Sunday, November 1, 2009

Gerald Bracey

An amazing educator and critic unexpectedly passed away last week in his sleep. Bracey was an incredible human being, who always put students first. He didn't care whose feathers he ruffled - he told it like it was. Brutal honesty is hard to come by these days, and finding those brave enough to speak it even harder. Gerald Bracey has had and will continue to have a huge impact on my career. Thank you Gerald Bracey. You will be missed. Below is something reposted on Susan Ohanian's site:

    RIP Gerald Bracey: Another Good Man Gone Down

    Gerald Bracey, one of the foremost scholarly critics of the horrible hash made of USer education by the corpoRats and the edu-fascists, died last week, at age 69. Damn, damn, damn. I knew him. A good man, scholar, and advocate for democratic education. He's one of those whose voice will be sorely missed.

    From an obituary at schoolmatters blog, which was on USAToday, written by Greg Toppo:

    (Bracey wrote) Setting the Record Straight: Responses to Misconceptions About Public Education in America, tackled 20 "myths" about U.S. public schools, giving advocates ammunition to rebut critics. For instance, one chapter begins, "What do I say when people say, 'Schools won't improve until they're taken over by private companies and run like businesses'?"

    But it was likely Bracey's annual Rotten Apples in Education, an over-the-top mock awards newsletter, that made him the most fans and the most enemies.

    It took no prisoners and pulled no punches. In 2006, after then-Education Secretary Margaret Spellings compared the No Child Left Behind education reform law to Ivory Soap, saying it was "99.9% pure — there's not much needed in the way of change," Bracey awarded Spellings "The 99 and 44/100ths Pure Crap Award."

    While he held President George W. Bush and No Child Left Behind in especially low esteem, Bracey was bipartisan in his loathing, most recently calling out President Obama and his Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, on what Bracey called "test abuse," quipping at one point, "These guys don't have a clue."

    He took Obama to task earlier this year on the President's assertions that three-fourths of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma.

    Not really, Bracey said. Look it up.

    Last August, when the topic on the EDDRA listserv turned to Obama's proposed education reforms, an angry Bracey wrote, "How long will it take for people to realize that the education 'reform' proposed by Obama-Duncan is no different from the Weapons of Mass Destruction from Bush (I say this as a depressed person who canvassed for Obama, campaigned for him, donated for him, and voted for him — with my entire family — in Virginia before moving to the blue-secure state of Washington.)"

    "He wasn't afraid, but sometimes I know that got him into terrible trouble," Iris said. "He just wanted the truth to come out."

    Posted by Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!)

    — Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!)
    The Well-Armed Lamb

Friday, September 25, 2009


This first month of school has really made me think about stress and coping. I have heard the research that shows teaching is second in stress only to air traffic control. This is due to the constant decisions we must make every second. You know, all of the crazy management stuff - this kid has to go to the bathroom, that one has a stomach ache, the other one is poking his neighbor, the one next to that one is picking his nose and eating it - and you are supposed to be teaching. Let's not even get started on all of the decisions we make during a lesson!

But that kind of stress doesn't really get to me; at least I don't think it does. What gets me is the politics. Paulo Freire said, "Education IS politics." It's so true, and on so many levels. Of course there is all of the usual garbage at the state and federal level, not to mention the district. But it's the stuff that happens on site that I think is the most stressful and really takes its toll on teachers. When people forget why they are teachers in the first place and begin to focus on utilizing their positions for questionable reasons, it can have devastating effects. When I see these things happen, I always think back on my friend Judy Lewis, who was a teacher/trainer in my district. She would always ask the question, no matter what issue we were wrestling with, "How is this going to help kids?" I try to keep that focus, but it is very difficult at times.

As Susan Ohanian puts it, "Let's stop focusing on the hole and pay more attention to the bagel." Good advice indeed.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Learning to Teach

Thanks for getting us started, Susie.

One of the luckiest days of my beginning teaching was to be placed in an open space classroom with five other teachers. I know, I know, no one likes this set-up and all open space classrooms have been walled up. But for me it was liberating, interesting, fun and oh so full of learning. I watched pros in action and watched beginners struggle. I struggled, the pros struggled--although much less than I did and I gained more knowledge about teaching than I ever thought possible. We discussed our lessons and why they worked or did not, fed off each others' ideas, and supported each other through a miserable time with a leader who could not lead, did not lead, and was more than a bubble off-center (think of a level).

