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Yesterday, February 18, I attended a seminar on quality teaching sponsored jointly by the Education Writers Association and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.  There were more than 50 journalists who write about education, just over a dozen educators, each of whom blogs/writes about education, and several experts who presented and took questions.  I will before the holiday weekend is over write a more extensive piece about my reflections on the event.

One interesting part of the event was a dialog among the journalists and educators.  In an email discussion, the educators have decided to offer some suggestions to the journalists about stories they can do to more completely tell their readers about teaching, schools, education.   The first such post was by Ariel Sacks and can be read here.

I want to expand on an idea I shared with a journalist from San Antonio, an editor who supervises four reporters who cover education.   It occurred at dinner, in an Indian restaurant, when she was sitting with three of us.  I am, as regular readers know, a teacher of social studies in suburban DC, who came to teaching late.  The other two were Dan, who teaches English  at a DC charter school, and Mark, who after graduating from Harvard and getting an MBA developed his own business in New York.  It was after he sold his business and moved to Washington, where he too teaches English.

Please keep reading.

The journalist, Audrey, asked what we thought might be characteristic of effective teachers.  I turned to Mark and suggested he talk in detail about any five students he taught.  At first he asked if I were serious.  I assured him I knew he could.  So he started.

I won't repeat the stories, which were powerful, of the several students he discussed.  He talked about each in detail, for several minutes each.  He knew them, he made clear to them that he knew them, and that it was because he knew and cared about them that he was going to continue to challenge them.  

My point to Audrey was this, that while we may each do it in our own way, I would suspect that were she to talk to any of the educators there we would be able to tell similar stories, if not about every student in our care, about most.  Effective teachers get to know their students, not merely as the person in my class for 45 minutes a day, but other things that matter to them.

What might this suggest for stories that would more completely tell about the real task of teaching, which is something very far from focusing on test scores?  Perhaps journalists could do stories about teachers where they share about their students and the work those students do, and also ask the students to share about why they do that work, for those teachers?  Ask the students what matters in their education, what motivates them to work hard -  in most cases it is not focusing on the test or the grade for its own sake, but because the student does not want to disappoint the teacher, because the student knows s/he matters to the teacher.  

Somehow within this one can explore with teachers how they came to focus on the students in the way that they do.  And within such a story readers can begin to understand what the best teachers bring to their craft, why they are effective, and how we can develop such teachers.

I realize this may seem a bit vague.  It has to be so.  That is because very good teachers are very different, each very much herself.  We all care, but how we demonstrate that care might vary as much by the type of students we have as it will by the curriculum we are assigned to teach.  Please note the way I phrase that, because during the day when a journalist asked me what i taught my answer was always the same:  I teach students.   From there we can get to their age - mainly 10th graders - and the subject for which they are assigned to me - two different levels of government.  The focus is first and foremost the students.

I will explore the event more in a subsequent post.   It had its good points and its weaknesses.  Linda Perlstein, public editor of the Education Writers Association, should be commended for organizing this event, perhaps the first time the voices of teachers were so publicly included in discussions about how to cover education.  

For now, since Ariel had posted her story suggestion, I thought I also ought to offer mine.

Peace.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I am interested in your responses (17+ / 0-)

    and having had a nap, am likely to be up for a while should anyone want to dialog.

    peace

    "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

    by teacherken on Sat Feb 19, 2011 at 08:21:07 PM PST

  •  I know this is not my normal time (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sandblaster, JanL, Vtdblue, Mostel26, mapamp

    and I wonder how many people will actually find this.  To get it visible on the front page under the new setup, it will have to be recommended by at least one trusted user.  I do hope it at least gets that.  :-)

    "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

    by teacherken on Sat Feb 19, 2011 at 08:41:25 PM PST

  •  I recced it (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Heart of the Rockies, JanL, Vtdblue

    but for some reason lost TU status, so I can't help with the rec list thing.  Wish I could.  

    Excellent diary.  

    Can you republish somewhere for another time?  Are you a contributor to a group that could republish?

    Thanks.

    Peace, Hope, Faith, Love

    by mapamp on Sat Feb 19, 2011 at 08:53:49 PM PST

    •  I have access to other blogs (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JanL, mapamp

      that focus on education, and may crosspost this later.

      Knowing Ariel had posted her piece, I thought I would at least get this up.  I have not yet mentally processed the whole event, and will write something about that in next two days, in which I might revisit this topic some.

