Teaching Protests in the Classroom

The following piece was submitted by Casie Jones.

As an educator, I always want to bring what we call the “real world” into the classroom to build student awareness of self and knowledge beyond just the local community. This was especially true in the context of my classroom at an alternative high school in which many students did not even know the world beyond their own neighborhood. I taught from the desire to help my marginalized students see the greater opportunities that they had and not to be bound by the limitations they assumed society placed on the them—sort of that “rise above” concept. As a white woman, this felt like a genuine way for me to contribute to the betterment of their lives as minorities. But in light of the recent surge in protests, self-reflection revealed that this pedagogical philosophy requires an immediate revision. A scroll through my newsfeed on a popular social media site shows several posts regarding teaching students about protests, yet I feel compelled to add another perspective despite how controversial it may seem.

Even 60 years after the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King is hailed as a hero for his non-violent approach to protesting racial segregation and inequality, but, though credit is given for his significant impact, Malcolm X is still known as the lesser of the duo because of his militant perspective and methods. However, Dr. King would not have seen that success without the counterbalance of Malcolm X’s work. We teach time and time again how heroic the pacifist Dr. King was in the face of aggression and encourage students to embody these principles for society to truly heal. And yet, Dr. King knew that taking risks such as crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge would yield a violent response. In essence, both Malcolm X and Dr. King knew the same underlying truth that violence was the result of ignorance and implicit bias.

Despite the differences in approach, fundamentally both civil rights leaders knew that violence also exposed socially overlooked injustices. Now we are once again engaged in a civil rights movement. With the remaining essence of Dr. King and Malcom X, we celebrate the young man who gives free hugs, hold our breath as we watch protesters block bridges and face SWAT teams, and breathe sighs of relief when nights of protest pass with no carnage. However, when protestors damage property or engage with police or speak of a war against authority, we cringe. We rally behind hash tags of “ALLlivesmatter” or #peace but are unwilling to support “BLACKlivesmatter” or ignore #NODAPL because they are inciting riotous behavior and require us to face those implicit biases that STILL exist. Our pervasive message is that violence is just not the way we reconcile race and equality; this is not how we preserve our freedom—this is not how we make America great again.

Or is it? I firmly believe that what we need to be willing to teach in our classrooms is that successful protesting has historically NOT been peaceful. It comes with a cost especially if freedom (whether religious, political, or social) is truly at stake. Many would argue that those moments are historical and should remain historical because today’s society is different. But I vehemently beg to differ because at each of those moments in history, it was considered “today’s society.” We are living in a civil rights movement and more than just a black and white issue. Our current civil war consists of police brutality against black males, Native American protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, LGBQT discrimination, Islamophobia, the right to carry, and many other issues plaguing Americans. What we must be willing to recognize is that in each of these battles, the war is not person vs person, but is person vs a systemic mindset. And as a nation we have been here before. But true change may not come peacefully. And we must be willing to teach that. Here are a few examples to support this risqué teaching philosophy:

1. As the news reports vandalism and looting during protests, critics discuss how disrespectful this is and that some have referred to rioters as “animals” that should be locked up for violating the law. However, our history books sensationalize the colonist for dressing like Natives and throwing an entire shipment of tea into the Boston Harbor in rebellion against the oppressive British regime and heavy taxes. In a justified fight against oppression, property will suffer.

2. During the Protestant Reformation, many protestors (hence Protestant) where slaughtered as martyrs for the sake of religious freedom from the Catholic Church. They violated laws against translating the Bible and speaking publicly against the church because the law and the church were synonymous. In a justified fight against oppression, lives will be lost.

