Monday, March 26, 2018

What's the difference between an "A" and "B" School?

Culture Shock and the myth of School Performance Scores

Through conversations with parents and teachers in the New Orleans metro school districts I have found, time and again, that we find ourselves referencing School Performance Scores, or Louisiana SPS. It seems like a sensible reference point; standardizing the way that schools are graded, like students, across the state. It is a Grade that parents refer to when selecting schools in New Orleans, searching out the "A" schools or attempting to determine how well their familiar and neighborhood schools are achieving. But there is a lot hidden behind the SPS.

The L.A. SPS Score scale has changed in recent years, having gone from a 200 point scale to a 150 point scale. However, many people do not know this, or that it was even at 200 points. Many parents, especially, conceptualize the scale like they would a school scale- out of 100 points.  Because of this, perception about what an "A" and "B" school is may be skewed in the school's favor.

What are the scales? Louisiana has them and information about how they are calculated here. An "A" School is 100-150 points; a whopping fifty point scale. A "B" school, however, is only 85-99 points- a mere 14 points. The range for an "A" and an "F" school have the largest range- leaving the scores for "B-D" schools wide open. Opening the range at the "A" end allows for more "B" schools despite the fact that they are a full 60 points below the top possible score.

What does this mean for "A" and "B" schools?

There is a vast difference between what "A" and "B" schools actually are.
For people in New Orleans, consider that Ben Franklin High school is a 141.3 scoring "A" school- and Edna Karr High is a 104.3 scoring "A" school. What similarities exist between these schools, making them both "A" schools? What differences exist?

Ben Franklin's average ACT score is a 29- well above college readiness and in the realm of entrance for many of the nation's best colleges.

Edna Karr's average ACT Score is a 20- exactly seated at the level of college readiness and below even the entrance requirement of our flagship school, Louisiana State University.

However, they are both "A" schools in this state.

Where do we observe the difference?

In the culture and demographics of the schools.

Many parents are pleased to send their children to "B" schools, since New Orleans is lacking in "A" schools (but not as many "B" schools, since the scoring scale is tipped at the upper and lower ends). But is a "B" school really just as good?

In New Orleans, an SPS of "B" seems to suggest that some teaching and learning is occurring but it is not the overall culture of the school. Many of the city's "B" schools have issues with drug use, police incident, high suspension rates and, generally, just difficulty in managing students on the campus.

There's definitely some difference in culture.

A friend and former colleague was shocked when I described my experience at a "B" school BEFORE I was employed there. Students walked the halls, skipped classes, left campus, frequently fought, had sex and and drugs on campus. But, by all measures, they were "achieving" just fine.

The students bragged.
Eleventh graders bragged about their 13 ACT Composite scores. They vowed wealth and richness without any skills or business standing to gain it. They said "I've always been on the honor roll!"

Teachers struggled.
The most well meaning teachers attempted to deliver lessons, day after day, to rude, disrespectful and disengaged students.  Students who talked during lessons. Students who copied ever assignment given. Students who Googled quiz questions. Students who refused to turn over cell phones even during ACT testing. Students who cursed out and threatened to fight teachers. Students who refuse to work on anything independently (well, forget that cute little Madeline Hunter lesson plan format and the quaint "I/WE/YOU do lesson format. They would not work alone even when the assignment was modeled for them.). Students who sincerely did not care about and did not want to (and often didn't) attend school.

There is a deep misbelief that Louisiana's schools are improving when they are continually receiving funding and revamping the curriculum to hide the lack of gains and maintain the appearance that strides are being taken to improve the state's success. But where is that money going, when New Orleans "head of schools" have been under fire for making high salaries at low performing schools?

Louisiana calls the SPS calculation system "Accountability" but there's a lot hiding under her skirt. A quick scan of the state's 2017 SPS scores shows low performance, even by our standards, across the board.
Louisiana is not achieving.
Our children in our "high performing" schools are not, either.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The culture of "why can't you just...?!"

