Have you ever been to a school that made you want to get back in your car and leave at first sight?
Ever have a conversation you have to stop half way through because you have no idea what's going on? Dallas Education could move forward much faster without all the jargon weighing it down.
Another year comes to an end and another group of students try to avoid summer school with last minute work.
How many times have felt like you knew everything about a kid before you even met them?
What a way to kick off Teacher Appreciation Week.
"My school is a disaster but my room is a paradise." Wow. Now that's teacher strength.
Have you ever found yourself smiling while listening to student complaints?
Every attempt to change something in education today is met with the common criticism that the status quo worked in the past so it should be good enough for the future. Besides that argument being wrong, it also denies that any change or growth has happened in human beings over the past century or so.
We often criticize changes in education based upon how things used to work when we were in school. The “if it was good enough for me, it’s good enough for them” attitude makes sense, especially when you’ve spent years finding your footing in the classroom, creating routines that work, and amassing resources that you’ve mastered using. Here’s the problem, yes, it may get students to remember information long enough to bubble in an answer sheet, but they forget after.
Here’s an example. I was talking with a few high school friends and some of my teachers. We were talking about an interaction with one teacher over 10 years ago. Out of the 6 of us, only 4 remembered this particular teacher even existed. If that doesn’t convince you that relying on memory to determine the course of present day practices is one of the dumbest things we do, allow me to continue. Of the 4 that remembered this teacher existed, only 1 remembered his name. All 4 of us remembered generally the story about this teacher doing a tai chi demo at school, but not one of us had the same memory about the demo. Some thought there was a student volunteer, but disputed who the student was. All of us had a different location in mind where the demo took place. The point is that none of us actually remember the truth. The point is that our memories are liars.
That 15 mile walk in the rain to and from school that you remember? Probably only half a mile. That uppercut the teacher threw you for stumbling on your times tables? Maybe that never actually happened. All the learning you did because your teacher stood there and lectured day in and day out? More than likely just a sliver of the truth. Do you remember the angst, boredom, and restlessness? What could you have learned if you had been taught in a different way? Not saying you’re completely wrong, but our brain exaggerates so we need to be careful.
Now for the brain science.
Studies show that there’s a strong connection between emotions and memory. The part of our brain that relays both positive and negative emotions (the amygdala) talks with the long term memory part (the hippocampus) and the seeing part (visual cortex) when emotions are happening. The brain goes on high alert when emotionally stimulated. This means that the central detail may be right but everything else has been changed into an action movie by your brain. In my story, the true part was that there was a teacher that knew Tai Chi and I thought it was cool. Everything else is suspect.
What does this mean in the classroom? Happy and excited students learn better and create lasting connections with the content. I remember things that I thought was cool or my teacher made me feel good about learning. Everything else I’ve just been learning in real time and retroactively plugging in to my high school brain when I get angry about being told to change my instruction.
We have to understand what is drawing our students’ focus and why. If that upsetting text or concern about home life is in control, the student is focused there. Why do we have to make classes more stimulating to help our kids learn? Because everything else has ratcheted up the stimulation so we have to compete if we want them to focus on all the things we as teachers have to offer.
The counter argument I can already hear from my own parents is “the principal’s paddle and the switches on that tree kept me focused.” That very well may be true. Negative emotions can motivate action, but research also show that positive emotions 1. create stronger connections and 2. don’t create long term damage that cripples learning and focus in the future.
Yes, there’s more than one way to motivate a child, but just because something we “remember” working in the past had some success doesn’t mean it’s the best option. My dad yelled a lot when I would mess up and sometimes when I didn’t. I’m damaged by it. Did I turn out ok? Sure, more or less. I have a job and health insurance so I’d say I’m doing ok, but that doesn’t mean he was right.
Something working doesn’t mean that nothing else works or that there will never be something that works better. Times are changing. The world is changing. Education isn’t the same anymore because our kids are don’t live the same lives we lived when we were younger. Sure, the guts are the same. Curiosity, mischief, and the constant seeking of approval are still the vast majority of the teenage experience. What’s changed is everything else, and if the goal is to equip our kids with information that is essential to them being able to survive in this new world, then we should be constantly evolving as educators, not trying to turn back the clock and stymie our growth and theirs.
