Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Are you the School's Holiday Scrooge?

Do you cringe every time the parties, movies and games start in celebration of holidays during the school year?  Are you more inclined to teach your students the history of holidays instead of posting symbols and decorations that acknowledge them?  Would you prefer to have cafeteria, hall, or recess duty for an entire year if it meant you could opt out of serving on any holiday program committees? Are you embarrassed by teachers who spend more time planning their classroom festivities for the holidays than they do unit lessons for learning?  If you answered yes to at least two out of the four, chances are, you are a School Holiday Scrooge!

I embrace my inner scrooge proudly.  No, I don't run around protesting against other people's right to believe what they want.  Furthermore, I no longer feel the need to justify or explain why I ignore particular holidays unless I am provoked or asked.   I have matured and discovered savvy ways of  "putting the medicine in the food" instead of running around like a self-righteous, preachy lunatic with a chip on my shoulder.  Not only does my new approach set a positive example for avoiding the status-quo of commercialism with confidence and conviction but it allows people to feel comfortable about approaching me and inquiring about my scrooge tendencies.

Nevertheless, there are still chances that co-workers and colleagues will label and judge the School Scrooges regardless of their non-invasive  strategies.  Regardless, we are responsible for ensuring our children trust who we are as teachers, surrogate parents and mentors, despite how different we appear from the rest.   There are plenty of ways to make teachable moments out of topics that rub your own belief system the wrong way without personalizing the subject or converting the students.

For instance, I have been annoyed by all  the standing pumpkin scarecrows and hanging skull heads in an after-school tutoring program where I co-tutor/teach with several other adults since the beginning of October.  Since it's not my personal class space and we are curriculum-free, I did not insult any one's decision to decorate the classroom, issue Halloween activity sheets or plan a Halloween party.  Instead, I "did me" by bringing copies of skeletons and using its connection to Halloween as an opportunity to teach the children about the bones in their bodies.  After explaining how we are all walking skeletons and giving the important roles bones play, we pronounced and identified certain bones in the body.  Then, I gave them copies of skeletons with labeled bones to study and told them to prepare for a game using the handout. No preaching or personalizing required!

The following public library books will further explain information about bones and serve as tactile visuals.

These cool skeleton straws will make cool gifts for providing models and drinking juice rather than eating candy.

They will use the below black napkins (a lot cheaper than construction paper) and chalk to draw their own x-ray skeletons.

  • Skeleton Straws:  99 cents
  • Napkins:  99 cents
  • Chalk:  Zero (plenty left-over from my classroom teaching days)
  • Juice:  $10
  • The feeling I get from knowing they learned something REAL without feeding them candy or being a Halloween Scrooge:  Priceless! 


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Parents should not hear it through the grapevine

So you survived your first parent conference for the year...KUDOS!  Meeting your students' parents can be quite intimidating and stressful, especially for novice, young or youthful-looking teachers.  I recall times I contemplated ways of purposely aging to avoid the often spoken or gestured, "That's your teacher?!", communicated by parents whose imagined picture of me did not match their child's description of my class.  I could always tell when they felt a little caught off guard by my youthful appearance.  I overcompensated by making sure my wisdom, professionalism and maturity spoke volumes, causing assumptions about my age to dissipate.  And then, there were those students who used parent conferences as an opportunity to play matchmaker by introducing their single male fathers and relatives.  Although flattered by their consideration to have me as part of their family, it only added to my self consciousness.

Regardless of what your hangups might be about meeting parents, there is one main ingredient to ensure your success with them: COMMUNICATION...COMMUNICATION...COMMUNICATION!  More than likely, parents will complain about having no communication, very little communication or a miscommunication. Whether it is an excuse for them to pass the responsibility or place blame, it is still your responsibility  to make sure that a parent conference is not the first time parents discover their children are failing or not meeting your requirements and expectations.  With today's technology, there are too many ways to keep parents informed, as well as, means to document parents' message retrieval.  Be sure, however, to check your district's policy concerning social mediums. 

Bottom Line:  Keep every district-approved line of communication open and document it!  It may seem frivolous now, but you will be glad you took the time if ever an irate parent accuses you of not sounding an alarm before failing their child.  And guess will no longer consider parent conferences scary and dreadful.  Instead, you will welcome parents with the confidence and peace of knowing you made every possible attempt to connect.

Now as far as youth and singleness....there are worst job hazards!  

Monday, October 21, 2013

Books by These 25 People Should be in Your Children's Library

Take the Black Children's Book Test

If our children can name and identify twenty-five hip hop artists, make sure they can do the same for the following black children writers and illustrators.



Match the following names with each picture above.

