An (aspiring) Educator’s Blog

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Archive for the ‘My Teaching’ Category

I don’t empower students.

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Last Friday, I met Donaldo Macedo (friend and collaborator of Freire) and listened to him give a talk about racial, ethnic, and class identities; xenophobia, and suffering in the United States. There were many things that struck me in the talk, but these words helped me understand myself and my role as a teacher:

It is dangerous when teachers say they empower others. If I have the power to empower you, I have the power to take away your power….We should give students enough critical tools to empower themselves. Through their own power they can come to voice. Empowerment involves pain and struggle.

Macedo put into words a feeling I have had for awhile. In terms of social justice, I am not responsible for the empowerment of my students. The very notion implies a flow of power that is not consistent with socioeconomic/political realities or social justice. As my science ed teacher says, “I can tell a student information, but I cannot tell them learning”. The same distinction is true of empowerment: I can give the students information, build mentor relationship that extends beyond their year in my classroom, and help them gain critical thinking skills, but I cannot give them power in our society. Learning and empowerment are both student constructions. If I try to take on my student’s process of empowerment,  I will burn out. It is impossible for me to lift children out of poverty, racism, classism, xenophobia, and the many other forms of prejudice and oppression that exist in too many realities. What can I do? I can think about the path my empowerment took and what paths theirs could take as young adults. I can create a classroom community that functions like a caring, student-centered learning lab, where students can experiment with their own power and learn how to “come to voice”. Just like learning, empowerment is a process of self and community-driven deconstruction and reconstruction. I think we need to stop using the term empowerment so lightly. It’s a life-sustaining process.

What do you think? Do you use the word “empower” to describe what you do in the classroom and/or why you do it? Am I being too heavy-handed here?

My classroom management plan on Scribd

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A few months ago I had to submit a classroom management plan for one of my graduate classes. As I’ve switched grades, had new classroom experiences, and read more information, I’ve tweaked my outlook. The first draft of my classroom management plan is on Scribd. I have seen a few educators post their plans and hope to see others do so as well. As I update my plan, I’ll post those drafts.

Elementary Classroom Management Plan

Publish at Scribd or explore others: How-to-Guides & Manu children learning

When is inequality constructive?

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In the Boston Review article Inequality matters: Why globalization doesn’t lift all boats (via thickculture), Nancy Birdsall clarifies the distinction between constructive inequality and deconstructive inequality:

Distinguishing between constructive and destructive inequality is useful. To clarify the distinction: inequality is constructive when it creates positive incentives at the micro level. Such inequality reflects differences in individuals’ responses to equal opportunities and is consistent with efficient allocation of resources in an economy. In contrast, destructive inequality reflects privileges for the already rich and blocks potential for productive contributions of the less rich.

I’m used to thinking about issues of inequality and social justice on the macro-level. Inequality of social, economic, and political opportunity is one of the reasons why I teach and advocate for the rights of children.  What about at the level of my classroom? When does inequality constructive or deconstructive in the context of pedagogies and learning environments? The most pervasive example of inequality teachers and administrators construct is grades. Although many schools try to make grades a reflection of how students are progressing on standards, the reality for many schools, is that grades both reflect and institutionalize tracks and hierarchies. Students with relatively higher grades have access to different pathways and resources than students who have relatively higher grades. There are different reasons why decision-makers at the classroom, school, and district level choose to have grades. In the classroom, I have noticed many teachers believe grades are an incentive structure: students and parents, on the whole, want higher grades rather than lower grades. Many are willing and able to change their behaviors to reflect this incentive.

Are grading I’ve seen examples of constructive or deconstructive inequality? On one hand, they are deconstructive because students are receiving marks on a scale without having access to the same academic and socioeconomic opportunities as their peers. Over time, students who fit into the culture of power and continue to have experiences that are valued by the school get higher grades, while students who do not have these opportunities get lower. The grades of students are compared and opportunities are doled out accordingly. This is deconstructive – the “potential for productive contributions” of struggling students is blocked. On the other hand, I have seen grading practices where the function and reason is feedback. When students are presented with qualitative and quantitative feedback about their performance, and have access to resources to improve, this feedback might alter micro-level incentives for them to engage in the process. This is more constructive  than the case given above because the quality of resources and environments we offer children are not a function of their perceived level in academic hierarchies. Other examples of inequalities we construct are our classroom management schemes. They often feature preferred behaviors paired to positive and negative consequences that change a students’ academic and social reality.

