Uncategorized

New Math Standards in Texas, Grades 3-8

Texas just changed the math standards for grades 3-8 beginning next school year. Major changes mean a series of unfortunate events for teachers and students.

Students in 4th grade will be expected to know a large quantity of what 6th graders are currently expected to know. There’s a lot of new stuff added for everyone as well. Teachers and students have serious obstacles to face here. 

First, how is a student freshly out of 3rd grade going to perform at 6th grade level by testing time? (High school algebra students where I teach are often struggling with the concept of y=mx+b at test time.) I wonder if our legislators have considered that a child might not be cognitively able to perform math at this level. Or if a teacher can actually cram three years of math into one year — never mind if a child’s mind can hold it. 

Second, regarding incoming 3rd graders, how is an 8 or 9 year old going to not only cover this new gap with any retention, but how is this child going to cover all of the additional standards the legislator has added as well? The standards teachers must get them to by 4th grade will be insurmountable, it seems to me. 

Third, the STAAR test will have to be re-made. The test will be new. A teacher has no idea what will be on the test or what it will look like, but must prepare their students to do well on it. How can a teacher effectively manage this feat in addition to the new standards?

Fourth, a teacher is evaluated on his or her students’ performance on this one test through VAM methods (EVAAS in our district). What kind of accuracy can be expected when the test has never been given, the students being tested have never before taken a standardized test, and any projections that COULD be made are on a completely different test with completely different standards? Not that VAM evaluations are logical, reliable, or accurate in the first place. 

Fifth, this evaluation will affect the state’s accountability as well as federal NCLB accountability. 

The logistics of this are confounding. 

Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff are currently working on a plan for assessing grades 3–8 mathematics in spring 2015. The plan will involve a special operational administration that incorporates the revised mathematics TEKS as indicated in the recently posted STAAR assessed curriculum documents and blueprints available on the STAAR Mathematics Resources webpage at: http://www.tea.state.tx.us/student.assessment/staar/math/. 
For the spring 2015 STAAR grades 3–8 mathematics test administrations, students will receive a raw score (XX questions correct out of XX total questions) prior to the end of the school year based on their performance on the assessments. Then data from the spring administrations will be used to establish new performance standards for STAAR mathematics in summer 2015. 

                                                                                                                                             — TEA Release

 

 

Furthermore, it involves some mathematical acrobatics. 

The new performance standards will be retroactively applied to the spring 2015 administrations with new reports and data files sent to school districts in August 2015. 
Because performance standards for STAAR grades 3–8 mathematics will not be set until after the spring 2015 administration, Student Success Initiative (SSI) retest opportunities for STAAR grades 5 and 8 mathematics will not be offered in May and June of 2015. For the 2014–2015 school year, districts will use other relevant academic information to make promotion/retention decisions for mathematics. 

                                                                                                                                             — TEA Release, emphasis added

 

To all math teachers, I say good luck. To all math teachers, grades 3-8 — I wish you more than luck. I wish you a miracle.

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Uncategorized

Professional Publication of Handouts

Fellow Educators, 

I’ll be publishing the handouts I have created for use in my English classes. (I may compile them one day into a handbook or something useful, but for now, I think it is wise to have them here on my blog where I can easily access them myself whenever I may need them.) If you find one helpful, please let me know. If you see a way I could change it or if any spark questions, please let me know that too. I’m always glad to have opportunities for professional development and collaboration.

And if you decide to use one, I’d really like to know how it goes and what you think. Thank you!

-AA

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Teaching

STEM Education — a Brief Introduction

When I say that I teach at a STEM academy, most people aren’t quite sure what that means. I may explain to them that the acronym stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, but all that causes them to do is to scratch their heads and wonder where English fits in.

If I bring up Project-Based Learning, usually only health science majors have a ready understanding of what this entails.

Many sites exist to explain more about STEM and PBL as well as offering support for those of us public school educators blazing this trail. Rather than give you sites to read (really, so very many exist!) I thought I’d show you a couple of videos that might make you understand the premise, practice, and pedagogy behind it. I’d be glad to answer your questions as best as I can. (Or provide a link.)

