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Education Equity and Justice Teachers Teaching Teaching and Learning

A Teacher’s Pursuit of the Perfect Lesson

This post will be a series of three (1/3) in which we discuss the three components to catching lightning in a bottle or constructing and implementation of the elusive “perfect lesson.”

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Perfection in perspective.

– The planning stage (lesson planning).  There is a ton that goes into the actual planning of a lesson.                          

– The delivery of the lesson (Beyond the planning stages, you also have to deliver the message to the scholars and hope they get the message.)

– The reflection on the lesson (One of the most important, if not the most important piece.)


The Pursuit of Perfection:

In every occupation, there is always the pursuit of perfection. As you may or may not know perfection is often unattainable, but still relentlessly pursued. Daily, teachers strive for perfection.

Many sayings expand on the idea of perfection. Some of those sayings are as follows:

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A perfect ten, hands down awesome lesson.

 

* perfection is the enemy of good
* perfection is the enemy of    progress
* perfection is not attainable
* perfection you’ll never reach it


The Elusiveness of Perfection:

Moreover, the perfect lesson is the equivalent to pitching a no-hitter in baseball, getting struck by lightning, or winning the lottery. It rarely if ever happens, but if and when it does, you’ll never forget it. So what makes the perfect lesson?

If you are a reflective practitioner, you can appreciate how difficult it is to teach a “perfect lesson.”

Unfortunately, I spent years in search of this kind of lesson. I had all but given up on the possibilities of its implementation. I almost accepted the fact that my experiences would only be outstanding, but they would elude perfection.

Here’s a little advice for those of you that are in search of the perfect lesson, it’ll never happen during a formal or informal observation. That would be too easy.


The Occurrence of Perfection:

Notwithstanding my perfect lesson occurred during a sample lesson for an administration position. I would be remiss in not saying that I didn’t understand the need to teach a model lesson for a job that was outside of the classroom. However, circling back, I know and appreciate the thinking behind it. How can you effectively coach teachers on behavior, if you can’t teach or manage?


The Process of Perfection:

I reached out to the team to get background on the students. I asked for reading levels so I could differentiate. I wondered about behavioral concerns so that I could be alert. I requested information about achievement levels, and if the class could be pushed to think outside the paradigm (higher-order thinking).

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The constant pursuit of the perfect lesson is a driver.

Once I received the background information, I thought about a plan that failed miserably with my current students at the time (trial and error). I was in my head the whole time, saying it would never work because I didn’t know the scholars. The moral in that is never to underestimate students.

I wanted to eliminate most of the teacher talk and allow the students the opportunity to do the heavy lifting. In a lecture type setting, releasing some of your power to students can be challenging, but once you do it, and see the results, it’s the most exhilarating experience that a teacher can ever feel.  My release of power helped me to have a perfect demo lesson.

Next post, I will go more in depth around the delivery of the lesson (2/3).

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Education Equity and Justice Teachers Teachers lounge

Teacher’s Lounge Toxicity

Teachers Lounge Toxicity:

In my first year of teaching, I saw a lot of things that made me want to quit. I worked with colleagues that had no interest in students. My department chair was too busy being glamorous than to give me feedback on becoming a good teacher. She may have come into my class once or twice the whole year, but it was never to observe. It was usually to ask me to cover her last period class so she could leave early.


But I digress, this post isn’t about my department head. It’s about the negative things that you’ll encounter at schools that will make you want to quit.

One of those is the teacher’s lounge. In my first year of teaching, this was by far the most toxic place in the building. images-5

I’m thinking, let me go to the Teachers’ lounge. The veteran teachers are there, as there’s no better place to get feedback and learn. In theory, I was correct. Unfortunately, my learning was what not to do, which is still learning when you think about it.

The teacher’s lounge is defined as a space in your building where teachers go to have lunch, decompress, and talk about pedagogical improvements.


Implicit Bias in Teacher Lounges:

Moreover, my teacher’s lounge was nothing like that. When you walked in, you immediately heard negative remarks about students and families. images-13 In retrospect, I guess you can learn valuable things to help your students address daily trauma they may face, but the way these families where being talked about was horrible.

After a couple of visits, I vowed never to return. The psychological drain that I put on myself hearing families being spoken about like that wasn’t worth the intel.


Teachers as Change Agents:

Understandably some of you may ask, well what did you do to change it? Here’s what I did:

1. I recommitted myself to being a professional at work. If folks see that I’m serious, hopefully, my behavior will inspire someone else.
2. I spoke to my colleagues individually, and I spoke up for students and families.
3. I created a space in my own room where teachers could come and decompress without having to tear down students and families.

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In essence, my advice to teachers that don’t want to burn out and quit. Do the teacher’s lounge in moderation. The unsustainable toxicity isn’t worth the comradery.