Why Student Emotions Matter
Student Standardized Texting Anxiety
Why Student Failure Isn't the end of the world
Students, Teachers, and Technology in Dallas
New Yorker Memory Article
Yesterday I sprung a quiz on them. There was much wailing and rending of clothes over an unexpected quiz over a reading they should have done anyway. We were all yelling, laughing, preparing for the quiz, talking football, etc. This is the first five minutes of class and I tend to enjoy a bit of ordered chaos. Then in walks my principal. Smiles are on faces, except his of course.
Here's the problem. Our fun was disrupting everyone around us. It was my fault. I got us all in trouble. They looked like they just got yelled at. They didn't, my principal was nothing but professional. He didn't reprimand me in front of the kids or "usurp my authority" or anything like that; however, he did remind all of us that we weren't the only ones in the school and that we could be heard down the hall.
Fair. Sorry class. Sorry other teachers. I apologize for being disruptive. I don't apologize for the enjoyment of the students though, just to be clear.
Yesterday we talked about two things related to Dallas Teachers. 1) Knowing why you're mad and directing that energy toward those truly at fault and 2) Working together with people to create the change you want to see instead of stewing in it.
Kids stew. Our students lash out because they haven't learned to process their emotions, identify the source of their unhappiness, or advocate for themselves in order to solve those problems. The reason many of our students lack those skills is because we as adults still struggle with doing the same thing.
I'm reminded of a time where I returned tests, starting going over it to help address the things that the majority of the classed missed, then assigned a correction assignment that allowed some points to be recovered for learning content they missed. Going around the room crowd sourcing answers and explantions, a young lady, when it was her turn to contribute, told me to "go f*** [myself]." Rather than speak to her like she was an adult, which I was tempted to do. Had the rest of class start the assignment and called her into the hall. The first thing I asked her was "what are you really upset about?" I told her that "I [knew] it couldn't be about that question." Turns out she had a ton going on at home with her family being unstable on top of her own self confidence issues and stress from the heaps of young children in her home. She told me that she didn't think she'd ever be able to do any of this stuff and that she just isn't good at it.
She still got in trouble. I didn't write a referral (because those never really change anything) but she did lose the chance to earn points back that time. She still came to tutoring and passed her ACP. Maybe she would've done that anyway. Maybe it had nothing to do with that chat. I can say that she's happier now and is better at explaining how she's feeling. If you want to chalk it up to growing up, go for it, but in that year, I saw the change and never had another interaction like that going forward.
Reacting to force with force isn't always the best option. Try fighting fire with water instead of fire.
When DISD students break down
Real talk with DISD students
Dallas and DISD student concerns
Stressed out Dallas Students
Tired Dallas Students
DISD teacher and DISD student Arguments
Dallas Teachers are servants
In the past few days I've had several conversations about political engagement and teacher frustration. It's not news that teachers are unhappy and it's justified. Teachers have power in numbers, but those numbers are missing, publicly anyway.
There's a difference between being unhappy while simultaneously working to fix it and just polluting every environment you pass though with your unhappiness. We all know those people who are permanently miserable. The ones who have something negative to say no matter what. Usually its something small. Example:
"How are you?"
"You know what? I'm having a pretty good day so far."
" *Scoff* Yeah, well check in with me tomorrow. Then we'll see."
What? What is that supposed to mean? That's a real conversation I had recently. It stuck with me, but I didn't take it personal. Other times these conversations get even more aggressive sometimes. Why? Because often times people direct their negativity toward all the places except where it needs to go.
There are reasons people are unhappy. Plenty of legitimate, valid, rational reasons to be angry in the classroom; unfortunately, the majority of teachers that feel this way bury it deep down inside until it rots them from within. It doesn't happen right away, but over a decade of feeling like nobody cares what you have to say, like you have no control over you life/classroom, and like nobody respects you takes its toll. It's not the teacher's fault, but it's also not the fault of the coworkers, students, and random bystanders who get the brunt of it either.
