Scared Kids, Scareder Kids, Scaredest Kids

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I believe that fall-out from the technological changes of the last two decades includes a relaxation in our attempts to protect children from worrisome information. While middle schools may still send home forms before showing “R” or even “PG-13” rated films, and they still try to block websites, those schools don’t try nearly as hard as in the past. Parents may not be trying as hard, either. For one thing, so many students have full internet access on their phones that blocking websites and screening bad language does not seem particularly practical.

Let me pose a few questions: Are you watching the news? Does the news fascinate you? Does the news concern you right now? Does it even scare you? Imagine if you were eight, or ten, or twelve or sixteen and could put almost none of that news into context. Suppose you had no idea which opposing commentator knew the facts. Given that lawyers are battling questions of legality in open forums, it’s safe to say that even adults don’t understand the legalities of the current situation.

Eduhonesty: Pull out the Star Wars Monopoly game. Pull out the old Xbox games and controllers. Go out for pizza or ice cream. The political news right now can be a bit too fascinating. I am recommending we view the news, if we must, after the little kids go to sleep. Parents, you know your older children. If you want to have discussions with them about current events, and you think they can handle those events without becoming too distressed, go for it. But let’s keep the kids in mind as we channel surf.

Did Roosevelt Rescue the Japanese?

All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent. Thomas Jefferson

I would like to preface this post by saying that the Japanese internment camps during World War II represented an inexcusable and sickening act of racism. I would not want this post to be interpreted in any other manner. Nevertheless, a ninety-year-old man said something fascinating to me yesterday. In his words:

2016-08-22 19.18.25(I know he does not look that old, but he is.)

“People don’t get it. Roosevelt rescued the Japanese. People hated them right then. Thousands of young, American soldiers had been killed by a sneak attack on a Sunday morning when people were supposed to be in church. People were ready to lynch those Japanese. Roosevelt did the best thing he could for them when he got them out of the way. If he hadn’t, things would have gotten ugly. Their homes would have been burned and neighbors would have hurt or even murdered some of them. I don’t know why nobody ever talks about that.”

The man in question is no fan of Roosevelt. He can’t stand F.D.R.even now, which is curious since he acknowledges the Christmas turkey came from government charity and many people he knew were working government jobs, after the Depression had taken away their livelihoods.

This post has little to do with education and if readers are baffled by my post, I am writing this down because I thought I might be hearing a buried historical truth. Maybe America ducked a bullet. Maybe those internment camps prevented America from coming face to face with the racism that can be stirred up in a susceptible population — prevented us from learning that as a group we might be capable of the kind of racism that can’t be buried in the past under the simple heading, “Japanese Internment Camps, an awful government mistake.” We can sanitize those camps, point our fingers elsewhere. It wasn’t us, we can say, just a relatively small group of bureaucrats.

It comes down to this: Who are we? What are we capable of doing when passions run high enough? Angry Americans have burned two mosques in Texas in the last month. We can’t let this fact disappear in thirty-second news segments.

Eduhonesty: I wrote this post to warn readers against complacency. Sometimes the best of us act as if the world will work out for the best. Kind, gentle people can be betrayed by kindness, by their inability to believe that neighbors across the street might hate an unknown group of people enough to torch a temple of worship. We have trouble believing in monsters on Maple Street.

Readers, please speak up against the racism of this time when the occasion arises. I would so rather watch a Dr. Who marathon and let the world flow on around me, but I feel compelled to follow current events at the moment and make my voice heard. Silence can imply consent.

As I warn former students, even those with papers, not to leave the country, I do not consent.

P.S. I know we’re all crazy busy. But please share this post if you have time.

 

 

Even as I Wrote the Muslim Post…

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My last post was written before the President struck, in a dismayingly prescient piece of timing.

Let’s be clear: Our schools are filled with millions of scared and even terrified Mexican children. We just added all of our children from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen to the count. We added many Muslim children from other countries beyond those seven, as well as Muslim children from long-established, U.S. Muslim families.

We will go into Monday with so many lost and frightened children in our classrooms.

I have few words. I pray my former student Michael, who came from Syria a few years ago, is safe. The best recommendation out there right now: If you are here, don’t travel. If you want to come here, make another plan.

Not a single one of the terrorists in the 9/11 attack came from the seven selected countries if my memory serves me right. But facts don’t seem to be winning the day right now. Are tears running down the face of the Statue of Liberty?

