I am a Teacher Advocate

My teacher advocate badge is now coming to a close, and I can’t help but reflect upon all that I learned. The issue I chose came very easily to me. In reading The Teacher Wars by Dana Goldstein, it was made very clear that gender has been an issue in the classroom since the very beginning. Women entering the educational field sparked great inspiration and awareness for women’s rights. Gender roles constructed by our society have undoubtedly pressed themselves upon education. Through the controversy of women educators, to gender bias which still exists in education today, we are seeing progress towards gender equality and understanding, but we’re not there yet.

In researching gender in the classroom, I have learned so much about hidden biases teachers accidentally place on their students. I have learned both about how girls are generally treated versus how boys are generally treated in the classroom, in ways which confine them to a stereotype that doesn’t respect their individual identity. Below is a link to a podcast of all I’ve learned. Enjoy!

Advocacy for Gender Equality in the Classroom


Morning Pages: Open Door Policy

When I become a teacher I will definitely institute an open door policy. I believe that students and other teachers should feel free to talk to me any time, about anything I do. I have had teachers through the years that are so set in their ways that they are not open for discussion surrounding their methods and teaching techniques. I think, though, that criticism from students and colleagues is some the most helpful insight you can get into your performance as a teacher.

Being a new teacher, it will be difficult at first to feel that I can open my door, since I hardly know what I am doing and will likely receive a lot of criticism that could have detrimental effects on my confidence. I think it is very necessary, though, especially since I will be new and not know how exactly to facilitate learning correctly for each diverse group of students.

Morning Pages: All Teachers Are Teachers of Literacy

Being an English teacher, sometimes you must reach beyond your content area for material to assist you in engaging students and diversifying their skills as readers and writers. What literacy looks like in an English classroom is first learning the basics of reading and writing, and then delving deeper into analysis and complex thinking. The job of an English teacher is not limited to simply teaching literacy in the common understanding of the word. We need to teach a literacy that will transcend the words on a page and find greater purpose in other content areas.

To complete this task, we as English teachers must provide the resources necessary for students to become immersed in multiple genres and topics. We can provide readings from the sciences, history, math, business, communications, philosophy, and so many others to aid our students in finding their passion, and becoming well versed in the common vernacular of what it is they want to do with their lives.

Morning Pages-Teaching by Example: Failure

When you become a teacher you take on an immense amount of responsibilities for the education of the students in your classroom. They learn so many things from you, even when you aren’t intentionally teaching them. For this reason, a lot of your teaching must be done by example. The behaviors you exhibit in the classroom are what the students will remember about you and your classroom.

We talked earlier in the semester about the concept of “not yet,” that when a student fails, it is not exclusively a failure. It is a misstep that will guide them towards further comprehension. In our classrooms, we need to construct an environment where it is ok to fail, and that students can grow in. There is no growth without failure. If you aren’t aiming higher than your abilities then you will never improve. When you aim higher than your abilities, some minor failures are immanent. If failure is absent in the classroom, then so is learning.


Let’s Get to Work!

So I’ve been working on my Teacher as Advocate badge, tirelessly researching, but now I think it’s time I finally draft my Advocacy Action plan. In choosing a subject, I wanted to find something I really related to. I also wanted to diverge from the focus of my last badge of equity of education with a concentration on accessibility of education to low income groups. I want to explore the multifaceted entity of education in all of its issues of access and quality so that when I become a teacher, I will truly appreciate the spectrum of identities in my classroom and the struggles they face in school.

In another education class of mine, we have been talking about gender in the classroom. When the professor first introduced the subject, I didn’t expect to hear much new information. I predicted talk of the glass ceiling, societally imposed gender roles, and opportunity in the career world. What I got, however, was a new perspective.

Looking at gender in the classroom is an incredibly interesting endeavor. There are so many small differences you wouldn’t notice unless you were looking for them. It seems that we take the socialization of our gender roles every where we go, and the classroom is not excluded from this. Research has shown that teachers treat students differently based upon their gender because of residual socialization resulting from our society’s views of gender roles. Female students are expected to be social, calm, good at language arts, neat, and quiet, whereas male students are expected to be independent thinkers, boisterous, rational, academically able, and socially uncommunicative to name a few.

These differences of expectations bleed into teachers’ treatment of students in discipline, class engagement, and attention allotted. The worst part about this issue is that teachers are unaware of their own bias. I think that it is the continuous socialization of gender imposed upon people throughout the entirety of their lives, including through their education, that results in the more blatant injustices that permeate our society today. Students are receiving different educations based on their genders and it needs to be addressed.