I've had the "I used to be like you...you'll see. Stay in this long enough and you'll be just like me" conversation more times than anyone should. People are more likely to take to the internet anonymously and spew hate than openly challenge and communicate with the board, their principal, or the superintendent. That's why the structures that make teachers miserable stay the way they are or get worse. Yes, there are people with money that have ideas about how things should work and influence all of us, but they are allowed to do what they want, whether you agree or not, because of widespread silence and disengagement. Yes, there's a culture of fear in DISD. There's threat of retaliation. Whether or not it's real, which many will say it is, the feeling that it's a reality is what makes it real.
Instead of taking our frustrations out on people unrelated to the issues we have, it's better to confront our common concerns together. Obviously time is finite and teachers are busy, but it only takes a second to send an email. Take as long as you need to draft it, but send it. Make a fake email and name if you need to. People do it all the time.
I've been thinking quite a bit about the role and impact of teachers of color on students of color specifically and ALL students generally. Two people I follow (so should you) and always keep me thinking, @shree and @citizenstewart, have be talking about this for a while, but most recently in the last few days.
The data shows that students of color perform better with teachers of color perform better. Some areas are doing worse than others. Teachers of color are becoming scarce. These are the facts. The question I have is does that show correlation or causation? What else to the studies take into account?
The past few years, I've had some of the best scores in my district, far surpassing the district average. Is it because I'm black? Most of my school is Latin@ so if all my students were black would my scores be better? All my data shows my black students are performing worse than my students of other ethnic backgrounds. Am I just an outlier? Am I not black enough? Am I not black in the right way? I grew up here, can my students not connect with me properly because I'm too close to their age? Am I too old?
Last year, I saw a white teacher get yelled at by a black teacher accused of her as being unable to get the most out of her kids because, due to her whiteness, she couldn't connect with her students. The white teacher has the best test scores in the building, the most kids voluntarily coming to tutoring, and students physically fighting to get into her class instead of whomever is teaching the other sections of the class. The black teachers scores are garbage, she mostly yells at them, and the kids wonder aloud if that teacher is an insane person. Is the white teacher just really good and the black teacher isn't? Are they both outliers? The question I'm trying to resolve is this: If, 1 to 1, two teachers (one black and one white) are teaching the same students of color doing the exact same things and giving the exact same assignments, does the research show that the black teacher will have better results than the white one? That I'm not sure I buy.
To be clear, I do believe the thesis of the argument: Teachers of color are essential and have a positive impact on students.
It's troubling that there aren't more of us. I think my being in the classroom shows my students that people of color "know things about stuff." Many of my students never met or don't personally know a black man who was a college graduate. For a while they looked at me like a unicorn and peppered me with questions about every part life, but eventually they got over it and it was business as usual.
Where did I see the benefits of my ethnicity? They showed up to class even when they skipped or got kicked out of all their others. They believed in themselves more. The started to set bigger goals. They tried new foods, visited new places, and stepped outside of their comfort zones more because I showed them that I did, and continue to do, the same. I think they had fun in class. I don't know how studies can quantify those impacts though.
Does teacher race matter?
Why All Students Need Teachers of Color
Yesterday I was fortunate enough to run into someone I hadn't seen in a while. It's usually nice seeing a familiar face from the past and just checking in. Neither person really cares deeply what the other person is up to, but we both ask the obligatory who/what/when/where/why as is tradition. We got around to work and this is where things make me grumpy.
He asked what I'm up to and I told him I'm back here in Dallas teaching and have been for the past few years. His follow up question to my life choice to be involved in education was "...Like, on purpose?" Yes *******, On Purpose. Is it so crazy to believe that I'd choose to teach? Real talk, the money sounds nice, but your finance job sounds like it sucks, so save your judgement. Side note, you wouldn't have that job without teachers.
I'm happy teaching. Even when I'm so pissed off I can't sleep, I love it. Where'd all the respect teachers used to get go? If I find it, I'll share it with y'all.
Why I teach
Think back to when you were in school. Why did you cheat? I can neither confirm nor deny that I dishonestly got an answer or two, but I KNOW that you did. Yes, you, the one reading this right now. How do you even sleep at night?
In all seriousness, it's common, but as much as we like to tar and feather the kids we catch (some we even lay traps for), we rarely ask why and where it comes from.
