Teacher Disclosure in the Classroom: Part 2

sequenzia-photoToday’s blogger is Ms. Maria Sequenzia, a teacher of Social Studies at Framingham High School. Read her full article, “Working the Dialectic: Teaching and Learning Teacher Research in Social Studies” (coauthored by Dr. Christopher Martell), in The Educational Forum.

As I described in the first part of this blog series, I embarked on a teacher research project to examine students’ perceptions of teacher disclosure in their classes.

I initially asked students about their experience of teacher disclosure with their current teacher—i.e., me. I asked it almost as a baseline; I knew I didn’t disclose much, and especially not regarding topics like abortion and the death penalty, which I asked about specifically in the survey. To my astonishment and consternation, about 40% of students thought I disclosed my personal opinion about these topics, alongside other, more curricularly relevant ones.

As I began to interview students about this specific finding, I realized that the underlying issue was that they couldn’t accurately determine disclosure. In other words, they had difficulty distinguishing between my general discussion of a topic and my opinion of it. For example, when I mentioned that soldiers during WWII were often lonely, one student I interviewed explained to me that that was me disclosing my opinion because it had to do with feelings.

One of the fundamental aspects of teaching history is how teachers communicate information and how students engage with and comprehend that information. It is vitally important that classrooms aren’t just spaces for indoctrination. But at the same time, to “objectively” present information is still presenting a certain perspective—all too often, a white-washed, androcentric, heteronormative one.

This conundrum takes center stage right now, as campaign season kicks into high gear and we confront the challenge of teaching about an election wholly unlike any other.

Now, this issue of teacher disclosure becomes important in a different way—it’s not just about our opinions of certain candidates and their positions. Added to that great challenge is how to answer questions that resonate with students on a more personal level.

How do teachers respond when students ask them how they feel about deportation, and the teachers know they have undocumented students in the class? What about questions surrounding marriage equality, when teachers know they have gay students in the class? For many of us, these are issues of basic human rights. But that’s our belief, our opinion—and some students and parents may disagree strongly.

I wish I had more concrete answers, but as with much of our job, they’re hard to find. My biggest takeaway from this study, and what I’ve been trying to keep in the back of my mind since I conducted it, is to be aware. Be aware of the students in my classes, their reactions to what I say, what word choices I make, what topics I present as “fact,” and what topics I present as “perspective.”

And perhaps most importantly, be aware that even if I think I know how students received a piece of information from me, I don’t—not until they’ve really made their thinking visible, so that we can start to have a more nuanced and thoughtful conversation.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Ms. Sequenzia and Dr. Martell’s article free with the education community through October 31, 2016. Read the full article here.

 

 

Teacher Disclosure in the Classroom: Part 1

sequenzia-photoToday’s blogger is Ms. Maria Sequenzia, a teacher of Social Studies at Framingham High School. Read her full article, “Working the Dialectic: Teaching and Learning Teacher Research in Social Studies” (coauthored by Dr. Christopher Martell), in The Educational Forum.

Teaching high school history means being prepared for questions about my opinion on any number of topics, from the merits of imperialism to the effectiveness of Reaganomics to Deflategate.

I love that aspect of my job; I feel it’s my responsibility to create an environment in which students feel comfortable and engaged enough to ask these questions.

But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to know how to answer them.

Teachers walk a fine line between the public and the private; the very essence of our job is performed entirely in front of an audience, yet we’re supposed to be objective disseminators of information, teaching skills and facts.

This situation becomes even more complicated when students ask questions about how we feel, and what we think. I thought about this issue often, but it wasn’t until I took a course on teacher research that I had the opportunity to examine it in a more deliberate way. Simply put, teacher research is about teachers reflecting on, studying, and modifying their classroom practice. Effective teachers do this already; teacher researchers do it in a more systematic way. The course was designed around research questions that we would generate and then study in our own classrooms.

With the aforementioned issues weighing on me, I decided to examine students’ perceptions of teacher disclosure (i.e., how much of one’s personal opinion is shared) in class. This is a tricky subject to negotiate under normal circumstances, and it becomes even more difficult, and relevant, during an election season.

Read my article (free through October) and learn more about teacher research in the current special issue of The Educational Forum, “Teaching and Learning Teacher Research.”

