Category Archives: Education

Report Card Comments

“I hope that he will continue to be a purr-fectly paw-sitive presence when he enters 5th grade” – is a sentence that I definitely put into one of my report card comments (he loves cats).

“Why does she read like she’s running out of time?” – is a sentence that I put into another report card (she loves Hamilton).

But I just wanted to include this whole comment that I wrote for another student of mine.  I feel so privileged to be able to write something like this; this girl was a literal rock star.

I can’t say that it was a joy to teach **** this year… because this year, I don’t think I really taught **** – she basically taught herself. She always went above and beyond in all subjects and did a great job in making sense of materials that I gave vague directions on (since she was ahead of the class), and constantly made positive choices.

Yet beyond her academic gifting and maturity, I really appreciated ****’s kind and patient nature. I know there were many times where her questions and needs weren’t met because I had to help other students, where she wasn’t called on to participate, and where she ended up with tasks that required trust but weren’t the most exciting. I really appreciate **** for taking this on and just helping me out as a teacher with her positive attitude and kindness towards others. It definitely helped keep the classroom mood light since **** was the friend that some of our students really needed.

I hope that if she learned anything from fourth grade, it is to take risks and to embrace mistakes. I hope that she won’t always be met with success but have some real challenges and opportunities to grow. Like I said, I can’t say it was a joy teaching ****, but I can say it was a joy learning from her and witnessing the power of her being in my class.

Here’s an excerpt from another one. I think this is amazing to witness in anyone, let alone a 4th grade boy..

As a person, **** is one of the most empathetic and kindest boys in my classroom. There are so many instances where he stayed loyal to a classmate even when his peers were not, and other instances, where he was understanding of students with special needs even when they offended him. He celebrates with his classmates and forgives easily. That is not an easy thing to do, and I felt blessed to witness that in my classroom this year.

Why is it so hard to add a special ed credential? :(

At many of the schools I worked at, Special Ed was always the area where we struggled. One school straight up ignored it, while the other schools had a relationship with Seneca (if you’re in Bay Area education, I’m sure you’ve heard of it.  Interesting tidbit: did you know the CEO is on the Alameda Board of Education? Talk about conflict of interest…).

I can’t say anything general about Seneca since some of my friends LOVED their Seneca peeps at their school, and I’ve felt mixed about my personal experience.  Anyway, the point is, schools ALWAYS struggle to find special ed teachers so they outsource to places (like Seneca) and end up with subpar results that simply comply with legal regulations but don’t actually help the kid….

AND, now I can see WHY.

I have 3 cleared CA credentials.  During my multiple-subject credentialing program, I was told I could just add a single-subject English credential by taking an additional online class and passing the CSETs. So I did.  Then later on in my career, I took an additional online class, passed more CSETs and added a Foundational-Level Math credential.  Now, taking these classes suck, but they helped me get to where I wanted to be….

To get a Special Ed credential, it seems like what I have to do is not only take those CSETs but ALSO take a full on credentialing course! It’s insane!  As a sane adult who no longer has the brain capacity to educate AND take full-on classes, the logical recourse then is just to continue with what I have.

 

This is so problematic. I don’t think teachers naturally veer towards Special Education because it feels so foreign. I think AFTER teaching for a while, you can start to see the need AND ways that you personally can fill that need. (At least, that’s what happened for me).  A lot of the complaints about SPED teachers from gen ed teachers is that they’ve never actually been in the classroom. They’ve worked with small groups so that what they suggest or prescribe to the teacher is not something that a teacher can easily implement.  I had the privilege of working with a teacher who used to be a SPED teacher. Watching how she differentiated and helped her kids in an inclusive environment is something I’ll always take with me.

Now, seeing the NEED for SPED teachers, I thought, why not? I’ll add that credential. But NO~! I can’t!

Dear California, I understand the need to properly train and vet our teachers. At the same time, there has to be some way to help teachers reach across and teach in other areas without making them a full-time student again.  Also, I’ve TAKEN classes about reading difficulties and the brain and learning.

