Off Duty Mom

Thoughts from an exhausted mom who is NEVER really "off duty"

Archive for the tag “school”

Education and Innovation

For a long while, we’ve been in a rut where we’ve tried to shove a metaphorical square peg into a round hole. The way most kids learn today doesn’t look tremendously different from how I learned in the 80’s and 90’s which didn’t look all that different from how my parents learned in the 1950’s. That is both good and bad.

By nature, I am a traditionalist. I believe in the importance of canonical literature, for example, but that is a very controversial and (these days) unpopular opinion. I can’t help it, though. I can’t help but see the value in art, history, philosophy, literature, and a whole mess of other stuff that has kind of been pushed aside. I’m an English teacher and these days this means “get your kids to pass a standardized test” and “get kids to have basic literacy skills and that is all they need” (in other words, if kids can read, that’s good enough). There’s long been a push (at least as long as I’ve worked in the industry) to help kids gain “21st Century” skills, but I am not sure everyone is on the same page as everyone else on what that actually means.

Original Artwork by Casey Reynolds

My anecdotal conclusion is that when folks generally think about 21st Century skills, they think about technology. Cool. Yep. Technology is completely important and fundamental these days. No doubt.

But, I’d like to argue that real 21st Century skills are not so black-and-white.

I’m not sure it makes much sense to divide up learning into separate subjects like we’ve always done. I’m not sure that Readin’, Writin’, and ‘Rithmatic are all that different or should be all that separate anymore.

Educational startup, Edalex published a cool infographic that demonstrates the most-often needed skills in modern-day workplaces. They include the following soft skills:

  1. Creativity
  2. Persuasion
  3. Collaboration
  4. Adaptability
  5. Emotional Intelligence

The Edalex website also includes these “hard” skills:

  1. Blockchain
  2. Cloud computing
  3. Analytical reasoning
  4. Artificial intelligence
  5. UX design
  6. Business analysis
  7. Affiliate marketing
  8. Sales
  9. Scientific computing
  10. Video production

You might notice that, indeed, the “hard” skills mentioned are tech-heavy. But, one thing I notice is that NONE of the skills on either list is a class taught to teenagers and only some are taught at colleges and universities. So, my argument is that “English I” and “Algebra” and “American History” and “Chemistry” aren’t necessarily best-suited to exist within their own little corners of education alone. They need to be a part of a larger conceptualization of learning where multi-faceted problems must be solved by considering a variety of lenses, areas of expertise, and “subjects.”

In the biz, we refer to this as “interdisciplinary” or “cross-curricular” education. It isn’t the norm in most places, though there is a cadre of organizations doing this sort of thing online. Most brick-and-mortar schools still have “periods” in a day where student shift from one classroom to another doing work that is largely taught as being completely separate from what they learned in any other classroom that same day.

But, the world doesn’t typically exist within these confines. If I need to plan community infrastructure or evaluate best practices in marketing or build programming for veterans or create solutions to political conflicts, I won’t just use “math” or “English” or even “engineering.” I’d need an interconnected and collaborative team of folks who have more than just niche knowledge in a sub-subject. So, why do we pretend, still in schools today, that music class and geometry class and biology class are so…different?

When I was in school, I was “not good at math.” I was, instead, “good at English.” But, what does that even mean? Now, as an adult, I realize that it meant, at the time, that I struggled to conceptualize theoretical figures and information and that visual forms of data were easier for me to digest. If I had not had English and math separated out and instead had curriculum that intertwined them, imagine how different my understanding would have been not only in those subject areas, but also in my own sense of self-worth.

I encourage you to look more into organizations who are innovating in education. I am not suggesting that you pull your child out of public school right now and send him to a fancy and brand-new cyber academy. But, I mean, you can if you want. But, I actually very much believe in the power and importance of society-building public education. I just wonder if the long-held beliefs about how the public school system as a whole operates might not benefit from taking a look at some alternate ways of doing things.

Some cool folks to check out:

  1. Astra Nova
  2. Prisma
  3. Remake Learning
  4. You Media Learning Labs Network
  5. Quest to Learn
  6. Fuse Studio

Parenting During the Death of Public Education

I am going to put my ‘mom” hat back on today, but I still have my “teacher” glasses on for now.

