Disclaimer: This post may seem a little more urgent than usual, but in my opinion the time in now for difficult conversations if we are to create true innovation and change in education. I feel the role of a good leader is to ignite passion and purpose in others, so I hope you’ll have an open mind while reading and this will serve as a call to action.
There is a lot of talk about change and innovation in schools. We all hear people in meetings talk about some new innovative or creative thing they saw or some new initiative that gets everyone excited. I love the excitement, but when I really step back and look at the bigger picture, I sometimes struggle to see what the excitement is all about. When I hear people talk about the changes or innovation that is happening in schools it is usually followed by citing one of these examples….Chromebooks, STEAM education, 1:1 initiatives, Genius Hour, Hybrid Courses, Personalized Learning, etc….There’s a lot of them. Or sometimes, people are excited about a new focus on things like Critical Thinking, Collaboration, and Creativity. These things are touted as examples of how education is changing for the better. I’m not necessarily knocking any of these things, but let’s be honest, these are not transformative practices.
I recently heard someone say that “in education we keep trying to do the wrong things right.” We still need to figure out what the right way of educating kids is, but so many of us already agree there is a better way, so we need to stop trying to do the wrong things right and start envisioning a new system. Society is changing so much and technological advances are leading us into a new industrial revolution, where jobs and careers will be dramatically different than they are now. If we want true innovation and lasting change, we all need to take action and work to transform our system, no matter how much work is involved or how uncomfortable it makes us. This type of change is on a grand level which will include industry leaders, higher education leaders, and legislatures, but most societal shifts start from grassroots movements…That’s us! Let’s push for change…The kids deserve it!
How long will we continue to teach writing? Not HOW to write as in topic sentence, body sentences, conclusion sentence and transitions, etc. I’m talking about the act of writing. I know that’s blasphemy, right? But think about the future…50 years, 200 years…Will people still hand write things 200 years from now? If I really think about the year 2316, I find it hard to imagine that people will be writing anything. But who knows….Not many saw the iPhone coming along and disrupting everything.
I guess it comes down to a simple question… How long do we hang on to something that we know will inevitably disappear?
I haven’t written a blog post in a long time and I’m not sure why this is the topic that finally got me to write something again…It’s hardly even about education! Oh well…Here we go!
As a teacher and now an administrator I’ve always held my political views very close to me in an effort to not influence my students, show a bias, or be judged by co-workers. Those that know me well know that I have very strong political beliefs. I have shed tears over politics. It has been very hard to keep my political beliefs to myself over the years. There is a lot of pressure on educators to keep political beliefs to themselves and also a lot of confusion as to what rights educators have when it comes to expressing their personal beliefs. I completely understand the influence and voice we have as educators and why we have to have an awareness of our political voice and its reach. While I understand it, I still don’t like it.
As a teacher I took pride in my ability to hide my political beliefs from my students so as not to influence their beliefs. If I hadn’t made a conscious effort to be neutral in the classroom, I think I would have shown a bias and that’s not what I wanted in my classroom. As a World and U.S. History teacher for 8 years, politics came up in class constantly during some healthy debates, but I wanted my students to discover their own political beliefs through this process and not be swayed by anything I said. I’m proud of that. Students asked me if I was a republican or a democrat….I NEVER told them. It’s crazy to me that I was able to keep it a mystery from some very intelligent 15 and 16 year olds. Even now, most of my coworkers have no idea what my political beliefs are.
While others have the freedom to express their thoughts on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc., educators do not have that freedom. I know I have the constitutional freedom, but for the sake of my career and even some friendships at work, I have felt that the smart thing to do is to keep my beliefs as far away from my career as possible. I love Twitter and all forms of social media, but because I use it professionally, I typically avoid posting personal things, especially when it comes to politics or other hot button issues. On one shoulder someone is telling me to do the smart and professional thing and keep my political beliefs far away from my career. The Tim on that shoulder is worried even as I type this and consider posting it as a public blog post. Will THIS post hurt my career? On the other shoulder is the Tim that tells me to be true to myself and not worry about what other people think. He’s telling me I have the right to my opinion and the right to express myself. It’s a tough, ongoing personal debate.