  1. Mildred D. Taylor
  2. Walter Dean Myers
  3. Sharon Bell Mathis
  4. Tom Feelings
  5. Virginia Hamilton
  6. Jerry Pinkney
  7. Brian Pinkney
  8. Ashley Bryan
  9. Julius Lester
  10. Lucille Clifton
  11. Angela Johnson
  12. Nikki Grimes
  13. Donald Crews
  14. Frederick McKissack
  15. Patricia McKissack
  16. Floyd Cooper
  17. Jan Sivey Gilchrist
  18. Jacqueline Woodson
  19. Rita Williams Garcia
  20. Christopher Myers
  21. Christopher Paul Curtis
  22. James Ransome
  23. Angela Shelf Medearis
  24. Bernette Ford
  25. Javaka Steptoe

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Top Ten Signs of Dedicated Teachers

10.  They are often the last to leave the school building.

9.  They purchase school supplies with their own money.

8.  They sponsor before/after school activities without pay.

7.  They expose those who harm children.

6.  They treat their students like their very own children.

5.  They protect their students.

4.  They leave their personal problems at home.

3.  They value their students over the subjects they teach.

2.  They hold their students to an unwavering high standard.

They hold themselves to an unwavering high standard.

1. Students can point them out.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Traditional Teachers Rarely Make History

"Teach Outside the Box!"

How many times have you heard this shouted by some contracted professional development expert or in-house school administrator?  But before you are allowed to travel too far from the "beaten" box, that same consultant or principal warns you about the importance of preparing students for "THE BIG TEST".  Though the two may sound contradictory, they may easily co-exist given the flexibility and creativity of the teacher.

In other words, a particular skill set may be taught with a variety of materials and activities.  I have yet to hear of any principal demanding teachers to use only one method, strategy or resource for teaching a subject.  Even if one teaches in a school that expects its teachers to use district-adopted curriculum and textbooks, while ensuring they adhere to a strict timeline for covering learning objectives, there is usually still room for customizing and connecting the content to learners.

Usually the most effective teachers are able to create "aha moments" by using whatever will help students to comprehend the skills or concepts being taught.  Besides relying just on approved materials, teachers may need to use examples in pop culture, current events, cultural customs or neighborhood dynamics in order to reach certain students.  Being able to  smoothly and effectively blend, transition and use what students already know to teach them what they have yet to learn is the X-factor that sets exceptional teachers apart from mediocre ones!

Still, teachers should use their best and sound judgement when choosing  particular content outside the scope of district-selected programs.  Unfortunately, we are a litigation-seeking and controversially-charged society.  Therefore, maturity for understanding what is school appropriate and culturally sensitive are key factors before going on a box burning spree.  Otherwise, it is advised that you stick to the script.  I would hate to discover you have landed yourself in a situations much like the video below.

But for those creative souls with a wide range of knowledge and awareness, who stay abreast of youth culture and are capable of seamlessly transferring stale, unrelated, irrelevant or test-driven learning goals should feel free, supported and confident to: Teach Outside the Box!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Homeschooling: Not Just for the Weird, Rich or Religious

Have you heard?
There is an African American Home School Movement going on!  That's longer is it considered strange, suspicious or taboo to teach your own children... at home.  Even though I taught in public schools,  I always thought it strange that people found homeschooling strange or something for only the weird, rich or religious. Who else is better equipped to teach children than parents who have the DESIRE, DISCIPLINE, SKILL SET and PATIENCE to teach them!  With that disclaimer out the way,  KUDOS to those Black families who have placed the responsibility of teaching their own children inside their very own four walls and are enduring the criticism and skepticism of those who still deem it odd or criminal behavior.  Fortunately, however, the latter group is slowly becoming the minority.

If you are debating whether home schooling is the right choice for your beautiful brown babies, there are plenty of on-line resources, organizations, social-networking and support groups to help you decide.  For those that reside in Missouri, I highly suggest you start here.  Then solicit some personal testimonies from those currently homeschooling.  I recently joined the African American Home School Network  on Face Book.  Thankfully, they accepted my request as an educator and advocate since I am not a parent.  The group's founder is pretty good about monitoring and maintaining the information posted so I deem it fairly helpful and informative.

Are you having doubts about homeschooling because you fear your children will not meet their socialization quota?  There are public libraries and community recreational centers that offer programs  specifically for home-schooled children.  Do you have reservations about teaching a subject that is not exactly your strong suit?  Teachers, tutors and home-schooling consultants are an option for covering subjects you feel uncomfortable teaching.  Not to mention, there is an overwhelming number of on-line classes and curriculum, along with home-made materials shared among homeschooling parents.   Finally, there is the Missouri Virtual Instruction Program (MoVIP).  This programs offers  tuition-based, on-line courses for students in grades K-12th.

Obviously, homeschooling is not the right choice for everyone, but it certainly beats pleading and persuading other districts to accept children from failing or unaccredited districts and depleting the tax revenue of neighborhoods.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Monday, October 7, 2013

Power to the Parents!

Here are ten questions to jump start your next PTA/PTO meeting....

  1. Why are the majority of America's public schools still offering African American courses as electives rather than requirements?
  2. How do certain African American girl hairstyles serve as a threat or distraction in schools? 
  3. Will we be as committed to publicly supporting, celebrating and recognizing the work and sacrifices of quality teachers as we are cursing and threatening them when we feel they have mistreated our children?
  4. What realistically explains the shortage of African American teachers?
  5. Does a Euro-centric curriculum serve any purpose for an African American child?
  6. Is the African American achievement gap fact or fiction?
  7. When will schools accept black boys' classroom "aggression" just as contributory as their school athleticism?  
  8. What is the Parent Trigger Law and how does it benefit my child?
  9. How might I consistently volunteer at my child's school?
  10. How can I organize a home library/study area for my child?