 

(Don’t you love how both videos show the speakers with duck faces before you press play?)

How does our culture’s recent gravitation to heavy testing and teaching to the test fit into this kind of teaching? I think the result will be something like this: 

you tried

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Parenting, Teaching

Parents: Read with your Children

This article is the second in a series aimed at empowering parents to enhance their children’s education.

Many children struggle with reading proficiency. While some may be able to read each word with a fair amount of accuracy, many have not mastered reading comprehension. Educators often notice this while children are reading aloud. It occurs when the brain is so focused on decoding the written word into a sound that is recognizable and correctly pronounced, that no effort can be given to decoding the meaning. Even seniors in high school can demonstrate this problem. 

It works a little like reading in another language. One can learn enough phonetics in the new language to read it quite fluently – all while being unable to translate the meaning.

Remedying this problem can be very frustrating for secondary teachers – who by state and federal standards should be teaching analysis and evaluation, not basic reading comprehension. Quite bluntly, teachers don’t have time in class to teach struggling children this all-important skill because they should have already learned it by their 8th grade year. Yet every fall fills our classrooms with students who are not yet on a fifth grade reading level.  Their success is severely handi-capped by this ongoing problem as they are unable to progress toward the analysis nor toward the evaluation demanded of upper-level students, much less the synthesis involved in writing.

[NOTE: Clearly, this does NOT refer to students with learning disabilities like dyslexia, et cetera.]

When parents decide to work with their children on reading comprehension, whether as a pre-schooler or a teen, many resources can be utilized. I will divide them into age groups to make the resource best match the student.

Ages 3-5

Quite commonly, children in this age group may learn to read aloud fluidly. When teaching a child this age to read, really the most important method is to simply read to them and then with them. Children this age are soaking up language and its usage at an astonishing rate.  For teaching reading to this age, I recommend nursery rhymes.

A book on nursery rhymes provides several important functions for this age group.  First, they are brief. Due to their brevity, a learning reader can easily parse meaning from them and laugh at their silliness. The stories of cows jumping over moons and spiders frightening those who would prefer to eat their curds and whey in peace are engaging. Characters are simple and story lines resolve quickly. Secondly, nursery rhymes are poetry. Poetry has long been a tool for memorization used by story-tellers before a culture could read or write. Because these stories have meter (their “sing-songy” quality) and rhyme, a child can easily memorize them. Children enjoy the ability to predict the rhyming word, much like their fascination with a jack-in-the-box. Memorization is an important step. Finally, when a child memorizes a rhyme, they are able to begin associating it with what is in print.

Long before I could read indiscriminately, I was able to “read” a favorite storybook by rote. I knew what part of the story applied to the pictures and could re-tell what my parents had read to me word-for-word. Because it was word-for-word, I was able to match each word with the appropriate collection of letters. This is how I began learning to read. Comprehension developed as I applied sound and meaning to the written word.

While nursery rhymes are ideal, children can easily memorize any short book they hear read often. Repetition is very important to children this age because that is how they learn. They memorize and rely on predictions. They begin inferring a relationship on their own with no direct-teaching.

When teaching a child this age to read, don’t worry about focusing on “sounding the words out” as they tell children in early elementary. The written English language requires memorization and relies very little on phonetics when compared to other languages like Spanish. Don’t be afraid to give your child the word they are struggling with until they are able to recognize it on their own.

