First Person

This week's teaching & learning tidbits

Obama to visit Denver school

President Obama will make a metro-area visit next Tuesday and likely will tour a Denver school, several sources have told Education News Colorado.

The visit is part of the president’s campaign to promote his $447 billion jobs proposal. Read more at EdNews Colorado.

NCLB waivers in works

President Obama today unveiled a sweeping plan to give states the flexibility they have been clamoring for under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education law.

“The goals behind No Child Left Behind were admirable … but experience has taught us that in its implementation, [it] had some serious flaws that are hurting our children,” the president said in a White House speech, flanked by students, principals, state education leaders, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Read more in the Christian Science Monitor.

School staffing cuts not as deep as originally thought

The Thompson School District has rehired nearly one-third of the teachers laid off at the end of last school year.

The district eliminated 95 licensed staff members, including teachers, counselors and instructional coaches, who were in their first or second year with the district. Read more in the Loveland Reporter-Herald.

500 Poudre H.S. freshmen get laptops

Freshmen at Poudre High School are receiving laptops today as part of Poudre School District’s technology initiative. Read more in the Coloradoan.

Polis legislation aims to boost K-12 computer science education

Advanced placement computer science students sit on one side of Anthony Jiron’s classroom at Boulder High.

On the other are C++ programming students in an honors-level course. Jiron teaches the two courses simultaneously. Combining the classes this year was a creative way for Boulder High to save the low-enrollment computer courses from being nixed. Read more in the Daily Camera.

Early achievers losing ground, study finds

A new study finds that many high-performing students lose ground from elementary to middle school and from middle school to high school, and the authors ask what that means for America’s role as a world leader in innovation. Read more in EdWeek.

Changing rules on educator effectiveness

Rocky Mountain PBS and Education News Colorado hosted a lively panel discussion Friday on the state’s new educator effectiveness law, which will dramatically change how Colorado teachers and principals are assessed. Read more at EdNews Colorado.

In classroom of future, stagnant scores

CHANDLER, Ariz. — Amy Furman, a seventh-grade English teacher here, roams among 31 students sitting at their desks or in clumps on the floor. They’re studying Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” — but not in any traditional way. Read more in the New York Times.

Astronaut, children connect across thousands of miles

BOULDER – Tuesday was a day some children in Boulder will not likely forget anytime soon.

They gathered at the University of Colorado’s Fiske Planetarium for a special conversation. They got the chance to talk with astronaut Mike Fossum. But he wasn’t there in person, he talked to them from the International Space Station as it orbited the planet. Check out this 9NEWS report.

Aurora high school named expeditionary mentor school

William Smith High School has been designated an Expeditionary Learning Mentor School for the 2011-2012 academic year. The award recognizes William Smith High School as one of the top performing schools in Expeditionary Learning’s national network of 165 schools in 30 states. William Smith High School consistently exceeds district averages on all standard measures, including ACT and CSAP achievement and growth.

Scott Hartl, President and CEO of Expeditionary Learning, noted that “Expeditionary Learning’s Mentor Schools stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the highest performing schools in the nation because of their students’ academic achievement, college readiness skills and deep engagement in learning. They will be an invaluable resource for our entire network.”

As an Expeditionary Learning Mentor School, William Smith High School will host professional residencies, showcase best practices and play an active role in bringing all EL schools to the same high level of performance.

“We’re excited to join Expeditionary Learning’s national network of high achieving schools and contribute our voices to the dialogue on educational reform, both here locally and nationally,” said William Smith High School Principal Jane Shirley.

Expeditionary Learning partners with school districts and charter boards to open new schools and transform existing schools at all levels, preK-12, and in all settings – urban, rural, and suburban. The EL model challenges students to think critically and to take active roles in their classrooms and communities, resulting in higher achievement, greater engagement with school, and college readiness. The national network of EL schools and professional colleagues includes 165 schools, 4,000 teachers, and 45,000 students.

Denver teachers pen 13 biographies to fill gaps in Colo. history

Teachers struggled for years to find books on local historical figures written for young students.

After three years of work, nine Denver Public Schools teachers have published 13 biographies to help third- and fourth-graders connect with Colorado’s distant past. Read more in the Denver Post.

First Person

‘I didn’t feel like I had anyone to ask for support’: Why it matters to have teachers who look like me

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

For 10 years — the first decade I was in school — all my teachers were white women.

As a Mexican-American kid, I didn’t get the chance to have a man of color as a teacher until high school. Going into my senior year, I like how diverse my teachers are now, but I wish I’d had the same experience when I was younger.

When I think about why it matters to have a teacher I can relate to, I think back to fifth grade. A classmate said to me, “Mexicans are illegal—they cross the border every day! How about you, did you cross the border?” This bothered me. So, after class, I asked the teacher for help. But all she said was, “That’s OK, he was just playing.” From there, I had nowhere to go. She was at the top of the food chain.

In 1990, before they met, my mother and father came over the border from Mexico. My mom’s parents weren’t making enough profit from their cattle ranch, so they had little choice but to immigrate. My mom came with them to the United States and worked at a restaurant so she could send money back home. My father followed his older brother here because he wanted to start a new life. Little did he know he would one day cross paths with my mother and eventually start a family.

But my classmate was “just playing” when he insulted all of this. I wish my teacher had done something else.

If I’d been the teacher, I would’ve taken a different approach and worked to understand why we were acting and responding the way we were. Maybe the other student and I could’ve found common ground. But, unfortunately, we never had a chance to try.

