You think you know what teachers do. Right? Wrong. – Washington Post Reblog

A good friend of mine sent me a text this morning with a link to a Washington Post Blog Post and the question, “Did you see this?”  I had not, but thanks to her, I was so taken by the post that I was moved to re-blog it here in an effort to spread her message.  I do hope as many as possible have the opportunity to read the words of Sarah Blaine who also has it posted on her blog – ParentingtheCore.

The writing below is Sarah Blaine and in no way my own!  Whether you agree with her or not, her sentiments, I could not echo better myself.

The Teachers

by Sarah Blaine

We all know what teachers do, right? After all, we were all students. Each one of us, each product of public education, we each sat through class after class for thirteen years. We encountered dozens of teachers. We had our kindergarten teachers and our first grade teachers and our fifth grade teachers and our gym teachers and our art teachers and our music teachers. We had our science teachers and our social studies teachers and our English teachers and our math teachers. If we were lucky, we might even have had our Latin teachers or our Spanish teachers or our physics teachers or our psychology teachers. Heck, I even had a seventh grade “Communications Skills” teacher. We had our guidance counselors and our principals and some of us had our special education teachers and our study hall monitors.

So we know teachers. We get teachers. We know what happens in classrooms, and we know what teachers do. We know which teachers are effective, we know which teachers left lasting impressions, we know which teachers changed our lives, and we know which teachers sucked.  

We know.  We know which teachers changed lives for the better.  We know which teachers changed lives for the worse.

Teaching as a profession has no mystery. It has no mystique. It has no respect.

We were students, and therefore we know teachers. We denigrate teachers. We criticize teachers. We can do better than teachers. After all: We do. They teach.

We are wrong.

We need to honor teachers. We need to respect teachers. We need to listen to teachers. We need to stop reducing teachers to arbitrary measurements of student growth on so-called objective exams.

Most of all, we need to stop thinking that we know anything about teaching merely by virtue of having once been students.

We don’t know.

I spent a little over a year earning a master of arts in teaching degree. Then I spent two years teaching English Language Arts in a rural public high school. And I learned that my 13 years as a public school student, my 4 years as a college student at a highly selective college, and even a great deal of my year as a masters degree student in the education school of a flagship public university hadn’t taught me how to manage a classroom, how to reach students, how to inspire a love of learning, how to teach. Eighteen years as a student (and a year of preschool before that), and I didn’t know shit about teaching. Only years of practicing my skills and honing my skills would have rendered me a true professional. An expert. Someone who knows about the business of inspiring children. Of reaching students. Of making a difference. Of teaching.

I didn’t stay. I copped out. I left. I went home to suburban New Jersey, and a year later I enrolled in law school.

I passed the bar. I began to practice law at a prestigious large law firm. Three years as a law student had no more prepared me for the practice of law than 18 years of experience as a student had previously prepared me to teach. But even in my first year as a practicing attorney, I earned five times what a first year teacher made in the district where I’d taught.
I worked hard in my first year of practicing law. But I didn’t work five times harder than I’d worked in my first year of teaching. In fact, I didn’t work any harder. Maybe I worked a little less.

But I continued to practice. I continued to learn. Nine years after my law school graduation, I think I have some idea of how to litigate a case. But I am not a perfect lawyer. There is still more I could learn, more I could do, better legal instincts I could develop over time. I could hone my strategic sense. I could do better, be better. Learn more law. Learn more procedure. But law is a practice, law is a profession. Lawyers are expected to evolve over the course of their careers. Lawyers are given more responsibility as they earn it.

New teachers take on full responsibility the day they set foot in their first classrooms.

The people I encounter out in the world now respect me as a lawyer, as a professional, in part because the vast majority of them have absolutely no idea what I really do.

All of you former students who are not teachers and not lawyers, you have no more idea of what it is to teach than you do of what it is to practice law.

