How Educated Are Our Educators?

Throughout my journey of becoming an education minor, one question I consider to be a pressing issue in education is: Are our nation’s educators educated enough themselves? 

Sometimes I feel as if educators are looked down upon as if it is a lesser profession than say a doctor or engineer. Think about how much less teachers are paid than most other professions, but teachers are the ones education our youth, the future leaders of our nation. That’s a pretty significant responsibility.

Many universities offer a Master’s Degree in Education; however, many teaching positions only require a bachelor’s degree before one can begin teaching. Professions such as psychologists, nurses and dentists require years of graduate school and exams to ensure they are fully adequate to uphold their profession. Now I am not saying I think all teachers should be required to go to graduate school; graduate school costs money, time and effort, but I do think there should be a way to make sure teachers are fully prepared and able to educate our youth.

Through the 3 books I read this semester in my education capstone course, the overarching theme I picked up on was that there is no universal one-size-fits-all requirement for being a teacher. This course and these books have made me want to propose stricter guidelines for becoming a teacher. I know this is a difficult issue and there is no easy solution because there is always a teacher shortage. However, one idea I came up with is that teachers should have to work as a teacher’s assistant for a few months in the district they will be working in before becoming a teacher. While working as an assistant, they should have to teach by themselves for a day and be graded on their performance by a combination of the school staff and school board. Before becoming a teacher, they should also have to take a cultural competence class if they are teaching in an area with a majority or combination of cultures other than their own.

Teachers work in different environments and under different standards, which is why I believe it is important for teachers to work as teacher’s assistants first, in order to gain experience and understand oft the school they will work in. In Monique Morris’ novel, Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, I learned about how girls of color in schools are negatively targeted often because teachers don’t understand the African American culture. African American girls were often punished for their dress code, hair style or speaking out in class because their culture was not understood by their teachers.

After Morris’ novel, we read Jose Vilson’sThis Is Not a Test. It was interesting to read Vilson’s novel following Morris’, because Vilson exemplified the cultural knowledge of his students in his teaching district, unlike in the districts that Morris had observed. Vilson tells his story of growing up as an African American/Latino in a poverty-stricken area of Manhattan, yet he follows his dream of teaching middle school to students who were facing similar situations as he did as a boy. Vilson portrays how crucial cultural competence can be when teaching; he made an awesome educator for these students because he understood them and their situation, not because he went to graduate school.

The National Education Associational also agrees with the importance of cultural competence. In one of its articles, it talks about the importance of teachers understanding and knowing how to interact with  students of different backgrounds. It talks about the 5 main issues teachers need to focus on: Valuing diversity, being culturally self aware, the dynamics of difference, knowledge of student’s culture, and adapting to diversity. The N.E.A. argues that cultural competence is a a combination of prior experience and beneficial for all learners.

So while I am arguing for a better education of our educators, it is not necessarily education that is learned while sitting in a classroom at a university. It is education only real-world experience experience can teach, which is why I think our students would benefit greatly from teachers who have spent time studying and learning the dynamics of the district before diving into teaching on their own.

 

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5 Interesting Reads

As I near the end of this course (EDUC 511- Politics of reading), I thought my last blog post should reflect a few key take aways that really stood out to me from this course. From the readings, videos, and class discussions there 5 topics that I really enjoyed talking about, that I connected with, or that I thought deserved more discussion. So, I found 5 articles that are well worth the read, as they reflect each of these 5 topics very well.

1. The Common Core State Standards: As we all know, there is much more to be said about the CCSS than one article. As I have already written an entire post about it. However, I could not write a post about the over arching themes of this class without including the CCSS. I particularly enjoyed this article, as it does a really good job of summarizing the background of the CCSS and how these standards have since affected the school system. The author outlines several of the outcomes that came from introducing the CCSS and what the future might hold.

2.Taking a Gap Year: During class, my peers and I had a really interesting yet brief conversation about students taking gap years. As a society, there is this pressure that feels as if we “have” to go to college as soon as we graduate college. It’s like this unwritten rule. While many students choose to take a gap year, there is still a stigma behind it. One of the students from this article, puts it perfectly. She explains, “By taking a gap year, you are making the brave decision to slow down.” I think she captured perfectly, the response our society has to taking a gap year. We are so used to getting things done as quickly as possible. Whether it’s driving somewhere or finishing school, people are always in a hurry. And if slowing down doesn’t seem like an option for you, I really recommend reading the article above and hearing some of the amazing stories of those who chose to slow down.