Organized parents do have the power...Let's use it!

Friday, October 4, 2013

"What's my grade in here?!"

Report card time is quickly approaching and teachers are preparing to make comments and tally up points/ scores for demonstrating their students' achievement.  I don't personally care for grading my students; the measuring scale is too rigid and punitive for my teaching taste.  Back during my regular classroom days at the high school level, I created a grading/scoring guide that assigned each A B C D F  letter grade a word (that had the same beginning letter and meaning as the grade itself).  I then personified the word by assigning it human-like characteristics and qualities which clearly and vividly described the holistic performance of an A B C D or F student.   By using colorful figurative language to "show" students the expectations for earning a particular grade, rather than using only cold and calculating numbers, my students knew exactly what to expect.   They could simply measure their own performance by choosing which A B C D or F descriptive category best matched their quarterly performance.

This approach prevented me from having to grade every single work assignment for the purpose of averaging grades, and it afforded me the opportunity to give students credit for making incremental improvements in their learning, while assessing their class attitude, involvement, attendance and citizenship at the same time.  The grading strategy also prevented me from punishing students who neglected to achieve learning objectives before some systematic standardized cut-off time, but who clearly gave it their BEST.  This approach served as a win-win; for, as a Communication Arts teacher, I assigned a plethora of challenging work, but not always for a grade to be averaged.  I preferred to create work for the purpose of motivating, challenging, engaging, and THINKING!

Of course, there are students who loved it and those that hated it...can't expect to please or win them all.  I am, however, grateful for this particular group of 2003 Cleveland High School seniors who appreciated and remembered enough to describe and elect my class as the Best English Class!

So ask yourself:  Am I rewarding my students' book answers or brainy questions?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Who's Who Teaching in the Lou

Shake them TeacHaters off!

Believe it or not....there is some unofficial form of initiation, pledging or "crossing over" that many teachers  undergo before they are fully accepted as faculty members.  It may sound ridiculous given how emotionally and physically draining the job has become.  Why would any teacher choose to make one of the toughest jobs even harder by not sharing their successful track record secrets with rookie teachers?  Especially since, the weakness and chaos of one ineffective teacher threatens the solidarity and strength of the entire student body.  Uhhh...yes...there is only one school name and test score!  So why on school earth would a teacher make public attempts to assist and orientate new recruits while secretively sabotaging their success or making bets against their longevity?   Shame...Shame...Shame!  Bad Teacher...Bad Teacher!

Of course there are exceptions, where teachers go over and beyond the call of duty to mentor and support new teachers.  However, in a field as stressful as teaching, there is absolutely NO room or excuses for mean professionals who serve as initiators, bullies and dream snatchers.   But unfortunately, however, they do exist.  So if you are a new teacher who happens to be the weakest link this school year and your classroom neighbors are impatiently awaiting your early burnout in order to collect on their bet about you not surviving past the first week...let alone the first is a list of steps to help you stay your course:

  1. Invite someone from outside the school to observe your classroom delivery, organization, management and student relationships.  Make sure you are willing and ready to accept their constructive criticism.
  2. Reevaluate your reasons for choosing teaching as a career in the first place and decide if it truly matches your passion and skill set.  It is better to be a sane quitter than an evil and crazy ass veteran who really hates children but stays and anticipates retirement each year.
  3. Get back on your grind by revisiting some of the basic principles of classroom management.  Harry Wong is a cool start, but challenge yourself to really understand the depth of adolescent and child psychology.  And furthermore, start to journal and document your own stats and strategies. 
  4. Surround yourself with those that really love the job!  Avoid the burnouts, gossipers and complainers.  There really is a Law of Attraction.
  5. Spice up your reputation by teaching or sponsoring a hobby or activity that you really love as an after-school or lunch club. 
  6. Avoid sending your problems outside the classroom, unless it is life-threatening.  You only weaken your position and effectiveness when you just throw students out your class.  Usually the most difficult students are covering some kind of insecurity or is your job to expose it in a loving and supportive manner.  Even if it means you catch them off guard by making a surprise visit by their home, lunch table, recess or after-school activity.  Just make a point of lovingly harassing a disruptive student during their free time.
  8. Avoid bribing with extrinsic rewards.  Affirming words of encouragement, sincere compliments, real talk and tough love go a long way in this business.  
  9. Make sure your hygiene and breath are in check, along with your cleavage and ass prints.  You must check your thirst for attention at the doorstep of your home.  Don't even bring it to the parking lot of the school.  Too many people are beginning to associate HOES with teachers.  This is not good!  If you are still trying to live out your high school or college reputations...STOP IT! You must assume the ADULT position at all times.  Sorry! 
  10. Make sure that you have really mastered a lesson before teaching it.  Where has all the scholarship among teachers gone?  So what you have multiple degrees.  Have you mastered your craft through self-study and discipline? There are too many educators NOT honing their talents through rigorous self-study and development! 
I think ten is enough to at least get you off the hit and hater's list!  Now go and get 'em teacher tiger!