Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Gagged Majority: Teachers on Education Reform

I love the internet: it gives me the chance to snoop into all the private worlds I find interesting. Lately, I’ve been fascinated by the Department of Education’s website—not for the somewhat bland press releases and typical government rhetoric (blah blah, better testing, better accountability, “yes, we know NCLB stinks”), but for the mostly well-written, thoughtful responses of educators in the comments sections at the bottom of some of the posts. Now, I know that I’m probably not seeing a full representation here, but they’re interesting to read, and they often reflect what I’ve heard from many teachers over the years. With an aunt who taught for 25 years and a husband entering his 5th, as well as plenty of friends in teaching, I can’t help but be interested in where the educational system is headed.

Here are the “people on the ground” everyone always talks about but forgets to listen to. While the government continues to use the rhetoric of running schools like a business (by making them waste resources competing for funds that only a few will get), these teachers are focused on exactly what they ought to be – teaching every student in their individual classrooms. These teachers are not asking for a pay raise (although they deserve one - I definitely agree with Mr. Duncan on that issue), nor are they demanding better benefits or more ‘incentives’ to do their job.

What do they want instead? Overwhelmingly, the comments I see (and hear) complain of:

- Constant administrational interruptions that disrupt class time and lessen student/teacher interaction

- Teach-to-the test orientation that hampers their creativity and ability to engage students in the classroom

- High student-teacher ratios that lessen their ability to treat students as individuals

Huh. All of these are student-focused concerns that have proven effective at bettering the educational experience; however, I don’t hear anyone in government advocating for these sorts of on-the-ground approaches. Instead, they tout the need for better “accountability” and better testing. And what does more accountability mean? More meetings, more administrators, and… you got it, more interruptions of class time and red tape that keeps teachers from doing the work that they will then be punished for not being able to do. I hear Arne Duncan talk about the need for government to step back, and he says he’s listening to teacher voices (see Arne Takes To Twitter) but I don’t see any action being taken on what teachers really seem to want.

The teachers I know (my husband being one) are accountable. They already, on their own, hold themselves to high standards, and they genuinely care about student learning. They clearly (especially not, since I live in Kentucky) didn’t get into teaching for the big bucks, or the time off. Anyway, just interesting to watch an evolving conversation; with an aunt who taught for 25 years and a husband entering his 5th, I can’t help but be interested in where the educational system is headed. I’d give History Husband’s input on this, but he’s swamped doing what he always does – making sure his students are learning to the best of their abilities.

Check out the teacher comments at the bottom of these posts

*I don’t agree with every single comment - I just want to hear more teacher voices in the discussion on education reform.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Modest Maid...

"A modest maid, decked with a blush of honor,
Whose feet do tread green paths of youth and love;
The wonder of all eyes that look upon her,
Sacred on earth, designed a saint above." - Spenser

Ok, the poem isn't really all that important to me, but I've been thinking about modesty a lot this week.

Two reasons this issue is on my mind. 1) Yesterday I heard a radio blog about a US convent that is getting lots of young nuns. It had interviews with several acolytes, and it was just really cool to hear these women dedicating their lives to Christ. The convent has the nuns wear a traditional white robe, and they mentioned that they want to stand out, to send that message that they are brides of Christ.

2) I've been reading a lot of essays students have written about their international travel experiences. Apparently, one group went to a country in Africa last summer, and I was struck by how many of the girls' essays mentioned clothing and how it affected their perceptions. The female members of the party were instructed to wear modest clothing, as the standards of modesty were much higher than here. At least two and probably closer to five of the girls mentioned how dressing differently made them feel... and I wasn't expecting their reactions.
"I was surprised by how much happier and more confident I felt."
"I kept noticing my face and my smile in store windows."

These two things really made me think about my own experience with clothing. Modesty wasn't just a halfway standard in my parent's house. When I was a teenager, Mom and Dad both were pretty adamant about no tummies showing, no cleavage, plenty of coverage - and I hated it. I thought they were outdated, I thought everything was fine, why were they making such a big deal, obviously I wasn't a party-goer, etc. At the same time, their strictness must have stuck, because I've been told by several guys that I dressed (and dress) very modestly.
(I actually had a friend tell me once that I needed to dress in more revealing clothing because I was 'repressing' myself and my sexuality. Not so!)

And now I really appreciate those standards. In many ways, I feel like the modest standard of dress imposed by my parents protected me from a lot of negative attention, and made me focus on myself as a person. Because I 'looked' modest, looking back I think that guys also tended to treat me more respectfully. Obviously I don't want to generalize - it wasn't a magic bullet to figuring out relationships or developing good self-confidence, and I had plenty of issues. All I'm saying is that, looking back on not so long ago, I feel like that was one way that my parents protected me from jerks without even being there, at an age when hormones make everything difficult for people of all genders.

After reading/hearing these things, I really question the societal norm for women's clothing in the US. At an age when we are being told that we are empowered females who can do anything we put our minds to, why are we also being shown/told (by media and stores) that we should display our bodies as much as possible? I see a disconnect between telling a woman that she should be confident in herself and who she is, but sending a not-so-subliminal message that to be 'confident' means to dress herself as a sex object, and allow herself to be seen as that, and only that, if the viewer so chooses. Is that not the very embodiment of a lack of confidence?

