Friday, July 5, 2019

Let Freedom Ring (a little quieter, please)

I love a good fireworks display. When we were children our city park used to have them every year. My mom and dad would line our side yard (we lived a block from the park) with lawn chairs and we’d enjoy popsicles, sparklers and all the works while waiting and then sit and watch the display. When I lived in San Diego we drove to a hillside to watch the big display and tuned our radios to hear the symphony orchestra play a choreographed song list. Raising my own children, the Minton Street gang would meet at a business on Plymouth Road and have a little “block party” while we watched. Later years we would make the trek to the Spree every year with our wagon, cooler and some card games to play while we waited for THE EVENT. The kids would come and go to the Spree and then we’d all meet back at dark. I have very precious memories of 4th of July fireworks.

  I’ll admit that I’m ignorant of the history of fireworks laws in Michigan or anywhere else in this country. But it seems that over the past 5 years or so everyone and their brother (or sister) can purchase and shoot of a great variety of fireworks from their homes, vacant lots, parking lots and where ever their fancy strikes. Last summer it seemed it went on for the entire summer. This year Michigan changed the laws to only allow private fireworks during a shorter timeframe, with time limits. (Thank goodness because no one needs to hear M80s going off at half hour intervals after midnight.) This is a step in the right direction, in my opinion.

  I LOVE my memories of attending fireworks displays. I’m grateful that my children will have those same types of memories. But I’m fearful that my grandchildren will grow up hating fireworks, or at best be ambivalent about them. Fireworks are not an “occasion” any more. They aren’t special when every night you can drive to the local school playground and watch a watered-down version that someone picked up to shoot off with friends. Instead, they will grow up with the sounds of BOOMS and POPS and ZZZZZZZ going off while they try to sleep each night in July. They’ll see those little sparks that rise above their treetops and believe that THIS is what a fireworks display looks like and be disinterested in the preparation and trek to see the REAL displays.

  These two videos (with sound only because it’s dark) I’ve attached here were taken an hour apart in my front yard. As you can see in the one, no fireworks were visible in the sky, although we could occasionally see a bit of sparks above the trees. This sound went on for THREE SOLID HOURS before it began to taper off. And it wasn’t just my neighborhood. I’m sure you all have similar stories if you live in a city and not out in the country where people are more spread out. Last night was the actual holiday, although with the weekend ahead, I’m sure it will be the same.

  Imagine putting your two-year-old down to sleep during that noise. Picture all the pets hiding in the basements with radios blaring to drown out the sound – afraid to go outside to use the bathroom at night. Or having to medicate your pet to get them through the trauma. Imagine if you will, all the combat vets (we all know some) who struggle with memories of war zones, whether they have been diagnosed with PTSD or not.

  I am not being a hater. I love fireworks displays as much as the next person. But they are losing their shine as they destroy the peaceful quality of a summer’s evening. Michigan is moving in the right direction with regard to private fireworks displays but has a way to go.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The #OptOut Bus Comes to Detroit

Is there someone you admire that you don’t know in real life?

Maybe there is someone you’ve been following on social media because you find they can articulate your position on important issues of the day better than you are able. Maybe you are following someone because you admire the charitable work they do. Or maybe you follow them because you are secretly jealous of the way they can just drop everything and set out to live their convictions. Maybe, just maybe, there is someone who fits all these categories.

Enter Susan DeFresne, activist extraordinaire. Susan comes from the Seattle, Washington area and has a large following on facebook, twitter and I imagine in real life too. Susan and her husband Shawn purchased a used school bus, named it the OptOut Bus and are traveling across the country to highlight the abuse of standardize testing in public schools. While they travel they stop in cities that have been ravaged by for-profit education reforms and give books away to school children.

Monday started like any other day during the summer. I woke up, settled down with a cup of coffee and began to peruse the internet. Within minutes I read a message that said Susan and her husband would be stopping in Detroit that morning and needed information on places they could take the bus and set up to give away books. Because I teach in SW Detroit I know personally of several very active parks where there would surely be groups of children. I reached out and made the suggestion and then met Susan and Shawn in person at Clark Park to witness the magic.

The experience was humbling to say the least. I am in awe of people like the DuFresnes who can drop everything and live out their convictions. We met with groups of children who were at the park for softball practice, attending a recreation day camp or just hanging out in the park. Each one received the precious gift of a book and Susan took the time to write a personal message in EVERY SINGLE BOOK given away.

While I was there I took the opportunity to make a short periscope video of the happenings. You can view it here and listen to Susan tell her own story. I promise you’ll be inspired as I was. 

