Surviving the Teacher’s Lounge

One of the more toxic places in school happens to be the teachers’ lounge. The teachers’ lounge is supposedly a safe haven for teachers to go to without fear of being pestered by students or administrators. But that safe haven often becomes a den of venting teachers. Venting can be therapeutic, however, a therapy session can go south very quickly.

While you’ll never walk into a lounge with every teacher present, multiple teachers congregate there – in the mornings before the 1st bell, during random preps, common lunchtimes and at the end of the day. The more teachers that are in a there, the greater likelihood you’ll hear some negative talk about what’s happening in the building. The negative talk could be about administration, students, parents and even your teacher colleagues. Too much negative talk creates a toxic environment. For a new teacher, toxicity can demoralize their efforts to attempt their best work for their students. For veteran teachers, toxicity heard and felt in the teachers’ lounge can make you ready to run to the hills and get out of dodge.

Now I must be honest, there are times when going into the teachers’ lounge means working with teachers and actually creating solutions to problems in the classroom and in the building. Not to mention, the copy machine is usually there along with the staff refrigerator and microwave. However, opportunities for problem-solving also happen in classrooms. Also, you can eat elsewhere after retrieving and warming your food from the teachers’ lounge. So, is the teachers’ lounge a great place or is it a dungeon of negativity? It all depends on how you treat it. Just like any classroom, you can set the tone for the type of teachers’ lounge you want for your building. However, you may not feel strong enough to assert yourself in a way that confronts toxicity of any kind. Navigating and negotiating the teachers’ lounge is very complex; there is no one specific answer and what to do when confronted with teachers’ lounge toxicity. However, there are some strategies that you can use to help make the teachers’ lounge experience better for you and your colleagues:

ACTION STEPS:

  1. Refrain from gossiping and toxic venting when in the teachers’ lounge. You shouldn’t gossip at all and your venting should be for select ears at appropriate moments. But the teacher’s lounge shouldn’t be your “go-to” to do vent or gossip. Here’s why. All teachers are struggling with students, parents, district regulations and administrative nonsense – every teacher has a story to tell. But all those stories can weigh you down and all storytellers do not have a filter. You can’t control anyone but yourself. So you must resolve to hold your piece… unless speaking yields a productive result.
  2. Speak positivity and encouragement every time you meet negativity and discouragement. Life happens… work happens. Sometimes folk will be discouraged and ready to give in to negativity. When the spirit leads you, offer a positive word of encouragement. Your words may be just the thing to change the course of one’s day.
  3. Turn venting sessions into problem-solving sessions. When discussing frustrations, pose it as an opportunity for problem-solving. There will be times when you’ll be frustrated and you’ll speak to your colleagues. However, when you do, don’t just vent. Make it an opportunity for you and your colleague(s) to problem solve on your behalf. Do the same for them.
  4. Start a group with other teachers to brighten up the teachers’ lounge. Work with your colleagues to provide treats for all faculty and make the teachers’ lounge aesthetically pleasing. You could do this by yourself but working with others splits the labor, cost and builds community. Beautifying the teachers’ lounge and offering treats and/or tokens of appreciation to teachers can change the atmosphere of the room – a change most faculty will feel. That can begin to change how faculty carries themselves when in the teachers’ lounge.
  5. Only use the lounge to accomplish a task. If you need to make copies, make copies and leave. If you need to get your lunch and warm it up, do that and leave. If you need to do anything in the teachers’ lounge, do it and leave. Visiting the lounge with a purpose will keep you with a focus in the face of conversations that walk the line between venting and complaining – about an administrator, a student or another teacher. Get in and get out.

The teachers’ lounge isn’t the worst place in a school. However, it can be one of the more toxic spaces in a school. Be sure to choose your actions and words wisely when visiting so that you leave an inspirational word while not falling prey to the negativity; of any kind. Schools are places of hope. There is no room for a space of horror.

Let’s continue to press towards the mark!

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It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It’s that time of year again.

It’s the time of year that falls between the holiday season and spring break. It’s that time of the year where the prescribed off days are few. It’s that time of the year where children begin to feel restless, the calendar seems to stand still and the adults are starting to lose their patience. It’s that time of the year where the realization of the end of year failures for specific students grows stronger. Yes, ladies and gentlemen; I am talking about the months of January, February, and March.

There are cycles to the school year. Some people think of extracurricular activities when they think of the yearly cycles. Some people think of the marking periods when they think of the yearly cycles. But I tend to think of the yearly cycles in a different way. September and October are the beginnings of the year. It’s too early to call anything, teachers and students are still getting into the habit of teaching and learning, and the foundations of the school year are just being laid. November and December represent the holiday season. Everybody looks forward to Thanksgiving break and Christmas break. While those months are also the transition from the first marking period to the second, everything surrounds the four-day weekend in November and the week-plus off during Christmas and New Year’s.

The month of April is the last serious month of the school year. Standardized testing either has already happened or is about to happen. The months of May and June are the close of the school year; pretty much the school year is over. Very little in the way of new material is being introduced to students. Teachers are reviewing and prepping for finals at this point. Also, student and teacher levels of classroom fatigue are at an all-time high. The last day of school maybe in June but most people, teachers, and students included mentally departed school in April. The months of January, February, and March, however, are the dog days of the school year. They feel like they’ll never ever end. These are the crucial days that as a teacher, you must show your strongest resolve.

I don’t have the numbers or scientific research to back up what I’m about to tell you – all I have are my experiences. More fights, conflicts, and punishments happen during these three months than at any point in the school year. Students become both restless and apathetic. As a teacher, you are mandated to succeed in spite of student restlessness and apathy. So how do you do it? How do you succeed in spite of the students’ fatigue, and your own? How do you keep your fire burning to teach and how do you keep the engagement level high for students? Unfortunately, there’s no full proof answer. However, there are some things that you can do to help make these months not so tough.