I can tell you children are out there crying, as they wait for fathers, mothers, uncles, and friends who ended up on the wrong side of the ocean today. They are watching parents cry. In the background, I listen as a newscaster talks about a mosque that burned last night, two in Texas in the last month.

In “They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-1945,” by Milton Mayer, Chapter 1 begins with the burning of a synagogue. Let’s pray we are not entering the first chapter of our own historical drama. Iran has fired back, and our Iranian citizens will be unable to visit relatives in that country.

In the meantime, let’s hold up the kids while the dominoes fall.

Taking a Few Extra Moments for Your Muslim Students

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In scary times, we can just march forward, doing the end of January lesson plans that our team agreed upon. This post’s especially for teachers, because teachers get so busy with all the professional paperwork requirements, new administrative programs, professional development, meetings, classroom management and myriad other topics that suck up the days, evenings and week-ends.

I’d like to shine a small spotlight on our Muslim students, as crazy guys attack heroic, female cops who happen to wear traditional Muslim head garb. I don’t want to shine too large a spotlight. Many children honestly hate being the center of attention and I believe we should respect that choice. But taking a few minutes to include Muslim students, to share small connections between their lives and everybody else’s life might help us through the next few years. Perhaps taking a moment to let students show how they hold their hands as they pray and letting them share their favorite holidays. You are likely to be ahead if they answer “my birthday” or if they answer “Ramadan.”

Ducking the gargantuan lesson plans that are sometimes handed down to teachers in favor of taking a few moments to celebrate diversity will only help our students. Kids tend to believe adults. We have to break that Muslim = Terrorist connection that is being created in some circles. Among other considerations, enough of that thinking has the potential to create would-be terrorists. The kids in high school who have thug reputations regrettably often seek to prove their thugness to the world around them. Tell a kid he’s bad and keep saying he’s bad and what happens? The odds that he will decide to live up to that expectation skyrocket in my view.

Eduhonesty: A single act of racism leaves ripples that spread across the water. A single act of contempt can change a life. We have to prevent pebbles from hitting the pond whenever possible. We need to be proactive for our Muslim students.

I realize I’m preaching to the choir. Teachers overall are greater at celebrating diversity than any other group I know. But I wanted to write this because teacher workloads also are bordering on insane in some places, as teachers try to satisfy the government, the administration, and 22-page evaluation rubrics, etc. Social and character issues can get buried under that work, and sometimes only a generalized anti-bullying agenda manages to hold its own. That agenda may not be enough.

 

 

Who is Eduardo Lujan-Olivas and Why Did My Post Vanish?

img_3374I am going to make the charitable assumption that I have not been hacked and that my attributed quote from another newspaper about ASU pulling a young ‘dreamers’ scholarship caused leading search engines to shut down this post. So I’ll pull references to the article and the quote and see what happens. The story was about Eduardo Lujan-Olivas, a young, ‘undocumented’ student who lost a scholarship right before his classes at Arizona State University were about to start.

As a bilingual teacher, I can’t count how many Eduardos I have taught. These are the undocumented kids who came here as babies or toddlers, who grew up here attending our schools, and who now rest in a scary, legal limbo. Some of these students barely speak Spanish. They never “push 9 for Spanish” and they only go to Spanish-language TV to watch soccer.

Eduardo’s story deserves to be widely shared. The article, ASU pulls scholarship for ‘dreamer’ an hour before class, by

Our Eduardos live all over America. They include hard-working boys and girls who become medical assistants instead of nurses because they lack that critical social security number, as well as boys and girls who sometimes drop out of school because they do not believe they can succeed educationally or professionally without that number. While knowing no other country than the U.S., many kids are growing up without dreams because their parents, friends, family members, and even educators have shut those dreams down.

“You can’t be a nurse/teacher/police officer/etc. because you do not have a social,” they are told.

I am sympathetic to the many Americans who support enforcing our immigration laws. They are watching their country change around them and that change has happened at lightening speed. But I believe we need to create a rational path to citizenship for our Eduardos and their quasi-American counterparts. These kids and young adults only know America. If we sent them “home” in any spiritual sense, we would be sending them to places like Chicago, Philadelphia, Yakima, Laredo, San Jose, Oxnard, Albuquerque, Elgin, Phoenix, Providence, Allentown, Hartford, Newark, and Las Vegas, among countless other big and little burbs.

All politics aside, these children are America’s children. They are nobody else’s children. They value hard work. A number of their parents work two or more jobs to keep their households afloat. America’s undocumented children deserve a chance to contribute fully to the country they have always called home.