Over the years I have observed a phenomena that I didn't understand at first. I observed teachers yelling at students and I didn't understand why. My first teaching year was in kindergarten and it seemed harsh to hear teachers yelling at those oh-so-adorable five year olds, but as I progressed through the years and grade levels, I not only heard it more and more often but occasionally found myself doing it. It wasn't until recently, however, that I realized the tone, frustration and meaning behind the yelling; it's undertones pleaded "why can't you just...?!". It begged of the students, "why can't you just sit still?" or "why can't you just stop making noise?" or "why can't you just do the work?". The yelling wasn't just out of anger or annoyance, many times, but of a deeper frustration that teachers weren't running the classroom that they'd desired. I suspect that this frustration stemmed from culture shock on the teacher's part (something I've written about before) but even veteran teachers and those born, raised and educated in this city have fallen into the pit of yelling at their students.

A recent article by The Cult of Pedagogy explores those moments of breakdown that we all experience and gives some great suggestions to how to manage them.

The article  doesn't, however, address the frustration that comes with the "why can't you just" yell. It is a feeling of despair and momentary hopelessness; it is a feeling of loss of control; it is a feeling of 'maybe I'm not cut out to do this' or even a feeling of not understanding the current experience of the student (s).

The first stage is to know and understand the backgrounds of your students. This isn't something that is often expressed to new teachers or even veteran teachers who transfer to new schools, districts or states. A very good friend of mine had a solid seven years of teaching English in another state under her belt and still experienced this culture shock when she moved to New Orleans. She astutely observed a difference: "In Wisconsin, you have the students' trust the minute that you walk into the room and have to really work hard and screw up to lose it but here, you have to earn the students trust and work hard to get it and keep it".  Many students in this area have unstable home AND school lives, sometimes moving from place to place to stay with various family members and also having a revolving door of teachers over the years, some of whom care and some don't and some who are knowledgeable and some who aren't.  Many time this leads students to push teachers in an attempt to test them and determine if they can trust them. For the teacher, this looks like defiance and disrespect.

Knowing the big picture background is very helpful in developing patience when students are testing limits. Knowing students' individual backgrounds is even more helpful for knowing how to manage the behaviors. A student who is testing their trust in you will need a different approach than a child who may be defiant because his home life is in chaos and he needs to feel like he has some autonomy.
It is super helpful when feeling that "why can't you just" bubbling up to finish the sentence. Give a second to think "why can't you just keep your hands to yourself? Because your brother moved out to live with his father and you are lonely and want someone to engage with." "Why can't you just do the work? Because you didn't understand the directions or the modeling and you're lost and would rather talk to someone than sit alone, unable to work".  It can also help to ask the student these questions and help them be self aware and luckily, the younger they are, the easier it is to help them adjust.

The second stage is for you to be self aware. Much like the article from Cult of Pedagogy, being in tune with out own feelings makes a big difference not only in our work but in our personal lives as well. It is helpful to notice that you are more likely to yell out when you're hungry, or the student has done it four times, or you might be insecure about how a new lesson might go, or if you feel an illness coming on. Occasionally we are triggered more easily at these times and can send a confusing and upsetting message to kids: 'this behavior was acceptable yesterday or last week but now it's not, so I need to work to figure out where the limit of acceptable behavior is'. This can cause even more trouble in the long run.

I have come to know when I am more prone to being easily frustrated and am getting much better at heading it off by telling students how I feel (and this works because of the relationships that I develop with students and the empathy that we have for each other) and they tend to manage themselves even more strictly than I typically do. I have also learned to distinguish between loud voice and yelling.  Sometimes students need to hear a loud, stern voice- this is a voice that asserts your expectations. A yell, however, is loud and asserts that you are frustrated and maxed out and, for some students, that they've won the battle of control over the classroom. We never want the students to win control. Even on our worst days.

Finding ways to keep our patience in tact and still manage students is a tiring but important task that, thankfully, many of us have support in doing.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

How is the loss of the neighborhood schools affecting children's social growth?

