You are incredibly smart and talented at what you do

Carrie Gaffney is the managing editor of The Educational Forum. She spent 12 years as a secondary English teacher and is still active in The National Writing Project and Second Story, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit devoted to bringing creativity to underserved schools. 

Think for a second about your work day.

As a teacher, where are the moments when you feel empowered? Is it in your staff meetings? When your email dings with the latest instructional calendar? When you’re giving yet another timed writing prompt about some totally bizarre and completely irrelevant topic because that’s what the district has decided counts as test prep?

Or is it when you’ve designed a lesson that you know meets the needs of your students, is relevant to their lives, respects their innate curiosity, and is pedagogically sound?

Teachers, I’m here to tell you right now: you are incredibly smart and talented at what you do, despite what your test scores (and subsequent evaluations) might indicate. I know firsthand that good teaching is one part skill, one part passion, and one part magic, and I also know how much of your hearts you put into what you do each and every day.

My last few years in the classroom, I struggled with the number of hours I felt energized by what I was doing in my classes versus the number of hours I felt bogged down and, quite frankly, mystified by district- and state-level initiatives that seemed plucked from anywhere except pedagogical theory.

This tension between what makes you feel empowered during your day versus what makes you unsettled about your career choice is at the core, at least in my opinion, of why advocacy matters right now more than ever.  What is unsettling you is that people outside of education are speaking for you about what is and isn’t going on in your classroom. They are using your test scores to illustrate your incompetence and question your professionalism, while providing you with remediation “tools” that insult the individual intellect of your students and go against the educational theory you were taught.

So, how do you get your power back?

You start talking.

I know, I know. You talk all day to the people who matter most to you: your students. That’s how it should be. After all, they are the most important stakeholders in any teacher’s life.

But there are other people who need to hear your voice, and they will continue to make crazy assumptions about you unless you start speaking up to parents, district folks, and even local and federal politicians.

Speaking up can be scary, though. So when you’re first starting out, I encourage you to speak about the things that drive you on a daily basis: your students and your pedagogy.

What would happen if you wrote a letter to your local representative and detailed (without breaking any rules) the demographics of your students, and what your day-to-day activities looked like? Would there be an impact if you proposed in a staff meeting that instead of the three timed writing prompts your department is supposed to do this quarter, you dropped a couple and assigned a literacy autobiography instead? There is a host of research (Gendlin, 1966; Grumet, 1990; Pinar, 2004) that indicates students who engage in literacy autobiography take a more thoughtful approach to writing in general. You could even score it on the same rubric.

Think about it; what might happen if instead of hearing from multiple sources about what’s not going right in your classroom, you changed the conversation by talking about what is? Would it help you once again feel empowered?

Our district reading lists read like it’s 1950

Carrie Gaffney is the managing editor of The Educational Forum. She spent 12 years as a secondary English teacher and is still active in The National Writing Project and Second Story, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit devoted to bringing creativity to underserved schools. 

During my years in the classroom, I spent a lot of time and energy pushing back against the expectation that I fill my classes teaching the Western Canon. I know, I know. Harold Bloom said these were the works our children needed to read to be educated citizens. And yes, a lot of what’s included in the Canon is terrific.

But it still bugs me.

You see, as Bloom wrote it in 1994, the Canon included an embarrassingly low number of writers who were either women or people of color. Don’t get me wrong, Don DeLillo is great. But why does he get four books on the list, while Margaret Atwood gets only one and Alice Walker gets zero?

Moreover, with so few female authors on the list, the number of complex female characters also suffers. It’s not that male writers can’t create believable females, but still…why do Canon readers trip over characters in eight Thomas Hardy books only to find Sylvia Plath’s semi-autobiographical Esther Greenwood not represented at all?

It wasn’t fair when the book published in 1994, and it isn’t fair today, when sadly, our district reading lists still read like it’s 1950. But that’s changing slowly, thanks to trailblazers like Veronica Roth and Suzanne Collins. Because of them—and women like them—there’s  a new generation of powerful female characters for girls to enjoy, and sometimes they even get to do it during class time. While you won’t find the Hunger Games trilogy on my home state of Indiana’s suggested reading list for schools, teachers everywhere are beginning to understand that strong characters, and the women who create them, make the world a more interesting place.

As educators, we have the responsibility to provide our students opportunities to read about all types of people, written from the perspectives of all types of people. Tell me, as March passes and we reflect on Women’s History Month, how are we doing?

