Stop Homework a resource created by Sara Bennett, co-author of The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It.

Archive for Teachers Speak Out

Nearly Half of England’s Schools Boycott National Standardized Tests

In England last week, nearly half of its schools refused to administer the national standardized tests. The National Union of Teachers, as well as the National Association of Head Teachers, voted in favor of a boycott. The reason: the importance placed on the tests is forcing teachers to teach to them instead of focussing on a more meaningful and broader curriculum.

If only teachers in the U.S. would do the same….

Read the story here.

Epitaph for a Young Teacher

I read this piece, Epitaph for a Young Teacher, in Teacher Magazine.

Epitaph for a Young Teacher
by Anthony Mullen

Virginia

Monticello Grounds

Hamlet teaches much. The play taught me that the dead depend upon the living to tell their story. The dead, after all, first linger in our thoughts and prayers and then disappear inside old photograph albums. A few notable dead have monuments built to remind people that they once lived and loved and laughed. Some inscribe an epitaph on their tombstone, usually a brief piece of prose commemorating a significant legacy or achievement. Thomas Jefferson desired that his grave be marked by an obelisk inscribed with the three accomplishments for which he wished to be remembered, “…and not a word more.”

HERE WAS BURIED
THOMAS JEFFERSON
AUTHOR OF THE
DECLARATION
OF
AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE
OF THE
STATUTE OF VIRGINIA
FOR
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
AND FATHER OF THE
UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA

That’s it. The third president of the United States wished to be remembered for his intellect, belief in freedom of religion, and the founding of a great university. No mention of his vice presidency or presidency. The man did not want to be remembered as a politician. No wonder scholars are still probing his great mind.

I walked away from the Jefferson family cemetery wondering if

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How to Engage Students in School

I recently read about the Sequoyah Shool in Pasadena, California, where engaging students is the school’s primary concern.

Engaging students through curiosity
By Josh Brody
director, Sequoyah School, Pasadena, CA
from Pasadena Star News

I recently sat in on a parent-teacher conference led by a 6-year-old student. She was presenting her tree notebook.

She eagerly turned the page to a map of her school, pointed to a spot on the page and said, “Here is the patio, and there is the pepper tree, and that’s my favorite. The ash tree is over here by day care and it has lost all of its leaves. The tree by the library has leaves that look like fans, it’s a gingko tree, but the one at the park has bigger fan leaves.”

She turned to another page titled “Ash Tree.” The page contained a pressed leaf, a photograph, a bark rubbing, and the definition of the word “deciduous” was written in the corner. That page was one of seven similar pages about trees that were highlighted on her campus map.

While education reform over the last decade has focused on accountability and test scores, we may be overlooking one of the most critical aspects of learning: student engagement.

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Teacher: Thanks for the Test Scores!

I stumbled across Accomplished California Teachers, a new teacher leadership network for the state of California, which is housed under the umbrella of the School of Education at Stanford University. Every time I read something by a disgruntled teacher (or parent), I wonder why it’s so hard to get education on the right track.

Dear Teacher
by David B. Cohen
from Accomplished California Teachers

Dear Teacher,

I just want to take a moment to thank you for all that you did for me when I was in your class. Now that I’m out of high school, I really appreciate it even more. When I started your English class, I knew that my test scores were kind of low, and I was really committed to improving my performance on two of the subtests. You saw that potential in me, and even more. By providing me with chances to read anthologized literary excerpts and random workplace documents, all followed by multiple choice assessments, you showed a commitment to my learning, and my test scores that spring really proved how far I had come. I was totally comfortable dealing with any readings chosen for me, and comfortable choosing the answers to other people’s questions. I also remember that you showed us how to answer the questions without even doing most of the reading, and that sure did help on the test!

Do you remember my sister? She was in your class a few years ahead of me, and I was just talking to her about your class. She couldn’t even remember what her test scores were – probably because she usually has her nose in a book, when she’s not writing in her journals or on her blog.

My sister just graduated from college, but as for me, I don’t know if you heard, but I’ve taken a break from school. I tried it for a year, but none of the instructors cared as much as you did, so it was hard to connect. A lot of times they assigned us really long readings and didn’t even give us any points for doing all that homework. Then, we had to write essays on these ridiculously hard questions where you couldn’t even find the answer in the books. I did my best and put together my five paragraphs and everything, and I still got low grades. When they don’t tell you how to find the answers and don’t even give you the motivation, well… it just wasn’t for me. It’s just too bad that all those skills we practiced in your class don’t even seem to matter in college. I think I might transfer to another school, but for now, I’m just working and waiting for inspiration to come along.

