School Week Round-Up: Twenty-Six

Lessons: I had the kind of week where the same lesson succeeded among some classes and bombed among others. I think I really need to start doing better differentiation for some of my more challenging groups of kids. They’re challenging because they have different needs and interests, and I need to make the effort to meet them where they are. This does not make them inherently worse students, and it doesn’t mean I don’t want to teach them. I don’t know why I felt like I needed the disclaimer. There’s something in me that needs to state it and read myself stating it.

Support: I’m struggling with a colleague’s request of me, not because it’s particularly difficult. It’s because I don’t see the point of it. She wants students to print out five or so pictures of their subjects for their timelines for the upcoming Wax Museum. (When she originally asked, I could have sworn she said three, not five.) I guess I don’t find printing out photos to be particularly impressive, and not a transformative use of technology in learning. It’s a lot of work for something that’s DOK 1. It would be more interesting for students to create their own — I think I just had an idea. Maybe there is still time!

Things I Did Well:
 I successfully kept all grizzly bears away from school, without resorting to the use of firearms at all!

Things I Will Do Better: I am challenging myself to differentiate better, which will involve more time-consuming and thoughtful prep.

Cold Prickly: Well, first let’s re-visit the issue of HB 49 from last week. Someone named Elizabeth from my house representative’s office did call me back, this past Tuesday. She and I talked about the bill and the overall political attitude towards teachers in the state. She said that she couldn’t speak to what the executive branch is thinking or feeling (as that’s the origin of the bill), but my rep doesn’t want externships to be burdensome for teachers renewing their licenses. She said another rep, Andrew Brenner of Delaware County (chair of the Education and Career Readiness Committee), planned to introduce an amendment speaking to the particular passage I asked about. I have also seen news coverage of people reacting to the passage; Elizabeth said it’s an issue their office has heard about from a lot of constituents.

So while I am partially reassured, I’m still guarded and feeling alert in regards to this. I will be paying attention.

Warm Fuzzy: Just thinking about our school nurse, our counselors, our climate specialists, our cafeteria aides, our bus drivers, our custodians, our parent volunteers, our community supporters… they do so much! They make such a big, positive difference in our school.

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Electric Ladies, Will You Sleep?

I went to the Women’s March on Washington yesterday. I have every intention of reflecting more on the experience, but at the moment, I’m a bit tired, and I have to prioritize work-related tasks, and sleep.

But if you were wondering why I marched? The shortest possible answer: because Janelle Monáe challenged me to.

I asked a question like this
Are we a lost generation of our people?
Add us to equations but they’ll never make us equal.
She who writes the movie owns the script and the sequel.
So why ain’t the stealing of my rights made illegal?
They keep us underground working hard for the greedy,
But when it’s time pay they turn around and call us needy.
My crown too heavy like the Queen Nefertiti
Gimme back my pyramid, I’m trying to free Kansas City.

Mixing masterminds like your name Bernie Grundman.
Well I’m gonna keep leading like a young Harriet Tubman
You can take my wings but I’m still goin’ fly
And even when you edit me the booty don’t lie
Yeah, keep singing and I’mma keep writing songs
I’m tired of Marvin asking me, “What’s Going On?”
March to the streets ’cause I’m willing and I’m able
Categorize me, I defy every label
And while you’re selling dope, we’re gonna keep selling hope
We rising up now, you gotta deal you gotta cope
Will you be electric sheep?
Electric ladies, will you sleep?
Or will you preach?

People Are Allowed to Talk About It, Yell About It

In fact, I hope they do. I’m glad many are doing so.

I have seen this attitude on social media, and I have overheard conversations in real life to this effect: the election is over, the people have spoken, end of story. Another key phrase includes, “What’s the point of protesting anyway?” It’s almost like folks are conflating activism with acting out.

So, I am not someone who has been to many protests or rallies. When I had the time I didn’t have the interest, and now that I have interest I also have a full-time job. I also try not to discuss the traditionally controversial topics of religion and politics in public online, though I am very comfortable discussing those topics with close friends.

But. My feelings started changing with this election.

I mentioned before that I did not get my wanted-for outcome, but I was feeling this way regardless.

I have a big concern with the ideas of civic duty and obligation. It takes a huge effort to get people to go to vote, so for many of us, that feels like the extent of it. Really, voting to make your opinion be heard? It’s not enough.

It’s like we vote, and then we expect our elected officials to know exactly how we would like them to govern by… reading our minds? Or keeping up with our individual vague, passive aggressive social media posts? Do we really think the conversation ends at the ballot box?

I had resolved, long before the outcome was known, that I wanted to stay engaged. I live a life shaped by politics and policy, so I may as well feel listened to about it. How do I make my voice heard?

I figure out where I stand on issues, through research and reflection, not all of it easy, not all of it comfortable.
I figure out what matters most to me.
I call and write my congresspeople and senators.
I take part in demonstrations, and communicate to others why.
I can volunteer and donate to causes I believe in.
I can support members of my community more directly affected by policy shifts.
I remain receptive to other ideas.

I think it’s worth noting that many of the protests I see reported are at high schools; perhaps that’s what I see because I spend so much time on the education side of Twitter. But, anyway, many high school students are not yet old enough to vote, yet many will be directly affected by changes in policy that originate in this election. They couldn’t use their vote as their voice, so they’re using their feet as they march.

And I really, really want to quash that pernicious “the people have spoken story over” narrative, especially when I hear it said in front of children by adults with authority. It’s true that not everything is up for debate. One candidate lost the election, and the other one. But there are bigger issues at stake. We need to hold our representatives accountable for their decisions, and large-scale demonstrations help them know that, while we elected them once, we may not do it again: they are beholden to us. We do what we can to keep them accountable.

I will be the check, and I will find my balance. And I hope that others will join me.

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School Week Round-Up: Week Twelve

Week 12, what a week of ups and downs.

Lessons: We tried our first HyperDoc in second grade. They understood pretty quickly how it worked, but their feelings on it are lukewarm. This is probably largely because it’s not the world’s most incredible HyperDoc; it’s very training-wheels-style. That says more about me than it does about them, I think. But since we have so many devices in our school now, I think other teachers could start to incorporate HyperDocs as a tool more and more in other subjects. Plus, it seems like a good idea to have a library of HyperDocs on a variety of topics, to pull out when needed. I might even make a couple to post on Google Classroom in case I have any unexpected absences; if kids understand HyperDocs pretty well on their own, then they can probably walk a tech-challenged substitute through it.

Support: “It’s like this week is the week where all my technology just decided to go crazy.” A first grade teacher made that remark to me as I was re-setting up her SmartBoard after she decided to switch from pairing it with a desktop to pairing it with her laptop. It was funny to me because technology does sometimes seem to have moods and issues that can’t be explained logically. Really, there probably are logical explanations, we just aren’t fully aware of them.

I’m also a little nervous about students taking the AIR test on Chromebooks next week. I hope we have few issues. I need to re-read a lot of the directions, to feel better about it.

Things I Did Well: This week the principal came and observed one of my classes. And… I got probably the best evaluation I’ve had in a long time, possibly the best since I’ve come to this district, possibly the best of my career. Did I do a perfect job? No. Not by a long shot. But my principal had reasonable, achievable feedback for bringing up the parts that were weaker for me. And, not that her feedback has to meet this particular metric, her ideas for improvement were ideas I got excited about.

Things I Will Do Better: Well, I’ll start with incorporating my principal’s ideas into my lessons and professional practice! She also had good ideas for better harnessing my strengths, too. For example, she acknowledged risks while agreeing that backchanneling can be a powerful tool, and had some ideas on how to sharpen students’ focus while using it.

Cold Prickly: I am having a difficult time dealing with election results, and the domino effect they have had. I am not referring only to the presidential election, I am referring to elections on my state and local level too. Out of every candidate, all the way down the ballot, only three I voted for won their race; out of those three, one ran unopposed, and one’s headed for a recount. I also had two issues on my ballot, and only one ended in the result I voted for. So, I definitely feel like I was on the losing team this time around. But I still have every intention of holding my elected officials accountable, whether or not I voted for them.

More than that, I feel heartbreak over reports of hate crimes. For example, my sister and her husband saw a swastika and “kill [slur]s” spray painted on the grass on the bike trail they used to get to their polling place. They contacted authorities immediately. They live in a community where that is less of a threat against a minority, and more of a call-to-action aimed at people who agree with the sentiment; so while I worry over who might have seen it, it’s not because I think someone’s feelings may have been hurt. It’s more because it emboldens people who think that idea is okay. 

I have also read stories shared by teachers on social media about assuaging students’ fears. My heart goes out to these school families.

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Additionally, I’m reading some of the president-elect’s actions as counter to some of the things he said on the campaign trail. For example, “drain the swamp” was a repeated chant at many of his rallies, symbolizing the removal of “insiders” from Washington, D.C. Yet his transition team seems filled with many such insiders. My concern there is for his supporters, who voted for him as the change candidate, believing that it was time for someone with an apolitical background to be in charge. What I see is someone who was not a politician very quickly becoming a politician. Obviously that was going to happen to some degree; but I wonder where the line is for supporters. We are all of us willing to forgive in our own candidate what we condemn in the other, but I wonder what will be the point where supporters do decide to hold their candidate accountable to things said while campaigning. For example, I am very skeptical of there ever being a physical wall on the Mexican border that Mexico pays for. If that wall does not materialize, what will the peoples’ reaction be?

A resource I’ve enjoyed is this NPR critique of Donald Trump’s plan for his first 100 days in office. It’s a helpful reminder of the limits of presidential power. Some of these things cannot and will not get done unless others go along with them; the suggestion of congressional term limits stands out as an example.

Warm Fuzzy: This week I am thankful for my supportive husband. For example, this week a local church group provided dinner for teachers at our parent-teacher conferences. But, by the time I got to eat, the options were rather limited. I remarked to another teacher that I was okay with it, because I could simply text my husband and he would have dinosaur-shaped macaroni and cheese waiting for me when I got home. Well, I forgot to text him… but he still had dinosaur-shaped macaroni and cheese waiting for me when I got home! That was just one of several examples of why I love him this week. He is such a great helpmate and I love him so very, very much. </mushy stuff>

Reflecting on Our School Mock Election Results

This past Tuesday, our school took part in a mock election run by Studies Weekly. We threw it together a little last minute, so instead of shoehorning it into classrooms where other instruction was already planned, we turned the computer lab into a polling place for students to vote after breakfast, during lunch, and during recess. I had classes vote while they were in the room for other reasons, like class (since it took only a minute or so, if I had computers at the ready). And, there were times when I visited classrooms juggling a couple Chromebooks and pulled kids to poll in pairs. (Alliteration proves it was fun.)

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On the enthusiasm gap

I’ve been paying enough attention to this election to have heard about the enthusiasm gap. According to this September article from The Hill:

People who intend to vote for [Trump] are more enthusiastic about doing so than those planning to back Clinton, according to three major recent polls…

…a CNN/ORC poll indicated that more than 1 in 5 five would-be Clinton voters were “not at all enthusiastic” about backing her, almost twice as many as said the same about Trump. The poll found 58 percent of Trump supporters saying they felt either “extremely” or “very” enthusiastic about their choice, and only 46 percent in the Clinton camp feeling the same.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 46 percent of Trump backers were “very enthusiastic,” compared with only 33 percent of Clinton supporters. And a New York Times/CBS News poll saw Trump outperforming Clinton by the same metric, 45 percent to 36 percent.

I bring up the enthusiasm gap because, anecdotally, it seems to have reached the elementary set. At one point mid-day, I turned to Mr. Bob and said, “My prediction is that Trump will win.” I was not checking the mock election progress throughout the day (although I could have been). I was trying not to watch students as they cast their votes (except when they actually needed help). My prediction was made based on how many students proudly declared before, during, or after voting that they had chosen Donald Trump. However, more students actually voted for Hillary Clinton. Clinton won 48% of the vote; Trump got 34%. So, while students supporting Trump were perhaps more vocal about it, that did not mean there were more of them.

On look-alikes

I did have several students tell me that they had voted for “the girl,” but since Jill Stein was also offered as a choice, I wasn’t sure which “girl” they meant. In fact, I was concerned that some of them may have voted for the wrong “girl” – for Stein when they meant to vote for Clinton, or for Clinton when they meant to vote for Stein. Then I realized, if they didn’t know what the male candidates looked like, then they might have confused Johnson and Trump too. (The vote included photographs and names of candidates and their running mates, but a struggling reader may still have made a mistake.) The last time two times schools held mock presidential elections, it was probably much easier for students to tell the difference between the major party candidates, so long as photos were provided! I reflected back on voting in mock presidential elections as a student in the nineties. It doesn’t matter what year I refer to: our choices were always white men. I wonder whether any of my classmates at the time had trouble telling them apart.

On abstaining

One student abstained because: “My mom says no matter who you vote for, they’re gonna mess us up.”

Another hesitated to vote because he didn’t feel well-informed enough. “I wish I could listen to their speeches,” he told me. We did look up all the candidates on vote411.org and read through their statements and platforms together. Still, he did not feel like he could cast a vote, so I told him he didn’t have to.

Our other abstention came from a student who was upset that Obama couldn’t run for a third term. He was genuinely distraught. And then I realized — the oldest of my students were born in late 2007. Most of them are even younger. Obama has been president for their entire memory, if not their entire lives. Whoa.

