Charter schools are the sexiest thing going in New York City education. They are fountains of educational innovation in that city, even as charters languish in many other parts of America. Those schools are not without their own unique set of controversies beyond the typical ones regarding unions and privatization, however. As outlined by Amy Pereira and Trymaine Lee in an article titled “A Day in the Life of a Divided School,” one of the most hotly contested education issues in that city is school co-location, the practice of Continue reading
When I was a 2nd grader at a Catholic elementary school, Pope John Paul II was like a real-life Santa Claus. Everybody my age liked him so much, we didn’t even care that he was never going to pop down the chimney and leave us presents. Just like Santa Claus, he was always smiling, he wore the same iconic outfit all the time, and whenever he talked, everybody cheered. Many of my Catholic friends to this day refer to him as JP2. Continue reading
Library workers aren’t just caretakers of books. They’re caretakers of the children who read them. I have such wonderful memories of my little school library when I was growing up. There was a nice soft carpet on the floor in the children’s corner, where we would sit while the librarian read books to us like The Stinky Cheese Man, a new crowd favorite. Every book had an orange card in the back, which I could write my name on as I looked at the names of the kids who had checked it out before me. The only computer in the room was used by the librarian for inventory, but with all those books, who needed a computer?
Working in a school library has changed quite a lot in the last 20 years, probably more than any other job in education. The orange cards have been replaced with bar codes. Card catalogues have been replaced with computers. The internet is just as ubiquitous as books and magazines. However, the mission of school libraries hasn’t changed: to expose children to ideas that are much bigger than themselves, and to connect children with the people who come up with those ideas. It’s a big world outside the school gate, and media has a way of making that world seem bigger and smaller at the same time. Throughout these technological advancements, library workers have been at the forefront of learning and implementing new educational technologies. They’re the ones helping kids put together their research projects on the Amazon rain forest. They’re the ones helping teachers experiment with math games on a new set of iPads. They’re the ones making sure that the whole school has access to the best online periodicals.
That said, they’re still the ones introducing a new class of kindergarteners to the newest, silliest books. Some things never change. When you’re a little kid, libraries can seem like magical places, but they’re not created through magic. People make them possible.
Want to support libraries in your schools and neighborhoods? Visit ilovelibraries.org and sign “The Declaration for the Right to Libraries.”
My first impression of my urban high school at the age of 16 came in my guidance counselor’s office at my orientation. My family had just moved from a very small, very white town earlier that summer. My counselor felt the need to give me some background on the student body of the school.
“You’re going to experience quite a culture shock,” he said. He went on to tell me this was a very diverse school, but he was eager to add that there was no gang activity there, citing a lone example of a group of kids that had made a habit of rolling up one pant leg. He insisted that the administration had quickly put that to rest.
“Keep your head up, look assertive, and you’ll be fine,” he added. I can only imagine what my poor mother was thinking as she sat next to me.
This man clearly thought that he was doing me a favor my telling me to be on my guard. Instead, he was perpetuating a whole slew of stereotypes. Why did he assume that he needed to say these things to me? Did he think I couldn’t deal with kids who were different from me? Who were poorer than me? Did he expect me to become a victim in this situation because I was white?
It’s hard not to see the latent racism and ignorance in his words. For all I know, this was a decent man who had spent over 30 years counseling kids. He had probably seen the school and its student body change a lot. More poor families, more immigrant families, fewer white families. But why assume that a scrawny white girl from Northern Michigan would have a hard time flourishing in a diverse urban environment?
I went on to make friends with a lot of kids who were quite different from me in many ways. My life has been much richer for it. I don’t think I was a uniquely kind or open-minded teenager. Rather, my happiness and success were thanks to the kids at that school who were kind and friendly enough to want to be friends with the new kid.
Children are so perceptive, and they pick up on so many of the thoughts and emotions of adults. However, it’s also possible that they choose not to adopt the ignorant notions of older generations.
