Monday, April 27, 2015

A Riot is the Language of the Unheard... Pt. 1

This quote was stated by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in 1968 during an interview on 60 Minutes with Mike Wallace. 

I have a question, when you have nothing to lose, wouldn't you throw rocks at the police too? The death of Freddie Gray,while in police custody, has sparked peaceful demonstrations and violent protests throughout the city of Baltimore, Maryland. Today, following his funeral, the city broke into a heightened sense of urgency. In the midst of protests, young Black Americans took to the streets, responded violently to the police, and for many, they began throwing rocks at them.

Photo Credit: NBC News Image of young Black male, most likely an 8th grader or freshman in high school, throwing rocks at police armed and ready for war.  
I think the MLB Baltimore Orioles executive, Peter G. Angelos said it best:
"The innocent working families of all backgrounds whose lives and dreams have been cut short by excessive violence, surveillance and other abuses of the bill of rights by government pay the true price, and ultimate price, and one that far exceeds the importance of any kid's game played tonight, or ever, at Camden Yards," Angelos tweeted. "We need to keep in mind people are suffering and dying around the US and while we are thankful no one was injured at Camden Yards, there is a far bigger picture for poor Americans in Baltimore and everywhere who don't have jobs and are losing economic, civil and legal rights and this … makes inconvenience at a ball game irrelevant in light of the needless suffering government is inflicting upon ordinary Americans."
I like most that he spoke of "families and Americans of all backgrounds". So often is there a separation of Americans, which mostly means white, and then Black Americans. I'm guilty of this too.

So what does this have to do with education. Well I believe it has A LOT to do with education.

My targeted audience for this blog is anyone who is an educator, advocate, supporter, policy maker, parent, or even stands on the side of the opposition. Most often, you had a seemingly quality education, something you cherish to this day.  It would be fair to say that you tried to stay almost out of trouble, or you got in just enough trouble where it landed you on punishment, but nothing to the extent of expulsion, arrest, or a jail sentence. Not only did you value your education, but you most likely valued whether your parents were disappointed in you or not, and you desired to please them. And lastly, it wasn't socially appropriate to participate in amoral crimes. Your friends weren't involved in it, so you most likely weren't.

This isn't the case for kids like the ones in the picture above. Keyword, kids, students, like ones you and I teach for at least 180 days out of the year.

Point blank, we have not given these students anything of value. We have not given them a reason to think twice about throwing that rock and landing them in a heap of trouble. We have robbed them of what is within their rights which is an equal opportunity for education.

The question can be asked, are schools supposed to fix everything? Of course not. As an educators, we are already inundated with a myriad of responsibilities to attend to. However, we are the staple community institution, that possesses the power to make a life altering influence on our children.

I must say, I don't blame my students for their often unruly behavior in the classroom. If you felt that your education was totally inaccessible to you, and didn't incorporate aspects of your life, you would place little to no value in it. During my year long student teaching I, as well as a colleague of mine, wondered, "So we do all this work on the inside, but how does it translate on the outside of these four walls?" And what I am coming to terms with, is that, for the masses, it doesn't. What long lasting impact will teaching my students how to multiply 2x2 digit numbers, if I am not able to supply them with life skills, and equip them with constructive strategies to manage their conflicts, and promote socially appropriate emotional responses, educate them using a curriculum that is most salient and relevant to them? What it seems we've been told is that it's not important because its not on the test.

Like our students, we are tested each time another life is stolen relentlessly at the hands of government, or another generation enters our classroom doors. With some, we have passed and helped to flourish, and others we get by with just the skin of our teeth. It has become apparent, that today, we are the failing this one, before they're even able to drive.