Ages 6  – 8

Most of what I said for the first age group still applies, though this group will demand a bit more substance. When our youngest was six in the early part of last summer, she demonstrated reading comprehension problems as a first grader. At her mother’s house (she is my partner’s child – but I certainly claim her), she does not do a lot of reading and does not have a lot of books, but rather spends a great deal of time in front of a screen. Many students her age spend their time similarly. I simply decided to create the same tradition with her I had created with my own daughter (who is now 14). Now, she reads with everyone in the house and has vastly improved her comprehension.  il_fullxfull.427510417_2ou7

First, I chose a hefty-sized book off the shelf and we began reading. Winnie the Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner, is a perfect choice for this age. The vocabulary is challenging and the usage of words (many hyphens, odd spellings, some dialect) is very useful. poohcorner I began by reading to her and she quickly wanted to read some on her own. When she had read a paragraph, I asked her what she had read. She always seemed caught off-guard, as though it were an unexpected question. She began re-reading it and I told her to simply summarize — another problem for many secondary students. When she learned that she would have to give me a report, she began working on her comprehension, sometimes reading a sentence more than once for meaning. This is what I was wanting. Soon, she was laughing at the foibles of a silly old bear and his friends.

We are currently reading Mary Poppins and, with her dad, A Children’s Treasury of Mythology. A-Childrens-Treasury-MythsMy daughter and I read The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, The Chronicles of Narnia,The Hobbit,  The Silly Book, The Odyssey (a children’s version), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (really anything by Roald Dahl), Charolette’s Web and many more books that similarly capture a child’s imagination. These stories not only help children to love reading, but set their imaginations and creativity on fire. It gives them a strong background on

shel

classic literature at the same time. And watching the movie afterward is a huge treat!

Don’t overlook the benefits of poetry for this age group either. Shel Silverstein, the perennial favorite, is as much fun as the poetics of Dr. Suess.  

The following age groups are going to need help learning to enjoy reading if they have not The_Silly_Bookpreviously spent time in books. The best way to do this is to choose an interesting book and read it together, taking turns. While I do NOT recommend tests or quizzes (this often kills the joys of reading), I do recommend having your child summarize what we read last before beginning and asking them questions as you go alice-in-wonderland-book-coveralong. Questions should sound like, “What do you think about that?” or “Why do you think she did that?” or “What would you do if you were in that situation?” In other words, ask questions that require your student to step into the lives of the characters, building empathy and making connections to the literature while being a part of natural conversation.

Ages 9- 12

This age group wants to move out of what they consider “children’s lit” in favor for something a bit more daring. I whole-heartedly recommend reading aloud with each other children’s poetry. Not the nursery rhymes belonging to toddlers, but the poetry that stirs their wonder and asks questions. Good anthologies of children’s poetry are widely available and many include pieces from famous poets.wrinkle in time

I also recommend beginning series of books with them. This age group would also enjoy The Chronicles of Narnia as a series, but also Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time Series. Harry Potter, a modern classic, is a wonderful series for this age as well. I also highly recommend Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. This series teaches strong vocabulary skills and plays with anachronisms. Adults of all educational backgrounds find little “Easter eggs” buried in passages. A Thousand Cranes is a story that could pair well with Diary of Anne Frank for a WWII theme.

holliswoods

My daughter and I read No Small Thing; The Shakespeare Stealer; I, Coriander; and The Giver at this age. Her favorite of all was Pictures of Hollis Woods.  She and many other students enjoy the Goosebumps series.

Ages 12-14

If your child has been reading for as long as mine has, her interests have taken on a life of their own by this age. Realizing she has no barriers to what she may enjoy, she finds herself reading whatever books are on the shelf. At our house, that could mean poetry by Langston Hughes or Rumi, novels by Stephen King or Mark Twain, even college textbooks on psychology and engineering. Building a library full of variety for a child like this is of obvious

langston

importance. (And if you really want to see your children actually read, you could live like we do – sans internet or television services. That’s another entry for another day.)

However, if your child is struggling with reading comprehension at this age, chances are they’ve already developed strong feelings regarding reading. They have likely decided they aren’t good at it and would rather not feel the failure that comes with trying. This age is a critical time to begin intervening.

To combat these feelings, the reward of reading must be great. I believe that most children, regardless of their hormonal mood-swings of this age, regardless of their extra-curricular interests, still crave the undivided attention of their parent(s). Enter the world of young adult fiction.