 On a sunny, breezy afternoon at the neighborhood playground, my small son walked over to me, dejected, and expressed his sadness that he could not play with anyone because he didn't know their names. He is usually very good about playing with new kids, but on this day it was too much for him to try to befriend children that he would never meet again. Meeting new people is taxing but the only respite is moving into a comfortable relationship after multiple meetings-yet, for my son, that never happens.

My son goes to a Catholic school a few miles away from our home. With the Jefferson Parish and New Orleans schools a mess of failures, his early education could not be chanced. This is the case for all too many families, as New Orleans has the highest percentage of students in private schools in the U.S.; however, the relocation of students from their neighborhood schools isn't due to the mass move to private schools. The growth of the charter management organizations in New Orleans as well as the reinstatement of the Dandridge Order in Jefferson parish meant the dissolution of the neighborhood school in the New Orleans metro area.

In New Orleans there is no unified district in place. The Orleans Parish School Board manages only a small portion of the highest performing schools in the city; the rest are charter run. The majority of the charters, sprinkled around the city, are open enrollment, which means that any child in the parish can attend any school.  The purpose of this is to allow children the opportunities to attend the best schools even if the best schools aren't nearby.

In Jefferson parish the commute exists for a different reason: The Dandridge order. As district leaders noticed the racial imbalance in the schools, they decided to forcefully intergrate them. For students this means that if you live in a primarily white neighborhood, you may not attend your neighborhood school because there's already too many white people so you will be bused to another school which needs more white diversity. To some, this sounded like a reasonable solution but in reality it began to destroy the neighborhood schools.
The playground where I bring my son is next to an elementary and middle school that is less than a mile from where we live- but if he went to a Jefferson parish school he would actually go to a school about three miles away. I began to think of how this impacted his ability to make and maintain friends with children he doesn't go to school with.

My wheels began to turn as I considered the bigger picture. How does this school commute affect the social development of children? How does it affect the social development of my high school students? It seemed quite obvious. Children have to work harder to develop relationships that may not last because of the distance.
Anyone who has maintained a long distance friendship or relationship can attest that it can be difficult to stay connected when you are living two different lives. You tell stories that involve different groups of friends; you recount mundane details of day to day life because the other person isn't witness or participant to them; conversations may drag out of desperation for something to talk about. For adults, we may prune away these relationships but for children these social connections are crucial to their growth.

Children spend anywhere from nine to ten hours a day at school (not accounting for after school activities) so they develop their strongest bonds with the children that they are with the most. Yet, they go home and may have friendships with the children in their neighborhood who do not attend the same school. With my high schoolers, this often causes problems. The neighborhood friends see the closeness to school friends as disloyal and rifts occur. It is especially significant for Freshman. Which friend wins out? How do children cope with these rifts? Can they learn to overcome them? It seems as though students frequently choose to cut ties with the neighborhood friends rather than overcome the conflict. Is this move affecting their conflict resolution? Does this commute affect teens need for social interaction via their phones?

In the younger children, are school friendships seen as valuable? If children are not interacting with their classmates outside of school, is there any value in the classroom interactions and if not, do children care less about their conflicts and relationships with their classmates?

Another dimension to this issue is the burden placed on parents in an attempt to maintain out of school relationships. Phone calls, text messages, scheduling outings and even driving across town now become a part of social development. Parents are also responsible for developing relationships with each other in order to do these things. We take on an extra responsibility to get to know people who are not around us; we don't shop at the same grocery stores or attend the same churches or play at the same playground-so parental socialization becomes another task all of its own. Do our children get appropriate socialization when it is the parent's responsibility to make it happen?

There is little discussion or information about this impact on children. The U.S. has been on a mad dash to charter and privatize the school entity without regard for the impact. Education reform has become a beast which feeds on children instead of the superhero who was supposed to save them. The social impact may be small; children will make friends one way or another-but it is worth questioning all of the ways that the destruction of neighborhood schools is adversely affecting children's lifelong success.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The fall of the old schoolhouse


It was recently in the news that ground was being broken on a new, $31 million school building for a newly opened KIPP elementary school, the Ray Abrams Elementary. This is a trend in New Orleans; while we are famous for our historic architecture, it has become the norm for the CMOs (charter management organizations- or as I call them, "school franchisers") to operate out of previously used, and, admittedly, old school buildings then build highly expensive new buildings in a very short amount of time. In 2012, one of the major charters was in the process of erecting a new school while their charter was under review because they had not met school performance expectations for three years, consecutively.  Despite this, at the time, the Louisiana Board of Secondary and Elementary schools (BESE) considered letting this organization take over two other schools whose charters would not be renewed. 

