The Special Forces of American Education

I hope your year has been full of accomplishment, challenges, and growth; I know mine has.  As a refresher, I teach students with an emotional/behavior disorder in the middle school self-contained setting in suburban Atlanta, GA.  The original idea for this follow up was to tell you all the things that occurred this year, where I am headed in my career, and maybe a few new tips I picked up. Well, I changed my mind today.  What changed it?  The drastic changes that have occurred in the country within the past 72 hours changed it.  Monday June 24, I woke up, the south was still under DOJ oversight in terms of voting, the US still hated gays, and we could not have our love recognized.  In essence, all was ‘right’ with the world.  Right meaning expected, more or less comfortable with the status quo.  This morning, while in an authorization session for my new teaching job, my phone alerts me that the world according to the US has changed dramatically. 

 

If you did not know, I am very social justice driven.  Being a multi-racial gay male in the south sort of forces you to be active in those things.  While working on a journal article yesterday, I became distracted for hours tweeting, facebooking, and reading all about the SCOTUS decision on the Voters Rights Act. Furious struggles to describe my emotion, I found myself fighting similar urges my former EBD students fought daily and had to employ their strategies while sitting at my desk.  I resolved myself to ensure that I make a concerted effort to teach more life lessons to my students like empathy, equity, justice, and love.  I committed myself to working within the educational system to make the changes that would allow the next generation to see the errors of their elders and not hesitate to change things, and to do my best to improve education for them, especially my EBD kids.  Today, I was overwhelmed with entirely different emotions. Today was a day of elation, pride, hope, and love.  I did not dare contain these emotions and spread my emotions via social network as far and wide as I could from my phone. After my authorization session, I rushed to downtown Atlanta to participate in a rally celebrating the death of DOMA and the end of Prop 8. 

 

What does any of this have to do with education or this blog?  It has everything to do with it!  I realized that as teachers, especially special education teachers, we are on the front lines of the greatest war that will never end.  That war is a great battle between creating a happy and self-sufficient adult or a delinquent that we have to raise taxes for to build new jails.  This war is hard, and demanding; it comes with little to no recognition, the stress is unbelievable, and yet we do it anyway.  Why do we do it?  Why do we sacrifice a better paying job, with less stress, easier access to restrooms, and in my case, no flying desks or books or restraints?  We do it because we are the special forces of America. We are those who go in and fight the toughest battles, and when we are bruised, hungry, and tired we yell, “more please!”  We do this because we realize that we can make a difference and are set on making that difference. 

 

This year I learned how to advocate and protest professionally to get my students services and supports I felt they needed, the data showed a need for, and there was no reason they should not get them.  As the school-wide positive behavior coordinator for the school, I was constantly protecting the rights and interest of students who had challenging behaviors.  Teaching is all about advocating, protecting, and protesting for what is in the interest of our kids.  After all, every student we meet becomes ‘our kid’ and we treat him or her as such.  The past 72 hours have shown me the power we hold and often fail to realize and utilize.  We have the power as teachers to spread lessons of love and compassion, of endurance and justice, and of courage and dedication.  As individual citizens of a very large caucus, we hold the powers to create the very best environment for our kids.  We can stop the privatization of education, the standardization of childhood, the insistence on end of individuality and creativity.  We can insist on creativity, self-expression, community, and individuality.  Take motivation from the world around you, and change the world around you for today and for tomorrow. 

Why are Teachers so mad? Because education is dead

It may not be as well known as the Zimmerman trial or the fallout from the SCOTUS’ most recent term, but teachers across the country are angry, so angry they are organizing and planning what appears to be the beginning of a full revolution within education.  What is bothering us so much?  After all, get weekends, holidays, spring break, and summers off; we do not have a reason to be angry.  WRONG! Our profession and our passion is being threatened.

Since the publication of “A Nation at Risk,” there have been innumerable ‘reforms’ in education.  These so called reforms have stripped education of its essence and of its soul.  Education was formally a creative adventure between a teacher and their students through a world of imagination, exploration, discovery, and most importantly a passion for discovery that lasts a lifetime.  Through these adventures children learned social and emotional skills which are vital in success as an adult.  Students learned the intrinsic value of skills such as grit, dedication, and perseverance.  I often relate what education used to be, to an episode of ” Magic School Bus,” learning was all about getting dirty, making mistakes and having fun!

Education as we knew it is dead.

We now have a 13 year long test prep system comprised of arbitrary standards created by non educators and forced upon children and teachers by the federal government who was paid by private corporations to kill education and replace it with this, anti-education.  Anti-education is the murderer of passion, dedication, imagination, exploration, and fun.  Mrs. Frizzle has been laid-off due to budget cuts like the ones in Philly to make room for a brand new prison and she has been replaced with a ill-prepared young adult who had a summer of crash course training.  These ill-informed TFA recruits should really take the advice of Katie Osgood.  Instead of adventures through learning guided by their teachers, students are now audience members of scripted pedagogy to instill basic working skills needed to support the very corporations and their friends that killed education.

