Head shaking and apologizing

First, the apology: it’s been quite a while since I’ve made a post. That makes me a bad, bad journal-writer. I’ve been busy with work and summer school – there is no shortage of things I want to post about, rather a shortage of time with which to prepare decent posts. I hate the idea of slapping half-assed, unresearched posts up here just for the sake of posting. So, I do hope that you will forgive the lull. I’m hoping it will start picking up.

Now, for the subject at hand.

Last night I went to a low-key party at a friend’s house. Before you get all excited, there were board games involved – I suppose a more appropriate term would be “get-together”, but none of this is truly important. One of my friends, K, is a teaching assistant (elementary school), and something she said to me struck me as odd and frightening at the same time.

We were talking about summer school, and she says, “Oh, yeah! My teacher from last year is teaching summer school this summer, and I ran into her, yesterday. I asked her how it was going and she says, ‘I have seventeen kids and none of them are on medication!’ All I could think was, ‘Should they be? You had 22 last year and none of them were on medication, either…'”

K also found this teacher’s statement odd, and just kind of ended the conversation with her. She went on to explain that this is a first year teacher, who was inconsistent and never really handled discipline or communication with families her entire first year of teaching. K, the teaching assistant, did all of that for her.

Because of things like this, and other reasons, K left that school and will be a teaching assistant at a very small (80 kids) elementary school next year.

This caused me to react in several different ways:

(1) What are they teaching people at East Carolina University (from where the teacher graduated) about special needs kids, classroom management, and family communication? (I’ve heard great things about ECU’s school of education from many different people, and am guessing that this person is an exception to her peers.)

(2) Why do people still assume it’s their students that are the problem when they have issues in the classroom? And why is the hoped-for outcome medicated students? What ever happened to thinking, “Hmm… my students aren’t doing well and going crazy… perhaps I should change what I’m doing.”

(3) Why is it okay to abuse your teaching assistant by letting/making them do all the classroom management? This teacher is going to be in a world of trouble next year, when she has to do all of that stuff herself.

(4) Speaking of that, why don’t school of education programs mention teaching assistants? I just realized that I have not once learned what a teaching assistant is actually supposed to do. I can guess, based on prior experience, but isn’t that kind of important? Shouldn’t I be learning how to properly utilize my teaching assistant, if I get one? They’re kind of a mystery to me.

Anyway, just some observations… some of which have been rolling around in my head for some time, but came to the surface last night. I hope to develop a more detailed, researched post about students on medication in the future, but didn’t have time to do that, tonight.

I hope you are all well.

You’re all gonna die — SIKE!

When I first caught this story through MSNBC, I was taken aback.

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Staff members of an elementary school staged a fictitious gun attack on students during a class trip, telling them it was not a drill as the children cried and hid under tables.

Now, I remember doing fire drills and tornado drills in school… and even lock down drills in high school. We had bomb threats, and once we went into lock down because there was an armed suspect in a neighborhood adjacent to campus that the cops were after. Lock down lasted about an hour, until he was arrested, and then normalcy resumed. Even during that lock down experience, we were never told “there is a gunman on the loose – hide under your desks!” As a matter of fact, there was just some vague code announced, and all the teachers closed the blinds and closed and locked their doors. We weren’t allowed to leave the room without a teacher, and then only in emergencies (like going to the bathroom). Teachers continued teaching, even. Nobody said what had happened until after the guy was arrested, to prevent us from panicking.

We were never told we were in danger when we weren’t. And even when we were in possible danger, our teachers and administrators were sure to stay calm and keep us that way. Sure, we wanted to know what was going on, but we truly didn’t need to know until it was over. It only would have made the situation worse.

This situation is horrible for several reasons, not the least of which is that students were made to feel that they were in danger when they weren’t.

During the last night of the trip, staff members convinced the 69 students that there was a gunman on the loose. They were told to lie on the floor or hide underneath tables and stay quiet. A teacher, disguised in a hooded sweat shirt, even pulled on a locked door.

Now, of course the media sensationalized this a bit, but let’s think about this. These students are 11 or 12 years old… do they really need to know there’s a man with a gun on the loose, even if it’s true? In a real situation, should they have told these kids details that would just scare them and put them into panic, or could they have been more vague?

And the teacher pulling on the door? That’s going way too far.

I understand what they were trying to do – I’m a teacher, I can see the importance of being prepared for a situation like this – but they handled it horribly. Scaring students unnecissarily only erodes the trust they have in you, and doesn’t really prepare them for a similar situation in real life. And, truly, it’s not the students who need to be prepared for this, it’s the teachers.

I seriously doubt any of them would be laughing had this stunt been pulled on them in a staff meeting.

However, a lot of people are saying that these teachers should lose their jobs – I don’t agree with that. I do think they should be educated on how to handle emergency situations, particularly away from school, and possibly disciplined for their lapse in judgement, but I think losing their jobs is more than harsh.

Shay [one of the sixth graders involved] and her mother, Niki Morris, said they forgave the teachers and wanted to move on. It “went too far because it was too gruesome,” Shay said. “You’d think a teacher wouldn’t do it, but they did. But they’re great teachers. If (the assistant principal) loses his job, I will break into tears. He’s the best assistant principal I’ve ever had.” (source)

There’s a response on the school’s website, as well:

Clearly, there are many versions of this situation and the coverage has been sensationalized. Regardless of the versions, this prank crossed the line in what would be appropriate to tell young children, especially in light of recent incidents.

