Tag Archives: school

Sink or Swim, Teacher!

28 May

When I was in college, the most useless classes I attended were in Curriculum and Instruction. However, one of the things I took away from them was that teachers have different approaches… and most of them get thrown out once you hit the classroom.

Now you may be wondering why I hate Curriculum and Instruction (or C&E, as I called them). As a budding high school teacher, I was expected to take three C&E core classes. The first one was all about the “formal lesson plan;” how to write objectives, timing, activities… and put them in a complete package. The second was modern issues in education; the professor was great at discussion and presenting different ideas… but years later, I realized he never used a lesson plan. He literally appeared and just ad-libbed a topic from there. The third one was Social Studies specific, and focused on using primary, secondary, and tertiary sources in the classroom.

None of these eggheads had any idea how to actually run a class… and because they never taught us classroom management, I almost quit before my student teaching experience was over.

The old adage is that 75% of teaching is classroom management; if I’m to be fair, we had half a day covering that topic. Three semesters of training; all of it useless. Why? Because it’s really hard to emulate a bunch of crappy students. The “sink-or-swim” model had been the only way to actually teach teachers how to teach. Nowadays, they’ve realized a first-year “mentor” program is helpful. If you partner an experienced teacher with a new teacher, they’re likely to improve.

In theory, that’s what the student teacher experience is supposed to do, but I had two supervising teachers who were so checked out that they didn’t provide any assistance. In one, she held her class in line through fear, so when I loosened restrictions, they went crazy. In the other, when I actually taught them something, they thought I was the best teacher ever. One day, things got so bad, I was ready to walk out of the school mid-class and never look back.

So how did I end up teaching five more years, then teaching almost 15 in corporate settings? Substitute teaching; it reminded me a) what I loved about teaching, b) I had no responsibilities outside the classroom, and c) it was a safe setting to practice classroom management. Coordinators at the district office are so desperate for substitutes that a warm body will suffice; in other words, the best substitute teacher is the one who shows up.

So there was zero pressure to perform; you had already achieved expectations by being there. If things went really bad in one class, that’s all right, you never have to go back there again. Meanwhile, I learned techniques and tricks to how to manage a class by sheer repetition. I discovered different teaching styles just from the lesson plans that the regular teacher left behind. I experienced different administrative styles by showing up at different schools. I learned more in five months of subbing then I ever did in classes.

Just like no one knows how to teach leadership, no one can teach teaching, but people have made a lot of money pretending they can. Heinlein used to have many of his characters get a Doctorate in “soft” sciences (especially Education) because you could generate pure BS in your papers, and no one would call you on it. For example, one of his characters wrote her dissertation on:

‘A Comparison of the World Pictures of Aristocles, Arouet, and Dzhugashvili considered through interaction of epistemology, teleology, and eschatology.’ The actual content was zero, as honest metaphysics must be, but I loaded it with Boolean algebra, which (if solved) proved that Dzhugashvili was a murdering scoundrel… as the kulaks of the Ukraine knew too well.

I gave a copy of my dissertation to Father McCaw and invited him to my convocation. He accepted, then glanced at the dissertation and smiled. ‘I think Plato would be pleased to be in the company of Voltaire… but each of them would shun the company of Stalin.’

Robert Heinlein, To Sail Beyond The Sunset, p. 36

I didn’t really appreciate that joke until I did my own graduate work in Education. Oh… my… God… the amount of BS I learned how to generate was insane… but that’s a story for another day. What do you think? Is there a better way to teach teachers? Did you have a better experience than me? Let me know in the comments below! Then check out one of my books. However, if $1.99 is too steep for your wallet, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. You’ll be glad you did.

Preparing for the Wrong Possibility

7 Apr

I could get angry about California teachers doing active shooter drills, while distance learning on Zoom, but it made me think about my own prepping instead. Like teaching students to shelter at home, maybe we’re all preparing for the wrong thing.

My family are lazy preppers, so although we actually do have stockpiles of food for emergencies, I’m worried that we don’t have the one thing that actually matters. Water. We live in Arizona, so although we’ve got all this dried and dehydrated food, to eat any of it requires the one thing we don’t have in abundance in the Sonoran Desert. Mind you, we have the temporary solution of the local pool to give us hundreds of gallons, but I think all of us realize that’s only going to last us a couple weeks, maybe a month.

However, that’s a difference of goals between me and my wife. I’m thinking about surviving for years–total collapse of society–versus surviving for a month–temporary collapse of infrastructure.

My wife’s scenario is far more likely, I’ll grant her that, but I’m also thinking any level of infrastructure collapse means we need to buy a gun. Preferably a shotgun, which allows for minimal shooting skills, and maximum effect. Yet that’s a bridge too far so far… because the likelihood that our kids will get out a real gun and play with it and maim/kill themselves is far higher than the infrastructure collapse. The solution for that is to get a gun safe–or at least something you can lock it up–but now we’re reaching a cost level that’s not really acceptable for us. We can buy a pound of beans for a couple bucks every month–we can’t buy a whole gun “infrastructure” without hurting our bank account.

