Monthly Archives: February 2015

Let’s Update Education!

So earlier today I had a conversation in my head with several voices, ultimately leading me to arrive at the conclusion that I wanted to save education. And this was after only one cup of coffee!

Here is the crux of my thoughts: What do we want the U.S. system of education to look like at the end of the day? If we want to reform, what form are we trying to create?

As I spent the rest of the day working (re: taking care of my two kids), I made a mental log of questions that arose from the aforementioned questions. Here’s where my brain went:

  • What role do today’s schools play in our society?
  •  How can we better recruit, prepare, support, and retain teachers?
  • What do we want kids to know when they are handed their diplomas?
  • What does “preparing our students” look like or even mean?
  • How does accountability play a role in education?
  • For what are schools responsible?
  • Should the school environment as a whole be re-imagined?
  • What can we all agree on?

I also put on my mom-hat (re: yoga pants) and asked myself the following:

When my own kids go to school, what do I want for them? Here’s where my brain went:

  • I want them to feel safe, supported, and inspired.
  • I want their teachers to be happy, educated, professional people.
  • I want their classrooms to be clean, welcoming, and puts kids in the mood to learn.
  • I want them to learn to think. I mean really think. Inside, outside, and around the box kind of thinking.
  • I want them to learn to read, write, and do arithmetic, but I also want them to experience art, drama, music, science, technology, and government.
  • When they’re little, I want them to have a good, long recess. When they’re older, I want them to participate in clubs and on teams.
  • I want them to learn how to struggle and persevere, to cope with failure, and to handle success with grace.
  • I want my children to be happy. A huge part of their happiness will come from their experiences in school. That’s big.

That last bullet point made me realize something. In a year and a half, my daughter will enter kindergarten. My experience with education has always been as the caretaker of other people’s children. Pretty soon though, I will watch Z walk into someone else’s classroom and trust that she will receive the education I believe all of our kids deserve. Yikes. My concern for our education system isn’t just professional, it’s personal.

Another thought just occurred: does our system of education need saving? Is it in peril? I actually don’t think so. Perhaps we’re at a moment of upheaval, rather than danger? By saying I want to “save” education, have I internalized a sensationalized version of our system, one that depicts schools as broken and teachers as unaccountable, vacation-loving lag-abouts?

What if, rather than saving it, I re-frame my thinking to say we are looking to enrich our education system? To enhance it? Refine? Improve? Or even update?

The word “reform,” though technically apt, now carries a negative connotation with it. Even when referring to the abstract concept of education, “reform” carries a whiff of blame, a hazily-drawn finger pointing at “them.” I’m drawn to the word “update.” It places no blame on past versions, while promising something better. If Adobe Flash needs to be updated every hour (it seems), certainly our education system can be said to be in need of an update. AND NO ONE IS TO BLAME!

So, how can we update our system of education in the United States of America?

Let’s start at the very beginning: teacher recruitment and preparation. I know a bit about this topic, but I’m smart enough to know there are smarter people out there. I’m going to find their works, start reading, and I’ll report back in my next post.

Until then, stay warm out there, and enjoy!




Let’s Save Education!

As I stood at the sink washing dishes today, I kept thinking: how can I make a difference in education? I had just scrolled through my Twitter feed, and it seems like everyone else in the world is thinking, writing, getting their voices out there and doing something. My inner critic, who shall henceforth be named Mr. Negative, sat on my shoulder and berated me: What do you know, anyway? You’ve been out of the classroom too long. You don’t have a PhD. You’ve spent most of the morning cleaning up after kids, and you think you can change the world in yoga pants? Please!

Then I summoned my inner self-confidence, which shall henceforth be known as Mrs. Do Something, and she told Mr. Negative to f-off. Next, I pulled from my O Magazine/Martha Beck/Jason Mraz/Taylor Swift mental tool box and tried to think about how I could turn those perceived weaknesses into strengths. Watch this:

1. Perceived weakness: I have no PhD. There are so many people smarter than me. New Strength: I’m good at communication, synthesis, and research. I can draw upon smart people’s ideas.

2. Perceived weakness: I haven’t been in the classroom for years. New Strength: I still have personal experience as a classroom teacher, I know a network of teachers, and I’ve had time to step away and see the picture from a different perspective.

