Recommended Listening: NPR Topics: Education Podcast

Before moving to Chicago, NPR was my primary source of news.  I had long drives to and from students' homes (I was an SAT tutor), and I would catch the news a few times a day.  When I moved to Chicago I left my (ahem, my parents') car behind, and have been roughing it on public transit for the last year.  Sadly, my NPR consumption dropped drastically as a result.  Fortunately, NPR has "Topics" podcasts available for subscription/download.  The education one features news stories about education from throughout the week and compiles them into a ~20 minute weekly podcast.

Subscribe or download here.

Education in the News: "Higher Calling"

Slate's recent article, "Higher Calling" by Amanda Ripley, lauds states that are raising the bar of entry to become a teacher. It cites countries such as Finland as evidence that making teaching a more respected profession will lead to better educational outcomes. I couldn't agree more. While it certainly isn't a magic bullet, making teaching programs more rigorous and setting the bar way, way higher to actually become a teacher would go a long way. It might seem ironic that I feel that way since I'm teaching through the program Teach for America, with its infamously short preparation program. But Teach for America has something in common with the universities of Finland mentioned in the article-- it accepts roughly the same percentage of applicants (education universities in Finland accept ~10% and TFA accepts ~6%).

Ripley writes, 

"Unlike the brawls we’ve been having over charter schools and testing, these changes go to the heart of our problem—an undertrained educator force that lacks the respect and skills it needs to do a very hard 21st-century job." 

I don't think the "brawls" over charter schools and testing are unimportant, but I do agree that a high quality teacher force is essential.  Politicians and people in general are always saying how hard teaching is and how much they respect teachers, which I always think is odd.  Becoming a teacher is easy-- there are practically no admission standards for most education programs, and most state teacher exams are laughably easy.  Being a GOOD teacher is exceptionally hard, but to assume all teachers are good teachers insults the profession.

Check out the article here.

Recommended Reading: Beyond Discipline by Alfie Kohn

I first encountered Alfie Kohn during an undergraduate class on urban education.  I read some of his writing before I had any real understanding of education, so all I recalled about him was his strong views about Teach for America (negative).  I was reintroduced to him, ironically enough, at a Teach for America professional development day.  We read a short excerpt of Beyond Discipline along with a few other articles concerning classroom management.  I immediately went home and ordered the book.  I think this book is absolutely essential reading for anyone who works with children.  Prior to reading this book, I understood rewards and punishments, incentives and disincentives, carrots and sticks... whatever you want to call them... as essential to "good" teaching.  When I encountered a classroom without them, it seemed to be due more to disorganization or teacher apathy than any concrete decision to avoid them.  Beyond Discipline completed changed my mind on that matter.  While what he proposes-- classrooms without coercion-- is far more difficult in practice than in theory, there are some "take-aways" I could implement right after reading the book.  

  • Hold classroom meetings.  Allow this time to be student-led.  I began with an agenda and prompted the students for their thoughts, but after a few weekly meetings, my students came to the meetings with their own suggestions and ideas.  More than anything else I had done, this made my classroom feel like a community.
  • Ask students how to solve a problem rather than telling them how. It is SO much easier to just tell students what to do than try to help them solve the problem themselves. But when we do this, we're setting them up to be dependent and to ultimately be followers. 
The book is so much more than that, but these were just a few things I was able to implement right away. I have been trying to stay away from rewards and punishments with my summer school class, and I will fully admit that it is SO difficult! I have 18 kinders and first graders, and they are so used to being coerced into behaving that they've actually told me to change a student's color to red-- we don't even have color cards in our classroom! Figuring out how to hold to my belief that extrinsic motivators are detrimental to students' development while still having some semblance of "order" in my classroom is one of the questions I'm seeking the answer to this summer. 

Buy the book here or put it on hold at a Chicago Public Library here.  
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