Knowing this, I was surprised to hear that KIPP was building a new school. There are currently seven KIPP schools in New Orleans including the one who will move into the new building. What I found surprising was that the school had only been open this 2014-2015 school year and yet, they were getting a new building. 
If you are not familiar with KIPP schools, or at least, their role in the New Orleans charter reform movement, it would serve to mention that their school model, started in the New York City school system, is the most popular model for charters in New Orleans. It includes extended school days, longer class periods, weekly teacher development, school wide discipline plans and rigid curriculum. The schools are often successful in other cities, however, the model, nor KIPP schools, show true success in New Orleans. Their most recent SPS scores, as detailed here, are far from stellar.  Of the seven KIPP schools, including the new Ray Abrams school (listed under KIPP East Community Primary- but has no data because they just opened) two schools rank as "B", two as "C" and two as "D" quality schools. KIPP also touted a $1 million surplus this year.

Is this the model of success? 

The old, albeit decrepit, schoolhouses are being abandoned at an alarming rate, but it's not the abandonment of the buildings that is alarming. It is the abandonment of the children who believe, have hope, who fail, that is truly alarming. It is an example that money can't buy you smarts. The children who are shuffled through these charters of New Orleans, who often believe that they are receiving a quality education because they have a new, clean and sleek school building, move through the ranks without the knowledge that they truly need and deserve. 

Is this fair?

New Orleans is repeatedly the subject of discussions about education reform. Over and over we hear that New Orleans is a successful charter reform city, yet many of our schools are still performing at "C" rank, at best, and children are not truly learning in these schools. 

Will a new school building ensure success for these children?

 As we high school teachers continue to struggle with the choices that we have to make, quickly,  disapointedly, to serve our children's needs in the best way possible in only four years (while the elementaries have eight years), children and parents continue to have the wool pulled over their eyes and to have their hearts opened to a possibility that is often far out of reach.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The children of the New Orleans reform movement

