Category Archives: Public Education

Vive la France! Pas de devoirs!*

Last year, my principal invited faculty members to attend an optional meeting where he would review the longer school day options and discuss our new bell schedule.  I decided I’d pop in and found that I was one of three people.  Talk about community involvement, eh?  The principal ran through the bell schedule and while doing so, he and I became engaged in a debate about homework.  Were we debating increasing the rigor level for homework assignments?  Nope.  Were we discussing how too much of homework nowadays is busy work and not work related to critical thinking?  Nope.  Were we discussing how much kids are under-prepared for college because of the lack of rigorous self-preparation in the form of homework?  Nope again.

So, what were we debating?  Simple: he’s against homework and I’m for it.  I can’t even believe in this day and age that there are people who are against homework.  This is what happens when we let C students gain political power…eventually the world goes crazy with the notion that promoting bad habits is actually a good idea.  So, imagine my disbelief when today I was reading an article about France’s president, François Hollande, and his reform ideas, which include getting rid of homework.  Ummm, I’m sorry, what?

I understand that people don’t love homework.  You’re not supposed to love homework.  Homework is work.  Work is not fun.  Work is, however, important.  It teaches us to think about things differently.  It helps us attack problems on our own.  It teaches a work ethic, too.  It allows us to contribute to society.

Homework is practice, too.  It’s a way to make sure you master a subject.  I teach English.  Homework is a way to get kids to read on their own.  It makes it so that we read a book in a few weeks versus a few months.  Homework is a way to extend the classroom learning experience outside of the classroom.

In an era where we tout Malcolm Gladwell’s rule of 10,000 hours, you would think we would want our children to have more homework.  Alas, it seems as if we’ve forgotten that the rule of 10,000 hours doesn’t mean let your kids play video games for 10,000 hours and learn for 50-minute periods of time a few times a day.

If the goal is to get kids to walk out with mastery of a subject by the end of the year, and we know that 10,000 hours is the amount of time it takes to be an expert, we should aim for at least, what, 1,000 hours?  I mean, I don’t expect a 10th grader to be an expert on American Literature, I just want him or her to have mastered the main concepts I teach.  So, let’s assume that 1,000 hours is the amount of time I need to make my students “master” a subject at its basic, introductory level (which high school is).  That means that if kids didn’t get homework, if all the instruction and practice they got each day was in my 50-minute class for 181 days, they’d be about 850 hours short of mastering anything.  If I give them 1-2 hours of homework a night in addition to the 50-minutes I teach, I’m at least getting closer to that 1,000 hours.  I may not hit it, but at least I’m not sitting pretty at 150 hours total.

Sure, I’m making certain assumptions here: that kids actually do their homework, that all homework is rigorous and actually prepares students for their future, that students who actually complete their homework interact meaningfully with it, etc.  Still, I think you get that homework plays an important role in a child’s education.  So what happens when we take that out of our children’s educational equation?  Simple.  This happens.

So, be careful watch you wish for, Monsieur le President.  Pas de devoirs = Eventually watering your crops with Gatorade.

* Oui! Je suis sarcastique!

(Photo via Deviant Art)

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The Irony of Our Times

A grad professor of mine always talked about an assignment one of the student teachers he oversaw did with her class.  She was reading The Age of Innocence with her students and asked them to complete the sentence, “We live in an age of ________.”  In other words, she was asking students to come up with one word to define the times in which we live.

I love telling people this story because I usually tell people that the perfect word for our times is “retraction.”  This is because I always think people say what they mean, what they’re really thinking, then when the world (or sometimes just a few) disagree, they retract their statements, apologize, and vow to be less offensive later on down the line.

These days, though, perhaps the word for our times is “contradiction.”  Why?  Because the world we live in is filled with people who shop at Whole Foods and buy Fair Trade products, but who no longer support labor unions.  Because the world we live in has people who would never put their child in a school that had 35 days of testing (in fact many of them would pay exorbitant amounts of money in tuition to avoid it), but they would force that amount of testing on people who have no choice but to public school-educate their children.  Because we have a president who is a Democrat, a traditionally pro-union party, but who seems to be joining his Democrat friends in demanding union money for their campaigns, but leaving unions hanging with silence and lack of support when it comes to the laws that want to rip unions to shreds.

I don’t know how to fix the world or its problems, but I do know that a lack of common sense seems to be plaguing many of those around me.  Perhaps the easiest thing to do to change the age we live in is to simply start using some more common sense and encouraging others to do the same.  Perhaps we could put it in a letter and send it to the President himself!

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I Thought I Left This Behind…

Before I became a teacher, I worked in advertising.  Specifically, I worked in direct response advertising.  Don’t know what direct response is?  Bet you do!  Ever seen this?

That’s right!  I was the miserable human on this planet forcing infomercials on you!  (My apologies, people.)

What a lot of people don’t realize about direct response advertising is that it can be just as pricey as regular advertising.  Not only that, but a lot of people don’t realize what counts as direct response.  For instance, religious programming, like Joel Osteen or Creflo Dollar, is counted as direct response.  Those preachers pay big bucks to a media company who then reps them out to different stations/brokers for airtime.  That airtime doesn’t come cheap either.  Good Christians are alive and well…and charging millions of dollars to help spread the word of Jesus.

