Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Goal Accomplished !

My goal for this course was to develop my own awareness of our education system as well as too encourage student engagement through group discussions relating to issues in the education system such as inequality, discrimination and prejudice.

Choosing a favorite class is never a difficult task for a student. One course always sticks out compared to another. However, wishing that your class time was longer is not often the case. I believe that the Transforming Education course was a rare experience where I did not want to leave that room. My goal for scraping the surface of the education system was accomplished. But more importantly the engagement that some students brought with them to class was what I feel in love with in that room. Each time the clock rolled around to 1:20 I felt like it came far too soon. For in this class we each brought a special perspective to the table from our various backgrounds and beliefs, and while not everyone agreed there was an energy in the room that I wish existed in every course. This energy existed in that each student wanted to understand and learn.

My goals for this course were exceedingly accomplished in this room. My personal goal is that I continue to use discussion to facilitate understanding, and hopefully those discussions will not be hindered by my comfort level but instead is facilitated and encouraged the passion to create or at least understand.

Check out this video:

Dear Jane,

Dear Jane,

When I first started working with you last May as a teaching assistant in your fifth and six grade class, I was scared out of my mind. I didn't know the kids, I had never been a tutor, and I had never been to Newark, NJ unless it was for a concert at the Prudential Center. I was nervous enough before our boss told me not to wear blue or red of any kind because there was a gang related shooting just a block over last Tuesday and it wasn't safe. How could a school not be safe

That first day I just spent in the "observing phase" to get a feel for the classroom, what it looks like to teach and how to work with thirty five kids at once. You were like the conductor of an orchestra, leading the loud kids, the shy kids, the rebellious kids, the kids that were two reading levels behind and the kids the kids that couldn't read at all into a place of learning, experiments and fun. You engaged them in a way I still don't fully understand. You loved them, you nurtured them and you supported them and I was completely blown away. 

I worked with three other teachers as a teaching assistant in Newark and all of them were great, professional educators. They had masters degrees, they were firm with the kids, and they got work done. But working with those other great teachers showed me that in order to be an amazing teacher, you have to be more than an educator. You have to love the kids. 

You have a box of food in your room because a lot of the kids take an hour long bus just to get to this school and they're hungry and distracted when they arrive. It's full of oatmeal, fruit, raisins and Kashi cereal which you pay for yourself. You weren't able to get funding for a field trip to the Museum of Natural History and the parents of the kids couldn't pay so you got a second job at a gym, working nights so the kids could see "the real dinosaurs and those tiger lions with the big scary teeth".  And no one knows about that, no one but me. You never wore your devotion to those kids like a badge of honor, "look at me I care about poor urban kids" because that wasn't what it was about for you. It was about inspiring curiosity and pouring love into kids who wouldn't get it anywhere else. 

One day in class, Beethoven was playing while the kids worked and Justin raised his hand and asked you, "where was Beethoven from?" which of course had nothing to do with the science work sheet in front of him. But it was a question, and you always had an answer. So forty minutes later the kids had a crash course on Ludwig van Beethoven and every Wednesday after that you read a biography about some famous European composer and played one of their songs, much to the delight of the kids. The science worksheets would get done, you knew that. But instead of shutting down Justin and his question, you rewarded that curiosity with exploration and with an answer. 

A second grade teacher at the school was retiring after that school year and I asked her how she liked working in the school. She said that it broke her heart because for so many of these kids, all they hear from teachers is "sit down, shut up, do your work and keep your nose clean". These teachers are exasperated because they have to teach sixth graders six grade material but also help them with the basic math and reading comprehension that they were supposed to have learned three years prior. 

"There isn't time to teach kids how to love learning," the second grade teacher said, "we just have to get them through it." 

Jane, you too the time to teach kids to love to learn. You taught me the most important lesson about education and inspired me to be a teacher myself. From you I learned that to be a teacher, is to be more than just a facilitator of knowledge. It's to be an explorer, a friend, a coach. It requires strictness and silliness alike, and most importantly it requires love. You loved your kids and you showed them that they were worth loving, that they were smart, that they were capable and that their questions were worth answering. Thank you for your service, thank you for the lesson you've left me, and I wish you the best. 


To a teacher:

Mr. Jim Kearns,

Hello, I’m a former student who has made their way through some higher education and has recently been thinking a lot about teaching and what makes a great teacher. The more I explore these topics, the more I am reminded of your classroom, teaching style, and philosophy about learning. I’m reminded of the relentless energy you funneled into every class (despite it rarely being reciprocated by us students). I’m also reminded of the amount of time and care went into creating each lesson and the structure of the course. What sticks out most though was your approach to learning.

Before I took your class, I never really understood grades. I mean I knew higher is better and lower is worse, but I never really understood what they were supposed to represent. Your class made it so clear: your grade should be equal to your mastery of the material. Which, I realize, seems obvious, but most other classes construe that message into: your grade is equal to your mastery of the material at a certain point in your life. In other words, you get one shot to learn this, and if you don’t, then you might as well give up on learning it. After all, even if you master that material at a later date, the permanence of your test grade forever disputes your claim to that mastery.

It wasn’t until your class that I realized how backward that all is. The test is not a point of arrival; it’s a point of departure. I’m so glad that you understood that, and could help me to understand that too.

