* Teaching While Black

black teacherI assume you’ve heard of DWB (Driving While Black), so here’s my take on Teaching While Black (TWB).  I have worked with a number of black teachers, some very closely, and have these observations:

1.  TWB can create a heavy and unnatural burden.  Black teachers are often viewed as THE representative of their race in a way that whites are not.   I have never been considered representative of special education teachers at any age or in any position; there has never been a single “representative” special education teacher.  But I have heard about many “representative” black teachers.  They are emotionally demonstrative, talented singers and dancers, fashionistas, poorly organized, weak writers, and strong disciplinarians.  “All” black teachers is no more a legitimate characterization than “all” white teachers.  There is substantial variation between teachers, regardless of race.

2.  TWB can be hazardous to your health.  One commonality I have noted is the unique stress of being a black teacher.  I’ve seen black teachers criticized for using music and the arts in their classrooms (both of which are highly brain-friendly techniques), with unfounded complaints that these teachers were too loud.  I’ve witnessed harassment of black teachers through frequent and unprofessional observations, parent emails to administrators, and especially, social isolation by that teacher’s grade level colleagues.  For example, in order to serve a student, I was in a black teacher’s class for considerable portions of the day, announced and unannounced.  During that time, I had a good sense of her relationships with kids and her teaching techniques.  My student with high functioning autism had not been better educated in his previous three years at the school.  That teacher left after one year, when a parent started complaining that the teacher was yelling at the kids.  The criticism was completely unfounded, but that teacher was already feeling isolated and stressed, so it wasn’t worth fighting another battle.

3.  TWB can be a demeaning and humiliating experience.  A black teacher arrived early for a workshop being held in a neighboring classroom.  The presenter instantly assumed this teacher was a custodian and expected her help with setting up chairs, along with a directive that the snacks were for participants only.  A newly hired black teacher walked into her classroom and her white assistant addressed her as a custodian, indicating that she was waiting for the “real” teacher to arrive.  As one black teacher has observed, “where you see trash and poop being handled, there you will see a black face.”  Based on a single remark to an administrator, I know of numerous black teachers who were subjected to intense, undeserved scrutiny and accusation.  That would be highly atypical in my experience as a white teacher.

4. TWB can create a uniquely cruel isolation.  I referred above to this social segregation of black teachers.  I have seen black teachers shunned because they were successful.  I have seen black teachers shunned because they were “different.”  I have seen black teachers shunned because they voiced their opinion.  I have seen black teachers shunned for talking about race.  I have seen black teachers criticized for talking to other black teachers.  I have seen black teachers criticized because they have chosen black assistants.  Oh, no!  Two black women in one room!

So if we treat black professionals this way, how do we treat black kids?  Your thoughts?

* 10 Things Experienced Teachers Want New Teachers to Know

The link on Not-Miss Beadle’s site is really super: 10 things experienced teachers want new teachers to know.

I'm Not Miss Beadle

I was playing with a new app called Smart News when I came across this article. I thought of Enthusiastic Intern, thus making a Text to Self connection. Hopefully you’ll find it interesting as well.
http://mashable.com/2014/10/04/advice-for-new-teachers/Advice for New Teachers

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* Checking Out in the Middle Grades

Here’s a parent’s perspective on homework (his kids are “typical” learners, not special education).

Taste of Tech

It was fifth grade when my daughter decided that she didn’t like school. It was her first year in an intermediate school. In our community, learners go to the same primary school for grades K-4, and then switch to an intermediate school for 5-6 before moving on to middle school (7-8) and high school (9-12). It’s the intermediate school where things tend to change. We have similar challenges in the school district in which I work, where students attend intermediate school in grades 4-5. Both students and parents tend to experience a sense of disillusionment at this level. 9557767183_fd5cc9fb1b_zIt’s an age where students are becoming increasingly independent. In many schools, they switch classes for the first time. They’re expected to keep track of assignments and due dates more than they did in the past. They have lockers and study hall and more freedom and more accountability. But at the same time…

