Category Archives: Newsflash

How To Be a Good Teacher

This week, I’ve seen a bit extra in the “this is good teaching” or “this is a model teacher” news realm.  It ranges.  Here’s this super exuberant principal who uses his infectious enthusiasm and awesome dance rooms in the classroom, and then there is this new kind of instruction (no ‘please’; only high expectations).

Both seem sort of ridiculous.  For instance, it’s not fair to expect the kind of teaching as shown by that principal since not all personalities work like that.  (Plus, there isn’t evidence that this is “deep” so much as algorithmic learning).  Then the latter, with the crazy “live” coaching in a scripted manner .. I snorted. Who would actually want that for THEIR own child?

I always think it would do society good if everyone took one year to teach.  Their teaching would in no way enhance the lives of their students or help out schools in any way, shape, or form.  It would just be a civic duty of society to allow freshly graduated non-students to finally understand a smidgen of what teachers go through on a daily basis.  THEN, they can humbly go on with their lives and learn to be more generous with their wallets (as taxpaying voters) and lighten up on the criticism (as parents).

In my opinion, two things are in the making of a good teacher: coaching and experience.  I think experience is ultimately how you get to be a good teacher. I don’t even think I realized I wasn’t a good teacher (in fact, that I was a rather POOR teacher) until my 4th year in. (I think most people mistake intelligence, creativity, and score results as “effective teaching” when in reality that’s achievable by most.  We can talk about what true “teaching” is later). Most people quit before then OR (yikes), in some charter worlds, take on higher roles.  What a sad-looking future!  Yet you NEED the experience by starting to accustom yourself to how students act, how to negotiate tactfully, how to balance your work and your life, and how to TEACH…  and those years zoom by before you can return to anything as a teacher!

But experience is nothing without a good coach to shape your experience and help you reflect.  (I think this is hard because I don’t think every coach knows how to coach, either.  COACHES need to be coached.)  But last year, I finally figured out how the teacher-coach dynamic should work in a way that benefits me (the teacher), AND this year, I have an amazing coach.  (Actually I have 3 very adept coaches, but you know how it is, over-coaching can sometimes suck too… BUT I’m lucky that I just get to really delve into different facets of my teaching with 3 different views).  Anyway, my math coach is awesome.  We meet weekly.  I feel like I get stuff done.  I feel like I go in bite-sized steps to plan what to next.  I feel like I’m becoming a better educator and I don’t want to go back to what I used to do.  AND I appreciate my coaching sessions instead of dreading to go to them because I get real feedback and we brainstorm and she’s actually had experience with the same demographics and material.  It’s good.

No expectations to create a sing and dance show.  No requirement to go by a script.  Rather, we come up with what *is* best for kids to help them to become critical thinkers and dynamic self-directed learners… and we just keep trying to coax them in that direction.  THANKS WENDY BATY!


Reflecting on this week

This was a good teacher week.  It was a good teacher week because I felt that there was at least one lesson that really hit the kids.  It was a good teacher week because we ended positively.  It was a good teacher week because I slept a lot.  It was a good teacher week  because two different people from my childhood showed me they cared because they saw an area where I was needy and provided.  It’s things like that — not advice, not suggestions — just physical funds, resources, or labor, that really speak to me as a teacher, right now. 

Today, I also happened upon THREE DIFFERENT teacher-related links that were all so good.  I think these are good for everyone to read.  It speaks to me, as a teacher, but should also let people know a bit of what teachers experience.

How To Be a Teacher for More Than 5 Years Without Killing Yourself

I’m working on different parts of this list written by Justin Stortz, a former teacher who is incredibly vulnerable in his posts.  Last year, I was thisclose to burnout, and I wish he had written this post sooner.   And I’ve already learned the hard way why it is important to stay humble and not “set yourself and your class up for failure by letting your ego get in your way.”:-/  Also, this year, I’m trying to maintain a hobby (working out and writing), trying to cook more, and I put myself on a sleeping schedule.

The Hardest Job Everyone Thinks They Can Do

Inspiring kids? Inspiring kids can be downright damned near close to impossible sometimes. And… it’s downright damned near close to impossible to measure. You can’t measure inspiration by a child’s test scores. You can’t measure inspiration by a child’s grades. You measure inspiration 25 years later when that hot-shot doctor, or lawyer, or entrepreneur thanks her fourth-grade teacher for having faith in her and encouraging her to pursue her dreams.

Maybe that’s why teachers get so little respect. It’s hard to respect a skill that is so hard to quantify.

Fellow teacher friend and HGSE grad shared this link on Facebook.  Dennis Hong, a molecular biologist – turned – teacher shares a few tidbits on what teaching is and why it’s so hard.  A short, thought-provoking piece from an apologist for teachers.

First They Came for Urban Black and Latino Moms (For Arne Duncan)

A few months ago, I walked past a “successful” charter school here in Harlem, NY, speed-walking to get my school supplies for the coming school year. I noticed a huge crowd of mostly Black and Latino families all waiting to pick up their children when a taut, pony-tailed White man came out with a clipboard and yells, “Alright, parents, we need everyone to line up!” My inner voice yelled “What!?” at the entire scene. No one protested. A few snickered and rolled their eyes. They all got in one straight line, parallel to Malcolm X Boulevard to pick up their children.