All of you former students: you did not design curricula, plan lessons, attend faculty meetings, assess papers, design rubrics, create exams, prepare report cards, and monitor attendance. You did not tutor students, review rough drafts, and create study questions. You did not assign homework. You did not write daily lesson objectives on the white board. You did not write poems of the week on the white board. You did not write homework on the white board. You did not learn to write legibly on the white board while simultaneously making sure that none of your students threw a chair out a window. 

You did not design lessons that succeeded. You did not design lessons that failed. You did not learn to keep your students quiet during lock down drills.You did not learn that your 15 year old students were pregnant from their answers to vocabulary quizzes. You did not learn how to teach functionally illiterate high school students to appreciate Shakespeare. You did not design lessons to teach students close reading skills by starting with the lyrics to pop songs. You did not miserably fail your honors level students at least in part because you had no books to give them. You did not struggle to teach your students how to develop a thesis for their essays, and bask in the joy of having taught a successful lesson, of having gotten through to them, even for five minutes. You did not struggle with trying to make SAT-level vocabulary relevant to students who did not have a single college in their county. You did not laugh — because you so desperately wanted to cry — when you read some of the absurdities on their final exams. You did not struggle to reach students who proudly announced that they only came to school so that their mom’s food stamps didn’t get reduced.

You did not spend all of New Years’ Day crying five years after you’d left the classroom because you reviewed the New York Times’ graphic of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and learned that one of your very favorite students had been killed in Iraq two years before. And you didn’t know. Because you copped out and left. So you cried, helplessly, and the next day you returned to the practice of law.

You did not. And you don’t know. You observed. Maybe you learned. But you didn’t teach. The problem with teaching as a profession is that every single adult citizen of this country thinks that they know what teachers do. And they don’t. So they prescribe solutions, and they develop public policy, and they editorialize, and they politicize. And they don’t listen to those who do know. Those who could teach. The teachers.


At the heart of student learning – Engagement (a.k.a – 3c!!!)

As I said in my earlier post, my current focus on education is on dealing with the sweeping changes and reform that seem to be facing much of the country.  And for anyone who finds themselves facing the Danielson Framework for Teacher Effectiveness then it should come as no surprise that I decided to start my re-blogging efforts with none other than the heart of the framework —

Engaging Students in Learning


as we in Danielson speak most often see it


In order to support that, I have decided to start logging websites, links and documents that support a deeper understanding of student engagement.  Those who may ask why start with 3c – well to be perfectly honest, it is the point of teaching – engaging our students, helping them learn, showing them the way.  I didn’t need the staff from Teachscape to tell me that 3c – Engaging Students in Learning is at the heart of the framework.  I am an educator, and every good educator knows that an engaged student is a student who is learning.

The teacher effectiveness tab is a work in progress.  Check back often as I discover more sites that support the framework.  Until then, hopefully my meager collection of links for 3c will support higher student engagement in classrooms around the country.

The Opt-Out Debate

For students in grades 3 – 8 today marks Day 3 of the three-day New York State English Language Arts Assessments.  The state tests are finally here and the combination of relief, anxiety, stress, excitement is overwhelming both teachers and students.  The majority of the students in the state of New York walked into their schools yesterday, took a deep breath and braced themselves for no less than 90 minutes of the hardest exam ever to be given by the State of New York over the course of three days.

Hence the relief, anxiety, stress, and excitement.  The sentiments were felt by teachers and students alike.

  • Relief that the test is finally here which means that it is almost over and the rest of the year with be test-free.
  • Anxiety that the work in preparing for this will not be enough.
  • Stress that it will be too hard, that the kids won’t finish.
  • Excitement that the hard work all year was not for naught, that the students finished, that they worked to the ability we believed they could work.

The daughter of my school’s literacy coach came home from the test excited that she learned something new from the test.  But she was not the norm.  For the most part the test came and went and the stress of the moment was replaced by the usual comings and goings of the day. Only to be repeated and repeated again.

While the majority of the students cycled through just another year of testing, albeit, not like any other year, but still another year, another subset of students added themselves to a growing group of students who have decided to OPT-OUT!