 

3. Graduating in 4 Years: This topic was also brought up in a class discussion we had this semester. Here at UNC, there is a very strict policy to graduate in 8 semesters, or 4 years. This poses a problem for several students, including myself. I am currently pursuing two degrees and found it very difficult to graduate on time. This is a result of transferring, classes filling up before I could enroll, and changing my major. Turns out I am far from alone. This article outlines 6 common reasons students do not graduate in 4 years. These include some of the problems I have faced. While out conversation in class was very in depth, this article raises some very interesting and relevant issues that more students should be aware of. With that being said, there needs to be more conversation by college administration regarding this policy and how it affects students college career.

 

4. Mental Health in School: I recently wrote a blog post about stress, anxiety, and mental health as it pertains to the pressures of education. We also had a brief discussion in class about the pressure that students are under and the impact the excess stress has on their school performance and overall health. I then came across this article, that I really loved. Lexington High School in Massachusetts is taking stride in making mental health a priority. Painting positive messages on rocks to give to peers, learning breathing exercises, and limiting homework, are among the several practices they have implemented. What this school is doing is incredible, and other schools should take notes.

5. It’s Okay to Fail: Using failure as an opportunity to foster children’s growth is a fascinating topic to me. As we discussed this in class I became more interested and found this article, that talks all about mistakes, failing, and how to use these experiences as a way to teach students and build their resilience. The author also expresses some really interesting ideas about using students talents to help around the classroom and using their unique traits as contributions to the classroom (i.e. using the student that moves around a lot as the point person to communicate things between classrooms). For those of you who are planning on going into education, or really anyone who plans on interacting with children, this article really opened my eyes to some amazing and innovative ideas.

 

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Do Parents Take Advantage of Young Teachers?

This past weekend I visited my sister in Charleston, SC. South Carolina is towards the bottom (if not last) of the list of teacher pay. Charleston, however is where I have forever dreamt to move after I graduate and teach anywhere in the area. My sister’s roommate is a teacher at Sullivan’s Island Elementary school, a public school on the water with a brand new building- basically a heavenly place to teach. Casey (my sister’s roommate/ teacher) was happy to tell me about how much she loved her students, fellow teachers and everything about her job. When it came to the most difficult part of her job however, she did not hesitate and mentioned two things: enforcing the school’s discipline strategy and handling the parents.

My immediate reaction was, “Handling the parents??” I was confused as to how the parents could be more difficult to handle than her entire third grade classroom. Casey mentioned how she would end the school day, work for a couple of hours grading assignments and planning the next day. Just when she is about done with her day the emails from parents (and sometimes texts) start flowing in. She mentioned that sometimes she would have four emails in a row from a parent. An email that she received while I was there was

Dear Ms. Harmon,

“Tommy told me he wasn’t given enough time to finish his quiz. He is nervous about not doing well since he was not able to finish. Can you give more time for the quizzes in the future?”

Thanks,

Tommy’s Mom

The quiz Tommy’s mom was talking about was a timed quiz, where the whole idea was to see how the students performed in a certain span of time, with several students not finishing, and was essentially what Casey emailed back. An overflow of emails from parents every day, to me, sounds ridiculous. I am certain my parents never emailed my teachers as they were confident in they were the adult and knew what they were doing, while I was just the young student. If they were to email anything it would be asking how my behavior was or if I was improving on my reading skills.

The next thought that crossed my mind was “Are these parents taking advantage of Casey because she is the youngest teacher at the school?”.  I find it hard to imagine parents emailing the renowned veteran. I completely understand in many cases parents should email their child’s teacher- they do spend six hours a day with them. However, the way Casey made it sound was that they were complaining if their child came home unsatisfied about something, which is quite likely for many children after a long day at school. I also have been contemplating how I will handle this when I am a teacher. For one, I don’t think I will give out my personal phone number. For teachers who are in their first couple of years of teaching, what is the best way for them to handle the wrath of unsatisfied parents?

