On Ms. DeVos and Mr. Trump

Some of the biggest news in the realm of education policy this week is Trump’s appointment for Education Secretary, Ms. Betsy DeVos. I would be lying if I said I knew much about Ms. DeVos before yesterday, but I spent some time today reading about her, as well as reading more deeply about some of Trump’s supposed stances on education. Here are my brief thoughts on both of these topics, with links to some articles I enjoyed reading.

On Ms. DeVos

One of the most alarming things that I read over and over again was Ms. DeVos’ lack of teaching and classroom experience. I feel like I can stop the argument here. How can you justify being in a role with absolutely zero experience? The idea of a lack of experience, one of my biggest critiques of many large charter schools and their leadership models, simply would not fly in any other position of this caliber. Would you ever appoint an attorney general who is not an attorney? Or a surgeon general who was not a doctor? No way. So how can there be an education secretary who has no teaching experience or educational leadership experience whatsoever?

Ms. DeVos also has a vast history of supporting school-choice initiatives, investing millions of her own dollars to do so. In an attempt to be unbiased (though I’m not), I’ll try to find some common ground. Ms. DeVos has stated her belief that ZIP code should not confine children to failing schools. I, as I hypothesize that anyone in the world of education would, agree with this statement with all of my being. But that’s about the only sentiment that Ms. DeVos and I share. In my humble opinion, ZIP code should not impact educational quality because education quality should be consistent regardless of location. By supporting a school choice program where families can select schools, one is suggesting that all schools are not created equal and that some schools are better than others.

Every child should have access to a great education, and every school should provide a great education. Allowing students school choice is not the long-term solution. While families should be free to send their kids to a private or religious school at their choosing, this choice should not be one of necessity. All schools should be equal, and that means providing support (financial and otherwise) to those schools that most need it.

On The [President-Elect] Donald

Oh boy, lots could be said here, but we’ll stick to education. Here’s a nice little summary I came across that outlines some of Trump’s ideas. My focus was primarily on those actions that would impact K-12 education, particularly K-5 education, as that is my niche.

Trump’s selection for Education Secretary made clear his stance on school-choice, so just see above for my thoughts on that. Surprisingly enough, though, Trump’s wishes to dismantle the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) aren’t terribly far from my own. While I am not entirely opposed to CCSS in theory, the way they have been rolled out left a bad taste in my mouth and think they could use some heavy editing. Many of the standards seemed developmentally inappropriate, especially those standards in early education. In particular, I disliked the standards that required such early reading, forcing all students to read in kindergarten before some of them are developmentally ready to do so.

As I said earlier, in theory I can support CCSS and can support the idea of a nationwide set of standards to ensure even academic expectations across the country, but they need to be developmentally appropriate and need to be introduced better in schools. I am sure that Mr. Trump’s reasons for wanting to dismantle CCSS (if he has any) are very different from mine, but hey – I’m trying to find some common ground.

Last Thoughts

Needless to say, it’s an interesting time for education, and the future of what education will look like in the United States is unknown. I would love to see the public-school system not undermined but supported, thus making this appointment a bit unnerving. I would love to see the teaching profession become more respected. And I would love to see an education system where students, regardless of where they attend school, know they are loved and safe and where they are pushed each day to be creative, thoughtful, kind, and curious.

My hope is that Mr. Trump, Ms. DeVos, and the team that the two of them assemble can remember that the students should be the only thing that matter. I hope that the two can recognize that each child is unique and valuable. I hope that the two can create policies that emphasize these two things. Maybe wishful thinking, but I’ve gotta have some hope.

Articles

Here are some of the articles I found interesting on these topics:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/23/us/politics/betsy-devos-trumps-education-pick-has-steered-money-from-public-schools.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Feducation

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/trump-picks-billionaire-betsy-devos-school-voucher-advocate-as-education-secretary/2016/11/23/c3d66b94-af96-11e6-840f-e3ebab6bcdd3_story.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/11/23/trump-terrifies-public-school-advocates-with-education-secretary-pick/?tid=pm_local_pop

http://www.forbes.com/sites/emilywillingham/2016/11/24/trumps-education-secretary-choice-is-a-blow-to-our-nations-science-health/#bd0d09053382

Valuing the Little Moments

I am currently taking the year off of classroom teaching and have been spending a bit of time traveling and volunteering. My current volunteer assignment in Honduras, though multi-faceted, allows me to spend some time in a unique classroom setting. Let me explain a bit more.

Briefly, this nonprofit works with malnourished mothers and children in Honduras. The organization has a recovery center where mothers and their children can come to overcome their malnutrition. Mothers who come to the center are invited to bring all of their children, not just those that are malnourished, so there are often between 7-12 kids at the center, and generally about half of those are of school age.