3. The bloody French Revolution greatly impacted the Western world’s structure of government. As one of the last remaining monarchies, the French aristocracy was a very small percentage of the country’s population but controlled all aspects of life and law. After long-term suffering of starvation and abuse of power, the French peasants held a massive rebellion dethroning the French monarchy and ushering in a republic and later a democracy. Lady Guillotine crafted a powerful voice. In a justified fight against oppression, governments will fall.
We are living in a nation that was founded because a group of determined white people sought to throw off chains of oppression. Now that same group has created a nation in which others have sought to demolish the same oppressive chains. Our nation champions an internationally lethal war on terror and yet requires a permit to protest on areas that block traffic and sidewalks or require audio support. In other words, we have forgotten our own struggle and no longer want to be bothered in our own homeland. Peaceful protests are praised on our own soil but we should also look at the broader perspective of history and understand the bloody sacrifice that it took to bring us to the present, a present that will someday be our nation’s past. I wonder if those who have gone before us would find our methods of protesting effective.

We once stood united against an oppressor and, that which we fought against, is now that which oppresses us once more. I am not advocating teaching students that rebellion is our greatest move. But what I AM advocating for is that we teach students the passion that it has taken to move society this far and that we are currently living in yet another cycle of human history in which the oppressed must challenge the oppressor. We cannot allow students to think that the struggle is behind us and glorify the greats such as Dr. King or Martin Luther. We must show them that we also need those like Malcolm X who challenged the status quo to open our blind eyes to injustice. We must still cultivate future “greats” that will challenge closed mindsets, make us socially uncomfortable, and protect freedom for all.

Casie Jones has been an educator for over 15 years as a teacher, instructional coach, school support director, and educational consultant.  She has served as a Teach Plus Fellow, an advocate for SCORE and SAP, and a TN Common Core Coach.  Casie has also been featured in The Huffington Post, Bluff City Ed, The Commercial Appeal, and EdWeek.

If you’re an educator with a story idea, send an email to andy AT spearsstrategy DOT com

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

 

Teacher Issues ARE Student Issues

Thoughts from Knoxville via the SPEAK blog:

This leads me to my final point. I want the media to understand that “teacher issues” ARE student issues. At what point did things that are good for teachers became unequivocally bad for students? Even if we take the most basic stereotypical notion that teachers just want a higher salary, how is that bad for students? If paying higher salaries means getting and keeping high quality educators instead of allowing them to escape across county or state lines, that action directly helps students. Meat and potatoes issues that teachers care about…class size, plan time, discipline, turnover, professional development, toxic testing, under staffing, inadequate funding, etc. all have a direct impact on the success and well-being of our students

READ MORE>

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Breaking Down the 2016 Educator Survey Results

The Tennessee Department of Education released the results of their annual educator survey. The 2016 Educator Survey was taken by over 30,000 educators across the state, which is about half of the state’s educators. This large sample of teachers allows us to see what teachers are really feeling out in the trenches, and the vast majority of teachers feel appreciated.

Working Conditions

Throughout the country we hear that many teachers do not feel appreciated as a teacher. But Tennessee’s classroom climate is different. 78% of teachers say: “I feel appreciated for the job that I am doing.”

The graphic below shows that Tennessee’s teachers give high ratings to their working conditions and to their colleagues.

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It should be noted that “we still see about 10 percent of schools across the state where the majority of staff report that they are dissatisfied with their work environment.” I hope that those schools are aware of their teacher’s views on the work environment. In Nashville, the district uses the TELL survey data to get a glimpse of how teachers view their working environment and administration.

My middle school in Nashville reviews the TELL survey results each year, discusses those results with their teachers, and makes necessary adjustments based that feedback. It’s a process that I hope all schools are doing in Nashville.

Student Discipline

The next area of the Educator Survey was about student discipline. This was the area that teachers and administers really disagreed on, as you can see below. Teachers also believe that we need to be spending more professional development on how to address student’s non-academic needs.

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As a teacher, I can really understand the disagreement between administrators and teachers on this issue. Chalkbeat easily breaks down the issue:

Tennessee teachers are more concerned than principals about discipline at their schools, according to a new survey that shows a similar disconnect over the amount of feedback that teachers get from their administrators.

About 69 percent of teachers surveyed say their schools effectively manage student behavioral problems, while 96 percent of administrators say their schools handle discipline just fine.

The gaps in perception suggest that school administrators may not be aware of their teachers’ concerns on discipline.

