Monday, August 29, 2011

I Am A Teacher, Not A Surrogate Parent

Richard Rothstein wrote an excellent piece on education reform at Slate.  There are a number of things I would like to respond to, but highest on the list had to do with "super-teachers."  American educational reform is very focused right now on developing and hiring teachers who can bring to educational proficiency anything thrown at them.

In the article, Rothstein states that these educational reformers put on pedestals teachers like Jessica Reid:

"A Teach for America recruit, she engages each of her Harlem fifth-graders in Shakespeare, phones parents about missed assignments, and works into the night tutoring students, meeting parents, and creating ingenious displays for the following day's lessons. It's teachers like her who propel the most-disadvantaged children on to college. But such teachers can work their wonders only in non-union charter schools that are free to fire summarily those who, though well-meaning, are less than extraordinary."

I get this kind of teacher thrown into my face rather regularly when discussing the issue of educational reform.  The thought is that, regardless of a student's circumstances, a super-teacher can get past all the hindrances a student may have.  These teachers can leap poverty neighborhoods in a single bound!  Just look at all that teachers like Reid do!

Let's look at what she is doing.  She is working with the parents of her students and spends her evenings on the phone with them.  She tutors those students into the night.  She spends countless after school hours on lessons and assessments.

You might wonder how long someone can keep up a pace like that.

Apparently, not very long.  According to the article:

"Jessica Reid, quit her charter school job. She had worked days, nights, and weekends in a superhuman, often frustrating effort to prove that effective teaching alone could overcome the obstacles of child poverty. At 26, she found her role in the fanatical charter school crusade was taking too high a toll on her marriage and her own sense of balance."

Simply put, as much as she enjoyed teaching... she also wanted to give time to her family and her life.  Super-teaching quickly wreaks havoc on one's own family.

I think the article misses the point when it insinuates that it was "effective teaching" that was making the difference.  Was it really just the teaching?  What about all of the after-hours commitment with those students?  She was essentially being a surrogate parent to those families - spending time with both parents and children; and getting THEM focused on education.  She was doing for those families what the PARENTS should have been doing.

I have taught in wealthy and poverty schools.  In either circumstance, I found this to be generally true:  Show me a parent who is intentional about their child's education and I will show you a kid who is doing well.  Show me a parent who is ambivalent about their child's education, or simply can't make that time happen, and I will show you a student who struggles.

America can keep dreaming of super-teachers who will make all of their problems go away.  Teachers who will spend evenings tutoring their children, making sure they are read to, review their homework... Who knows, maybe we can even get the super-teacher to do the windows.

Here is a reality check my dear America.... I have my own children who need my attention.  They need me to read to them, review their homework, play outside with them, be a Dad.  My wife needs me tending to my family in the evening... not spending it on the phone or back in my school's neighborhood tending to others.

This is why I am still in teaching after 20 years.  I keep it all in perspective and I maintain life balance.  I know when to say no.

I watch the super-teachers come and go.  No one can be a surrogate parent to all of those needy children.  I love my students.  They get my very best teaching when I am at school.  But they don't get my life... that is reserved for my family.

I truly love teaching... but I already have a family in which I am the parent.

I hope America can refocus its efforts before they drive every good and hard working teacher from poverty areas.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thank You From All Of Us In Room 216

A few weeks ago, I put a request out to Facebook friends and readers of my blog.  I was looking for folks to donate books to my class via an Amazon wishlist.  Not long after, Amazon boxes started piling up in our school office. :)  My students unboxed, sorted, and labled over 50 books in the past 2 days!  To say they are having fun would be an understatement.

My only concern has been how to thank all of you.  Unfortunately, none of the packages or invoices (except for two) gave any indication of WHO sent them.  This happened when one friend sent an order last year, but I assumed the lack of identity was a fluke.  However, it seems to be the norm (and Amazon won't tell me).

My original plan was to have the kids write thank you cards, but aside from a few folks who told me they intended to send books, I have no idea who all of you generous folks are!

We wear masks because on the Web we need secret identities! :)
Hopefully, if you sent books, you will see this; so you can know how grateful we all are and how effective these books will be in our classroom.  In their short time here, these books have already gotten tons of use!

