Monthly Archives: January 2017

see me see them

In this TED talk, the musician Amanda Palmer tells the story of her first job out of college, being a living statue (an 8-foot bride to be precise) and the profound experience it gave her with human connection. Since she couldn’t speak as a statue, her first task was to make eye contact and really see the person before her so that person could likewise see her.

As a teacher and literacy scholar, part of my life’s work hasn’t been so different from Palmer’s. Though I can’t add 8-ft.-bride to my CV (though that would be amazing, I’m not gonna lie), I’ve tried to use my writing as a way of establishing connections with readers so that they can move beyond the common abstraction of public schools as a failure or a “disaster.” By rendering moments of teaching and learning, I’ve tried to help readers understand in a profound way the hard and beautiful moments of teaching and learning.

I believe it’s more urgent than ever to help the general public see those up-close moments. Right now, for instance, the only sounds in my classroom this morning are the rush of air through the vents, the light but steady tapping of my students’ fingers on laptop keys, and the occasional brushing of pages as they thumb back through Why School? to see what Mike Rose has to say.

I love this hush, this sound of becoming.

In that liminal space between student and classroom teacher, these preservice teachers have the inside corner on what it means to teach and learn. They’re intent. They’re the future. And at this moment, I’m just honored to share the room.

Advertisements
Tagged

letter to the next president

Dear President Trump,

You’ve been understandably distracted by other issues since inauguration day, but I’m hoping you’ll soon move education to the top of the list since it’s relevant to every single citizen. (Plus, I notice that it’s been removed from the “issues” section of the White House website.) All of us have had experiences in our own schooling that inform our views about education today, but that was then and this is now. What’s the connection between those things? How do those experiences shape our hopes and expectations for the teachers and students who are busily typing away in the classroom I’m occupying right now?

Based on the Betsy Devos hearing last week, providing families with choices is at the center of your agenda. This seems like a no-brainer. Presumably, parents and caregivers want the best education for their children that is possible.  As a parent myself, I wanted my own children to have caring teachers, high expectations, rigorous curriculum, lots of enrichment opportunities, and connections to them as whole people, not just test scores on a page that would be used to judge their worth and their schools. I wanted them to have choices that opened up their lives now and in their futures. It mattered to me that they learn not only to be smarter, but to be kinder and more inquisitive. I wanted them to know that their voices were important in the world.

When I look around at my students right now, that hasn’t changed. I want the same things for them, and I suspect they would agree that they should have ACCESS to those opportunities.

What’s worrisome to me, however, is how “access” is getting defined in the discussions I heard last week. Equity and access are important to help students thrive, but vouchers–taking money AWAY from public education to siphon toward private and parochial schools and charters that often have profit margins uppermost in their missions–aren’t the answer. Diverting funds from public schools, who actually are not “flush with cash” as you described them in your inaugural speech, isn’t the answer either. Not holding charters, private, and parochial schools to the same standards or entrance requirements (this is especially true when it comes to students with special needs) isn’t equitable and isn’t providing choice. It’s just providing the illusion of it.

Public schools are the one public institution all of us share as a nation. I urge you to provide more support for them and for students and their teachers so that they will have equal access to the resources they need (books, technology, free and healthy breakfasts, challenging curriculum, fair assessments, and robust professional development for starters). These things cost money, but they also enable positive life chances for all of our future citizens and will keep America great (not just great again). The grand experiment that is our democracy depends on it.

Tagged , ,

touchstone moments

 

In CO301D today, we’re thinking back to our touchstones–that is, those moments in our schooling that have stuck with us as writers/readers/thinkers/human beings. This video, “Some Study That I Used to Know,” makes it clear that touchstone moments for students and teachers don’t always intersect. But when they do, what are those moments like, and what conditions have to be in place to made them possible?

Although my memory has grown faultier with age, my memories of school remain fresh, way way back (like kindergarten back). I admit that these memories aren’t always positive, but many have been or I probably wouldn’t be sitting here today, trying to support my students in becoming teachers themselves.

I’ve written about several of those moments here and here, for instance, so I’ll just touch on a few here. (See what I did there? Touch on my touchstones?) I think especially about my Senior English teacher, Mr. Ford, whose class started with writing every day. I loved that silent, hallowed space where I could be alone with my thoughts and get them down on paper. I think about Mr. Hougardy, my middle school science teacher, who trusted me to walk down to the library by myself so that I could find more research on lichens for my science fair project. I think about presenting that at the state science fair and what it felt like to earn a ribbon for my thinking. I’ve never looked at lichens the same way, especially since even then in 7th grade, I started thinking about carbon emissions caused by our local energy plant and how those were affecting not just lichens, but our environment and what would happen as a result. (Mr. Hougardy was right about climate change.) I think about Dr. Flanagan’s class where I learned how to plan a unit and was surprised by the latest research on why grammar doesn’t make a positive difference in student writing. (Also still true.)