Now let’s apply this to something I know well: education. American high schools are designed to prepare their students for college, which is great, if your students are going to college. I decided to look up the numbers: in 2017, 2.9 million students graduated from high school, and 1.9 million (67%) enrolled in college that fall, including students aged 16-24 who graduated from high school within 4 years of beginning 9th grade or completed a GED. Now that applies to the majority of folks: In 2018, 93% of adults between the age of 18 and 24 and 89.8% of adults over the age of 25 had completed a diploma, GED or another equivalency credential. So you’re only leaving out 10% more of people for whom college is not an option.

Okay–so that means for just over half (57%) of all American students, they are getting the education they need to progress. Except that here’s the next fact: the national college graduation rate is 46%; bachelor’s degree seekers graduate at a rate of 60%. So… only a quarter of all 9th graders entering high school this year will actually graduate with a college degree. You’d think that would mean “Maybe we should train our students to prepare for the workforce, rather than than college, since that’s where most of them will end up.” But they can’t–because high school teachers don’t know how to do that.

Try this phrase on for size: “teachers teach as they have been taught.” When I went through teacher training, I went into my classroom doing lecture, because… that’s what I had been doing for four years previous. I had to reteach myself how to teach by using a variety of activities, half of which I made up because I couldn’t find relevant resources. How are we supposed to teach consumer education to our kids when the teachers themselves don’t know how credit cards work? Or taking loans? Or how to do your taxes?! Plus the teachers themselves went to college–they don’t consider any other career path valid. A beginning welder will make more than a beginning teacher and with far less student debt, and generally start a couple years earlier.

The teacher will look down a blue collar worker, since they didn’t have the well-rounded experience that they had. Well, you can get drunk with age-appropriate folks anywhere, in my opinion. Considering my kids want to get into the arts, why on Earth would I want them to go to college?! A college degree in their chosen fields gets them absolutely nothing. If/when they realize that being an actor/waiter is not a good career path, they’ll be able to go into college a couple years wiser, and won’t treat it as extended high school.

So this post went in a very weird direction, but so often in life, we’re preparing for the wrong thing. Where are the blind spots in your life? Let me know in the comments below! If you want to see what the future looks like, check out my books! But if you’re saving up for that gun safe instead, and $1.99 is too much, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. Enjoy!

Blowing Up The Canon (Part III)

8 Oct

In today’s blog post, we finish our interview with Daphne, who runs a non-profit dedicated to helping students with reading difficulties. She is the author of Read or Die: A Story of Survival, Hope and How a Life Was Saved One Book at a Time. You can contact her on Twitter at @confusedconfessions.

M: So how do you approach personalizing reading for your kids?

D: Each student in my room is provided the opportunity to bring a book from home, but rarely do they. Instead, the vast majority of students choose a book from my room where every single book has been vetted by children. Typically I bring over a stack of books to their desk and they go through them until they find one with an accessible vocabulary, and then I teach them how to make connections to the words…basically I try to teach them everything good readers do: think about themselves, wonder what happens next, think what happened earlier, wonder why things are happening, think about other books with similar stories, etc…on and on and on until they start actually reading. 

I have this question I ask people, “What is your most important book?” It’s such a great question because people have the most beautiful and surprising answers, but I never meet a child who can answer this question. Unless a child comes from a house of enlightened readers (rare, rare, rare) or they are taught with a method in school involving real choice/independent reading they don’t have a most important book, and they all deserve one.

M: Hard question to answer, since I love so many books, but let me throw out a weird one – The Man Who Never Missed by Steve Perry. It’s a short sci-fi novel – hit me at around 14 years old, so when I was most impressionable – but it really changed how I like to see universes, write action, and drive the story well. He’s a cult following level author but I love Perry’s writing style.

D: Awesome important book answer! I haven’t heard of him, but I’m going to look him up. 

M: What about you? What’s your most important book?

D: The most important book for me is also a hard question, but I became who I am as a reading teacher because of reading the Book Thief. By the time I read it I had been teaching for seventeen years and writing for 8…There’s a scene where a girl lives BECAUSE of a book and you realize the author has been saying, “Books Save Lives,” the entire book and you then realize he dedicated a significant amount of time and effort to say books save lives and here I was, sitting in a room of kids that I should be teaching as if BOOKS SAVE LIVES so that’s when it happened. I changed everything I was doing and dedicated my career to repeating over and over again, books save lives and that’s how I teach, like every book matters and the more I can get inside a child, the better. Hence, my book and screenplay because I can’t say it enough. 

M: Thank you, Daphne – I have a feeling that we’re going to have more of these conversations from now on.

Did you enjoy this interview? What is your most important book? (Not your favorite, your most important.) Let me know in the comments below!

Blowing Up The Canon (Part II)

7 Oct

In today’s blog post, we continue our interview with Daphne, who runs a non-profit dedicated to helping students with reading difficulties. She is the author of Read or Die: A Story of Survival, Hope and How a Life Was Saved One Book at a Time. You can contact her on Twitter at @confusedconfessions.

M: But what’s wrong with having the whole class just read one book so they discuss it and break it down?