The point of this blog post is not to finally spill my guts and get it all out, revealing my political views to the world, even though that would be so liberating. I’ve held it all in this long….I’m not gonna crack now. The point of this post is for me to empathize with others in my industry or in other careers where it’s unofficially frowned upon to share personal political beliefs. This is just something we struggle with as we see people posting political opinions, creating memes, and discussing daily news on Twitter or Instagram, without hesitation. We are itching to hit the comment button. Is it right that I suppress my own political beliefs? I don’t know. I don’t blame anyone. It just comes with the territory, I guess. I’ve come to accept it. I’ll continue to struggle with this and you’ll continue to wonder what my political beliefs are. Enjoy!
The year was 1995. I was a sophomore in high school. At the time I was really into bands like Rage Against the Machine and Metallica. I guess I was bit of a metalhead. Anyways, one day in my spanish class this girl asked me if I wanted to buy her boyfriend’s band’s tape. She then flashed me a cassette tape under her desk. The band was called The Skinniez.
At the time I had no idea that anyone other than “big” bands had tapes and CDs. I thought it was so cool that these guys at my school had a tape out. I bought it for $4 and my life changed forever.
It’s not that The Skinniez music changed my life, although it is a really good demo, it’s the fact that this was my gateway into the world of independent, underground music; the world of punk rock and hardcore music. This scene, and all of it’s associated values and beliefs have molded me into the man I am today. Just as much as my parents did, the scene raised me. After reflecting on my teaching philosophy, I can safely say that punk rock and hardcore music directly influence my thinking as a teacher.
When I say punk rock and hardcore, it probably means different things to different people. Depending on your age and your exposure to these types of music, this post may not have as much meaning to you as does to me and others. With this in mind I will try to explain what I mean so you can see the power that this music scene had on my life.
This is a band called Strife in 1995. While many see chaos and violence, and hear noise and screaming, I see fun and unity (and sore necks), and hear passion.The band and the fans were one. Getting to jump on stage and sing along with your favorite band is sort of exclusive to this scene. It’s pretty awesome and taught me that no one is better than anyone else.
Starting in 1995 I started going to punk rock and hardcore shows. Growing up in Riverside, CA I frequented places like The Barn and Showcase Theatre. I feel like I was there almost every weekend. Within a few months I started my first band, The Beatnix. This was my life. At the time it just was what it was. As a teenager I never really reflected on my own beliefs and values. Those things were still being developed. While I embraced the punk rock attitude and looked like a “hoodlum” (my grandma’s description of me in high school), I remained a decent student and was accepted to UC Riverside. While in college I still went to shows and was still playing in various bands. This was my life. It was me.
The point of this post is not to recall my youth, but to reflect on how the punk rock and hardcore scene influenced me and shaped my teaching philosophy…
D.I.Y. – The punk rock community is a very Do-It-Yourself community. When we were in bands we made our own Tapes/CDs, our own flyers, our own t-shirts. Everything we did, we created on our own. This creativity is evident in my life today and shows in my lesson design and just my overall classroom environment. I just do things a little differently and I take pride in this risk taking. I guess I’m just a bit Out Of Step.
Embracing Our Differences – The punk rock community taught me at a young age how disgusting racism was. There is a major part of the scene that strives to end social injustice. While I also learned these values from my parents, the scene engrained these beliefs into my head. Being accepting of different races and sexual preferences is a theme that you can find throughout the punk rock and hardcore community. As a teacher, many current events we discuss are about these themes. My passion for teaching tolerance and erasing ignorance in the world is just as strong as my passion for teaching history. These lessons need to be taught.
Questioning Everything – While the punk rock and hardcore community have many different sub-genres, a constant among all of them is to think for yourself and question things. Punk rockers question the establishment, authority, the government, all kinds of things. Some of them do it the wrong way and it turns into more of an anti-establishment, or anti-government type things, but many simply question things before accepting them. Many punk rockers are very educated people. Greg Graffin, singer of Bad Religion holds a PhD and is a professor at UCLA. Dexter Holland of The Offspring was valedictorian of his high school. Our scene is definitely not anti-education. I believe that questioning things, wanting to hear multiple sides, and avoiding bias is crucial when making informed decisions. Whether it is national politics, or debates about the Common Core. I don’t just accept the decisions others make. If I have an opinion I will let it be known. If I have an idea I will let it be heard. No matter how outside of the box it may be. This critical and creative thinking is what we expect from our students. I practice what I preach.