This issue requires a teacher advocate who can raise awareness of the problem. Each gender needs to be advocated for in classroom expectations because both genders should have equal expectations and opportunity. This isn’t to say that we must abandon the standard methods of discipline that have proven successful in the past, but that teachers need to stop generalizing based on gender. It might be easy for them to see a boy talking, rather than a girl, and assume he is acting out because of stereotypes, but that is an incredibly biased, unfair assumption.

Another aspect of the advocacy of this issue is research. We see boys and girls receiving different treatment in the classroom, and we recognize the potential problem, but we can’t stop there. There could be underlying factors of the differences. What if boys and girls respond better to differing levels of reservation when teachers choose to discipline? What if girls tend to like language arts more than math or science? Trends do not indicate correlation, but they do create and perpetuate stereotypes. If we do more research on this subject, it might lead us to better understand what the true issue is, and how to solve it. Trends do not define the individual.

The main point, then, of this issue is to adhere to the age old advice of getting to know your students. Treat them as individuals, not a carbon copy of their peers. Each student is unique and generalizing based on any trait they possess is incredibly neglectful to the person they are, and your duty to facilitate their intellectual growth.


Contrasting Education Organizations

Many organizations have formed through the years for the purpose of advocating for certain student groups in need of representation in the education world. Each of these organizations have underlying goals which are manifested in their activism and purpose statements. I have explored these websites to assess their aims and evaluate their stances and decide what my feelings are regarding their issue of choice.

I explored the websites for the National Center for Literacy Education, The Center for Teaching Quality, and the Education Trust. I chose these organizations to look at because they all seem to have goals differing in their specific target demographic for change. One obviously focuses on literacy, the other on teachers, and the last on student achievement. They all have the similar aim of improving education but diverge in what specific aspect of education they deem most important for change.

On the website for the National Center for Literacy Education, the advocates for the program definitely emphasize literacy as a pivotal foundation for education. Their program speaks for literacy integration in all content areas. I definitely agree with the value they place on literacy. I think literacy can unlock the potential students already possess to pursue their interests and unlock the multiple intelligences that they have the propensity to excel in. Their main form of activism exists in the classroom, integrating literacy in every content area and encouraging cross-disciplinary education.

I believe their goals and plans of action to be sound, but I wonder if they might be able to take it farther. With such an emphasis on literacy, I wonder if those who don’t excel in language skills would fall behind in every class instead of just English, then feel that they are simply not good at school. I agree that literacy is an essential skill in general education, but I wonder if this program might neglect a student who thrives in math, science, or history, but without proficiency in literacy. It’s true it would be a teacher’s role in this situation to help them with their literacy skills, but they should also acknowledge the student’s other abilities. The teacher advocate would need to speak up for the unique abilities of the student to make sure he/she didn’t fall behind.

The Center for Teaching Quality, in contrast with the National Center for Literacy Education, places an emphasis more on the abilities of the teachers than the students. It works towards cultivating a strong teacher force that adheres to research based practices that have been proven to educate students in the best way possible. Most of their advocacy occurs online in a public forum where teachers can share their successes and failures with certain techniques. It is used to provide teachers with an interactive resource which they can engage to learn about current teaching methods. I agree with their aims of developing teacher skills in a public forum conducive to discussion. I believe it is a great resource for teachers to explore and share stories.

The Education Trust places their focus on equity of education, especially for those of color or low-income. They emphasize that all students deserve equal opportunity to their peers, which means intervention and provision of resources is very important. The Education Trust seems to be more of an activist program than the others, because of its high involvement in policy issues and representation of student populations in legislation. It also seems much more specific in its target demographic. Because of their goal of equity, they do need to work specifically with students of lower opportunity. I agree with their goals to make education available to all and to create truly equal opportunity for all students.

These three resources, though possessing specific concentrations for their efforts, all work towards the betterment of the United States education system. They all have very admirable goals which teacher advocates and leaders should invest their time in. In this age of technology, internet resources are incredibly valuable for public discussion and action. To garner support for specific aims teachers need to join public conversation on the issues and subscribe to or create websites like these to facilitate discussion and awareness for the betterment of education.

Morning Pages: The Privilege Walk

In the privilege walk activity I noticed many people were behind me. That struck me as surprising just because we don’t address privileges in everyday life. They just seem to happen and no one says much about it. I think that’s because people with privilege don’t want their privilege taken away, even though they wouldn’t go outright and say that. They have come to live with the privilege and if it is taken away they will feel like they have been wronged.