A colleague pointed out in a meeting that this year's students are the students of the post Katrina educational reform. They are our first wave of young students who are age-appropriate for their grade level and have spent at least four years in a reformed and/or chartered school. Yet, we high school teachers have a lot of discussions about the quality of education and preparation that these students have gotten in the new system.
One of our largest struggles this year is the students who are called "T9s", or "transitional ninth graders". These are students who did not pass all of their eighth grade LEAP but were allowed to attend high school anyway. Across the board these students perform far below grade level and many have 504 accommodations. In addition to academic short comings, many of them are emotionally immature and not able to keep up with the amount of work and responsibility that is needed in high school. Their teachers meet constantly about their progress, accommodations, ability and behavior in non-stop attempts to make them successful despite already showing that they have not mastered the skills that they need for high school. In our previous generation, if you did not pass your classes and/or did not pass your LEAP test you simply did not move on to the next grade. Instead, now we have 4.5, 8.5 or as they are now called, T9's. Almost 7% of the entire freshman class is a T9. If the reform was working, would we really have so many students that are not mastering content?
Despite a myriad of deficiencies in students in previous years, this year's students have come in with even lower reading scores than the last group of students. Our school uses the STAR Reading assessment in July and a post assessment in December and the average range of reader is approximately fifth to sixth grade. Many students are even farther below, and to reach these students four remedial English classes are offered this year but student placement is based upon LEAP scores, not this reading assessment. This means that students are placed in the standard English classes despite performing at the same or similar level to the T9s or, generally, elementary aged students who are AT grade level.
There have been HUGE amounts of testing infidelity (a quick Google search shows examples here, here and here with many more available. My own experiences will not be documented here, but it has happened quite a lot) along with the high numbers of new teachers and high teacher turn over in New Orleans. While cities such as Dallas and Atlanta look to make similar changes as the ones that occurred in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, what can really be said about the abilities of the children in this system?
My colleagues and I make informal but necessary observations about our students. Algebra classes are remediating basic skills, not to mention the absolute need for students to use calculators for even basic calculations and there is a shocking lack of understanding about mathematical processes; students exhibit an inability to visualize intangible objects and thus have a hard time using maps and constructing models- one teacher jokingly commented, "did no one let these kids cut and paste in elementary school? They have no spatial reasoning!". My year in kindergarten left me shaking my head at that comment because I knew that they had not been allowed to be creative.
Creative? By the way, that is a word that my ninth graders do not understand.
In an attempt to teach essay writing I told the students that I wanted them to break out of the middle school essay writing format of "firstly, secondly and lastly" (they don't even know to use "finally" instead of "lastly") and I encouraged them to write creatively. I was met with confused looks and weird speculations as to what that meant.
My students don't know words. Basic words. I have heard, this year more than any other, "stop using all them big words". My students do not understand that I do not speak formally with them but correctly; their language ability is hugely limited despite many of the charter schools using 90 minute reading blocks regardless of the schedule for other classes. What is really happening?
I wish I had a dollar for every time that a high school teacher asked "what are the middle school teachers teaching?".
More concerning than what the elementary teachers are teaching (or not teaching) is how they may be treating the students. This year's students are incapable of independent work. For every dollar that I'd receive for a teacher asking "what are the middle school teachers teaching?", I'd lose two dollars for every time that a child has declared, "you're not helping me!". I've gone so far as to have students define the word "help" in a general context then an academic one, and despite the fact that they could say that teachers are supposed to give new information they still expect their teachers to do the work for them or to explain it so much that the only word left is the answer. The idea that they are supposed to absorb the information presented to them, digest it then practice it themselves is lost. I spent the month of August teaching the students about Bloom's taxonomy and fostering independence and it has not changed even a bit by now.
What I do see, however, is that students are incredibly grade driven and want to be successful, but their esteem is deeply tied to correctness. Students yell "See! I'm smart!" when they get answers correct-they have no idea that they thought and worked hard to get their answer. They have no real idea of their abilities, and giving students their reading scores resulted in statements of denial and complaint. Early in the school year, a student was transferred from my class to the remedial English class. Every time I see him he tells me that he has an "A" in that class; completely unaware that he is working at the sixth grade level. An attempt to tell children that they have shortcomings and that we can work to fix them ends in anger and tension between the teacher and student. Students have actually told me NOT to grade on correctness because their other teachers didn't. This is a real issue.
Will this be the way future students function? When I think of the franchisation (yes, I made that a word) of the New Orleans schools and the KIPP style, Doug Lemov methods spread throughout most of the schools, I fear that subsequent classes of students will follow in this path. I love teaching ninth grade. I love teaching literature and thinking and analyzing the world around us, but if children continue to walk the halls of local high schools with the idea that they do not need to learn anything, has the reform really increased student knowledge and ability or are these students doomed leave their high schools and walk into a world that they have not the skills nor attitude to face?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Culture shock in the classroom

By now, everyone is familiar with the changes that have occurred in New Orleans in the last almost nine years. From Hurricane Katrina to a Superbowl win to several TV shows in our honor, the American citizen has developed an idea of what New Orleans is. However, it is a very different story once you are actually in the city.

Despite the romanticized view of this city that most of America has, it is a troubled and complex mangle of culture. When I started this blog my intention was to have a place where teachers new to New Orleans would have some resources for the classroom as well as support in teaching our uniquely demented children. There is a fairly large number of teachers who move to this city and for them, and anyone who has not lived here a while and learned what makes our culture exactly what it is, your experience with these children and their families is often a huge shock. For the young, new teachers this can be an absolute brick wall that divides them from their kids and makes teaching in these classrooms almost impossible.

With that, I have been thinking about some things to know that might help the onset of culture shock.

