Yes, we need to improve the teaching and learning of history. If we are sincere about it, we not only need to take new approaches, but we need to make sure those approaches -like video – align with student interests and preferences.
“We can’t expect an English teacher to teach without access to literature. We can’t expect a music teacher to teach without employing actual music. We can’t expect a history teacher to teach without a working knowledge of the past. It’s common sense that we provide teachers with the knowledge and tools needed to effectively teach. That means more than just the necessary novel sets or science labs. It also includes a comprehensive preparation program that begins when they first set foot on a college campus and continues until they have become a teacher of record.”
Teacher Appreciation Week has a bit of a different meaning for many of us this year. The past two months have recast k-12 education in ways few of us have planned for. Amid all of the news stories of parents who have grown past frustrated with this new era of virtual education and tales of teacher “parades” and six-feet apart visits with students who need them the most, there are some important lessons many are learning about what goes into effective teaching and what skills and knowledge teachers today (and tomorrow) need to properly adapt to anything that might be thrown in their way.
In addition to the policy implications, Teacher Appreciation Week also provides the opportunity to reflect on those k-12 educators who have had the greatest impact on me as a both a learner and a contributing member of the great American citizenry. For me, I find it incredibly difficult to single out one teacher worthy of thanks. I think of Mr. Wolf, my second grade teacher and the first “boy teacher” I had. Or Mr. Ertmer, who taught me both economics and world history and also got me to DC for the first time through Close Up. Or Ms. Walker (now Mrs. Sowers), my AP English teacher and student government advisor who let me question whether or not Shakespeare was really worth all the hype.
I’m also a firm believer that parents are our first teacher, and they are often our most important. So in honor of National Teacher Appreciation Day, I need to recognize Mrs. Riccards, my mother and a damned good high school English teacher in her own right. I was never privileged to have my mom as a teacher (that would have been too grand a punishment for such a terrific woman). But to this day, both in my personal and my professional lives, I reflect on the lessons she taught me and her experiences in the classroom.
My mother joined the teaching profession as a mid-career. When my youngest sister hit school age, my mom went back to school to get her teaching certificate. She student taught at an Indian school in New Mexico. She went on to teach 10thgrade English at urban, rural, and suburban schools in New Mexico, West Virginia, Massachusetts, and Washington, DC. My mother taught in traditional public schools, charter schools, and independent schools.
She walked the picket lines in West Virginia for two weeks, striking with every NEA teacher across the state for better pay and working conditions (they succeeded). She was a tough teacher, always pushing her students and demanding hard work. While many would try, no one could get her to compromise her standards, not even for star athletes, relentless parents, or administrators who didn’t want the hassle. As a result, her students learned and achieved. She probably had the greatest impact on all of the “basic” students she taught over the years, kids that many people had given up on, but she wouldn’t. She pushed them, and they responded. They learned the five-paragraph essay. They learned American literature. And they learned responsibility and to set high expectations for themselves.
And me? My mom was the first to point out I have a tendency to write in the passive voice. At an early age, she made clear she and my father would never pay for grades. “You don’t earn them for me, they are for you,” she would say. She has always been proud of me, encouraging and pushing me. But she is also quick to tell me when I am being too hard on teachers, when my expectations of school improvement are out of line, or when my position didn’t align with what a classroom teacher experiences.
So in honor of National Teacher Appreciation Week (and this weekend’s Mother’s Day), I offer a big thank you to a truly terrific teacher, Mrs. Riccards (or Ma, or Grandma at this point). Know you are both loved and appreciated by generations of students who are better off for having crossed your path (no matter how tough you may have been in that classroom).
As I reflect on those teachers, including my parents, that have had the most lasting of impacts on me, I can now see some key attributes that made them enormously successful as educators. They all received rigorous, comprehensive educations that provided them with a broad higher education experience that prepared them for any challenge in the classroom. They all believed in a collaborative approach, working closely with families, with community leaders, and even with higher education to strengthen and improve the teaching and learning process. And they were all firm believes in “lifelong learning,” recognizing that their pursuit of both content knowledge and pedagogy did not end once they earned their masters degrees in achieved tenure. They all knew one learns across a lifetime, not for a finite period, and they passed that lesson on to all those learners they encountered.
Decades of research have shown that the single-most important factor in school success is an effective teacher. One of the reasons I do what I now do – focusing on how to improve educator preparation to ensure more effective teachers and more engaged learners – is because I had some of those effective teachers, those best in the world teachers. They made a real difference for me, and I believe that ever learner – regardless of race, family income, or zip code – should have similarly life-changing teachers in their lives.