In Part 2 of this blog series, Ms. Sequenzia will describe her research project on teacher disclosure. Stay Tuned!

 

Art—A Necessity for Development

Having taught Fine Arts for decades in New York City public school middle and lower grades, I was delighted to be invited to visit a Lower East Side Settlement House with the prospect of presenting an early childhood Reggio-inspired art program for their Early Head Start.

Excited, hopeful, filled with plans and ideas of collaboration and artistic outreach to the community of my childhood—where my father, as a young boy, played on sports teams and my mother worked as a Settlement House secretary—brought tears of nostalgic joy.

I studied Reggio concepts at Bank Street College, visited many Reggio-inspired nurseries, read countless books on beautiful objects, concepts, and methods for incorporating Reggio into American schools. I attended workshops and programs throughout New York City on Reggio philosophies.

I was assigned two classes of older two-year-olds and met with each class for close to 1 hour once a week. Gaining their engagement, awareness, and reception to my program was not an easy task, as the teachers were quite set in their ways.

Yet, I forged ahead to introduce a newer, more creative approach.

My focus was on nature—the changing of the seasons, color, shapes, textures, incorporating awareness by seeing, talking, touching. We looked at the trees, the patterns on the leaves, and the natural world around us. As we transitioned from summer to fall, we looked at the light, the sun, shadows, and colors. I decided to transform the rooms through color and translucency by using tracing paper and opaque papers with collage and painting.

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Over the weeks, the children began to create wonderful panels that were placed on the windows. We created paper trees with leaves and crunched up tissue paper in orange, green, and red hues.

We observed the branches of trees outside our room dancing in the shadows of our window shades and made crowns of leaves for our hair. Our winter trees became snowy and bare. The blues, whites, silvers, and greys of winter were dramatic on the windows. Panels of cotton ball snow and ice were created with paint and mobiles attached to twigs. Spring heralded soft greens and pinks, yellow and lavender-blue colors in paint and collage.

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Our spring exploded in tissue paper blossoms and birds in nests, eggs, and flowers on our spring tree.

We made fairy head pieces for our hair and looked at the trees in blossom. We also explored with clay and created stabiles referencing Alexander Calder’s works using our own pipe cleaners, tissue paper, and found objects.

I encouraged the teachers to follow through with documenting techniques of inquiry as the children had much to say and discuss.

As my program winds down, I am hopeful that the staff will continue with the efforts I proposed and developed. The families and children were greatly inspirational and the need to explore and express ideas enriches and expands the capabilities of the children.

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Working at the Settlement House was a great experience for me on many levels, and I appreciate the opportunity to connect as a teacher and artist—especially with the educational changes imposed by testing and the rigidity in learning.

Creativity is vital, and children need to emerge and flourish through exploration and hands-on experiences.

Art is a necessity for such development.

Today, many Reggio programs are based in private nurseries and learning facilities in inner cities, which is of benefit to children and families. Still, many families of very young children lack access to this exceptional teaching and learning method, which has the potential to support and nourish creativity within individuals, families and entire communities.

Ms. Adele Phyllis Unterberg is an Art Teacher in New York City and has both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree from New York University in Fine Arts Education.

Three Reasons Teaching is More Satisfying for Career Changers

Luis PentonTeacher shortage and high teacher turnover rate are two of the most challenging realities that the public school system in the United States faces today.

Low morale among teachers, lack of respect and appreciation, excessive paperwork, and continuous funding cuts continue to be the most profound reasons as to why many professionals in the teaching field decide to switch careers and have a fresh start. These eye-opening statistics for teacher desertion and shortage continue to be the focus on the news. However, little attention is paid to a lesser-known group of individuals who are successful professionals in other fields and, knowing the challenges the American public education system faces today, decide to become teaching professionals.