Some of the best young adult books are truly engaging for all ages. Though they are geared to young adults, they are unwindoften mesmerizing for anyone. When a story grabs us, it never truly lets go. Unwind is an easy-to-read/hard-to-put-down novel for all age groups. The Pigman transfixes readers of all ages.  Stephen King’s books may be more enticing to some this age. To Kill A Mockingbird delivers a powerful opportunity for discussions on history, justice, and ethics. Short stories appeal to this age group as well. I recommend “A Rose for Emily,” “The Lottery,” “The Yellow Wallpaper,” “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” “The Gift of the Magi,” “The Open Window,” and “The Scarlet Ibis.” Often, these are available in an anthology that would include them all. Anything by Edgar Allen Poe, Kate Chopin, Mark Twain, or Edith Wharton are usually wonderful reading. And the best part about short stories from these authors is that they are easily printed from the internet, royalty free. Remember, many of these stories contain more rigorous vocabulary. This means they are filled with words we don’t commonly use. When a parent is able to model for their student how they will look up words they don’t know or use context clues to figure them out, it really underscores the importance of vocabulary and continually learning.

Let me also recommend for this age group adventure stories. Treasure Island and Call of the Wild are perennial

Peter-and-the-Starcatchers-Book-Cover-e1342625542153

favorites, as is Peter Pan. Dave Barry wrote Peter and the Starcatchers – the story of how Peter Pan came to be. Endless other classics are easy to find.

Ages 15 – 18

viralsnewStudents who are struggling with reading at this age may benefit from the books and stories I mentioned in the previous paragraph. For these students, I’d also recommend the popular series Twilight, the Virals series, and the Pretty Little Liars series.

For those who are more advanced readers and need something interesting and perhaps challenging, try the dystopian novel genre. These books are usually favorites for students. I recommend parental guidance in this genre, as parenting styles greatly vary and some of the material may not be suitable for your child.  (Summaries of these books are widely available on the internet.) George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm are wonderful places to begin in this genre. Alas Babylon is a good book for initiating these works as well. Other titles are I am Legend, The Road, The Hunger Games (series), and Brave New World. The Handmaid’s Tale is one of my favorites, but certainly has more mature content.handmaidstale

Another genre that may capture your child’s imagination is Gothic literature. This includes Dracula, Frankenstein, A Picture of Dorian Grey, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jane Eyre, Fahrenheit 451, Lord of the Flies, Phantom of the Opera, Clockwork Orange, and several other similar works. To Kill a Mockingbird is another Gothic piece students love.  Modern Gothic writers are Stephen King, Kate Morton, Lemony Snicket, Joyce Carol Oates, and Anne Rice.

For the advanced, try reading Shakespeare’s plays together. www.nofearshakespeare.com is a wonderful resource for parents and students to analyze more complicated language structures and learn iambic pentameter. Students this age will likely study Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar or Othello, and Macbeth or Hamlet in high school. Students Much_ado_about_nothing_movie_posterusually really like these stories. If you’re interested in a comedy, I recommend Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and A Comedy of Errors. Really, King Lear, Henry V, and The Tempest are all favorites of students as well. Many film versions are available after you’ve read them and I highly recommend any film directed by Kenneth Branaugh. You could also draw comparisons to other films, such as Henry V and Braveheart.

I highly recommend The Importance of Being Earnest for a Victorian comedy.the-importance-of-being-earnest-movie-poster-2002-1020253302 A Flea in Her Ear is a wonderful example of a Farce. For modern plays, I recommend The Boys Next Door for a drama/comedy, and ZAP! By Paul Fleishel for a genre-crossing comedy. The subject matter is quite mature, but The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer-Park Housewife is another good play that pairs well with  A Streetcar Named Desire.

Reading with your child is rewarding and a great way to build your relationship. The fact that your child’s academics and education will grow is an added benefit. I’m very interested in knowing what books you recommend reading with children as well as what will you and your child read tonight.