If you have a different experience, please share it with me. By combining learned skills, we grow as educators.

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Education Equity and Justice Teachers Teaching Teaching and Learning

Professional Development by Any Means Necessary

Professional Development:

As a first-year teacher in 2003, I quickly began to detest professional development. I felt that there was a disconnect between the facilitators and the attendees. The facilitators would present policy changes ordained by the district, but when pushed and questioned they had little to no information to expand. To me, and many of my colleagues at the time, we knew that professional development was supposed to look and feel different.



Make no mistake, I get it and anyone that has ever sat through a wasteless PD gets it too.


PD Energy:

Moreover, rather than sulk and protest through inaction, my colleagues and I decided to take the bulls by the horn regarding PD. We identified a problem, but that was the easy part. We also came with solutions. When you come to administrators with a solution-oriented approach, it makes a huge difference regarding how they receive the feedback.

We introduced a 12 point plan to our principal, centered around teachers as experts. We would attend outside PD’s, and turnkey training for our peers. Professional development improved drastically. Teachers were more willing to exhibit vulnerabilities, thus allowing administrators to focus on the soft skills needed for teachers to enhance their practice.


Professional Development Currently:

Circa 2019, not much has changed regarding teachers and their feelings about Professional Development. images-11

Veteran teachers often say, “I’ve attended a training similar to this, can I be excused?” To which my answer is usually, let’s look at your data. Did 100% of your students master 100% of the standards on their last interim assessment? Alternatively, how were your test scores on the state assessments, did the majority of your students pass?


Professional Development is not the enemy:

If you want to change PD here are five ways:

  • If you don’t like the way PD is going in your school, you have the power to change it.
  • Go to your principal, and let him/her know why the message isn’t resonating with you.
  • Ask them if you could be a part of the process regarding selecting the topic and trainers for PD.
  • No “good” leader is going to turn down your help.
  • Many leaders want their PD’s to change student outcomes by any means necessary.
Categories
Education Teachers Teaching

Four strategies to reduce teacher talk.

Four Strategies to Reduce Teacher Talk:

This Article was originally featured in the Superintendent Journal .

As a teacher, I valued the importance of the students having a voice in my class. Often it’s tricky trying to decipher the perfect balance of teacher talk and yielding the floor to the students. As an administrator, my thoughts are no different. We still talk way too much. A lot of us come to school, voices ready to spout facts, redirect opinions, etc. We do these things with the best of intentions, however valuable learning opportunities get lost in the midst of excessive teacher talk.

It is with that notion I offer four practical alternatives to help reduce teacher talk in the classroom.


1. Turn and Talk. The teacher gives students an idea and then had a chance to share their opinion on the concept to their selected peers. Teachers can have students share out on their partner’s thoughts, to ensure students are actively engaged on the task. Turn and talks work best when the strategy set up for the students. If you are in a co-teaching environment, the perfect segway to introduce a turn and talk would be to model the expectations with your co-teacher. Students get into this strategy as it allows them to learn and interact with their peers.


2. The flipped classroom. This generation of students is resourceful and tech savvy. If they have the opportunity to learn things beforehand, many if not most will take the opportunity to participate in pre-learning about a subject. Pre-learning gives the teacher a chance to ask guiding questions, set-up pre-made differentiated groups to maximize student output. Having students learn about issues before coming to school cuts down on lecture time, and allows teachers the much-needed space to facilitate.


3. Student Modeling and Share-outs.

In Math classes especially, all teachers give their students a practice set. When it comes time to review the practice set, allow the students to present their work. It’s a two-pronged approach, 1) Kids learn better from each other. Other students give their undivided attention to the student presenter. 2) It allows you as the teacher to talk to your students about the simple mistakes that they make day-to-day, and it will enable you to capitalize on how your students approach solving problems. If done correctly, not only are you speaking less, you’re more useful to your students as a facilitator of their learning.


4. Think-Pair-Share. Initially, students focus on a question, and even if they struggle with it, it is okay. Students then pair with their peers and discuss their answers together. The students can pick each other’s brains to determine how he/she arrived at their conclusion. After a lengthy discussion, students then share out their findings to the rest of the class.


Teachers can get through the same content while talking less. The more you speak during lessons, the faster it is for students to check out. One of the more common mistakes made by teachers is the thought that you can talk yourself through or out of a lousy lesson. When it comes to the teacher talk, less is best.

Categories
Civil Rights Education Parenting Teachers Teaching

Students Forced to Reenact Slave Trauma

Teacher Terminated for Slave Reenactment Lesson:

Recently a New York City public school teacher was terminated for having her students act like slaves in a planned lesson.