Up until ninth grade, I had zero male teachers of color. I didn’t feel like I had anyone to ask for support when things like the fifth-grade incident happened. Many of us students felt that way — and that’s why I want to be a teacher, a fifth-grade teacher in particular. I want to make my culture an asset in the classroom and be a teacher students feel comfortable confiding in, no matter their background.

A teacher’s perspective: Cut from the same cloth: Why it matters that black male teachers like me aren’t alone in our schools

In middle school, I started seeing more male educators, but they were all white. Then, when it came time for me to start high school, I ended up going to school in a different neighborhood — an hour commute away—and things finally changed for me. Since starting high school, I’ve had six male teachers of color, and it’s made a huge difference.

My high school makes a big deal out of the whole “building relationships” thing. To my teachers and everyone else at the school, relationships are just as important as academics. At first, it was hard to get used to, but eventually it started making sense to me. I’m in an all-male mentorship group led by two African-American men who openly share about their struggles growing up in New York, and give us advice in any area of life — including what it means to appreciate our cultures. This is one of the things I like most about my school.

It’s hard to explain the way it feels to have a teacher who looks like you; they’re like older brothers who become a huge part of our lives, even if it’s just for four years. They make it easier to connect and socialize and help me feel more like I belong. To me, learning from someone who reflects who you are is one of the best things a student can experience.

Near the end of the school year, my mentorship group did an activity where we took turns getting asked questions by other students and staff. One of the mentors asked me, “What’s it like being Mexican American and how has your background influenced your goals?” No one had ever asked me that before, and it took a long time for me to process the question.

After a few moments, I spoke a bit about my family’s story and shared some of the stereotypes I had encountered and how they affect me today. Everyone was so supportive, and the mentors encouraged me to continue breaking stereotypes and defining myself rather than letting others define me.

It was nerve-wracking at first, telling my story in that group, but after three years of high school, we’d developed that level of trust. It was the first time I’d shared my story with that many people at once, but it felt intimate and very different from the time in fifth grade when that kid tried to tell my story for me.

Finally having teachers that look like me has made a huge difference. They don’t just mentor me and help me with my academics, they also make my goal of becoming a teacher seem more realistic.

Having men of color I can look up to and model myself after is a big part of why I have no doubt I’ll make it to college — and eventually be able to give other kids the type of help my mentors have given me. I know where I’m needed, and that’s where I’m headed.

Jose Romero is a senior at EPIC High School North in Queens, New York. This piece originally appeared on the blog of TNTP, a national nonprofit and advocacy group that trains new teachers.

First Person

A Queens teacher on Charlottesville: ‘It can’t just be teachers of color’ offering lessons on race

PHOTO: Bob Mical/Creative Commons

In a few short weeks, school will resume in New York and I’m already thinking about how we are going to address racism within the four walls of my classroom. I’m thinking about what texts, historical and current, we can read and films and documentaries we can watch to support dialogue, questioning, and solutions for combatting that ugly, pervasive thread in the fabric of our country’s patchwork quilt called racism.

Last year we read “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” a former slave turned abolitionist, and juxtaposed its reading with a viewing of Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13th,” which discusses modern-day slavery in the guise of mass incarceration. Students asked questions of the documentary as they watched it and discussed those queries within their groups and with the class at large afterwards.

We do our children and ourselves a disservice when we don’t have these difficult conversations as a part of our collective curriculums. However, many teachers from various walks of life are neither well-versed nor fully comfortable discussing race on any level with their students. Not talking about racism won’t make it go away. If anything, not talking about racism in the classroom further perpetuates racist ideologies that are, at their root, born out of ignorance. Education’s goal is to dispel ignorance and replace it with truth.

With that being said, just how many teachers feel equipped to facilitate lessons that touch heavily upon race in the classroom? Not nearly enough.

According to Teaching Tolerance, “The dialogue about race should start in the classroom — the teacher-prep classroom, that is. Preservice teachers should be exploring multiculturalism and discussing ways to honor diversity in their future classrooms.”

But often, Hilton Kelly, a professor of education at Davidson College in North Carolina told the site, the coursework isn’t giving future teachers the training they need to talk about race. “Even when future teachers take courses on diversity and multiculturalism,” Kelly said, “those courses don’t take the critical approach to race that future teachers truly need.”

“Food, folklore and festivals are not the same as an analysis of race in America,” Kelly argued.

But an analysis of race in America is exactly what needs to happen. Furthermore, it can’t just be teachers of color solely facilitating such lessons in their classrooms.

I don’t want to write about the events going on in Virginia. I don’t want to think about it. I’m so tired of the hatred and I long for peace, but I can’t very well in good conscience remain silent. That would be akin to protesting with those hate-mongers in Virginia last weekend. I can’t just write about back-to-school shopping, lesson planning, and business-as-usual while my brothers and sisters in Virginia are being murdered in cold blood by white supremacist American Nazis.

Are the children of Virginia safe? Are our children anywhere safe? What can I do to make a difference within the hearts and minds of the children whom I teach? If education is our best vehicle for bringing about change — which it is— how am I going to infuse the lessons I teach with critical thinking and analysis about racism in the United States for the seventh-graders entrusted in my care? How are other educators planning to address these events with their students at every grade-level?

I pose these questions to all who are reading. Whether you are a teacher, a student, a parent, an administrator, or a community member, I plead with you to work together to create answers that work toward healthy conversations and hands-on action in the fight against racism.

Vivett Dukes is a teacher at Queens Collegiate: A College Board School. A version of this post first appeared on New York School Talk