A term that was almost unheard of two years ago, when New York joined adopted the Common Core Standards and a small number of families had their students refuse to take the state examination.  For the most part these students simply stayed home during the exam, but this year the opt-out movement is growing…and growing.

Students across the state of New York came to school yesterday with the following letter - Refusal Letter.  A letter that many schools across the state knew was coming but didn’t really know what to do with.   The notion that students would simply walk into school and say, “I am not taking this test.” was as much a change as the test itself. And while some superintendents in the City of New York are declaring that students who opt-out will not be promoted (a level 2 mastery of the New York State assessments is required for promotion, or is the case now completion of a portfolio which requires the student to demonstrate level 3 mastery, and in my opinion is far more difficult than even the new state tests).

Please don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe in civil disobedience when warranted.  However, as an educator for many years, I am trying to understand what message we are sending our students by having them take part in the Opt-Out.  What was the message  instilled in them? Did it empower a generation of students to believe that they can opt-out of anything that they don’t want to do?  Did it drive the notion that their parents will fix everything in a letter?  Did it divide communities with in schools between the students who tested and the students who didn’t? Did it foster the belief that they don’t ever need to take a test? Is it the students that don’t want to take the test or is it the parents pushing a different agenda? Probably none of the above, but it’s questions that came to my mind.

The reality is that life, here in the United States or otherwise is filled with tests.  SAT, PSAT, ACT, GRE, LSAT, MCAT, Drivers exam, civil service exams, high school entrance exams, certification exams.  There are tests and there are laws around tests.  Some of them include;

  • 1898 Williams v. Mississippi ruled that literacy tests and poll taxes were not a violation of the 15th Amendment.
  • 1978 Regents of the University of California v. Bakke ruled that  it is unconstitutional to give separate testing to students other than “white” for purposes of admission.
  • 2003 Gratz v. Bollinger ruled that giving minority students a predetermined amount of points for their  “race” on an admissions exam was unconstitutional.

If the supreme court can decide that it is not unconstitutional to give its residents a literacy test to get your voter registration, why is it that this year there is a sudden determination that it is “unfair” to test students.  Didn’t we all take tests in school growing up?

While I firmly believe that teacher evaluation needs to be reexamined and that testing is not the only answer, the notion that “(testing is), taking the fun out of learning.” is a bit extreme for me.  The students in my school have done some wonderful fun work this year that have supported some of the same things that they were tested on.

Considering that US is a global leader, wouldn’t we want to prove our education prowess with some concrete data?  Don’t we want to show the world that our students are academically ready to face challenges with concrete solutions on a global scale. On some level doesn’t the state tests show that?

Until we can come up with an uniformed way to do so, I would hazard a guess that the test will remain, especially with PARCC finding its way in front of students during the 2014 – 2015 school year. Commercialized or not, the likely hood of that assessment not being used by students in at least 34 states is slim to none.

Yet, the articles and the controversies that surround the test are multiplying.  From the Opt-out to the unpaid product placement, even if the tests were perfect, they will forever be flawed.  The days of testing quietly coming and going are gone.  In an age of high stakes testing anything that assesses our students is going to be controversial.   Just take a look at some of the articles surrounding this years testing;

Yet at the end of the day, New York compared to other states seems to fall somewhere in the middle when you consider that  Texas tests 45 of the mandated 180 school days while North Carolina tests about 10 hours of the 1,025 instructional hours. In comparison, New York seems middle ground testing the majority of the students in garde 3 – 7 about 6 – 7 days a year.

Every state tests.  While the tests vary, no matter where you go in the country, students will face testing.  Maybe the debate should be on the national level and not the state one.  If we are moving to a “national” testing system then why isn’t the Opt-out debate in congress now?  Instead of teaching to the test or against the test or for the test or about the test, maybe we can just find the moments that matter, the standards and skills they really need so when they do test, those teachable moments will count for even more.

UPDATE: The official banned word list from NYC standardized tests!