Picture of slave

Firstly, there has to be a massive disconnect for any educator on any level to feel as if it would make sense for students to reenact slavery.

Slavery within itself was one of the most traumatic periods in the history of the modern world. As a professional, to make the call to project said trauma on kids, is at best reckless, at worst maybe even criminal. It’s beyond me how any person, of any race, could think this was a good idea.

Colleague Says He was okay with the lesson:

Next, and maybe even equally as destructive as the slave lesson, an African-American teacher colleague of Ms. Cummings said: “I would have let my kids take part the lesson.” Honestly, I’m not sure what’s worse. Under no circumstances would I allow students to experience such abuse. Let alone my own kids. The adults directly involved in this case failed these students from a humanitarian perspective.


The teacher and teachers that have been terminated for similar acts are potentially filing a 1 Billion dollar class action lawsuit against the NYCDOE. The suit of the teacher involved in this article is for 120 million dollars.

Moreover, society is way too litigious. Teachers have unions. If the unions couldn’t get this teacher her job back, its safe to assume that an independent arbitrator also decided that this teacher and teachers like her weren’t fit to be teachers.

Student Trauma:

In addition, to then take the trauma inflicted on students to make yourself the victim is where I draw the line. Are the families of these students suing the teacher. In my mind, they would have every right to file a lawsuit. Given the potential animus that the students will have toward school, one would be remiss to say this experience ruined permanently dimmed the light for these students.


Notwithstanding, I agree with Ms. Cummings in that this is a teachable moment, but not for her, for the students. That lesson is when you do something that is egregious as having students relive ancestry trauma, you get held accountable for it. Sometimes lessons end up in termination. In this case, NYCDOE did the right thing for students.

For those of you unfamiliar with lawsuits and how they work, NYCDOE’s insurance company will settle with Ms. Cummings. It’s less for insurance to pay than it is for them to dispute this in court.

Categories
Charter Schools Education Education Reform Teachers Teaching

My Black Teacher Manifesto

Black Male Teachers:

There is much to do about the lack of Black male teachers in school systems throughout the United States. Currently, less than 2% of teachers nationwide are Black males.

There have been some credulous efforts to right this wrong (a lack of Black Male teachers), and I applaud the folks that are on the front lines with the intent of diversifying the teaching profession. TFA has done a remarkable job addressing the issue, so has the Fellowship, and NYC to name a few.

While I applaud the efforts that are being made to populate teaching with more Black Males, I want to use this space to discuss why I almost left education as a Black male.


What I am not:

1) Notwithstanding, I am not your security guard. My job is to fill the minds of my students with knowledge. It’s not to play referee or anything of the sort.

Of course, if kids are in danger or peril, I am going to do everything in my power to make sure they are safe (even though my union contract explicitly states I should not intervene), I will. But that isn’t my primary goal in life, nor is it why I sought education as a career.

2) Consequently, I am not the translator of Black popular culture for you. If you would like to understand best the culture of the students that you educate, get to know them as people. Try to do it without judgment, and with high levels of authenticity. I mean, don’t just get to know them because you have to, get to know them because you want to make a difference in their lives.

3) Contrary to your beliefs, I will not serve as the liaison between you and black parents. Again, relationship building is critical. Call these parents and say something kind and non-judgmental about their students. You can find something nice to say about any kid if you get to know that kid. Treat parents as allies and not as adversaries.

4) Lastly, I am not your bodyguard when you do culturally offensive things that are offensive to the stakeholders that you provide service. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect, and the day that you overstep your boundaries, be prepared for what comes with that.


Accountability for Self:

Taking the necessary time to tell you what I am not is only half of the process. I must take some time to tell you who I am, so we’re clear, and we can move forward in harmony.

1) I am a professional with the same credentials as you. The same way you treat any other colleague is the same way that I expect you to treat me. If you don’t expect him/her to yield a superman cape because they can identify with students and families, please afford me the same courtesy.

2) I am a team player, but please don’t take advantage of that.

Teaching Is Everything:

Teaching isn’t a bare minimum job, and since I am super invested and rooting for my kids, do not think that you can bring anything less to the table for “our kids.” And if you don’t buy into the discourse of “our kids,” you should be somewhere that resonates better for you.

3) I am a thought-partner. I am always looking for ways to help my colleagues better engage in this work. If you have ideas, I want to hear your thoughts, and I will give you safe space advice. Accepting me as your thought-partner will ignite passion, that will benefit our students.

4) Treat me as your equal. It’s alarming that in 2019 we’re still talking about equality, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this. If the kids are our goal, I can do this work forever.


Inspiration:

This manifesto was inspired partially by

the principal/scholar who is 86 years old, and just signed a 4-year contract renewal to lead into his 90’s. There is much to do about the lack of Black male teachers in school systems throughout the United States.