Tag Archives: Educators

New Posts Coming Soon…

Sorry everyone…I’ve been absolutely swamped by work.

A new assistant principal, new teachers to train, new assessments…it’s been a real uphill battle this first week.  The last thing on my mind, honestly, was a new post at the Neighborhood.

I am REALLY trying to get new posts up next week…at least one or two.  Maybe the next week will get me motivated.

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Video for Parents: Tips on how to Prepare for a Parent-Teacher Conference

Like right here in the Neighborhood, many teachers and parents are heading to their first parent/teacher conference.  Teachers are preparing frantically to have all your child’s information on hand.  However, many parents often leave the conference even more bewildered than when they came in.

As much as teachers prepare for these meetings, parents should be equally ready to face the acheivements and challenges your child has experienced thus far.

I stumbled upon a great instructional video from The K5, an elementary education blog.  In this video, parents can learn how to prepare for the best–and worst–that can happen at the conference.  It takes away much of the stress if both teacher and parent are on the same page.

Please pass this on to all of your parents and teachers.  Now where did I leave that stack of report cards…?

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Sorry sir, Just a Bayonet Charge: The Use of Play in the History Classroom

Every year, I do a lesson that makes teachers and administrators cringe.

Around the start of my unit on the American Revolution, I begin with a lesson on the intricacies of 18th century warfare.  The students are lined up in ranks, with meter sticks on their shoulders to simulate their flintlock muskets.  In step to a military cadence playing from my iPod, my little regiment marches in place to face an invisible enemy on the battlefield—which happens to end at the back bulletin board.

After a quick lesson on loading, carrying and firing a musket, I direct the students to fire in ranks, all the while tapping the unfortunate dead and wounded on the shoulder.  True to form, they fall over themselves in writhing “pain.” 

As the survivors make their last volley, I instruct the regiment to “fix bayonets”, and lead them headlong into a charge towards the back of the room, screaming and howling.  By the time an administrator shows up to complain about the noise, there are heaps of wounded on one side of the room, and rabid infantry tearing up the word wall with their pig-stickers on the other.

“Sorry sir.  Bayonet charge.”  It’s a miracle I haven’t been fired yet.

The French and Indian War gets even more fun.  I plant a Native war party all around the room to shoot at the soldiers from any angle in pitch darkness.  The screams and confusion could rival the real slaughterhouses of Fort Duquesne, Crown Point and Fort William Henry.

The teachers can’t stand it.  The administrators shake their heads in disgust.  Yet when they start to write about the Revolution, they use their “battlefield” experiences to their fullest.  When they leave for middle school, it’s one of the few lessons the students actually remember.

They learned history by doing—a rare feat in a field so often associated with dusty old books and dustier old teachers.

Learning through play is often a taboo subject in today’s classrooms, where the relentless drive to get the test scores up can turn classrooms into Dickensian workhouses.  History, with its current devaluation in the NCLB universe, is in an even more perilous state, as teachers scrambling for time will resort to the tried-and-true textbook to cover the basics so that he/she can say with all sincerity that social studies is taught in that classroom.

The lack of play is a symptom of the mechanical nature of Western education, according to noted British education professor Sir Ken Robinson.  In a famous talk at the 2006 TED Conference, he argued that current educational models stifle creativity to the point that Western nations will no longer be the source for new and innovative ideas, and children will be ill-prepared for a world where traditional education will matter less and less.  In a 2009 article for CNN.com, Robinson stated that

“…we’re all born with immense natural talents but our institutions, especially education, tend to stifle many of them and as a result we are fomenting a human and an economic disaster.  In education, this vast waste of talent involves a combination of factors. They include a narrow emphasis on certain sorts of academic work; the exile of arts, humanities and physical education programs from schools; arid approaches to teaching math and sciences; an obsessive culture of standardized testing and tight financial pressures to teach to the tests.”

The use of play, therefore, is an important tool in providing a rich, expansive education, especially in history.  Students today have an extreme disconnect with the past, and often cannot understand that people hundreds of years ago have many of the same concerns as people today.

There are times when the linear method of digesting pages of textbook material will not ensure a deep understanding of the past.  So why not explore the past for yourself?  Make a point to involve play as much as possible in your history lessons. 

Role-play events in history and have students create “what-if” scenarios to emphasize the importance of human action.  Stop the talking history and make it a walking, talking, breathing, smelling and seeing history.

Act out how people used tools and weapons: at the very worst, it’ll unload some aggression on kids that desperately want to stick a bayonet into the belly of their worst enemy.

Use the primary sources of history in creative ways: use a “tableau” and act out the characters in a painting or print.  Put famous documents through the writing process to see if their arguments could be improved.