This would have never gone down at a suburban school.

Jose Vilson, hits on a piece of white privilege that we so often ignore.  Also, coming from a successful charter school, I see this all the time.  It’s articles like this that reminds me that it should not be so normal to witness this kowtowing as schools begin to own the children.  I rage about families that don’t support their children, but in the same sense, we should be helping families support their children, not just forcing our parenting upon the families.

George Zimmerman Charged: Not a night of celebration

I was on my way to Washington DC, taking advantage of JetBlue’s free TV when I saw Breaking News: George Zimmerman Charged with Second Degree Murder.

I watched bits of this news segment and below is one thing a pastor with Trayvon Martin’s family said that really got to me.  While saying that what they hoped for was a fair trial, I was struck by their lack of this push for retribution.  I was also struck by the humility of allowing the judicial system (that in a sense, initially betrayed them until they rallied media support) to continue its work.  I am glad that they reminded the world that this isn’t a viral hype, but the start of a movement that requires sober discernment.

“There are no winners here. There are no high fives tonight. They have lost a son. We will not be gloating around here. We are still mourning with this family. We will monitor this trial every step of the way. This is not a night of celebration, it is a night that should’ve never happened in the first place.  We are trying ot make sure that something happens so that this will not happen again.

Personally, I am not very “PC.”  I get irritated when people don’t give others the benefit of the doubt or too quickly label something racist or culturally-insensitive.  I wonder if instead of hollering about race, why not just shrug it off, keeping living, and respond to ignorance gently?

I wonder about George Zimmerman. Is he a product of racism or ignorance?  Both?  Does the latter breed the former?  I don’t believe he is an anomaly.  I don’t think humans are naturally good and Zimmerman is just a bad egg.  I wonder what the outcome would have been if Trayvon Martin’s story didn’t become viral.  Perhaps because the nature of the death was so violent and because the actions so blatantly stared us in the face, we were forced to take action.  But so many things like this happen every day (albeit at a milder part of the spectrum).

I still have plenty of thoughts but I’m rambling, and I’m trying to learn to cut myself short.  I will end with a few words from Trayvon Martin’s mother.

I want to speak from my heart to your heart because a heart has no color. It is not black nor white, it’s red. So I want to say thank you from my heart to your heart.

In all this pain, I am amazed and encouraged to see this family glorifying God in their responses of grace and trust.  We can know that even in this, God is still good.

Just another day for thinking and creating

Today was an inspirational day.  I met up this morning with Dr. Reimers to discuss a class project and some personal ideas.  He is seriously one of my favorite teachers here.  Then, in my Charter Schools class,  there were a slew of great speakers with practical advice.. it was so jam-packed.  And then, oh, Mike Feinberg (cofounder of KIPP) decided to swing by.  Regardless of my personal feelings about KIPP schools, it’s times like these where I am amazed and thankful to be at HGSE.

Today I’m working on my Business Model Canvas since tomorrow I’m meeting with a friend to discuss a nascent business plan for The Mind Garden.  Wheeoo wheeoo.  Should’ve started this earlier!

I’m also eating Mike’s Pastry, Ben & Jerry’s Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night Snack Ice cream, and Haagen Dazs five’s coffee ice cream.  :)

Just read the following article to pump myself up.  An oldie but a goodie.

Disruption is coming, there is no doubt of it! Will it be soon? Will it be virtual? We have little idea at this time as to how it will eventually turn out. What is also clear, however, is that the technology revolution taking place means that when disruption does come, it will be more than mere operational rearrangements; it will be profound and revitalizing.

– Disruption: Coming Soon to A University Near You []

Trayvon Martin.

I don’t know if it’s because it’s so late at night, but I just got very emotional reading this article.  I think growing up in California, I was rather sheltered compared to the rest of the USA.  Sure, I had my share of racial slurs, but they didn’t bother me too much.  In California, I felt people were so overly PC that I used to get really annoyed.  But for some reason, this year, I’m seeing the full effect of ignorance when taken to its logical ends.

It makes me sad.  To quote Charles M. Blow’s tweet, “Even if you remove the racial element from the Trayvon case, it’s just as outrageous: a grown man killed an unarmed kid holding candy.”

Amen. With that said, I want to include an excerpt from an article that I read today (Facebook rec from a friend).

“Nineteen years ago, on a frigid December night in Waco, Texas, what was intended to be a quick stop at the convenience store turned into a two-hour lesson on the racial history of America. A teenager, I was wearing a large jacket with a hood. As I readied myself to exit the car, my grandfather, with whom we were visiting for the holidays, proclaimed, “Take that hood off your head before you go in that store or they will blow your brains out!” Such sudden outbursts were uncharacteristic for my rather mild-mannered grandfather. I found his proclamation of the possibility of my abrupt and violent demise rather upsetting. And it was difficult for me to comprehend. I was simply going to buy some sodas, a rather non-hostile action in my opinion.