So what were the common denominators that led to those touchstones? Clearly, teachers who trusted me as a learner to be curious and thoughtful and surprised, who helped me persistent in pressing through questions I didn’t understand and to explore those on paper and through research–my own and other experts’.

I think about how they valued every students’ ideas, even the ones who didn’t speak up often, like Marlon Gabriel, the cowboy who wrote a beautiful poem about a spider’s web that still makes me look closely every time I see one. Those teachers encouraged us to share our writing and our ideas with our peers and with others outside the classroom. They took us seriously as writers, scientists, and future teachers.

And they made me want to do that for others. So here I am.

Tagged , ,

takin’ it to the streets (aka bringing detail about education to the public sphere)

public-sphere-image

IMAGE CREDIT: The Public Sphere, New Media and Politics

I’m so fortunate to be teaching another writing course this semester! As I said in so many words at this same time last year, the two acts of writing and supporting fellow writers–be they students or colleagues–have animated my work since I started this gig way back in 1987. (Am I old, or am I resilient? Draw your own conclusions.)

Having met my latest class on Tuesday, I’m eager to begin writing with them during Thursday’s class. In anticipation of our work together in CO301D: Teaching Writing in the Disciplines–a course that aims to deepen personal knowledge of the field of education in order to share that knowledge in the public sphere–we just started reading Mike’s Rose’s profound little book, Why School: Reclaiming Education for All of Us (2009/2014). In the Introduction, Rose makes the following claim:

The challenge in [writing about education] is how to bring the cognitive detail and intimacy into public view, how to render it, and how to apply it to broader social and political issues. The public sphere is where the detail belongs, for collecting it is a testament to who we are, a tribute to our intelligence as a people (p. 21).

In that same vein, the following excerpt from my CO301D syllabus describes what our work together will entail this semester. Speaking now directly to my students: 

I’ve designed this course to help you, as future English Language Arts teachers, develop expertise in current issues in the field of education (especially literacy education) that will inform your writing for public and practitioner audiences. That means you’ll read and analyze multiple texts written in print and multimodal genres (because that’s what writing looks like these days), you’ll construct and refine your own theories about education (because we all already have them, whether we’ve articulated them or not), and then you’ll write (A LOT) to make better sense of what you, your classmates, and other experts know so that you can communicate your views via public writing.

“But isn’t all writing public?” you may be wondering. Technically, perhaps, but in school, writing tends to move along a one-lane street connecting the student and the teacher only. This class aims to move the vehicle of your thought onto a multi-lane information super highway with lots of on-ramps and off-ramps so that others can traffic with your ideas, and you can traffic with others’. On that freeway, we’ll consider the following questions, among others:

  • If anyone can Google any information, “Why school?” as Mike Rose puts it. Assuming that there is a point (otherwise, you’re wasting a whole lot of money on tuition), what is it that every educated person in a democracy, including students and teachers, should be able to know and do as a result of her/his schooling? What role do you as a future teacher, as well as schools in general, have to play in expanding access to equity for all students? What does it mean to be ambitious on behalf of youth?
  • For that matter, why write? How do other educators communicate what they think in regard to the above questions? For whom do they write? How do they craft their messages, and for what purposes, so that their ideas can be heard? Where do educators’ voices fit in today’s political debates about education? How can they shape public conversation and educational policy instead of being pawns in it?
  • Which brings us to you. Why should you as a soon-to-be-teacher engage in public writing about literacy and education? Who needs to hear what you have to say and why? Since everyone has been to school, what can you tell them that they don’t already (think they) know about education today? How will you communicate your ideas for colleagues and others outside of the field of education, including students, colleagues, parents, and the general public?
  • And when you do write, what will that writing look like in our digital, multimodal age?

Driving down this information super highway is likely to be daunting indeed, but the good news is that we’re all on the bus together. I hope our road trip will be safe, but boisterous. I know our conversation will be unpredictable, but interesting. Let’s make it our goal to have some good stories to tell when we reach our destination.

Now buckle up and let’s go! To do so, choose one or more of the italicized questions above and respond in the comments section below. In other words, write in public. Right now. On purpose. Because I know you have something to say.

Tagged , , , ,