1. Set rules and expectations and never bend or break them.
Many children come from homes and families where there are few explicit rules and families often give in and bend them if there's enough whining, complaining or fighting about it, and worse, many teachers will be manipulated to bend as well. Students often end up feeling like their teachers aren't fair, are biased, or don't like them if they aren't able to get the rules broken. There's some saying that goes "children crave structure" and it's true. I have read many times that a classroom shouldn't have more than six or seven rules and that makes them easier for the teacher to manage. I have nine, which includes "do your best" (you'd be surprised how, when kids aren't working and wonder why they receive a consequence, saying "you weren't doing your best" is actually an adequate answer). There are also designated bathroom/pass times for every freshman classroom to avoid kids leaving the room during crucial teaching time. With that, kids always know what their teacher expects in the classroom. There will always be someone who will try to bend or break the rules but students truly know what is "fair", and often the students keep each other in check. My favorite is when someone asks to go to the bathroom outside of bathroom time (you may go in the first twenty minutes or last twenty minutes) and before I can even say "no", another student plainly replies ,"20/20 rule, man".

If a rule has to be bent or broken, make it explicitly known that the situation is an emergency or exception. This helps the children continue to feel like they are being treated fairly.

2. Behavior management is tricky.
Unless you are the kind of person who is able to be stone-faced and does not tell jokes to your students or have much of a personal relationship with them, even the best behavior management systems get tricky. A lot of students do not respond to consequences right away; some even do not respond until or unless you are yelling. A lot of parents give their child a direction but don't enforce it right away, then become annoyed and yell and/or whip the child and that's when the child knows where the limit is. If you are or plan to be particularly open with them, they may not take you, your rules or your consequences seriously. A visual behavior tracking system helps because they can see exactly how close to the "limit" they are.

3. Fights are normal.
Fights are normal if not expected. They are not an expellable offense even if the school says so in writing. Parents raise children to hit back if they have been hit and to stand up for themselves if they have been wronged. Parents often fight when they face conflict. Some of my former colleagues once discussed all the fights that they'd been in from childhood to adulthood. I was the only one who hadn't any fights, even with siblings. I always have to be the exception. Even at my current school, which is supposed to be "a cut above the rest", parents have fights at football games and even come to the school ready to fight teachers. Fights are normal. Fights start when a piece of paper is thrown in play. Fights break out across campuses. Fights create chaos where mobs of students run to watch.
If a fight breaks out or is about to break out in your room, do your best to separate the students and call for help. Document as much as you can.

4. Respect is a truly subjective word.
Or rather, disrespect happens often and easily. Also, cursing in the presence of an adult is not considered disrespectful if the student is not cursing AT the adult.
A lot of behaviors are overlooked because children are not shown what respect and having good manners is. Most of the students at school say "please" and "thank you" and "God bless you" but don't see arguing with an adult as disrespect. Defining respect in your classroom is a must.

5. The children behave like and may think they are helpless but shouldn't be treated like they are.
Many teachers truly have the best intentions when it comes to their students and just want them to be successful and feel good about themselves. However, teachers may often be tempted to "help" their students too much. Many of the children of New Orleans are being raised in an environment of helplessness; they often believe that all Black people get food stamps and rightfully so; our poor job market leaves many people with few options for growth and citizens feel helpless to be successful and most of all, our streets are truly deadly for our teens in ways that no one can help. They walk into the classroom already defeated and need their teachers' help to show them exactly how to become independent and strong.
The lines become blurred with curriculum. If every teacher is teaching directly with an "I do, we do, you do" structure and adheres to the "you do" part, children will be less helpless. Many of our schools use centers for independent work but teachers are still present and assist; the students become persistent at getting teachers to give them answers, whether explicitly or through getting teachers to explain every angle of the problem until all that is left is the answer.
My very best freshman will still sit frozen in fear of getting an answer wrong because their previous teachers have "helped" them get the right answer before turning the assignment in. If the material has been explicitly taught and practiced, they should be able to do the work on their own. If the majority can not, ask the students what steps they missed and see how the lesson can be adjusted. Giving kids an answer never helps them.

