Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Ch. 11: At the Edges of a Dream

This chapter challenges the reader to look at the "racial microaggressions" - unconscious or unintended forms of bias - that may or may not exist within many of our classrooms, and potentially within ourselves.

As I read this chapter - especially pages 88-90 - several questions arise in my mind:
Have you ever challenged yourself to look around the physical environment from the point of view of various students - those with different racial and/or socioeconomic backgrounds from your own - and thought about how they might feel when they walk into your classroom?
Does the make up of your classroom or class roster adequately reflect the diversity within your school in general, or the District as a whole? 
How do you recognize and/or celebrate diversity within your classroom?  Are your students comfortable with that? How do you know?
What other questions occur to you as you read this chapter?

Ch. 10: A Real Alternative

This chapter speaks of the need for education to "look and feel" different from the traditional model for some kids.  As I read this chapter, a few quotes really stood out to me.
Most teenagers... want to feel connected to, and supported by, caring adults. (p. 81)
Lacking formal support, some teachers grow weary of battling school cultures characterized by anonymity. Others never take up the fight. (p. 81)
"Our success has been about relationships from the beginning, and it still is." (p. 81)

I'm looking forward to learning your thoughts on these or other quotes that stood out to you, too.

The discussion (p. 82-83) of the so-called stigma sometimes attached to alternative schools was interesting also. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this as well. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Ch. 6: Fire and Water

In this chapter the author reminisces about his own experience teaching in urban classrooms. While some teachers are "on fire" in the classroom, others are drowning or barely treading water. As a teacher, sometime in your career you too will feel yourself somewhere along that range of fire and water. Not every class of every day will be worthy of the next feel-good Hollywood screenplay. Don't worry, it's not you. But, after you get some experience under your belt, you'll also find that not every day is a just-getting-by day, either.

Great quote, from page 54:
"The point, for me, is that a teacher's work must be at once grounded in the challenges of the present moment and directed toward the hope of a better future, of what might be. In that respect, the saving grace, always, is the kids themselves."

'Nuff said.

Ch. 5: Seeing, Hearing, and Talking Race

"Lessons for White Teachers from Teachers of Color"

First, let me just say this:


This is probably one of the eye-opening chapters in the book, in my opinion. On page 38, Michie quotes Jacqueline Jordan Irvine: "...avoidance is all too common among White teachers, many of whom...continue to cling to a "color-blind" approach in their thinking and classroom practice."

Guilty as charged, Your Honor.

To those of us raised in a certain age and in certain geographical regions, this was a common theme in undergraduate teacher-ed coursework. Michie and others challenge that sentiment's appropriateness during the modern era, though. The author has interviewed a number of teachers from a variety of backgrounds and offers the following advice:
1. Listen to Teachers of Color. Are you communicating in ways that each child understands and can identify with? How do you know? Have you asked? Michie suggests talking with teachers of color, and listening - REALLY LISTENING - to what they have to say. You may be surprised.
2. Examine Privilege and "Whiteness". If you share my rural vanilla working-middle-class background, you may be surprised by the way students of poverty and students of color perceive you. One of Michie's inerviewees (is that a word?) suggest, "To teach Black kids well, a White teacher has to be able to say, 'I know I'm White and this can get really complicated, so let's talk about why that could be.'" Frankly, I think that sentiment could be extended to students of any ethnic or socioeconomic group.
3. Be Honest About Gaps of Knowledge and Commit to Learning More. Once again, the best teachers are those who believe they are never done learning. Especially about kids. Be honest with your students. Let them know that your background may be different from theirs. Look for ways to share these backgrounds appropriately and integrate these experiences into your lessons and activities. This helps make every student feel like a valued and contributing member of your learning community.
4. Clarify Purposes for Teaching. Okay, gang. Journal entry time! Perfect opportunity. Why do you teach? Why did you get started in the first place? This is your journal, folks. I'm not going to read it - you won't be graded or judged. But I challenge each of you to sit down and put into words exactly what goes through your head when you think of those questions. Be honest. Don't give "The Perfect Interview Answer." Be real to yourself. If you can't, how can you be real for your kids?
5. Challenge Students - Don't Pity Them. Yes, some may say they want you to feel sorry for them - they think you'll give less homework that way. But there's a difference between showing true and legitimate empathy and caving. Know your students. Acknowledge both their strengths and their challenges. Then, give them something that's just a little bit outside their comfort zone. Help them see for themselves that they can break whatever boundaries and barriers life tries to place upon them.
6. Be Resilient. Teaching kids is hard. Teaching kids in an era when education is absurdly controlled and restricted by politicians who don't know the first thing about teaching is ludicrous. But, it is what it is. Venting about these things in front of kids is a disservice. Giving up in front of kids shows them that it's okay to give up. Don't do it. Be strong, and teach your kids to be strong. Support them and celebrate their successes, no matter how small, and you'll find that you have more support and more successes each and every day. "Never, never, NEVER give up." - Sir Winston Churchill

Ch.4 - From the Trading Floor to the Classroom

Seems I've been away for quite a while - shirking my blogging duties for a number of other priorities - apologies to those who are following. Oddly, I'm picking this up with what I believe to be an oddly appropriate passage, from page 32:

"Once inside classrooms, some though that the "big picture" questions seemed unimportant when compared with more pressing concerns: How do you get a class of 2nd graders to the washroom and back in less than 15 minutes"... etc.