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Parenting, Teaching

Fostering a Climate of Education At Home

[RMX] Studious cat

In public education, we are in the midst of a nationwide standardized testing frenzyAll over the country, states are carrying out aggressively daft measures to demonstrate “progress” in public school test scores. 

Teacher Monitors Standardized TestThese measures, brought on by a combination of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, pursue scores often at students’ expense.

Teachers are prodded to be “data-driven,” studying locally administered tests meant to both measure a student’s progress throughout the year and predict their success on the state’s standardized test.  Students often face these assessments 2 to 6 times in a grading period. Teachers are asked pointed questions about the performance of different demographical sub-populations and about what actions they intend to take to assure that X number of students in that demographical sub-population will pass. Students also experience levels of stress similar to the pressures placed on educators by this technocratic approach.

test 2

Students feel punished as they are pulled from electives to be placed in remedial classes geared toward passing the state assessments. Sometimes they are pulled out of half an elective class so they can be tutored during their teacher’s conference period. In Texas, students could be required to come to school for tutoring on “Flex days,” days set aside to address ONLY those who are not making enough progress while all others are allowed to be home.  The system implies that if the student doesn’t make enough progress, their work is worthless.

This entire approach seems to be a good example of the law of diminishing returns. At some point, the sheer amount of stress/labor/work/fatigue begins to have a negative effect on progress.  This is when the question of “what are we still doing wrong?” becomes best answered by, “We are doing too much.”

Parent helping child study

Reflecting on which students seem to best able to adapt and progress with minimal intervention and which constantly struggle, I’m convinced that the main difference lies in parents.

Parents have the ability to begin their children’s education as early as they wish and ensure they are learning the concepts, skills, and attitudes they need to be successful at an early age. Parents have the ability to have one-on-one “lessons” (read: conversations) with their children. These sessions can be free of the usual classroom distractions, free of discipline issues that detract from instruction, and free of peer pressure to underperform. Parents alone may enjoy concentrated conversations that not only clarify, but reward natural curiosity and inquiry. Parents can do, one-on-one with their children, what a teacher cannot do in several tutorial sessions.

I realize that not all parents feel confident in their essay writing skills or their algebra knowledge. Many probably couldn’t say with certainty what binomial nomenclature is, much less explain how to identify a prepositional phrase.

I realize that many parents, overwhelmed by poverty, work several jobs to make ends meet. Time for these conversations is scarce if existent at all.

I realize that some parents don’t find education as important as football, cheer leading, or soccer practice.

Do It

To many, having an educated child isn’t as glorious as having a child who is makes a game-saving Friday night touchdown (in the short run).

I realize that this idea causes parents to invest in their kids in a way that exposes their own doubts, fears, and lack of confidence in education. It asks parents to take time out to re-learn material that might have been the cause for grief and frustration during their school days.

What if, though, parents agreed to find ways around some of these barriers? What if they used technology to assist in teaching the lessons instead of relying solely on their own knowledge? What if parents asked neighbors, grandparents, and after-school programs to help push a culture of education? What if parents took pride in their child’s ability to find the hypotenuse of a triangle and make head cheerleader? What if parents decided they didn’t want anything to stop their kids from succeeding, even if it meant confronting their own self-doubts?

I’m beginning a series of articles meant to help parents of all back grounds, cultures, and educational levels to begin fostering a climate of education in their homes on a daily basis. I’ll talk about what I find most secondary students lacking in their academic backgrounds as well as what has worked with my own students and even my own children. My goal is to empower parents to make a difference in their children’s lives, making school a much less stressful place to be. (No helicoptering needed!) 

Hopefully, this testing fad will fade and usher in a new educational era of freedom for students and trust in teachers. Until then, it takes a village.

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Teaching

The Cost of High-Stakes Testing

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Test anxiety affects even Grumpy Cat.

This week, I had a Sophomore tell me he wanted to drop out. 