Like adults, kids get busy. They may not have a mortgage or a car note, but they do have 6+ classes of work and tests, extracurriculars, siblings, home chores, jobs, etc. Throw hormonal changes, relationship drama, and how all of the aforementioned worries impact their emotions into the mix and you have a kid who is ready to explode. How do some students deal with it? Asking to copy a homework assignment, getting the answers to a quiz, or working cooperatively on a take home essay. Why? To relieve a little pressure. The grade focused world we live his only makes it worse.
The other reason is a lack of self confidence. Some students have been cheating off of the same kids since they were in 1st grade. Year after year it's reinforced,sometimes explicitly by teachers, that they are not smart enough to pass and need to cheat to succeed. If you don't believe you're capable of success without cheating or if you don't trust your brain to the point that literally anyone else's will do better than yours, you'll cheat. Some kids cheat because they literally don't know how to do anything else.
The sad/funny thing is that some of these kids cheat so well they can do it while you're sitting next to them handing them a completely different test. Remarkable. If our students put as much time into their studies as they do coming up with new and inventive ways of cheating, they'd have no reason to cheat in the first place.
So what are you saying? Don't punish cheating? Nope, punish it. But don't let that be the end of the situation.
Solutions? Build a relationship! Change the culture! All of those things people say, especially when they've never been in a classroom. Grades and tests are here to stay and so is the pressure they bring; however,explaining the role of these things has had some success for me and my classroom. Something that is there to help them by helping me know what the do and do not understand. Accurate information is key and is more important than the grade. Offering ample extra credit helps them believe me.
"If I were not president, but if I were king in America, I would abolish all teachers lounges, where they sit together and worry about, oh woe is us." - Ohio Governor John Kasich
Wow. Way to attack a group of people not even at the center of the majority of presidential discussions. Why teachers? Are we easy targets? Is he grabbing for anything and everything Donald Trump is NOT talking about to try to catch a few headlines for himself? Who knows. The point is he doesn't know what he's talking about. At least not entirely.
Do many of us know teachers who complain all day everyday? Sure. Do we know teachers who have burst into tears and wallowed in self pity in the lounge? Yep. The part people don't like to tell is the high level of positivity and support that can also come from the teachers' lounge. My time in the lounge, even when i'm venting, is usually full of laughter and accompanied by helpful tips and tricks from my peers.
A lot of new teachers get the advice that they should avoid the lounge. I say nay. If the DFW Teachers Lounge facebook group is any indication, there's a lot of fun to be had in the lounge. Sometimes that's equally as important if not more than anything else.
DISD Teachers Lounge
Original Huffpo article
Is everyone ready to get pumped up for the school year at convocation? "No." - Every teacher I've talked to about convocation.
What will be different from last year? Probably less dancing (particularly from the Superintendent). Probably. No guarantees.
As much as I've tried to dig up some positivity around today's event, I've turned up nothing. Excited for teh school year? Sure. Excited for convocation? For sure not.
At a time where DISD is about to ask voters to approve a billion dollar bond because we're so desperately in need of funds, events like this seem like a waste of money. What is more concerning? That it is a waste of time. The vast majority of teachers would rather spend the next 4-6 hours planning and getting ready for their students that will be arriving in less than a week than seeing a long, drawn out presentation and performance.
Based on the community meetings and town halls about the DISD bond proposal and the Oak Cliff DISD districts, nobody is focused on making sure there's a big kickoff for the year. In fact, many communities already plan and put on smaller, localized back to school events that are well received and attended. So why do we do this every year? Who is this really for?
Either way, go (because you don't have a choice), talk with your fellow teachers, and try to feel the energy. Stay positive. It will all be over soon.
Buses leave at 8!
TFA DFW DISD Summer Institue
Superintendent Mike Miles leaves DISD
I know we haven't posted anything since DISD Superintendent Mike Miles made his sort of shocking, but not really shocking, exit from Dallas ISD. There are three main reasons for this. 1. Summer school is draining and I'm giving myself a little break. 2. Changes that big demand some serious reflection time. 3. I've been rethinking a lot of elements to the blog to make it better, and now it's time to put some of those changes into action!
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending a panel discussion with Teach for America regarding their summer institute for new teachers and training initiatives going forward. It was a who's who of education aficionados and blogger/news types all gathered together to get the rundown of how TFA operates.