ACTION STEPS:

  1. Reserve any of your desired field trips for the months of January, February and or March. Use those anticipated field trips to break the monotony of the time of year. A good time to go on a field trip is during the month of January.
  2. Take advantage of the opportunities to do outside of the box teaching and learning during Black history month. Black history month is a time for assemblies, guest speakers, the introduction of new content, current events discussions and field trips that will break up the monotony and also teach some powerful lessons to students.
  3. Incentivize their learning. Now is a great time to establish a learning objective and offer prizes, awards or a classroom pizza party. The focus on the end goal for students will be a good motivator – if the prize is worth it. Make sure you give a good gift for reaching the goal to sustain engagement.
  4. Create a continuous service learning project by forging a partnership with the local nonprofit. Any opportunity to work with a community organization is good. Getting the opportunity to apply learning outside the classroom is great. Create a partnership with an organization and get your kids out the classroom to engage in service once a month. This can help break the monotony.
  5. Plan a Spring pep rally. This is different from the pizza party. This would require you to get permission from the principal and to collaborate with your fellow teachers, but it could be worth doing. High schools do nights of games and activities. Elementary and middle schools could do the same thing during the school day. If not the full day, maybe a half day can be dedicated to school-wide competitions – academic and athletic – with prizes and rewards for winners. This is a nice event to have in the middle of the year to break things up. Instituting such an event may be a start to a new tradition.

January, February, and March are tough days to get through during any school year. However, choosing to just “get through them” rather than making the most of those days could make the days longer for you. Make sure that you do what you can to render those days as most enjoyable as possible – because the kids might make them unenjoyable if you don’t.

Let’s continue to press towards the mark!

Teaching Slavery Properly

American public schools do a poor job teaching the history of American slavery to children. That is probably true of private schools too.

I would also say that the majority of history teachers and administrators, the majority of whom are White, lack a comprehensive knowledge of American slavery. They may have read an article here and watch a movie there, but their comprehensive knowledge is limited. If that weren’t true, the case for slave reparations for Black people would be discussed more (The United Nations called for Black reparations from the United States), and you’d hear greater consideration given to the impact American slavery has had on the shaping of our current dispensation. If nothing else, all children would be empowered because they would be less ignorant. I don’t need a study to tell me that. However, there is a study that tells me that.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center report:

“Schools are not adequately teaching the history of American slavery, educators are not sufficiently prepared to teach it, textbooks do not have enough material about it, and – as a result – students lack a basic knowledge of the important role it played in shaping the United States and the impact it continues to have on race relations in America.[1]

Here are some major highlights of the report:

  • Only 8 percent of high school seniors surveyed can identify slavery as the central cause of the Civil War.
  • Two-thirds (68 percent) don’t know that it took a constitutional amendment to formally end slavery.
  • Fewer than 1 in 4 students (22 percent) can correctly identify how provisions in the Constitution gave advantages to slaveholders.
  • Teachers are serious about teaching slavery, but there’s a lack of deep coverage of the subject in the classroom.
  • Although teachers overwhelmingly (over 90 percent) claim they feel “comfortable” discussing slavery in their classrooms, their responses to open-ended questions reveal profound unease around the topic.
  • Fifty-eight percent of teachers find their textbooks inadequate. Popular textbooks fail to provide comprehensive coverage of slavery and enslaved peoples.
  • The best textbook achieved a score of 70 percent against our rubric of what should be included in the study of American slavery; the average score was 46 percent.
  • States fail to set appropriately high expectations with their content standards. In a word, the standards are timid.
  • Of the 15 sets of state standards we analyzed, none addresses how the ideology of white supremacy rose to justify the institution of slavery; most fail to lay out meaningful requirements for learning about slavery, about the lives of the millions of enslaved people, or about how their labor was essential to the American economy.

It is no wonder that we hear Whites, and even some Blacks, say that slavery wasn’t a big deal. When you fail to learn the truth, you promote lies. School districts officials and teachers have lied to students for decades about American slavery and White supremacy. Some of it was intentional; much of it was ignorance. In a previous post, I argue against using textbooks; particularly for teaching history and literature. I looked at a number of U.S. history textbooks and I can tell you that they are exactly as represented in the SPLC report. In another post, I gave steps on how to go about teaching history that may be uncomfortable (but necessary) to teach all children. In this post, I’d like to point you to specific books to read and teach from specific to the topic of slavery.

Before I provide the materials to help you teach slavery, I must offer you a framework on what must be taught. Of course, there is only so much time during the school year to teach slavery. Unless the course is one on American slavery, your time is limited. However, you must focus on a few key areas when teaching American slavery. Please refer to the chart below:

Dynamics of American Slavery

A lot of topics run together when you consider slavery in American history. However, you must focus on the economics of slavery (how free Black labor made the United States wealthy and White people privileged), the life of slaves (how slavery impacted Black existence in America along with the way society around them reacted to the institution), Black resistance to slavery (how Black people chose to resist against their enslavement and that Black resistance as a major part of how Blacks responded to their enslavement), and the transition from the institution of slavery to the institution of separate and unequal (how Whites reluctantly abandoned on set of laws for another, yet never compromised their power and privilege during the switch). A focus on these four areas can provide you with a guideline on how to travel historically while offering students with a more comprehensive view of slavery’s impact on the economics and psychology of the United States.

There are so many great books to read that detail the peculiar institution; too many books to mention in one blog. These books that I name are some favorites of mine and also these are books that I have taught U.S. History from. You may find other books that help you teach slavery and American history. But in case you don’t have any recommendations or any idea on where to start, use this list. If you’re not a history teacher, pass it on to a friend who is. Regardless what you teach, these are books you should read anyway to gain knowledge and understanding.

