First Person

Words of wisdom for teachers from around the web

What does Tim Duncan have to do with teaching? Jose Vilson says it's all about the poker face.
What does NBA player Tim Duncan have to do with teaching? ##http://thejosevilson.com/blog/2008/08/05/a-letter-to-a-new-nyc-teaching-fellow/##It's all about the poker face, says Jose Vilson.##

The start of school is fast-approaching, and teachers around the “edusphere” are offering advice to newbies.

Here in NYC, Jose Vilson writes a sharp, good-humored letter to new Teaching Fellows, advising them to be humble, reflect on their strengths and weaknesses, observe other teachers, keep emotions in check, and stay out of school politics.

Coach Brown, starting his eighth year in California, says it’s all about doing what’s best for kids, and this takes hard work, preparation, finding your own style of teaching, and knowing how to pick your battles. Don’t waste your students’ time, he warns:

Students are some of the best judges of good teaching that exist. 95% of all students actually want to learn. They tell you in means that are not typical but will tell you immediately if you are doing it “wrong”. …However, students will always have a positive response to work they find meaningful.

Jamie Huston, a high school literature teacher in Las Vegas, offers 50 Things New Teachers Need to Know. We hear a lot about having high expectations and being “tough, but fair,” but Huston’s got some of the nuts and bolts of how he does this in his classroom:

If a student submits work that is illegible, incomplete, or that didn’t follow directions, don’t grade it. Return it to the student and tell them that they have three days to correct/finish it and resubmit it to you, but emphasize that it’s “on them.”

Set high standards, but keep focused on what really matters, Huston writes:

If you’re teaching punctuality, or if you simply want to lessen your load of papers to grade, don’t accept late work. However, if your priority is educating students about the content of your field, then you must learn to deal with it. Of course you’ll only accept it one day late, and for half credit, but even then you should be willing to make exceptions.

High school teacher Ms. Cornelius reposts her 2006 round-up, with lots of good tips for classroom management, parent contact, and keeping supplies in order, and possibly the single most important principle for anyone starting out in the classroom:

Never threaten a consequence to a student unless you are actually willing to follow through with it. This is vital in making your life easier for the rest of the year. You must be a person of your word.

Ms. Cornelius adds tips for staying healthy in a stressful, germ-ridden teaching environment.

Teacher Magazine offers tips in several articles.

Hit the floor running and breathe when you leave,” writes North Carolina Teacher of the Year Cindi Rigsbee, advising teachers to arrive early and stay late to prepare, but to take time for themselves at home.

Coleen Armstrong, a writer and award-winning teacher, answers questions from new and experienced teachers alike about preparing for the school year (part 1, part 2). Topics range from helping ADD/ADHD students settle into the classroom, to moving from an elementary to a middle school position, to what to do when staff members gossip about the administration.

Finally, 22-year-veteran Jane Fung offers an overview of what to do and what to ask when you get that first set of classroom keys.

If you’re a new teacher, you’re probably overwhelmed with advice right now. Here’s mine: skim these articles with an eye on first-week ideas. Then bookmark this post and come back to it in a month, when you’ll have a much better sense of what you need to know. Good luck!

First Person

I’m a black male teen in Aurora, and I see how ‘achievement gap’ forms

The author, Ayden Clayton.

Have you ever heard of the achievement gap? Every column, blog or article that I’ve read on this topic has never come from a African-American, let alone an African-American male.

Here is a voice that should be heard: mine.

Recent research from Stanford showed that African-Americans come in behind other students on standardized tests and enrollment in honors to AP and college classes. This is very important because the gap is also prevalent at Rangeview High School in Aurora, where I am a senior.

There really is a problem. Look at the facts: 25.8 percent of African Americans are in poverty according to Census information published in 2013. The problem is how their lives at home are affecting classroom behavior or attention in class. This goes for all races, but the trend is that many of the students with families living in poverty drop out of high school.

“I believe the achievement gap is a multi-level problem in the education system,” English teacher Mr. Jordan Carter, who works at Rangeview and is a mixed minority, told me. “The hardest thing about it is telling people it is a significant problem. We can solve it by devoting time and resources to find the problem and we need to address kids from all backgrounds. Kids with better resources usually do better.”

I see other problems, too. As a student at Rangeview, I’ve been in numerous AP, honors and CCA classes (college courses) throughout my high school career. What I really have noticed were the underprivileged kids being treated differently, almost like the teachers thought of them as troublemakers without even knowing them.

I’ve had many teachers stereotype me about drugs, hip-hop, if I have a dad and more, and it made me pretty uncomfortable to the point where I didn’t want to go to the class. I feel that when issues such as these that occur in the classroom, it makes students of color not want to focus, and teachers could probably use better training on how to teach kids that do not look like them.

Those students would continuously sit in the back of classes, wouldn’t raise their hand, and wouldn’t ask questions. I used to be one of them. It’s not because the urge to not learn, but the discomfort of the setting in the classroom. When you get looked at and thought of like that, you don’t feel welcomed.

It is becoming evident that Rangeview is in need of a serious sit-down with some of our staff, such as the principal, teachers and all administrators. That way, students can see where their minds are and how they are trying to deal with the way they feel about fair conditions in the classroom.

The administrators should also talk to students – particularly minority students – about our wants and needs so we as students can have some input. For the students who are struggling, it would be great to have counselors talk to them and find a way that would help the students improve their academic careers, such as tutoring or staying after school.

I have faced the stereotype of being another dropout who is eventually going to jail, but I use that as inspiration every day. I know that all African-American males and females can make a change by letting our voice be heard.

Although I haven’t been through as much as other African-American students, I’ve been through enough to have my opinion matter. We — as minorities — can also take responsibility to change this problem by staying in school and voting into our government people who will fund impoverished areas.

As a community we need to fight stereotypes together. We either defeat stereotypes together or become the stereotypes ourselves.

Ayden Clayton is a senior at Rangeview High School. This piece first appeared in the Rangeview Raider Review.

First Person

Why the phrase ‘with fidelity’ is an affront to good teaching

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

“With fidelity” are some of the most damaging words in education.

Districts spend a ton of money paying people to pick out massively expensive, packaged curriculums, as if every one of a thousand classrooms needs the exact same things. Then officials say, over and over again, that they must be implemented “with fidelity.” What they mean is that teachers better not do anything that would serve their students’ specific needs.

When that curriculum does nothing to increase student achievement, it is not blamed. The district person who found it and purchased it is never blamed. Nope. They say, “Well, the teachers must not have been implementing it with fidelity.”

It keeps happening because admitting that schools are messy and students are human and teaching is both creative and artistic would also mean you have to trust teachers and let them have some power. Also, there are some really crappy teachers out there, and programs for everyone are often meant to push that worst-case-scenario line a little higher.

And if everyone’s doing just what they’re supposed to, we’ll get such good, clean numbers, and isn’t that worth a few thousand more dollars?

I was talking with a friend recently, a teacher at an urban school on the East Coast. He had been called to task by his principal for splitting his kids into groups to offer differentiated math instruction based on students’ needs. “But,” the principal said, “did the pacing guide say to differentiate? You need to trust the system.”

I understand the desire to find out if a curriculum “works.” But I don’t trust anyone who can say “trust the system” without vomiting. Not when the system is so much worse than anything teachers would put together.

Last year, my old district implemented Reading Plus, an online reading program that forces students to read at a pace determined by their scores. The trainers promised, literally promised us, that there wasn’t a single reading selection anywhere in the program that could be considered offensive to anyone. God knows I never learned anything from a book that made me feel uncomfortable!

Oh, and students were supposed to use this program — forced-paced reading of benign material followed by multiple-choice questions and more forced-pace reading — for 90 minutes a week. We heard a lot about fidelity when the program did almost nothing for students (and, I believe quite strongly, did far worse than encouraging independent reading of high-interest books for 90 minutes a week would have done).

At the end of that year, I was handed copies of next year’s great adventure in fidelity. I’m not in that district any longer, but the whole district was all switching over to SpringBoard, another curriculum, in language arts classes. On came the emails about implementing with fidelity and getting everyone on the same page. We were promised flexibility, you know, so long as we also stuck to the pacing guide of the workbook.

I gave it a look, I did, because only idiots turn down potential tools. But man, it seemed custom-built to keep thinking — especially any creative, critical thought from either students or teachers — to a bare minimum.

I just got an email from two students from last year. They said hi, told me they missed creative writing class, and said they hated SpringBoard, the “evil twin of Reading Plus.”

That district ran out of money and had to cut teachers (including me) at the end of the year. But if they hadn’t, I don’t think I would have lasted long if forced to teach from a pacing guide. I’m a good teacher. Good teachers love to be challenged and supported. They take feedback well, but man do we hate mandates for stuff we know isn’t best for the kids in our room.

Because, from inside a classroom full of dynamic, chaotic brilliance;

from a classroom where that kid just shared that thing that broke all of our hearts;

from a classroom where that other kid figured out that idea they’ve been working on for weeks;

from that classroom where that other kid, who doesn’t know enough of the language, hides how hard he works to keep up and still misses things;

and from that classroom where one kid isn’t sure if they trust you yet, and that other kid trusts you too much, too easily, because their bar had been set too low after years of teachers that didn’t care enough;

from inside that classroom, it’s impossible to trust that anyone else has a better idea than I do about what my students need to do for our next 50 minutes.

Tom Rademacher is a teacher living in Minneapolis who was named Minnesota’s Teacher of the Year in 2014. His book, “It Won’t Be Easy: An Exceedingly Honest (and Slightly Unprofessional) Love Letter to Teaching,” was published in April. He can be found on Twitter @mrtomrad and writes on misterrad.tumblr.com, where this post first appeared.