Again, thank you for your generosity.  As much as I am concerned about teaching the technical aspects of reading, I also know that it is equally, if not more, important for a child to develop a personal culture of reading - that reading would move beyond route dynamics to a pleasure filled experience.  Every year I have students who turn that corner for the first time, and I know that part of that shift is due to having good books on hand and available when those moments come to fruition.  Your donations give those moments opportunity.

Thank YOU!

He that loves a book will never want a faithful friend, a wholesome counselor, a cheerful companion, an effectual comforter. By study, by reading, by thinking, one may innocently divert and pleasantly entertain himself, as in all weathers, as in all fortunes. 
 - Barrow

When you sell a man a book you don't sell him just 12 ounces of paper and ink and glue - you sell him a whole new life. 
 - Christopher Morley

The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go. 
 - Dr. Seuss

Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him. 
 - Maya Angelou

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Belief O Matic II

I just did the Belief Net Belief O Matic survey.  I did it 3 years ago too.  Things have changed a bit since then.  Here I am now:


  1. Unitarian Universalism (100%)
  2. Liberal Quakers (94%)
  3. Mahayana Buddhism (89%)
  4. Theravada Buddhism (89%)
  5. Reform Judaism (86%)
  6. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (82%)
  7. Jainism (79%)
  8. Sikhism (78%)
  9. Neo-Pagan (78%)
  10. New Age (76%)
  11. Baha'i Faith (71%)
  12. Taoism (69%)
  13. Secular Humanism (68%)
  14. Orthodox Quaker (67%)
  15. New Thought (66%)
  16. Hinduism (65%)
  17. Orthodox Judaism (60%)
  18. Scientology (59%)
  19. Islam (53%)
  20. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (53%)
  21. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (46%)
  22. Nontheist (44%)
  23. Seventh Day Adventist (38%)
  24. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (34%)
  25. Jehovah's Witness (34%)
  26. Eastern Orthodox (27%)
  27. Roman Catholic (27%)

I am disappointed that Conservative Christian was not on the bottom! :)  Yikes!  My Thetan levels have doubled over the years!

Here I was in 2008:

1. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (100%)
2. Liberal Quakers (94%)
3. Bahá'í Faith (92%)
4. Orthodox Quaker (87%)
5. Unitarian Universalism (77%)
6. Reform Judaism (66%)
7. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (66%)
8. Theravada Buddhism (65%)
9. Mahayana Buddhism (65%)
10. Jainism (64%)
11. New Age (61%)
12. Neo-Pagan (61%)
13. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (59%)
14. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (58%)
15. Seventh Day Adventist (56%)
16. Taoism (56%)
17. Orthodox Judaism (55%)
18. Sikhism (53%)
19. Islam (49%)
20. Secular Humanism (49%)
21. New Thought (47%)
22. Jehovah's Witness (46%)
23. Hinduism (41%)
24. Eastern Orthodox (40%)
25. Roman Catholic (40%)
26. Scientology (32%)
27. Nontheist (32%)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Does God Speak To You?

Hello Readers - I have a question for you! Actually, I don't have a question, a friend of mine has a question - yeah Hackman.. sure.. a friend ;)

This friend has left his faith and he is looking back over what he once believed. He would be interested in hearing commentary from various faith groups as to how God "speaks" to them. Is it a voice? a feeling? through circumstances? scripture? etc.. Also, how do you distinguish that it really is God?

I have an eclectic group of friends and readers, so he thought this might be a good forum in which to ask this question. So how bout' it? Does God speak to you? If so, how do you define that? Also, please indicate what faith tradition you hail from.