TEXT RESOURCES:

5 Books

  1. INTRODUCTION: Africa’s Gift to AmericaJoel Augustus Rogers – I recommend this book for everyone to read (I recommend all of these books truthfully). This is a great account of American (and world) history offered by the preeminent historian J.A. Rogers. In this text, Rogers speaks of the economics of slavery, slave life, slave resistance, the civil war, the revolutionary war, and reconstruction. Rogers also speaks to the history of the Greeks traveling to Egypt and taking information back to Greece, claiming it as their own.
  2. ECONOMIC: The Half Has Never Been ToldEdward E. Baptist – Baptist opens the door to the foundation of American capitalism: slavery. This text gives a very thorough account of how the economics of slavery shaped the United States in various ways. An important aspect of this text is Baptist’s detail of how both the North and South worked hand-in-hand to benefit from African enslavement. This text is essential for understanding the interplay of politics, economics and international affairs where slavery is concerned. As with the previous title, this book is an absolute must-read.
  3. SLAVE LIFE: The Slave CommunityJohn W. Blassingame – Blassingame does detailed work in exposing the life of slaves and the foundations of African American culture; a culture which has its origins in the pain of and triumph over slavery. Blassingame offers the bad, the ugly and the resourcefulness slaves found in life on the plantation. This text also offers details of resistance and the social norms established by Whites in the context of the Black experience. Another goodie found in this book are quotes from slaves – these quotes not only offer insight into slave life, but they offer a look into the foundations of the African-American Vernacular English (AAVE); a dialect used by many Black people today, including Black students.
  4. RESISTANCE: The Encyclopedia of Slave Resistance & RebellionJunius P. Rodriguez – This is a great resource for detailing the many instances of slave rebellions and revolts. We hear of Nat Turner and Gabriel Prosser (maybe), but there are so many more rebellions and acts of resistance that never get told. This text provides you with an opportunity to tell more of those instances and explore them in greater detail. You may not explore or teach all that is laid out here. However, you can teach more than what is traditionally offered and this text also serves as a resource for your students to dive into when they wish to seek more information on Black rebellion in the United States. This encyclopedia also mentions resistance in Central America, South American, and the Caribbean; although the book focuses heavily on North American Black resistance efforts.
  5. TRANSITION: Black ReconstructionW.E.B. DuBois – Black Reconstruction is a masterpiece; a great explanation of the condition of the slave, the master, and the working White. It also explains the division of proletariat factions and the return to slavery via Jim Crow. This book is not a quick read. However, it is well worth diving into. The information DuBois lays out here sets the course for 20th century America and beyond. There are many titles by DuBois worth purchasing: Philadelphia Negro, Souls of Black Folk… Black Reconstruction also belongs in the canon of texts by Black authors and in the canon of American history.

Again, as I said there are more texts that one can use to help teach slavery. However, these texts offer a good place to start. Warning: don’t expect to read these during a jammed packed school year the week before your unit on slavery – you won’t. If you attempt to do that you will find these text overwhelming and you will abandon them. Take between now and the end of the school year to purchase each text (either you personally or your school/district). During the summer, take a month to read these and take notes. Use the summer to think about how to construct lessons. Begin planning lessons and refer to my previous post for help with implementing those lessons. Formal and thoughtful teaching happens in the classroom. You will only be comfortable teaching slavery properly as you grow comfortable learning these hard truths yourself. However, these texts provide a safe space to learn and learn from preeminent scholars. Take the plunge and tell the truth.

Let’s continue to press towards the mark!

 

 

[1] You can download the full SPLC report here: https://www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/tt_hard_history_american_slavery.pdf

From Wakanda With Love

There has been much fanfare surrounding the latest Marvel comic, turned movie Black Panther. Black people across the diaspora are excited about this movie, what it means and what it represents. Black Panther proves that an all-Black cast with a Black director can put together a quality film from head to toe, that can be a major winner at the box office – the movie is staring down $1 billion at the box office worldwide. This movie has something for everybody; Black people (of course), comic nerds (we love y’all too), and also educators… yes, educators too.

A teacher recently created a Wakanda curriculum for her middle school students as a lesson and teaching companion to the movie. It’s a well-developed piece of teaching that I recommend all educators implement; whether their students see the movie or not. With that said, many Black people believe that Black children need to see this movie; that black children need to powerful images of people who look like them who happen to be heroes from the continent of Africa. Many celebrities and good-natured folk who paid for Black children to see the movie. I believe that educators, particularly non-Black educators should to see this movie. It’s a great movie, but what I believe is important for educators to grab from the film are the messages concerning Black students that are vital if we really want to end the school to prison pipeline and help Black children be all they can be both academically and personally. Here are my five major takeaways from the film that educators must consider when educating Black children (I apologize for the spoilers, however by now, you should have seen the movie):

ACTION STEPS:

  1. Strongly consider teaching from an Afrocentric perspective. Black people worldwide were excited to see this movie; a movie that was a picture of Blackness that encapsulated the regaled elegance, storied culture and intellectual contributions of the diaspora since the beginning. Many of us continue to reach for Wakanda. Unfortunately, many of us were not taught about how Africa and African thought shaped much of the Western world. We weren’t taught of African explorers who traveled to the “New World” prior to Columbus. We weren’t taught that African theologians, who shaped Christianity in the West and the East, were African. A fictional dark-skinned superhero can do wonders for the self-esteem of Black children. What can do even more for Black self-esteem no matter the age is knowing the truth about the contributions of Black peoples throughout human history. Black history didn’t begin in 1619. Africa has contributed to and continues to contribute to humanity. Rather than continuing to educate through a lens of Eurocentrism, STRONGLY consider educating through the lens of Afrocentrism.
  2. Acknowledge, identify and address Black childhood trauma. It’s easy to dislike Eric Killmonger for his anger and his violent behavior in satisfying that anger. Many cite Killmonger’s character as a common trope of the angry Black man. However, Killmonger endured major trauma as a child. His father was killed and he knew that his family from Africa never checked for him. That trauma-informed his life decisions. There was no one to help him through the pain. He took it upon himself to inform his own therapy. However, that pain only led to him causing pain in the name of help a self-righteous cause. The same can potentially happen (and has happened) to Black children who’ve experienced trauma. Educators must do a better job of identifying and supporting students who have endured trauma of any sort. We must abandon the foolish idea that black children are less innocent than white children… or narratives that say, Black people, women, in particular, are so emotionally strong, or even physically strong, that they can endure anything. Our failure to identify and address Black childhood trauma may lead to children taking therapy in their own hands; coping in unhealthy ways that are assisted by a lack of psychological and cultural awareness on the part of adults.
  3. Realize that education for Black people is intrinsically linked to Black Liberation. For T’Challa and Killmonger, their missions came down to helping people. Killmonger wanted to use the resources of Wakanda to help Black people worldwide fight oppression. His education was a means to achieve that end. T’Challa went steps further than his father… he decided to use resources of Wakanda to help those areas where his father sent spies – one place, in particular, was Oakland: the foundation of Killmonger’s trauma. Knowledge has a purpose. It always has for Black people. From Blacks who learned how to read and write to escape slavery to Blacks who went to law school to fight segregation, redlining, and gerrymandering; education has always been a means to an end – Black Liberation. If you can answer the question, “how does the knowledge of this thing I seek to teach further the cause of Black Liberation?” then you can teach whatever the “this” is to Black children.
  4. Absent the right environment, Black children may conceal intelligence to protect their spirits. For fear of being colonized and exploited by the Western world, Wakanda shielded themselves to appear as a third world country. Once in Wakanda, the CIA agent couldn’t believe the advanced society Wakanda created. His bias was smacked right in his face. The same has happened to many an educator; when exposed to the intelligence of a Black child they perceived to be stupid, their ignorance and bias smacked them in the face. Schools kill the spirits of Black children every day. Schools over discipline Black children and schools undervalue the minds of Black children. Black children know when educators care or don’t care about them. When they know you don’t care about them, they don’t trust you enough to willing offer their hope, dreams, and intellect to you for fear of you exploiting them and failing to properly cultivate them. So, just because a Black child doesn’t “show” you that they are “smart” doesn’t mean they are not. Maybe, you haven’t earned the trust of that child to allow you rights to visit the Wakanda that is their spirit.
  5. There is no community without the elders. T’Challa was surrounded by elders, including his mother and the spiritual advisor. T’Chaka played an advisory role even in death. T’Challa was supported and empowered by the elders throughout the movie. The community of leaders and elders important to the key moments of Wakandan life. The same is true for Black children. You cannot teach Black children, absent the Black community. Educators love calling parents and maybe visiting homes; they enjoy calling Black men to greet children on the first day of school and inviting parents to the school on their terms. However, between the hours of 8:30am to 2:30pm (or whatever time school starts and ends), educators shut their doors and adopt a posture that says to the community, “we know what’s best, not you.” You’re six hours a day with a child isn’t enough. To make real connections in the life of a child, you must make links between the curriculum in school and the curriculum in the community. Along the lines of the education for liberation theme, you must invite community leaders and activists into the classroom to speak and to teach students. This is how you strengthen community – understanding that in the fight to educate, the community is your strongest and most staunch ally.

Educators must keep these things in mind rather than seeking the next “flavor of the month” to “close the achievement gap.” Use these takeaways to redirect your curricula, reframe professional development, rework discipline practices and reintroduce the school to the community. If educators are serious about teaching every child, particularly Black children in our nation’s cities, “get rich quick” remedies must be abandoned. The real work is in confronting White supremacy and White Male patriarchy with students and community; empowering them to, and assisting them with, dismantling it.

Let’s continue to press towards the mark!

2nd Amendment, Slavery & Creating Critical Readers & Thinkers

One of the most important jobs that a history teacher has is threefold: learn the truth, know the truth and teach the truth. When teaching children of color, understand that traditionally, the “canon” has withheld the whole truth of American history. Whether Black or White, if you’re a history teacher, it is your obligation to unearth the withheld truths – for students of all backgrounds. Knowledge absent of truth is not power; it is to be inhibited.

In light of the unfortunate school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the gun law debate has re-emerged in the mainstream discourse. One side advocates for stricter laws; including prohibiting the sale of military weapons and improved background checks for prospective buyers. The other side of the debate argues in favor of the 2nd amendment; that Americans have the right to purchase the guns of their choice for their protection and to hunt. There are many arguments held by folks on each side of the debate. What isn’t up for debate is the language of the 2nd amendment. I do not advise for history teachers to facilitate a discussion on gun rights versus gun regulations without a thorough understanding of the 2nd amendment and the history surrounding it. The second amendment states:

A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Most gun rights enthusiasts fail to focus on the first part of the amendment when arguing for the second part. The purpose of people having guns was to maintain a well-regulated militia. According to Michael Waldman, constitutional lawyer and president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School, the founders were concerned with protecting national liberty rather than individuals right to protect themselves:

“…When you actually go back and look at the debate that went into [the] drafting of the amendment, you can squint and look really hard, but there’s simply no evidence of it being about individual gun ownership for self-protection or for hunting. Emphatically, the focus was on the militias. To the framers, that phrase “a well-regulated militia” was really critical. In the debates, in James Madison’s notes of the Constitutional Convention, on the floor of the House of Representatives, as they wrote the Second Amendment, all the focus was about the militias. Now at the same time, those militias are not the National Guard. Every adult man, and eventually every adult white man, was required to be in the militias and was required to own a gun, and to bring it from home. So it was an individual right to fulfill the duty to serve in the militias..”

The purpose of the well-regulated militia, according to the framers, was for people – White men – to serve as a check to the national government’s standing army, funded and maintained by Congress. This was inspired by European monarchs who ruled by disarming the people according to folks like Noah Webster and George Mason. Ultimately, the founders wanted White males to be in a position to fight against a tyrannical government if necessary. The second amendment is about that, not about an individual’s rights to own guns. The NRA only acknowledges the half-truth of the amendment in its own headquarters lobby. According to Michael Waldman, the same quote remains.

A half-truth is a whole lie.

So then, why is there such a desire to attach the 2nd amendment with individual gun ownership? A better question maybe, why do people fight for their ability to own guns, any gun of their liking, so ferociously – to the point of asserting gun ownership as a right? The answer can be found in the culture of the antebellum era.

Some gun rights enthusiasts point to the landmark decision of District of Columbia v. Heller as the alpha and omega of the argument for the rights of individuals to own guns. However, Justice Scalia, who wrote the majority opinion, looked to Nunn v. State for an interpretation of the 2nd amendment. Nunn, a state court case, was one of the first cases to strike down gun law using the second amendment. The decision of the case came from a man who was both a “champion of slavery and the southern code of honor.” Courts have referred to Nunn and court cases like it to uphold the rights of citizens to own guns. But the Nunn case, and cases like it, come from antebellum courthouses. These courts were led by White men steeped in and defenders of the antebellum traditions of Black slavery and White honor.