On civility

I have not heard many students discuss political candidates at school directly. Part of this is because I am a specials teacher. Were I with the same kids all day, every day, I’m sure I would hear it more. I didn’t hear nothing, I just didn’t hear a lot.

Until Tuesday.

And even then, I probably wouldn’t have heard it, except another teacher invited the students specifically to share their insights. And by “insights,” I mean they parroted things they saw in political ads played on TV. The same student told me that Trump says mean things about women, and Hillary wants to take away everyone’s guns. No wonder over fifty students voted for third party candidates.

I did have to speak to some students about school-appropriate language. But very few.

The results

If you would like to see the results of the nationwide mock election, those results are here.  As I mentioned before, our school turned blue for Clinton, but our state turned red for Trump. Still, Clinton won the mock election over all.

What does it mean?

I don’t know. I imagine that, to some extent, the votes of children reflect the votes their parents plan to cast. I do remember bugging my parents about who they planned to vote for when I was a kid, especially when they were around other adults, that was totally my favorite. I think that was a huge factor in who I chose to vote for in mock elections. But, as this USA Today article on the Scholastic mock election states, students may misidentify their parents’ political leanings. Based on anecdotal evidence, too, I think many students have parents who are split themselves: one parent may support the Republican nominee, the other the Democratic candidate.

Other big influences on children include the media (TV and Internet, primarily) and, well, each other.

Overall, in the mock election we participated in, Ohio the bellwether state votes for the candidate who loses. Perhaps that’s something we can expect next Tuesday? I hesitate to make a solid prediction, having already been wrong about this! (Also, if you look at the Scholastic results linked above, Ohio turned blue for them.)

Ultimately

On November 9th, we will all still be Americans, diverse and divided we may be. And whoever gets elected president will have to lead us, diverse and divided, starting in January. It will be a tough job, harder than herding cats. But I hope it’s a job done well, regardless of who’s in that position.

Reflecting on Social Media & Politics Twitter Chat

Today, because of school Halloween celebrations, I rearranged my usual class schedule and ended up having my prep period during the last hour of the school day.

And then I checked Twitter.

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I did not know until this afternoon that PBS News Hour hosts a regular chat, #NewsHourChats – looks like they’re every other Friday, on a current events topic. Today the topic was “How political squabbles on social media stressed us out this year.

Goodness gracious, I was hooked from the get-go.

The topic is engaging for obvious reasons, but I was particularly enamored of Jon Keegan, who was serving as a panelist. He created a tool called Blue Feed, Red Feed that helps you visualize how “the other side” sees social media. The tool helped me understand an encounter I had earlier this month with a stranger at a Washington, D.C. hostel. Some of my family members were discussing current events over pancakes at the dining table, and the stranger joined in the conversation from a nearby computer desk, where she was checking news on Facebook. It was an uncomfortable encounter at the time, but looking back, I don’t feel as awkward about it. Though we parted still in disagreement, I found value in the interaction. (Though, my biggest take-away was the fact that my fourteen-year-old sister fact-checked headlines on her phone. Sibling pride!)

Anyway, the Blue Feed, Red Feed tool made me realize that this person was seeing very different items coming up in their news feed than I was. Not only that, but they were coming from sources she trusted completely — sources I had never heard of, because I am on the other end of the political spectrum. I realized that I had created a Facebook echo chamber, so I made a point starting then not to block or unfollow people for not sharing my politics. I even made a point of friending people with different perspectives: I had a disagreement with a friend of a friend when our mutual acquaintance posted about Colin Kaepernick and his protest of the national anthem. But I felt we disagreed with mutual respect, so I sent a friend request, stating outright that I needed to see more diverse opinions on my feed. They accepted my request for much the same reason.

Twitter is different for me, because I use Twitter very differently than I use Facebook. I use Facebook to interact with people I already know I like. On Twitter, I usually interact with strangers who happen to have things in common with me — an interest in education, an interest in technology, an interest in technology education. I have experienced harassment on both Twitter and Facebook. The difference was, on Twitter it came from an egg I found easy to ignore; on Facebook it was a relative who posted partisan memes on my wall until I changed my settings. Therefore, I found the experience on Facebook much more jarring, but I acknowledge that my experience is not universal.