When I think back on that moment, the most difficult part for me to deal with is the fact that I wasn’t the one who was harmed in that exchange. Instead, that mentality harmed the minority kids at my school. I was 16 years old and I was already scared to be starting at a new school anyway. His planting of that suspicion of my fellow students in my head was nothing but destructive. In a different situation, that suspicion may have turned into an ignorance to match his. I’m so thankful that the diverse student body and group of teachers were welcoming enough to dispel those suspicions.
I’ve come to understand, though, that I had no reason to expect anything other than kindness. We send kids to school so that they learn to engage with other kids and become a community of learners. Growth doesn’t come from exposure to people just like ourselves. It comes from working with people who are different. There’s no reason to lead kids to believe that they won’t be able to handle those differences. Doing so only perpetuates ignorance, fear, and self-segregation. And worse yet, minority kids are always the ones that are harmed, not the white students who are told to be cautious and vigilant.
The Confidence Code, a new book authored by ABC’s Claire Shipman and BBC’s Katty Kay, reveals new research into the differences between men’s and women’s confidence and how those differences affect important areas of life such as workplace performance. This dynamic certainly begins even earlier, in the classroom. As Shipman points out, girls of today tend to work hard and strive for perfection in their grades rather than take academic risks. When they graduate from college with impressive degrees, the skills that helped them earn those degrees don’t necessarily transfer to the workplace. In an article posted today on ABCNews.com, she notes of women, “Perhaps we’ve contemplated taking a larger step – a run for local office or a change of career – but we opt for caution over risk. For most women, such feelings are so commonplace we’ve discount[ed] them. But, in truth, they represent a profound confidence gap between men and women, especially in the workplace.” In contrast, men tend to be assertive in their contributions to discussion, decision making, and leadership. Women often take a back seat, fearing that they might make mistakes or be perceived as over-bearing.
As an educational researcher, I can’t help but wonder what educational structures and practices reinforce this confidence differential in schools. The article states that there are genetic and physiological determinants of an individual’s confidence levels, but the study also finds that individuals have agency in this. How can we teach girls the same non-cognitive skills of self-confidence and assertiveness that help boys succeed in the workplace? How can we encourage girls to take risks and view failure as a learning opportunity? Answers might be a long time coming, but the discourse generated by this research could go a long way in shifting educators’ approaches to preparing boys and girls alike for success in their careers.
Interested in taking The Confidence Quiz and contributing to this research? Click here for the link.
Chances are, your teachers and parents have been telling you for a long time that when you grow up, you can be whatever you want to be. This is exactly what they should be saying to you. But I want to give you some advice. Achieving what you want is going to be very, very difficult, and the media isn’t going to make things any easier for you and other girls. Here are three things that I want you to know before you graduate and go out into the world:
1. If you want to be a politician, be prepared for people to regularly point out your emotions.
At times, female politicians are accused of being too emotional to do their jobs, and the media loves to run with the controversy. In reality, many of the world’s most influential events have been fueled by emotion. This includes men’s emotions. The Boston Tea Party was fueled by emotion. So was the Emancipation Proclamation. And so was Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Those men were fueled by a righteous anger over the injustices they witnessed, and they took a stand about it.
Women have every right to these same feelings, and sometimes they’re what we need to motivate us to do the right thing. Sen. Barbara Mikulski spoke this week about the importance of her emotions in her fight against the gender pay gap. Here’s what she had to say:
I’ll tell you what I’m tired of hearing. That somehow or other we’re too emotional when we talk. You know, when we raise an issue, we’re too emotional. Well, I am emotional… It brings tears to my eyes to know how women every, single day are working so hard and are getting paid less. It makes me emotional to hear that. Then, when I hear all of these phony reasons — some are mean and some are meaningless — I do get emotional. I get angry, I get outraged, I get volcanic.