On stage Momentous, SMU, DISD, and TFA itself were represented. In the crowed you had DISD Trustees, Dallas Teacher Residency, Stand for Children and Dallas Kids First members, wealthy funders, and teachers. Watching, blogging, and taking notes were veterans of the game. Eric Celeste complete with cowboy boots and his trademark facial hair, Matthew Haag and his laptop sitting in the back, Brett Shipp in all his Brett Shippness, and me, just happy to be sitting near these folks, absorbing their blogging and writing skills.
The main takeaway from this panel was that TFA is constantly rethinking and improving its training methods for new teachers. Director Alex Hales and VP of Teacher Leadership, Elizabeth Fritze Cheek showcased and impressive list of resources available not just to TFA teachers, but All Teachers. Partnerships with Momentous and SMU could go a long way to helping improve the quality of classroom instruction and the reception of that instruction by students through social and emotional training. Why should DISD care? Because all of these methods and materials are free and for share with every teacher in the district if they're interested. Could be a strong alternative to the weekly PD that makes us all want to run head first into nearest wall.
The common misconception is that TFA teachers get 5 weeks of training then are abandoned in the classroom. Compared to Dallas AC for example, these teachers have weekly check-ins and conferences with a slew of mentors, advisers and observers, daily if necessary; additionally, they supplement district mandated PD with regular TFA and SMU PD nights and weekends. The myth of the 5 week training couldn't be further from the truth and it would benefit all of TFA's detractors to take not of this simple fact and the proceed with the criticism accordingly.
The Momentous philosophy of educating the whole student brings me back to an idea of looking at the whole school instead of just the teachers. The question I asked was what resources are available to help school leadership become stronger. We've talked about it before, but there are several APs, Principals, and even Executive Directors that have no experiences either running a business or teaching in a DISD classroom. DISD administrators and leadership are struggling, but they don't have to be. Many of the chronic issues we have and complain about come from a lack of skills and leaders being promoted / hired without the credentials necessary to be successful in their new position. It's not necessarily their fault, but if we want our schools to be successful, we need our leaders to be able to hone their skills just like we as teachers are called to do.
The future of Dallas ISD still has the potential to be bright. All of this collaboration is a great start. The next step is to get out of the same rooms with the same people, ideas, and mindsets to created a united district. We have to bring in our Veteran DISD teachers that have rejected some of these ideas in the past, not by force, but by sincere invitation.
DISD PD Reflection Week
Last week, there was talk of DISD Superintendent Mike Miles telling Dallas, DISD, and the Board of Trustees to "shove it." My feelings on this are complicated. Not my feelings on Superintendent Miles necessarily, but on what he represents.
Leadership is hard. Balancing personalities and interests of thousands of people is harder. The hardest thing is admitting you’ve made a mistake and owning it. If there is one fault that Mike Miles had as superintendent, it’s his inability to build bridges and coalitions. Part of that was not being willing to make compromises. It was his biggest strength and his biggest weakness.
Throughout history there are leaders who have made similar mistakes. To compare Mike Miles to these great leaders of men would be a bit of a stretch, but the parallels are there. Despite the vocal detractors, Mike Miles had quite a supportive and passionate following, smaller at the end, but still devoted. He was able to encourage investment and interest from people with money and power to make some much needed changes and upgrades to DISD. Some in Dallas will miss him terribly while others will be dancing in the street, burning him in effigy by nightfall. Me? I’ll be letting out a giant sigh of relief for an end to fierce infighting, administrative missteps, and upheaval in the teacher ranks. Then I’ll be bracing myself for the next wave of chaos that will come in his wake.
Dallas will not soon forget Superintendent Miles. I don’t mean that in a good way. The scars that have been carved deep into DISD have festered. Lines have been drawn between teachers, administrators, community members, and others. Miles leaving doesn’t me the pro v anti Miles camps are gone. The Superintendent’s inability to connect with people on a human level has divided the district and tainted the “reform movement” for the foreseeable future. DISD wasn’t perfect, but now the resistance to change or improvement will be more difficult now than ever. People will fear the rise of another Miles. All the people who believed in his ideas while disagreeing with his methods will be lumped into one category and punished for it, maybe forever.