I would use this activity in my classroom if the students were mature enough to talk about these deep issues. When students are young their conceptions of privilege are very narrow if existent at all. Students don’t always know that what they have is a privilege simply because they have grown up with it and it is considered a given. Awakening students to the injustice is important, but at a point when they can understand. That’s not to say that the concept of privilege should be hidden, it should be discussed in the classroom, but students shouldn’t be given the harsh realities before they have the maturity to handle their privilege or lack there of. Also pointing out the disadvantage of certain students at a young age might be detrimental to their confidence and hurt their feelings.

I think this activity is a great way to introduce the concept of privilege to students and give them a new perspective on the world around them that they live in every day. It will make some students uncomfortable but it is a necessary discomfort that we need to first provoke then discuss. People need to be aware of privilege before we can even begin to discuss how to solve the issue of disadvantage.

Meet the Expert

I recently got to spend some time talking with Antero Garcia, co-author of Pose, Wobble, Flow and what he had to say about the current state of education was very interesting. We talked about my teacher as advocate badge and what exactly the issues are that affect students today, and where they are in dire need of an advocate to assist them. The topic that dominated our conversation was the Every Student Succeeds Act passed last year. Antero has worked in education legislation before and had a very unique perspective to contribute.

He said that one of the most pressing issues in education is the upcoming presidential election. It is quite obvious that most candidates do not know much about education, since they will end up delegating to their secretary of education, but the change will still inevitably alter the future course of education. Antero suggested that because of the electoral politics surrounding education, teachers must advocate for students in a forum that they have limited access to and understanding of; legislation.

There were undeniably flaws in the No Child Left Behind provision. Now that legislation has changed we wait to see what the alternative could be. A lot of the issues surrounding the provision were implementation based, which could very well be a problem with ESSA. Consensus has widely been that standardized testing needs to have less power over what we teach in the classrooms and how we measure success. ESSA transfers much of the testing and standardization powers to the states, but we have not found a way to change the values that we hold in high academic esteem.

Testing only assesses a narrow facet of a student’s thinking. It does not address multiple intelligences, individual skills outside of academia, or a student’s true propensity of thought. Though this type of assessment does not yet exist, we need to start working towards something like it. We need to acknowledge the skills and abilities that heavily contribute to our society, but are not recognized in the academic world.

Meeting with Antero was incredibly beneficial and I wish we could have talked longer. His insight gave me a real idea of what the issues are facing the students and teachers of the next generation. It gave me a glimpse into the future of education and what I need to invest research into for effective advocacy when I finally become a teacher. The most valuable thing I learned from the experience was that advocacy must be a very public, very political endeavor if real change is the goal. It gave me the nudge I needed to realize that I cannot stay quiet and hope to create change. I need to go public.

ESSA and the Standardization of Education

     In a press release from Education Week for a Quality Counts 2016 Report and Rankings they said, “to improve the nation’s schools has been fought largely on two fronts: academic standards as one battleground, and accountability as the other.” This identifies the two facets by which academic success are measured in the U.S. How students compare to others in the nation has overwhelmingly steered policy towards standardized testing as a tool used to measure success. With the recent Every Student Succeeds Act, the government has been hoping to relieve some of this pressure to perform at nation standards, to centralize standards more around state goals.

     Standardized testing has been a major issue since the passing of the No Child Left Behind measure under the Bush administration. It is unfortunate that the only ways we have found to measure academic success are tests based on arbitrary standards. It is generally accepted in the U.S. that success is subjective and there are different areas of strength which should be valued. We all acknowledge in society the value of the individual and individual strengths, but we seem to standardize the meaning of success in education.

     It’s true that in order for public education to provide equal opportunities for students there needs to be some standardization, but in order for our tests to reflect the different values and strengths that we need to acknowledge, we need to start discussing a way to assess individual success rather than arbitrary skill obtainment. Somehow we need to find a way to acknowledge the multiple intelligences in testing, or at least in the accountability aspect of success. Some teachers might be amazing at cultivating an individual student’s skills, but in a way that does not appear on testing. Teachers need to be accountable to the students, not the tests.

Morning Pages: Teacher as Reader

I have always loved to read. It is something I have known ever since I was a kid. So when I come upon someone who does does not like to read, I am a little shocked. I have had to learn throughout my life that some people just do not like reading. The optimist in me would say they just haven’t found the right book yet, but what if that isn’t true? What if some people genuinely don’t like to read and never will?

When I become an English teacher, this is an issue that I will invariably have to confront. Some students will simply hate to read. The first thing I will do to try and change this, will be to try and help them find books they will like. I will look at content, difficulty of text, storyline, and the individual interests of the student in hopes of finding something that will engage them.

As a teacher I will need to model my love of reading and show students what it is to love reading. I will read alongside my students so that I will be able to know their struggles personally. Being a teacher as reader is so important to show students that reading is exciting. And if students hate reading I will try to find a forum that they are more able to relate to.