Anyway, I don’t think I’ll try to go into special ed.

The end.

Lather, Rinse, Reset

AHHHHHHHH

I WROTE THIS HUGE POST AND SOMEHOW IT GOT COMPLETELY ERASED!!!!!!

But you know what? That’s okay. Because I’ve saved YOU, my reader, from reading my processing and I’ll just give you the nuggets of wisdom I just gleaned.

  1. I cried at school this morning and basically, I think I cry when I’m frustrated by how self-centered my kids are.. especially since we’re in March and the classroom is still so disparate and lacks community  Especially when I compare how much wealth this school has in comparison to my school in Oakland, I just start to feel icky…. and disgusted by them.  (Plus.. they’re LITTLE kids.)
  2. Some kids did come to me to apologize (and one girl said, “I think you need a hug”) … and I just drily told them, “4th and 5th grade is the awkward year where you don’t just say you’re sorry, you show it.”
  3. However, I can’t continue in this vein. I can’t control them by snapping at them or by fear. It’s not right.  I think it was really hard to overcome the coldness I felt though.
  4. But ultimately, I can’t CHANGE them. I can only change ME.  And my attitude.  And even though I don’t really know how to make this right, I know I have to try. (Even though for some of the kids, my extension of a white flag is what I “should do” since I’m a teacher and “it’s my job.”)
  5. So then, I wrote a list – 25 things – one to each child – where I let them know what I appreciate… and that brought me to the fact that
  6. They’re trying. Regardless of how emotionally stunted I think they are in comparison to where they should/could be… they are in their different ways.
  7. So.. the end. Tomorrow is a new day. I will try again.

Times likes these, HGSE love!

I don’t normally plug my grad program.  I’m ambivalent about the stances they take and the directions their churned out alumni run towards.  BUT I’m REALLY thankful for the research I got to dip into AND the classmates.  Even people (like the two below), with whom I’ve only had very brief encounters with (well, I guess with M, it wasn’t brief since we ended up driving across the continental states together), because we bonded over shared ideas, I CAN STILL HIT THEM UP NOW!!!!

Anyway, I love the resources that spill out of this convo. I feel like they’re pretty rare too. SO, if you’re interested in bringing in relevant and thoughtful resources surrounding native history in the US, look through this convo!

  • Junia

    Hey ladies – just took over a 4/5th combo class. They haven’t started US history yet. We’re starting by looking at regions and I’m doing a slapdash job of it.

    If you guys have references for how to do due justice to native history (upper elementary reading level) pre-Columbian.. I would totally be grateful.

     12/5, 8:39pm
    Amanda

    Hey! I haven’t looked too much through it but this was created by a friend who works at NACA in NM: http://bbdkricky.wixsite.com/nisnresources

    nisnresources
    HOME
    bbdkricky.wixsite.com
    12/5, 8:41pm
    Amanda

    I think the key would be to connect the narrative of history to the narrative of today (i.e. native people are still alive – funny how often that isn’t taught lol expose them to the traditions but also modern day native authors, music (tribe called red), art (Steven paul judd) – some well known ones

     12/5, 9:26pm
    Junia

    I’m trying to teach it as waves of immigration but yeah – THIS is what I need like – names / people to look into

    12/5, 9:27pm

    Amanda

    do you follow adrienne keene’s blog native appropriations? there’d be some good resources there, too

    you could have kids do a media or report on an article on a native news site perhaps

    as a way to help them see natives are alive and have agency in their communities

    12/5, 9:31pm

    Junia

    i’m clicking everything you’re sending me – I really appreciate the quick turn around and ideas.

    12/5, 9:52pm

    Meaghan

    Check out “time immemorial” — it’s the curriculum created by tribes in WA state! I’ll find a link

    12/5, 9:53pm

    Amanda

    no problem! wish I could help more!

