Category Archives: Thoughts

I guess I should tell you what really happened…

School started.

And it was a mess.

We’ve been starting school here in America for hundreds of years, and we still can’t get it right. Parents are left out of the communication loop; therefore, students are not prepared. New Teachers and new administration are not supported and cry at some point during their first 2 weeks.

Texts I’ve received this week…

“I’m stressed.”

“If crying at school was acceptable, I’d be crying right now.”

“This is so hard. How come I don’t feel prepared.”

Why does school starting cause such panic and strong emotions?

I. Don’t. Know.

Other than in many schools there is extremely high turnover and the average experience of the teachers is under 5 years. We have the blind leading the blind. What can we do? Here’s my starting point. It’s not comprehensive and it defintiely needs work., but here’s where I am today…

1. Support new teachers and administration. Just because a person graduated from college (even with a teaching degree) doesn’t mean they are 100% ready to embark on this journey alone. They need those of with experience to share information, to share strategies, to brainstorm lists, to use our connections to build a network of veteran teachers that will look out for the more novice teachers.

2. Teach our pre-service teachers that they are NOT in this job alone and they won’t be perfect. We need to share our missteps, mistakes, and failures, so that when they mess up (cause we all do) that tomorrow is another day. Resiliency is a necessary skill. We have to learn to screw up and not give up, but screw up and stick with it. And by stick with it I mean not keep trying the screw up, but keep working and trying new things.

3. Grace. Enough said, right? This relates to #2, yet I want to explicitly say–  Everyone deserves grace including yourself. We have to learn to give ourselves the grace we give to our students.

4. Work to find a balance. Teaching is hard and important work. But we can’t let it consume our young teachers’ lives. We have to work towards life balance. They need to hang out with friends, have a beer, go for a run, enjoy life away from school…. I believe that working alongside teachers to help them find this balance is an important part of my job.

With this partial list, I’m signing off.

What do you do to support new teachers and administrators?

 

 

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Frustration… We must stand firm.

Over the last few years, I have been growing increasingly frustrated with myself and other teachers who do not resist the negative indoctrination that veteran and preservice teachers undergo as part of their roles as teacher. This sense of growing frustration is unfortunately linked to the exposure of so much negativity in today’s public schools that, instead of searching for student strengths often we only see what is wrong or deficient with the  students (Delpit, 1995). I feel that teachers allow this negative indoctrination to marginalize their expectations of children. This, in turn, influences their pedagogy. Lowering standards and expectations only continues cycles of failure that has plagued many schools AND students for too long. This negativity dominates many school cultures, as some teachers find fault with the home lives of students and exclude these children from teacher’s goals (see Ms. Brant’s Rants for an example of pre-testing exclusion of some students). We must stand firm in our instructional decisions that can and will facilitate learning of ALL children regardless of class, race, abilities, gender, and/or how close they are to passing a test. Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing stories of teachers and their practices and decisions so hopefully more educators can begin to see ways to STAND FIRM in their pedagogical beliefs.

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Note to Self Shelf

I absolutely love how my 8-year old, Kat, is growing and maturing into a little lady. Today I happened upon a blue piece of construction paper with “Note to self shelf” written on it. This paper is taped to her closet door! 

Her notes include:
“14th shop for stuff” and “were a coat on Tuseday.”
This is where I diverge into my teachery self. Kat’s teacher is incredible! So often teachers have students earn tickets for good behavior or making good decisions. In this, students often get to spend their tickets on plastic, junky goodie bag type gifts that I end up throwing away when Kat is not looking. 

This year is different! Her class earns tickets and then purchases things like “eat lunch at the Dragon Park” or “have recess on the field.” There is also “read a favorite book to another class.” What cool prizes! When one student does well, the whole class does well. What a strong community building motivator! Kiddos are even combining their tickets to be able to “purchase” the bigger items (i.e. Lunch at Dragon Park is 100 tickets)! 

I love, love, love this idea! All this to say: Kat’s shop for stuff note is referring to this. Last week, Kat bought “read to another class.” This means, she has selected 3 books read them aloud repeatedly (text appropriateness and fluency building) and contacted 2 different teachers to request permission and a time that would work for them (writing, communication, and negotiation). 

This is my kind of reward! Academic, confidence-building, supporting the good of others, and encouraging! 

Brilliant! 

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Troubling

Throughout the last few decades, politicians have called for educators to make decisions based on data and scientific evidence (Celio & Harvey 2005 among others). The last couple of years that I was in a middle school classroom as a Title 1 Reading Intervention Teacher, I was required to have data and standards-based assessments and instruction. In theory, this sounded like an ok plan. I mean really knowing what the students know and planning instruction from there sounds smart, right? However, the control and decisions often did not lie with me. I was emailed common assessments with a date to administer them. In addition to common assessments, our students were required to take twelve (yes, count them TWELVE) language arts benchmark tests aligned with the a curriculum map that was to be adhered to at all times. (I mean there were only 176 days of school, and we “lost” 12 to benchmarks, 6 for state testing, 4-5 for ITBS testing, plus all the other events where students miss class–I’ll post some research on missed class time soon and add a link.)

The pressure to stay together was so great that at one point, if a teacher posted a grade for a standard all teachers in the subject area had to post a grade within 24 hours. Oftentimes, I felt like I was climbing on the edge of a cliff waiting to see if I would find a safe foothold or not. Would I get in trouble for reading an alternate story or deviating from the daily grammar practice outline? What would happen if the administration ever figured out that I was not on the correct place on the map?

I was more off the map than on. This standardization of all aspects of my teaching and learning with my students was troubling as I base(d) my teaching and learning on relationships. I try to enact a thoughtful pedagogy that builds on the strengths and interests of the students. NOT a testing calendar and scripted curriculum.

to be continued…

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Who in the World is Emily Pendergrass?

Thanks for visiting https://emilypendergrass.wordpress.com a blog on adolescent literacies, literacies coaching, and teaching and learning.

Freire’s (1992) critical statement, “Content must be delivered up to the cognitive curiosity of teacher and pupils. The former teach, and in doing so, learn. The latter learn, and in doing so teach” (p. 96) has been the catalyst to transform my teaching. The fact that there is no teaching without learning and no learning without teaching can serve as the basis for a creative and successful way to reclaim the power of teaching in the current climate of mandated curriculum.

Blurring the traditional student-teacher boundaries. I believe we can probably learn more from students than we could ever teach them if we continue to select the curriculum out of our own cultures, experiences, and values. “The refusal of educators to learn from their students has led us to the present predicament characterized by failure”(Macedo, 2006, p. 142). I fully believe that the success rate of schools will change when teachers see themselves as learners and see the students as people with much to offer. Learning from and with students can prove to be a worthwhile endeavor as we no longer categorize students by their failures but by their successes.

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