You might just be giving your own speech on the floor of the US Senate someday. In order to be the leader you want to be, you’ll need to defend yourself and what you’re trying to accomplish for people. Don’t let a fear of consequences keep you from doing what you believe is right.
2. Want to be a scientist, an engineer, or a mathematician? That’s amazing, but don’t expect to see many faces like yours represented when the media talks about those fields.
There are a couple of very accomplished STEM researchers on TV right now in Danica McKellar and Mayim Bialik. These women are some of the greatest thinkers of their generation, but they’re not on TV because of their achievements in math and science. They’re on TV because they’re actors.
These women were fortunate to study STEM subjects in the first place. There have been few female scientists throughout history for the sole reason that girls have not been encouraged to pursue math and science until very, very recently. This is why you don’t see many women when you watch Cosmos. That show offers some of the best educational programming out there, but it’s almost exclusively about men’s roles in the pursuit of knowledge. You deserve to see more stories about women’s contributions to knowledge in society. One of these days, you’ll be the one that kids learn about in school.
3. Don’t expect to be featured on an institution of comedy like a late night television show.
If you become a comedian, you might be able to be a guest on those shows from time to time. However, we’re still waiting to see a woman’s name on the marquee of a network show. Even if you do get your own show, chances are you won’t get on TV without first getting the help of a well-established man in the business. This won’t be your fault. This is how people like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Lena Dunham got started in television. It’s impossible to get experience if no one gives you a shot in the first place, and you can’t get ahead if you don’t have experience. That said, there will most likely be people who won’t let you forget that a man had to help you out. Ignore those people.
There will also be crummy people who say that women aren’t funny. That women can’t hold down a comedy show. That women belong in daytime. That women like to watch female hosts while both men and women like to watch male hosts. Ideas like this will take years to change. It’s doesn’t need to take years, but it will. These ideas will be infuriating, but hopefully they serve as motivation for you to prove everybody wrong.
Don’t forget that no matter what, comedy is still a business. Decisions are made based on numbers, and the current phony wisdom is that women don’t rake in those numbers like men do. Despite this, you’ll still find a way to be funny. When you’re successful, you’ll be the one giving a funny young woman her shot.
What This Means for You
Chances are, you’ll have to be better at what you do than men are just to get the same recognition. The people who make us laugh, the people who make us think, the people who make decisions for us—most of the ones you see in the media resemble the dead guys on our bank notes.
In the future, you’ll see progress in positive portrayals of successful women, but that progress will come too slowly for you to be satisfied. That’s why the world needs you. Even if people around you don’t have the same goals or ideas or sense of humor as you, we need you to be exactly who you are and believe in yourself. We need you to fight for your beliefs and build things and make us laugh. Throughout your education and career, look at what the boys are doing and then do things your way anyway. Someday, the media will be enlightened enough to give girls and women like you the recognition that you deserve. Other girls will fulfill their own dreams by writing those stories.
Many thanks to Brita Thorne and Ann Thelen for their assistance in editing this post.
Dan knows everybody. When we were in college together, whenever we went anywhere on campus, people would stop us every few minutes to say hi to him. And they usually did it very enthusiastically. You’d have thought he was a local celebrity. This all seemed so odd to me because, as one of our mutual friends likes to say, “There’s quiet, and then there’s Dan.” The guy really doesn’t say much unless he really has something to say. How on Earth did he know all these people?
After knowing him for a couple of years, things started to make sense. While we were in student government, he worked his way from assembly member to the executive board in just a year. By his junior year, he was an RA and president of a state-wide residence hall student government representing dozens of colleges and universities. Throughout that time, he became fast friends with just about everybody he met. He’s always ready with a quick smile and a kind word. In short, Dan puts himself in a position where he can make an impact on people.
He did this quite literally in June of 2012, when he arrived in Liberia as a Peace Corps volunteer. His assignment was to teach high school science at a small public high school. While I knew he was undertaking an incredible commitment, I wasn’t surprised by his desire to do so. He’s all about making meaningful commitments and seeing them through.
