Wednesday, July 28, 2010

School Sense

Well, it is definitely that time of year.  Summer is coming to a rapid end and it's time to get the kids ready for school.  The #1 question I have gotten repeatedly over the years from parents is " what can I do to help my child be more successful in school?"

With over 10 years of experience as a teacher, I'd like to share from my perspective some quick yet simple to implement strategies that can not only help students become more successful, but assist parents in becoming more involved in the process.

  • Get Organized!!  Use color coded notebooks, folders, binders etc. to help students keep up with assignments for different classes.  For, example- If red is the math color, everything from folders to spiral notebooks and dividers should be red!  This can assist even the most disorganized student and saves valuable time when looking for assignments, notes and everything else.
  • Designate a place for students to study!  With all the distractions kids have from their cell phones, to I-pods this is even more important than ever.  Take the time to carve out a place in your home specifically for working on school work.  This can be office or a small corner equipped with a desk, school supplies, and a computer if possible.  Make sure it's away from the television and create rules around cell phones and other potentially electronic distractions. This varies considerably from child to child; some of my students were perfectly capable of working while listening to music and required minimal supervision when working online while others were on Facebook the minute I turned my back.  Know your kids and set the rules accordingly. 
  • Most kids think they have the ability to multitask, but most need to be taught to focus. (See Frontline Digital Nation piece for interesting insight into this topic) Regularly review what this looks like for your child by discussing how and when paying attention is key and what to do when they're having trouble paying attention to the task at hand.  Do they need to change seats?  Move closer to the teacher? Highlight important words and phrases to help them remember?  The strategies are numerous and one size does not fits all.  Equip kids with as many tools as you can- they will learn to utilize the ones that work best for them.
  • Embrace Technology!  If it's in the budget, I highly recommend purchasing either a desktop or laptop to help students not only stay organized but to be ready for the 21st Century overall.  Students who are not able to search and evaluate information from multiple sources, research effectively, and collaborate on a global scale will find themselves far behind their peers. 
  • Don't assume all students are digital natives.  Although most kids are pretty adept at using technology, you would be surprised at how many do not know basic functionality around creating and editing documents, using spreadsheets, creating folders for easy retrieval of documents, and identifying valid information.  Again, these things need to be taught!
  • Calendars, Calendars, Calendars!  Whether you are a techie like myself or not, students need to be taught to organize and plan effectively.  Buy an actual planner and help your kids figure out how to utilize them effectively for planning and completing assignments.  Better yet, get them a G-mail account and teach them how to use Google Calendar which can send reminders and can be accessed from anywhere. 
  • Purchase some inexpensive locker dividers and shelving units, baskets etc. to be used at home.  Again, organization is key- the more time you spend up front the less frustration you will experience later.  
  • Watch for red flags!  Sudden emotional changes can be a sure sign of trouble ranging from bullying to depression.  Skipping classes and complaining about certain subjects and/or teachers may simply be your child's way of saying " I don't get it" so don't be afraid to get a tutor .  Enlist help from the school or outside agencies if additional academic or social issues need to be addressed.  
    I hope you found these helpful.  For additional help refer to the following websites:

    How To Study
    Google Calendar
    PBS Parents
    Frontline- Distracted by Everything (Video)
    Tech Teacher Blog

    About Tracy:
    Tracy has an extensive background in teaching, curriculum development, and school administration.  She has held several positions in Chicago Public Schools, University of Chicago Charter Schools, Illinois State Government, and Digital Youth Network.  Tracy has presented her work at several conferences including the National Writing Project, Hawaii International Conference on Education (January 2011), and served as a consultant for a one-to-one laptop initiative in Brisbane, Australia.  Tracy is currently pursuing her doctoral degree in Learning Technologies from Pepperdine University.


    Wednesday, July 14, 2010

    Education 2.0

    I am going to say something that you may find ludicrous, ridiculous, and/or just plain uninformed. But, there is no such thing as an achievement gap; its an experience gap. Because you will never be what you don't know you can become.

    Think about that for a second... You will never be what you don't know you can become. That ain't profound. That is common sense.

    When you live in poverty, you don't travel or go to state-of-the art schools, and the people and the world you know aren't filled with possibilities. Quite the opposite. Everywhere you turn, you see nothing but your limitations. Sure, we can blame the parents, the children, the teachers, and the politicians. It is far easier to blame someone than to do the work of solving the problem. Here's my plan.

    Begin with creating themed or subject-area focused schools. That will allow students to pursue an academic program according to their talents, passions, and career interests. Next, gather every worksheet and workbook and hold a bonfire. Neither of them have no business being used in the 21st century. Instead, teachers should engage their students with discussion, project-based learning, and technology. While we're at it, let us do away with tenure and give teachers and administrators 1 to 5 year contracts. And lastly, schools and/or grade levels must make sure that out of the school learning experiences are a part of the curriculum - which is where things get really interesting...

    When students are exposed to people, places, things, and ideas outside of their neighborhood, they begin to raise the expectations they have for themselves. The simple act of creating a job shadowing program or students participating in a service-learning project, or skyping with another school in a foreign country is enough to spark something in a young person. I have seen in it with my own eyes. In fact, my wife and I were approached by a former student in Target. He mentioned how he still remembers learning how to salsa and the dance he did for the state language fair.

    Yes, there are students who don't have the knowledge-base or the skills they should have. This post was not meant to deny that fact. What I am saying is students have to feel and embody a hope for the future before they see the relevance of getting an education. And it is through those academic and out of the school learning experiences that young people begin to see their world as a place filled with possibilities. That is why there is no achievement gap. It is an experience gap. You will never be what you don't know you can become.