Susan and Shawn DuFresne
Susan took time to write a message in every book. 
Shawn said he was just there for the "driving and lifting". lol

If you would like to learn more about Susan's cross country adventure follow her facebook page.
To learn more about the Opt Out Movement click here. 
If you would like to donate to Susan's GoFundMe account for the purchase of additional books, click here. 
To learn more about the Badass Teachers Association click here. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

About Those Grumpy Old Teachers

You know you've heard it before, maybe even said it yourself. "Those grumpy old teachers are afraid of change. They are too set in their ways." Right. As a Grumpy Old Teacher, GOT for short, I'm here to set the record straight. WE ARE NOT AFRAID. In fact, as veteran teachers we have not only faced, but have embraced change over and over again in our careers. So often in fact, that undesirable changes were often met with the apathetic refrain of "don't worry, it won't last." That's because change in education is constant. One program is replaced by another, new strategies, new interventions, new demands, in quick succession come and go often times so quietly that the public isn't even aware. But the teachers, the foundation of our schools, dig in and do what's required, most often going above and beyond what is required trying to make someone else's plan work for them - and your child.

So what is different now? Why are you seeing, hearing and reading so many things about teachers protesting the latest reforms? Here's why. This time, not only are they not working - which most teachers know how to creatively get around - but they are actuallyhurting education. That's right, current reforms are destroying our system of public education and turning our children into testing widgets. 

You think I'm being melodramatic, don't you? Here's a simple test. Ask yourself these questions. and then start asking others in different districts the same things. Not everyone will have the same answers depending on the culture and socioeconomic status of their district. But we are all headed in the same direction. 

1.) How much instructional time is spent each month on district and state assessments that are beyond the scope of assessing to inform teacher's instruction?
2.) How much of your school's technology resources are earmarked or devoted to giving these assessments? (thereby reducing the availability of technology as learning tools for students)
3.) What is the impact of testing schedules on your local school? (i.e. disrupted lessons, "holding rooms" for students as they finish the test before others, practice tests and test prep lessons)
4.) What percentage of your district's budget is earmarked for developing infrastructure to administer these tests? How does it compare to the budget 5 years ago?
5.) How many hours of elementary art or music instruction does your child receive? 
6.) Has recess time been reduced in your elementary school?
I could seriously create a list of questions that goes on and on but I think you get the jist of where I'm going with this.

Let's get back to the grumpy old teacher part. Just why is it that you are hearing from these particular teachers. It does make it easier to believe that it's just discontent with change. However I am going to tell you that is is precisely because we are at the end of our career that we can speak out. New teachers (or baby teachers as they are affectionately called) are overwhelmed. They are overwhelmed with the amount of work that goes in to teaching and the disparities between what they believed the profession was about and what are the actualities. They are still deciding if this is the career path they want. And sadly, greater numbers than ever are turning away from teaching while there is still time for them to have a choice. Mid-career teachers are unlikely to speak out, especially in Michigan where teacher tenure has been "reformed". They have invested a great deal of their adult life for their career and still hold out hope that it can turn around again, but can't risk losing their job by being a vocal opponent of the current trends. That leaves us GOTs. Quite honestly, we can cash in our pensions at any time if necessary. Most of us are still young enough to get a part time job to supplement retirement until Social Security kicks in. We are hanging on to our jobs because it is our passion, but we are no longer complacent. So you see us as grumpy when in fact we are the very people who have your child's best interest at heart. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