For what felt more like an eternity than two hours, my grandfather, grandmother, mother, and uncle awakened me to some troubling realities: 1) That my dark skin, then embracing a 5-foot-10-inch, 13-year-old frame, was a considerable threat for some people, and 2) that some people would not be patient enough to judge me based on the content of my character but rather would be fixated on the color of my skin, and that the color of my skin, viewed through the lens of their own prejudices, meant that I was the physical embodiment of their greatest fear (a big, Black man), fears reinforced daily by mass media. Ever since that fateful December night, I have lived life in full view of these realities.”

You can read the whole article from the Huffington Post here.

Thoughts on ‘Kony 2012’ Viral video

True to form, I first heard of Kony, LRA, and Invisible Children through the 30-minute video that I watched from start to finish after the fourth person on Facebook posted it within the 10-minute period I was on Facebook.  I was stunned, informed, and I “shared” it along with a quote that I thought was appropriate.  

Then over the next week, I watched as different responses poured in.  There was outrage on all levels.  From (1) lamenting how sad it is that it takes hype/celebrity voices to get people to pay attention to (2) raging that this is yet another “White Man’s Burden” venture to (3) warning that this is a thinly veiled attempt to popularize American militarization into other countries, many resulting concerns have also popped up into the web stream.  (4) Pictures  of Kony 2012 campaigners posing with weapons also drew public condemnation and today, I read (5) how one of the founders was arrested for sexual gestures in public.  (I read all these articles through Facebook, by the way.) **

So, obviously, this movement is far from perfect, and there are parts that are very disconcerting to me too.  But (6) protesting that the video is focused too much on the videomaker’s son or saying that this is (7) giving America an excuse to loot lands for natural resources seems like a stretch.  To relate to people, pathos is a huge necessity.  This video is not simply an informational watch, it is a call to some sort of action. There are many sources of information, I know.  But, because they were simply “sources of information,” they didn’t get very far.  The populace remained unmoved.  As “sad” as it is, people respond to things that grab their attention, and usually in order to do so, you need to relate to them.  Perhaps the “white-centric” nature has to do with the fact that the audience that needs to be reached is a more mainstream audience.  Furthermore, the narrator’s personal connection between him and his son and what Kony is doing when he kidnaps children adds not only a pathos angle, but draws on the power of human empathy as well.  Numbers rarely do the job. Anecdotes do.

Also, now that this video is out there and people have a limited understanding, the rest of the protests/issues/responses make sense.  If these people tried to post something earlier, it would have been swallowed up and lost amongst everything else.  How do I know this?  Well, Joseph Kony has been around for a long time, and I’ve never really heard of him – have you?  But now, after watching that video, I had some sort of basis to draw my opinions; the rest of the articles made sense.  I know I’m not the best basis for a generalization, but I think you understand my point.

Lastly, others bring up the issue that this campaign has weakened US efforts to capture Joseph Kony.  But I don’t believe that’s true at all.  There was a point when President Obama and others commended the group for their efforts.   If the US were truly on the verge of doing something, then why would the President support the campaign?  Let’s not blameshift.

Anyway, I’m not really on the Kony bandwagon.  I just think it’s unfair that every time someone tries to do something, people jump on EVERYTHING.  Can we get rid of conspiracy theories and give people the benefit of the doubt and add a healthy dose of compassion, please?  The infighting gets old/pretentious real quick.

Other interesting reads that shaped my thoughts:

  • Backlash aside, charities see lessons in a web video [NYT]
  • Kony 2012: A lesson in critical thinking [Forbes]
  • What Kony 2012 can teach us about ourselves [Forbes]

**EDIT:  Concerning issue #5 above, I just read this article from The Atlantic.  Jason Russell wasn’t being lewd in public, he’s suffering from a brain disease.  Don’t we all just looooove our media outlets?  If anything, it does show that we need to watch ourselves, lest we turn into lemmings!

The answer is yes.

From Yahoo’s 5 Most Controversial Parenting Stories of 2011.

(Yes, I read junk, and old, semi-boring junk at that).

3. The arrest of Stanford professor Bill Burnett and his wife Cindy for hosting a teen party where alcohol was present was also the ‘talk of the town’ for a while. The couple claimed they were not aware the kids partying it up in their basement were drinking. Ms. Burnett told The Today Show’s Matt Lauer she was just about to serve the kids the cookies she had made when the police arrived. While the Burnett’s tale may have received the most media attention, stories of similar arrests have been cropping up all over the country, all raising the question–are parent’s responsible for their underage teen’s behavior even if they are unaware of what their teens are doing?

Uh yes. The answer is yes.  The italics of the last part is so stupid and unnecessarily sensational.  Is it really so crazy to expect parents to be responsible for their underage teen’s behavior?  Shouldn’t they be aware?  Isn’t not being aware called negligence?  Hey Yahoo!, I can play the italics game too.

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