One more thing – I saw on the news that they’re going to start paying teachers more if your students do well on tests. That should be good news for you! And why not? I definitely think you deserve it after all you did to raise our test scores.

Sincerely,

Your former Proficient Student

Letter to the Editor from a Piano Teacher

As Quebec debates a new report recommending eliminating elementary school homework, a piano teacher wrote the following letter to the editor of the Ottawa Citizen.

To the Editor
From a piano teacher

So here we are again, discussing the same issue that has been brought up countless times.

A few years ago, I wrote a letter to the Citizen, suggesting that homework impacts negatively on home life and extracurricular activities. As a piano teacher I was seeing several students a week come in embarrassed and apologetic because they hadn’t had time to practise. Many broke down in tears because they were so overworked and stressed. So much for piano for fun.

This situation has not changed. I am still seeing children as young as Grade 2 sobbing in my piano studio because there’s just no time to do anything other than school work.

Teachers don’t seem to understand; projects, summatives and tests are piled on indiscriminately and each teacher expects the most from each student. Multiply that by eight subjects in elementary school and four in high school.

Who has time to practise piano and enjoy it? Who has time for gymnastics or karate? Who has time just to play outside? I hear complaints from all ages of four to five hours of homework, from immediately after school, break for dinner, back to work till bedtime. Is this necessary?

Not only are we a society of burned-out adults, but we’re creating the same world for our children! School trustees and teachers, please, consider abolishing homework so that kids can be kids, so that I can see my wonderful students come in smiling and satisfied that they are prepared for their lesson, and ready to enjoy it.

And parents, please, take a stand and fight for your child’s emotional well being.

Good for parent Diane Hunter who declared there would be no more homework in the Hunter home. I admire her.

Elaine Armstrong,

Orléans

A Teacher Speaks Out – Testing

I saw this post on Teachers Net:

You know that you have trained your class to ignore
distractions well when someone throws up DURING state
testing and no one even flinches and continues with their
testing!

No lie!

My classroom!

Today!

Luckily he missed the book by an inch and hit the trashcan
which I had shoved in front of his face when I saw him
starting to turn green!

Nurse is right across the hall, off he goes, trashcan and all!

First question the principal asks me at the break is… did
anything hit the test book? Evidently there is some major
procedure involving fort knox and some security company
trained by the cia and fbi that needs to be followed when
someone barfs on the book!

A Teacher Speaks Out

In the Comments to I Hate Reading Logs, a middle school special education teacher wrote about the difficulties teachers face. She calls herself Anonmyous 2010, and I suggest searching for her many comments on that thread. Here’s her first:

Comment to I Hate Reading Logs
by Anonymous 2010

I am an educator, and while I agree with some comments made by both parties on this web site, I truthfully feel that if a parent has tremendous issues with public education, they should simply edu­cate their children at home. That comment is not meant to be mean or harsh. I currently teach middle school special education, but I plan on staying at home with my children through their elementary school years. I don’t have any children yet (I’m 26,) but I know that public school can only provide so much individual attention towards each child in one day. If I want my child to have the oppor­tunity to play, explore, be creative, and have time to truly investi­gate all the questions they have about the world, I will have to make it my job to stay home and provide that sort of education to them.

The system has changed tremendously since I was in elementary school.
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A Glimmer of Hope

I was heartened to read the Comment posted by a teacher in response to the piece I ran two weeks ago, The Trouble With Kindergarten.

I want you all to know that there are corners of hope for early child­hood education. I teach kindergarten at a charter school in San Diego CA: the San Diego Cooperative Charter. We believe that chil­dren learn best through a partnership between parents and educa­tors. My students learn through play and exploration, as children were designed to do. My job is to know each of them well enough to be able to structure learning experiences that will best meet their needs. Just as in the main stream kindergartens I’ve experienced, some of them read and write at the end of the school year, and some of them do not, but they all love school, have learned to negotiate and get along with their classmates, and are excited about learning. Our curriculum is the CA state standards, but our day is filled with blocks, guinea pigs, singing, gardening, clay, rain­forests, outer space, dress up, swings, stories, drawing, and ques­tions.