My kids are in 5th and 8th grades. They’re pretty awesome kids. But, that’s not why you’re here.

I firmly and whole-heartedly have always supported public education. It is the way in which we build a society. It is the method by which we grow our citizens into thinking, problem-solving, collaborative adults.

That’s not to say that private schools don’t do this. But, public schools do it — for free — in your own neighborhood — while also providing a myriad of learning and support services — with fully certified teachers. As a mom, this is important to me.

Photo by Ivan Bertolazzi on Pexels.com

But, there is a shift happening in public education and it will impact our children. You may not be aware of it because you are not as far down in this rabbit hole of information as I am, so let me get you up to speed on a few things going on right now in America that are changing the way our children get their learning.

First, let’s talk about some of the absolutely bonkers stuff that is going on at the government-level. The Indiana House of Representatives passed a bill that would require teachers to submit and publish a year’s worth of lesson plans on June 30 of the year prior. This is a nicely-written article about this issue if you’d like to learn more. But, here’s the thing: if you didn’t know anything about how the work of teaching happens, this might seem ok to you. What’s the big deal? Don’t you KNOW what you’re doing? Why don’t you want to make it public? What are you hiding, you peasant public servant?

But, it is pretty impossible to do this without a pre-packaged curriculum at your disposal. I mean, I don’t know next year’s kids on June 30. I haven’t met them yet. I don’t know what their needs will be. And, honestly, there are a bazillion other reasons why this is nuts. Do you know what project you’ll be working on and exactly what your day will look like…say November 14 of this year? Most people don’t. You can give an estimate, likely, but for you to fill out a detailed agenda for every day of the next year of your life might be kinda hard.

The simple answer to this is for a school to purchase a curriculum from a company like Pearson or Cengage Learning. This is a bit of a “hmmmm…” moment for me. If legislation makes it nearly impossible NOT to purchase a product, then I am forced to buy that product, thus I make some company more money. Whose best interest is being served here? As neither a mother nor a teacher do I believe the best interest being served is my kids’.

I might add that lesson plans are not fast or easy to write. I can spend hours on one lesson for one class period of one day. There is research involved, connection to standards, inclusion of multimedia, design of projects or assignments or quizzes associated, plans for enrichment for the high-achieving kids, plans for remediation for struggling kids, the material I’ll present, how I’ll present it, what my objectives are, what ultimate goal I’m aligning this all with…seriously — I don’t just sit down and go “ummm…Hamlet. I’ll just, like, talk about Hamlet things” and that’s all there is to it. And, when you think about Hamlet as an example, you might realize that I’d have to be an expert on it before I can even start writing that single day’s lesson which, ya know, might take a minute or two. Now, multiply all of this by the number of different classes I have in one day. That can be upward of 4 or 5 for some teachers. So, they’ll do all of that for 4 or 5 different classes, for every day, for 180 days. AND have it done before they leave for the summer on top of all of the stuff that needs to be done to close out a school year: paperwork, grades, reports, etc.

Similar bills are also in places like Arizona and North Carolina where the primary concern is that teachers might talk about issues relating to race, gender, and LGBTQIA+ folks. More on that in another post. So, the quick fix, again, is to BUY a curriculum from a company whose politics you like and just deliver the content as it is packaged. I ask again whose interest we’re serving here. Watch where your money is going, folks.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Now, there are some great curricula out there and just because it comes from a major corporation doesn’t necessarily make it bad. Similarly, just because a teacher wrote it doesn’t make a lesson good. But, it does take away the need for an actual professional in the classroom. If all you need is a warm body to read from a text book, assign questions to answer, and just facilitate stuff that is in a script, you don’t really need ME. My 23 years in education, my Master’s Degree, my experience and knowledge, and understanding of students– well, none of that matters really. It’s always nice to have a seasoned veteran deliver packaged content, but it certainly isn’t necessary. It is just another brick in the wall. Your kids are just ground beef churned out by the system then.