Those life-changing educators are the ones that every parent overseeing virtual home school today is trying to challenge. And they are teachers we should remember each and every day.
(This post also appeared on Medium.)
With most schools closed for coronavirus, so many of us are longing for a return to normal. While none of us know what the post-covid new normal may be, we expect it will include many of our tried-and-true activities and behaviors.
So we shouldn’t be surprised that some school districts are still looking at how to conduct traditional teacher evaluations, even when there is nothing traditional about school today. No, we shouldn’t be surprised, but we should be appalled.
Over on the BAM! Radio Network, we discuss what a bad idea teacher evaluations a la lockdown are, and how we really need to direct our attentions elsewhere. Give it a listen!
Over on Medium, dear ol’ Eduflack opines on how our current emergency virtual eduction provides the perfect opportunity to use multimedia — particularly video – to engage students through their computer screens. But even in topics like history, content areas tailor made for interesting and relevant video content, we are falling short on what we provide educators and what we pass along to students.
It doesn’t have to be this way. As I write:
It is insufficient to think we can simply take a Ken Burns video or a documentary from the History Channel, chop it up, and then use the pieces as meaningful content to connect with today’s learners. To ensure that young people embrace American history, we need to commit to create and distribute online content that focuses on: 1) what is relevant and interesting to the student; 2) what is attractive to learners who will vary widely in both interest in history and knowledge of history; and 3) what is adaptable based on changes in learner preferences.
In calling for the adoption of “three legs” to the American history instruction stool, I also note:
Whether our public schools “go back to normal” this fall or whether periods of virtual education become the new normal for k-12 in the United States, we need videos that capture the attentions and interests of today’s students, offering content that often isn’t found in dusty history textbooks. We need content that teachers can successfully use in a virtual environment and that students will want to access in their free time, using a changing learning environment to provide fun, engaging, and proactive content intended to improve both the teaching and learning of American history.
Please give the full piece a read here. It’ll be worth it.
“Literacy is an educational right. Every learner needs to be reading at grade level by fourth grade. The science is clear on how to best teach young children to read. Our educators and the teacher education programs that prepare them must adapt and transform to embrace both these obligations and the science on effective instruction.”
Give it a read! And give Project Forever Free a follow.
“Producing a strong research study that collects dust on the shelf can hardly win the day. For generations now, we have fought ideological skirmishes over literacy instruction, watching the pendulum swing as classroom educators simply waited it out until the latest “hot” thing lost favor and classrooms returned to what they were previously doing. If we truly want to declare a reading victory and tout our collective instructional successes, we need to commit to some basic truths.”
For weeks now, we’ve seen experts declare “victory” when it comes to virtual education in the time of Coronavirus. Voice after voice has taken to social media claiming to have solved the puzzle and gotten students learning again.
In reality, there probably isn’t a great deal of new learning happening online these days. In the Eduflack homeschool, we are seeing a lot of reviewing of last lessons and a lot of digital busywork. And we are only doing a half of a traditional school day each day (and that’s following the 10-day virtual spring break we just had).
And maybe that’s just fine and dandy. According to a new survey of parents across the United States, they aren’t expecting or desiring new learning between now and the end of the school year. They just want their kids to survive the lockdown, both psychologically and emotionally.
On the latest episode of TrumpEd on the BAM! Radio Network, we explore this new student data and how it is OK to just be OK, education wise, these next few months of school.
Give it a listen.
We shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that the institution of virtual education in response to the coronavirus epidemic means we now have equitable k12 education. But if we are fortunate, it just might force a very real discussion of how we start working toward equity in teaching, learning, and access.
How? We explore the topic on the most recent episode of TrumpEd on the BAM Radio Network. Give it a listen here.
It’s safe to say that the coronavirus is dominating virtually all corners of public debate and consideration these days. It is definitely true of education, as our collective shift to virtual education is driven by talk of flattening the curve and a timeline for returning to “traditional” school.
Back in the day, dear ol’ Eduflack spent a great deal of time working on crisis and risk communications, particularly in the healthcare space. In 2004, for instance, I collaborated with the Hong Kong Department of Health to examine its communications response to SARS, what it could learn, and how the government could better engage with citizens to address the healthcare crisis.
Over at Medium, I reflect on those lessons and how they can be applied to our current pandemic and the communications response to it. Some of these ideas may seem common sense, but they are essential reading – and essential action – as we all try to deal with Covid19 response.
Please give it a read. And a share.