When JOY Is Sucked Out the Door

Just this morning I was thinking about all the great projects I could do with my students and technology. Powerpoints, green screen videos, digital story writing.....these are great tools for promoting student engagement. I used to have my students write and produce a weather report that we videotaped using all their own creative backgrounds. Boy, they were really into learning about weather.....we used to write and animate scripts for giving information about topics we were learning and just plain fiction writing (check out the website), made presentations using VoiceThread, we even set up a talk show stage and made videotaped exit interviews about their year in review ...and that was just the tip of the iceberg...all in first grade. The kids were always so excited to learn more so they could create more!
Now, our use of technology is limited to using the computers and ipad to take benchmark tests repeatedly as well as regular quizzes on math and reading as mandated by our district. We are constantly being told that we need to "increase our numbers". Meaning get the kids taking more quizzes!
Every Sunday night I sit and plan for the upcoming week and am determined to "reclaim" education in my classroom. I make plans for technology projects, art projects (all that support learning) and learning games that support our standards. By mid day Monday I begin to feel defeated as I realize there just isn't time to get to these plans. Reform model education has every minute planned out for teachers and students and most of it is based on passing a test! I am so discouraged and weary.
I have always LOVED school, which is why I became a teacher. I never complained about getting up and going to work every morning and was frequently heard saying how much I love my job - even though I have always worked in a high poverty, urban setting. I planned to teach until at least age 65. Teaching, although hard work, was so much fun I couldn't imagine my life without it.
Now, I have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning and can barely stand the thought of going in to school. Although I try to make learning fun for my kids, there is so much standing in our way that my students are apathetic at best and at worst are starting to hate school. They are 6 and 7 years old! The school reform movement is all they have ever experienced in their lives. Most of them could care less about learning to read and are never actively engaged in these scripted lessons (when there is an opportunity for engagement, that is.)
Here is just one example: Every morning from the first day of school, like most teachers, I write a morning agenda on the whiteboard that includes a little story writing prompt. These are fun “imagine if” scenarios that the students are supposed to write about. Of course it is all written in first grade friendly writing so that as their reading skills increase they are more able to read the board independently or with a partner. I do not read it to the class initially and wait to pull struggling students aside AFTER they have given it their best shot. Later I go over it with the class to make sure everyone has understood. By this time of year, in the past, students came into the room and went directly to the board to read it, even before they took care of their backpack or ate breakfast. They were so excited to be able to read that it trumped everything else! There was always a crowd around the board and I had to chide them about going to their seats to read it so that everyone could see.
This year no one reads the board - NO ONE- not even the best readers. Every morning they eat breakfast and then sit there with blank stares or get busy with their friends. When I remind them about their bell work they always ask – ASK- what are they supposed to do. Every morning I have to say “read the board” and then remind them that they are readers now. Inside I’m crying. Just this simple act of walking in the room and getting started has become such drudgery that my little kids don’t even care that they are able to read. Can you imagine?!
This is education reform. I witness it daily and if you and your children haven’t yet, then good for you, you must be in a district that is not experiencing a great deal of poverty. But make no mistake, what happens in my district, happens to yours eventually. They just do it to us first because the parents don’t have as much political capital as in yours. But it will come, trust me. UNLESS we all start to scream and shout! Don’t wait; there isn’t a moment left to lose.
If you stand outside my school in the morning, when the first bell rings and listen very carefully as the doors open wide, you’ll hear it. In case you don’t recognize the sound, let me tell you – it is the sound of all the JOY being sucked out the doors.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Today is the last day of November and I have been remiss in posting why I am thankful. My friends seemed to have it covered with family, children, friends, sunshine, peace and the likes. I certainly hope I convey my love and thanks to the people in my life on a regular basis so that I don’t need November as a prompt for making a declaration. But here are some things I am extremely grateful for and take for granted on a daily basis. I think I could name one for each day of the month, but that would be terribly long and I think you’ll get the idea. 
Here goes: 
   After long weeks at work I look forward to my Saturday shower. Last week I stood, just stood, under the spray of hot water and let myself bask in its warmth and felt myself relax. I realized I was a little thirsty so I turned my face to the spray and let some of the water fill my mouth and relieved my thirst. That’s when it hit me what a luxury we have and take for granted. Water - you never think about it, but we bathe in it, wash with it, cook with it, drink it, swim in it, water our grass and sometimes just let the water run and play in it. I have been known to use my hose in the summer to wash my driveway on a hot day rather than sweep. We never really think about where it comes from or how it gets to us, and we only rarely have to worry about if it is safe. But over 780 million people in the world DO NOT have access to clean water. I am thankful for water. 

  It’s holiday shopping time and the stores are crowded, which means full parking lots. I have never been one to sit and wait for someone to pull out of a parking spot, or circle the lot looking for an up-close spot. Except that is, when I used to take my mother out. Bless her, my mother was blind and had a leg amputated due to diabetes. Her remaining ankle had been shattered when someone ran a red light and hit her in a cross walk. Her foot was attached to her leg with a steel plate and pins. This gave her very limited mobility. But my legs work. They work even when they are tired. They work even when they are bruised. My knees bend, my feet flex and even when my shoes are too tight, I can walk and climb stairs. I remind myself regularly that God has blessed me with legs that work and don’t sweat parking in the outskirts of the parking lot. I am thankful for legs that work properly

  I am thankful that I have never had to go hungry. Sure, there are many times I felt hungry. But I’ve never had to go hungry. I have never had to worry if I would get to eat tomorrow. I have never had to beg for food or scavenge through other people’s scraps. Many times I’ve stood in front of the open refrigerator or cupboard door and thought “we don’t have anything to eat.” But of course, that is never true. There is always something that could be eaten. Just not something that suits my craving at the moment. What a difference. Open a can of green beans for breakfast? Peanut butter on a spoon for dinner? A bowl of white rice or plain pasta as a meal? How ridiculous that we throw away left-overs because we are sick of eating the same thing for more than a couple meals. My friend calls these “first world problems”. I don’t know what it’s like to be truly hungry and I hope I never learn. I am thankful for having food to eat and to feed my family. 