True - one gets sidetracked from time-to-time and needs to focus on the trees now and then rather than the forrest. Many days, especially during your first year or so, you find yourself quite overwhelmed with the daily and not-so-mundane challenges of managing a classroom full of students. You feel good if you're at least one day ahead of where your kids are supposed to be. Somedays, because there are so many other demands on your time, you just wing it and hope for the best.

And you know what? Sometimes that's okay. It happens to each and every one of us. Happened to me last time we met.


We've all been there. And, more likely than not, you'll be there again somewhere down the road. We hope you don't move away or anything like that - we want to keep you as long as you're happy here! However, you might choose to move to another building, or you might get asked to teach that subject that somehow oddly showed up as an endorsement on your teaching certificate.

Or maybe you're planning a Teachers' Institute while starting up a book club. Whatever.

Regardless, the takeaway from Ch. 4 is this, in my opinion: The best teachers are those who are prepared to look at every day through the eyes of a student. There's going to be a new and unexpected challenge each and every day, no matter how much experience you have under your belt. Deal with it, and do the best you can with it. Experience - and the occasional failure - are the best teacher's teacher.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

We Don't Need Another Hero, pages 22-29

Chapter 3 begins with a summary of what the author believes are Hollywood's gross exaggerations of the conditions in the school portrayed in The Ron Clark Story. Michie compares that with the much more stark and, he claims, more unconventional movie, Half Nelson.

The author compares these movies to the need for change in education and the challenges faced by teachers in urban settings. He then goes into a deeper discussion of the French film The Class and the school in it have failed its children.

Then he discusses a documentary called The First Year, which looks at the needs of teachers - and the need for more teachers - to focus on the steady, personalized support given to individual students and their unique needs, resulting in "a truly humanizing education." (p. 29)

The author closes the chapter applauding those who stick with teaching, especially in urban settings, and expressing relief that some filmmakers are bucking the "feel-good film" trend of over-the-top grand-gesture heroes and instead show educators as they really are: dedicated professionals who affect change every day with small gestures that mean the world to the individual kids they help every day.

Have you ever done something that was simple and small in your eyes but meant the world to a kid? What was it, and how did it affect they way you help kids?

Ch. 2: All Together Now

The chapter opens with the author, a middle-class white heterosexual male, describing an experience as the facilitator for a college-level Diversity course, and how he learned something from his students on the very first day of class.

  • Read the students' responses to Michie's discussion on Page 11:
  • Do you agree or identify more with the last quote by 'Sherelle' or with the last quote by 'Jenny'?
  • Why?

Michie then describes how the course had diverged from 'multicultural education,' or celebrating the vast diversity of cultures and their contributions to American society, to something very different due to tensions that such a focus had caused previously. He also shares his observations and experiences with increased nationalism following 9/11.

The author continues to discuss a couple more activities and describes why he teaches the class: to help students develop their own personal philosophies of education, and how student diversity and equity both play into it. 'Ryan' sums it up best: "I can't believe how much I don't know." (p. 16)

Next, Michie describes how the same emotionally-volatile lesson given to two classes resulted in very different outcomes. He explains, on page 19, that "One of the wonderful, and maddening, things about teaching is that you never know in advance what impact your work will have - or if it will have any at all."

The author ends the chapter discussing educational philosophy and reform. He closes the chapter with very eloquent words:

"What matters is helping aspiring teachers begin to see schools as arenas of struggle and to see themselves as people who can bring about change... that there's no such thing as a neutral classroom, that teaching, but its very nature, is a political act." (page 21)

That makes me think of the old Nike commercial with Charles Barkley, below:

  • Is your philosophy and your classroom more in line with Michie or with Nike and Sir Charles?
  • What can you do to move a little farther along in that chosen direction?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Chapter 1

Teaching in the Undertow: 

Resisting the Pull of Schooling-As-Usual 

Image from
PS: NOT the author

In Chapter 1, we are introduced to the author: a white male South Carolinian teaching 7th & 8th graders on Chicago's south side. Thrust into an environment of control - "don't do this" and "don't do that" - then-idealistic Michie instead endeavors to focus on what his students and he CAN do. This Atlantic Coast native recalls his mother's words: "Be careful of the undertow." Michie connects her advice with his own suggestions for getting through the rough currents at school.

Please feel free to post comments by clicking the "(n) comment" link below. You'll find a few questions there to help guide your reading, thoughts, and posts. I look forward to your input!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

First meeting cancelled

Due to impending inclement weather and the potential for dangerous driving conditions this afternoon, today's New Teacher Learning Team Book Club meeting is cancelled. Books will be distributed at our next meeting, Feb. 13, and the schedule will be adjusted accordingly.

Be safe and stay warm! :)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Welcome Back!

You made it! You survived Fall semester! We hope you are rested and already excited to incorporate new and innovative ideas into your classroom activities to help each child succeed!

On that note, we're also getting ready for a new style of meetings for our New Teacher Learning Team meetings. During Spring semester we usually bid farewell to Dr. Wong's excellent video series and start meeting in a Book Club format. You'll find our schedule of meetings in the sidebar, at right.

This semester we'll be reading a book by Greg Michie called We Don't Need Another Hero. At only 130 pages, it offers a quick yet informative read for busy teachers about the experiences of an eudcator in an urban school setting who strives to focus on what student truly need during this era of high-stakes testing.

Books will be distributed during our first meeting, on January 30. If you can't make it to our meetings, you can always follow along here and add your comments below each post. If you'd like a book but can't make our first meeting, send me an email through your school account and I'll drop one in an inter-school envelope to you.