It Is a Wake-Up Call for All of Us

Kappa Delta Pi helped bring the documentary “Rise Above the Mark” to Indianapolis on Friday. You can read all about the premier and panel that followed, which included education reformer Diane Ravitch, on Chalkbeat Indiana. Staff also wanted to share their feelings about the event:

staff“I was empowered by the movie and the discussion. Educators are passionate about the profession and know what changes need to happen for the betterment of all students and the future of our communities and country.” –West Regional Chapter Coordinator, Karen DeLawter

“The overwhelming number of teachers who attended the ‘Rise Above the Mark’ showing clearly demonstrated their passion and commitment to teaching, but also their great frustration with the current political mandates on the profession. Though teachers may not consider themselves advocates or political beings, they need to speak out and have their voices heard—so that they can teach in the ways they know are most effective and do what is best for every student.” –Publications Director, Kathie-Jo Arnoff

“Bringing ‘Rise Above the Mark’ to the Indianapolis community was important to Kappa Delta Pi not just to bring awareness about these issues to the citizens who might not know the struggles teachers face, but to also empower teachers to start a dialogue with their peers, administrators, and legislators. It was inspiring to hear the comments teachers were sharing in the Clowes Hall lobby after the panel. I’m excited to see what ripple effects this one film has on the teaching community.” –Director of Marketing panel& Communications, Laura Stelsel

“The premier of ‘Rise Above the Mark’ was a great opportunity to hear more about the state of education in Indiana. As a former teacher in both private and public schools, it was wonderful to hear both perspectives represented during the panel discussion following the film. I always love hearing multiple perspectives and agree that we need to continue to have more of these discussions to further improve the education of the next generation.” –Northeast Regional Chapter Coordinator, Katie Heath

“I appreciated having a venue where issues of critical importance to education in Indiana were discussed.  It is my hope that the conversation will continue in a productive way that serves to advance all stakeholders’ understanding of the challenges facing our schools so that all of Indiana’s children have equal opportunities for an excellent education.” –Executive Director, Faye Snodgress

banner“Attending this movie and panel presentation really raised my awareness of how the wrong people are now making decisions that affect every student and every teacher. We need to pay attention to what is going on in the legislature. It is a wake-up call for all of us.” –Event and Executive Coordinator, Anne Boley

“I appreciated the documentary serving as a voice for Indiana public schools, and I agree with the comments from Dr. Diane Ravitch that our communities need to be the ones holding THEIR teachers accountable. It is important to use a variety of both formative and summative assessments in the classroom, but I disagree that those should be mandated and evaluated by individuals or groups who do not know the students (or teachers!) on a personal level. The reason that our parents are wanting school choice is because they want someone to make a difference in their child’s life much like the impact a teacher had on them—it’s not all about the test scores. Why can’t we make public schools the schools of choice?” –Assistant Director of Membership & Chapter Services, Chris Beaman

Contradictions in School Safety Coverage

Why is there so much contradiction when it comes to keeping or making our schools safe? While I do not believe having an armed guard at a school is the answer to safety for children and schools, I do not think reading about the mayor of Philadelphia and the Governor of New Jersey and how they angrily attack the idea of armed guards in schools, then reading in the same newspaper or news release that their schools have armed guards is the answer. These two politicians are presenting  such a contradiction of ideas and beliefs, and I am sure there are other governors and mayors who are vehemently attacking the IRA and armed guards being placed in the schools yet we read in the newspapers about armed guards being placed at their schools as well. Why is there such a contradiction of ideals when we all should be focused on creating a more safe environment and agreeing on ideas about what can and should be accomplished?

A uniform approach and less political posturing are needed. We have experienced horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary and Columbine High School. We do not need politicians who are posturing for re-election or furthering their political careers to be using the safety of our schools as a political issue.

Clear thinking and reasonable solutions are what is needed.  Conversations about real solutions and remedies for this horrible trend have to be had. Conversations that involve all stakeholders and not just politicians can pinpoint real solutions that are based on real situations. Research is telling us that our schools are much safer now than a decade ago.

The conversation should focus on what is working and how to make real choices and improvements that will continue to improve the safety of our most precious national resource.  Instead of new gun regulations that would most likely not prevent a mentally unstable individual from entering a school and shooting students and teachers, a plausible approach would be to look at policies that have already proven to be  successful and add to or improve upon those policies.

Marcia Bolton, Ed.D. is an Associate Professor of Education and the Director Certification, Student Teaching and Intern Programs at Widener University Chester, PA.

Common Core White Paper and Webinar

Kappa Delta Pi would like to know how the Common Core has impacted teaching and learning in your respective area as a student, teacher, and/or educational leader.  Please read our white paper available here  and tune in to our three-part Common Core webinar series.  Please share in this discussion board: How has the Common Core impacted you?

From the Classroom to the US DOE: How to Have a Voice at All Levels

From the Classroom to the US DOE: How to Have a Voice at All Levels” is the third Webinar in the advocacy series from KDP’s Public Policy Committee.  It aired live on June 13. You can find the previous two Webinars on the Public Policy site: http://www.kdp.org/aboutkdp/publicpolicy.php.

How do you have a voice? What ways would you like to become more involved in advocacy?

Karen Allen, for the Public Policy Committee

From the Webinar

“Public Policy is both an action and a mindset.”
     Sandy Pope, Effective Advocacy Webinar, April 16, 2012

You may view the slide presentation from the Webinar here: Effective Advocacy.