” In a recent study, America was out ranked by ___ on standardized tests in math and reading.” is often the most we hear about education in our daily lives.  Corporations like Pearson, McKinsey & Co, and Microsoft have used these headlines to lobby the government at both state and federal levels that a national set of standards should be made and forced upon schools in order to save our country from doom.  These corporations found the best way to make millions, while ensuring their elite status is not threatened, and they will continue to reap the pleasures of an ignorant workforce.   They make millions by partnering with lawmakers to develop the tests to measure the standards created by groups funded by themselves to ensure that children master skills needed to solve basic work related problems, but not enough to see the game they have been forced to play without a rules sheet.

The corporations made a grave mistake in their plot.  Teachers teach because of a passion for learning and children, not money, not test scores and not to make a well trained herd of sheep for the next big multi-national corporation.  Teachers have been grumbling for years over the implementation of harmful standards, over testing, and the death of education and rise of anti-education.  The government and corporations stepped up their PR campaign to drown out these grumblings and further disguise these reforms as asked for by the industry.

The government and business industry will have to get a lot louder if they expect to drown out teachers today.  The revolution gained steam in the fall of 2012, with the strike of Chicago City School teachers over budget cuts, poor school conditions, and school closures.  Rarely in history have we seen impassioned teachers walk away from their classrooms in mass to create change, but Chicago did it and the nation stopped.  The nation stopped because the brave teachers of Chicago faced Goliath and struck him down with the might of their hearts and voices as they mourned the death of education, and celebrated its resurrection in the near future.

The nation’s teachers watched Chicago with pride and frustration. Pride that Chicago teachers spoke out, frustration because they feel alone in indignation within their schools. Within weeks, we realized we shared the anger of the present and passion for change that Chicago teachers displayed and began not murmuring, not even talking, no; we began to organize.

Teachers saw the full extent of how districts and leaders have become puppets of corporations.  We realized that the focus is not on teaching and education, but on assembling workers.  We saw the markings on the desk, budget cuts leaving us without simple resources like pencils and heat for classrooms, raping the arts programs for every dime, to provide tax cuts to business and build more prisons to hold disenfranchised students and the newly jobless, laid off teacher.

Most recently, the Badass Teacher Association (BATs) was formed and has quickly become a powerhouse in teacher’s fight to kill anti-education and resurrect education. The group started with a handful of Facebook members, within two weeks gained more than 20,000 members, and grows daily.  BATs is the next step in the education revolution.  BATs has filled the need of educators nation wide to discuss the issues, organize a network of local and national actions, and it has the size to force attention. BATs founding cause, “This is for every teacher who refuses to be blamed for the failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality, and refuses to accept assessments, tests and evaluations imposed by those who have contempt for real teaching and learning” speaks to the anger shared amongst thousands of teachers that is now turning into action.

Teachers are mad, no, we are pissed off. Teaching is an art of love, compassion, and self-sacrifice for the betterment of children and our great nation.  Teaching is a passion that few have, requires skills most can’t dream of possessing, and demands what even few can satisfy.  Without teachers, we would not have the country we have today.  Without us, you would not know how to read or write.  You would not know how to construct a sub-prime mortgage scheme, or create a cure for cancer.  Teachers have lost respect from the nation, and more sadly, themselves.  Alas, we have awoken! We have seen that we are more than script reading, test pushing slaves of the attempted privatization of education.  We are the mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters of tomorrow and without us, you won’t have a country to live in!  We are people who work tirelessly day and night to ensure the future citizens of this country know what it means to understand written language, apply math in day-to-day life, and even more importantly to love one another, to have determination and grit.  We are the people setting the foundations of what the country will become and you cannot take that from us.  You cannot buy it, because it is not for sale.

Corporations and lawmakers take heed, we are a nation of Badass teachers, and you will listen to us.  You will end the buyout of education, you will deliver the magic bullet to anti-education so that we can get to work in resurrecting education.  For if you do not heed our calls for change, we will change it without you.  So I leave you with homework- review your history. Chapter 6 on the civil rights movement and Chapter 12 on the Arab Spring. The test is tomorrow and it won’t be multiple choice, so get ready.

Re-start

I created this blog almost a year ago as I ended my time blogging for the Council for Exceptional Children and wanted to continue my discussions.  As the year began, work became very demanding and I had to cut it.  Well, I’m back!  I have had a crazy year, but grew and learned a lot.  I am moving into a new position this coming school year and will make sure I keep the blog updated! For now, its onward and upward!

BehaviorLENS

As an emotional/behavior disorder (EBD) teacher I am often challenged to complete numerous behavior observations while teaching.  Keeping those records organized and data collected in a manner that is easy to share with administration and parents, especially at an IEP meeting is often a challenge.  I have been lucky in finding the BehaviorLENS app for my iPad.  It is a wonderful that works without a wifi connection that allows to track numerous students within the app while using a variety of observation methods. It has recently become an integral component of my day as I am preforming three functional behavior assessments at once. I am able to track my ABC data, frequency and duration on the same app, switching between types with the tap of a finger. I am then able to generate a report and email that to my parents so they can see graphically how their student is doing.  I am in love with this app! If you have students with challenging behavior, check out BehaviorLENS here.  Happy observations!