He is an intelligent, affable, respectful, kind, and enjoyable student. He gets along with others. He works hard. He asks questions. He cares about his grades. He turns his work in and has even voluntarily come for tutorials. But he has not passed a single standardized test while in high school. 

Texas introduced a series of new standardized tests to replace the TAKS test in 2012. The End of Course (EOC) exams in high school and STAAR exams in the lower grades are meant to meet federal requirements instated with No Child Left Behind and other similar state legislation. By the most recently updated standards, students entering 11th grade next year should have passed five tests — two of which are English tests — demonstrating their proficiency in the state’s TEKS. The tests focus on two-part questions that are meant to determine both a student’s knowledge of the material as well as their ability to reason and problem-solve. 

My district, like many others, has become “data-driven” — the latest fad in public education here in Texas. We are turning back the clocks to a time when technocrats ruled corporations with iron-fisted adherence to “the bottom line.” Regardless if the product is quality or not, regardless of whether our work is meaningful or lasting, we WILL produce results that appear quantifiably satisfactory. Our success has become quintile-based, our achievements parsed into sub-pop strategies, and the measure of our worth based on one lone testing date. 

To ensure the district can appear blameless to the powers-that-be, we have administered test after test after test to our students. We test them every three weeks in their core subjects to measure their progress and determine their likelihood of passing the EOC. Teachers must analyze their classes’ data, meet with administrators to discuss the results and provide answers for why their scores are thus or thus. Teachers must work to develop strategies to ensure their students are on the mark, prepared and projected to pass in the Spring. We must discuss students as numbers and develop strategies to get our bottom line to an acceptable level. When we finally near the official test, we administer a full-length mock test. Much like an election poll, it attempts to predict our final numbers. 

Meanwhile, Sophomore students who failed any one of their Freshmen exams (or all of them) are re-taking the exam over and over in hopes to pass at some point in the year. Many are repeatedly met with disappointment. They are placed in remedial classes for a semester meant to help them pass the test(s) they are failing. They are taken out of their electives and sent to tutorial pull-outs with a teacher during her conference. Their parents are informed of their lack of achievement. 

Students as well as teachers are expected to perform above satisfactory level in class each day, on each three-week’s assessment, on each attempt of the exam, during their remedial class, and during their mandatory tutorial pull-outs. If not, students are assigned to mandatory morning tutorials with the same teacher. The pressure mounts for students and teachers as administrators walk through classes and tutorials, trying to figure out just what exactly a teacher is doing wrong. 

This gives you some sort of idea of the state of public education at the moment. 

It also puts into perspective my student’s desire to drop out. Repeatedly, he has been told he is a failure by our public school system. This student, who will make a wonderful employee some day, believes himself to be a failure. He is weary from the constant defeats. He is depressed by a lack of success. Because all that matters now is the bottom line. 

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While annotating the rhetoric in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” my students and I took a moment to explore the phenomenon of mob psychology in the context of the civil rights movement of the 60s. This video helped them understand the first follower’s role of leadership in a movement and highlighted MLK’s strategy to treat others as equals. This video is one of the most powerfully educational resources regarding the creation of change.

Teaching

What if the expectations on your list just went away?

I am preparing King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” for our foray into persuasive rhetoric. I found a WONDERFUL color-coded guide* that highlights ethos, pathos, logos, and the opposition’s arguments. I’m ecstatic. Yes, this pairs beautifully with our reading of Othello and its themes as well as February’s Black History Month activities.

However, as I’m preparing my research, I took several bunny trails into tangential topics. That’s when I found Noel Ignatiev’s How the Irish Became White. A writing assignment was a’ brewin’. I’ve already delved into the usual topics with them: race is a social construct, we should be judged by the content of our character, et cetera. They love these topics and generally have SO MUCH to say about them.

Today, I put on the board “Hispanic,” “Black,” and “White.” I asked them to privately write down what they thought each means. “Just brainstorm, no one will read your papers, I don’t want to see them.” Conversations buzzed about skin tone, heritage, culture, wealth, status, dialect, music, and education. Then I asked them, “What if the expectations on your list just went away?”