 

 

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The Gamification of Learning: Exploring the XP Grading System

Last week, a classmate of mine published a post here on our class blog about her thoughts on the XP Grading System. I really liked Jordan’s post and the points she raised about this system of grading — both positive and negative.

In this post, I want to further explore the nuances of the XP Grading System, share the ways other educators are utilizing it to both empower their students, and offer my own thoughts on this unconventional system.

The XP Grading System itself relates to the concept of ‘gamification.’ Merriam-Webster offers a definition of this term on their website:

“The process of adding games or gamelike elements to something (as a task) so as to encourage participation”

So, when we’re talking about gamification in education, we’re really talking about educators taking the initiative to integrate gamelike elements to the way their classrooms are run. In the case of our class, The Politics of Reading, Professor Hall has gamified her grading system. If you are unfamiliar with the XP Grading System, this pretty much means that every assignment to be done is attributed to a certain number of XP, or experience points. From the beginning of the semester, my classmates and I understood how XP translated into a final course grade. Since we knew how many points each assignment is worth and also how many points we need to accumulate to get the grade we want (i.e. an A or a B) we had the responsibility and freedom of ensuring that we met our goals. With that being said, students are essentially assigned a “0” at the start of the semester and are responsible for accumulating the points necessary for the grade of interest. A post published on the blog Teched Up Teacher offers great insight as to why this change in grading is important:

“…xp grading system is great because it allows you to start students with a zero. I never understood why we start students with a hundred and tell them all they have to do is keep it. We know that’s not possible; all they can do in that system is fail. We shouldn’t be starting students at the top, leaving them to watch their grade slide toward a zero. We should have students leveling up, like in video games. That way they can see their progress not only during the marking period, but for the entire year. All they can do is succeed! It makes the classroom and your quests something positive instead of something negative.”

Another component of this XP Grading System is a class leaderboard. In my class, Professor Hall allowed each of us to come up with a pseudonym/username by which we could be identified. Every week, Professor Hall updated our class leaderboard according to how many XP we had. Teched Up Teacher shows what a leaderboard could look like:

As you can see, a classroom leaderboard is nearly identical to the leaderboard you may see once you complete an online game:

I have to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed XP Grading System. As a student, this system allows me to see assignments as an opportunity to succeed rather than an opportunity to fail. As the current conventional grading system stands, students are given a 100 in the course at the beginning automatically and have nowhere to go but down. With the XP Grading System, on the other hand, students are given a 0 in the course at the beginning automatically and have nowhere to go but up.

In the future, I hope more educators will utilize this unconventional grading system in their own classrooms.

 

 

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So What’s Next?

For my final blog post I wanted to reflect on a few of my biggest takeaways from all that I have learned this semester in EDUC 511-Politics of Reading. It has been challenging to refine this extensive list and I was forced to consider the areas where this material will apply to my education and future career as a speech-language pathologist. I am passionate about working with children who have developmental disabilities and I aspire to work in a setting with both early intervention programs and an early school-aged population. As I work with children and their families, I will also be closely working alongside teachers, administrators, and other professionals within the school system in order to develop Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and best support the child. When considering my undergraduate schooling thus far along with my experience working with speech-language pathologists, I’ve understood an even greater overlap and and the anticipated impact that educational policy, literacy, standardized tests, and common core standards will have on my future career. So with that, I have listed five applicable things that I see as my greatest takeaways from this course:

  1. Knowledge of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002—This implemented reading policy in early grades and research-based claims mandated that phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension skills were covered thoroughly. This lead to the implementation of specific programs with the hopes of boosting student achievement. While this sounds ideal, and we do need to recognize when a student is falling behind, this has also resulted in a multitude of additional tests in order to assess performance. I also learned the NAEP’s definition of “proficient” in a testing area and how there are large percentages of students below this mark of adequate understanding.
  2. The passing of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in 2010—This set of standards was passed eight years after the No Child Left Behind Act with the intent of addressing educational iniquities. Many educators argue that these early standards are not developmentally appropriate for the majority of students, and especially challenging for those who have developmental disabilities. These standards are also created as a tactic to combat poverty and the achievement gaps associated, but often don’t account for a lack of resources within schools with greater populations of low-income families.
  3. CCSS literacy standards—These specifically emphasize comprehension, higher-level thinking, comprehension, expanding texts, and meeting the process of reading. This stresses a greater understanding of the criteria surrounding a text and drawing greater conclusions.
  4. CCSS language policies doesn’t pan out when actually in practice—There are harsh policies around language learning, especially in terms of English Language Learners (ELLs) which includes around 10% of students in North Carolina. Despite my misconceptions about ESL classes prior to learning about the variety of language policies, I was enlightened about the differing structures and stigmas associated with bilingual education, bi-literacy, English immersion, and dual-language programs.
  5. And finally, educators can advocate for policy change! —Teachers are the ones implementing these policies and have a greater understanding of their implications in comparison to the policy makers. This can even be done digitally but as those serving children and families, we are responsible for supporting them and providing the best resources.