I Hate School

That's what a note from one of my students read. This particular student isn't one who gets into trouble, or one of our adventurous students. She's a sweet child and most often desires to please her teacher. And while children at this point in life often exaggerate current circumstances, she has an apparent disdain for school, and it isn't something that has recently developed.
A harrowing moment for any teacher when you find that even your most motivated students are disenchanted with school. 
I would like to say that every day is fun. Or that even most days are fun. Or that my lesson are as inspiring as when my 1st grade teacher made our classroom into a rainforest, and each unit was based off the biome we learned and "lived" in for the year. I would like to say that my students experience education, with a cultural relevant curriculum that incorporates their life and cultural experiences. Further being that their learning is facilitated in a manner that understands most Black children's habits and behaviors, and doesn't label them as having ADHD.  But none of this is true.

I'm certain that she is not the only student who feels this way. In my reflection, I've realized that I have cheated my students of an education that can make them proud of their work. As we are in the midst of crunch time, there is little time for inquiry or even fun. And it seems we've been in crunch time since September.

I wish it were true that the pressure and frustration I experience don't get passed onto my students. Just today, I was pulled aside and shown my data; It was highlighted that not enough growth had been made over the course of the year. That I was losing ground in what I had been successful in early on. Previously, I've mentioned that I am about 19 days from administering a high stakes assessment. However, that data in question is from a low stakes test that has no bearing on promotion nor my evaluation... HUH?!

 Schools are living, breathing staple institutions in communities. But when they are suffocated with an  disconnected and downright nonsensical expectations, you either become overwhelmed, or disengaged. The presence of apathy and defeat are common among teachers and students, I can certainly attest to this, and the writer of this note can as well.  This is in no way the best environment for learning to occur.

Although jaded, I still show up and believe that we can breath life back into their learning. So to my student, "I know you hate school, but I'd like to show you a new kind of school." Lets begin to rethink schools and how we educate our future.  

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

'Tis the Season

It seems that the testing season is here again. But if you ask any teacher within the public school system, they would say it never left. With the full implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and advent of Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)  or Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), standardized testing across the states, classrooms, schools, administrators, teachers, parents, and most importantly, students, are hard pressed on every side. 
Just one example of many school billboards, alerting community members, families, and students that with April showers, brings testing anxiety.
Around the country, schools are gearing up for a second wave of PARCC. Testing schedules have been confirmed, and materials have been distributed to schools. In January, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) attempted to protest the administration of this assessment, but to no avail
And here we are again, in April. What perplexes most CPS teachers, is that the administration of PARCC  runs concurrently with the testing window for NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Association), which is considered a high-stake test, that determines student promotion eligibility.  I could detail the acronyms, and purported purpose for these tests, but what is not shared enough is the effects this institutionalized norm gone mad, has on children. 

The above billboard was displayed right after spring break. As students and teachers returned from a well-deserved break, teachers will be inundated with test protocol, which contributes to an overwhelmingly tense and stressful environment. Furthermore, crucial instructional time is compromised during testing. While the point of this is to inform instruction, hold teachers and schools accountable for failing progress, and teacher/school evaluative measures, rarely is the purpose of these tests expressed and truly understood by our students. I find myself having to "beef up" the importance of these assessments to my students: "this test is going to open the doors of success and help you achieve your dreams", or "this tells your teachers what you know and what we need to do to help you best". No doubt do these assessments show our students where they stand in comparison to their peers in more affluent school districts around the state and nation. However, to most, it is just another update on whether they left the "red/orange" (severely below grade level) and made it to "green", on grade level, or if they slipped to "green", from being "blue" college ready.

It is my firm belief that school is the first place in which a child should feel successful. While I have seen merit in these tests, too often does it impart confidence and authentic motivation to the students. In my experiences, for far too many students, it has reaffirmed their inability to be successful in the classroom. 

Today we were given,addressing the rumors that we would, in fact, be administering PARCC next week. I was overcome with angst and grief as I envisioned being stripped of prime instructional time, to prepare for another weighted test just 21 instructional days away. As teachers hop from one track to the next, how can one feel successful or even motivated, and expect their students to do the same?  

My point of view is nothing unique: there are many teachers who have similar sentiments. I think we are finally nearing a time in which these voices will be heard, and cannot be ignored or placated.