Maintaining a Positive Attitude – Shortly after getting into punk rock and then discovering hardcore bands like 7 Seconds, Bad Brains and Minor Threat, the metalhead in me found the hardcore scene of the mid-90s that those bands inspired awesome. Bands like Earth Crisis, Strife, Snapcase were the new breed of hardcore bands. The sound had evolved, but messages of positivity and unity were common among the hardcore scene. Even today, bands like The Ghost Inside and Stick To Your Guns continue to spread PMA (Positive Mental Attitude). Toby Morse, singer of hardcore band H2O, even speaks to schools about how he has maintained a positive, drug-free lifestyle while being in a touring band for over 20 years. The hardcore scene spawned the Straight Edge movement that embraces an anti-drug lifestyle, influencing young kids to stay away from drugs and alcohol. This scene helps them avoid the peer pressure. The positive aspects of the hardcore scene are so inspiring and I try to inspire my students to stay positive and do good things for people and the world on a daily basis.
I’m 34 years old and I no longer look like a hoodlum (well, maybe on weekends). However, as stated above, punk rock and hardcore music have made me who I am today. The way I approach and view the world of education is through my lens. The lens molded by the scene I grew up in. The scene I’m still a part of. I will always be a part of this scene. This is my life. It is who I am.
I still love going to shows and while I stand in the back now and let the kids have all of the fun, I still get goosebumps when I see the passion and sense of community that exists in the scene. This video from a great band called The Story So Far in 2012 doesn’t look all that different from the above Strife video from 1995. The energy and passion in that room gives me goosebumps every time I watch it.
Our experiences shape who we are. It’s been fun reflecting and reminiscing.
I’ve been to the DARK SIDE…and then came back to tell the tale.
In education, many people refer to making the jump from teacher to administrator as “going to the DARK SIDE.” I suppose it stems from Star Wars, which features the DARK SIDE as the opposite of the world of Jedi. Apparently it’s an evil world. Why is school administration considered the evil side of education? I recently spent a few months over in the DARK SIDE, and it is dark! However, it is dark in a good way! Confused? Just keep reading.
Over the past few years I have been working towards moving into administration. My passion for teaching history has sort of morphed into a passion for education in general, and I want to be able to have an opportunity to make education better for more than just 180 students each year. Therefore, moving into administration is my current goal. I recently spent a few months as a Teacher on Special Assignment, filling in for our Assistant Principal of Supervision. This was an amazing opportunity that I was given, and it was also my invitation to the DARK SIDE. I could tell you stories about my time in the supervision office, and trust me, I have stories, but this isn’t the place. I’ll just say I loved the experience and it was very rewarding.
Having taught for the past 8 years, my experiences and time spent in the office have been fairly limited. As teachers, we kind of know what’s going on up there, and we make assumptions about what administrators do every day, but we spend our time in the classroom. What we think we know about administration is based on snapshots of what we see and emails we receive from admin. As classroom teachers, we don’t really know what the dark side is. That’s why it’s dark!
Here is my theory of why school administration IS the DARK SIDE, but in a GOOD WAY.
When people ask me what surprised me the most about becoming an administrator, my answer is always the same… What surprised me most was how much stuff goes on up in the office that teachers have no idea about. Everyone works very hard making the school run effectively and efficiently. They put out fires, they collaborate, they think about ways to make the school better, they worry about the nuts and bolts. They do A LOT. School administration IS the DARK SIDE because they do all of this while allowing teachers to teach, and not worry about anything other than the success of their students. It’s dark because it’s unknown, not because it’s evil. As a teacher I was oblivious to all of the things that administrators and their support staff deal with and I’m kinda glad. Teachers just want to teach. Administrators, when doing their job effectively, create a school where teachers get to put all of their efforts into teaching and helping their students. A good administrator is like Superman, but teachers may only see Clark Kent. As teachers, we don’t always see what work went into making things happen. We don’t always see the fires being put out, the passion of administrators working on something to improve the school, or the countless hours of work. We don’t see that SIDE of education very often. That happens over in the DARK SIDE. I look forward to my next visit.