The findings come as high suspension rates for poor students and students of color are getting more national attention. They also indicate that Tennessee needs to start making discipline policies a bigger priority, says Education Commissioner Candice McQueen.

“This points to specific areas where we need to take more concrete actions,” McQueen said during a conference call with reporters. She added that teachers are asking for more support to meet their students’ non-academic needs.

Teacher Evaluation

More teachers than ever before say that the teacher evaluation system is improving teaching and student learning. That’s great to hear.

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The results show that 71% of teachers saw improvement in teaching thanks to the teacher evaluation process. Personally, I had a great evaluator last year and my teaching skills grew because of it. I have really grown as a teacher over the last two years thanks to the teacher evaluation system.

This year’s result is a huge increase from 2012.

Seventy-one percent of teachers report that the teacher evaluation process has led to improvements in their teaching, up from 38 percent in 2012. Similarly, two- thirds of all teachers report that the process has led to improvements in student learning, up from about one quarter in 2012.

What do teachers want more of? Collaboration, of course! I work at a school with a really collaborative nature, and it shows both in the teachers and in the students. 

Change Over Time

I really enjoyed looking at the chart below to see how the teacher’s responses have changed over time on the evaluation process. This chart shows that a over two-thirds of teachers believe that the teacher evaluation improves their teaching and student learning.

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Tennessee is on the right course toward making teachers feel appreciated, and it’s great to see the teacher evaluation process improving teaching performance. Let’s not stop now. I hope the Department of Education will use these results to continue to improve the teaching environment for Tennessee’s teachers.

 

You can read the full report here.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Mary Holden Talks Common Core

Education blogger and former teacher Mary Holden talks about her experience with Common Core in Part 3 of her teaching story.

Here’s a bit of what she has to say:

Many of the English standards were vague and some of them couldn’t even clearly be assessed at all, and others were so very specific. So I was frustrated by that because I had become well-versed in breaking down a standard and determining the best way to assess mastery of it myself. But now I saw that these standards were part of a bigger plan, and I didn’t like it. I was also dismayed by the influx of informational text and the resulting decrease in literature, as well as CC developer David Coleman’s insistence on how we teach literature. I was becoming increasingly bothered by all of this. This was not why I became an English teacher.

READ MORE>

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The Power of Purpose

Montgomery County Science Teacher and Tennessee Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow Marc Walls offers some thoughts on summer reflection for teachers.

Purpose.

Teachers are accustomed to evaluating the
purpose behind everything in education:
Is this instructional strategy the best fit
for the lesson? What will most benefit my students? Could our time and
effort be better allocated in a more strategic
way?

The purpose of almost every aspect of a
teacher’s year is assessed and decisions are made by many involved parties, including the teacher most of the time. But if we’re not careful, there is a purpose that can and does get forgotten and lost in the shuffle of every other priority that exists:

Our purpose.

The busiest time of a teacher’s year is also the most important because it is in the waning months of a school year that teaching placements, among other critical decisions, are decided upon for the following fall. When we are most stressed, busiest, and hardest at work for our school and the students we’ve shared so many hours with, it is imperative to take a few minutes for one’s self and reflect.

And when I reflect each year, I always ask myself the same question:

Can I do my best work here?

I ask that question because my purpose matters to me. If my answer to that question is a confident “yes,” I know I am where I am supposed to be. However, if I reach the conclusion that factors within my school prevent me from doing the very best that I have the capacity to do, I know it is time for me to find a better fit. I have to find, again, the convergence of everything that matters as the graphic in this post perfectly illustrates.

Every year, teachers are evaluated using many different assessment tools. We forget, though, that it’s ok to assess where we work as well. Teachers do their best work when supported and empowered. Without this, no risks will ever be taken. We thrive when opportunities are cultivated to build our capacity. This focus will trickle down to the students. The school that creates a culture of opportunity and collaboration produces teachers and students who can maximize their potential. As I continue to see new levels of what my potential is as an educator, it is important to make sure that the school where I teach is growing at a similar pace.

