We tell small children that it is okay to make mistakes. We are told to forgive and forget. But our country doesn’t hold to these adages for those convicted of a crime. The revolving door of incarceration and juvenile justice has ensnared many of my students. It’s a hamster wheel that proves very hard to get off of. Poverty, crime, and violence are inextricably linked in the worlds of my students. In the county-wide consortium high school program where I currently teach, the students are all considered 100% at-risk in a multitude of categories – high-poverty, homeless, court-involved, frequently absent, working moms at 17, pregnant, expelled, etc. To address our students’ intense needs, our high school uses intentional strategies rooted in improving social-emotional learning to provide a better foundation for student success. We use trust, relationships, and character-building to provide stability and support for these students who have suffered trauma and often turn to crime to cope or survive.
“Our kids need an education that is reflective of them, that challenges them, and helps them to better understand who they are in the world.”
Last April, I was able to take advantage of an opportunity to explore this powerful idea. My team and I were able to travel to New Orleans to attend a Teach to Lead Summit. Our hope was to bring the perspectives and ideas we have on education from our various sites (Denver, Rochester, Boston, Baltimore) and turn them into well…something. Not only did the summit allow us two days to work on and develop how to address our idea for culturally responsive instruction and emancipatory pedagogy, it also gave us time to come together and create something not only professionally but personally.
June 28, 2016, Day 2 Facebook recap: “We woke up early and went on a bird walk at 6am, spotting different species of hummingbirds, black King Vultures, and peculiar plants. Students collected the guano from their bat poop tarps from day 1 and got to analyze and learn about the seeds bats help disperse. We then walked across the suspension bridge to a site along the Serapiquí River to collect water and animal samples to determine the health of the river. Which was great since after lunch we went white-water rafting!
When I signed up for the Army, it was not a popular time to serve our country in the military. People who understood what it meant to serve congratulated me, while others thought I was making a big mistake, or worse, ridiculed me because of Vietnam, but I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my father and grandfathers before me. I ended up working in security and some hours as a physical activities specialist, which involved physical fitness and sports for the unit. I felt that I was fulfilling two desires at that time – serve as my family had and to earn the GI bill for my education.
My first year as a principal I wanted a great school, and I wanted it immediately.
I remember feeling that pit in my stomach, reminding me that every child and parent was depending on me to deliver the best educational experience possible. I remember including in the parent newsletter ways for parents to engage their children in conversation about school. I was asking my parents to have their children rate their experiences at school because I knew the children would be honest, maybe brutally honest. I was that principal who wanted to know the good, the bad, and the ugly so that we could always strive towards being the best! What I realized, after my whirlwind tour of trying to make a school great, is that the “WE” must be built within the culture of the staff—not just the principal.
I also learned that a principal’s leadership does not change a school overnight.
Over the course of my teaching career, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what to teach next. Lesson planning is a constant internal monologue: What’s next? What’s important for my students now? Where do we go after that? In the early days of my career, I was obsessed with what I perceived my students were lacking. They couldn’t spell. They couldn’t punctuate. They can’t. They won’t. They don’t. As an educator, it is all too easy to fall into that trap.
When I was obsessed with what I perceived my students weren’t able to do, I was also making rash and frustrated decisions about what was most important to teach them next. But what is important to teach our students? The case can be made that all subject areas are important, but students often lack the educational opportunities to put their learning from these subject areas to work in the real world.
I was a fairly mediocre teacher when I first started. Sometimes I look back on my first few years and wonder why my students didn’t walk out on me. My old slides look atrocious; my handouts were too wordy; my instruction was completely teacher centered: me talking, me explaining, me doing some weird dance.
There were some long, sad, doubt-filled nights my first few years of teaching. I thought frequently about moving into law. For the first several years of my career, every spring, I would thumb through an LSAT prep book and browse law school catalogues. It wasn’t until my seventh year that I didn’t get that “ritual spring itch.” That’s when I knew I had hit my stride.
As we celebrate World Teachers Day 2016, I want to thank my teaching colleagues around the world for daring to take on this extraordinary profession, for spending long hours honing a unique set of skills, for teaching generations to come how to mine their own capacities and for helping our young people forge a stronger, more resilient and problem-solving oriented world community.
As I look back on the years I spent teaching in the tribal lands of Zuni, New Mexico, in a rural schoolhouse in Brazil, in an overcrowded classroom in Egypt, at a central university in Jordan, and at an international school in Italy, I am awed by the degree of untapped resourcefulness that all my students possess. Despite the vastly diverse cultural backgrounds, economic classes, and social circumstances within which we teach, there is a common, extraordinary set of skills teachers must employ to draw out this resourcefulness and help develop a resilient, solution-oriented child.
I’m new to teaching and have recently earned my master’s in education. I just started to implement the strategies I learned during student teaching in my own classroom. Getting to start from scratch is very exciting, but also a little intimidating. I am finally moving from wondering how I would make my classroom look, how I would start each class, how I would run each class, and how I would teach the curriculum, to actually putting it all into practice.
I’ve always asked a lot of questions and welcomed advice from others, but sometimes other teachers don’t have the time to take out of their day to provide guidance. Every teacher is so busy — balancing life and work; in fact, I don’t know a teacher who works only 40 hours a week. However, somehow I was lucky enough to find myself not only in a great school, but in a fantastic math department, with the best mentor I could ask for.
As a social studies teacher, I’m always excited to teach students about their legal rights, our political system and how they can become engaged citizens. However, that excitement kicks up a notch during a presidential election year because I’m reminded of the importance of teaching students how to become engaged citizens. As a social studies teacher, it’s up to me to set the foundation for my students so they will be able to engage productively.
Each year around Constitution Day (September 17), the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania releases data showcasing some Americans’ limited understanding of civics and government. Two alarming statistics from their most recent study: three-quarters of respondents could not name all three branches of government, and thirty-one percent of respondents could not name one branch. This data provides a yearly reminder about how important it is for me to arm my students with this knowledge so they can become informed citizens who don’t end up as one of those statistics.
Secretary King and senior officials got on the bus and went back to school this week during #OpportunityTour, which visited exemplary PK-12 schools and institutions of higher education and celebrated local ideas and initiatives across several southern states, including Alabama. This week’s edition of Voice from the Classroom brings us perspective from the 2008 Alabama Teacher of the Year, Dr. Pamela Harman.
After teaching for more than 20 years, I can say that everything about a new school year is exciting (except maybe having to wear shoes).
When I was a new teacher, the beginning of the school year intimidated me. I was nervous about both my content knowledge and my pedagogy. So my goals for the year focused on improving my practice and strengthening my teaching skills. I worked to deepen my science content knowledge, and I developed a repertoire of instructional skills and habits of mind necessary to promote my students’ success and capacity for life-long learning. It was difficult for me to push students’ learning because I was still honing the skills I needed to teach and evaluate it.
Acrylic paint, sidewalk chalk, and calligraphy pens are staples of my English class. These items, along with reciting poetry and acting out scenes from plays allow my students to communicate through a variety of mediums, and to integrate their creative capabilities into their everyday learning.
In 2001, I walked into my 6th grade classroom ready to share my love of reading and writing. However, I soon discovered that my students were in need of much more than an enthusiastic teacher with an English degree. I needed to engage them and make them want to learn.
My students that year struggled with the basics of reading and writing. Many had already decided that they hated school, and could already be labeled as chronic absentees. Instead of teaching Shakespeare, I was struggling to keep students engaged. I too struggled that year. It took a few months, but The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster was the gateway into exploring the arts. We broke the story into parts and acted it out, we made 3D models and we wrote poems as the main character. It was a start.