Hey, Teacher, leave those kids alone.
Photo by Arno Senoner on Unsplash

The Washington Post reports that public school changes are alive and well across the nation and these changes are with the express purpose of privatizing education, something I thought was only a problem while that jackass lady who used to run the Department of Ed was in power. Remember her? She who shall not be named. As of this writing, there are sixteen states that are in the process of increasing their voucher programs or are fighting to otherwise shift allocation of public funding to private educational facilities. If you’re not up on all of this and aren’t sure why charters and “school choice” is actually not what you should want, you can check out this article to learn about the deliberate dismantling of public schools.

All-in-all, when we privatize education, we are putting it in the hands of FOR-PROFIT companies. Maybe this is capitalism at its finest and will increase competition which will increase results. But, here’s the reality: a private school does not HAVE to take your kid. It doesn’t have to teach your kid. It doesn’t have to keep your kid when he screws up. It doesn’t have to provide services for your kids’ special needs. It doesn’t have to DO much of anything except generally keep their numbers where they want them in order to keep the money where they want it. In some places, it doesn’t even have to hire certified teachers.

Maybe I’m crazy but I think that diversity is a good thing. I think that certified teachers are a good thing. I think that teaching critical thinking and challenging kids’ minds beyond what’s “in the book” is a good thing. I used to talk with my students about existentialism and literary critical theory. Now, we read mini-articles written two grade-levels lower than expected and regurgitate information on standardized tests. My current packaged curriculum (which is a basis for my teaching, basically informing the sequencing of units, but is not the majority of my teaching) includes ZERO novels. I’m a high school English teacher. Did you know that your child could go through four years of high school and never read a book? I won’t name the company whose curriculum includes no books at all for high school kids, but they’re one of the highest-earning, well-known educational companies on the planet and their stuff is in thousands of schools.

This is not what I want for my children. I want them to disagree with me. I want them to think. I want them to criticize and evaluate and read a damn book. Hell, THEY want to read books.

For what it’s worth, you might want to check out this article that is titled, “Are You Learning at School or Just Bullshitting Everything?” And, for fun, try Googling “why >insert curriculum company here< sucks.” It works for any of the companies. The results are terrifying and maddening and hilarious and depressing.

So, my fellow parents, if you have chosen private education for your children, cool. Whatever. That’s fine. But, please be aware that the public school system is still an important element of our nation’s functional growth. And, remember: if public school dies, all the riff-raff you’ve been trying to keep your kids away from will have to go somewhere and it might be your private school.

Things I Can’t Tell You

I am an English teacher in an urban school with a diverse population of students who are, for the most part, really terrific.  I love my job even though I have been known to complain.  But, I complain because, you know, it’s WORK and that sometimes just sucks because it is, you know, WORK.

I am a mom, too.  This should come to no surprise to you, the person who is reading an entry on a blog titled “Off Duty Mom.”

But, my kids are still pretty small.  My oldest is in Kindergarten.  So, while I work daily (and have for hmfhmghph years) with teenagers (and, yes, actually enjoy the company of teenagers), I haven’t had the privilege yet of raising any teens of my own.

And, you’d be surprised the shit I hear as your teenager’s English teacher.  You’d be disgusted, embarrassed, shocked, terrified, enraged, and/or more than mildly amused at the things I both overhear and am told absolutely directly.

Here are just a few of the things I have dealt with in my time in this line of work:

*A sophomore student was once so high, she couldn’t spell her own name right.  I sent her to the nurse since that is our protocol when we suspect drug use.  She was back in my classroom a few minutes later because the nurse could not determine the cause of the student’s unusual behavior.  She then bragged (supposedly) out of my earshot about how much weed she had run through that morning.

*A group of 18-year old students had never heard of the Beatles.  Or Tupac.

*Last week I tried to get a 14-year old male student to stop cutting himself.  Last Thursday, he e-mailed me at 12:30 am apologizing for not being able to keep this promise.  He was treated at a nearby hospital for his self-inflicted injuries.

*For the past two months, a 9th grade boy I know who is a fabulously top-notch student has been dating one of the worst human beings imaginable.  He is an athlete, he’s well-liked, he is a straight-A student.  He is articulate and personable and handsome.  His girlfriend and her mother have been taken to court twice for the girl’s truancy.  She has failed every single one of her classes every quarter since the beginning of the year.  When she is in school, she does very little actual work and mostly just casts her head downward, looking at teachers and classmates above imaginary glasses the way a Bond villain might.  I can’t tell this boy’s mother that his girlfriend is a bad influence because this would be considered inappropriate and a breach of the girl’s confidentiality.