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* Brain-based assessment: journal writing and 2e students

In her book, The Brain-Targeted Teaching Model for 21st-Century Schools, Mariale Hardiman draws upon research to emphasize the benefits of journal writing as both assessment and a means of improving student learning, especially in eliciting meta-cognition.  Through reflection-based journal writing, students are free to consider what they have learned and its applications and personal connections to their lives.  For typical learners, this is an exemplary means of encouraging students to deepen their awareness of the material while providing teachers insight into students’ understanding.  It can create an important dialog about past instruction and guide future lessons.brain-targeted teaching model

But what about the twice exceptional (2e) student with reading/writing difficulties?  The teacher may be shocked that this kid, who made remarkable applications of the material during group discussions, seems to have a weak grasp of both the journal assignment AND the underlying concepts.  The 2e student has written three brief statements that only summarize content.  There’s no written evidence that this kid has any higher understanding of the material.  It would be fairly easy for the teacher to “forget” the stimulating verbal discussions in the light of this skimpy journal response.  Or the teacher may conclude that the student is not applying himself, for some reason, and could spend time trying to motivate the student “to do your best.”  Over time, the student may even stop participating in those once-engaging discussions.

What is happening here?  The 2e student is being asked to share his complex ideas, the type of analytical thinking he most enjoys, in a form which creates frustration and reinforces feelings of stupidity. The reason for his growing disinterest in those stimulating discussions?  He is readying himself, with increasing levels of anxiety, for the time he must translate complex ideas and “long” words into written text.  Eventually, he may reason, it would be better not to share those ideas for which he is now accountable to produce in writing.  Even seasoned teachers can be perplexed at the disparity which characterizes twice exceptional kids, those gifted students who also have a learning disability.

The good news?  In this digital era, there are alternate ways of capturing a student’s voice and supporting meta-cognition without paper and pencil.  Using a webcam or an application that allows students to record their thoughts and add images (such as VoiceThread, see note below), the 2e student can successfully share his or her superior reasoning and creative thoughts.  Digital portfolios have been used for many years now, with the advantage of being easily stored, portable, and readily shared with families.  As with any form of communication, students need assistance in using digital recording effectively.  I have found that they are initially distracted by their onscreen image, but once allowed time to produce every silly expression and wacky voice imaginable, they will use digital recordings seriously and effectively.  Depending upon available computer resources, digital journals could be an option for all students in a class.

Note:  I will share my experiences with VoiceThread in a later post.

* Survival Tip #8 Allow extra time when cooking for 100

pancakesThat goes without saying, right?  Why would I cook breakfast for a hundred kids, anyway?  It was the for Breakfast Club, of course.  I adored the kids who ate breakfast there every morning, so I wanted to do something extra special for them.  Just before our winter break, I asked the kids what they would like me to cook.  Pancakes, bacon, and hot chocolate were unanimous favorites (and I brought cereal and milk, plus juice).  I sent an email to my colleagues asking for loaner electric skillets.  My plan was to hook up 4 electric skillets (having cooked the bacon at home) and heat gallons of delicious hot chocolate on a hot plate.  While I cooked, the two ladies who worked with me would get kids in a line, helping the younger kids carry their plates.  I don’t know who was more excited, me or the older kiddos, when I told them they could have as much as they could eat.