Blink. Blink. 

They were silent. They needed a moment to think about what that meant. The bell rang but no one moved. I rephrased the question. “What if everyone in the US just tore up the mental list they have of what these things mean? What if these words didn’t carry expectation or judgment of anyone? What if these labels just vanished?”  To be clear, I wasn’t advocating the annihilation of anyone’s heritage, culture, or history. Just that they are important to us all. No longer is it “them” and “us.” There would be no “them,” only “us.”

“We would have peace.”

“We could be really free.”

“No one would ask me what I am anymore.”

“We could do what we want.”

“We would be less afraid.”

Admittedly, the lesson isn’t perfect. I know it is a tough topic and fraught with emotion. I have some work to do on the framing, the prompt, and the historical aspects of the question. I need to teach a little about schemas and  what happens when we destroy harmful ones we have. I need to mention that all social progress depends on the willingness question and even modify one’s beliefs. I need to clearly tie it all to Dr. King’s letter — which is itself an attempt at changing a nation’s schema.

Regardless, I think it’s a good question. I don’t know what they will write in the expository papers they produce. But I’m sure it will be deeply personal and, I hope, optimistic.

*Thank you Dr. Laurel Lacroix for the beautiful analysis. 

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Teaching

Professional Courtesy — A Tall Order

You tell 'em Grumpy Cat.

You tell ’em Grumpy Cat.

I’ve worked many different jobs and been in many professional environments. I’ve worked in sales, a restaurant, a greenhouse, and as a receptionist in addition to my ten year career as a teacher. Regardless of where I have worked, I never had anyone make comments about my height nor have I heard comments about anyone else’s. Except as an educator.

I’m completely baffled as to why education is the only field where this occurs. Repeatedly.

Maybe this is because remarking on other physical attributes would constitute racism, sexism, or even harassment. The only “safe” feature left for for the inadvertently rude is height. Despite the fact these commentators might never make the mistake of informing a woman she has big boobs or a man how very dark his skin is, they don’t seem to be aware that height remarks are still a jerk-thing to say. Here is a sample of the sort of comments I’ve gotten from students and fellow educators over the last ten years. (No, there isn’t really a discernible way to tell the difference, other than perhaps formal language usage.)

“Dang you short.”

“Are you ever gonna grow up? You’re not very tall, you know.”

“She’s so short, we could just stuff her in the overhead compartment.”

“Miss, you short.”

“Are you a student? You’re not?! You’re just so short I assumed you were.”

“You know you short, right?”

“There you are, short stuff. Wanna walk with me to the meeting?”

“Ms. D, how come you so short? Did you drink a lot of coffee when you was a kid?”

“Hey shorty! Almost didn’t see you there, I thought you were a kid.”

“Naw, really, Miss, I ain’t tryna be rude, but how tall are you? For real?”

Ugh.

The comments are rude, for certain, but also imply I’m somehow grotesque. That my height is a distortion, a malformation of what is acceptable.  Full disclosure: I am 5 feet tall exactly and am FULLY aware that it isn’t considered tall by anyone’s standards. It is no where near average, I know. But why should this particular height inspire shock or shockingly rude comments? Especially among fellow professionals?

Good teachers have a way of turning ignorant comments into teachable moments while accepting children’s unintentional rudeness with a shrug. Good teachers know that sometimes an important lesson about how to treat others matters even more than one’s personal dignity and desire for respect. With children, I can understand where the comments come from without taking extraordinary offense. Maybe I’m annoyed, sure, but they don’t have any idea how their observation sounds. In fact, they make all sorts of seemingly random and sometimes offensive comments about others’ physical appearances with fellow teens. They’re children.

And to children, I can comfortably say, “Why would you feel you need to say something like that? Do you think I’m unaware? How do you think a comment like that would be received?” And presto, a quick lesson on communication skills. I don’t feel as though I should need to have this conversation with my colleagues.

But maybe I do.

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