D: With the canon there are multiple problems that I could rant about all day so I’ll try to limit myself. First of all, I can’t even get everyone in my friend group or household to agree on a book. It’s impossible to get 30 random children who will/can read a 300 page book they care nothing about so they either are clever and use SparkNotes and engage the teacher in conversation as if they’ve read or they don’t read it and they fail. I have yet to meet anyone who read their assigned books in school and the number of readers is declining, not increasing. In addition, the book is assigned, the themes are decided by the teacher (who probably used SparkNotes to decide what the themes are), and all the questions have preconceived answers.

M: Interesting point – so simply ASSIGNING the book makes it very difficult for students to care about reading it in the first place. Using my son as an example, he has dyslexia, which has the effect that unless he’s REALLY into a book series (Harry Potter, Keepers of the Lost Cities), he doesn’t like to read. It’s physically difficult. They assigned the Hunger Games as a book, and knowing the violence would upset him, we got the teacher to accept an alternative (Ready Player One). However, he STILL didn’t finish it… he barely started it. Because he had no internal drive to want to do it.

D: It’s imperative that he feel empowered which is the opposite of what happened when he gave up on Ready Player One (which is the position teachers put their students in ALL OF THE TIME by assigning books, it’s maddening). Teaching him to use resources and allowing him to use resources to pass English is something that will carry him forever AND you might be able to still have a reader in your house. Teachers constantly destroy the love of reading and they don’t even know it.

I don’t want the canon replaced, I want the entire concept of ‘assigned’ books and ‘assigned’ reading levels to be destroyed. In fact, the way you were taught by the teacher who thought you ‘walked on water’ is exactly how every single child in America should be taught. I don’t have many kids like you were, but they all have that potential if they were just allowed to have their reading journey hand curated by a teacher who thought highly of them and wanted what is best for them.

M: So if a kid came to you and wanted to know what book he/she should read, what would you recommend?

D: My class could not function without The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas, Tyrell by Coe Booth, Drive By by Lynne Ewing, Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo and the Bluford High Series.

Have you heard / like these books? What books would you recommend to kids? Let me know in the comments below!

Blowing Up The Canon (Part I)

6 Oct

In today’s blog post, we interview Daphne, who runs a non-profit dedicated to helping students with reading difficulties. She is the author of Read or Die: A Story of Survival, Hope and How a Life Was Saved One Book at a Time. You can contact her on Twitter at @confusedconfessions.

M: Since you’re part of the #writingcommunity on Twitter, it’s obvious you like writing, but what’s your day job?

D: My day job is teaching reading and trying to change how reading is taught but using choice/independent reading and doing away with the canon in the classroom. I just can’t stop, because kids deserve so much better.

M: What’s wrong the established canon in public schools?

D: Over time, I’ve come to realize the extreme influence colonization has had in the education system and I now spends every ounce of energy fighting that system for the sake of all children. 

M: I’m sure every school district is different, but when I was in school (and mind you this was 25-35 years ago), I believe the books I was forced to read were:

– Middle School: The Day No Pigs Would Die, The Giver by Lois Lowry, My Darling My Hamburger, The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier. (Oddly enough, because I had a reading teacher who thought I walked on water, I got to read harder books, so I never read these.)

– Freshman HS: The Pearl by John Steinbeck, The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Absolutely hated both of these.)

– Sophomore HS: The Odyssey by Homer (hated at the time, read as an adult with the Fagles translation? Couldn’t put it down), Julius Caesar by Shakespeare (great!)

– Junior HS: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (liked, but hated analysis of it)

– Senior HS: Romeo and Juliet by Shakepeare (good).

– College: 1984 by George Orwell (cried both times I’ve read it, must read), Norton Anthology of English Lit (loved the poetry).

D: The canon of your childhood has not changed. I call these teachers ‘canon clutchers’ because they hold so tightly to those same books. My favorite part is they hover perpetually at a level of status quo where they can’t even understand the irony of assigning Fahrenheit 451 or Animal Farm. They think they are enlightening children when in fact they are perpetuating the same ideals those books were written to fight. 

M: Since my son (8th grade) is reading Fahrenheit 451 right now, this is a good one. Just so I get your point, since the book is about censorship, limiting your students to an older text denies them the opportunity to open up students’ mind to more modern voices?

D: Correct. If the teacher chooses which book the child must read then they are choosing for the child to NOT read every other book on the planet. The irony is endless for this point. They are controlling what a child is supposed to read AND THEN they tell them how to read, what parts are important and what the themes are. Imagine if the smart kid pointed out the irony…the teacher would run home crying. In fact, your son could possibly see that irony and wouldn’t that be fun if he pointed it out? HAHAHA! Also, on that subject, while those teachers dole out one book per quarter, my students can read as many as they want and they all read far more than they thought they could. The minimum is four a year, but I’ve had one kid read 35 (previously all non-readers), and the average is 12 per year.

We’ll continue this interview tomorrow. However, what was the canon you had to read as a kid? Did you actually read it or did you skim it? Let me know in the comments below!

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