help-wanted

Today’s Friday Five topic: Help Wanted

A coworker came up to me today and asked me about this project. The colleague thanked me and said that I had courage for speaking up about issues. I asked the teacher to record a podcast in the coming weeks.

And now I’m asking you. If you listen to this message or even read your words, I need your help. I think the Teacher Voice has a lot of potential. There are 190,000 teachers working in Florida and thousands of others working in education and advocating for our children.

Are you one of those people? Do you want to write or talk about our kids and our future? If so please message the Facebook page, send an email to 1teachervoice@gmail.com, or use the contact page here on the website.

Thank you for your interest. Please share with other education stakeholders in Florida so we can build this into a platform I believe it has the potential to become.

I hope to hear from you and look forward to your guest post or forthcoming discussion on a podcast.

Have an awesome weekend, everyone!

Billy Townsend
Billy Townsend – Polk County School Board Member, District 1

This week’s interview is with Billy Townsend, the District 1 Polk County School Board member, who formerly worked as an education reporter and editor at the Lakeland Ledger.

Our conversation covers a lot of ground, and Billy certainly pulls no punches: Tallahassee is the disease; the local school districts suffer its symptoms. Be sure to listen and share with any and all education advocates throughout the Sunshine State.

Thanks for listening, everyone!

P.S. – Though we didn’t have enough time to discuss it in this podcast, Billy and I will be talking about a better, more humane model for education the next time we meet.

Dear Speaker Corcoran
C’mon, Speaker Corcoran, let’s talk.

Topic: Dear Speaker Corcoran…a rebuttal, a suggestion, an invitation.

Today’s Friday Five is an answer to Speaker Richard Corcoran’s op-ed that he penned this past Tuesday in the Sun-Sentinel (which you can read here). I hope that he–or any other legislator–listens and takes me up on my offer. And if you are a concerned education stakeholder, as always, thanks for listening and please share with others.

Tanner Banner

This week’s podcast is a conversation with Kelso Tanner, one of several candidates running for the district 6 countywide seat for the Hillsborough County School Board.

Kelso cares about three things: 1) Children. 2) Parents. 3) Teachers.

Listen to the podcast to hear about the rest of his platform, and be sure to share with other interested education stakeholders and voters!

A Better Way
The test driven accountability movement has failed. There is a better way…

Since the summer of 1998 when I first moved to Florida, our state has been possessed by the notion of testing and accountability. Jeb Bush based much of his gubernatorial campaign on the idea that public schools were in need of reform, and that by assigning grades to teachers, schools and districts, they would foster a new era of accountability.

The FCAT came and went, creating much consternation at every level in the K12 sector. Kids were–and still are–stressed out by all the high-stakes testing; teachers felt–and still feel–micromanaged and betrayed by our elected officials who claim to know what’s best for our students, despite the fact that they have had no classroom experience and little to no input from the professionals who serve our children every day.

But here’s the thing: I get it. I get where they’re coming from. I think many teachers do try to understand our legislators’ motives, because we all want what’s best for our kids, and that begins with holding our students to high expectations and measuring them against standards. The Legislature wants the same from us, but it has largely gone about it the wrong way. Testing kids in the way that we do is no good for their academic welfare, let alone their well-being.

If we look at the top two education systems in the world, Finland and South Korea, they both have similar approaches. There is very little–if any–standardized testing. Students are given multiple pathways to demonstrate mastery of their subjects, much of which is evaluated holistically through student portfolios that capture the big picture of the child’s learning. It’s a window into how the student’s mind works, how he or she is learning to think critically about the world and be engaged with it in a meaningful way. Standardized testing, by contrast, essentially tells us whether or not a student is good at taking a test relative to other children taking the same assessment.

The teachers in these systems are also radically different. In those countries, there is significant cultural esteem to being a teacher. They are revered precisely because the future generation and the fate of the entire nation have been placed in their hands to shape for the better. Teachers are also culled from the university’s top graduates, often ranking in the top two percent of their respective graduating classes. These people could be doctors or engineers, but they are handpicked to be teachers. Finally, they are seen as consummate professionals who need no significant oversight from outside forces.

While a valid critique of these systems’ successes may hinge on their cultural homogeneity, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to adopt a similar path here in the Sunshine State or the entire U.S. We need to treat kids like human beings again, not cogs in a machine to churn out test results. Every teacher needs to forge ahead and start building a more humane education system. It begins with us, the professionals in the classroom, and it ends with those who matter most–our kids.

Mindful Minute
Students engaged in mindfulness meditation

Today’s topic: Mindfulness in Education

I began my personal mindfulness meditation practice just over 8 years ago. To say that it has changed my life would be a huge understatement. It has made me a far better teacher for many reasons, perhaps too many to enumerate.

The primary one I discuss today, however, is the impact it has on the kids in the classroom. Please listen and share with other interested education stakeholders.

And if you’re a fellow proponent of these practices, let’s get together to discuss how you implement them in your classroom.

Have an awesome weekend, everyone!