So don’t be afraid to play in your classroom, especially for history lessons.  The more students get to use their brains in creative play, the better they will be at complex, real-life situations that involve critical thinking and analysis. 

In short, play makes sure kids turn into adults.  Make sure your history lessons involve some play and creativity.

Just make sure you shut the door when you signal the bayonet charge.

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A Master’s Degree Can’t be This Easy! A Proposal to Improve Teacher Prestige

577736727_0ca0e96070Maybe I was the exception, but the easiest time I had at school was the two years when I earned my Masters Degree.

Coming out of an elite northeastern college, I had expected graduate education to be of the “Beautiful Mind” type: overcompetitive scientist/historian/scholar types with stuffy professors that smoke pot and screw their teaching assistants–oh, wait, that was college.  Well, grad school school was supposed to be more of the same: rigorous academic research, meticulous papers, brutal feedback, tweed jackets.

“Rigorous” would not describe my teaching degree program.  Papers that would have gotten belly laughs at the Georgetown sociology department were getting plaudits and “A’s.”  I coasted through many of the classes without reading any of the books.  By the last semester, I hadn’t bought a single book.  Classroom discussion descended into bitching sessions about students, administrators, parents–definitely important, but not entirely suitable for a graduate classroom.

This wouldn’t be much of a problem twenty years ago.  Yet today, with the insistence of higher teacher standards, accountability, and especially the inevitable demise of summer vacation, education has to take a hard look in the mirror.  We need to get our own house in order so that we can demand the concessions we deserve, such as commensurate pay and benefits.

I know I won’t make friends with this column, but it is necessary for the future of our profession.  Teaching, for all its rewards, has a severe image problem.  Teachers get into the profession because it is “easy.”  They only work 10 months a year.  If they were smarter, they’d make more money in a “real” job.  In short, teaching has very little respect in America.

Much, though not all, of the blame has to do with one aspect of this profession.  Getting an education degree is entirely too easy.

Historically, teacher education has gotten the shaft because of its evolution as a “woman’s” job.  Unlike other professions such as the law or medicine, teaching has not had a long history of focused professionalization.  The first teaching schools were called “normal schools” meant to teach women (and some men) the ins and outs of education and working with children.  As they developed into the first education schools, these institutions still carried the “stigma” associated with a female-oriented profession.  Thus their lack of resources, funding and respect.

This still exists today, and it revolves around two key issues.  The first is ease of entry: aside from a handful of select programs, such as Teachers’ College (TC) at Columbia University, education programs are not known to be particularly selective, at least from an academic standpoint.  This is why many people who have not found much success in other areas come to education.  If education is filled with the leftovers of economic progress, it is no wonder teachers lack respect in the wider community.

Once a person is in a graduate program, though, the experiences vary in terms of rigor, focus and utility.  Many of the older, more established programs such as TC have coupled the classical methods of theory and analysis with workshops of curriculum development and classroom management.  The vast majority of programs, however, are moving toward the workshop model.  This gives needed help to the rookie teacher, but it can’t be described as academically rigorous.

In fact, if there was a word that described education programs, it would be “tedious.” There is a lot of work, but none of it is truly of the hard-nosed, rigorous research that would merit an academic journal.  Take my final project, for example–a hodgepodge of papers, lesson plans, and “reflections” meant to show my “growth” as an educator.  This task of accumulation and cataloging was a pain in my ass, but not intellectually stimulating.  In fact, it was more of an exercise in bullshit, as many of my colleagues never even did their lesson plans, having students write out “work” hastily to show “evidence” of classroom instruction.

In any other setting, such work would merit expulsion.  That’s the problem.  If teachers want to argue for a pay on par with our academic credentials, then we should have academic credentials worth fighting for.  Our profession has more graduate degrees than almost any other, people like Harry Wong like to crow.  Yet degrees work on supply and demand as well; if everyone can get one, it isn’t worth anything.

Doctors, lawyers, even MBAs get more because society values their work more.  Its harder to enter these professional schools, and the work is often more rigorous.  Teachers work much harder, in many cases.  Yet they will never get the respect of these other professions if training is so easy to obtain and complete.  It isn’t fair, but it’s the truth.

One might argue that this will lead to severe teacher shortages.  This may be true, but ask yourself this: do you want to risk a classroom of children with someone who is underqualified and undereducated?  Believe me, if education programs become more rigorous and selective nationwide, all teachers will benefit.  Salaries will soar.  Opportunities will abound.  Our profession will enjoy a respect it has never had before.

All comments and critiques are welcome.

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