Archive for November 19, 2011

Teaching as Team Effort: Parents as Players

If teaching was a team sport, the team supporting the education of each would student consist: the student, his or her parents, school administrators, local school board member, the state board of education, and all national player including politicians. So why is it the national burden for education falling solely upon the shoulders of classroom teachers when actually teachers are part of a team effort? Perhaps everyone on the ‘team’ needs ‘professional development’ not just teachers?

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Professional development of teachers now trumps students attending school and there rarely mention about the impact of parents upon test scores. Day after day public school students across this district have missed school due to the professional development of teachers and has meant students didn’t have school AGAIN yesterday! This month has been a checkerboard combo of missed school days due to holidays, in combination with non-school days where-by teachers are schooled in a plethora of duties, most of which have nothing to do with actually teaching students in front of them. One thing teachers need more than anything is more time with students and all the ‘developing’ of the teaching profession runs counter-productive interference towards this goal.

You might ask, “How can all these days off for students be deemed productive?”

Well, usually, professional development is predominantly filled with endless tasks of accountability required by the government, in cohort with local school district mandates with a focus on testing. For three hours yesterday teachers at my school analyzed test scores from the newly minted Common Core State Standards (CCSS) only to discover the test scores reflected what teachers at our school already know about our students because we mark their papers and work with them everyday. Lets get real, these test are for accountability purposes and the only ones being held accountable are teachers.

Professional development could be about becoming a better teacher and further developing skills to reach students.. However, no matter what teachers are told, above all, their endless professional development has been mandated in order to hold them individually accountable for student test scores. The laser-like focus on testing, required by the NCLB law, is blame in disguise as accountability with teachers being held solely accountable for student achievement on test scores. Yes, I will take some responsibility for low student test scores. However, what about the parents? At one time I heard a speech by Prsident Obama holding parents accountable yet rarely do journalists write about anyone but teachers.

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However, to my surprise and delight, Thomas L. Friedman recently wrote an informed piece in the NY Times addressing this conundrum titled How About Better Parents?‎ In this piece Friedman outlined how recent studies indicate parents who are more involved in their children’s education can have significant impact on student achievement.

One study cited by Friedman outlined the Program for International Assessment exams conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (O.C.D.E.). The PISA conducted a team study of 5,000 parents, across a wide spectrum of socioeconomic levels, about how they had raised their children and then compared these practices with PISA test scores.

In early November, the PISA team published three main findings discovered i their study about parenting practices among the highest scoring students who took the PISA exams: “on average, the score point difference in reading that is associated with parental involvement is largest when parents read a book with their child, when they talk about things they have done during the day, and when they tell stories to their children.” Significantly, the score point difference was smallest when parental involvement simply took the form of playing with their children.

The findings of the PISA team where reinforced by the study “Back to School: How parent involvement affects student achievement” conducted by the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education and written up in a recent issue of The American School Board Journal by Patti Barth, the center’s director as cited by Friedman:

“Parent involvement can take many forms, but only a few of them relate to higher student performance. Of those that work, parental actions that support children’s learning at home are most likely to have an impact on academic achievement at school.
“Monitoring homework; making sure children get to school; rewarding their efforts and talking up the idea of going to college. These parent actions are linked to better attendance, grades, test scores, and preparation for college,” Barth wrote. “The study found that getting parents involved with their children’s learning at home is a more powerful driver of achievement than parents attending P.T.A. and school board meetings, volunteering in classrooms, participating in fund-raising, and showing up at back-to-school nights.”

Friedman has now become part of my team to improve student achievement because he addressed the fact few journalists have addressed: parental impact upon education is significant and teachers should not be held solely accountable for test scores. Parents have always been invaluable ‘team players’ in the complex, collaborative, contact ‘sport ‘ of educating their children in my classroom. In fact, all of my most successful students had parents at home working in tandem with me in the classroom to educate their children.

Parents are student’s first teachers: from the time they are born they learn from their parents and it is parents who provide the foundation for teachers who educate their children. From my view, privileged children are those who have better parents, parents who value education and who support their children’s learning from an early age.

Another Halloween Scare: Gun Fire in the Hood, Again

At the end of a long day, as I was getting ready to hand out big, creepy Halloween suckers to my students (shaped like puddles of goo with either blood, beetles, or spiders encased within) we all heard gunfire coming from the alley directly behind our school, through our open classroom window. All the excitement about the suckers ended as we all looked at each other fearfully. A particularly street smart young man in my 6th grade class stated calmly, yet ominously, what we all feared, “That sounds like gunfire.”

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Wanting to reassure them I said, “Well it could have been firecrackers.” Even though I knew that unmistakable sound “Pop – pop, pop, pop, pop, pop!”, which had echoed through the window, had indeed been gunfire, I didn’t want it to be.

Then sirens went off and minutes later an administrators voice came over the intercom “Red Alert! No one is to leave their classroom or the school until further notice.”

In response to the announcement, one student cryptically said what we were all thinking simultaneously, “At least we aren’t outside having a fire drill right now.” Everyone laughed nervously because as someone replied “True dat.”

Last year, the night of Halloween in the high-traffic, gritty, inner city neighborhood where our school is located was shattered with gunfire. That night marked the beginning of monthly spates of such gunfire within one or two blocks of our school for the entire school year. However, last year, no one working at our school knew about the Halloween shootings until the day afterward – during a school fire drill.

Fire drills are held monthly no matter the weather and all students file classroom by classroom outside. In a long line all classrooms walk completely down the nearest street perpendicular to the school, then stop at the next intersection to wait for the fire alarm to stop, when we return into school. The previous year, we had a fire drill the day after Halloween. As usual the kindergarten class was out the door of our school first and lead everyone down the street followed by my first grade classroom.

As we walked past the apartment building next to the school, my cubby cheeked, student Tiara, who lived in the building, knowingly exclaimed, while pointing to a large rust colored, puddle like stain, “Ms. Steele see that – it’s where someone got shot last night and the police came and everything and I think they died!”

Seconds later, there was gunfire less than thirty yards ahead of us, as if Tiara’s statement had foreshadowed the event. When I looked up, I saw the horrified face of the kindergarten teacher screaming from the corner intersection, “Run! Run! Run! Someone on the bus is shooting!” This began a major stampede of panicked students screaming and then crying as many of our young charges, from her kindergarten and my first grade, stumbled and fell over each other. Some were stricken by fear and paralyzed as we tried to herd them as quickly back down the block, around the corner, and into the school as possible.

All of the students surged in a huge mass quickly through the doors of the school to safety yet it seemed to take forever. The entire time there was a gaping black hole of fear in my belly about my kindergarten colleague and her students as I silently implored, “Don’t let any of them be shot!” Only once inside, as I passed her classroom while she rushed her students into their classroom could finally breath in relief – they were all safe and unharmed

My students sat in shocked silence remembering, as I was, the past year’s terror while being outside the school and running from the gunfire. I could only hope this was not a new Halloween tradition and that next year this spooky holiday wasn’t marked by the very real fear – shot through our psyches – with the sound of gunfire so close to our school and our hearts.