20 May 2016

To My Student (Re)considering Teaching

Part of my final today was a student reflection on the project we were completing and on math class as a whole. My most conscientious student spent a long time writing today, and was intentional about making sure I was going to be reading her reflection. This was her response to the question, "What non-math skills have you learned this semester?"
"Out of everything I’ve learned from this class non-math wise, I've learned to change my backup plan to be a teacher. I don’t understand how you can deal with disrespect like this without snapping! How, did you do it? I would honestly love to know."
I was honestly conflicted with how to take this question. Should I be flattered that she acknowledged I might have "deserved" to go off on a kid but she noticed I had not? Disappointed that I was unable to show her the parts of my job that I love in that 6th hour math class? A little insulted that teaching is her backup plan to begin with? :)

Image via Justin Mazza, Flicker

This was my response.

I don’t think that my experience with your classmates should change your plan to teach - I love my job, and the days I go home questioning my life choices are very few and far between. :)

Frequently when I talk about work and purpose with my friends, it seems that I tend to get more satisfaction and fulfillment out of my work than people that work in other industries. I believe that God cares about the work we do and has a specific purpose for us in that work, and that my job right now is to be a white guy in a predominately black school and to care for kids. I don’t like some of my students on some days, but I always love you all, and I want you all to be kind people and be teenagers and adults that contribute to their community to create beautiful things, solve problems, and care for their neighbors.
It completely matters to me who all of my students are as people, which is why I have such a hard time ignoring annoying behavioral things some days. I would never want a teacher to let one my own kids make poor decisions because “that’s on them,” so I commit to the same for all of you.

As far as solving problems - real problems in our world, whether in government, engineering, writing, etc., are not confined to questions on a test, so my professional goal for my classes right now is to better reflect that in the tasks I have you perform. I have in no way attained that yet, but I believe it’s a matter of civil rights that I do what I can to make sure I give you more than a grade on a test that ultimately turns into a piece of paper that says you’ve graduated. I believe a high school (or even college) graduate that does not feel empowered to think about and create solutions to challenges in their lives or communities had been cheated by their school experience.  

To circle back to your question - how do I deal with the disrespect with snapping? Ultimately it comes down to the truth I get from the Bible in the creation account that humans are made in “the image of God,” which means to me that no matter how a kid is treating me, I have a responsibility myself to see them with that value. Everyone is worth a loving/caring action (as much as I can muster LOL). So I have people pray for me a lot about my relationships with my students, and I pray for you all and your relationships with each other, and God grants me the grace daily to start over. On a parent level, I have never seen my kids change their behavior and mature as a result of screaming and nagging, so I know that anytime I do that as a teacher it's really just to make myself feel better (and that’s an unhealthy path to emotional well-being). 

I make positive choices, such as intentionally looking out for students doing cool stuff, and do my best to avoid negative conversations about students.  

I hope you’ll reconsider your conclusion about the horrors of teaching, and whatever you do, I trust that you’ll continue showing care and thoughtfulness for others. I’ve found that you’ll feel much better about your life when you look back if you can measure how soft your heart is toward your relationships, rather than the things you’ve accomplished or the stuff you’ve accumulated.  

Have a great summer!

I know that you know that what we do as teachers matter - I was thankful today to get to communicate that to one my students.  

29 April 2016

Is "Makerspace" Another Learning Silo?


The principles of design, engineering and iteration that students get to practice in maker environments is invaluable - I get it.

What worries me some is I sense in the rush to get grant money for the next big thing, schools are rushing to put in makerspaces like they're just another elective that the creative students can go to, but might not be for everyone.

When we install the MAKERSPACE room or turn our libraries into them (which I'm more okay with, because it blends information space with design space with collaborative space), don't we run the risk of just building another silo in which kids compartmentalize their experiences? On the flip-side, if teachers know that kids will be able to do _____ in "makerspace," doesn't that give an escape clause to anyone who wants to maintain a more traditional lecture-practice-test-repeat classroom?

I love the way my friend +Manuel Herrera is developing his space at Affton High School, "Room 15" because while it has maker elements included, it's still a learning space first. Making is something that happens alongside other work, and students and staff and come in and try on the room for activities unrelated to "making" at all.

Because I love to see interdisciplinary approaches WHENEVER and WHEREVER possible, I would much sooner advocate a school invest in a few pimped out maker-carts if they're looking to buy and put together a bunch of maker-stuff. It loses the design-collaborative space aspect that makes Room 15 so special, but gives many more opportunities for teachers to practice making and engaging in design challenges.


What do you think - if you have to choose how to start, is it better to focus on carts and spread the opportunity in your school, or have a dedicated "makerspace" that serves as a model space for students AND teachers to learn about design?

10 April 2016

The System is BREAKING, for Many it is ALREADY Broken: A #MLTSfilm Review

My district is hosting a screening of the education documentary Most Likely to Succeed on Thursday, April 14 - its something I've been anticipating since I first saw this film last December at Mehlville HS (Get your FREE tickets here!)


The basic premise of the film is that US industrial education model that was developed at the end of the 19th century to develop a moderately literate, instruction-following, factory-ready workforce is obsolete and killing us. The filmmakers then show us a way out, specifically highlighting the work done by teacher-innovators and their students at High Tech High in San Diego, CA.

One of the most poignant moments of the film for me is when we see one of the school's parents admit that although she's nervous about what exactly her daughter is learning at the project-based learning school, she acknowledges that her friends' kids are often coming back from prestigious universities with prestigious degrees and having a hard time finding work. 

It's a growing cultural theme - the promise of college = great job is waning, if it's not already dead.

But is this really new, or is it new for the more privileged in our society, making it finally apparent to many more in power? 

The filmmakers give a lot of stats midway through the film about how much knowledge is lost in only a few months from taking a random test, that its nearly impossible to learn US history meaningfully in an AP US History course, and that good grades and good test scores don't exactly correlate into creative, independent, resourceful workers for firms looking for innovation.

Now to my point - urban and rural communities that are ALREADY struggling to keep up with affluent suburbs already know these things. They already know that the test system is rigged and meaningless for them. They already see their best leaving. 

Poor urban and rural communities that MOST need the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurism that this film advocates for our students need most to run with this revolution of what "school" looks like, but face more challenges in grabbing the ring. We see many of the parents point out in the film: "We don't know that this will really work! I'm nervous!" but they take the risk anyway, because their communities and families can risk the failures required of innovation. 

If you have any commitment to a community with a failing or struggling school, I implore you to support leaders who will take risks of innovation, rather than promising that we can do more of the same and eventually catch up. 

Thursday night is the 3rd time I will have seen Most Likely to Succeed, and I am more convinced with each viewing that we owe these experiences to all children. We need teachers who refuse to teach toward any test (AP exams included). We need administrators who will value We need parents who demand their children do more at school than study for tests of knowledge acquisition. We need university partnerships willing to train our current and future teachers in the messy process of nurturing creative processes and innovative, iterative learning environments. We need politicians who will make room for this innovation. We need cooperation between all of these.

One of my favorite things about this movie is that rather than only reminding us again that education is broken it shows us a way out and gives us a call to action we can use to galvanize communities around the change.

I'll leave your with a sit-down interview from Sundance Film Festival with the filmmakers, director Greg Whiteley and executive producer Ted Dintersmith, and a TED Talk from Ted Dintersmith about preparing kids for life over standardized tests.