The story of Napoleon is the closest parallel to our outgoing Superintendent. Smart, good ideas, the ability to draw people too his cause. He created something that nobody else had before. It was hubris that led him to march one of the largest, most successful armies in human history to its doom in Russia, and the few who supported him to the end came back shattered, utterly broken, because of the poor leadership decisions of a strong leader. Europe was never the same again after he was ousted, and neither will DISD post-Miles.
Was it the wrong decision to hire him? No, he had some good ideas that were executed poorly. Was it wrong to fire him all those times it was put to a vote? Again, no, you can’t fire someone because you don’t like them. Even though many will say that’s how Miles acted, two wrongs don’t make a right. I largely agree with the board and think many of them showed forethought and carefully deliberated over their decisions. The reality is that Miles didn’t make the most of the many chances given to him and he destroyed himself.
Who wins? Who was right? Nobody. We all lose and our students lose the most; however, we have an opportunity now, without the 3 year lightning rod of negativity that Miles was, to come back together and make DISD work again. It’s going to take community, veteran DISD teachers, novice DISD Teachers, and even student input, but great things are still possible. It’s also going to take someone willing to listen, not just make the tough decisions and ignore the results.
DISD Teacher Believes in DISD
DISD Teacher Unhappy with DISD
DISD Test Results are Flat
Firing DISD Teachers
TEI Evaluations for DISD Teachers
Good Governance for DISD Trustees
Miles fires DISD Principals
This blog is a comment on Sharon Grigsby’s article this morning. It’s going to be a long one, so if reading isn’t your thing, the short summary is that Mike Miles has burned his bridges and nobody is willing to give him an inch anymore. He doesn’t need to tell anyone to shove it because he basically already has. Read on if you want to know how I arrive at that conclusion and what the implications are.
Yesterday, I posted a few thoughts from 1st year DISD teachers. While the assumption is that all new teachers are products of TFA, I purposefully solicited the opinions of 1st year education majors that have chosen this as their career. While their concerns overlapped with those shared by 1st year TFA teachers, their outrage seemed a little more potent, perhaps because they have, for a longer period of time, dedicated their life to education. This brings me to another group of people whose opinions I was curious about: Veterans Teachers.
For the purpose of my questioning, I sought out teachers who have been in DISD for over 10 years. The response was almost the exact opposite of what the 1st year teachers yearned for. Common responses were as follows:
1. "More than anything, I just want to be left alone."
2. "Let me pick what development I want / need."
3. "Worry less about what's happening in my classroom and more about what's happening in the hallway. Let me teach."
This makes sense to me. Many educators have been at it for much longer than the Miles era and will be there long after. For teachers who have been making a difference for kids for decades, I can understand that the "reinvent the wheel" approach is annoying and why they are skeptical.
Lately, the district has been divided into camps of pro v anti Miles with those in the pro Miles camp calling those in the Anti Miles camp lazy and change resistant, while the anti miles folks call the pro miles folks teacher hating sell outs. This isn't helpful or productive and I don't think anyone in a DISD classroom is there because they want to destroy the lives of our children. That said, I wanted to clear the name of veteran teachers who have lately been polarized by all the turmoil in the district.
I asked each of them if they were resistant to new ideas or approaches to education and each and every one of them said "no." "Show me it works. Don't just force me to abandon what's been working for me for years without proof there's a better way," one teacher said.
This sounds reasonable. So does focusing the attention on teachers that are begging for it instead of forcing it on those that don't. If you can prove your methods, perhaps that should be celebrated and shared. Like I've said before, there's room for all approaches in Dallas Education.
DISD isn't an activity. DISD isn't a game. Everyone seems to want to be involved in the 8 hour school day whether it be with money or physically getting in the classroom teaching. Schools open and close, non-profits come and go, but the ones always left behind are our kids.
Over the past few weeks I have had several interesting conversations with people, both inside and outide of education, who have been watching the news and want to get involved. Everyone has some kind of "x" or precondition that needs to be satisfied before they tackle the beast that is a large urban public school district.
A few of the conditions include:
"Once my kid graduates."
