A Call To Uplift Students, Not Tear Them Down

pexels-photo-191100Last month I discussed a few newsworthy changes in the city of Baltimore, where certain schools have started implementing meditation in lieu of detention. This approach is is inspiring and certainly something from which we (those charged with caring for and educating students) can learn. Yet apparently such inspiration has not made its way around the entire city.

This past week a video surfaced of a teacher at a Baltimore Middle School, Harlem Park, berating children, who had apparently not heeded her instruction and were unresponsive to her directives about doing work. The video begins with the woman, who has now been let go by the school, removing a disruptive student from the classroom. By the end of the short clip, the teacher is calling all of the children stupid and telling them they’re the N-words bound to get shot. The teacher was white.

But her race alone is not the most alarming part. Her tone and the way she chose to address these students is most upsetting. To be clear, having worked in education, I understand that students can get rowdy, that some days are not as great as others, and that on those days, some students just won’t listen. That is not ideal but it comes with the territory, and educators should be prepared for dealing with it, especially if their goal is teach in a school or district where the population is historically underserved and impoverished.

Those children, as disrespectful as they are and as nerve racking as they can be, are just that, children. Many are disaffected by the education system because they deal with a world of hell outside of the school’s walls, which may include gun violence, drug abuse, hunger, incarcerated parents, bullying, and yes, racism. As I’ve discussed previously, these experiences can be traumatic, making learning (as well as teaching) difficult.

In turn, these children need the opposite. They need attention and teachers who care, who are willing to give the hard love that may turn them around, and who are able discipline without using profanity and demeaning language. Perhaps meditation is not a possibility for every school or classroom, but compassionate teachers should be.

And maybe this is an example of teachers needing to meditate themselves, or find some other way to care for themselves, to destress and decompress, and this should be encouraged by the schools. The job of being an educator is not easy in anyway, and being responsible for young adult lives, even when it seems like you’re the only one, is draining. Yet many of us have entered the profession, knowing the risks and still rising to the challenge with the hope of changing at least one life. If not that, then what is the purpose?

5 Ways For Parents Of Young Students To Prevent “Summer Slide” & Prepare For Success

Leo Pollard's image of a water slideSummer slide is a term used by researchers to discuss the decline in knowledge from the previous school year, and the subsequent lack of readiness for the upcoming year, due to relative academic inactivity during summer vacation months. This issue has been known for some time, but a recent article published in The Conversation, written by the parent-academic duo, Keffrelyn and Anthony Brown, approached the issue from a very unique and equally important angle: discussing the impact of race (and income) on the summer slide, and the unrecognized burden of black parents to combat it.

 

Inspired by that article, I chose to provide some tips for parents to combat this issue. Understandably, this goes against the traditional view of summer in which children and parents receive a break from the responsibilities of the school year. Breaks are important, of course. By no means am I saying that your children should not be allowed to sleep a little longer, be involved with camping activities nor enjoy the pleasantries of a true vacation. However, balance is just as important. And due to the realities of a widening achievement gap for our students, we should seize every opportunity to prevent falling behind, or advancing even, where possible.

1. Fill In The Gaps: 

Having kept up with your child’s progress throughout the year, you should have a good understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. If not, speak with their teacher to see if there are areas your child struggled with while in class. Struggling doesn’t necessarily mean something your child is failing, rather it applies anything that your child hasn’t fully grasped or still finds challenging. Use the summer as opportunity to further explain, with more careful attention and possibly less distractions than a classroom setting provides. Some children benefit from a little more time on certain subjects. Pick a few hours during the day to work on these skills, preferably in the morning while they’re alert and energetic enough to process learning. After that, they can commence their summer plans.

2.  Create A Reading List

This is something that should take place whether or not your child is struggling with literacy. Reading builds vocabulary, increases comprehension and critical thought, and is a great way to keep your child’s imagination active. With your child, select age appropriate books in which they find interest, and create a schedule/plan for them to complete the list by summer’s end. This can be accomplished by deciding a set number of pages to be read each day. If your child goes over that number, it’s fine, but it’s always good to have a goal in mind.

3. Start Journaling
To strengthen writing skills and use of the language learned in reading, encourage your child to journal. One such way is to have them journal about what they learned in a given day or during the week, as a personal record and benchmark for what you’ve accomplished. Another idea is to encourage free, creative writing and/or poetry as a way of building expression. In fact, there’s no reason why both can’t exist together.

4. Educational Games
If you play games as a family, choose ones with an element of education, or be sure to highlight the lesson in such games. For young children, games like Uno or Goldfish can strengthen matching and color skills. For older children, games like Monopoly are great for exercising simple math, and the 24 Challenge card game is great for multiplication. There are a number of others available in stores and online, with a little bit of research. What’s great about this, however, is that you can make learning fun, as it should be.

5. Family Field Trips
Last but not least. Consider family field trips to farms, the zoo, new cities, and museums. The amount of opportunities to learn and experience new things at these locations are plentiful. Take the time to create a list of takeaways you believe would be helpful for your child’s development, and encourage them to approach these trips from a vantage point of curiosity and analysis.