   I am an information junkie. I wonder. I ask questions. I like to know things. I may forget them quickly, but when a question occurs to me, I like to get an answer right away. I like that instant gratification. So I am grateful for the internet and Wi-Fi connections. Social media aside, I absolutely love having the world at my fingertips. I have a hard time disconnecting, not because of the social aspects but because there is so much information out there. Yes, I am aware that much of it is false. Occasionally I am taken in by a false story. But I think I’m a pretty level headed and analytical person and can cut through most of the bull. I can’t imagine not being able to get the answer to my questions instantly any more. I remember when you had to go to the library and search for the answers to your questions. Each question was a lengthy search and sometimes you just never found what you were looking for. Remember when you would change the topic of your research report to fit the information you could find? I have to admit I did that more than a few times. I am in awe of the people who create internet search programs that make it possible to find the right information with just a few key words. I am thankful for the internet. 

  These are just a few of the things for which I am thankful. They are things that I don’t often give much thought. I could certainly list others such as electricity, books, pets, and more. But I think you get the idea. What do you take for granted?

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Virtual Education....Can I Make the Grade?

As I have been preparing for the possibility of teaching some online courses I have had to take a hard look at my practices as both a teacher in a traditional brick and mortar school as well as my habits as an online student.  I can see that there are many area I need to work on improving.  In fact, for many reasons, I would say that I am not prepared to be a virtual instructor at this time.I felt this question is a good place for me to begin my reflection. 
"Consider the areas you struggle with in the traditional classroom. How can you better prepare yourself so you will struggle less with this in the online environment?"
When reflecting on my classroom practice, I would say that the area I struggle with the most is in planning the appropriate amount of content. I suffer from the affliction of wanting to do it all and wanting students to experience it all. So, instead of choosing one or two significant activities or lessons per topic, I over-plan and over prepare, Frequently we do not have enough time to finish an activity before it is either time to clean up for the day, or move on to the next topic. This leaves me feeling frustrated. At times it has even led to short changing different subject areas because our lesson will run over into another subject period and, not wanting to abandon our project it will take up that period as well.
In an online course, if I was to over-plan, it could cause extreme frustration in students who will most definitely struggle to complete the course. It could lead to students dropping from the course or receiving an incomplete grade.  Students may leave the course disillusioned about online education and reluctant to take another online course even when it is in their best interest to do so.
I think the best way to prepare myself for this would be to decide up front how much time per week I expect my students to devote to coursework. Then I need to set realistic expectations for the number of assignments that can be completed in that time. Because online courses utilize the internet, it would be wise for me to exaggerate the amount of time needed, even if just slightly. The reason is because as students are working online, attention can be drawn off topic as one explores all the resources available. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Allowing students more time to explore internet content may allow them the time needed to put a topic into a personal context that makes it more understandable. I will also need to closely monitor student’s completion rates and make adjustments when necessary.

However, all of my professional habits are not negative and in fact some are very relevant to the experience of online work. In the article "WhatMakes a Successful Online Facilitator" there are seven criteria of successful online instruction listed. The one that resonates the most with my teaching style is:
#5. The person should be able to subscribe to the value of introducing critical thinking into the learning process.
For me, the internet is a wonderful laboratory of learning tools that encompass every learning style. Information is constantly updated and it seems new web tools are being developed every day. Students can dig deeper into a subject than easier than they ever have before using libraries with magazine articles and books.
I find this to be terribly exciting. With a few clicks of a mouse, students can access information in textual, auditory or visual formats on just about every topic imaginable. Just about every learning style can be accomodated. 
Then with a few more clicks, students can experience wonderful real life applications of this knowledge in a way that can bring about more meaning and understanding than any lecture could ever. Students can launch new ideas in a public forum and get immediate and varied feedback from countless sources. In fact, students are free from limitations. 
How wonderful to be a student in the 21st Century!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

I can't believe it's been so long since my last post. That tells you what this school year has been like for me. We started with 41 students in my first grade class. Then we were assigned 3 additional teachers around Halloween so I went down to 18. That was heaven! But Christmas break brought the reduction of a second grade teacher and I went up to 25. That's ok, we were still cruisin' along. In January our teaching staff was reduced by two more teachers and my number went up to 35! I'm now sitting at 33.  Start, stop, start, stop....reorganize the desks, redo the schedule, learn new students' habits, reorganize materials, reteach routines.... It seems we have been in September mode the entire school year. Not to mention only two 45 minute prep periods per week, 1 - 2 hour meetings several days a week after school and the ever present testing,testing, testing. Don't even get me started on Core Curiculum State Standards. Imagine the stress level in my room. It is off the charts!
Sometimes you just have to yell:

This week we did just that. With our 4th grade friends in the next room, we went to the library, kicked up the jams and had a little fun. No connection to the Common Core. (Although if pressed, I could come up with some.) No pre or post test. No anecdotal records. Just pure FUN. 'Cuz sometimes, school should be just that: FUN! 

Judge for yourself.

on Youtube:  P3A Harlem Shake