Soon after my post on the banned words from NYC public school standardized tests, CBS News released the official list of words and/or topics that are “not allowed” on city tests.  The very long list (in alphabetical order – woo hoo!) is as follows;

  • Abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological)
  • Alcohol (beer and liquor), tobacco, or drugs
  • Birthday celebrations (and birthdays)
  • Bodily functions
  • Cancer (and other diseases)
  • Catastrophes/disasters (tsunamis and hurricanes)
  • Celebrities
  • Children dealing with serious issues
  • Cigarettes (and other smoking paraphernalia)
  • Computers in the home (acceptable in a school or library setting)
  • Crime
  • Death and disease
  • Divorce
  • Evolution
  • Expensive gifts, vacations, and prizes
  • Gambling involving money
  • Halloween
  • Homelessness
  • Homes with swimming pools
  • Hunting
  • Junk food
  • In-depth discussions of sports that require prior knowledge
  • Loss of employment
  • Nuclear weapons
  • Occult topics (i.e. fortune-telling)
  • Parapsychology
  • Politics
  • Pornography
  • Poverty
  • Rap Music
  • Religion
  • Religious holidays and festivals (including but not limited to Christmas, Yom Kippur, and Ramadan)
  • Rock-and-Roll music
  • Running away
  • Sex
  • Slavery
  • Terrorism
  • Television and video games (excessive use)
  • Traumatic material (including material that may be particularly upsetting such as animal shelters)
  • Vermin (rats and roaches)
  • Violence
  • War and bloodshed
  • Weapons (guns, knives, etc.)
  • Witchcraft, sorcery, etc.

While I do appreciate that some of these topics are a “no-no” like sex, pornography, and alcohol, I also wonder if it is really necessary to tell people who are supposed to be developing tests for school aged children that pornography is off limits.  Call me naïve, but I would have hoped that was a given and not something that needed to be micro managed.

On the flip, I find it interesting that a story about a dog in an animal shelter is totally off limits as it may be considered traumatic but gambling is okay if it doesn’t involve money.

In the 2010 Grade 6 ELA test an article titled Olykoeks by, Sue Larson Pascoe was included.  The article was about the history of doughnuts.   Last time I checked this is considered Junk Food, yet NYC public school children were tested on the subject.  Moving forward with the banned word list – an article like this would not be assessed citywide prior to the state test because of the new banned word list.  Now doesn’t this new insane list actually put all New York City students at a disadvantage rather then help them? You tell me!

Because of Irene and Twitter

So what does one do, when one is in the middle of a hurricane?  Goes on twitter of course!  And when you have hours to spend on twitter because the cable is going in and out, you can get lost in the world of resources that are shared by educators who have embraced web 2.0!

I was very reluctant to twitter at first, but slowly, I am getting into the idea, if for nothing else the volume of information out there and the endless ideas that are being shared.  Some of which are, in my opinion awesome, cool, and just to good not to consider for your classrooms;

Faux Facebook Worksheet

So I kinda thought this was one of those things that could be helpful as a pre-assessment activity.  Soooo many of our students know Facebook better then basic multiplication and division that this template is such a easy way to get them engaged because they basically create a Facebook page and can do it without the internet.

What I like about this resource from @tcbird1  is the fact that it is self explanatory for most kids.  It provides a lot of places for pre-assessment for students.  What I caution is the idea of making this the main assignment.  As a PBL minded educator this is not a project and it is definitely not a problem – but it could be used in conjunction with other activities very nicely.

Story Board Work Station – Math

I think that this resource is great.  It is clearly geared towards lower grades but I could see my middle schoolers using this.  What I like so much about it is the cross content aspect  - as it specifically asks students to apply concepts they have learned in Literacy to complete a math problem.  The resource, which comes from @plnauge is such a great place to start if you are looking to set up a math center quickly but with one that really creates a simple problem.

(#) Hash tags

When I finally dove into the Twittersphere, I noticed these (#) tags at the end of tweets.  At first I ignored it but slowly I started to click on them and now I can’t live without them when I am on twitter.  The hash tags collect all the tweets that have the tag and put them into a thread so you can read them all together.  Makes it very easy to focus on one thing in the very big twitter world.  Some must follows in education are #edchat, #edadmin (if you want to know what is on the mind of school administration), #sschat, #scichat, #mathchat, #engchat, #PBL,  #midleved (for us middle level people) and #nwp (The National Writing Project.