*A Freshman boy asked me why everyone was so sad in the 20th century.  He was referring to the Great Depression, I figured out from talking with him for a few minutes.

*A 15-year old boy today just proudly announced that he was off his ADD meds.  The class looked at him, puzzled.  He, I think, was hoping for applause.

*A 16-year old boy has been confiding in me for months that his alcoholic mother physically abuses him and his father (the parents are separated) steals from him.  Yes, I have notified my superiors.  The boy and his family have been to court.  The courts have found that the boy is in a “safe” environment.  Since the abuse and thefts have started, the boy has been arrested 5 times for lashing out at others violently.  No one gives a shit if I think that this is a behavior he learned from his mother who beats the living crap out of him when she’s on the bottle.

*I suspect that a student of mine is on the Autism spectrum.  I cannot suggest this to her parents as I am not a certified medical practitioner and cannot legally make any determination or even suggestion about her health.  I referred her to a guidance counselor for evaluation, but because the young lady was already being tutored, the parents chalked up her bad grades to a basic need to step up her tutoring and denied any further evaluations.

*A 9th grade student asked me if the book we were reading took place in the time of slavery.  It was set in the 1950s.

*After spending 25 minutes explaining a research paper assignment in class one day, a student raised his hand and then asked me, what are we doing today?  Ummm… WRITING A RESEARCH PAPER?!?!?

*Today a teenage boy wrote his name on a paper to sign up to do a presentation for the class.  He listed only his first name and his last initial.  The “period” used to denote his initial was placed before, not after that letter.

*A senior student who was a “person of interest” in a crime that involved a throat-slashing sat in the front row of my class a few years back.  For legal reasons, my administration was not permitted to let me know that this young man may have been involved in this attempted murder.  When I found out about it from a colleague who had a relative in the police force, I could not share the information with anyone, either.  She was risking her job secretly warning me.

*Three students in my career have “come out” to me privately.  Since they were not a threat to themselves or others, I was not permitted to share this information with their families or friends, but was allowed to share it with the guidance counselor if that seemed appropriate.  She couldn’t share it with their families or friends, either, though.  Ordinarily, I would say that this type of privacy is a necessary thing, but when a mother called me crying about her son needing psychological care, I had to pretend that I knew nothing and couldn’t let her know that he wasn’t likely suffering from a serious disorder, but was simply gay and didn’t know how to talk to her about it.  She had him go through in-patient therapy and the doctors eventually determined that this was, of course, a complete waste of time and energy, as even the boy had insisted.  He wasn’t depressed as she had insisted he was.  His doctor finally “outed” the kid to his mom.  They no longer speak.

*A significantly troubled Autistic teen openly masturbated once in class.  The girl sitting next to him was obviously fairly traumatized.  The other students went through varying degrees of freaking-the-fuck-out depending on how much they saw/heard.  Teachers were not permitted to discuss the situation with the parents of these children other than to tell them that an “incident” had happened and that it was being “handled.”

*A 10th grader did not know that the following countries existed:  Trinidad, Austria, New Zealand and Tibet.

*An 11th grader did not know that Canada was in North America or that Hawaii was a state.

*Most of my students are shocked to learn that I read books before I teach them.  The vast majority are downright shocked when I tell them that I read most books I teach more than once.

*(I think) I talked a 16-year old out of quitting school last week.

*Today a student asked me if the bike I rode as a kid had one giant wheel on the front and a little one in the back.

*There is a student in my school who is severely depressed, but we are not supposed to know about it.  He only showers maybe a few times each month.  If we’re lucky.  We are not supposed to discuss this issue with him or with his family.  We are not supposed to make contact with Social Services.  We can only notify and re-notify our guidance department.

*I suspect a student is dyslexic.  I am not allowed to say that to her parents, though, because my degrees do not include School Psychology or an associated field, nor have I administered any diagnostic exams to suggest that she has a Learning Disability.  I can refer her generically to our Special Education Department and/or our Guidance or Social Work Departments, but if the parent calls me directly and asks me what I think her child’s problem is, I am not allowed to say.

*A parent called me to ask my opinion on a new girl who has been calling and texting her son.  I cannot tell her that this girl is a whore.  No, really.  She was cited for accepting payment in the form of designer accessories for offering blowjobs to fellow students in school.  I have to let this mother fly blind on this one.

 

All of the world’s secrets are safe with me.  Some should be.  Some are awfully damn hard to keep.

What do you think about all of this?

Guest Post

Why I Do Not Think a Five Year Old Should be Labeled ADD

by Rachel Thomas

Our daughter is seven years older than our son and she started out in public school and excelled pretty much all the way through school. She is a very controlled, structured person and not very social because of it. She found that about grade five things were changing, the boys thought the girls had cooties and no longer wanted to play with her,and the girls just wanted to talk about boys and clothes; something she had no desire to do. So she sort of just pulled herself out of the social scene and generally had one friend at a time.

Our son on the other hand was extremely social and because he was customarily around women (his sister, grandmother, and mom) he knew how to treat the girls from the get go. He had a hard time sitting and staying on task and from the time he was in Kindergarten the teacher were telling me they thought he was ADD. Being the parent of only two children, one which was extremely controlled and calm, I had a hard time accepting this. He was a happy, funny, outgoing five year old who made friends easily. He was not a behavioral problem; he just could not sit in one place for too long.

My solution was to put him back in Kindergarten again to see if he would mature enough to be able to sit still but it did not seem to help. Plus the fact that he was in a private school with an accelerated curriculum did not help. The teachers told me he could not keep up and because they were a private school they did not have any programs or after school hours to give him extra help, which frankly puzzled me. I know there is a lot more to it than I am aware of but you would think that if you were paying for a school there would be extra help.

Anyway, I struggled with what to do about the situation. I was determined to get to the bottom of this myself and not just rely on the opinions of the teachers. I, like all parents, loved my son dearly and upon their suggestion of putting him in public school because they have programs and funding for needs such as his I plotted out a course of action. Since we did not have a ton of money I talked to as many learned people as I could and found out ways I could get help. I found that our local university had a program with professors and students studying learning disabilities. I wanted to be sure what we were dealing with so I decided to take him in for testing. It was such a good experience; everyone was so helpful and kind. They tested his eyesight, his hearing, and checked for any learning disabilities; he was six at the time. They told me he did not have any learning disabilities and was brighter than average in many areas.

Next I took him to see a psychologist to check him for ADD/ADHD. He put him through a series of tests and gave us papers with questions for Mom and Dad and teachers to answer about his behavior and abilities. He came out borderline ADD. I decided not to put him on the medications at the time. He stayed in private school through first grade and part of second when I realized he needed much more. In our area we can put our children in any school in the district with permission from the principal if they are not overcrowded or the student does not have behavior problems. We studied the schools in the area and found the one we thought would be best.

They certainly did make way more provisions for him at the public school. They gave him a quiet place to do his work away from the other students when necessary and gave him more time as well if he needed it. The teachers were more than willing to work with us to help. Again, they were sure he had ADD, something I am not sure of to this day but I can see how they would come to this conclusion. I knew how my son worked, how if he did not want to do something he would not do it, and if that comes under the title of ADD then I guess he is. I would be more likely to put it under the title of pig headed and stubborn but what do I know?

The second grade teacher made sure that he was directed to the best third grade teacher. At least she made a recommendation which the principal accepted. The third grade teacher was a jewel, very strict but very loving, which is something my son needed very much! I was actively talking to the teachers all the time and keeping up with what was going on. I wanted to let them know how very important my son was to me. I believe this is so important when it comes to our children and especially so when they are having trouble in school. She told me that she did not want my son to be pigeon holed into special programs and labeled for years to come. They had been sending him to reading specialists and giving him other tests to try and get him into the right special help groups. This third grade teacher knew he was bright, just like I did, and she also knew he was determined not to show it.

They called me into talk about our son and I listened. They wanted to put him in speech therapy for a slight lisp which was fine with me; that could not hurt. And then they told me they wanted him to go to a special reading class during school everyday, which I was assured was not a special education class. I was thrilled with that as well. When any topic came up on special education classes I told them I was not interested and then I brought in my paperwork from the university studies that were done on my son to show them he did not have learning disabilities. That stopped the conversation post haste and because I had his teacher’s support as well they dropped it. That year his grades came up one to two letters in each subject and his reading improved immensely. The extra help in putting him in quiet corners or going to the library in a cubicle to do his testing really helped. The extra reading help and the encouragement from a strong yet loving teacher was another great advantage for my son.

I am not saying that no child anywhere needs ADD medicine; I just do not think it is the end all and be all of answers for every child that can not sit still and does not want to do their work. I would be thrilled if someday they had a different class for boys than they do for girls or one for active kids versus the ones that can sit and be still because all of us learn differently and at different rates of speed.

What I am trying to say is that as parents we should do all that we can to ensure our children are put in the right programs and taught in the most effective way. If we do not get deeply involved they will get lost in the system. I know that we can not all afford expensive testing for our children on our own but I do know that if you do just a little research you can find free testing like I did at the local university. I did use insurance for the psychologist but I am sure there are ways to get a child tested outside of the school system so that you will have all the information to present to those special needs committees that you may be called in front of regarding your child.

Meeting with their teachers and being a participant in their education costs you nothing but time but lets the teachers know how much you care and that you have a desire to help and not let your child get lost in the system. Sometimes this will require a change of schools or it may require home schooling in parts of the country where there are no other options. But as for me my child is worth all the extra work and investigation into alternatives. He is now a young adult and has successfully gotten through high school and has even thanked me for getting him extra help with reading because he is a beautiful reader and feels sorry for those kids who are struggling. But at the same time he gets a bit miffed at me because he graduated at age nineteen because of his two year stint in Kindergarten. He asked me, “What did I do wrong? Put the wrong peg in the wrong hole?” And then he grins and it makes everything all worth while.

 

**Rachel is an ex-babysitting pro as well as a professional writer and blogger. She is a graduate from Iowa State University and currently writes for babysitting.net. She welcomes questions/comments which can be sent to rachelthomas.author@gmail.com.

Is it June yet?

Tgood teacheroday, I shall further my rant about teenagers.

In case, you haven’t caught up with my blog in a while, or…um…ever before, you might not know that I am a high school teacher and a proud momma of two little ones.  I have always said that I do not understand kids at all until they turn about 13.  Most other parents likely cringe at the thought of their children going through the teen years, but I honestly have no idea what to do or say to most 3-year olds.  I just don’t have that piece of DNA in me that makes me want to sit on the floor and play with Play Doh.

I “get” teenagers.  I don’t always like them.  But, I get them.

However…

It is nearly June.  And, if you have never taught you don’t know how much you just kinda want to get away from these kids by this point in the year.

I spent some time in a “real job” in an office.  I hated it.  HATED IT.  But, I have to say that I never wanted to get the fuck away from my coworkers with quite the same desperate passion as I truly want to get away from students after 9 months together.

Indeed.

Indeed.

My coworkers never complained that “someone farted.”  And, they never broke my box fan during a before-class wrestling match that involved a disagreement over a purple pen.  They also never surrounded my desk and yelled my name at me over and over again even though I was clearly talking with someone else.  Their parents never called me to scream at me, threatening to have me fired since they “pay my salary.”  I never broke up a fist fight between my coworkers.  My office was always air-conditioned.  I got an hour for lunch at my office (not the 12 minutes I end up with by the time I microwave leftovers, find something to drink, go down the hall to the lounge and sit down).  I could pee whenever I wanted.  I never had to repeat what I wanted others to do, like, a MILLION times.  My day started at a normal time, not 7:06.  No one ever threatened to slash my tires.  No one ever looked me in the face and said, “I am going to fucking kill you, bitch.”

Now, don’t get me wrong:  I 100%, without question love my work.  There is absolutely nothing I would rather be doing.  I did some soul searching while at that terrible office job.  I bought a book called “What Should I Do With My Life?” in the hopes that it would tell me what to do with my life.  It didn’t help one damn bit.  But, I did end up back in a classroom and it was the best goddamn decision I have made in a very, very long time.

ftsMoms and dads may complain about their children.  This does not mean that they do not love them.

I happen to have 102 children.  I complain about them all the time.  But, I do still love them.

But, now it is your turn to deal with them for a few months.  Get me outta here.

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