Let’s say life is like school…In order to move on in life (buy a house, get a new car, have kids, etc) you must do well in all that you do. You must do really well. If you want a nice house and good kids you must be the best of the best. You have to get at least a 4.3. Are you getting a 4.3 in life? Would your GPA in life really be an indicator of how good, how successful, or how talented of a person you are?
Lets say in the span of nine months you must master the following things (this is a list of things in life that may be as irrelevant to you as some of our subjects are to students).
Learn how to drive a big rig
Bake red velvet cupcakes from scratch
Hit 20 home runs out of 30 pitches
“Close” read and analyze the Affordable Care Act
That’s your schedule for the next nine months. At the end you will be given a grade based on how well you do those things. That grade will help determine your next step in life. Do well, you get awesome opportunities; Do poorly, and your opportunities will be a little more limited.
Also, there’s no extra credit in life…Can you bring your boss a ream of paper and some kleenex and in return you get a raise and now you can get a Porsche instead of a Nissan? Can you get a bonus for not going to bathroom more than 4 times? That bonus might be the difference between you getting your first house or not. House or bladder infection? Hmmm? Do they give pay raises to employees that go to the company softball games? Doubt it.
I understand that we must assess students and give them grades. But what do those grades really mean in the long run? What are we actually grading? Knowledge? Behavior and compliance? Skill? Growth? What if (insert subject here) just isn’t their thing? We are giving a grade that determines a lot of what will happen in their future. Their path in life is affected by the grades we give. So what do we value? What should we reward?
Just because I couldn’t hit 20 home runs out of 30 pitches (which would be a 66% if it was test), does not mean that I’m not deserving of opportunities in the future. I really tried! I worked on my swing, but it just didn’t happen. It’s hard to get that good at baseball when I had to bake cupcakes until I got it right, and then take lessons on driving a big rig. Parking those big things is tough! Don’t even get me started on that Obamacare document. That thing was pretty confusing. And how come my karate skills weren’t tested. I’m a black belt, but that didn’t get assessed. I would’ve really impressed them if they asked me to do a roundhouse kick. So now I rent a small apartment and drive a ‘94 Nissan Maxima because I wasn’t good at a few things. But I am good at a lot of other things. I wish my teachers in the school of life would’ve recognized that. Now I kind of feel like a failure.
Grades are tricky. As long as colleges continue to look at GPAs, I guess we have to give grades. I hope one day that their formula for determining who gets in changes. I hope companies like Google, who don’t care about GPA when hiring, influence other companies and eventually colleges to make some changes. Our value as students, employers, and humans can’t be accurately summed up in points and letter grades.
Another flaw in grades are that they are very subjective. A student who has me and earns an A might have earned a C if they had been in another teacher’s class. It all comes down to how a teacher grades and what they value. That differs from teacher to teacher. This means students are just learning how to play the game of school. I could go on about the subjectivity of grades, but I’d rather just throw it out there as another thinking point when reflecting on your grading policy.
As you start preparing for next year, look at your grading policy and at least think about what you are grading, why you are grading it, and if it really determines the value of that student. Just because grades have always been done a certain way and we’ve always been told that a 92% is an A and a 62% is a D doesn’t mean that it’s the right way or the only way.
Let’s not deprive students of opportunities because their cupcakes suck. Let them do a few roundhouses and kick that cupcake right off the top of your head. I’d say that’s just as impressive.
*I’ve been wanting to write a post about grades for a while now. It’s a topic/flaw in education that I feel gets largely ignored when talking about reform efforts. After watching/reading David Theriault’s (@davidtedu) vlog/blog I was inspired to start writing. Check his post out here.
So I sat down the other day and started reflecting on this year. Before I knew it I was writing a letter to my students. I tried to be a real and honest and possible. I’ve been a Twitter regular for a while now and sometimes I feel like the stuff teachers post is a little fake and utopianist. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Posting the positives is much better than posting the negatives. However, I wanted to be real with my students and now I want to share the realness with you. While I wish I could have written personalized letters to all 160 students, I just didn’t have the time to do that. Instead, I wrote this letter to all of my students. I figured I would post it. It kind of serves as a reflection on this school year for me. Enjoy.