3. Perceived weakness: I’m a stay-at-home mom, not a professional. New Strength: I’m a stay-at-home mom and I’m still a professional, so now I can talk about education from a teacher’s perspective and a parent’s perspective.

4. Perceived weakness: I always want everyone to like me; I’m not critical enough. New Strength: I take great pride in forming strong relationships. I’m a good listener, and I’m good at reconciling differences and finding the middle ground.

Ta-da! It’s like mental gymnastics! (The technique didn’t quite work on Perceived Weakness #5: Ability to eat half a bag of Milano cookies in 10 minutes.)

So after I’d Oprahed-myself, I thought, if I’m so hell-bent on doing something, what do I want to do? The answer: save education. Mr. Negative started to laugh derisively so Mrs. Do Something punched him in the balls.

But how? How to save education? Where does someone even begin? Like an angel, Julie Andrews melodic voice arose in my mind: “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.” But then I heard my favorite professor, Dr. Pace, speak up: “Start with the end in mind.” [I feel this is a good time to clarify that I am not on, nor have ever done acid or LSD. This is just me, people.]

A paradox arose: We can’t start at the beginning, until we know what we want at the end.

What do we want at the end? What do we want the U.S. system of education to look like at the end of the day? If we want to reform, what form are we trying to create?

Eureka! Ah-ha! Huzzah! I feel onto something, and not just my memory-foam mat (which I highly recommend to everyone who washes dishes five times a day, incidentally). I turned off the water, fed my kids lunch, put them down for their naps, and started this post.

My plan: today, while I’m playing blocks, trucks, and Strawberry Shortcake, I will also be thinking about my questions. Tonight, I will post my thoughts. If you (yes, you!), a reader of this post feel inspired to provide an answer, please send me a tweet or leave a comment so I can include your thoughts as well.

Enjoy a happy Friday!

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George the First: Thanks for lookin’ out, Mr. President


GW Portrait

Most students don’t know this, but until the ratification of the 22nd Amendment in 1947, there were no term limits for Presidents of the United States. Yep, we could have had 16 years of President Chester A. Arthur, folks. (The 21st president and the first to legally drink on the job. Joke.) When the U.S. began, certain rules were outlined in the Constitution, but many others we now take for granted were not. So let us all take a moment to thank George Washington for being humble, intelligent, and so frickin’ tired of working that “the shade of retirement is as necessary to me as it will be welcome.”

Washington loved “the people,” and we are the decedents of those people; if not by blood, than by the “love of liberty” beating with every “ligament of your hearts.” Like any good father, he worried about the future of the nation he helped birth. His Farewell Address is only briefly about his own retirement and his own service; mainly, it is a warning. It’s the dad in the driveway shouting “Watch out for black ice!” as his daughter drives away to college.

Teachers and parents share the goal of trying to prepare students for their adulthood. Though the conversation is dominated by talk of academic success, there are other elements to preparing someone for adulthood. Teaching students to be active, engaged, and knowledgeable citizens strikes me as incredibly important.To that end, we can use Washington’s Farewell Address to achieve a number of goals:

  1. Develop students’ reading skills of complex, pre-20th century texts
  2. Develop students’ abilities to analyze rhetorical argument
  3. Develop students’ abilities to understand the relationships between subject, author, occasion, purpose, speaker, and tone
  4. Deepen knowledge of American history and significant American texts

[highlight]This lesson[/highlight] was created with the high school English classroom in mind. However, collaboration between an English and Social Studies teacher would no doubt allow for more depth of thought and discussion. If time is an issue (If! HA!), there is an excellent pared-down version of the speech in Caroline Kennedy’s great collection, A Patriot’s HandbookI also highly recommend reading the Prologue of Francois Furstenberg’s book In the Name of the Father: Washington’s Legacy, Slavery, and the Making of a Nation, which focuses entirely on the creation of the Farewell Address. (Fun fact: the Senate has been reading his address aloud on his birthday every year since 1896.)

You can download the lesson as a PDF, which also includes a copy of the address with room for students’ annotations. Finally, if you would like to see my annotated copy of the speech with notes and anticipated student stumbling blocks, send me a tweet.

On his birthday, as his present, and as a gesture to all the presidents we honor on President’s Day, let us honor his memory and service by sharing his words with our students. Happy Birthday, Mr. President. Thanks for lookin’ out.

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