Shout-Out

Today’s topic: Dear Students…

I love being a teacher. Can’t imagine doing anything else. The kids keep me young and always restlessly trying to be who I am (a nerdy weirdo), constantly learning more so that I can be a good role model for authenticity and lifelong learning.

I think I’ve succeeded in the first half of my career, and today’s Friday Five is just a shout out to all the kids who have walked the path of life with me along the way.

IMG_0828
The moment your brain finally processes the fact that you are no longer INSIDE the plane.

As an extra added bonus, check out the way I started this past summer vacation. My beautiful best friend finally talked me into jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. Want to see the video? Click here!

 

 

 

back to school. color pencils

Can you feel it? All that promise and potential?

I know I can.

It’s currently 3:42 a.m. and I can’t sleep. I’ve actually been awake since 1:37, but didn’t get out of bed until an hour later when I realized there was no hope of falling back asleep.

And this happens nearly every single year.

I would guess this is a common phenomenon among most teachers. The closer we get to the first day of school, the more excited we become. Now that I’m at the half way point in my career, “Day One,” which I feel should be capitalized as a proper noun, has taken on mythic status. Just like when I was a kid and couldn’t sleep on Christmas Eve or when we were about to go on a family vacation, the approach of Day One fills me with joy and enthusiasm.

Day One goes beyond so much more than the first day of school when we get to meet our new students. Day One has become a metaphor for promise and potential. When we look out at those new faces who step over our thresholds and into our classrooms, teachers see young people who are full of that promise and brimming with potential, regardless of the age or grade level of our kids. We know that we have a critical role to play in the shaping of not only these young minds, but the future of our communities locally and our entire society nationally. Whether teaching them the basics such as how to hold a pencil or complex topics like literary analysis, we understand that we are helping them toward some greater good.

Beyond academics, though, there is another type of promise and potential that I love even more as a teacher. Day One represents one of the most important opportunities in life: the chance to cultivate relationships with another human being. Having taught Language Arts, Social Studies, and Mathematics all at the high school level, I believe teaching isn’t so much about WHAT we teach than it is about HOW we teach. Are we empathetic? Are we authentic? Are we passionate? Those attributes matter much more than the content itself, because at the end of the day a good deal of what transpires inside the classroom and the school is how we connect with, care for, and respect others.

I’m not a good teacher because I am a super nerd who loves learning for its own sake, I’m a good teacher because I care about the kids and their future.

The truth is that those who are meant for this profession all excel in this regard. The best teachers are those who care the most and realize how much promise and potential Day One brings with it as each new school year begins. And they’re probably all just like me, lying awake in bed at odd hours of the morning, smiling at the ceiling at the thought of what Day One will be like this year.

Have a great first day back, everyone!

 

 

Today’s topic: A Question of Equity

There’s been a lot of talk concerning equity now that we’re back to school this week, which made me think about how inequitable the funding is here in Florida. Clearly Tallahassee is content to put their thumbs on the scales, so to speak, to ensure that charter schools receive far more funding than their traditional counterparts. Listen to the new Friday five for just a couple examples.

Thanks for listening, everyone, and have an amazing weekend!

P.S. – Always looking for fellow education advocates to talk about the issues on the podcast and/or be a contributor to the blog side…are you interested?

TeacherAndStudent
Why do we teach? We care about our kids.

Every year I anticipate the start of school. My favorite part of this job is always the students. I’m anxious to get to know my new students. I’m curious to see which of my previous year’s students I get to teach again, since I teach multiple grades. I can’t wait to connect with the students in their writing and in our class discussions. I look forward to seeing and appreciating all the different personalities and learning styles. I know that by the semester break, I will have bonded with them, raging hormones, idiosyncrasies, and all. (Like most teachers, that connection with students is long-lasting. They are my kids even when they are having their own kids.)

This year, however, I feel my student radar is at an all time high. Last year’s spring semester was difficult for me emotionally. I lost one current student to cancer. I lost two former students to suicide. One of those suicides directly resulted in another former student having a serious breakdown. (She is recovering slowly.)

For years, I have railed against the ridiculous over-testing of our students. I remind them that these tests are “one test on one day of their entire lives”. I have taught them that writing is a form of expression, not testing. That reading should be about discovering, not answering “gotcha” questions. I have tried to bring excitement and relevance back into my classroom. To help them see the value of reading and writing in a world with emojis and text speak.

So, as I anticipate this year’s students, I’m even more compelled to get to know them as people, not just students. To spend time discussing more than answers to textbook questions or current events, but also to discuss the emotions and thinking behind the answers. To help them realize there’s more to education than grades and test scores, no matter what “they” say. To let them know that they are not alone, whatever they may be struggling with. To show them they do have some choice and control, if they are willing to be responsible with it. To help them see their own worth as thinking, feeling people. To focus on being in this all together, not just as teacher and students, but also as human beings.

I know for many of my colleagues, morale is at a very low point. I also know that most of my colleagues will do their best to not let that affect their students. And so I hope that you, my colleagues, join me in this endeavor. However you need to do it, whatever you need to do, please find the energy and emotional intelligence to be human with your students. You never know when one of your kids is going to need it.

Michelle Hamlyn, local public school teacher in Tampa Bay.