The antebellum south was a place where violence was used to keep decorum amongst White men and to keep slaves in line. When we speak of antebellum culture, we often think of the genteel nature of southern gentlemen and southern bells. We think of plantations as beautiful mansions with porches for families to entertain guest with a glass of lemonade and hardy conversation; not for the gateways to a world of violence and oppression. To be clear, the antebellum south was a place of violence and oppression.

Violence was a central element of slave and honor culture in the South. Richard Hildreth, an antebellum lawyer, journalist, and historian, wrote in 1840 that violence was frequently employed both to subordinate slaves and to intimidate abolitionists. That violence, in turn, resulted in ‘a complete paroxism of fear’ and ‘extreme degree of terror . . . of slave vengeance’ amongst the slaveholding classsMeanwhile, violence between white men ‘to preserve white manhood and personal status’ was encouraged in Southern honor culture. According to Hildreth, duels ‘appear but once an age’ in the North, but ‘are of frequent and almost daily occurrence at the South.’ As a result of the distinct cultural phenomena of slavery and honor, Southern men carried weapons both ‘as a protection against the slaves’ and also to be prepared for ‘quarrels between freemen’.”

Teaching the truth about the constitution and its amendments is vitally important. If you seek to engage in such lessons surrounding current events or contentious public policy issues that involve the constitution and/or amendments, make sure that you do the following:

ACTION STEPS:

  1. Be unafraid to go on a search for the truth. It may be uncomfortable searching for the truth, especially when you have a feeling the truth will go against convictions and “truths’ you hold near and dear. But if you’re looking to grow as an individual and be a better teacher for your students, you must engage in critical research that challenges you in order for you to challenge the society where you engage daily.
  2. Don’t rely on a textbook to learn or teach the truth. You’re going to have to read books, scholarly journals, online periodicals and places like Blavity, Vox, Slate, Vulture, Huffington Post, The Atlantic, or Atlanta Black Star. A textbook will not take you to the truth, just the status quo.
  3. Give yourself adequate time to find the truth. If you decide to teach a topic, don’t expect to be ready by the next day. Give yourself a few days for discovery, followed by some time to organize the information to teach. Anything worth doing takes time – including teaching and learning.
  4. Make the same materials where you found the truth available to your students. If there is a book that you read that can be purchased for your kids, get it. If not, copy specific passages and pass them out. Anything of substance that you find online; make copies for kids and pass them out. If you can put together a makeshift text from your read materials do so. Give your students the keys so that they can drive even further than you did.
  5. Show your students how to find the truth in what they read. Kids do not instinctively know the nuances of reading – they learn it in school and they probably don’t know the nuances of reading a college-level text. So you have to teach them. That means you start teaching them how to crawl. Next, show them how to walk and then how to run. Once they can run, show them how to run faster.
    1. Crawl: reading by itself is crawling. Students cannot understand what they read unless they read it. If you want to read an academic journal, start with a sentence and teach them how to understand what it says – that’s walking.
    2. Walk: walking is simply understanding what it is you are reading or what you have already read. When they can understand what a text says and internalize it, they’re walking. Once they’ve internalized a text, they can begin analyzing that text to gather context, meaning, and agenda; to pick it apart – that’s running.
    3. Run: running is when a student can break down what they read to gain information indirectly stated. The breakdown helps to gather implied meaning from the historical context, culture and text location i.e. which chapter it is or which paragraph within a chapter/essay, surrounding the passage they are reading. Upon doing that they can take a stance; either arguing for what they read or arguing against it – that’s running faster.
    4. Running Faster: running faster is having the ability to digest a text and form an opinion based on what they read. That could mean having an opinion at the moment or deciding to take in more reading to strengthen the certainty of their opinion. Once a child can do that, they are now a critical thinker and a critical reader.

Rubric

The role of a history teacher is very important. Teaching history should never be taken lightly; neither should learning history. A large reason why we are wrong about a lot of things is that we don’t know the truth of history. Either we didn’t learn it, the truth was withheld from us or we were lied to. If you’re a history teacher – learn the truth, know the truth and teach the truth. Hopefully, what I’ve said has helped you do all three.

Let’s continue to press towards the mark.

Research Brief: No-Excuses Expansion

If you’re looking for a place to find an honest conversation about all things education, Steven Singer’s (not the Philly jeweler) blog gadflyonthewallblog is a good place. Mr. Singer speaks truth to power ranging from race and poverty in education to school privatization. One of Mr. Singer’s latest entries speaks of a study, authored by Sarah Cohodes of Columbia University’s Teachers College, suggesting a way to reduce the Black-White achievement gap.

She argues that highly-effective charter school practices – from schools that serve low-income students of color – should be replicated in traditional public schools. While Cohodes acknowledges that charters and traditional public schools perform at the same levels, she says that charters of the “no-excuses” variety tend to perform better.

I believe that the “no-excuses” philosophy does not empower children of color. Discipline is necessary for every academic setting. However, I do not believe that a militarized approach to disciplining children is what works best to get the best out of them academically or otherwise. I abhor the hypocrisy that such an approach is necessary for Black and Brown children. What is especially insulting is the cultural appropriated phrase “no-excuses;” hijacked to cajole particularly the African-American community to the side of these organizations.

The message does seem inspirational. However, the mission of these schools is to improve test scores; a culture of conformity and compliance is the means to achieving that end. The key is to sternly discipline students, maximize instructional time and minimize distractions. These schools align themselves with key figures of African-American culture and buzz words and/or phrases of the Black freedom struggle expressed in African American households i.e. “you have to work twice as hard as everyone else,” to garner support for the “no-excuses” ethos. Many of these schools, like traditional public schools, are founded on the “Protestant ethic;” a set of values that emphasize the importance of hard work and no excuses.[1] However, there is rarely room for restorative justice in this atmosphere,[2] rarely is a curriculum designed from an Afrocentric perspective and often left unsaid is the message of resistance. But I digress.