Our school, which serves children in grades K through 8th, was started by parents and educators who saw how children were being short changed by the typical public schools. It was hard work, but oh so fulfilling. If you want a better learning experience for your child, and ALL the children, find out what you can do to create alternatives. You’ll be glad you did.

Teachers Speak Out – An Open Letter to the Harvard Graduate School of Education

On blogs.edweek.org, I read a really moving letter by 3 teachers to the Harvard Graduate School of Education, asking when the institution will speak out on issues fundamental to the educational well-being of children and their schools.

Here’s an excerpt from the letter:

As veteran public school teachers, we are disappointed that the HGSE has not shown the leadership it professes by speaking out against the unprecedented attack on public education. To be sure, there have been courageous voices on your faculty who have defended public schools and the endangered idea of educating the whole child. We know that a thoughtful faculty does not think with one mind, and that there will always be differences about what constitutes the most effective pedagogies or curricula. But we have not heard the HGSE as an institution speak out on issues fundamental to the educational well-being of children and their schools.

These issues include:

The over-testing of students, beginning as early as 3rd grade, and the misuse of single, imperfect high- stakes standardized assessment instruments like MCAS;

The expansion of charters through funding formulas that divert resources from those urban and rural public schools charged with educating our most challenged children;

The stripping away of art, music, critical thinking, creativity, experiential learning, trips, and play periods-of joy itself-from schools so that they might become more effective test preparation centers;

The use of state curriculum frameworks-and soon, possibly, national standards -to narrow and standardize our schools, an effort that only encourages increasing numbers of affluent middle class parents to seek out for their children the same private schools that so many “reformers” have already chosen for theirs;

The cynical insistence that all schools be equal in a society whose social and economic policies make us increasingly unequal;

Merit pay proposals that deny and undermine the essentially collaborative nature of teaching;

And finally, the sustained media vilification of hard-working, dedicated public school teachers.

These depressing developments have intensified over the past fifteen years. They violate the first principles of humane and progressive education, as we understand them.

Read the entire letter here.

A Third Grade Teacher Speaks Out

I received an email from a third grade teacher in Mesa, Arizona. With her permission (I never post emails without explicit permission), I share it with you.

As a Family, We Always Set Reasonable Limits for the Amount of Time We chose to Devote to School-related Activity
by a Third Grade Teacher

For the past 15 years homework has been a frustration to me. I teach third grade and truly resent the expectation that I will plan educational activities for my students to complete outside of the school day. This is time that could be much better spent working with my learners. The only real benefit that could result from homework in early grades is possibly to develop consistent study habits kids will need later on. With a lot of help, the learners may be able to start breaking down larger tasks into manageable parts. Since most parents feel pretty strongly they want homework, I advise them to use a timer and set it for 5 minutes. When it goes off, the activity is to be put away. On the other hand, it is generally a good thing to avoid procrastination, so students are also supposed to use beginning time management and develop a schedule based on their other activities through the week. Really though, for kids up through grade 4, reading aloud and being read to is still the gold standard.

My own two children have special needs, so we never experienced the bordem factor. But what I have told parents with this concern is this: If your student consistently rushes through work then it has clearly not been attended to in the standard I require in class. To me it really doesn’t matter how much work a student can complete within a study session. But whatever they do, it should be with focused attention and best efforts-and the student should remain on some learning task throughout the assigned time period.

As for my children, the same rule applied. As a family we always set reasonable limits for the amount of time we chose to devote to school-related activity. And sometimes this had to be modified. I do want to share this with your parents who suffer homework tears and frustration. Below is a summary of what I have written and turned in to my principal and every one of the childrens’ teachers (who also happened to be colleagues):

Dear Teacher,

We value your dedication to your class and applaud you for maintaining high expectations for student achievement. We have read and understand your homework policy.

Note that per our child’s IEP support services recommendations and in response to our family’s need, we wish to advise you we may not always elect to complete requested assignments or homework, especially on weeknights.

We acknowledge our choices may result in missing assigments negatively impacting outcome scores. We understand that you are required to evaluate students against grade level standards. You have our full support to record our child’s progress according to your professional judgement.

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