This spring, I will take the time to ensure that I am in a school that allows me to do my best work. I encourage you all to reflect on what you need to be at your best and evaluate your work environment as thoroughly as it evaluates you.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

The Way It Used To Be

Mary Holden is out with her second blog post chronicling her challenges and triumphs in teaching. This post is about the early standards movement and how it impacted the profession. She writes:

From 2001 to 2003, I, along with a team of teachers from my school (Mar Vista High), took part in a program with the California Academic Partnership Program (CAPP) and the Western Assessment Collective (WAC) where teams of teachers worked to develop standards-based instructional units. This site describes the program I was a part of, but sadly, the links to the units we designed aren’t working anymore.

What I took away from this process was: 1) real teachers (not faceless corporations) were the creators of these curriculum units, 2) we kept them student-centered and realistic, 3) we had in-depth discussions of what the standards meant (called “unpacking” the standards), how they could best be assessed (and guess what? the answer was almost always NOT by multiple-choice tests! Shocker!), and how they could be taught to a diverse group of students at different levels. We were covering all the important topics – teacher creation of high-quality lessons and assessments, differentiation, standards, planning lessons together (which would later officially be called a professional learning community) – we were far ahead of the game! And it was a fun process as well. We met for several days in the summer and then during the school year for three years doing this work with CAPP/WAC. Part of what made it meaningful was that it did take so long, because again, real change takes time to take hold. We became better teachers as a result of this process, and those skills stayed with us for our careers.

Initially, the movement was positive and as Mary notes, student-centered. She writes much more, and it’s worth a read.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

 

Mary Holden Takes to the Blogosphere

Veteran educator Mary Holden is leaving teaching, but not education. She’s started a blog and her first post sets the stage for what I expect will be some pretty interesting commentary.

Here’s an excerpt about why Mary chose to become a teacher:

Mrs. Zambruski, my English teacher in 10th and 12th grade, in particular, really made me love reading and learning. I knew in 12th grade that I wanted to be a high school English teacher just like Mama Z (as we affectionately called her). English was my favorite class, and the time we spent in a circle dissecting the themes and symbolism in what we read was what I loved most. Looking for meaning and discussing what things meant to us had a strong effect on me. I came to see that literature held the keys to the secrets of the universe. That may sound a bit dramatic, but I truly loved learning and interpreting and being inspired by what I read. So much so that I knew I wanted to share that feeling with others by being a teacher.

The initial post is certainly promising. Read it all here.


 

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Leading from the Classroom

Debbie Hickerson is a 5th Grade Teacher at Cason Lane Academy in Murfreesboro and a Tennessee Hope Street Group Fellow.

Every professional journal we see these days contains an article which examines professional development for teachers. It is thrilling to see the educational community focus on ways we can better our practice, hone in on our talents, and strategize ways to find more tools for our classroom teachers. The highly regarded educational trainer and author, Harry Wong, has told us for years, “It is the teacher – what the teacher knows and can do – that is the most significant factor in student achievement.” (The First Days of School, 2001). This tells me that we must find the time, money, and support that will allow us to invest in our teachers. I have an idea on how we can do just that.

 

School districts are making requests for more substantial budgets today than they ever have. Even small school systems are seeking millions of dollars for operating costs. With so many school districts looking for ways to make the most of their allocations, it’s time to get creative with professional learning. It just makes sense to capitalize on the assets by having teachers instruct, not just mentor, one another and share their talents, skills, techniques, materials, resources, and strategies. Tennessee State Teacher Fellows working with the non-profit organization, Hope Street Group, produced a report in January 2016 containing data from teacher surveys and focus groups held throughout the state in the Fall of 2015. The press release states, The Hope Street Group report focuses on professional learning and teacher leadership, with results indicating that over half of the survey respondents aspire to a teacher leader role while remaining in the classroom.” Tennessee teachers didn’t want to leave the kids, they just wanted to help maximize their colleagues’ effectiveness.

 

These findings should cause principals to take a look at their faculty. The school is filled with scholars! These are highly educated people, with various degrees, skills, and talent. Why not tap into all that expertise?