On the topic of the “no-excuses” philosophy, Columbia University professor Christopher Emdin said, “There is a false attachment between being complicit and docile to being academically rigorous.” Emdin said that “no-excuses” schools, in particular, do more damage to children of color although they are framed as a better option. However, Cohodes, a faculty colleague of Emdin, sees “no-excuses” practices as potentially beneficial to public school district academic achievement. One piece of evidence she cites is the work of Harvard researchers with the Houston Independent School District (HISD).

Those researchers found that students in schools that adopted “no-excuses” charter practices saw test score gains in mathematics. Those “no-excuses” practices utilized in Houston were identified in New York City as being correlated with the largest test score gains. Those practices were (1) intensive teacher management, (2) data-driven instruction, (3) increased instructional time, (4) intensive tutoring, and (5) a culture of high expectations. Not mentioned was how “no-excuses” practices result in a lot of student discipline, based “broken-windows” logic or in other words, sweating the small stuff. Detentions and suspensions abound.

I’ve spent my entire career in education in the state of New Jersey. I’ve taught in schools that practice “no-excuses.” New Jersey offers fresh research ground with untapped data to be analyzed. According to the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE), New Jersey has ninety-one charter schools/organizations with a combined student population of 48,846. This includes renaissance charters.[3] Most of these schools serve low-income children of color. Of the ninety-one schools, sixty-two schools or 68% are listed within the top twenty-five municipalities of persons living below the poverty level. In New Jersey, 39% of the traditional public school population is Black and Latino;  86% of the charter school population is Black and Latino students  – 53% of all charter school attendees are Black.

Not all charter schools in New Jersey follow the “no-excuses” mantra. However, Urban Hope Act legislation[4]facilitates the expansion of “successful” charter networks, such as Cohodes prescribes. Many of those schools practice “no-excuses.” The Urban Hope Act districts include Camden, Newark, and Trenton. Each is in the top fifteen municipalities of persons living below the poverty level. These districts also have a student population of predominately Black and Latinos children.

State performance data makes possible a comparison of traditional public and charter school student proficiency. The NJDOE assesses a school and/or districts success according to the percentage of students who are proficient in language arts literacy and mathematics. After comparing traditional public schools and charter schools in Urban Hope Act districts, it’s found that charter schools have a higher percentage of its students achieving skills proficiency expectations.

Figure 1 – 2016-2017 Performance Comparison: Traditional Public v. Charter (Camden, Newark & Trenton)

 

Camden City

Newark City

Trenton City

Traditional Public Charter Traditional Public Charter Traditional Public Charter
LAL

20.4%

33.8%

32%

51.5%

22.8%

38.5%

Math 19.3% 24.9% 29.8% 41.3% 22%

34.1%

Source: 2016-2017 NJ School Performance Reports, NJDOE (https://rc.doe.state.nj.us/PerformanceReports.aspx)

*Percentages are based on schools reporting academic performance data to NJDOE

**Combined percentages: grade levels and schools

Looking at this data alone, one could surmise that Cohodes may be on to something. “No-excuses” charter networks such as KIPP, Uncommon, Democracy Prep, and Mastery run schools in at least one of these municipalities. Where I believe Cohodes study goes wrong is disregarding the impact of “no-excuses” disciplinary measures for the sake of highlighting and applauding higher achievement levels. “No-excuses” disciplinary practices result in more student discipline. Unfortunately, there is no such data submitted on student detentions from New Jersey schools. Concerning student expulsion data the majority of schools who submitted data had few expulsions or none at all. The best available indicator of school discipline for New Jersey school data is the student suspension rate.

Figure 2 – 2016-2017 Suspension Rates: Traditional Public v. Charter (Camden, Newark & Trenton)

Camden City Newark City Trenton City
 

Traditional Public

Charter Traditional Public Charter Traditional Public

Charter

ISSR

2.3% 8.4% 0% 8.2% 0% 11.2%
OSSR 7.5% 18.5% 1% 12.9% 9.7%

16.8%

TSSR 8.9% 21% 1% 17.3% 9.7%

25.5%

Source: 2016-2017 NJ School Performance Reports, NJDOE (https://rc.doe.state.nj.us/PerformanceReports.aspx)

*Percentages are based on schools reporting discipline data to NJDOE

**Combined percentages of schools

***ISSR: In-School Suspension Rate / OSSR: Out of School Suspension Rate / TSSR: Total School Suspension Rate

The charters in these three districts outperform traditional public schools academically. At the same time, they discipline a higher percentage of students than those traditional public schools. Looking at the numbers, one could conclude there is a relationship between high student proficiency levels and high suspension rates; that the more you suspend, the higher school-wide student proficiency will be. These stats on the surface affirms Cohodes initial suggestion. However, surmising a relationship based on these comparisons isn’t definitive. More analysis is needed to see if a real relationship exist.

Using the NJ School Performance Data provided by the NJDOE for SY 2016-2017, I ran a regression analysis to find if a relationship exists between charter school suspension rates (SSR) and charter school-wide proficiency in language arts literacy (SCHLAL) and mathematics (SCHMAT). Specifically, I am looking to answer the following question: does a charter school’s suspension rate positively influence its school-wide student proficiency in language arts literacy and mathematics?

In both regression tests, I controlled for the following indicators: (1) % population of economic disadvantaged students, (2) % population of Black students, (3) % population of Latino students, (4) % of students who are English language learners, (5) % of students with an academic disability, (6) % of students chronically absent from school, (7) % White teachers in a school, (8) % Black teachers in a school, (9) % Latino teachers in a school, (10) % daily teacher attendance, and (11) average yearly teaching experience of teachers. All 91 schools did not report data percentages for every variable. However, 80 of the 91 charter schools (88%) did report data for the language arts literacy variable and all other controls when analyzing school-wide language arts literacy proficiency. 75 of the 91 charter schools (82%) did the same for mathematics and the other control variables.