Susie's discussion about learning to teach made me realize how very fortunate I was. And besides that, three of those teachers who taught me to teach are still friends after 37 years!!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Teacher as Super Hero

Over the summer I read a wonderful book by Thomas Newkirk: Holding On to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones - Six Literacy Principles Worth Fighting For. In Chapter 8, "Finding A Language for Difficulty: Silencing Our Teacher Stories," Newkirk raises an interesting issue regarding how teachers are portrayed in popular culture.

Think about the following educators:

Jaime Escalante (Stand and Deliver.... Garfield High School)
Erin Gruwell (Freedom Writers)
Rafe Esquith (Author of There Are No Shortcuts and Teach Like Your Hair is on Fire)
Joe Clark (Lean on Me)

What do these educators have in common? While their stories are inspiring, what is the message they send not only to the public, but to teachers? Newkirk puts it this way, "In any situation, no matter how difficult, teachers can prevail through the purity of effort, through 'teaching harder.' Even when they are operating alone, in conditions of urban poverty." The teacher is portrayed as heroic, selfless, and larger than life.

I don't know about you, but I am torn by this issue. On the one hand, the stories are inspiring. But at the same time, I often feel like I don't measure up - I don't give enough of myself. Am I selfish if I do not give 110% to my students, neglect my family, and run myself ragged (Esquith and Escalante did this to the point of serious illness)? I must admit, I do feel inadequate when I compare myself to these superheroes.

Think back to what you read during your credential program. Did those texts prepare you for what you experience every day in your teaching? I know I wasn't prepared - not even close! Everything I read was about classrooms and lessons that worked, not what happens or what to do when things fall apart. Newkirk asks, "I wonder if we are not creating the role of 'superteacher,' one more ideal, one without cracks, that can create a sense of inadequacy. Are there silences in the narratives of our teaching? Are we telling everything? Do these consistently upbeat success stories capture the emotional underlife of teaching? I think not." These narratives leave out what Newkirk calls "the dark side of teaching." You know that side; the side that leaves the life sucked out of you at the end of some days, the side that makes you question why you chose teaching, the side that makes you worry if you are doing enough for your students, the side that makes you wonder if you are doing enough for your family - the dark side.

What are the answers to this? Newkirk has some suggestions:
1. Begin with the premise that difficulty, disappointment, resistance, and failures are inevitable in the profession of teaching. Success is dependent on not avoiding difficulty but finding a way to process it.
2. Break down the walls that create professional isolation. Teaching is one of the most isolating jobs out there. Interaction with our colleagues is essential - something Professional Learning Communities attempts to address.
3. Find ways to translate emotionally felt difficulties into something less personal, less emotional, less undermining.
4. Teachers need more opportunities to visit and learn from peers in order to demystify teaching and view someone other than themselves.
5. In order to achieve long term goals, we must focus on the small and immediate. (Al Pacino put it this way: "Forget the career and focus on the work.") As a culture, the large transformative stories are celebrated thanks to Hollywood. But "our pleasure in teaching must come from something smaller."

So what do you think about the portrayal of teachers in popular culture? How do these portrayals affect you and your work? Do you think we adequately prepare teachers for the "dark side" of teaching? If not, how can this be addressed? How can we come together as colleagues and tackle the issues raised by Newkirk?


OK, so I have a question. Is there a way to know when people have posted something? Does that happen when you are a follower of the blog? Or do we just have to check in every once in a while? Proof positive I need HELP with this! :-)

Ok, I'm in...

I obviously got your invitation, and here I am...

Ummmm... So.... OK.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


I invited all of you to be authors so we can all respond and write. I plan on inviting more people later..... once I figure this out and see how things go. :-)


Hello colleagues!

I am attempting to start a blog for teachers..... a place for us to vent and discuss issues, ideas, etc. I would love it if you could join us. I will openly admit that I have NO CLUE how to do this and will be learning as I go........ But I am hoping it will be fun, educational, and in the end, a great experience for everyone. :-)