I donned my apron, whipped up huge bowls of batter, and started cooking.  The kids arrived eager and hungry.  They had also advertised the event for me (uh-oh), so we had a line that stretched past the doors of the cafeteria.  My long-suffering helpers remarked that I would have to cook faster so kids wouldn’t be late for class.  I flipped and whipped and splattered as fast as I could.  It was a little tricky to reach all 4 skillets because those things have cords about 3 feet long.  I found myself hopping over cords and slipping on the floor, which was quickly coated with batter.  We hadn’t even gotten through the first round when the bell rang.  How on earth did the cafeteria ladies feed everyone on time?  The kids looked anxious. “Don’t worry,” I told them.  “I’ll give your teacher a note.” (Fortunately we had “late bus slips” that I could jot on.)  It was a relief when we were on to seconds.  By that time, the tardy bell had long since rung, so I jotted notes to teachers, my hands covered with batter, while I flipped at a frenetic pace.  My helpers started rushing thirds to the tables, which was about the time that I fried the electrical circuits.  I had noticed that the pancakes were looking rather anemic, but they were not soggy.  Kids looked at these albino pancakes with suspicion and helped themselves to more bacon.  By now, my helpers were frantic, I discovered that we had no power, and the remaining kids departed.  It took us almost an hour to clean up.  For the next breakfast (which the kids begged for continually), I had an extensive network of extension cords that used a bunch of different circuits, along with “tardy” notes for each kid and an email to all teachers.  I prepared cinnamon rolls at home- and discovered that scrambled eggs don’t get away from you as easily as pancake batter.

* Follow up to “So this happened today”

I love this post “So this happened today” and the wonderful opportunity it provides for a discussion of school climate.  The teacher shared a thoughtful observation of two kindergartners in distress and is wondering why the kids in her school seem so angry.        I have three hypotheses:

1.  Stress caused by academic overload.  I have seen this occur in the lower grades, especially kindergarten, when a school district increased the academic demands in reading.  For the majority of students, it was no big deal because they were already beginning readers.  Kids who came to school without knowing the alphabet and letter-sound associations basically had one report card period to get on board.  They were doomed from the start.  The reading train was moving forward and they were not even at the station.  Most of those kids felt stupid.  Those strong feelings manifested themselves in aggressive play at recess and disruptive behavior during reading and writing.

2.  Ineffective community building and behavior management.  Teachers play a crucial role in establishing norms for their classes.  Effective teachers are able to build a sense of community, despite variations in student ability levels.  Through modeling, discussion, explicit instruction, and class meetings, teachers can help kids pull together.  The use of cooperative projects, where each member has an important role, is another tool to use.  Making sure that all voices are heard is another.  Cognitive empathy is a powerful tool for engaging students.  Behavior management includes all of the above, plus consistency, structure, fairness, and motivation. Every aspect of behavior management is too broad to go into here, but I would love to ask the teacher who just posted to observe some other classes.  She has a good eye and may be able to point out some unhealthy classroom dynamics, as well as those practices which are effective.

3.  Cultural divides.  Does this school reflect and accept ALL its students?  Nationally, most teachers are white females (like me), which means we have to work harder to step outside our preconceptions and prejudices.  We have to match other cultural values by restructuring class interactions and instruction.  We know “our” way of doing life.  Now, what is their way?  How is it similar and how does it vary?  There are many resources on cultural proficiency available to educators.  One of my favorites is “How to Teach Kids Who Don’t Look Like You” by Bonnie M. Davis.

4.  A combination of the above.  Perhaps the problem is a critical mass issue of the above three hypotheses.  Exploring this through school-wide discussions may be helpful as long as the emphasis is upon finding solutions, not finger pointing.  Encouraging parental input (especially related to “cultural divide”), providing additional intervention in reading, and teachers spending more time observing one another could be effective.

Do you have any other hypotheses?  What would you suggest?

* Grateful for small mercies

To respond to the Daily Post’s prompt: How often do you get to (or have to) be awake for sunrise? Tell us about what happened the last time you were up so early (or late…).

I was a teacher in a district where elementary kids were standing at bus stops in the dark during the winter months.  I had the bittersweet pleasure of watching the sun rise next to the school roof.  Sometimes, as the sky was transformed into glowing colors, my heart was also transformed.  My grouchiness about rising so very early was exchanged for gratitude: I get to see the dawning of a new day! I get to see lives changed! I get to spend my days doing what I love!   Other days, I clung to my whining complaints and only shed them when I saw the kids walking or running into school, their faces as bright and beautiful as the dawn.