    12/5, 9:53pm

    Amanda

    Buzzfeed’s Another Round and #NoDAPL
    Just a quick post to let ya’ll know that I was on Another Round on Buzzfeed again, and had a lovely conversation with Heben (she’s back!). In addition to talking Standing Rock and #NoDA…
    nativeappropriations.com
    12/5, 9:54pm

    Amanda

    “We Are Still Here” — A Documentary on Today’s Young Native Americans
    What is today’s young Native American’s life like? What are the challenges they are facing? How the historical traumas influenced their life? This short docu…
    youtube.com
    12/5, 9:54pm

    Amanda

    Also, could be interesting to have them draw similarities between AIM (american indian movement) and BLM

    12/5, 9:55pm

    Meaghan

    Here is the curriculum: http://www.indian-ed.org

    Indian-Ed.Org | SINCE TIME IMMEMORIAL
    Article VI The constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in th…
    indian-ed.org
    12/5, 9:55pm

    Amanda

    Native American Girls Describe the REAL History Behind Thanksgiving | Teen Vogue
    6 Native American girls school us on the REAL history of Thanksgiving. Still haven’t subscribed to Teen Vogue on YouTube? ►► http://bit.ly/tvyoutubesub CONNE…
    youtube.com
    12/5, 9:56pm

    Amanda

    Naelyn Pike, Danny Grassrope, Bobbi Jean – all young native activists I met at a recent summit, Naelyn is still in HS – could be cool for her to FB live or skype into your class she’s awesome! you couod prob google some of her videos

    12/5, 9:56pm

    Meaghan

    Also I would check out the stanford history education group’s “reading like a historian curriculum” — it is a teaching framework for getting kids to use “historical thinking skills” and simulate historian’s practices — namely using primary sources to view history as the construction of narrative. they have a lesson on the battle of little bighorn that is GREAT

    12/5, 9:56pm

    Amanda

    From Times Square to the Capitol, Apache Protestors Fight U.S. Land Swap with Mining Company
    Apache protestors pass through Times Square on the way to the Capitol to fight a federal land swap with a copper mining company.
    dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com
    12/5, 9:57pm

    Meaghan

    they also have a great lesson on retelling the story of Pocahontas — that basically has kids pick apart disney (really engaging)

    12/5, 9:57pm

    Meaghan

    U.S. History Lessons | Stanford History Education Group
    The United States Reading Like a Historian curriculum includes 71 stand-alone lessons organized within 11 units. These lessons span colonial to Cold War America and cover a range of political, social, economic, and cultural topics. Each lesson includes a 1-2 day plan that outlines the lesson’s activ…
    sheg.stanford.edu
    12/5, 9:58pm

    Meaghan

    keep an eye out for articles on Standing Rock on Newsela.com. I do freelance for them and they’re going to have a series of articles on grade level with assessments aligned to CCSS

    5th graders would also eat up “absolutely true diary of a part-time indian”

    might be interesting to contrast a contemporary native story to the stories told of native people as history and not as modern

    also — for humor, the 1491’s have really create satire. not sure if 4th/5th would get it all, but could be interesting!

    12/5, 10:01pm

    Meaghan

    pocahontas lesson i was talking about — https://sheg.stanford.edu/pocahontas

    1. Pocahontas | Stanford History Education Group
    Thanks to the Disney film, most students know the legend of Pocahontas. But is the story told in the 1995 movie accurate? In this lesson, students use evidence to explore whether Pocahontas actually saved John Smith’s life and practice the ability to source, corroborate, and contextualize historical…
    sheg.stanford.edu
    12/5, 10:22pm

    Amanda

    yes 1491s for sure you might be able to find some that are approps

    12/5, 10:35pm

    Meaghan

    Oh man remember when they came to Harvard??

    12/5, 10:38pm

    Amanda

    Yea!

    Ahhh let’s all just go back 5 years 😬

    12/5, 10:39pm

    Meaghan

    yeah lets!


Turning Over a New Leaf

It is November 17, 2016. And tomorrow, on Friday, November 18,2016, I’ll be walking into a neighboring district’s HR office and signing the paperwork to be a teacher for a 4/5th grade combo classroom.