Dan has gotten to meet some fascinating people in the last couple of years (yes, that’s Bono above, along with a US Congressional delegation and some fellow volunteers) but knowing him, I suspect that his favorite part of his volunteerism has been building relationships with his students and colleagues.
You can read a fascinating account of Dan’s work and travels through the Peace Corps in his blog The Winding Road: Twenty-seven Months as a Member of Peace Corps Liberia. Anyone interested in education, especially international education, should take some time to read his writings.
Please give us a little background about your educational experience, including any social identities that impacted you as a student or educator.
I grew up between the small towns of Williamston and Perry, in Michigan. I attended school in the Perry Public Schools system from kindergarten through the twelfth grade. I was awarded a full-tuition scholarship to the University of Michigan by the Cook Family Foundation, and so I attended the University of. Michigan from 2007 to 2011 and completed a Bachelor of Science in Cellular and Molecular Biology.
After a year as an intern with the Michigan Department of Community Health (working on science outreach for students) I entered the Peace Corps and came to Liberia, which is an education-only program.
Volunteers in Liberia are placed in junior and senior high schools to teach math or science. My training consisted of two weeks of technical sessions followed by two weeks of model school. I taught 11th grade chemistry during the model school, during which I was observed by experienced volunteers and staff. I wrote about that experience on my blog in this post. After the remainder of Peace Corps’ training I was sent to Gorblee Central High School to teach chemistry to the 10th-12th grades. GCHS is a small, resource-poor government high school. As time went on and teacher shortages became more pronounced, I started teaching physics and math classes as well. Somewhat ironically, I never taught a single biology class in Liberia.
After one year I became a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader and was put in the role of training new volunteers to be teachers. I worked in the training of 38 new volunteers during July-August 2013.
In my role as a teacher I was definitely helped by the social identities of being white and male (I’m actually half Vietnamese but am generally perceived as white in Liberia). I was afforded respect for those identities that was greater than the respect given to a host country national of the same age.
What about your personal experience inspired you to pursue this career? If this doesn’t apply, why has a career in education been the right choice for you?
You know, I didn’t choose to pursue a career in education; I applied to the Peace Corps and it was decided that my educational profile fit what was desired to help with Liberia’s shortage of trained teachers. I enjoyed a lot about my time as a teacher – I got the opportunity to work with classes of up to 45 students (that’s small for Liberia) of very different ability. It definitely gave me a different perspective on education and the challenges that teachers can come up against. My time as a teacher and my subsequent job as volunteer leader have given me a glimpse of how the overall health of a system can impact the quality of education.
Please share a time when you were working in education and you were strongly reminded of being a student yourself. This can include memories of instructional techniques your former teachers used, teaching a favorite subject, interacting with educational institutions, etc.
The differences in ability level between the students at the high school that I attended and the one I taught at in Liberia is so vast that as a teacher I often thought back to how my favorite teachers had approached topics and wondered how they would approach a topic. Teaching physics, chemistry, and math is very different when you can be reasonably certain that the students know how to multiply and divide. I remember my friends and I breezing through assignments because foundational skills from earlier grades allowed us to focus on the concept at hand.
Tony Danza (yes, that Tony Danza) recently wrote a book entitled I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had. In it, he details working as a first-year English teacher in a Philadelphia High School. Time and time again, he experiences a great deal of remorse for his behavior as a student now that he finally understands just how difficult teaching is. As an educator, have you ever experienced this sort of remorse and empathy toward your former teachers, counselors, coaches, or administrators? Please explain.
I won’t say that I ever experienced this sort of remorse, no. I like to think that I didn’t make life too tough on teachers, and I certainly spent enough time making copies for teachers! But you do definitely gain a deeper appreciation for how difficult the job is – coming up with lessons that hit different parts of the experiential learning cycle, assessing students fairly, differentiating lessons for different ability levels, and so on—so I would say that I probably never thanked the faculty at Perry Public Schools enough.