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Sat Feb 19, 2011 at 08:59:08 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Great way to illustrate what makes a teacher, (5+ / 0-)

    Ken. Both my folks were teachers, and I'm also in education, and I couldn't agree more that the difference is the caring -- at least for those who are not burned out or checked out.  And the students KNOW it when you give a crap about them, and care that they learn about subject and life.  

    I will have to use your dinner table example in the future.  It gets at part of why the "MBA" production line model of merit pay and teacher assessment is so effing off base.

    Conservatives are] engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; ...the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness. JK Galbraith

    by Vtdblue on Sat Feb 19, 2011 at 08:53:56 PM PST

    •  I am interested in what other (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JanL, Vtdblue

      teachers at the event will offer to the journalists.  One whose own blog is under construction has just posted a suggestion as a comment on Ariel's blog, so now at least three of us have offered suggestions.

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Sat Feb 19, 2011 at 09:17:55 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Truant student (6+ / 0-)

      I once had a student who was habitually truant.  I spent my precious free time during the school day to track it down and report it to someone in the administration.

      After he was caught and whatever they did to truants happened to him, he came to me and thanked me.  He said it had never mattered to anyone before whether or not he attended class.  He was grateful that I cared about him.

      This happened over 40 years ago, and I will never forget how hard it hit me--that a student would feel so neglected and inconsequential.

      •  I think of my first Katrina refugee (5+ / 0-)

        who was a royal pain in the ass.  He fought me every step of the way.   He was a sophomore.  When he was a senior he came to me and asked me to write his college recommendations.  I pointed out his performance in my class had been no where near what he could have done.  He responded that I was the teacher who challenged him the most, which probably kept him from dropping out.  And he acknowledged he had been an asshole and wanted that recognition to be part of what went along with his college application - I had helped him grow up.

        "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

        by teacherken on Sat Feb 19, 2011 at 09:49:02 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Yep, even the small acts of kindness and (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        teacherken, Heart of the Rockies

        encouragement can make a huge difference in a student's outlook on life, and their direction.  I'm amazed sometimes how just caring and treating them like human beings can touch some of them in unexpected ways.

        Conservatives are] engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; ...the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness. JK Galbraith

        by Vtdblue on Sun Feb 20, 2011 at 10:11:15 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Caring and sharing are the core of (0+ / 0-)

      society.  That's opposed to the conservative belief that domination is the organizing force.  Conservatives are wrong.  Domination creates the appearance of society, a group that sticks together for security.  That's not a real association.

      The conservative mind relies mainly on what is plain to see.

      by hannah on Sun Feb 20, 2011 at 01:19:44 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Done! (6+ / 0-)

    This may be a difficult topic for non-teachers to jawbone about, however, there is such a dearth of good writing about what skills teachers must have to bring out best in their students.
    Nice job, thanks.  :)

    Think what you are doing today. -Fred Rogers

    by JanL on Sat Feb 19, 2011 at 08:55:54 PM PST

    •  You are welcome (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sandblaster, JanL, mapamp

      we had spent the day talking about teacher training and recruiting and all kinds of other things.  It was somewhat frustrating because the set up minimized the input from teachers until near the end.   The informality of dinner allowed, with the appropriate lubricants, for some more interesting exchanges.

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Sat Feb 19, 2011 at 09:00:40 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  But, But...... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, sandblaster, JanL, tardis10

    On my new teacher assessment tool put in place this year, there's no checkbox for 'knows details about individual students'.  - So we obviously can't include that in our reporting of 'good teachers'

    There's no place on my assessment form where they check off 'emerging', 'satisfactory', 'proficient', or 'outstanding' for how I deal with the kid in my 2nd period who I give a pack of cheddar crackers to at least twice a week because he's starving due to the fact that between his free lunch and the next morning's free breakfast, he might not have anything to eat at home.  - So we obviously can't include that in our reporting of 'good teachers'

    And when the girl, who works 30 hours a week, only to have her dad and step mom cash the check and buy drugs, fails the End of Course test by one question, that WILL go on my record, and in the future may affect my pay scale.

    Oh and in 2 weeks I will NOT be attending my son's first pinewood derby as a Cub Scout, as I will be coaching my school's Science Olympiad team for no extra pay.  I'm sure there will be someone there from my Board of Education noticing all the teachers spending a Saturday at work and will give us trade-off time for a required teacher workday.