This will require a little more time and planning than usual, but our little ones are worth it. As teachers, we will do all we can to get children back into the groove following vacation. Yet, if we together as a team (parents, children and teachers), we can ensure our children are prepared for all situations and ready to take the bright future ahead of them.

The Value of Black Male Teachers

african-business-668397_960_720To be clear, not every black child comes from a broken home, nor readily associate with the deadbeat dad trope that is so often laid upon African Americans. Various studies and a number of publications have dismantled that theory, showing that, in comparison, black fathers are more involved in their children’s lives than other ethnicities. Still, it’s important to acknowledge that, despite those stats, single parent homes do exist, and it is often the responsibility of the mother to raise the child. That doesn’t mean said child is any less loved or will be less successful (our current president, Barack Obama, has done pretty well for himself), but there is a level of importance in children being exposed to positive male role models in daily life.

Men Teach is a nonprofit dedicated to providing content and resources for men in the classroom. In one of its blogs, a teacher discussed the dynamics of a male educational figure with his students, under the aforementioned circumstances–dual parent and single parent households. He postulates that for both boys and girls, a male teacher can be the role model and base of support necessary to bridge the gap for broken homes, and create more comfortable learning environments by exhibiting qualities of the father that other children have at home.

As a teacher, I have a keen understanding of this concept and do my best to be there for my students to assist them with problems in school, and to encourage them to make the right decisions and succeed, upon leaving. However, I am one of few, in terms of the demographic breakdown of educators around the country. Despite initiatives to change it, the population of American teachers remains overwhelmingly female and white. In fact, less than a decade ago, just 23 percent of males with a degree in education were actively teaching. Subsequently, the number of black males in the classroom is just under 7.5 percent compared to almost 2 percent  of those in the front, teaching.

To understand the importance of this representation, a recent Harvard University study shows measurable improvement in academic achievement, not just a father figure, for students of color who learn from teachers of color. Furthermore,  Gloria Ladson-Billings, speaking in Education Week’s blog for teachers, suggested that yes, it’s important for even white students to have black teachers, because it provides a foundation for instruction to be received from black people, and dismantles a racially exclusive view of hierarchy.

The challenge for schools around the country has not so much been the recruiting, but keeping these men who will have an impact on and likely enhance students’ lives. Travis Bristol stated that, to turn the tide, “…districts must ensure that black male teachers are not concentrated in the worst-performing schools…[and] think of more expansive roles for [them] to serve besides policing the hallways and the front of the building…” I completely agree. It’s time for the country to use its understanding of representation to highlight the value of black men in the classroom, starting now.

The Case for Unionization in Charter Schools

Teachers_meeting_2048x1536Teaching is, perhaps, the most integral role and existing profession in a functioning society. Without education and the efforts of educators who work tirelessly to lay foundations in math and science for our doctors, challenge our lawyers with critical thought, language and social studies, as well as inspire and groom our artists, there is no hope; we do not become greater, stronger, and more powerful as a whole. That is why teachers are highly regarded in local communities around the world, and why, even today, there are a number of campaigns within and programs within the United States, dedicated to attracting individuals which will lead the way for the future.

However, despite acknowledgement of their vast importance, educators around the country face challenges which threaten to further weaken the fabric of our education system. I’ve spoken previously about the effects of charter schools on students in the most vulnerable parts of our society. How, due to strict no tolerance policies and bias, children of color are treated more harshly and those with disabilities are altogether excluded from schools which promise to be the answer for an academic infrastructure in decline. However, the problems don’t begin with the treatment of students; the problem is a result of the idea that school is a business rather than an institution created to develop and educate children.

Charter schools around the country are run by for-profit management companies. Often times, their approach to public education is rooted in a office-594132_960_720desire to attract investments rather than investing in children. As a result, these organizations compete for educators and students to create storybook schools which focus on standardized testing as a measure of success. Subsequently, it is not uncommon for teachers to be expected to work demanding hours for the sake of meeting these requirements. Moreover, many do so without comparable pay, receiving considerably smaller salaries than teachers in traditional public schools. This environment has been created by the anti-collective bargaining stance perpetuated by most charters, which are also subject fewer government rules and regulations.

startup-photos-largeThis lack of and overall fight against unionization undermines the value of educators. Furthermore, it is creates a system of absolute power without adequate legal representation for teachers treated unfairly. Some have argued that unions, in fact, give teachers too much power and are a threat to carrying out education reform in failing schools. However, I would argue, that is not the fault of nor the impetus behind unions. Failing schools exist for a number of reasons, namely: lack of adequate leadership, disproportionate resources, lackluster curriculums, and failure by greater powers to address systemic problems of the communities in which the school exists. Teachers, with proper skills and passion for teaching, remain on the frontlines of those fighting to not only fix these issues, but to ensure that students receive the education they deserve. In doing so, they have the right to be heard, appreciated, and compensated for the invaluable work they carry out daily, yearly and, often, for a lifetime.