Constructive and deconstructive inequalities exist in learning environments. Teachers have control over some of these inequalities, especially classroom management and community building structures. Administrators have more control over grading, curriculum, and tracking. Students also create their own inequalities via social hierarchies that are based on perceived intelligence, beauty, and other factors. Although teachers do not have complete control over the inequalities that manifest themselves in a classroom space, when it comes to the choices we make, we have to ask: “Am I generating inequality? If so, is this inequality constructive or deconstructive?”.

What are your thoughts? Does this distinction hold or does it rely too heavily on capitalist constructions?

How Do We Reintroduce Uncertainty?

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The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers.

Erich Fromm

We need to reintroduce uncertainty to the education of our students. From scripted curricula to mindless worksheets, our education policies have created classrooms where knowledge is gushing water, and struggling children are leaky buckets. Instead of examining why this theory of education is inadequate to describe how children learn and grow, we open the floodgates wider. A recent study found students in schools with high concentrations of minorities have more homework than schools with lower minority concentrations. Our education leaders opt for charter school models that keep students in schools longer hours – KIPP has a nine and a half hour school day with required Saturdays and at least two hours of homework. Scripted curricula and test-prep driven practices (try to) distill skills and knowledge into recited textbooks and worksheets.

Educating a child is not like filling a leaky bucket. Children learn when challenging situations force them to be more flexible, generalize skills and knowledge to new domains, investigate, construct understandings with peers, update old understandings, and use new sources of information in innovative ways. Our policies have taken investigation, inquiry, and social construction of knowledge out of the classrooms of students who need these opportunities the most. We treat science, social studies, and math like they are static bodies of knowledge rather than dynamic systems of inquiry. Writing follows a five paragraph or fill-in-the-blank format rather than an ongoing process of immersion in texts, drafting, revision, editing, and publishing for authentic audiences. Students find the answers to teacher-generated questions in while they read instead of generating their own authentic inquiry. Students are taught to see adults as the sole source of information in a top-down hierarchy rather than a learning web where students and the teacher construct knowledge together.

Uncertainty is scary. Teachers have to trust in a learning process that cannot be documented in regular intervals on standardized tests and worksheets. We have to sacrifice coverage for critical thinking – this takes time and innovation on the part of students, administrators, and teachers. Students have to trust their teachers and classmates enough to take on intellectual and social risks.

Uncertainty is the foundation of wonder, courage, and learning. How do you introduce uncertainty into your classroom (especially if your school has mandated scripts)?

Written by TeacherC

31 March 2009 at 9:28 pm

Investigating Social Inequity in the Mathematics Classroom

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I came across this Mission Local article about Taica Hsu, a secondary mathematics teacher in an underserved community, who teaches his students to use math to investigate social inequities.

“Where most see numbers, Hsu sees tools. His students do projects in which they apply mathematical principles to illustrate social inequities, sparking discussions of race, class and sexual orientation.

In his world, trigonometry points to justice. Algebra leads to equality. Math is the vehicle, but consciousness-raising is the end.

On one wall, of his purple-painted classroom, posters proclaim the ills of war and social stratification. On another, algebra students’ projects statistically break down the injustices of homeless, drugs and teen pregnancy.”

Growing up, I hated math. I struggled and went to math summer school. I couldn’t understand why algebra mattered and how I could use calculus in my life. I thought I would take the minimal amount of math classes required by my university and call it quits. In my first year of college, I took my first economics class. My professor let me do a project about NAFTA and social justice issues. I was hooked. I struggled through statistics and econometrics courses. In senior year, I did a year-long thesis about the determinants of civil war battle deaths for countries already engaged in civil war. Now, I use my understanding of math and econometrics to consume research that informs my teaching and helps me understand inequality. (Don’t tell my friends I browse EconLit on Friday nights….). Math is empowering – it provides us with a special lens for understanding our world.

Are your students investigating inequity in your math classroom? If so, how? Stay tuned for lesson plans.