    Of course, like those teachers skipping school in the Badger State, I'm just a freeloader collecting everyone else's tax dollars, not paying anything back in to the system, and spending 3 months a year lying around on my ass complaining about my 7-hour workday when school IS in session.

    But I'm an optimist.  Maybe the newspaper will put a picture of a Science Olympiad student on the front page, rather than the student who robbed a mini mart.

  •  I'm trained multiple (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken

    subject but have been working w/ students in an educational therapy context for the last 4 years (I deal most with AD/HD, exec. dysfunction, social learning and math). I love what you wrote here:

    Please note the way I phrase that, because during the day when a journalist asked me what i taught my answer was always the same:  I teach students.   From there we can get to their age - mainly 10th graders - and the subject for which they are assigned to me - two different levels of government.  The focus is first and foremost the students.

    ...it's really important for non-teachers (journalists or whomever) to remember that there are actual human beings, quite complicated each in her/his own right, in a relationship with us as we work with them. They are partners with us in the learning process and we are facilitators, helping to create the right conditions for learning. The process is founded firmly in our humanness (theirs and ours) and while I understand the need to quantify and qualify certain things (find it really important, in certain situations), there is far too much forgetting about the humanness of our students, on their own respective journeys, sitting with us and doing (in the vast majority of cases) the absolute best they can. I find it very humbling.

    We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.

    by Tookish on Sun Feb 20, 2011 at 12:43:21 AM PST

  •  Maybe journalists should observe (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, Reino, sandblaster

    classes for extended periods of time?

    They should also observe teachers during prep time and grading time.

    Every time someone tells me teaching is "easy" I ask them if they ever taught.  Of course not!

    •  I acknowledge one problem (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sandblaster, bluegrass50

      journalists have is getting teachers to be on the record.   They cannot simply come into most schools, because of issues of privacy for the students.  They cannot talk to a student in school without the permission of the parents.

      And if teachers have something that might be critical of the school or central administrations, many worry about retaliation -  they might not be subject to being fired, but they are subject to having which classes they teach changed for the following year.

      I will say that the recent impact of belt tightening, with loss of salary and stipends and cuts to pensions have made some teachers in my building who were reluctant to speak out or to be involved with union have a very different attitude.  

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Sun Feb 20, 2011 at 05:21:26 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Personality based journalism (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, sandblaster

    I wish news on education was less personality based. Instead of covering education issues they focus on personalities pushing education "reform" as the story rather than providing coverage an analysis of the actual story itself. When the "news" about education is some dim-witted talking point from Michele Rhee, President Obama, Arne Duncan, Chris Christie, Michael Bloomberg, Scott Walker, some fictional "Superman" whom people wait for, or Rick Scott the story becomes one sided because it is already written around the personality of the person rather than the issue itself. We need more coverage of issues presented with journalistic integrity rather than infotainment stories around personalities in education.

    •  perhaps I can offer something relevant (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mostel26

      about which I just posted a number of comments in the open thread.  There is a must-read from Bill Moyers.  It is a speech by the inimitable and irreplaceable Bill Moyers , given to History Makers, an organization of broadcasters and producers from around the world concerned with the challenges and opportunities faced by factual broadcasting, on January 27.  I encountered it through the daily email of Alternet.

       Here's the link

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Sun Feb 20, 2011 at 05:57:42 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Bookmarked (0+ / 0-)

        I just bookmarked that link and I'll be viewing it soon. Thank you for the information. Good reporting on reporting is important to having a viable democracy.  When I read Manufacturing Consent by Chomsky it changed my view of the world by leaps and bounds.

  •  Savage Inequalities (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, Mostel26

    While I like the ideas you presented to reporters, I also wish that some of them would re-examine the stories in Kozol's Savage Inequalities. Because that book is now twenty years old, many people have never heard of it, and it is somewhat out of date--it was pre-NCLB. Unfortunately, the basic truths in that book are still with us, and they are a primary reason that the United States scores poorly on international comparisons. It is also unfortunate that our media does not want to address the inequalities in our society and in our educational system.

    "H.R.W.A.T.P.T.R.T.C.I.T.G -- He really was a terrible president that ran the country into the ground."

    by Reino on Sun Feb 20, 2011 at 06:26:09 AM PST

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