"Once I retire"
"After I get married"
"Once I save up enough money"
Why are they so hesitant? I can't say I blame them, but I always probe a bit deeper. What are they so afraid of? Here are a few of the concerns:
"I hear the administration is supportive of teachers"
"I hear the kids are out of control"
"I hear Mike Miles is destroying education"
"I hear leadership on campuses is incompetent"
"I hear parents don't care"
There are varying degrees of truth all over these concerns, but the important think I stress to people thinking of coming to DISD is to make sure they are doing it for the right reasons. DISD isn't a safari. It's not full of wild animals and a few jaded and disgruntled park rangers. It has is faults, but there are some fantastic teachers, motivated students, and some real learning going on. It can be beautiful depending on how you look at it or horrifying. A lot of the time it's both at the same damn time and that's what makes it special. There's room to improve and a long way to go before it's perfect, but we need the right people coming in for the right reasons with the right mindset.
Why do some DISD Teachers teach
This is a very bloated and lengthy blog so we'll give you all day to read it without overwhelming you with blogs today.
Yesterday, my colleague and partner wrote about why she believes in her instructional methods, namely DISD's MRS strategies. Her philosophy is always inspirational to me. It's pure, reasonable, and rich with dedication. I largely agree with what she has to say, but have a larger criticism of what I believe is the direction of the district. Let's break it down by buzzwords.
Dallas education is changing, but some things stay the same. Kids are kids. Rich, poor, present day, in the past, no matter what descriptor, kids have always been and always will be kids. Some are more behind than others. Some haven't been trained to be students. That said, they have to be taught and they need to learn if they want to be successful. Grades used to be something that had value in and of themselves. Growing up, I was college focused from a young age. My parents always expected As and Bs from me and I'd hear about it if I was slipping. That does not describe many of my students. I was being held accountable at all levels and in our schools that is largely flipped.
Responsibility for success and achievement has shifted almost entirely toward teachers as of late. The philosophy of "there is no excuse for poor quality instruction" makes sense, but there are a million excuses for poor quality learning. Yesterday, our principal gave us a stern talking to about how there was no excuse for failing a senior. It's about that time where our counseling staff comes by and strong arms everyone into giving 70s to seniors that have done nothing and didn't earn that "senioritis" by doing anything in their last 4 years. Before that it was attendance for credit, another sham in Dallas ISD education. In addition to those, there is DISD discipline procedures that don't help or keep DISD students safe. All of that is now blamed on the teacher, but teachers are no longer supported enough to be able to make the changes administrators want to see. We shouldn't be removing DISD teachers on a whim, we need to be supporting teachers.
Check for Understanding
MRS strategies can be a good idea. The problem is the belief that they can and will replace traditional lecture style instruction. That's still college. Abandoning that means we have given up on our kids going to college. Why do I think that? Because removing that from education means we've stopped preparing them for what they will see at higher levels. Many of our students are unprepared for the amount of independent practice DISD administrators want to see. 3 MRS strategies in 10 minutes? Not only do a number of our students not think and process that quickly, but how much teaching can actually happen in that 3 minutes between strategies? Shouldn't be a problem if the kids are engaged, they say...
Administrators harp on this word engagement in front of crowded rooms of teachers on their cellphones. I'm usually not engaged. If you can't engage me, you can't engage my students. You don't know what you're talking about. The end, I'm not listening to you anymore. Differentiated instruction in DISD is a popular thing to expect; however, differentiated engagement is not. Kids engage in different ways. Some are 100% engaged with their phone out. My DOLs prove they know what i'm teaching, but I still get yelled at. How can we get them to completely engage if we're breaking their attention ever 3 minutes with an MRS? Some DISD students can't read so videos work better. What? Not allowed to show more than 5 minutes in a class period. Sorry, i'm already breaking that rule from time to time.
We've talked about the student learning objective in DISD recently. Setting a goal at the beginning of the year and working to grow from it by the end makes sense. I'm not going to do it on your website unless you tell me why that's important and make me believe someone is actually going to read it. One of our leaders flat out told us nobody was reading ours anyway.
The point of this is to get teachers to plan. That's fine. That's good. Teachers planning is important. Should I be getting written up for deviating from my lesson plan though? If my kids don't look at or care about it, why am I in trouble for it not being on the wall? Busy work frustrates kids and adults alike. Let's trim down to the important stuff and get back to focusing on kids.