    Tuesday, July 6, 2010

    The Black Male Teacher: An Endangered Species

    Greetings, this is my first posting on Peoplegogy and I'm excited about it. I have many stories to share about my teaching experience and my views on educational reform. I just completed my first year of teaching for DC Public Schools and starting in August, I will be teaching at a charter school in Southeast DC. My first post came from a conversation I had with a group for other Black males about a month ago. Feel free to follow the adventures I have in the classroom on twitter at @Brownbomber87

    A few weeks ago, a friend of mine included me in a discussion. The question; how do we get more Black male teachers in our public schools? The background for this discussion stemmed from dialogue among Black congressional members commenting on the scare number of Black male teachers. As a Black male teacher I felt that I would shed some light to the reason why I became a teacher. Here is my response:

    Teaching is a very passionate topic to me since I have embarked on the journey of teaching the youth of the District of Columbia. There is no doubt, there is a deficiency of Black male teachers everywhere. It is not to say that Black males do not exist within the educational system, but their role is not in the classroom instructing its either administrative or coaching, and even in those position we are still underrepresented. The power of the presence of Black males in urban classrooms can make a world of difference in my opinion. Time and time again we hear about the achievement gap and how wide it is spreading. Our Black and Hispanic children are the ones who are suffering due to ineffective teachers and administrators who do not create a culture of achievement or set rigorous academic goals due to stereotypes or negative past interactions. But also there is no mirror image of them standing in front of the classroom.

    One of my most memorable K-12 experiences was in the 7th grade. My language arts teacher was a Black male and was the first Black teacher I had ever had. The next time I would have a Black teacher again would be in 11th grade and then in undergrad. My 7th grade language arts teacher made a huge impact on me because he turned my whole attitude around about learning. He provided me with a different outlook on success than what I was familiar with. Fast forward to 2009 and its an amazing feeling to hear a child say hey you are my first Black science teacher and actually one of my favorite teachers as well. Just knowing I had that same impact as Mr. Anthony did on me, makes me feel incredible and makes the valleys of teaching seem incredibly small.

    As educated Black men sometimes we forget the struggles we had to overcome in order to get where we are, especially in the classroom. Now am I not going to lie, teaching is not easy. A teacher is more than a teacher. We wear many hats such as, a counselor, social worker, a shoulder to cry on, a cheering squad, sometimes even a parent. And we have to balance all of that while trying to create rigorous, engaging, standard-based lessons, follow the protocol of school bureaucracy and deal with our own personal lives. However, teaching is rewarding and most rewarding for our Black males when they can see another Black male spitting knowledge other than the hottest rap song and modeling a culture of professionalism and achievement.

    So why become a teacher? One reason is to train the future's next critical thinkers who are committed to life-long learning; who embrace multiculturalism and tolerance for all individuals not matter what socioeconomic, educational, or geographic background they may come from or encounter. Another reason is to be a positive consistent force in a student's life especially for many of our inner city Black students who have very little consistency. But more importantly, there is nothing greater than feeling like you are needed, that you have made a difference in the lives of not just 1 but dozens and maybe even hundreds of dozens in some way. We have the ability to mold another productive son, daughter, brother, sister, cousin, uncle, aunt, father, mother and citizen of the United States.

    There are programs who are recruiting highly qualified men to teach. Currently, I am a DC Teaching Fellow which provides me with a network of resources ranging from professional development to earning a masters degree and even paying off some of my debts. There are teaching programs like that everywhere in your major U.S. cities. Many schools of education across the country are paying for teachers to increase their credentials and earn degrees at little to no cost. There are award/reward programs, incentives, great discounts, and resources for teachers. Teaching is one of the world's most oldest and most noble professions. I encourage you seriously think about it; you never know what you capable of doing and how successful you will be. Time and chance come to us all, the time is now to make a difference. The classroom is the foreground in which chance and change meet, all that remains is one question; are you willing to accept the challenge? My answer with steadfast confidence is yes, I have accepted the challenge and will continue to face the challenge.


    Monday, July 5, 2010

    Why We Should Be Working Together

    First of all, I want to thank Will for inviting me as a guest blogger.  He is highly invested in conversations about education and where it should be going and what's best for students and teachers.

    This post is inspired by an article I read about education reform in Oregon.  The article itself was nothing I hadn't heard before. The author was recommending that budget cuts not be made at the classroom level by cutting teachers and classes like art, physical education and music, but by eliminating costs like textbooks and teacher professional development while also capping the number of charter schools allowed in the state.  I had mixed feelings about some of what she was saying, but did not find the post itself that inspiring.

    I had been sent the link by a friend of mine who suggested that I look through the comments. As I scrolled down and began to read, I was shocked.  Commenters were posting mathematical equations and financial numbers justifying why teachers' wages should be cut or frozen or why retirement funds are bankrupting the state and they were blasting teachers and teacher unions.

    While I don't pretend to be a banker, financier or an expert in government spending, it seems that the opposite is true.  Everyone who pays taxes assumes that they are an expert on education because, at some point, they went to school.  I'm not saying that taxpayers don't have a say or that we shouldn't be looking to experts in the financial industry for ideas, but schools are not businesses.

    What I began to realize while reading the comments was that the biggest problem is a lack of communication across 'sides.'  As educators, we need to understand the perspective of taxpayers, community members and parents.  In return, we need to for community members, parents and taxpayers to understand what teaching children means in today's world, and it is also important that both parties get to know each other as people, as partners in shaping the future.

    So my question is: How do we foster these kinds of open dialogues?

    photo courtesy of mynameisharsha on Flickr