This summer I am excited to translate this greater knowledge of education policy as work with clinicians and teachers through the TEACCH Autism Program. Through their summer trainings, this center works with educators to provide hands-on opportunities to provide a better understanding of the unique learning styles of those with autism. This program works closely with adapting classroom settings, literacy, academic skills, communication, and social strategies. I am excited to build on my knowledge and learn how I can be a better advocate for my future clients, their families, and hopefully all students who are affected by educational policy! Thank you Professor Hall for enlightening my classmates and I regarding these very relevant topics of the policy reforms surrounding education and literacy.

*All information included above has been taken from lecture notes and discussions in our EDUC 511 course

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If Teachers Were Treated Like Athletes…

The comedy industry thrives on presenting current information in a light-hearted way. While these comedians and comedy shows are not news programs, they do provide great insight into current politics and various opinions. There is a reason that Saturday Night Live’s spoof of the first presidential debate had more viewers than the actual debate. Comedy and laughter allows people to interact with politics and popular culture in a way that listening to the news or reading an article does. NPR discussed the influence of comedy on politics and while it didn’t say that comedy does or doesn’t have a significant impact on them, they do present issues to people who may not otherwise engage in them. Additionally, they portray the people involved in these issues as human, making them more relatable and approachable.

With this in mind, I invite you to watch this Key and Peele bit called “TeachingCenter,” which is based on SportsCenter only for teaching, not athletics. This video is light-hearted and has been seen by over 7.5 million people, due to their large viewer base. Because Key and Peele have chosen to present this information about the current circumstances of teachers in a comedic light, more people are made aware of the issues that they face. Additionally, it shows popular opinion and beliefs about teachers in our society. Lastly, it juxtaposes this job, the job to educate and prepare youth to be citizens and contributors, to athletes, who are talented individuals, but don’t have the influence of a teacher.

The first thing this video tells us about our society at this time is that it values athletes over teachers. I don’t think that this comes as a surprise to anyone, but why not? I think athletes are great, and have nothing against them. However, I do believe that teachers are more influential than athletes. Teachers are responsible for nurturing students’ academic, social, emotional and various other abilities. Teachers are the ones that raise the next generation to be competent individuals both in their personal and public lives. Most people have interacted with a teacher and been influenced by them. This could be for the better or the worse. Why do we put athletes on a pedestal higher than teachers? Why are they valued and treated better than teachers?

This leads me to the next point that this skit brings up: teacher pay. Perhaps the most striking line from this video is when Mike Yoast is picked as the first round draft teacher pick. The commentators describe Yoast as being an “unbelievable story” as his father was “a pro football player living paycheck to paycheck” and now he will be able to “buy his mom a house.” The irony of showing how a first round draft pick (in any sport) will become an automatic millionaire, while a teacher is living paycheck to paycheck is eye-catching. If we lived in a society where athletes lived paycheck to paycheck, there would be protests and outrages. However, if a teacher lives this way, it is perfectly ok and why would things be any different?