Just info please.... we will leave any arguments of these points for future conversations. :)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Quotes From Blogs I Have Read Recently # 12

Like a musician, you have to immerse yourself in your chosen belief. You have to read the right books, listen to the right speakers, surround yourself with people who think as you do. You have to shield yourself from contrary influences and shocks which could damage your certainty. You have to train yourself strictly - often with the help of others - to shut out doubt. In the end it will come naturally to you, and you'll wonder why other people don't see things as clearly as you do.
Painting Fakes

So there I was standing at the front with several others who were hurting and just wanted to be prayed for. Then the singer started talking about the fact that we were suffering because we didn’t have enough faith. It was because of our lack of faith that there was suffering in our lives. 
Naked Pastor

Most non-believers don’t get their nose out of joint because Perry is a Christian. What is troubling is that Perry uses his elected office to promote Evangelical Christianity. He has no business, in his official capacity as Governor of the state of Texas promoting ANY religion. Perry’s willingness to ignore the first amendment and the separation of church and state make him an extremely dangerous candidate for president. He is a hard-core proponent of a Christian theocracy.
Fallen From Grace

Whatever the content of my children’s education (of course, I want it to be good), my primary educational goal will be that my children learn in time how to think—how to understand and not just repeat. I intend to work with them as they learn the ways of the world and what unfortunately passes for the ways of the world. When my children hear a lesson that contradicts what I’ve taught them (or plan to teach them), I don’t want them to raise their hands and just repeat what I’ve told them or sit quietly thinking my Dad would disagree with this. I want them to learn how to weigh evidence and assess the soundness of arguments. I want accurate thinkers, not repeaters. Heck, I’d prefer them to be mediocre thinkers to outstanding repeaters. Thinkers are better equipped to deconstruct indoctrination. Mine included.
Journeys in Alterity

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Books Matter

I want to tell you a story.  This story is for all the folks who have donated books to my classroom. Books matter.

If you read my blog, you know I teach in an inner-city environment. Most of my sixth grade students are years behind in their reading skills. Overall, these students do not like to read. Whether they are low because they don't read or they don't read because they are low is a highly contested argument. In any case, it is often a wrestling match to achieve any sustained reading in our classroom.

Jenna (name changed) came to my class nearly everyday carrying a backpack full of attitude. She is one of those kids who does not hesitate to escalate to the nth degree; lines are meant to be crossed. Her anger, frustration, and attitude went to eleven.

I found within the first couple weeks that I could get her to do quite a bit of study, IF I reasoned with her right. It reminded me somewhat of Harry with the Hippogriff. It was all in the approach.

There was a week towards the end of the school year that I noticed Jenna was regularly reading a book... really reading it! Usually she would just fake-read so I wouldn't bother her... or if she was feeling edgy she would just draw, and give me attitude if I re-directed her back to her reading.

Yet here she was... for the first time, engrossed in a book. I couldn't tell what book it was because she held it in her lap. I also knew not to pry too much. Years of experience have taught me that my asking her about the book, or complimenting her on how well she was reading, would just annoy her. She might quit reading just to spite me. Best to lay low.

A few days later, while the students were working on projects, she approached my desk. "I need another ...," she announced.

"Excuse me?" I said. "Another what?"

"Book! I finished my book and I need another one!" she stated with a touch of impatience.

This interest in books was very out of character, yet I was so glad for it, that I was a bit like the salesman who hasn't had a customer in days - I rolled out the red carpet! I started telling her about this author and that genre, watching to see if anything piqued her interest. Like Olivander describing wands for Harry, I was hoping the book would choose the student.

However, she hadn't shown interest in any book I presented. In fact, she was growing noticeably more irritated; I was probably a bit too enthusiastic. I think I started to sweat as I realized my moment was slipping away.

She finally rolled her eyes and said, "Just a second!" And she marched back to her seat. A moment later she came back and tossed a book on my desk. She pointed at it and said, "Like that one!"

On my desk was a biography of Helen Keller written by Margaret Davidson (I had read the story of Helen's teacher to the class a few weeks earlier). It was one of the books purchased from my Amazon class wishlist by a blogger/Facebook friend.

"Oh, you want a biography!" She gave me a quizzical look. I rephrased, "You want a true life story."


I quickly selected a few biographies and gave her a general description of each. Without a word, she grabbed the biography of George Washington Carver and went back to her seat.

Before school let out for summer, she read that book and one more.

While I was teaching summer school, I heard that Jenna and her family had moved. I probably won't get a chance to see how her story ends. But, for those few weeks, she learned what it felt like to enjoy a book. 