Eduhonesty: Eduardo managed to use crowd funding to raise the money for his education. Achievers achieve. But I thought I’d post this today because many changes have been coming at us quickly. If we want to close the borders, I will not protest. But we have left those borders porous for decades in order to get our melons picked and our burgers flipped. The children of the men and women who took advantage of our efforts to keep agricultural and factory costs down should not have to pay the price for policies that almost seem to have been designed to lure their parents across the border.*

We have created a large class of second-class citizens in this country. Now we are threatening to send them to places they don’t know, where sometimes they do not even speak the local language. Interested in a social justice cause? Consider fighting for the dreamers, young men and women who grew up here and who deserve a chance to make this country their home. I’m all for medical assistants, but we will be the better if we let our would-be nurses follow their dreams.

*In my most cynical moments, I fear that maybe those policies were designed for just that purpose — creating a useful group of indentured servants who could never buy their way free.

 

 

 

Did the Assembly Eat Gym?

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My index card was found taped at the front of the room in a third-grade classroom in an academically disadvantaged district. I believe the district may be in defiance of state law. When I left off, daily gym counted as a state requirement in Illinois. But schools with low test scores lock into fights to push their numbers up.

Every day, this school loses time to an opening assembly designed to keep students academically on-track. Students gather in the gym for team-building and pep talks. Awhile back, I wrote about another school in this district that starts the day with an assembly. I still recall my favorite line: “Every student has a right to learn and every teacher has a right to teach.”

I’d say the assemblies work. The kids know expectations and almost all of them deliver. They sit and listen. They chant and cheer when they are supposed to chant and cheer.

But that assembly — I have never observed an equivalent assembly in high-scoring districts where I substitute — has to come from somewhere. Do the assemblies eat gym? Are they counted as the obligatory daily gym?

To be continued tomorrow after I go out into the world to check a few details…

(Or as Jim Carrey said in “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” “If I’m not back in five minutes, wait longer.”)

Funny Second Grade Math for the Day

 

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Great moment in second grade mathematics: I am going over assignments with five students and I show “Ellie” a problem she had gotten wrong. I help her to understand that this story problem amounts to twenty take away eight. I write the problem down for her.

I say, “Now, how do you do that?”

She studies it for awhile and then she says firmly:

“It can’t be done.”

My Husband — Right and Wrong about the $$$

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I subbed in a second-grade classroom yesterday, a cheery, book-filled room in a middle- to upper-middle class suburb. My hours flew by, that proverbial cakewalk in a land of plenty. I commented to my husband on the academic virtuosity of my twenty-some charges and the resulting ease of my day. Many of those kids can add three-digit numbers. They read and write in clear, legible prose.

He came back with a comment I’ve heard often before: “It’s the parents. That’s why those kids will always do better than the kids in…” he named an academically scary suburb. He went on to observe that giving more money to the scary suburb would never solve its academic problems and would not catch those children up to students in more prosperous suburbs near them.

He’s right. He’s wrong. I don’t think we can catch up academically- and financially-disadvantaged students by simply giving schools money. Readers know I believe in extending the school year and day for students who have fallen significantly behind the pack. But that’s another post.*

My husband’s right that students with actively involved, motivated parents enter school at an advantage, sometimes a gargantuan advantage. I’d bet most of the kids in yesterday’s classroom started kindergarten knowing rudimentary writing and math, as well as many more vocabulary words on average than inner-city counterparts. The research supports this vocabulary gap. In some zip codes, kids overall enter school with thousands more words at their disposal than kids in other zip codes.

Here’s where I think my husband my be wrong: The research also shows that those kids in zip codes with larger vocabularies keep learning new words faster and that the documented vocabulary gap widens with time. We don’t close the achievement gap. We can’t even keep the gap from expanding.

Money might help address that widening of the gap. Let me offer a few examples from yesterday: I had a teaching assistant to help me with these twenty-five second-graders. I also had a teaching assistant when I acted as a kindergarten teacher in the same district a few days ago. These assistants were not the one-on-one paraprofessionals that sometimes can be found in financially-disadvantaged districts, hired to help seriously autistic or otherwise handicapped children who cannot function without aid. No, these teaching assistants were specifically hired to help the whole classroom.Because of yesterday’s teaching assistant, I was able to do small group and individual math tutoring while the TA wandered the room making certain other students were on task with their independent work. That small group work and tutoring often does not happen in disadvantaged schools, or it is scheduled after school when students may opt not to attend or parents may be unable to pick them up.

Because of yesterday’s TA, we managed to almost seamlessly follow the teacher’s lesson plan. We did not do any make-work. We did not color or fill out worksheets. We practiced spelling, writing, and math without a break from the day before. In effect, these students lost no learning time. The TA knew exactly where the kids needed to pick up their lessons. She knew all their routines.

In poor districts, extra aides can seldom be found. My last middle school had one single aide to cover every bilingual class in the school. I saw her for a few minutes in the morning and at the end of the day. (I cleverly trapped her coat in my closet, thus ensuring her return.) Absent that knowledgeable teaching assistant —  and not a single regular teacher in that district ever had an aide in my experience except to help severely disabled students — teachers must leave relatively foolproof plans — plans that leave students treading water rather than moving forward.

Why are students in less-advantaged districts filling out worksheets filled with familiar material? A Spanish teacher often does not know if her substitute will be able to speak Spanish. A chemistry teacher may be lucky to find an available replacement who has studied chemistry. Even when a substitute possesses necessary content knowledge, that sub may not have access to technology, or previous experience with materials or the specific content of that week’s lesson. To be safe, sub plans usually involve review of previous lessons, with provisions for students helping each other.

Teachers are out so often nowadays that I believe these differences are becoming magnified. I like to sub half-days. Most of these days come from meetings, especially data meetings, testing and professional development. It’s rare that I cover for someone with a doctor or dentist appointment. Kids in wealthy districts lose less learning time overall because of those teaching assistants, along with high levels of available technology.

And, oh, those little white boards made me sad yesterday. One year, I had those white boards, purchased from the Bilingual Director’s funds. I loved those little white boards with their markers. The kids loved them. I’d write problems on the board and kids would solve the problems on their boards as fast as they could. I usually gave rewards for finishing quickly or showing progress. Everyone enjoyed using the markers and erasers. Unfortunately, my financially-struggling district only gave me money for supplies during two of the last seven years, and with strings attached. For example, I could order out of one bilingual catalog.

I am sure some years I spent four figures on my classroom if we throw in cartridges for printers that were never supported and emergency food supplies. I don’t intend to whine, I’ll just observe that I did not use those little white boards often despite their utility and the kids’ interest. While the actual cost of a 9″ x 12″ dry-erase lap board runs only a few dollars. the damn markers can kill a budget. Good markers run about $1.00 apiece and cheaping out only creates trouble. Markers from dollar stores run dry in no time

Eduhonesty: In the land of plenty, bags of markers and even little erasers are everywhere. Sigh. So are IPads. Done with the work? Those middle- and upper-middle class kids have educational apps and software to burn. I can follow the lesson plan and direct the kids to useful software if they finish their work. They tend to follow directions, too. They are so used to software that they are not cheating to try to find games or entertainment. Online games and entertainment may still be scarcities in financially-challenged zip codes, but not in that comfortable zip code where I taught yesterday.

While parents remain huge factors in educational attainment, money may be much more important than many educational leaders and righteous parents acknowledge. Those kids in Zip Code $$$$ have so many more advantages than the kids in Zip Code $. The Devil is always in the details. The Devil is in those bags of markers. Marker running dry? In my classroom yesterday, all a boy or girl had to do was run to the Bag of Endless Markers.

I assure readers, the Bag of Endless Markers matters. We can’t quantify how much that bag matters, but not everything needs to be a statistic or number to count.

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*By the way, welcome new readers. A fair number of people seem to have appreciated my last post. Please share that post on “Green Card Number Two” with friends. A special greeting to all the new readers in Poland.

In the Shoes of Green Card Number Two

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(Click on pic for a better view.)

If you have not read my previous post, you should probably go there first. My last post was (gasp!) a bit of a rant, but I want to return to one small snippet of my venting. In my picture above, the second green card down has only three stars. Three-star student stands alone at the bottom of the class.

Please, readers take a moment to put yourself in that student’s shoes. How does it feel to be three-star student? No matter how much we work on three-star students “mindset” — to use one of the latest buzz words — can we honestly protect three-star student from feeling dumb? Humiliated? Embarrassed whenever he looks at that board?

Imagine a classroom. Do we really believe that no other students have remarked on those stars? “Wow, you only got three! Can’t you read or something?” I don’t know what the kids said, but I am sure they have not been mute. When the teacher hears those remarks, I am sure he leaps in to do damage control. But teachers miss chunks of conversation all day. Kids also become adept at knowing when they can work in digs. That’s part of why bullying remains such an incalcitrant problem.

We have set this kid up to be bullied. With luck, he has superior social skills. Some kids can manage a set-up like this, turning the stars into one big joke to make fellow students laugh. Some kids are so much fun that popularity creates a shield around them, preventing stars on green cards from affecting their social status. But the wrong kid with these three stars has entered a world of hurt.

Readers, please be eight- or nine-years-old for a moment. Look up that chart. You get to look at it every day all year. How does that chart make you feel?

 

When the Anxiety Becomes Too Much

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(Click pic for a better view. I put the wacky purple streaks in above to disguise names written by hand by students on the cards that show their MAPTM –— Measures of Academic Progress benchmark test — score progress — or lack of progress. Data walls are all the rage now. If you are “Purple Streak Number Eight, you can see exactly how you are doing in comparison to everyone else. You can see that you have four stars and “Norman” has eleven. These kids are third graders. They know exactly where they stand in relation to other students in the class. Some rooms use codes or numbers to disguise student names, but in my experience everyone quickly learns everyone else’s code, especially in early elementary rooms. These are kids who tattle when their seat partner touches someone else’s pencil, after all. Tattling and sharing are second nature to early elementary-age kids. Older kids just enjoy code breaking and uncovering secrets.)

I never suffered from test anxiety in elementary school, middle school, or high school. I might have had nervous testing periods, but I was never afraid to go to class or even school because I had a test. I had the advantage of being good at tests, but I also had the advantage of being young during a saner time. I never spent weeks preparing for an annual state test. I was never told those results might affect my entire future.

I also took a lot fewer tests, and tests that offered more chances for success. Spelling tests and many math tests never required “critical thinking” skills. I had to remember where the letters went. I had to know the order of mathematical operations. By studying, I could be ready for my test. I expected  no curveballs. The spelling words were the spelling words, and I could prepare myself or not. My tests seldom required critical thinking in elementary school. By middle school, questions were becoming tougher. What was the advantage to separation of powers in the Constitution? What were some possible disadvantages? I might have to give at least three examples and explain my reasoning. But I was older. I was ready for critical thinking challenges.

My journey into the past stems from this morning’s musing. I know a scared graduate student who just finished five one-hour math finals in two days. I am watching text messages flow out to support this girl who is terrified she may have failed “too many” questions. She was terrified going into those tests. She has been worried all semester.

I wonder how many students are feeling like this girl. How many young men and women have been set-up by testing today? The current emphasis on data has led to a great many more “important” tests. When teacher evaluations, retention and bonuses become based on test score improvements, teachers naturally attempt to get students to take all benchmark and state tests extremely seriously. The topic never drops away for any length of time. Those benchmark scores are often seen on data walls like the one above.*

Eduhonesty: Before we get too rah-rah hoo-hah about the joys of data, I’d like to ask teacher readers and others to put themselves in the shoes of four-star boy. Or even eleven-star boy. What are we doing to these kids?

Schools are teaching resilience and coping skills today as never before. My great fear, however, is that resilience may not always be teachable. Yes, I benefit from meditation. My students benefit from exercise, yoga and positive affirmations. But we all exist in many different continua and in spaces along different spectra. Anxiety disorders are spectrum disorders, for example. That’s why some people take no Prozac, while others suffering from panic disorder may start at an initial dose of 10 mg orally once a day, increased after one week to 20 mg orally once a day. A number will end up taking the listed daily maximum dose of 60 mg orally.

How much and how often are we scaring our students? We don’t know. For that matter, how stupid are we making them feel? How inferior? How lost and even sometimes panicked?

We desperately need to rein in this newfound thirst for Data. Readers, please search “drugs taken for severe test anxiety.” The drugs of choice are beta blockers, benzodiazepines, and antidepressants. The first two classes of drugs can be taken the day of the test, but antidepressants become a daily commitment. Benzodiazepines like Xanax also carry risks of dependency. By high school, too many kids are reaching for these last resorts, or a simple bong if all else fails.

And all this data that districts suddenly think they need? We got along without that data thirty years ago and our students today do not seem to know appreciably more than students thirty years ago. Our own data can be used to prove this.

In the meantime, the pharmaceutical industry appears to be the only clear winner in this picture.

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*I don’t want to appear to be criticizing the man who put up this data board. I believe his Principal was told those classroom data boards were required by outside district administrators, men and women in air-conditioned offices who seldom watch their district’s kid’s faces.