Sometimes teachers use computers like badly written worksheets

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I’m intrigued by a debate sparked by this post on Dangerously Irrelevant:

Dangerous Debate

I agree with the principal who asks for advice – technology should not be treated as an “add on” to our curriculum. Teachers should weave technology throughout the curriculum and their practices – not only as a way to increase learning, but for networking, tracking professional development, and making life easier in the classroom (it’s possible!).

Schools that give equitable access to 21st century learning experiences value community building (home-school, teacher-student, student-student, neighborhood-school, etc), use informed and child-centered pedagogy, and help teachers connect to a wider professional community. Just having technology in a building does not ensure children learn how to use technology appropriately. Currently, our classrooms are filled with literacy, math, science, and social studies artifacts (textbooks, worksheets, libraries, posters, curriculum guides, art supplies, etc). The mere presence of these artifacts has not ensured equitable access to appropriate learning experiences.

Many professionals misuse technology (there are tons of websites about bad PowerPoint presentations). Teachers are prone to the same error. Sometimes teachers use computers like badly written worksheets. Instead of using technology to provide students with rigorous challenges, many teachers provide cookie cutter, linear experiences, where the emphasis is on product rather than process. In my professional development and classroom management plan, I say:

“students need experiences that build upon understandings they already have while challenging them to form new understandings. Vygotski used the term “Zone of Proximal Development”. Learning requires a delicate mix of challenge, conflict, safety, and familiarity. There is not a single linear progression that fits the learning trajectories of all students.”

I guess the question I would have asked, if I were the principal, is “How do you align technology use with what you believe are the best practices in education and the needs of your intellectual community? How can I create a technology plan that provides the equipment and professional development for teachers to use these technologies appropriately?”

How would you answer these questions?

The only ENTJ in the elementary lounge?

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According to the folks at Typealyzer (via the Cool Cat Teacher Blog) this blog exhibits traits of an INTP thinker:

Educatorblog Typalyzed

Educatorblog Typalyzed

Brain Activity

I’ve received an ENTJ score on the MBTI since I was 16 years old. TypeLogic says:

ENTJs have a natural tendency to marshall and direct. This may be expressed with the charm and finesse of a world leader or with the insensitivity of a cult leader. The ENTJ requires little encouragement to make a plan.

ENTJs are often “larger than life” in describing their projects or proposals. This ability may be expressed as salesmanship, story-telling facility or stand-up comedy. In combination with the natural propensity for filibuster, our hero can make it very difficult for the customer to decline.

TRADEMARK: — “I’m really sorry you have to die.”

It is estimated that ENTJs compose 3% of the total population, 4.5% of the male population, and 1.5% of the female population.


Personality tests can’t fully describe my presence on this planet but my friends and family tend to agree that I’m bold, decisive, ambitious, and dominant. A charming bully, so to speak.

When I told my parents I wanted to be an elementary school teacher, they were shocked. Stereotypically, elementary school teachers are not ENTJs. They are the nurturers…the “touchy feely types”. Their leadership styles and professionalism exude emotional insight. I’m not a robot, but I don’t think about problems or communicate with others in the same way.

Maybe tests like the MBTI are misleading – we all have multiple identities. I’m an ENTJ in my academic and personal life and an INTP on this blog. What am I in my professional life? It’s hard to tell – I wish they had a typealyzer for teachers. I do my best teaching when I’m authentic – true to myself. My master teacher in my 2nd grade student teaching placement said that I have a “common sense, down to earth” style to my interactions with students. Student teaching 2nd graders expanded the bounds of my teaching persona – I did read alouds in multiple voices, had alter egos in the form of puppets, had crazy dance parties, learned 3 new knock knock jokes per day, and enjoyed hugs from students. Now, I’m student teaching in a 5th grade classroom. Although humor (knock knock jokes to puns and sarcasm), content (doubling to algebra), and many other variables have changed, I think my “common sense, down to earth” persona remains the same.

Can you identify personality common personality types in your staff lounge? Does it differ by the age group of the students taught, subject matter, or position?  Does your persona change between teaching periods? Does these things impact our school or online communities?

Written by TeacherC

27 February 2009 at 2:06 pm