Buy in / conclusion
That was long but it's my breakdown. My philosophy on education is that all methods have a place at the table and you have to do what works for you. If you're uncomfortable you won't do as well. Does that mean you don't have to try new things? No, but if you give something a try and it's not working, you shouldn't be penalized for doing what is. You shouldn't have to worry about punishment if you haven't been trained. If nobody can model what you're supposed to be doing, your observer shouldn't be able to say you're doing anything wrong. DISD schools should be a community where everyone is working together for the benefit of the students, but our schools are divided against themselves. The direction of the district is a tear down and rebuild direction. It's not necessary and absent shining examples of success, nobody is going to "buy in" or get on board with the plan. DISD needs to stop viewing everything in education as zero sum. Increasing MRS doesn't mean decreasing lecture. Bringing in new teachers doesn't mean getting rid of veteran teachers. It's not a hard science. It's a business of people and feelings.
Last week we talked about the pepper spraying and physical violence at Dade. Kids fight. Those of us in DISD know that is a reality of our educational experience. Some are worse than others, but many of our students don't yet have the social and emotional skills to express themselves verbally. It's important to maintain that safety for ALL of our students even if we have to make some difficult disciplinary decisions.
We talked about DAEP in DISD earlier today. It's an educational holding cell for kids that have some something the district sees as too big to ignore. The problem is that the kids don't stay there.
We do a pretty good job of catch and stopping fights and drug use, but what do we miss? Bullying and sexual violence.
At my campus there was a boy who was caught, on camera, exposing himself and trying to force himself on a classmate in a stairwell. Writing about it makes me angry and physically ill. The kid gets sent to DAEP for 30 days. BOOM! Got him! That'll teach him a lesson. When he returned, not only was he put back into the same class with a very uncomfortable female teacher, but he was put in the SAME CLASS PERIOD as the girl that he attempted to assault, on camera, in a stairwell. Irresponsible doesn't even scratch the surface.
The parents know, the administrators know, the teachers know, and all the important people in the situation know what happened. The only thing I can do as a blogger, since no one else wants to, is call it what it was. Attempted rape. A student tried to rape another students and everyone is just sitting here trying to pretend that it was just a mishap between 2 students.
If a facility exists where students are to be sent when they have done something terrible, this student should have earned himself something a little more stringent than a 30 day trip. If attempted rape and being caught with marijuana are the same thing in the DISD handbook, I'll eat my keyboard. This kid at least earned 31 days for his behavior.
Some of our schools just plain aren't safe, but they can be. What does it take? Honesty about our DISD schools.
Safety in DISD Schools
Drama at DISD Middle School - Dade
We’ve talked about attendance for credit in DISD schools last semester when the first batch came out. In theory is a good thing. If a kid is out because they are sick or injured, if their child is sick and they don’t have a sitter, or if there is an emergency, they shouldn’t be penalized just because they were out of the classroom. They are still responsible for learning, but if they can prove they have mastered the content, they should get the credit. The kids who skip and don’t know the material but still want credit, in my opinion, haven’t earned the opportunity to make it up. Why do they get it? Because schools want to look good and so they use this combined with the mandatory passing percentages at some Dallas ISD schools to make the overall picture of DISD positive.
Here’s an example. I just got 18 attendance for credit sheets. The rules are as follows:
1-8 days absent = 5 hours
9-15 days absent = 10 hours
16-19 days absent = 20 hours
20 days absent = 25 hours
21 and over = no credit without an approved appeal
Sounds reasonable right? Here’s my problem: all 18 are only required to serve 5 hours. Let me give you a little snapshot of some of these kids.
Student 1: 7 absences – 5 hours. No problems there.
Student 2: 15 absences –5 hours. A little high, but the kid had an emergency. I understand.
Student 3: 29 absences, 137 on the year – 5 hours. WHAT?!
Student 4: 24 absences, 311 on the year – 5 hours. DOUBLE WHAT!?!?
Student 5: 18 absences, 189 on the year – 5 hours. Getting the picture?
I’m not a data guy here, but how do we expect our kids to have accountability or do anything when we bend and break the rules to make ourselves look better? Maybe if it was with them in mind, the disregard of self-imposed policy would be forgivable, but it’s not even for their benefit. Really gets me down as a teacher.