 

What would leading from the classroom look like? “Teachers teaching teachers” is not a new concept, but it is one that is underused. This type of professional learning provides many opportunities for teachers to step up to take active roles in peer training. Districts who implement this style of teacher leadership have teachers who are leading in-service professional development. They may have book talks or hold lunch-and-learn sessions, lead professional book clubs, and occasionally spend time during faculty meetings giving presentations, sharing ideas, pedagogy, and/or strategies. Why not allow teachers to sign up once a month to conduct after school professional learning workshops?

 

Costs. Teacher-led professional development fosters accountability, collegiality, and teamwork. Schools receive funds earmarked for professional learning, so why not have teachers leave campus to travel to other schools and use these funds to cover the expense of substitutes? That afternoon, the same substitutes would be moved to different classrooms for another set of teachers to leave campus to observe lessons. The cost to the schools, and disruption to the students is minimal. The cost would be even less if paraprofessionals were used in place of substitutes.

 

True Collaboration. Language Arts teachers could spend one planning session a week with Drama, Social Studies, History, and Science teachers teaching them how to do a close reading of their content area materials. The following week, the content area teachers could provide valuable background knowledge for the Language Arts teacher before he/she begins a new topic as well as providing ideas for projects, differentiating lessons, and multisensory activities. This type of planning would be critical for arts-integrated lessons, particularly as many districts are embracing STEAM activities and strategies now.

 

Using built in PLC days. School districts that build in half days to the yearly calendar, could maximize those afternoons by offering break-out sessions for which teacher leaders offer a variety of professional learning workshops allowing teachers from any school to attend based on their own need and interest. Teachers would then have the option to receive specific methods, activities, hands-on materials, make-and-take manipulatives, as well as new strategies to take back and share with their teams. This would also provide an opportunity for teachers to discuss current trends in education, legislative bills that are coming up, or learning how to use Twitter, Linkedin, or other social media to their professional advantage.

 

It takes a village to raise a teacher. There are so many online webinars for teachers to earn PD credit, wouldn’t it be great to have a team who previews those and only shares the best, most valuable information? Many districts have parent conference days, classroom work days, and half days in which the special area teachers (also known as related arts) have nothing required of them. (Special area teachers include Drama, Music, Chorus, Band, P.E., Art, Library, STEM, Guidance Counselor, and the like). Having them work on a committee to preview PD webinars could potentially be a great school improvement project that would benefit everyone on the faculty.

 

Teacher buy-in is essential. Teacher leadership is going to require whole-hearted teacher and administrator buy-in, but the facts are undisputable. No intervention can make the difference that a skilled, knowledgeable teacher can, it is cost effective, makes the best use of our time, and is collaborative in nature. Since our schools receive school-wide scores and grades, quite frankly, the truth is when our colleagues look good, we all look good.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

 

CAPE Takes Flight

A new public education advocacy group plans to be out in force tonight at the MNPS School Board meeting. The group, calling itself the Coalition Advocating for Public Education, or CAPE, is comprised of teachers and says it seeks to elevate teacher voice at all levels of the policy-making process.

Here’s the press release about tonight’s action:
Nine teachers will be using their teacher voices to speak before the Metro Nashville Public Schools board of education on Tuesday, Nov. 10. Their topic will be the impact of high-stakes testing on their classrooms.
The teachers are a part of a campaign recently launched by the Middle Tennessee Coalition Advocating for Public Education (CAPE).
“When you tell teachers to ‘use their teacher voice’, it means to speak loudly and clearly, with the kind of authority that brings immediate order to a chaotic classroom,” said Amanda Kail, an English as a second language teacher at Margaret Allen Middle Prep and one of the founders of CAPE. “As teachers, we deal with the consequences of chaos brought into our profession by the so-called reform movement.  Many people are talking about the best way to fix schools, but our policy-makers need to remember that we are the experts in education, and it is time to voice that expertise for our profession, our students, and our communities.”
The coalition was started by a handful of public school teachers and regional organizations who advocate for public schools, teachers, and students. CAPE is planning to recruit more teachers to speak at the school board meetings every month.  They are also planning other events, such as a panel exploring the impact of “Zero Tolerance Discipline” on November 17.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport