Friday, December 23, 2016

What Does Teaching "Look" Like?

Last semester I took an advanced seminar in Instruction and Teacher Education. Below is a (slightly modified and shortened) reflection from the first week of class. We read large portions of Lortie’s SchoolTeacher. Leaving aside any criticisms, critiques, or insights from the book, I want to share a few questions I think we should ponder.

Image Source: User martaposemuckel,

Lortie’s (1975/2002) Schoolteacher: A Sociological Study seeks to answer an almost trivial question — what does it mean to be a public school teacher in the United States? At first glance this is a trite question. We all know what teachers do. One might argue, as Lortie does, that there is not a more visible or witnessed profession in the United States.

Students (and by extension the whole public) learn about teaching mostly from watching the actions of their own classroom teachers. Years and years of classroom experience sketch, rather permanently, an emblematic caricature of the typical classroom educator. Lortie wrote, “teaching is unusual in that those who enter it have had exceptional opportunity to observe member of the occupation at work; unlike most actions today, the activities of teachers are not shielded from youngsters” (Lortie, 2002, p. 65).

The problem with this sketch is that it’s drawn from only one perspective, that of the student. The student sees but the first layer, the ephemeral actions, of the teacher. What lays unseen are the hours of classroom preparation, the late evening continuing education courses, the family phone calls, the administration emails, the professional reading, the sleepless nights trying to figure out how to serve thy students. I could go on and on. What also remains unseen are the deep thoughts, the intellectual challenges, the ethical decisions, the very real work of the heart and the mind.

“What students learn about teaching is intuitive and imitative…This limited vantage point relies heavily on imagination” producing the feeling that ultimately anyone can “do a reasonably accurate portrayal of a classroom teacher’s actions” (Lortie, 2002, p. 62, 63). Thus, the perceived understandings of classroom teaching become normed by the general public. The literal perception of the teacher proves to be the ordering image that future teachers, parents, and policy-makers will never go beyond.

The normed expectations both structure and reinforce the structures of the schoolteacher. A vicious cycle repeats itself, teachers teach the way they were taught. Other people expect teachers to teach the way they were taught. Labaree (2000) uses similar rationale to explain why teaching is a job that “seems easy” (p. 231). Heck, we’ve all seen what its about.

Two and a half questions emerge from this:

  • What does teaching look like? Do we need to change what teaching looks like? 
  • How do we show people what they cannot see? 

While my class post explored some answers to the questions, I am going to leave it here. What do think?

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Labaree, D. F. (2000). On the nature of teaching and teacher education difficult practices that look easy. Journal of teacher education, 51(3), 228–233.

Lortie, D. (1975). Schoolteacher: A sociological study. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Monday, December 12, 2016

When Schooling Subtracts…

“School subtracts resources from youth in two major ways. First, it dismisses their definition of education which is not only thoroughly grounded in Mexican culture, but also approximates the optimal definition of education advanced by Noddings (1984) and other caring theorists. Second, subtractive schooling schooling encourages subtractively assimilationist policies and practices that are designed to divest Mexican students of their culture and language.” (Valenzuela, 1999, p.20)

Image Source: User meineresterampe, 

It is easy to use the words education and school interchangeably. For most of my life I did. Now I hesitate to do so. School is an institution. Quite frankly, it speaks to a prescribed and systematized curriculum, type of learning, and socialization process. Leaving aside (for now) the inherent political and sociological contestations of this system, one hopes that if you progress through school you posses a certain type of education. This education according to different folks is supposed to make you a good person, or a good citizen, or a good worker, or now-a-days a good STEMist.

But there are different types of education. Education is not limited to the school. There is the education inherent in one’s community. There is the education inherent in one’s family. There is the education inherent in one’s culture. There is the education inherent in clubs. There is the education inherent in religion. There is education inherent in the medical clinic, the after-school program, the sports team, the museum…

You get the idea.

Schools, though, often claim a monopoly on education. This makes sense. Their whole purpose after all is to educate the child. Schools have a recognizable type of education. Cynically, one could simplify this to the “game of school”. Using academic speak, you could call this the “grammar of schooling”. If you identify, understand, and follow the rules, chances are you get to keep playing. The longer you play, the better you do.

But what if the school’s type of education is in opposition to the other types of education a child receives? 

What if one was forced to choose between the school’s type of education and, say, their communities’ or their families’ or their cultures’? 

These are questions that Angela Valenzuela took up in her classic book Subtractive Schooling. She wrote about a conversation with one student, Frank. Frank was described by teachers as a C-student (let’s leave aside the fact that teachers still designate students this way as if it is an inherent quality), one working way below his potential. In fact, teachers claimed Frank to be a brilliant thinker. Unfortunately, they also characterized him as passive, indifferent, and apathetic. Frank saw things differently. He said that the school prized individualism and competition, a type of “caring” Frank resisted. He saw this traditional notion of school “caring” in opposition to the concerns of others and the community. Frank explained:

“I don’t get with the program because then it’s doing what they [teachers] want for my life. I see Mexicanos who follow the program so they can go to college, get rich, move out of the barrio, and never return to give back to their gente [people]. Is that what this is all about?” (Valenzuela, 1999, p. 94). 

This “out-of the barrio” motif (Valenzuela, 1999, p. 95) is rooted in deficit approaches to communities, peoples, and students. Deficit models basically hold that students need to be fixed. In plain terms, their myriad types of educations are lacking and not worthy of a place at the “official home” of education — school. Deficit models hold potential student strengths as weaknesses. One of the most common manifestations of this is language, although I could just as easily use home-life stereotypes, motivation of students, clothing, etc. Rather than seeing a home language other than English as an asset, or an advantage, schools typically frame it as a problem to be remedied. And thus the child becomes a problem as well. The idea is to make students English proficient as quickly as possible, even if this means damage to a first language. Extreme programs like “English only” and rapid “Americanization,” as well as more implicit ones, force students to make a decision. Do I erase my culture and ways of knowing for their type of education? For so many of us, we didn’t have to make such a decision. On the other hand, it is sad that so many do.

Image Source: User qimono,

In his must-read book For White Folks… Chris Emdin talks about the structures in schools that “do not lend themselves to giving students a voice or space in which to be valued and respected for their experiences” (p. 66). Similarly, educator Chris Lehmann wrote, “If we want kids to care about their education, we are going to have to encourage their passions. If we want kids to believe in themselves, we will have to help them build on their strengths, not just mitigate their weaknesses”. Yes, this can be very, very hard work. There is not a standard curriculum. There is not a set of “best practices”. There is not a professional development series that achieves instant success. It is more than a cultural day or a lesson plan template. It takes honest reflection. It takes a willingness to change. It takes real vulnerability. It takes humility to say — what I think is right might not be. Our type of education is not the only type. Or gasp — even the best type.

It is even harder for educators who were successful in this system to recognize that it might not be successful for all. I know that is super hard for me to do even though I struggled and resisted at various points in my schooling. It is also something that I find myself grabbling with more and more. Recognizing the types of education that honor, that uplift, that empower all students should be a central focus of teachers and schools. If we are not doing that we need to check ourselves right soon. Without a more thoughtful response schools might continue to subtract from students as they claim the exact opposite.

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Moving Beyond Surface Level Digital Pedagogy

“Can you guess what this is?” by Macroscopic Solutions; CC BY-NC 2.0

I am doing my best to post something each Friday. This week check out a longer read I worked on for the Hybrid Pedagogy community. In the piece, I created a fictional composite narrative based on personal experience through my Master’s program, teacher credentialing, social media use, doctoral work, and continued classroom K-12 teaching to explore the need for graduate schools of education to teach critical digital pedagogy.

Article: Beyond Surface Level Digital Pedagogy

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Failing is a Privilege

Image Source: User dimitrisvetsikas1969,

When my grandfather was twelve he worked alongside his family gathering prunes under the baking Northern California sun. A boss told him to take a truck into town and bring back supplies. My grandfather obeyed. It was not out of the ordinary for him to do this. He lived in the country and had learned to drive young. On his way to the city he noticed a police officer trail behind him. My grandfather was pulled over. The officer started to interrogate him.

In the midst of the questioning the police officer got an emergency call. The man told my grandfather to stay put. He would come back to him after taking care of the emergency. As soon as the officer was out of sight my grandfather drove as fast as possible back to the farm. He knew he couldn’t risk dealing with the officer.

My grandfather couldn’t afford to fail.

Fast forward 50 years. I am sitting in the principal’s office of my high school. I had just messed up in a bad way, like a really bad way. This was basically a zero tolerance offense. Luckily, the principal talked to my parents and let me off with a suspension and a string of Saturday school appointments. The private school I was at decided I was worth another shot.

I was allowed to fail. I didn’t realize it at the time.

Heck, I didn’t realize it until recently. I am the product of quite a bit of privilege. My father is Latino. My mother is white. I am light-skinned. I was able to “hide” my identity growing up. There were advantages to being white. That much I knew.

I yearned to fit in with my white classmates. It was so cool to be Italian I thought. To have nice cars. To live in a huge home. To take foreign vacations. I didn’t want to be Mexican. I couldn’t face the ridicule and hatred leveled against “the Mexicans”. I wasn’t one of them. I didn’t have an accent. I didn’t know Spanish. I cringed every time my dad spoke Spanish with his friends. I begged him not to listen to “Mexican” music in the car. In fact, as a middle schooler I actively resisted Spanish class. My parents could not believe it when I brought home an “F” in Spanish on a progress report.

It hurts me to think about all that I lost because I wanted to be white. Chances I missed connecting with my family. Chances I missed to learn Spanish better. Chances I missed to not feel so lost and broken as a teenager. I was torn away from my family’s culture. At the same time it allowed me to fail and fail and fail and fail. I was always given a second chance. Even if it was my tenth. Many years ago my grandfather didn’t have that privilege.

I wrote once about how we need to allow failure in the classroom. I still believe this to be true. Kids need to feel that they can mess up. Kids need to feel like they can take chances. Kids need to be able to express their creativity. At the same time I think the statement is absolutely naive. Some kids already get many chances to fail. I did. Getting chance after chance is a major aspect of white privilege.

Image Source: User Shannonmatthew,

Not everyone “gets” to fail. If you are a student of color you have to be perfect. Think about the standardized test that plays an over-sized role in determining an accelerated or remedial course. You better not fail. Think about the rates of suspension and expulsion. You better not fail. Think about use of force incidents on campuses. You better not fail. Think about using a word the teacher doesn’t know. You better not fail. Think about hiding the fact your parents are undocumented. You better not fail.

Yes, an individual teacher can and should allow failure throughout their lessons, projects, units, and “discipline” systems. We must also recognize that students of color function within a larger system that gives them absolutely no chance to fail.

There is a popular narrative that urges educators to worry about sheltered students. The ones who have always triumphed. What will happen to them when they face adversity? Will they be great entrepreneurs if they are always asking what to do? They are too scared of failure to succeed. I have said that myself. The truth is most of those students will be just fine. The cards are stacked in their favor.

But what if we flipped the script? Attempted to look at things from another viewpoint. Who is really scared to fail? It’s not the student who might get their first B. It’s the student who knows that one misstep might cost them everything. It’s the student who knows that upsetting the teacher might jeopardize the small chance they have.

All people do not get to fail equally. Being allowed to fail is a privilege.

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Monday, July 18, 2016

Whose Knowledge Counts?

For my newest installation of Book Spine Poetry I venture to my parent's garage to critique who owns the school curriculum.

As Tara Yosso wrote, "The school is really just telling you whose knowledge counts and whose knowledge is discounted in an already unequal U.S. society."

European History, Western Civilization

Cultural Literacy

The Power and the Glory

Heart of Darkness?

A Midsummer Night's Dream?

¿Habla EspaƱol? 

Why Isn’t Teaching ‘Enough’?

Thoughts on teacherpreneurs, the teacher as intellectual leader, and what is important to me right now.  (*This piece was recently posted on

“I want to be more than a teacher.”

This is a loaded statement for sure, but one I hear (in different iterations) quite often. There is a popular feeling among practitioners, the public, and (even) the education space that being a teacher is a stepping stone, or even an entry level position... Read more

Thursday, June 16, 2016

What does an A, B, C actually mean? (Update)

Image Source: User Geralt,

I have blogged about education, teaching, and learning for close to seven years. Consistently, this post I wrote more than five years ago on grading remains one of my most popular pieces. As I wrapped up another school year a few weeks ago, I reread this post in the context of report card season and my current doctoral studies.

Reflecting on my thoughts in the post, I realize that I still struggle with grading. I still think that most competition in K-8 education is harmful. I still think we over-value a limited amount of skills. I still think many grades are not true reflections of learning. As Oakes (1985) wrote:

“What we have seen is the apparent unfairness in the school experience itself…How is track placement likely to influence the life courses of students? To explore these latent consequences of tracking and the issue of meritocracy, it is useful to revisit the ideas of Bowles and Gintis and others whose work has touched on the question of schools as meritocratic sorters. This group of social scientists has suggested that the function of schooling is not to provide a meritocratic avenue to success in adult life. To the contrary, they view schools as serving primarily to reproduce the current inequities of our social, political, and economic systems” (pp. 89, 90). 

There is however one MAJOR aspect I would like to add to my thoughts below. That is how grading and competition reinforces educational injustice and inequity, especially among students of color. Grades, standardized tests, and other accountability measures justify the unjust practice of tracking. Tracking directly influences the schooling outcomes of students and guarantees additional resources go to middle and upper class white students. Referring specifically to students of color, Yosso (2006) summed it up:

“The common practice of rigid ability grouping in these early grades leads to lower academic achievement for Chicana/o students” (p. 22). 

Yosso added:

“Within these segregated schools, Chicano/a students continue to be “tracked” into courses of study that tend to follow a remedial or vocational trajectory. On “regular”, vocational, or terminal English-as-a-Second Language tracks, schools underprepare and discourage Chicano/a students from pursuing a higher education” (p. 58). 

NPR recently ran a story titled The Civil Rights Problem In U.S. Schools: 10 New Numbers and offered additional information about tracking and disproportional representation in advanced and gifted classrooms:

Fewer than 3 percent of English language learners are in gifted programs, though they make up 11 percent of students at the schools that offer those programs. Similar disparities exist for black and Hispanic students.

Black and Latino students make up 38 percent of those enrolled at schools that offer AP courses — but less than a third of students taking AP courses. Similar disparities were found in advanced math and science courses like chemistry, physics, algebra II and calculus.

 Original Post from March 29, 2011


Image Source: User Ajale,


What does an A, B, C actually mean?

This week marks one of the worst periods of my life as a teacher: report card week. I do not loath this week for the reasons that many teachers loath this week (extra work, long hours, etc), I hate it because grades (as presently configured) are unfair and are often unrepresentative of learning.

Full disclosure here: I don’t quite understand what the letter grades “A”, “B”, “C”, “D”, or “F” mean or stand for.  Do they really stand as a measure of understanding or rather a way to rank and judge students? If you get an “A” in a course does that mean you know the material and can think in new, innovative, and exciting ways about said content or does it mean that you outscored the rest of your peers? Let us assume it means mastery of a course or concept. Is there some magical line floating in the abyss which students must pass to reach an “A”? How does a teacher know a student passes this line of understanding or mastery from an “A” to a “B”? Presumably, this is why many teachers use percentages. But then again can you really quantify learning, abstract ideas, critical thought, creation, and the like with a percentage? Of course not. So then I am left with the question: what are letter grades, what do they mean, and how do we get them?

So then grades become a way of measuring competition. How crazy is that? Why must we have a certain amount of “A”, “B”, “C”, “D” and “F”? Is life really built on the notion of a bell curve? If I get my students turned on to learning and they get excited about a concept, all of them may produce high quality work and understanding. To then say that some of this work is not quite good enough is absurd. Am I really supposed to tell a student that has done everything asked of her that she does not deserve an “A” simply because another students did it just a bit "better"? Why is it not “A” work? As students believe grades equal worth (because of pressure by parents, society and peers alike), how devastating is it to a child who works their tale off on a project and is given a “C” just to uphold the bell curve. In an awesome blog post by Steve Miranda titled “Average” is a concept that no longer exists, he writes that the traditional notion of the bell curve is vanishing. He tells of the success of Netflix and Amazon who do big business by providing the obscure and limited. He also links to a TED talk by Malcolm Gladwell that tells the tale of the food revolution: the discovery of people wanting not one great pasta sauce but different flavors and types of pasta sauce. But schools don’t get this. Instead of valuing the most minor and obscure talents of its students, it values a small and some would say trivial amount of knowledge. We have labeled kids as “A” “B” “C” learners based on how they perform in a few subjects in relation to their peers.

Finally, we are exposing kids to competition that by its nature is not fair. The true beauty of athletic competition is that two WILLING parties of relative equal skill and potential face off against each other. Based on this idea, competition has no place in the classroom and grades just serve as a way of maintaining low self-esteem and low self-efficacy.  First, most kids don’t want school to be competition. Instead, it is the creation of the American government’s schooling policies and a few over zealous parents. Why in the world would you want a child to get ahead at the expense of another kid? In effect we are doing that with grades. They devalue collaboration and  teamwork and promote the notion that education is a zero-sum game. If knowledge is created through experience, relationships, and time how can it be zero-sum? Why do we push for a system that tells us a few kids can corner the market on knowledge and learning?

After this long-winded rant on grades I still succumb to the pressure myself. I write long comments and hold mini-conferences with students to concentrate on the learning, but in the end I often cave and give them a grade. I often tell them that thinking of only the grade robs them of truly seeing what they have done and accomplished. It is a slow process, but I see small successes. Today, I wrote long comments on an open-ended assessment and one of the kids came up to me and said, “What is my grade?” Before I could respond, a quiet kid in the front said, “who cares, we learned a ton.” Boy, was that sweet.  In order to minimize the deflation that some students experience when they learn their third quarter grades, I am going to give them a presentation showing them all the things they have done and learned this year. Before I hand out the dreaded reports cards I will say to concentrate on the things you have done not the grades that you have “earned”. In the fourth quarter we will be setting up digital portfolios, which I hope will lesson the need for grades to be more prevalent. We will wait and see. Baby steps …

Works Cited

Oakes, J. (1985). “Keeping Track,” in Classic Edition Sources: Education, 5th edition, edited by C. Kridel. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2013, pp. 89–90.

Yosso, T. (2006). Critical race counterstories along the Chicana/Chicano educational pipeline. New York: Routledge.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Where I Stand...

A few weeks ago I finished year one of my PhD program in Social Foundations of Education. Yes, I am still standing. Yes, I really enjoyed it. No, I don't know when I'm finishing.

Intellectually I can't begin to explain my growth. No seriously, I tried to explain my evolution and, well, let's just say I've had better posts. Perhaps that is the point. The waters are messy. The world of education is utterly complex. We have to learn which battles mean the most to us. We have to ask better questions. We have to find joy in the search. A year of books, conversations, classes, teachers, articles, conferences, students, partners, and writing gave me that insight.

Where am I moving? Below is an (incomplete) narrowing of topics that currently interest me:

How am I going to spend my summer?
  • With my wife and new daughter, Irie
  • Traveling to visit family and friends
  • Submitting an article on space, the IB, and my observations as a practitioner
  • Submitting an article on the need for critical digital instruction for graduate students
  • Beginning a research project on immigrant policy and education in South Carolina
  • Studying for Qualifying Exams
  • Reading, reading, reading (suggestions?)

What's next?
  • Year 2
  • Teaching middle school social studies in South Carolina
  • Improving my Spanish and passing a praxis to be certified in foreign language teaching
  • Working and learning with more great people 
  • I finished a second draft of a book about my teenage years working in farm labor and attending private schools - I have no clue what to do next with it...

If Education is the Key, Then School is the Lock

Image Source: User Stevepd,

I noticed this quote scribbled among others running up and down my student’s arm. I get this because I too used to doodle all over my hands and arms. The nuns would glance over to a whole sleeve of ink and yell at me to wash it off. “We are going to call your mother!” That was eighth grade. My student is in sixth.

I am not alarmed. Kids do this stuff. I turned out okay. I was, however, struck by the profound nature of the quote. The words meant something to the kid. Quite the mature observation, I thought. I asked her about it. I told her that I kinda agree with her. Sometimes we do a lousy job. I get it. I tried to spark a discussion, but she wasn’t interested. She said she made the words up (she probably didn’t).

 The student was trying to say something. It was her way of silent protest. She is smart enough to understand the quote. She is smart enough to know that this whole school thing is a game she is currently not interested in playing. I know this. Some students really don’t like school. It is not hard to understand why.

The student is brilliant, but struggles to complete assignments and turn in work. She is not motivated by the random facts and figures crammed down her head. She loves music. She loves to draw. She loves to analyze. She loves to discuss. She wants to create.

I try to think of assignments that interest her. She spent a month working on a Pokemon comic that explained Plato’s cave. Pretty awesome, I’d say, but then the next month she plugged in her ear phones and listened to music I wish I was cool enough to know.

A few weeks ago, we designed an independent self-study of the Renaissance. By self-study, I mean we found a bunch of Renaissance era music (luckily my advisor has a passion for obscure instruments), and she tasked herself with recreating some tracks on Garageband. This is something I can’t do, but she could. I let go, checked in with her, and tried to provide any material resources I could. I trusted her. What she was doing didn’t look, feel, or even sound like school. She was momentarily free to break the locks schools create.

It was a great moment when some of the faculty listened to her song.

Many years ago, I would have claimed to save this student. Look what I did. I knew how to get through to her. I made her successful. What hubris. Hollywood builds up education to reinforce this savior complex. One constructed on pointing out student weaknesses and deficits, jumping on desks, being super passionate, and waving a magic wand. It’s our job to save kids. We’re superheroes after all. Except that we are aren’t. It doesn’t work like that.

She was the one with the talent, passion, and skill. She had strengths usually guarded under lock and key. I tried to honor her by removing the locks, albeit briefly. This is about care and love.

Care and love must continue even as the same student returns to listening to music in the back of my class, refuses to do notes, or scribbles quotes on her arms during my ‘brilliant’ teaching and ‘magical’ class.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Moving Along a Cotinuum and Dealing with Changing Ideas

I recently posted a piece called (Please) Don't Call Me a Flip-Flopper on The goal of the piece was to work out how a public writer or blogger deals with changing and evolving beliefs. I tried to express my anxiety about confronting beliefs that I once wrote publicly about, but am now rethinking. The responses to the piece proved most helpful in clarifying my own thinking on writing in public. Most helpful was Alex Acton's suggestion of a continuum of beliefs, rather than dichotomous choices. I have posted my responses to a few people because I think it shows what I was trying to communicate originally. I also post to my original piece below.

I very much appreciate your response. It can be difficult for me to express my evolving thinking in the space of a post. Sometimes what is going on in my head comes out a bit different on paper. The process of expressing my thoughts and ideas in public helps me process and clarify my attitudes and beliefs. Your response communicated (and put into clearer language) what I was trying to say. Your use of continuum vs flip-flopping is a great descriptor of how we evolve in our thoughts and beliefs. Thanks for helping me better express what I hold to be true! 
Alex's original response to my post

Thanks for responding Charles. I appreciate you taking the time to point out where I may be incorrect (or splitting unnecessary hairs). I think my overuse (or even use) of the term flip-flip didn’t really express what I was trying to get across. It set up a sort of dichotomous thinking I wasn’t trying to advance. Alex Acton used the descriptor of a continuum to describe how our thinking moves back and forth. I like this much better than some of the wording I used. Although I may have used politicians too heavily as an analogy, I would posit that they can very rarely show change on a continuum. That’s a problem.

I think part of publishing the piece is to acknowledge that writing in public (even if my audience is quite small) leaves a public record. I was trying to work out how one deals with this record of thought and opinion, especially when thinking evolves and changes. What has been awesome is hearing from people like you (and other responses). This has helped me clarify what I was trying to say and provide suggestions for continuing to write in public. 
Charles' original response to my post

Original Post: (Please) Don't Call Me a Flip-Flopper

Friday, March 4, 2016

Forbes Created a 30 under 30 List for Education: Included Exactly Zero K-12 Teachers

Image Source: User Geralt,

A few weeks ago a teacher from my school deservedly received a Milken Educator Award. Dubbed the ‘Oscar’ of teaching, she was surprised with the honor during a rock star ceremony complete with cheering kids, public officials, and local media.

As our principal later said, “Think of the kids screaming for their teacher like she is a celebrity and thinking if I become a teacher this could happen to me.”

In a world that does little to recognize the expertise, professionalism, service, and impact of teachers, the entire show was a fresh of breath air. I couldn’t be happier for her. Even if I wasn’t standing up there, it was inspiring to see a colleague get hard earned pubic recognition. She is flat out one of the best teachers I know. She builds authentic and caring relationships with students, takes on leadership roles, and is active in the community. She is the cream of the crop, no doubt about it.

While taking nothing away from her achievement, there are so many teachers that make tremendous positive impact. They wait for the attention they will probably never see. I tend to be both skeptical and passionate about the work of teachers. I do believe that teachers must collectively “awaken” to greater consciousness as a profession, yet I also experience on a daily basis the unbelievable joy and dedication most teachers bring to their students. I digress, but simply want to get across the point that there are amazing teachers doing amazing work in the field of education. Ms. F. is but one, rather marvelous, example.

Image Source: User Geralt,

Unfortunately the work of such teachers goes mostly unnoticed. The Milken’s are an apparition not the norm. In fact, I was not surprised that Forbes’ 30 under 30 Education list included exactly zero K-12 teachers. Perhaps the title of teacher is not ‘cool’ enough. Perhaps our work is not innovative. Perhaps our work is not ‘disruptive’. Perhaps our job is that of intellectual work and public service, not sexy enough because we lack venture capital or Silicon Valley money. I wish to take nothing away from the individuals who made the list. That is not my intent. Rather, my intent is to show that the work of teachers is immensely undervalued. How could one put together such a list without recognizing at least one person who enters a classroom day in and day out?

I must admit that this narrative, one that values the entrepreneur, the policy maker, and the edtech founder above and beyond those who make teaching a career influenced me. I left full time teaching for a year to cofound an edtech company. There is nothing wrong with this. I am proud of what I did, what I built, and the choice I made. I learned a ton and had the chance to talk to all sorts of people in education. Yet I must be honest. Part of the reason I left was because I thought I needed to do something more than teach. I needed to do something bigger, something better. I was wrong. While I may not be a teacher forever, I returned to the classroom because I missed the daily connection with students and colleagues. I missed the very important work I was doing. Even when that work was tough, discouraging, and exhausting, I knew it mattered.

While we (classroom teachers) work day in and day out to do the best we can, our work is constantly slammed by politicians and policy makers. We are viewed as inferior. We are asked to take on more and more work. We are treated like disempowered technicians and demoralized automatons. Our work is controlled and scrutinized. There is an intensification and proletarianization of our profession (Apple, 1986). Standardization, testing, and so called ‘teacher-proof’ curriculum try to strip us of our agency. Too often ‘innovations’ and ‘disruptions’ make this push more effective and efficient. This is part of the reason I stepped away from the allure of edtech. I am not sure if these celebrated innovations will mean much unless we tackle underlying inequities based on class and race. Those in power think we can ignore these realities with cute apps and fancy computers. Teachers know we cannot. Everybody has an idea to make teaching better, but very few listen to the teacher or the community.

I understand Forbes serves a certain audience. I understand that education is much larger than the K-12 system. I applaud and congratulate those who made the list. Kudos! I hope their work helps improve the lives of children around the country and the world. Congratulations are also in store for the game changers we neglect, those fabulous teachers that work to build the hearts, minds, and souls of the students they encounter everyday. Schools and teachers must be responsive to their communities and students, not just the marketplace (Brantlinger, 2003). I am so happy my colleague was celebrated in such a way. She is a leader. She is an inspiration. I learn from her each day. She is da bomb. But there are more like her. They may not make lists or stockpile awards, but their labor is the foundation of the future of our world.


Brantlinger, E. (2003). Dividing Classes: how the middle class negotiates and rationalized school advantage. New York, London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Apple, M. W. (1986). “Controlling the Work of Teachers,” in The Curriculum Studies Reader, 4th edition, edited by D.J. Flinders & S.J. Thornton. New York: Routledge, 2013.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Why Change?

Image Source: User Riddin,

Margaret Willis (1899–1987, see Were We Guinea Pigs?, Stories from the Eight-Year Study), a progressive educator, believed that teachers (and schools) needed to turn away from the repetitive, the monotonous, the rote, and the standardized. Willis chose to live the life of intellectual adventurer, a choice she advocated other educators to embrace. Willis said, “one of the poorest criteria would be that an individual has been so happy and secure in a stereotyped learning situation that he goes on perpetuating it” (Kridel and Bullough, 2007, p. 205).

Although I agree with Willis, I believe many teachers choose the profession because they have positive recollections of their schooling experience. They were at peace playing the game of school, being compliant, and doing the safe. They create the same experience for their students. Thus, education becomes a reproductive force, rather than a transformative one. The system worked for them. Why wouldn’t it work for their students?

If this is, indeed, the case, why would educators see the need for a different type of schooling? Why would teachers have an interest in changing instruction, curriculum, or structures when they worked for them?

Many people demand educational and social change (for good reason), but we forget that many others ask why change?


Willis vignette: Kridel, C. & Bullough, Jr., R. V. (2007). Stories of the Eight Year Study: Rethinking Schooling in America. Albany: SUNY Press, pp. 203–209.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

My One Teaching Resolution for 2016

Image Source: User Skeeze,

A new year brings the promise of renewal and positive change. The hope for a fresh start commonly manifests itself in the form of resolutions. Teachers are not immune to such acts. In 2014, I boldly proclaimed my teaching resolutions. Amongst other things, I wanted to eat lunch with my students, improve my assessments, and share the why of my ideas and lessons. I was successful to varying degrees, and the act of declaring my resolutions was an important reflective activity, but I overcomplicated the matter.

As I prepared for the dawn of 2016, I strived to simplify my goals. I wanted to concentrate on something I could do daily. I wished to work on one thing that would positively impact my classroom, my colleagues, and my students. My hope was to find something that I could recommit myself to each day, each moment, even if I fell off track. I arrived at one word — love.

Yes. Love. 

That’s my teaching resolution for 2016. To make love the cornerstone of my pedagogy. In many ways, it is a return to the basics. It is my personal call to rededicate myself to the most personal interactions of education.

Image Source: User Joduma,

Deborah Meier (1995) wrote, “Teaching more than virtually any activity depends on quick instinctive habits and behavior, and on deeply held ways of seeing and valuing” (p. 139). I contend that the essence of these values and behaviors should be love. Although love is a natural human behavior, many factors cloud our actions and decisions, especially in schools. Too often we let our frustrations, our biases, our habits, and our systems prevent us from acting with deep love. Thus, it is necessary to use love as a call to intentional action and conscious decision. One must resolve to teach with love. In some ways that is sad. It some ways that is beautiful.

2016 will bring its ups and downs. Every year does. My sincere hope is an authentic concentration on love will see me through the very real struggles of being an educator. Love is a much more powerful mindset than cynicism. Educating with love shifts one’s mindset. Patience replaces a knee-jerk yell. Empathy overcomes frustration. Courage rises from fear. Optimism brings hope. A warm smile greets a colleague in the hall. Relationships win over visceral reactions.

I could make a checklist naming the many ways I plan to love more in 2016. Shoot hoops with my students at recess. Eat lunch with my staff. Make more positive phone calls. Write thank you notes. This would certainly make my goal much more tangible. It would also create what I am trying to avoid — a laundry list of resolutions instead of one. Opportunities to chose love occur within the thousands of minute interaction embedded in the ‘Daily Grind’. Love is the process of being awake to the reality of your students. Love is taking chances. Love is being vulnerable. Love is transformative. Love is spontaneous. Love happens.

Noddings (2015) said, “schools should be committed to a moral purpose: to care for children so that they, too, will be prepared to care” (p. 64). If we want our students to love, we must love.

Cheers to 2016!