and I was finally cleaning up, getting ready to head home to do…homework. The kids had been exceptionally loud, ignoring me and all the other tutors (who, to be honest, usually leave it to me to be “bad cop,” and who can blame them) and directions to settle down, stop hitting each other, stop with the paper airplanes, don’t leave until your parents have signed you out, we don’t use those words, etc. etc. I was at the end of my wits, asking myself “Why won’t they listen to me? What am I doing wrong?!” as I’m hurriedly putting materials away, nudging children out the door, reminding them they need to be signed in and out by a parent or guardians. And then this kid, this kid who has left me physically and mentally exhausted every session, this kid who tells me I make too many rules, says to me:

“You’re the meanest lady I know.”

There was no venom, no hatred or angry tone behind the words…just a cool, observable fact. As soon as he’d said it, though, I could see in his face that he knew he’d crossed an invisible line, that maybe it was mean. But it was said and he couldn’t take it back.

I didn’t really know what to say in response, but my pride took over and I simply said, “Well, thank you, Raymond,” (not his real name) and went about finishing my job.

I didn’t know, and I honestly still don’t know, what the best response would have been. Should I have been stern and firmly told him that was rude and he shouldn’t speak to people that way? Should I have told him it hurt my feelings (which it did)? Should I have scolded him and reminded him that I’m the adult and he just can’t talk to me that way? I just don’t know that any of those responses would have been better than mine.

But I’ve been thinking about this event a lot, about how I could have reacted and turned into a teaching/learning moment (for both of us), about how this will affect the way I interact this child from here on out. And it was this event that sprung into my mind immediately when reading about “gritty love” and the role love plays in the teaching profession in John Spencer’s A Sustainable Start.

Grit means to keep on keepin’ on, it means having tenacity and the refusal to let barriers ruin you. So to me, Spencer’s idea of “gritty love” means loving when it’s easier not to, loving even when there’s no reward, loving even when your love is handed back to you, loving especially those who make it hard for you to love them.

Raymond makes it hard for me to love him. He still doesn’t follow my directions, he still actively ignores me when I try to redirect him towards a more productive task than using the straws I’d intended for a bride-building activity as spitball weapons. I still tell him to follow directions, to listen to his tutors, to not stand on the furniture, to read to himself  or read a book to one of the younger kids, to put the candy away because it’s a distraction. I’m pretty sure all this still makes me the meanest lady he knows.

My dad tells me this is “a compliment.” My readings and my peers tell me it’s good to have structure and high expectations and to keep them consistent and that after a while he’ll appreciate these things and he only said what he said because he knows it’s safe for him to do so. I think it’s that last part I want him to know the most. That I’m the meanest lady he knows because I care about his mind and his safety and it’s more important for him to succeed than to like me. Little does he know that he’s giving me a lot of practice in gritty love.

Have you ever worked with a student who seems to make every attempt to test your patience? How have you responded, and did it ever change?