For this article I interviewed three professionals–a former dentist, a former lawyer, and a former political science major student–who switched careers to become educators. The purpose of these interviews was to better understand the reasons behind their choices of becoming schoolteachers and how the feel about their decision. From these interviews, there were three main reasons that seemed to be prevalent in these professionals’ decision on becoming educators and in how they feel today about the choice they made many years ago. These reasons are:

  1. Calling. Some would say that teaching is an art and a science, and only those who understand the balance between these two can truly educate. This statement is very relatable to the three teachers interviewed, as they believe they always knew teaching was their vocation. They were aware of all the challenges and extra hours of work the teaching field required prior to switching to education, but that did not stop them. As a calling, they feel fulfilled in front of the classroom and they state, that above all, teaching is the driving force for them personally and professionally.
  2. Impacting students’ lives. Impacting the younger generations is of upmost importance for most individuals in the teaching field. All interviewees agreed that they decided to move from their original field of study because they could not directly impact lives in a way that was personally meaningful to them as individuals. Particularly, one educator stated that when he became a teacher, he experienced that the relationship with his students was symbiotic and he felt fulfilled by affecting the learning and growth of his students while his students seemed to truly benefit from his instruction.
  3. Their children’s education. Having children is a powerful reason for wanting to be involved and learn more about the public education system. For our interviewees, becoming an educator was just an innate part of being a parent. One of the interviewees stated that the main reason why she became a teacher was because she did not like how her children were being taught and the information they were being taught. For this reason, she became a schoolteacher, with a hope of better understanding the information their children were being exposed to and with a vision of bettering the public education system from the inside out.

When we think about educators, we think about individuals who value, above all, the impact they have in their students’ present and future lives. For the career switchers interviewed in this article, their students are the number one priority and teaching has become an opportunity for them to become more actively involved within their community and help shape the new generation of thinkers. Even though there are some aspects of public education that they do not agree with, such as excessive standardized testing, teacher disempowerment, low pay, and lack of appreciation, they have found that teaching is where they belong and they do not plan to leave any time soon.

These seasoned professionals have found that staying humble and focusing on their students have been the most important lessons learned throughout their lives as educators and they would not change that for the world.

Currently, KDP is spending time collecting (and will soon be sharing) stories from around the globe about how teachers are making a difference and changing the world. Share yours today!

Luis J. Pentón Herrera is an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at Prince George County Public Schools in Maryland. He is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Leadership: Reading, Language, and Literacy at Concordia University Chicago. His research interests include language acquisition, bilingual education, teacher education, and immigrant education.

Standardized Testing: A Disruption To Quality Learning

On October 24th, President Obama released a statement calling for changes in standardized testing in America’s schools. Although the details have yet been released, it is encouraging the Obama Administration acknowledges that standardized testing has overextended its purpose.

As a veteran of public education, such news is profoundly welcomed.  Over the past 20 years, going back to the Clinton Administration and Goals 2000, through the Bush Administration and No Child Left Behind, to the Obama Administration and Race to the Top, public education has increasingly become burdened by the increase of testing. With it came increased scrutiny and accountability on states, local school districts, and individual teachers. Although the results of these initiatives have been mixed, all now agree there is no correlation between increased standardized tests and increased student achievement.

I firmly believe the first step is to eliminate the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balance Assessment. Being an educator in a state that mandated that all districts implement the PARCC test, I can speak directly to the negative impact it created. PARCC is a computer-based assessment. The drain on school district technology resources both in the setting-up phase, which began in January, through the implementation phase, the months of March and May, were profound. The length of the tests, both in March and May were extremely disruptive to school schedules and classroom routines.

Many educators across the state questioned the developmental appropriateness of PARCC, in terms of format, length and difficulty. Although PARCC has announced there will only be one test instead of two in 2016, overall test time has not been decreased significantly. In addition, if the purpose of standardized testing is to inform and improve teaching and learning, PARCC is not the answer.

First round of tests were completed by April 1st and the second round by the end of May.  It is mid November, and my school district just now received the results for our high school students; hardly timely if we are to use the information to improve instruction. We have no idea when elementary will receive the results. Given states can’t agree nationwide what curricular content is worth knowing, and given a growing number of states have opted out of Common Core standards and/or PARCC or Smarter Balance Assessment, more and more educators question the validity or purpose of a “one size fits all” test.

Let’s band together and work with our state legislators and create assessments that reflect what we as states have committed to in terms of standards-based teaching and learning. In addition, at the local level, let’s support individual school districts to develop and utilize assessment practices that align with instruction, provide timely feedback, and create partnerships of learning with teachers and students.

Dr. Vicky Tuskenvicky tusken is the Secondary Curriculum Coordinator for the DeKalb Community Unit School District in Illinois. She also teaches at Northern Illinois University as an Adjunct for the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology, and Foundations.