Figure 3: Regression Analysis – Suspension Rate and Language Arts Literacy School wide State Assessment Performance in New Jersey Charter Schools

Data - SCHLAL

Source: 2016-2017 NJ School Performance Reports, NJDOE (https://rc.doe.state.nj.us/PerformanceReports.aspx)

*Variable data is based on charter schools data reporting to NJDOE

According to the regression analysis, there is a relationship between charter school suspension rates and charter school student language arts literacy proficiency. The relationship is one of significance at the .05 level. However, the relationship is not positive, but negative. The lower the rate of charter school suspensions, the higher the proficiency level of charter school students in language arts literacy; regardless of all control variables mentioned previously. The same is true for the percentage of students of economic disadvantage. The lower the percentage of economically disadvantaged students in a charter school the higher the percentage of charter students scoring proficient on the in language arts literacy.

There is a strong correlation between the variables, although it is not a significant one. A deeper dive into the data is necessary to explain the relationships shown here and to test for causation. This relationship concerns Black students in particular because according to a 2016 study, school suspensions account for 20% of the Black-White achievement gap. The same study asserted that high suspensions rates can undermine student achievement as a whole, even for students who do not get suspended.

Figure 4: Regression Analysis – Suspension Rate and Mathematics School wide State Assessment Performance in New Jersey Charter Schools

Data - SCHMAT

Source: 2016-2017 NJ School Performance Reports, NJDOE (https://rc.doe.state.nj.us/PerformanceReports.aspx)

* Variable data is based on charter schools data reporting to NJDOE

The regression analysis in figure 4 shows no relationship of any kind (positive or negative) between charter school suspension rate and charter school mathematics proficiency. Where there is a relationship of significance, however, is with school-wide math proficiency and students with disabilities; at the .01 level. The fewer students with disabilities were in a charter school, charter school student proficiency was the higher in mathematics. While the correlation between these two variables isn’t statistically the strongest, a correlation does exist.

Advocates for and against charter schools argue whether or not charters push away or serve students with disabilities and the impact of such a decision on their school-wide achievement. What is not up for debate is that charter schools suspend more Black and disabled students more than their students who are not Black and disabled. Charter schools suspend Black and disabled students more than traditional public schools. As with the previous regression, this analysis requires more research to understand what the regression is saying concerning the shown relationship.

As said earlier, I do not agree with the “no-excuses” philosophy or the practices that come from it. I do believe that this philosophy and the practices that stem from it harms children of color, particularly Black students – there is evidence to back my concern. There is commentary that speaks up for the cultural relevance of the “no-excuses” philosophy. I counter that commentary with the assertion that the idea of “no-excuses” has a high level of nuanced difference when espoused by parents of color versus charter organizational leadership who tend to be White. For all the lauding of “no-excuses,” organizations are having second thoughts on the philosophy; one charter organization that championed the philosophy actually changed course. I do not sense an agenda driving Cohodes’ study, however, based on my brief analysis, I am uncomfortable prescribing “no-excuses” in traditional public schools.

I do not believe that replicating harmful discipline practices in public schools will help improve the academic performance of Black and Latino children attending public schools. To my knowledge, White parents have not historically sent their children to “no-excuses” schools and I wouldn’t expect them to start, even with the knowledge of Cohodes research. In fact, I would expect White parents to protest against “no-excuses” entering their children’s schools. If advocates call for these practices to only be adopted in heavily populated Black and Latino public schools, it would only confirm the racism of “no-excuses” proponents.

With all of that said, I do not believe the road to the promised land of academic achievement is paved on the concrete of no-excuses – especially for Black students.

Let’s continue to press towards the mark!

 

[1] Silver, Joel. Deculturalization and the Struggle for Equality. 7th. New York: McGraw Hill, 2013.

[2] Golann, Joanne, W. (2015) “The Paradox of Success at a No Excuses School.” Sociology of Education 88:2:103-19

[3] Renaissance schools are charter schools/organizations that take over failing schools from a school district as per the Urban Hope Act legislation.

[4] The Urban Hope Act, signed into law in 2012 and amended in 2014, allows for charter schools, referred to as renaissance schools, to “takeover” administration of academically underperforming schools in the cities of Camden, Newark and Trenton.

 

Straight Talk About Parent Engagement

Teachers and administrators alike desire to increase the number of engaged parents it has within its school. When I taught, teachers frequently lamented that not enough parents would show up for parent-teacher conferences; administrators did also. I also heard educators lament that parents weren’t regularly involved in the school community; that the only time parents showed up to school was (a) if a child was in trouble academically, (b) if a child was in trouble for their behavior, (c) if something bad happened to the child, or (d) some combination of a, b and c.

In my experiences, educators attempted to engage parents in various ways, aside from the traditional back to school nights. Student and family barbecues happened for returns to school and to conclude the school year. Parents were invited to visit the school to receive legal help. Parents were able to receive medical care at the health clinic that partnered with a former school of mine. Also, parent-teacher conference meeting times were extended to meet the demands of the varying work hours of parents. However, none of these things got the level of engagement educators were looking for. Here are some reasons why:

  1. The educators are too White. If the teaching and administration were too White, expect parents of color didn’t necessarily engage with them. They knew that White educators didn’t live in their neighborhoods, frequent the community for their leisure, to purchase goods or obtain services. They may not have trusted them because there was no connection with them other than they taught their child. Educators being too White sets the tone for the rest of this list.
  2. Parents have no attachment to the school. Some parents were transplants from other areas. Or, their child(ren) attended a new school with no history; no tradition that attached parents to the school. In my experiences, parent engagement is strong in schools with an established tradition; whether it surrounds sports, music or academics. Parents who have attended the schools where their children attend have a vested interest – not only in their child but in the school’s success as well. Without an attachment, it was hard for parents to engage.
  3. Parents had bad experiences with school. Unfortunately, public schools that service Black and Brown children have not always provided the best of experiences for students; particularly those schools that had few Black and Brown educators. There are distinct differences between schools where children of color are the majority versus schools where Whites are the majority. These differences play on the psyche of people – especially when you see that your school resembles a prison (due to the aesthetics and the treatment) when compared to a school that appears to resembles an oasis. Those feelings don’t leave an individual after their graduation and when their child is attending school, they find themselves revisiting those feelings and they may choose not to engage.
  4. Educators look down on parents. Either educators think they know what’s best for children, more so than the parents; or educators believe that the parents (and family) are an impediment to student success. Parents do not want to be told that they don’t know what is best for their child(ren) or that they don’t know what they’re doing as a parent to help their child(ren) succeed. Parents might feel intimidated by educators, who have more education than them, telling them what they aren’t doing, how their child is doing and what they and their child needs to do. This can be exasperated if the educator is White.
  5. Schools either:
    • Want to engage parents on their terms. Some schools want parents to meet them where they are rather than the other way around. The mantra “If you build it they will come,” doesn’t play well. It may be true for students but that’s because the law says they [students] have to come to school. Parents do not.
    • Don’t really want to engage parents. Some schools really don’t care if parents engage or not. Others rather that parents don’t even show up and only deal with parents because they have to. Parents feel that spirit from a school and will certainly stay away from a place they don’t feel wanted.

