Monthly Archives: October 2016

Understanding Our Task as Teachers

“Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself.”

John Dewey (1859-1952)

Excerpted from: Howe, Randy, ed. The Quotable Teacher. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2003.

The Weekly Text, October 28, 2016

By any standard I recognize, the 2016 presidential election season is hands down the most appalling in my lifetime–and I am not a young man. If it is true (as I believe it is), that the election of Barack Obama, the first President of the United States of African descent, exposed latent racism and bigotry in the United States, then this election has in every respect put the icing on that ugly cake. Moreover, it appears that the specter of a Trump administration has aroused anxiety in children and that in general there is “Trump Anxiety” among adults as well. I don’t much care for either candidate, but it is undeniable that the Republican candidate has engaged in dog-whistling bigotry, sexism and misogyny, general vulgarity, and a combination of grotesque vanity and whining self-pity that really ought to put off anyone with reasonably stable mental health.

So this week, less than two weeks before the general election, seems as good a time as any to post a reading on George Washington’s famous letter on toleration for today’s Weekly Text. Finally, here is a reading comprehension worksheet to accompany it.

As always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Children and Screen Technologies

Now that screen technologies have achieved ubiquity, it is surely time (actually, that time has long since passed in my estimation) to take a critical look at the way they are shaping our lives. My fascination with gizmos has never extended beyond their utility to help me manage my complicated workload. My smartphone is off a significant portion of the week; besides basic productivity applications, I only have word games on it, and I only reach for those in moments of ennui, or when I am stuck on a train.

Perhaps the most important place to apply critical analysis of these devices is in their use by children and adolescents. I don’t think these devices exactly do wonders for kids who already have short attention spans. Late last week, to my relief, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued its guidelines for appropriate use of digital devices for children. I recommend a look; it’s long been clear to me that kids are spending too much time with this technology and not enough in parks, and in their own imaginations.

An Epigram for Teaching Literature

“Literature: proclaiming in front of everyone what one is careful to conceal from one’s immediate circle.”

Jean Rostand

Excerpted from: Winokur, Jon, ed. The Portable Curmudgeon. New York: Plume, 1992.

The Weekly Text, October 21, 2016

Unlike leading software companies, I try not to publish or release material that I haven’t tested repeatedly in the classroom for effectiveness with students. This week’s Text, a learning support on clauses and correlating conjunctions, is an exception to that rule. I’ve only used this once, for a unit I designed on writing stylish sentences for advanced students. As I reformatted it yesterday, and generally tried to clean it up, it occurred to me that it might be rewritten into two different supports for struggling students.

Of course, there are probably a number of ways to make it more effective. For that reason, there is a distinct possibility that I will revise it and repost it sometime in the future.

As always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Malik’s Blog

When I began serving in my current posting in 2008, it was my good fortune to encounter one of the most interesting and stimulating group of students I’d yet to teach at that point. I’ll admit that I liked these kids because they reminded me of my friends and myself at their age. Perhaps every teacher likes students like him-or herself. Don’t we, as humans, seek people like ourselves for our society?

One of the members of this group was Malik, whom I recognized immediately as an excellent student, a fellow lover of words and a writer, and a young man with a great deal of potential–and this in a social milieu–his friends–with aggregated potential to spare. Like many young people his age, Malik was and probably remains an aficionado of video games. Like one of his peers who has also kept in touch with me via social media, I believe Malik harbored a desire to write video games. That said, he ended up, while a student in this school, writing a version of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible called B-Witches.

In fact, it appears that dramatic writing may be Malik’s forte. In fact, as I write this, I feel a  slight twinge of guilt that I’ve yet to find the time (owing mostly to the hectic business of the first six weeks to two months of the school year) for an copyeditor’s look at a one-act play Malik has written called Leonel Paradiso: Archangel Attorney. 

Over the years, I’ve worked with a number of kids struggling with a variety of clinical mental illnesses. (Indeed, from 1990 to 1996 I worked on the adolescent unit of one of New England’s oldest and most venerable psychiatric hospitals.) One of the most frustrating aspects of working as a teacher is the paucity of information I receive in students’ IEPs on their mental health. I’m obviously not a psychiatrist, but six years in the company of some very talented psychiatrists and psychologists provided me with some experience in recognizing psychiatric symptoms. That said, I was aware that Malik, even as a student here, suffered from bipolar disorder because he told me so. Twenty-six years of protecting the confidentiality of patients, clients, and students prevents me from giving Malik’s full name.

But you’ll find it on the blog Malik has started called Mental Health Diary, in which he relates his experience living with this illness. If you are a teacher who works with struggling learners, I submit to you that you are also dealing, from time to time, with children, whether diagnosed or not, who contend with clinical mental illnesses. I don’t know about you, but I am grateful to Malik for giving me a privileged glimpse into his experience living with a serious mental illness. His insights, and his gifts as a writer, can benefit all of us who work with children.

Arthur Goldstein: The New Grading Standards in NYC Are Absurd and Inhumane

Here’s something from Arthur Goldstein’s blog, NYC Educator, by way of Diane Ravitch’s blog (I couldn’t find a “reblog” button on his site).  Mr. Goldstein is a teacher of English language learners here in New York City, and therefore a distant colleague of mine. He does a very nice job in this post of exposing the inanity we are dealing with in our professional roles as educators in the five boroughs.

Diane Ravitch's blog

Arthur Goldstein has taught ESL students in New York City for decades, and he has one of the best blogs in the city, state, and nation, written from the view of a teacher.

In this post, he lacerates the administration of the New York City Department of Education for a grading policy that further diminishes the discretion of teachers to make judgments about what their students need and how they are progressing. I can’t help but think about the paradigm of all national systems, where teachers are carefully selected, well prepared, treated as masters of their profession, and trusted to do what’s best for their students.

The new NYC rule, Arthur says, is “you will differentiate instruction the same way for everyone.”

He writes:

“That seems to be the main thrust of the new grading policy. A big thing, for me at least, is the policy on what is…

View original post 482 more words