Finally, I want to thank you for always being willing to take the next step. After the poor test grade, you were the first to create more opportunities to learn and master the material. If the students that were in my class are any indication, I could understand how this engagement can often feel one-sided. So I wanted to thank you for that self-sacrifice, as well as commend you on your ability to push through the inevitable frustrations. For what it’s worth, it paid off for me.

Thank you,

Nick Diana

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Dear Rebecca,

Rebecca Taplin was my 7th and 8th grade Humanities teacher and Advisor (for homeroom). I went to a Montessori School 

A photo of me and my friend Jenna in 6th grade
hanging in the lobby with us in front
this past summer

Dear Rebecca,
            Every year, our school has an “Annual Theme”. Classes try to incorporate this broad theme into their curriculums and we bring a lot of speakers to campus who are experts in the field. This year, our theme was Transforming Education. We had speakers such as Jonathan Kozol, Bill Strickland, and Andre Perry. I was part of the group who put on the programs. We met every week to discuss our speakers and different topics in education. Discussions were usually about alternative forms of education and trying to keep students interested in learning. We talked a lot about the different roles individuals play in education: students, teachers, parents, and the community. Things got heated as the passionate educators in the room shared their experiences and strong beliefs. As our final project, we have to write a letter to a former teacher who has influenced us greatly. We are supposed apply what we learned this year to our teacher’s methodology, style, and pedagogy.
            I was always taught that the speed in which you learn does not matter, but the quality of education. My mom pulled me out of school when I was forced to read at an early age because she believed in me and my ability to learn at my own pace. After learning about multiple learning disorders, I realize now that I am lucky and my mom took a leap of faith. I always thought that once I started going to school I would be forced to memorize facts and regurgitate at a pace too rapid for me to sincerely learn the information. You flipped this ideology on its head when I entered 7th grade.
            At the time I did not realize what an impact you had on my educational experience. You fostered a community of safety, which led to open discussions, trust in each other, and a belief in learning for the fun of it. All of your students felt comfortable to talk to you but respected you. I am learning that this is almost an impossible feat. Intimidation seems synonymous with respect, but you made it possible for us to be your friend but also greatly respect you as an educator.
            There are three specific moments I remember. Eight years later, these moments have impacted me greatly.
  1. In 8th grade you gave us a quiz on “how to find things”. You emphasized the need for finding information, not necessarily memorizing information. There were questions such as “where would you find a map of the world”. Although I don’t remember all of the answers to the questions, the message has stuck with me. Even if I cannot remember everything, I know how to find the information. This is extremely important because it is not possible for me to remember small facts-but I do know how to use our library’s resources.
  2. The printing press project was a perfect way to show the culture of the time. I remember that was the most effort I put into a project so far in a school setting. We had to redo the project multiple times and I still remember how much work I put in but how much satisfaction I got out of it. It taught me that hard work will pay off. Every time I have a project, I think about the time and effort I put into it. The grade is not as important to me as the educational satisfaction it gives me to complete an educational experience.
  3. Martha’s Vineyard taught me the educational value of fun. Everything on that trip was fun (besides the fight and the water plant talk-two hours of things I do not remember). I distinctly remember racing with our advisor group around the park. I had so much fun and I was in awe that you allowed us to run around and have fun, even on a school trip. This was a needed release from discussions and journal entries. Fun is essential to the educational experience.

I know these seem like obscure, random things. I guess this is the lesson I took away from this semester and my educational experience thus far. The little things count. A small smile or activity can change how students perceive their teachers for the rest of their lives. Since you were my teacher, advisor, and mentor, I’ve had faith in my educators. I knew that they were trying their best. You also inspired me to become an educator myself. I will remember the impact you had on me and the necessity to care about the little things and the memories my students will make.
Thank you for being such an inspiration to me and all the students you come in contact with.


Change Starts Before the First and After the Last Bell

       I would like to reflect on the question What would it mean to transform education? and What is one thing our community could do to begin that change?. Obviously education reform is something that is cleary necessary in our schools today but I feel like these questions have to be looked at differently. Too many times I believe people think that transforming education only exists within the four walls of school our within congress with legislation. Although extremely necessary, through our discussions and readings in class, I do not think we are entirely at that point yet. I am a complete believer in the fact that kids from underserved communities and schools still have all the potential to succeed as much as kids from privileged ones, and I believe that transforming education truly means to instill a burning desire and passion for students not to love school but to love and urn for success. I dont think that changing a school, making it beautiful, and getting the worlds best teachers are automatically going to make a bad student change. In order to see that happen we need to work hard before and after our kids leave school.
     One thing our community could do to start this change is to stop making excuses. The more we complain about how bad the education system is and how we have given up on it, the more our young students develope a distate for school. If our community developed a sense of accountabilty and made sure our kids were studying, doing their hw, and going to school the need for serious education reform would be more obvious. It is hard for people like me previously and policy makers to think that reform is necessary when kids in these terrible schools can give to craps about whether or not they pass their next test. If we however get all our kids to try their best and bust their behinds the needs would be more obvious since we can compare the privileged to the non-privileged and say hey they both are trying as hard as they can so why are they not performing the same. This is discussed in the article education reform now and how it starts with parents disciplining their child and making sure they do their best My question is do you agree with me? Do you believe outside the school is the real problem our is it just a vicious cycle of a poor education system churning out poor undedicated students?