She also read about other children who had tough beginnings, but made it in the end.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

A Diseased Attendance Card

One of the items my Title One students struggle with more than their suburban counter parts is absenteeism and tardiness. When I taught at a wealthy suburban school, a student who missed 9 days of school was considered an outlier and tardy meant being 5 minutes late for class once or twice a year.

Not so at my present school. As you look at these attendance cards, note that a circled date meant the child was absent and a T indicates that they were tardy.

Now by tardy, I don't mean 5 minutes late. That happens on occasion, but those Ts are often referring to 40 minutes or more.

These cards are an example of what occurs for about a third of my classroom. Another third has a little higher rate than my previous suburban school, the remaining third has 5 or less absences and tardies per year.

The reasons for these tardies and absences are many and varied. Sometimes, it is simply because the parent has no control over the child. Here are two examples:

I had a student who regularly arrived 40 - 60 minutes late for class. The student always had stories of the parent not being ready, the siblings not being ready, the car broke down, etc. The parent just stated that "we have trouble getting out the door". However, I started to notice that my student's younger siblings were at school on time, whereas my student was not. I thought that, perhaps, my student was making a McDonald's run before coming to class. So I went and asked a sibling where my student was. The sibling replied, "My (parent) has to go back and get (student), cause (student) never gets up with the rest of us. My (parent) tries to get (student) up, but (student) just yells, 'Shut UP! I'm tryin to sleep!'"

Another student showed up pretty regularly at 10:00 during recess (school starts at 8:00). The student missed the math instruction almost every day. When informed about the tardiness, the parent shrugged, "Sounds like you have a problem." A later conversation revealed that the parent was working three jobs and was completely overwhelmed between work and 3 children. The parent later cried during a conference, expressing gratefulness that the student came at all.

Sometimes the tardiness and absences are due to the practical matters of work. I had a student who was the oldest of five children in a one parent household. The parent was an hourly worker with no sick time. It fell upon this student to stay home when one of the siblings got sick. When a sibling was sick for a week, my student was out for the week.

Our schools have no legal enforcement over tardies. Technically, a child could be two hours late for school every day of the year and there would be little we could do about it. It is not until 20 absences that the courts get involved... and even then, parents miss court dates, the school year ends, the family moves. The schools have little power to deal with chronic absenteeism.

Amidst these issues (and perhaps underlying a lot of the cases) is the transient nature of many of my students. I usually start each year with a quarter of my class attending our school for the first time. Throughout the year I will have many move-ins and move-outs (20 to 35 percent). Few of my students have attended our school since kindergarten. It does not surprise me to often find that my chronically tardy and absent students have already attended 4-8 different schools; sometimes multiple schools within the same year.

The academic harm of tardiness and absenteeism is not restricted to the student alone. Tardy students disrupt class as they stream in at varying times. Chronically absent and tardy students tend to be lost in regards to the material being covered and misbehavior increases as a result.

Still, this morning I heard a politician talking about the substandard teaching that inner-city kids have to endure, while suburban students are getting the quality teachers.

Pardon me while I go bang my head against the wall........

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Creating Breakfast

One of my favorite things about summer break is that I get to spend time cooking breakfast.  I am not sure why breakfast appeals to me so much; I think it is because I remember as a kid that it gave my Dad a lot of joy.  I love to put on a lecture to listen to while brewing coffee and getting the eggs frying.  It is enormously satisfying... one might even say spiritual.

It is the spiritual nature of it that prompted me to write this status on Facebook one morning while I was cooking breakfast:

and Andrew stepped into the kitchen and the fridge was opened, and another container was opened, which was the egg carton. And Andrew took from the fridge 2 of each kind of food which seemed good to him. Then he commanded the coffee to be brewed, and it was so. He spoke to the eggs and said, "Be thou fried!" and they were. Then Andrew ate of the food and drank of the coffee. He observed all that he had done and saw that it was good!
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  • Kim , Brandon and Chris like this.
    • Sharon  Love it!
      01 July at 10:23 · 
    • Vincent  What time is breakfast. Is it served daily?
      01 July at 10:51 · 
    • Andrew Hackman except Sundays.... then I rest from all my work...
      01 July at 10:56 ·  ·  1 person
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