It’s interesting.  I feel positive about starting at this new place because the adults seem great and the kids are sweet and diverse.  I’ll also get to teach all the subjects (except science, which is my weakest area anyway), and I’ll get to really have some autonomy since I’ll be in my own self-contained room.  Lastly, the school itself is just lovely. It’s been the smallest school in Berkeley for the past 100 years and it smells woodsy and fresh.

I think the difficulties of the job (combination, coming in mid-year, first time in elementary) actually will provide me ways to really test my theories regarding classroom management, organization, and ultimately, pedagogy.

Things I’m excited to return to:

  • Kohlberg’s Levels of Moral Development
  • Social Studies
  • single-classroom culture
  • developing classroom ownership
  • reflective conflict-resolution

Things I’m excited to expand on:

  • thoughtful blended learning roll out in math
  • Growth Mindset

Things that are new, but I’m excited for…

  • Morning Meetings (a la Responsive Classroom)
  • Guided Reading / Reader’s Workshops
  • Calkins-esque Writer’s Workshops
  • having LESS instructional time and MORE enrichment

 

It has been a strange school year. I’ve taught straight, from 2012-2016 without taking summer breaks.  Then, this past year, I took my first summer break (which was AMAZING — new teachers should try it!  I think I found the key to sustainability!).  And yet, instead of moving, I ended up staying.

It was definitely a drift-y period, and even now, I need to remind myself not just the generic “God is in control”, but speak to my soul: Yes, my God is sovereign. Yes, He knows my desires. Yes, He knows every minute detail of my heart. Yes, there are ways I can glorify Him and ways that can throw all this in His face.  At the end of the day, even though I have been whining, I don’t want to get into a habit of complaint.  After all, this was in His timing, and how can I know all the workings of an infinite mind?

CA Charters (+ regular public schools) Need Real Accountability

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 11.22.24 PM
I’ve seen this petition floating around on Facebook, and I was planning to sign it. After all, why not? I work at a charter school, 4 out of my 5 years teaching have been at charter schools, and I believe in the charter philosophy of giving teachers voice, families choice, and using a “free market” idea to effect such agency.  Yet when I saw this message that I would be sending to my state assembly members and senator, I couldn’t help but scrutinize it.  Interestingly, Diane Ravitch just published a blog on Bernie Sander’s comments on charter schools and she just neatly outlined some issue with charters.  Anyway, below is part of the message that I disagreed with.

…I believe that charter schools are an integral part of our public education system… Hopefully you are well aware of the incredible things that charters are doing for students in communities like mine. If not, I urge you to visit our campuses, talk to teachers, meet with parents and students, and observe the classroom instruction and extracurricular programs. You’ll find a level of caring, a belief in every child’s potential and strong academic results that will inspire you. I can’t imagine ever losing my charter school. I hope and expect that public officials like you will do whatever it takes to protect great public schools like mine.

I don’t think charter schools are necessarily an “integral” part of our public education system. I think it makes public schools think and scramble, it allows us to try things more quickly than we might in a district school, but at the same time, if our public education system were functioning well, we wouldn’t need charters.

I wonder what this petition exactly desires.  Do we want more “support” from our State senators and assembly members?  What does that exactly entail?  What I would like is actually more scrutiny on charter schools.  After working at an especially heinous one, why can’t there be more surprise visits, more deep probing questions of students and their families?  In CA, charter schools gets their charters renewed every 5 years.  At some charter schools (like more current one), they take the opportunity to revisit their vision, recalibrate with the whole community (teachers, admin, students, families), and figure out why and how to move in a specific direction.  In other charter schools, they make teachers sign something (without specifying what the teacher is signing, and the teacher doesn’t really have a choice), they pause distasteful practices during the walk-throughs and visits, and shmooze with local politicians… and voila, a couple visits + high test scores and it’s given the CA stamp of approval.

That sucks.  And if that’s the continued way that CA is going to keep “supporting” charter schools, then I think they should just stop.  They should shackle down our system and slow everything down if it means that all students can be somewhere safe.