It goes on to say that the incident is being investigated and that proper action will be taken, I just hope they are balanced in their discipline. There are a lot of teachers who have no idea what to do if such a situation was to happen for real, and that’s the real tragedy, here.

Let’s use this as a sign that we need to educate our teachers, not just punish them.

I’m interesting!

Something I meant to write about a while back, but the craziness of the semester prevented it:

Last semester, there was a grad student in one of my classes. She is really interested in social justice, and led a few lessons on the topic (some of which were enlightening) – I really enjoyed having her in the class.

Because she is a grad student, she had a research paper to write. She interviewed all of us about our perspectives on social justice: how it affects our lives, our teaching, where our opinions originated, etc. It was an interesting interview, and I should be receiving a copy of the paper soonish. It’s all anonymous, of course, but I really want to know what the some of my other classmates had to say about some of their experiences/opinions on the topic, as I think my views often differ from my peers.

In any case, she asked me (and other students, I presume) if I would mind her following me next year when I get into my student teaching and possibly my first year of teaching. I have to say, I am extremely flattered that she would find my views on social justice and teaching interesting enough to follow me, but I’m also incredibly curious about what she discovers in her research. I think it’ll be a really good experience for me, and will get me thinking about the issues. I mean, we all consider issues of social justice, but I think being part of her research will help me think about topics before they come up in my classroom, and perhaps allow me take a more proactive approach to such issues with my students.

I’m sure there will be more about this in the future, but I wanted to mention it for those who might be keeping up with the blog somewhat regularly.

Teaching the Bible?

[Edited at the end.]

God’s Textbook

It’s been a debate for a long time, now, whether the Bible has a place in public schools. Several people agree that it does hold some very rich literature, but others try to push it as a historical resource, as well.

I disagree with both. While some Biblical stories are interesting, I have to say that they are too far-fetched for me. I’d rather read “The Iliad” or “The Odyssey”, Shakespeare, or Dante’s “Divine Comedy”. The Bible’s stories tend to be rather tedious to read, and rely too much on faith to be interesting to me as a nonbeliever. They are also a bit “preachy” at times, as well as repetitive and long-winded.

And as a history text, it is completely awful. There are no reliable resources, and the facts are skewed by religious influences – it was never meant to be a history book. Perhaps the Bible, itself, has made history, which is worthy of studying (the first printed book, the many translations, its affect on different cultures, etc). It was particularly interesting to study in my “History of Books” class my freshman year of college, but we didn’t study the content. History textbooks are inaccurate enough without adding the Bible to the list. Besides, I thought teachers and parents were pushing for more up-to-date history texts, anyway. The Bible was put together centuries ago – talk about outdated!

Even if certain stories do make it into a literature or history class, I think they should be a part of a course of a study, and should not make up the entire class. Most high schools don’t devote entire classes to studying any one particular work or author – the point of high school seems to be to get as much general knowledge as possible into students so they might go off to college and explore the specifics on their own. There simply isn’t time for a “Bible as literature/history” course in high schools. And the monetary resources aren’t there, either – we can barely fund music and art classes, let’s not waste time and money on textbook versions of the Bible and the teachers to teach it. Besides, I’m sure the Quran has some history and literature in it, too, but I don’t see anyone pushing for that to be taught in our schools. One or two stories in a class that focuses on literature in general is okay, but an entire class devoted to it is just ridiculous.

Disagree if you must, but make a good point for your argument.

21 March, 10:39pm EDT – I wanted to respond to Alan’s comment, below. This entry was pretty general, but there are groups (somewhat successfully) trying to get the Bible taught in schools; the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, the Bible Literacy Project, and Bible in the Schools, among others. According the first organization, “The Bible course curriculum has been voted into 373 school districts in 37 states… 190,000 students have already taken our course.” North Carolina is on the list.

a little introduction…

UPDATE: I am no longer sticking with this focus to the journal, but I’m leaving up all the old posts. Just FYI. (Update: 20 Dec 2010)

I need to get serious about this whole education thing – mine, and that of my future students. I have lots of ideas for things I want to do in my classroom, and I’ve seen things other teachers have done that I really like. I intend to post those things here, so that I will remember them and other teachers can find them.

I still have two years of school left before I finally get my own classroom, so for now this journal will be ideas I have for the future, peppered with education-related news (there’s no shortage of that, unfortunately it’s usually bad). There will probably be a fair amount of discussing my own education, too, but in the sense that it would relate to other teachers/education majors.

I would love contribution from other teachers, as well as comments from anyone… I want this to become sort of an education community. No one person has all the answers for how to teach every child – and as technology/communities/people change, teaching methods must evolve to keep up. Education is one of those fields in which everyone can and should be involved; if you aren’t a teacher, you are/were a student, or may possibly have children in school. And I believe that everyone should be concerned with the education of future generations of lawyers/teachers/doctors/politicians/parents/lawmakers/etc…

Something I will no doubt rant about in the future, repeatedly, is funding and the attitude some people without children have regarding funding local schools. So many times I have heard “well, I don’t have kids, so why should I be paying for schools/teachers I don’t need??” Because those kids will grow up to determine things that affect you – and if they’re uneducated and lack the resources to make informed decisions about the world around them, you will suffer. So, the point is, it doesn’t matter who you are, this stuff affects you, and your awareness of it and input to it affect you, as well.

So, please contribute/argue/rant/rave/etc… but keep it clean and respectful. Because I said so, and I’m in charge. 😉