The video beings with the all-star teacher Ruby Rufh transferring from Ohio to New York to take her talents elsewhere. There is also an $80 million dollar contract (over six years) with an additional $40 million based on test scores. There are a few things I want to point out about this example. First, the teacher is receiving $13.3 million a year without any additional money from testing. Based on information from the North Carolina Public Schools website, it would take a teacher 14 years to make over $1,000,000, but this is without spending anything. Contrast this with professional athletes who make multi-million dollar salaries annually. The second thing that I want to point out is that her talents are recognized. It is common, for people to look down upon teachers, seeing the profession as a “backup” career. I, and most other people I know that want to be teachers, have been told to look for something else because we are “too smart to be teachers.” Teaching is a hard job. It takes talent to do it well. Why would we want anyone who is not talented or smart to teach our kids? it is nice to see that someone has dreamed of portraying teachers as talented. Lastly, while the teacher’s talents are recognized, she is receiving extra pay for test scores. Education has become so overloaded on data, that test scores become the mark of a good vs. great teacher and or even an ok or good teacher vs. a bad teacher. This mindset and evaluation process is not entirely bad. Data can show trends and places for improvement, but there is so much more to teaching than what can be revealed by a test. Tests don’t provide room for creativity, self-expression, looking through different points of view or explanations. Teaching to a test and evaluating teachers based on a test eliminates these factors from playing in to the value of a teacher and a child’s education and decreases them and their value in being taught to our kids.

In closing thoughts, imagine a society where teaching was valued like sports. Imagine teachers being encouraged and supported as they foster the development of youth. What if there was a teacher highlight reel to show positive moments from the day and little victories (like bringing an introvert into a discussion or raising a child’s confidence)? How would our attitude towards teachers and education change. While one blog post may not change the teaching industry into the sports industry, it can start movement. Consider thanking a teacher for the work that they do, recognizing a skill or talent that they have that is not related to a test score or giving a teacher a gift card to a restaurant to decrease the financial burden. Key and Peele, thank you for bringing the condition and attitudes of teachers to our awareness.

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Every Child Needs A Champion

It is sad to say, but next Tuesday will be my last day of tutoring for the semester. This week, the children started making cards for all of the tutors, to tell us how thankful they were for all of our help and support throughout the year. I know it sounds silly, but these cards really meant a lot to me. A few of my students, who I have been working very closely with for a few months now, wrote about how much they loved me and would never forget me. Of course, this almost brought me to tears, because they will never know how special they are to me and it feels so good to know that I am special to them too. Earlier in the week, I watched a TedTalk in one of my classes entitled “Every kid needs a champion” (video below). In her TedTalk, Rita Pierson spoke about the importance of a teacher-student relationship in promoting academic success, and I could not help but relate this to what I have experienced this semester while tutoring at a local community center.

The center that I tutor for has mostly low-income, minority students who are dealing with a lot of financial and family issues. However, despite their backgrounds or their socioeconomic statues, these are some of the most caring and talented children I have ever met. I went into this program, not only hoping to help students succeed, but also to grow in my own abilities and learn from them, and I must say, I have learned a great deal from them. In order to foster a close relationship, I at first focused my attention on learning about their many talents and passions. One of my students loves football and basketball, and is possibly a future athlete. Another one of my students is a wonderful artist and can draw an amazing cartoon from scratch off of the top of her head. Another one of my students is bilingual and is helping her parents learn English. The list of talents goes on and on, and I have found that it is really true that good teachers will learn just as much from their students as their students learn from them.

The reason why I am so fascinated by their talents, is because I have found that by learning about these students and what they love, I can use their passions to promote their learning. For instance, I work in Spanish with my bilingual student for math, but in English for her reading. We are making such progress in both areas, and you can tell that she is so excited about math now, because it is an opportunity for her to speak Spanish. With my student who loves football and basketball, we can play games to promote his learning, or I promise him a basketball game once he finishes his homework, to keep him focused and on task. But aside from the academic benefits, I have found that if you form a close relationship with your students, they not only care more about their work, they feel more comfortable with you. They open up to you about their problems, and you become an avenue for them to address their troubles and disadvantages within their current school system.

This relates directly to what Rita Pierson was talking about. Being there for these children is so important, because every child needs an adult who is going to be there for them and stand up for them no matter what. Most of the children I am working with have at least one parent who is able to be there for them, but there is always one who does not. There is always one, who needs a teacher or counselor to stand up for them and help them cope with their daily stress that directly influences education. If I have learned anything through my tutoring program, I have learned how to be a companion to  my students, and I hope that I will carry that with me into my future career; That way I can be a champion to a child who is still searching for one.

 

 

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