You may contact Dan with any questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dan would like you to please note that the views expressed here and the contents of his web site are his personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.
I’m not a parent, but it seems to me that every parent I know experiences a wave of remorse from time to time. Remorse for every crummy thing they ever said or did to their parents while growing up. It’s the type of remorse that only comes from all of a sudden having to deal with that same crap from their own kids.
Recent years have shown me that many teachers experience the educational version of this exact same dynamic. I certainly dealt with it when I was teaching in AmeriCorps, and those guilty feelings pop up the more I research education and teaching. For the most part, I was a good kid who liked school, but there were plenty of times that I made things way too hard on my teachers while growing up.
My interest in this was sparked by reading Tony Danza’s book I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had. Perfect title. Danza talks extensively about how he was your quintessential ‘too cool for school’ student when he was a kid, giving his teachers a hard time and not taking school seriously. He felt like he really got his comeuppance when he became a 1st-year teacher at an urban high school in Philadelphia, where he finally discovered just how difficult it is to teach kids who don’t always want to learn.
Reading that book made me wonder if other educators experienced the same feelings of guilt, which led me to plan an interview series with some close friends and colleagues. I’ll be kicking that off tomorrow with an interview with Dan Frechtling, an old college friend who is currently working in education through the Peace Corps in Liberia. Through this series, I hope to learn more about the connections that these people make between their lives as students and their practice as educators. It’s also a good excuse for me to hear about people’s personal experiences in education, which I can never get enough of. I hope that you will enjoy these interviews as much as I will.
Danza, T. (2012). I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year as a Rookie Teacher at Northeast High. New York: Crown Archetype.
I’ve learned more about education from high school dropouts than I’ve learned from any book, article, or lecture. Despite holding a master’s degree in educational studies, working as a GED instructor for adult minority students in Southeast Washington, DC opened my eyes more than any other experience to the realities that students face as they go through the American educational system.
In many ways, my classroom was a microcosm for larger systemic educational issues. Students were shockingly lacking in basic math and literacy skills. Most of them had been repeatedly told as children that they were lazy or stupid because school was difficult for them and to this day experience anxiety just from walking into a school building. I even had a mother and her 18-year-old son in my class, evidence of the cyclical nature of academic failure and lack of opportunity in families.
Although these students should have been in adult basic education programs, my supervisor informed me that the organization had abandoned that program years ago. Many students received negative pressure in their social circles about going back to school, but being able to say, “I’m getting my GED,” still held a good amount of social prestige. There was no prestige, however, for those students to say that they were learning basic math and literacy skills. Due to sharply falling attendance, the basic education program was dropped in favor of an all-GED program.
While I was frustrated that my students were underprepared, their desire to be in my class signaled some important realities to me: they took pride in their decision to go back to school and were emotionally invested in doing well. Their reasons for returning to school were noble. Most wanted to get good jobs or hold onto the ones they had. Others wanted to be able to help their children or grandchildren with their homework. A couple even told me that they wanted to go onto college.
In all likelihood, many of those students will need to study for years before they pass the GED, and many will never pass it. And yet, they maintain hope. Perhaps merely having a positive educational experience was enough to put them on a good path after years of discouraging encounters with education.
My students knew very little of the scholarly theories we use to explain their situations. I am sure that few of them have ever learned about social capital theory, non-cognitive skills, or the legacy of Brown vs. Board of Education. They made no excuses for why the American educational system did not work for them.
As scholars, we rarely understand high school dropouts as anything other than a set of statistics. I was fortunate enough to learn at an early age that these people are valuable for much more than that. In our discourse about educational reform, these should probably be the first people we talk to about how we can improve our system, not the last. They prove that it is just as important to learn from education’s failures as its successes. And they prove that the people behind those statistics can share with us a wealth of knowledge and perspective.