Part of why I left advertising for teaching is because I couldn’t stand the fact that people were spending millions of dollars on hour-long advertisements for Feed the Children instead of, you know, spending that money on feeding the children.  Teaching appealed to me because it wasn’t about money and making someone richer, it was about helping and making a difference in this world.  I never, ever thought that I’d have the feeling money was blown on commercials that could have been directly helping students while working in education.  I thought I was safe.  After all, schools don’t make commercials.  They have no vested interest in advertising anything other than the first day of school.

So, imagine my surprise when I started getting bombarded with Rahm Emanuel’s friends’ awesome “infomercials” about greedy, money-grubbing teachers and how kids are getting a fair deal post-strike (because teachers don’t care about kids, but Rahm does!).  And then, to find out that his wealthy friends are paying millions of dollars to run these ads?  It’s like I got jolted back into time by about 10 years.  Why not really help the kids and donate that money to some schools?  Why not stop trying to spin things and start trying to fix things?  (Start with the TIFs.)

Peeps, I think Rahm was too flattered by all our signs about him during the strike.  He didn’t see that they were negative, he just saw his name everywhere in big letters and thought we wanted more of him, I suppose.  Hey Rahm, you misunderstood!  You were supposed to disappear for a while, like your friend.  Lay low.  Hide out.  Not be on my TV every hour on the hour.  Perhaps if you’d had better teachers as a child, your critical thinking skills would have been a little better (and you’d be able to memorize 35 seconds of speaking instead of having to read a teleprompter).

Insulting Ad #1 aired during the strike

Insulting Ad #2 aired after the strike

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Data

Anna Chao Pai (b. 1935)

I have a friend who always says, “Data is what you want it to be.”  Truer words have never been spoken, especially in the field of education.  When I first entered education, I was shocked, SHOCKED at the way data was compiled and used.  Since I entered Chicago’s public school system, I’ve fought back on the use of data to drive instruction.  I’ve repeatedly said that real statisticians would  simply laugh at the way schools use data.  We manipulate it to make it what we want it to be and make sweeping judgements about the state of our students’ learning based on these numbers.  And we only consider what we want to consider.

Continue reading

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An Interesting Idea

My husband suggested I read this NY Times Op-Ed on how to fix schools.  Truth be told, I think the author’s suggestion that good teachers should come from a strong educational background and rigorous training is an important part of the puzzle that often gets overlooked.  That being said, I think it is rather short-sighted (and perhaps a little naive) to leave out the testing and funding aspects of public education that are also extraordinarily different than the public school systems in Finland or Ontario.  The reality is those are HUGE pieces of the puzzle that seemingly no one wants to acknowledge.  How we fund schools in this country needs to change.  Funds for schools should not come from property taxes.  Schools should not have to play Russian Roulette for resources.  Standardized testing helps us learn some things about our students, but frankly, I learn more about them from the classroom.  Standardized tests are tools to help me assess my students’ needs, NOT tools to assess me as a teacher.  Oh, when will we learn?

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What I Taught My Students Today

Today was the first day back to school.  It felt invigorating to be back in the building.  The kids seemed to really miss school and their teachers and the teachers seemed happy to be off the picket line and back in the classroom.  I can talk more later about whether or not our deal was as good as we’d hoped (we definitely made some concessions in terms of salary and wages in order to really benefit our students), but what I did today was showed students that every once in a while, a strike was necessary.  I had them read this article and this article.  Then, we discussed the similarities and differences between the Teacher Revolts that happened 79 years ago and the strike that happened seven days ago.  Let me tell, it saddens me that not much has changed.  It’s as if we just haven’t learned our lesson.

I’d like to think my students learned a bit about Chicago history today (and got some Common Core non-fiction in while they were at it).  What I hope they really learned though was just how much teachers love kids.  I hope they really learned that throughout history teachers have always stood up for the welfare and benefit of our students.  That no matter what anyone says, pay is often the last things on our minds.  After all, no teacher gets into teaching for the big bucks.  We do it because we want to make a difference in the world.  We do it because we are idealistic and hopeful that the day-to-dayness of our job will one day make a difference in a child’s life.

PS.  The coolest part of the day?  When we all met in the parking lot, wearing red, and entered the building together.  : )

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Some Photos from Week One, Prt. 2

Here are the rest of the best of photos from Week One of the CTU Strike.  Enjoy!

(All Photos by me; Please do not reproduce without my permission)

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Some Photos from Week One, Prt. 1

Picketing is no joke, guys.  It’s grueling work that you don’t get paid for.  Not that I’m demanding pay…I walked out on my job.  I’m just trying to correct a common misunderstanding that I’m getting paid for not working.  I’m not.  At all.  And I’m starting to feel it.

Yesterday was the first day of Week Two of the CTU Strike.  Our spirits were down today; we really wanted to be back in the classroom.  Still, we are unified in our fight for a fair contract and for the future of our schools.

Last week, I took 1500 photos.  After Day 1, I got a little behind uploading them and posting them, so I spent the better part of yesterday sifting through them and post-processing the best ones.  Here are some highlights from last week!  Hope you enjoy!

(All Photos by me; Please do not reproduce without my permission)

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Highlights Day One

Some photographic highlights from Day One.  See you on the picket lines!

(Images by me)

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The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same

Found this article from 1987, just after the last Chicago Teachers Union strike ended.  It’s interesting to me how we just never learn from history.  25 years ago, my predecessors were asking for some of the same things we’re asking for today.  When will we learn?

Are you wearing your red today?

(1987 Strike Image via Substance News)

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