This is a bit disorganized. Basically, I just feel like somehow American society has turned women's lib on its head by destroying all standards of modesty. Are we making women feel that they have to dress a certain way to be confident and attractive? I just think it seems an awful lot like a warning bell that so many of the college-aged women who took that international trip felt a sudden being able to dress more modestly.

I had a Muslim coworker at one of my workplaces, and I really respected her for choosing to wear hijabi. Her very appearance said "I am set aside. I am different. I am not to be used, but loved and appreciated for who I am." No one is perfect, and I'm not arguing that everyone needs to have a particular standard of dress. But, like it or not, we are judged by our outward appearance, and I think many Christian communities struggle to keep sight of teaching teenagers that women can and should be confident in themselves, and confident to portray themselves as followers of Christ.

Anyway, I guess this ends with a question. Are Americans, as a society, pressuring women (Christian and secular) to dress and view themselves as sex objects only, or is the international trip an isolated incident?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Adventures In Education: Part 2

Now that another 9 months have passed, it's time to update my blog. I keep waiting for the day when I come back and find someone else's collar on it, but so far the little beggar keeps hanging around. Hold fast, little buddy!

Well, I spent a fantastic year as a library aide/writing coach, raised some money for the school, met some amazing students, and hopefully helped a few of them improve their writing skills along the way. Unfortunately, Mr. Husband is in grad school and, for whatever reason, the state requires that teachers obtain graduate degrees to get to Rank 2 or 1 but does not offer any discounts to get those degrees. (It stuns me that many people believe that the school system pays the bill for grad school. No such luck, my friends!) I guess the massive salary they pay high school teachers in rural Kentucky is supposed to cover that. So... I started looking for other work and, long story short, I found it at a small liberal arts school as a development writer. Now I write thank you letters to donors and create appeals, etc. It's nice to be a 'professional' writer, and I do like getting to do it all day. I also love the school - it has a great mission and I am truly proud to be here.

I really feel like the last year has given me focus. I now have enough experience (not sure what criteria they hired me on - hopefully it was because I'm qualified and not some sort of "least annoying candidate" situation) to write for a living, even if it's not the most glamorous work in the world. And it opens up the possibility that I can go to grad school - nothing is really holding me back anymore, and I've found a program that would let me continue to work full-time if I can get in (i.e. get back into the habit of writing decent prose/poetry). Anyway, just an update on the home front. No promises on being a better blog poster, but for the 3 people that read this, you know me well enough to know that I will happily respond to any further questions! :)

Praise God for having a job!

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Internet is a Great Black Hole

I took a personal day today in order to get some things done - important things, like getting ready for a class I'm planning to teach and persuading my insurance company that in fact I do need Singulair to survive a Kentucky spring free of sinus infections.

And yet, the moment where I am the most productive, when I have found a link between my ideas and what another writer/instructor thinks... this is the moment when I choose to waste my time watching "The Count Censored" on Youtube.

It's funny. Yes. Or at least my plebian brain thinks it's worth a viewing... or three. But that's no excuse to stop myself just when I get going.

Now, it might be different if I had been working for hours and hours. But no. After a mere 15 minutes of productivity, I find myself "rewarding" this unprecedented behavior by slacking off. A cliche? Of course, but nonetheless bothersome.

And now I'm updating this blog, which I haven't glanced at and have barely thought about for months. Rar! Back to work with me.

Enjoy the video.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Adventures in Education

Welcome to H. County High School - my new place of employment. Most recently famous for... ok, to be honest I don't live there and it seems a lot like my hometown; a small, tobacco-based town that hasn't quite figured out how to move on now that the industry's on its way out. Originally, my job there was supposed to be a librarian aide position, part time at 3 days a week. In the interview, however, I managed to talk my way into a two-day-a-week writing coach position. And that's been interesting; in fact, the whole experience has.

Favorite Quote so far: "People like to watch other people get hurt." From an essay by one of my students. He liked bullriding, so I handed him a bullriding essay prompt in which the government (don't laugh) had decided to ban bullriding because of the number of injuries. He obviously disagreed with the hypothetical decision, but one of the reasons he felt that it shouldn't be banned was the above. Afterward, we had a great time discussing japanese game shows.

Favorite Stupid Human Trick: Having a teacher finally inform me that I was trying to pull a student she didn't have that period, hearing her yell "WHO WANTS TO GO TO WRITING TUTORING?" to the entire class, and listening their responses over the phone.

Most happy educational moment: A student said "Well, how come nobody ever told me to do that before? That's easy!" I think I could have died happily, right then.

Least happy educational moment: Today. Overhead an instructor (a good teacher, too) saying to a roomful of students "when you're writing an on-demand, you do NOT have to believe what you are saying." I knew what she meant (for the purposes of the test) and I knew what she was trying to do (make it easier for them to get through on-demand writing pieces), but it still hurt to hear for me. I learned that writing game in high school, but it disappoints me that writing has become so secondary in education that we give the kids prompts they Don't care about, and then tell them to make something up in order to have some decent ideas.

Least favorite moment: Finding out that tutoring at a local school would not pay me $75 per session, but a stingy $30 instead because I'm not a certified teacher. *sigh*