Since the chat this afternoon, I’ve had some time to collect and condense my thoughts, and strangely I keep going back to our school district’s “Aviator Profile,” a list of characteristics we hope to foster in our students:

  1. Communicators: Ask thoughtful questions, listen well and are able to clearly and concisely express their thoughts and ideas.
  2. Collaborators: Are able to compromise and work with people of all personality types and backgrounds to reach a common goal.
  3. Critical Thinkers: Have the ability to analyze and assess complex problems or situations and produce logical conclusions or solutions.
  4. Creative Innovators: Use imaginative and unique ideas to develop more efficient and effective methods of problem solving.
  5. Caring Citizens: Have selfless attitudes and strive to build stronger communities through civic pride, volunteerism and community involvement.
  6. Courageous Risk Takers: Are not afraid to take chances in order to accomplish something greater or facilitate change, whether it involves their career, finances, personal life or society.

I like how the first thing listed under “Communicator” is “ask thoughtful questions,” because questioning is an important part of communicating. And “listen well” is also listed before expressing one’s own ideas. We also often bring up in meetings that we, as the adults, need to model being “courageous risk takers;” whoever leads the meeting reminds us that confronting harsh realities and feeling discomfort is often part of the process. Of course, overcoming that discomfort to work as collaborators and think critically is part of the process, too!

And it applies so well to politics and policy. Regardless of who wins and who loses on November 8, we all are going to have to figure out a way to keep working together for our country’s present and future. We’re going to have different points of view and we’re going to have disagreements. We can’t shy away from that. We have to work together in spite of it. We have to work together because of it.

My Thoughts on Bathrooms (That Nobody Asked For)

When I feel fear about using a public restroom, it’s fear that the last person didn’t flush. Or fear that others may hear embarrassing sounds come out of my stall. Fear that the line is longer than I can deal with. Fear that there’s germs everywhere. The only time I have ever been afraid in a public restroom, and that fear was of other people, it was because it was crowded and it occurred to me how easily someone could snag my purse if I wasn’t careful.

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That’s largely because I’m privileged. I’m a cis woman who looks like a woman, so nobody blinks an eye when I go into the women’s restroom. (A “cis” or “cisgender” person is someone who identifies with the gender they were assigned with at birth.) It’s interesting to me that this privilege is afforded to me based on how I look and not how I behave, act, or otherwise exist in the world, but that’s a thought I’ll expound on another time.

Anyway. I don’t know how it feels to be truly afraid of others in the bathroom — afraid of being harassed, afraid of being assaulted. I can only imagine how that feels. And I imagine that it is quite scary.

Here’s the thing, though: I do not believe I have anything to fear from transgender people in the restroom with me. I know this because I have shared restrooms with transgender people, knowingly and probably unknowingly too. We were all just in there to do our business. So I have a hard time understanding why anyone might be afraid of a using the same restroom as a transgender person (unless you’re afraid of people in the restroom in general). I think someone who is transgender — or appears to be transgender — probably has more to fear from others in the restroom than the other way around.

As an elementary school teacher, I have had to deal with bathroom issues before. Sometimes you have kids who, it turns out, skip the part where you’re supposed to wash your hands. Sometimes you get huge puddles or piles of paper towels. One time I saw a sink become separated from the wall. I won’t get into “Tales of the Mad Pooper,” but the epithet “Mad Pooper” has been used in my school career over multiple years and in multiple buildings.

Sharing restrooms is not the biggest bathroom issue facing the grade levels I teach. Everyone at this age is learning about respecting privacy, and establishing and enforcing personal boundaries. The biggest difference between elementary school restrooms is the urinals, which I don’t think are necessary. (They also attract other issues, like Mad Poopers.) (Then again, as a woman, I might not be aware of the full pros/cons of urinals.) I think we could probably switch to unisex restrooms for the most part — maintain some that are for one user at a time, for people who require more privacy.

I can understand why people might need to revisit their guidelines for older students, especially once adolescence becomes a bigger part of school life, and if students change in a locker room on school premises. But I think people are forgetting what bathrooms are actually for. They’re places for us to poop and pee and change out used menstrual products. We can wash our hands in there! Mirrors are a bonus if we want to check something about our appearances. Why can’t we just let people peacefully use the bathroom they are comfortable using? There’s always a chance that someone could take advantage of restrooms, sure, but being transgender does not make a person more likely to be an attacker. Harassment and assault are already illegal anyway, regardless of where they occur. I suspect we only worry more about bathrooms because we already feel vulnerable in them. If anything, bathroom bills seem to seek to protect members of the majority from experiencing discomfort rather than experiencing harassment or assault. And they do so at the expense of people who do not appear to be clearly one gender or another (some transgender people “pass,” and some cis or androgynous people may not). Ultimately, I do not believe my comfort is above anyone else’s safety and dignity.

Additionally, I do not understand how a bathroom bill can be consistently enforced. We never even caught the Mad Pooper, after all.