Actually, I take that back. Because it would just be horrific to send my kids to some crazy, huge high school instead of a small charter high school.  Yet at the same time, there area really awful charters out there!  And the worse part is they have very LITTLE scrutiny because they’re a charter — district schools have way more hoops to jump through!  I mean, why can’t we just carefully provide more resources, continue the small-schools movement (a la Oakland), and maybe even go that hybrid-charter route (like ASCEND), and just.. grow?  Why can’t CA stop being lazy and giving lip service to kids and give an actual hoot about their wellbeing?

Okay fine. Support our charter schools. But maybe also have some sort of hotline that we can call for when schools are heinous.  And then drop by randomly and watch it all unfold.  And ban schools that pride itself in giving students 1 hour of homework per subject and promote teachers to principals in 2 years.  Oh wait, our whole nation’s doing that? And we think it’s promoting bright innovation into school leadership?

Just great.

 

PS: I realized these past few years, as I continue to keep up with my students that part of the reason why few parents and students ever complain at these  really awful charter schools is because they have nothing else to compare it to.  To them, it’s normal for them to not have any say in the school’s decision to not observe MLK day, or have Spring Break school, or make kids wash the floor with toothbrushes, or take shoes off of kids, or not let parents talk to the teacher.  And coincidentally, most of the teachers at such schools are really new to the state or to teaching… so they don’t realize what’s up until they leave too.  I’m looking at you, Amethod Public Schools and American Indian Public Charter Schools. Seriously. Makes my blood curdle.

“Every child needs a caring, thoughtful, purposeful adult in their lives.”

After 4 years, I’m returning to Boston during my Spring Break!  I thought it might be nice to see if I could meet up with some of my old professors, and while emailing Kay Merseth, I came across this video that she had linked to her signature.


Around the 2:00 mark, she states, “Every child needs a caring, thoughtful, purposeful adult in their lives.”  It got me thinking, and I ended up writing this huge email that definitely ran too long.  Rather than sending it to her, I’m posting it here.

Dear reader, do you have any ideas?

If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to check out Teach To One  (TTO) from New Classrooms (http://www.newclassrooms.org/reimagine.html) because although it allows students to learn within their ZPD and get daily feedback on their learning goals, that whole piece of teacher-student relationships is not there.  The founder of TTO has been super receptive to our issues (especially since we’re piloting its first pilot in California), but I also realized this year that a lot of the structures that make this program hard weren’t necessarily TTO-mandated but were choices made by our administration.

I wonder if in urban schools, I should just get used to the idea that my position as “teacher” is changing into that of “coach” and “manager”.  I like that we can use technology to differentiate in ways that students weren’t able to go in before, and I like that as a school, we train students to take charge of their learning, but at the same time, the reason why I became a middle school teacher in particular wasn’t because of my love of for the subject, but because I wanted to work with kids at this prickly age.  I didn’t want to simply teach them academics; I wanted to teach them self-regulation, build in them intrinsic motivation, and work on helping them pose questions to each other.  Our kids are making fantastic progress on the MAP tests — is it wrong of me not to care that much about it?

At the end of the day, I’ve never felt so small — and my school is huge on teacher voice and leadership.  I understand that the nature of a pilot means that things are going to be very uncomfortable for a while, but I’m having a hard time seeing this direction as “best” for my students.  Some days, I get it.  I’m wowed. But there are just so many days, where life is hard simply because this structure is really hard.  Even if I get materials provided for me, I still need to take time to edit them.  Even if kids are learning at their ZPD, it doesn’t help that I don’t have much of a relationship with them so that some kids come in and refuse to even try because they don’t like me.  It’s also hard because I’ve never been a teacher that was hated just for being unfamiliar — I’m used to power struggles within the classroom that never exists outside of the classroom just because we have relationships.  With 300 kids, it just doesn’t work.  Will it work when I just have 150?

Is it just that at the end of the day, for urban schools, because we can’t always ensure that there will be quality math teachers year to year, we need to control for that by replacing teachers with a program where students will make satisfactory growth?  Is that why in Fruitvale Oakland, we’re piloting this  effective but joyless program while across the bridge in Palo Alto, kids aren’t taught by computers but by people?