Friday, September 2, 2016

It's Not That Simple

I love this great political and personal weave by Keith Woods of NPR.  It is a worthy read and a better listen
"Love of country can't be accurately measured by whether someone sits or stands or slouches or sings. It's not that simple." ~Woods, NPR
Today I start my 20th year teaching history. "It's not that simple" will be a constant theme through almost all of our historical studies. Student opinions, perspectives, and emotions will swirl in class discussions on Colin Kaepernick's protest, civil rights history, US foreign policy, immigration, the upcoming POTUS election, work history, abuse/use of the environment, politics, and more.
Social studies is often mislabeled as a soft science. In actuality, social studies is tough because it is not a science. In the study of history, 2 + 2 sometimes does not equal 4. History is a complicated conversation, as I once learned, with seemingly an infinite number of variables and usually lacks definitive conclusions of historical happenings.
History (and the present) is not that simple. That is what I love about social studies. 
I'll be using Wood's essay in my opening lesson as a springboard into the messy, complicated, and powerful history of the United States.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

BATs v. Free Market Fairy

BATs v. Free Market Fairy
Here we go again. Once more, the hope and promise of a new year is trashed by more divisive legislation proposed by Wisconsin's Republican Party. To the elation of the GOP's machismo-minded supporters, Governor Walker's divide-and-conquer approach to managing Wisconsin continues.

This new year the first piece of legislation to the floor is a useless school accountability bill designed to hand over school districts with high student poverty rates to the private charter industry for even less accountability. (Wisconsin Soapbox spells out the absurdity.) This, of course, is a national trend just now hitting Wisconsin. For the GOP, it is the free market fairy to the rescue!

Fighting this annual assault on my profession and public education is exhausting. Some days I think, "why bother?" Challenging my pessimism is the persistent advocacy of many of my professional colleagues. Most consistent and persistent in challenging the forces trying to dismantle public schools is the noble-minded, but tough-named, Badass Teachers Association (BATs).

BATs is a grassroots organization formed "...for every teacher who refuses to be blamed for the failure of society to erase poverty and inequality, and refuses to accept assessments, tests and evaluations imposed by those who have contempt for real teaching and learning." BATs combat the false narrative of a failing public school system produced by those infatuated with the free market fairy. It is an epic battle of BATs v. the free market fairy.

Yeah, BATs have an edginess I like, but mostly BATs provide an inspiring and motivating defense of public education for those of us beaten down by plutocrats orchestrating the attack on Wisconsin's public school system.  For example, just a couple days ago, I ran across this beautifully written post by fellow Wisconsin BAT, Allison Pratt.
The expectation by communities of our public schools has changed. It’s no longer “Help us teach our children.” It now is “Raise our kids.” No generation of teachers and administrators in history has had to fulfill this mandate. And each year, the pressure grows upon Educator's shoulders. We carry 500 pounds while trying to balance the twirling plates.
Our country's social and economic conditions demand that Educators develop the full potential of every child. An Educator's future is tied to student success as never before through evaluations, goals and standards. But this is a job for an entire community. Everyone, in every community, must help remove the obstacles to student success. We must recognize our common interests, and do our part to help our schools create the graduates and citizens we need. Our public schools cannot do it alone. Survival of our neighborhood public schools depends on a partnership of respect and problem solving. What are you doing to speak out and save your public school and community?
Thanks for the lift, Allison.  I'm writing again. I'm speaking out for social justice and what is right in my kids' schools.  I join the BATs in fighting back the free market fairy. True to my New Year's resolution, I am #teacherstrong.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Full Steam Ahead: Ignoring the Evidence on Performance Pay

My letter to the editor (below) was published this week in the Janesville Gazette:
Piles of performance pay research
are ignored,
Janesville School District officials are pitching a pay-for-performance teacher salary structure not supported by educational reasoning or research. 
The proposed Professional Performance Structure (PPS) will move my kids’ district from a simple, fair, objective and efficient teacher salary schedule to an unproven, complicated, labor-intensive, divisive and stack-ranked pay system. While the proposal may please free-market ideologues, it will not better motivate teachers and improve my kids’ district.
Our local officials, who tout evidence-based leadership, should yield to the motivational and educational evidence related to merit pay. Overwhelmingly, the motivational research shows labor involving highly cognitive skills—such as teaching—does not improve with incentivized pay. Dozens and decades of teacher merit pay schemes have failed to improve student achievement. Local school leaders have yet to produce substantial educational research to support this radical reform proposal. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Teacher Strong

A whopping two blog posts published in 2014.  

What gives?

Loss. Then grief.

There is not much good about grief, Charlie Brown.

Grief dug in and dragged me down this past year. The initial stages of grief--all necessary and normal, the experts say--left me feeling unhealthy in many ways.  Spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, and psychologically--I was dribble. Close friends and family did not recognize me. Grief left me despondent, unmotivated, scattered, and self-absorbed.

A New Year, A New Banner

Thanks to a friend for the redesigned banner
My New Logo

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Walker's Act 10 Devalues Teaching in Wisconsin

Wisconsin Teacher Value Not Adding Up
My first teaching contract 19 years ago at a Midwest Catholic high school grossed $15,000. My retirement benefits consisted of a whopping $500 401K. Cutting into my take-home pay was a $1500 annual premium for an inadequate health insurance plan with a high deductible and 80-20 coverage on remaining family medical bills.

Money aside, I was a good Christian soldier. I taught a full load with 3 or more preps, moderated the school newspaper, ran the service program, coached baseball, drove the school bus to athletic events, and volunteered for all kinds of school activities.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

False Narratives Dogging Public Education

Yale Commencement, 1962
In annual class discussions about slave history, almost always some student asks, “Why didn’t slaves resist slavery?” Of course, this is a fallacious question. I do not blame the annual questioner since the premise is rooted in a false narrative retold many times in the historiography of American slavery.

I have learned to anticipate the question and use it to launch into deeper lessons about false narratives in history. The retelling of the slave compliance myth was certainly a byproduct of our country’s persistent racism. Thankfully, ex-slave testimonies and the work of revisionist historians challenged this myth and unveiled how slaves resisted slavery often and in many ways during America’s antebellum era. However, the yearly recurrence of the slave resistance question in class discussions shows how these false narratives dog the study of American history long after facts have refuted the myth.

Likewise, many falsehoods persist in the public education narrative. The central approach of historian Diane Ravitch’s brilliant new book, Reign of Error, is to counter the many national myths dogging public education. As anticipated, Ravitch’s facts are ignored by the opponents of public schools in defense of their strong held beliefs that government can do no good and MBAs know more than teachers about schools and students. Corporate-minded reformers cling to their beliefs and turn a blind eye to the facts.