Originally posted on Diane Ravitch's blog:

I am reposting this because I forgot to include a link to the study, its title and the names and affiliations of the authors in the first posting. Pretty awful oversight. Actually inexcusable on my part. I apologize to my readers and to the authors of the study.

We have known for some years that the scoring of state tests is easily gamed. In fact, proficiency rates don’t tell us much, because state officials may raise or lower the passing score for political reasons. It happened in New York for years, when the proportion of students passing the state tests went up and up until it collapsed in 2010 as a result of an independent investigation. The state officials enjoyed their annual press conferences where they announced annual too-good-to-be-true gains. And they were too good to be true. They were fake. When the fraud was revealed, there was no accountability…

View original 283 more words

A Dream Denied

You asked a question about Martin Luther King,’ Christopher said to Kozol.  “I’m going to say something. All that stuff about ‘the dream’ means nothing to the kinds I know … he died in vain. He was famous and he lived and gave his speeches and he died and now he’s gone. Be we’re still here. Don’t tell students in the school about ‘the dream’.” 

A Test you Need to Fail

‘A Test You Need to Fail': A Teacher’s Open Letter to Her 8th Grade Students

(llustration: David McLiman)
Dear 8th Graders,

I’m sorry.

I didn’t know.

I spent last night perusing the 150-plus pages of grading materials provided by the state in anticipation of reading and evaluating your English Language Arts Exams this morning. I knew the test was pointless—that it has never fulfilled its stated purpose as a predictor of who would succeed and who would fail the English Regents in 11th grade. Any thinking person would’ve ditched it years ago. Instead, rather than simply give a test in 8th grade that doesn’t get kids ready for the test in 11th grade, the state opted to also give a test in 7th grade to get you ready for your 8th-grade test.

But we already knew all of that.

What I learned is that the test is also criminal.

Because what I hadn’t known—this is my first time grading this exam—was that it doesn’t matter how well you write, or what you think. Here we spent the year reading books and emulating great writers, constructing leads that would make everyone want to read our work, developing a voice that would engage our readers, using our imaginations to make our work unique and important, and, most of all, being honest. And none of that matters. All that matters, it turns out, is that you cite two facts from the reading material in every answer. That gives you full credit. You can compose a “Gettysburg Address” for the 21st century on the apportioned lines in your test booklet, but if you’ve provided only one fact from the text you read in preparation, then you will earn only half credit. In your constructed response—no matter how well written, correct, intelligent, noble, beautiful, and meaningful it is—if you’ve not collected any specific facts from the provided readings (even if you happen to know more information about the chosen topic than the readings provide), then you will get a zero.

And here’s the really scary part, kids: The questions you were asked were written to elicit a personal response, which, if provided, earn you no credit. You were tricked; we were tricked. I wish I could believe that this paradox (you know what that literary term means because we have spent the year noting these kinds of tightropings of language) was simply the stupidity of the test-makers, that it was not some more insidious and deliberate machination. I wish I could believe that. But I don’t.

I told you, didn’t I, about hearing Noam Chomsky speak recently? When the great man was asked about the chaos in public education, he responded quickly, decisively, and to the point: “Public education in this country is under attack.” The words, though chilling, comforted me in a weird way. I’d been feeling, the past few years of my 30-plus-year tenure in public education, that there was something or somebody out there, a power of a sort, that doesn’t really want you kids to be educated. I felt a force that wants you ignorant and pliable, and that needs you able to fill in the boxes and follow instructions. Now I’m sure.

It’s not that I oppose rigorous testing. I don’t. I understand the purpose of evaluation. A good test can measure achievement and even inspire. But this English Language Arts Exam I so unknowingly inflicted on you does neither. It represents exactly what I am opposed to, the perpetual and petty testing that has become a fungus on the foot of public education. You understand that metaphor, I know, because we have spent the year learning to appreciate the differences between figurative and literal language. The test-makers have not.

So what should you do, my beautiful, my bright, my intelligent, my talented? Continue. Continue to question. I applaud you, sample writer: When asked the either/or question, you began your response, “Honestly, I think it is both.” You were right, and you were brave, and the test you were taking was neither. And I applaud you, wildest 8th grader of my own, who—when asked how a quote applied to the two characters from the two passages provided—wrote, “I don’t think it applies to either one of them.” Wear your zeroes proudly, kids. This is a test you need to fail.

I wondered whether giving more than 10 minutes of every class period to reading books of our own choosing was a good idea or not. But you loved it so. You asked for more time. Ask again; I will give you whatever you need. I will also give you the best advice I can, advice from the Nobel Prize-winning writer, Juan Ramón Jiménez. Ray Bradbury thought this was so important, he used it as the epigraph at the beginning of Fahrenheit 451: “When they give you lined paper, write the other way.”

It is the best I have to offer, beyond my apologies for having taken part in an exercise that hurt you, and of which I am mightily ashamed.

© 2012 Rethink Schools
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