Technology Tibits

One to of the other great things about Twitter is the fact that some many people who tweet also have blogs and some of the blogs are an amazing amount of resources at your finger tips.  Once such must is Technology Tibits.  David Kapuler @dkapuler is a great site for all things web and tech.  Applications abound and quick reviews of what they do make it easy to pick and choose what works for you.  The site also lets you subscribe for a quick and easy email of the latest and coolest programs out there.


Because of Irene, I have learned the power behind twitter and have built my PLN, ten fold to connect me with amazing educators worldwide who are ready and willing to help, support, and guide in the education world.  If your not on twitter – you should be!!!


Stickies – the inventor of this simple invention, probably did not intend for it to become a teacher godsend for certain populations of students. Over the years they have gone from the bain of my existence to one of the best resources I have in the classroom.

When I was first handed a pack of sticky notes during my first year teaching, I thought – okay, cool, I can use them to take notes. When I was told they were for the kids, I thought great just another thing for the kids to make a mess with. And so I began to expierement with these little pieces of paper and in my early time with sticky notes I have discovered -

  • They are great for small paper airplanes
  • They are a lot of fun to fold up into a tiny square
  • They make excellent little “kick me” notes for kids to put on their classmates
  • They fall out of students books
  • They are fun to draw on
  • Color selection is more important than what you actually write on it.

So after a couple of years of investing in a sometimes expensive resource – I ran far far away from the stickies – until recently when I decided that I can not possibly fear something as small and simple as a sticky. And so slowly but surely, I reached into the resource closet and pulled out a colorful pack and decided to begin to incorporate them back into classroom activities. I made the commitment to use them as much as possible to test out their usability in every aspect of education and I am glad that i did.

I used them in the classroom, I used them with an entire class, I used them with small groups, I used them for my own data collection. I carried stickies everywhere I went, in my pocket, with my laptop. I did not move without stickies.

So what did I discover…very simply that the person who handed me them so many years ago was write – stickies are a must for any teacher who is setting individual student goals, using data to drive instruction and differentiating based on readiness, interest, or ability.

Some suggestions for stickies in the classroom that have worked for me include;

When working with the entire class, I have found that giving the students sticky notes to include in their notebooks as a tool to collect their ideas helps them focus on a few specific things to write. For example, when I want the kids to predict, infer, and question they get three different colored stickies that (yellow for predicting, pink for inferring, and blue for questioning) and they jot their thoughts on the stickies and put them in their notebooks. When they look back it is easy for them to see questions they have had about their book, predictions they have made or inferences they have drawn. As a teacher, I am able to see if they are building on previous lessons and applying higher quickly by scanning notebooks for specific colors.

When working with small groups, I give the students their task on a sticky note. I also give them additional sticky notes to complete their task, whether it is collect questions while they read or make predictions or summarize the main idea of each page. Then we are able to transfer their work into their notebooks to keep a collection of what they have done.

For students who have difficulty taking notes, I have found that putting 6 stickies on a page and asking the kids to fill them with one detail from the text. When they are finished they have collected six specific text based notes and feel accomplished because they have filled a page with their writing.

For teachers, jotting down notes on students quickly and organizing them later on separate student pages takes away the need to organize during a lesson and frees up more time with the kids.

Lastly as a coach, I have implemented a system in which teachers can leave me messages, suggestions, or ideas on a sticky and then put it in my notebook. This way I am able to jot down my own notes and keep a quick record of strategies, suggestions, or possible solutions in one place and other teachers can look back and see the exchange and draw inspiration from it as well.

No matter how much I have hated this great little tool in the past and even though there are times that I see a little collection of them on the floor of folded up into a cute little shape, truth be told they are an asset to the education field and one that will continue to serve a much needed purpose.