6. Kids need honesty.
New Orleans' public schools are some of the worst in the state-a state which ranks as 48th in the nation. Our kids want to be and should be as successful as any other child but don't know how far they have to go or what they have to do to get there. Patting the children on the back for everything gives them a false sense of ability. It's a delicate bubble that will be burst at some point. We want our children to get better, so just like we do as adults, we should show them how to find their weaknesses and improve them rather than treating them like they have none.

It is also beneficial to teach them how to accept feedback. They exist in a world of negativity and exclusion and it would benefit them to learn that everyone who is honest with them is not being malicious.

7. Parent involvement is unpredictable.
Even the most well-intentioned parents have complex lives that can hinder their involvement. Many others don't know how important their involvement is. Phone numbers and addresses change very often. Parents may go on field trips and to spring cookouts but not to conferences.A plan for what to do if you can't have parent support is good, but don't let the difficulty of getting in contact stop you. For most kids, knowing that you will talk to their parent will alter their behavior.

8. Parents' priorities are often out of whack.
Kids often come to school without bookbags let alone classroom supplies. Girls are donned with $100 Brazilian weave but don't have a week's worth of clean uniforms. Parents may decide that an assignment you give is stupid and not make their child do it. They value sports over education despite how often they will tell their child that their education matters. Children miss countless days of school for no reason but may come to school with a fever months later. It is not a battle that truly can be fought, but awareness of it can help a teacher work around it.

9. Understand that their world view is nil.
Many children do not know the names of places on the other side of town. If they live on one side of the river they most likely don't cross to the other. Many do not know the name of our lake or the major colleges. Lessons should include a lot of context and background information and this is a great way to utilize nonfiction texts! They are very excited to learn these new things- even the older darlings.

10. Many schools do not have adequate special educators.
Classrooms are often filled to the legal capacity and many of the students may have IEPs, 504 accomodations or even be English language learners and the school may not have enough special education teachers or para-educators to help. Be proactive in getting help from special ed teachers and seeking resources that will help you differentiate for the high numbers of special need students.

11. Despite what the news may say about the success of the charter schools in New Orleans, the children are still about 3 grade levels behind.
Children in private schools and highly reputable public schools are still not reading and computing adequately and they and their parents don't know it.
However, you can't remediate everything. Careful choices have to be made about what skills to review/remediate, lessons need to include a lot of spiraled practice of key skills and support can be offered during tutoring time.

12. They are prejudiced.
Not always in a bad way. The younger children tend to find their White teachers novel and interesting and take a liking to them but older children carry some weird prejudices and stereotypes. The older students tend to set out to "run out" young, white teachers and mark them as weak and incapable. Sticking to the rules and not treating the students as if they are "poor, helpless Black kids" is very important as well as constantly offering examples of equality as well as breaking down stereotypes that students will stick blindly to.

13. They need love.
Most of the things the kids will say and do are because they are trying to get your attention. They want and need positive feedback, kind words, compliments and even hugs. Some of the most terribly behaved kids are simply acting that way because they want someone to love them.

I know a lot of these don't seem unique to this city as many of the situations are the same in other places, but the culminations of all of these things can create a very complex and difficult school environment.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Professional development opportunities

I don't know about many others, but my development as a teacher has been exclusively of my own volition. My mailbox gets full with ads and fliers for companies selling uniforms and school gear and book sets but we never get information about trainings and developments. Our school PDs tend to center around online systems and programs that are being implemented school-wide. Because of this I spent my last summer reading InformEd and watching videos on Teaching Channel. Most of the best resources that I've had have come from here or from my certification courses. Last night during my class we had a guest professor come in to talk about technology in the classroom. Thanks to her, we all got new ipads yay! While she told us about some useful apps to use, she also told us about free professional development that is offered through or linked to by the state. Using the District and School Support Toolbox, there is a link to CourseWhere at the bottom of the page. Here there are lists of development opportunities both online and throughout the state (you can link directly to it here). You can search by month or course. There's not a whole lot going on now, and apparently there are fewer courses in December but there may be a lot of choices for things to learn.