Working in this system has been unique and challenging in lots of ways. For starters, the kids only speak Spanish, so my teaching has to be in Spanish (which means I’m not really bringing my A-game, if you know what I mean). There is also a wide range of ages in the class, and, on top of that, an even wider range of academic skills and abilities. These kids are coming from very rural communities which usually have schools but what is taught in each school can vary greatly.

This opportunity has given me the chance to reflect on some really important things regarding my own teaching practice. Honestly, some things that annoyed me about the schools where I worked, I realize now, are good and important ideas (at least in theory). One broad idea is that of assessment and its importance. I still strongly disagree with the quantity of assessments that took place at the schools where I worked and the amount of pressure that these assessments put on students (topics for another day), but I’ve been reminded that diagnostic assessments are so helpful. I had the chance to develop a quick diagnostic test for the kids that come to the center, and this five minute diagnostic gave me so much clarity for how I can best help each student, even if they are only around for a few weeks. In the future, I hope that the teacher can use this diagnostic as new students arrive.

While all of that is good, I’ve digressed from my main point. As I mentioned earlier, some days I’m with the kids, some days I’m doing other things, and other days I don’t know what I’m doing and have some down time while a plan is being created for me on the fly. Not knowing my schedule, especially when it comes to work, is something that annoys me, and I was complaining about this very thing today. I was complaining about how sometimes the teacher just expects me to teach a lesson when I’m around for an hour, even though I wasn’t planning on teaching and am completely unprepared. In the midst of these complaints and a vent session, though, I received some great advice and was reminded to, put simply, just have some ideas ready of things I can quickly do with the kids – activities that the kids enjoy that will also build their academic skills.

So, after being reminded of this, I stopped complaining and I went and did it. I found the younger kids who are still working on name writing, we got some markers, and we practiced writing our names. As basic as this activity is, they loved it. They chose their own markers, they switched up the colors, and I drew smiley faces by their correctly written names. It was great.

I realized, after thinking about this morning later in the day, how easy it is to complain about the big picture in the classroom and in a school; how easy it is to complain about the things that are annoying and frustrating. But what really matters is the kids. I was reminded of the importance of these little moments with the kids, and how little moments can have a huge impact on learning.

I’ll try my best to remember this in the future, though I’m sure my complaining days are not over – sorry to those who might have to listen 🙂

Beginnings

I have felt a calling of sorts to begin writing on education. I have enjoyed teaching, on the whole, for three years, have enjoyed working in elementary schools for five years, and have enjoyed being around children for as long as I can remember. The energy that kids have, the natural curiosity, the genuine love of life, the fact that things are still new and exciting – all of these are reasons that, eventually, drew me to teaching.

I’ll admit right away that I haven’t enjoyed every day as a teacher. And I haven’t enjoyed every week or every month, either. In theory and in hindsight, I have loved it – but in the moment, no way. Teaching kindergarten for three years is no joke. Learning to manage a class of 25-31 four and five year-olds is no joke. Working in a “no-nonsense” charter school in New York City is no joke. Being surrounded by administrators, principals, fellow staff, and CEOs (yes, the CEO of a school…thoughts on this idea another time, probably) who share a very different perspective of what education should look like is no joke.

Though my first few years as a teacher have been no joke, they’ve also been really, really good. These years have taught me that, when it comes down to it, you need to do what’s best for the kids. And that’s why I am starting this blog.

I’ve hesitated to even start this blog because one of my largest annoyances with the schools I’ve worked in and the schools I hear about is that so many people appear to have the attitude of “my way or the highway.” So many people think they have all of the answers without having the experience (I have so much to say on this topic, too – another day, I promise). I fear that this blog will simply become part of that – that it will just become more white-noise in the already crowded arena that is education reform.

Despite this hesitation and this fear, though, I felt that I needed to start this blog. Not because I have all of the answers (because I don’t and I know that I never will). And not because I think my education philosophy is the way that will change and solve everything (because I certainly know that isn’t true, either). I want to start this blog because I have ideas. I want to start this blog because I want to grow and be challenged and push myself to be the best teacher that I can be. I want to start this blog because I want to start conversations and participate in conversations about education. And I want to start this blog because, if I’m being honest, I know that I am on my way to becoming a fantastic teacher and I want to maybe, just maybe, share some ideas that will help others. (Also, just for clarity’s sake, I think I’m a pretty good teacher already, but let’s be real – you can’t be a fantastic teacher until you’ve put in at least 10 years.)

Maybe this blog won’t go anywhere. Maybe it will only serve as a personal tool for reflection. But even if it helps me to think out loud, process, and reflect for my own personal benefit, I like to think that means that I will, in turn, be a better teacher for my students. And that, at the end of the day, is the whole point.