You may say, well I have great relationships with my parents. You might… with some of them, but damn sure not with all of them. You cannot be so caught up in what you do have to qualify those parents who choose not to engage with you as having the problem. You certainly can do more to make your parents a part of your community. Your school without the community is ineffective… no matter what your growth models says; no matter how great your PR people make you sound in commercials or advertisements. If you really want to increase parent engagement, here are some things that you must consider and things that you must do:

ACTION STEPS: 5 CONSIDERATIONS

  1. CONSIDER WHITE SUPREMACY – Consider White supremacy’s impact on the lives of Black and Brown people; how White supremacy impacts the condition of the students you teach and their families; White supremacy’s role in your privilege, your biases, and your behavior; how White supremacy shapes public policy. If you fail to consider the ramifications of White supremacy, you cannot engage with families in an authentic way.
  2. CONSIDER THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE COMMUNITY – Consider the political, social, economic, and physical makeup of the community where you educate. Consider how things get done politically – the stakeholders, the activists, the politicians and people who play a role in what happens. Consider the social scene(s) of the community – the hangouts, the special events, the regular events, the major figures in the social life of the community and how these things shape what goes on. Consider the lay of the land; how people get around and how that impacts daily life. Consider the resources and how folks access those resources.
  3. CONSIDER PUBLIC POLICY – Consider how past and present public policies i.e. mandatory minimums, gerrymandering, segregation via federal housing subsidies, illegal activity impacting a family’s ability to receive public assistance and the repeal of DACA, impact the focus and circumstances of families and the students that you teach. Consider how these very real issues and the very people you may vote for can and do impact your classroom on a daily basis. Parents who deal with the harsh realities of these policies may have little time to visit a school unless it is absolutely necessary.
  4. CONSIDER EMPLOYMENT IN AMERICA – Consider the employment conditions of your parents. We love to place blame on individuals and cite individual responsibility when one brings up the low paying jobs of parents of color in urban communities. Yet teachers are quick to point out how the government is taking away their pensions and increasing the cost of their healthcare. Consider the employers who only pay minimum wage (and a government who won’t increase it). Consider employers who do not give full-time hours to workers to evade paying medical benefits. Consider that Black and Brown city dwellers may have to leave the city to get to work; they are subject to public transportation or carpools where they do not determine when they can arrive home or to school for a function. Consider employers who don’t pay for sick-time; parents who are sick that must work in order to get paid. Consider what some of your parents go through.
  5. CONSIDER YOUR OWN ATTITUDE – Consider your biases and even your racism. Consider your own attitude. Consider that you may judge your parents and that you may sentence their children to a life of hopelessness each day in the classroom. Consider your ways. Do you really seek after parent engagement or do you seek notoriety and acclaim for “trying” or saying that you did thus and so? Your attitude has an impact on parents engaging with you, or parents staying away. If you are in leadership, your attitude maybe the difference between a school that is engaged with parents or a school that is isolated.

ACTION STEPS: 5 THINGS YOU MUST DO

  1. LOVE THE PEOPLE – This is a call to display Agape love. Agape love is the highest form of love. It is an unconditional love; that no matter what you may say or do, I will love you. It means that you will put the needs of the people before your own. It means having the best interest of the people at heart. To do so may be uncomfortable. It may require you to do things you never considered. It may require some sacrifice. However, when your parents feel the spirit of agape over you, they will trust you and open up to you. Having agape love for the people will enable you to do the rest of the items on this list.
  2. FREQUENT THE COMMUNITY – I have made this point numerous times; there are few things more powerful than seeing an educator that your child is taught or led by in the community. Whether attending services, getting groomed or eating dinner at a restaurant, being seen out and about where your students live is a powerful image and goes a long way to earning their trust. It also helps you overcome your own biases, privilege, and behaviors. You can begin to see things from the perspective of the people you serve. You begin to consider the community you serve. You begin to be selfless and this will have a real impact on how you interact with students and parents.
  3. VISIT THEIR HOMES – Home visits can go a long way to engaging parents and families with the school community. When parents know that you are not afraid to come to them and are willing to give of your time to meet and fellowship with them, they will open up. The opening up is gradual; it may take time for genuine trust to build but the more you engage with them, the more they are receptive to your promptings. A home visit shouldn’t be a “gotcha.” It should be a time to break bread with families to get to know them and their child(ren). Humbly enter their home and be a gracious guest.
  4. RECOGNIZE INJUSTICE – You must recognize the various injustices that impact the condition of your parents and your students. Urban Decay isn’t the fault of Black and Brown people. Political corruption, political maleficence, White flight and public policy are to blame for much of what we see in urban communities. You CANNOT teach in an urban school (or teach Black and Brown children) without recognizing the systemic and institutional racism that impacts the daily life of the people. For example, recognize that poor health among people of color isn’t simply attributable to poor eating habits. It actually has to do with the lack of supermarkets offering quality produce and fresh meats that are affordable and accessible for people of color in their neighborhoods. Also, factories and industrial parks that release cancer-causing gases into the atmosphere does not help. Ghettos and housing projects that house violence and criminal activity didn’t magically appear when Black and Brown people appeared. These injustices were facilitated and now function on their own.
  5. ADVOCATE ON THEIR BEHALF – Recognizing injustice isn’t enough. You must call it out and advocate for justice on behalf of your parents. Some parents may have a voice to speak up for themselves and others may not. More support in the form of advocacy can go a long way with improving the conditions that parents and students negotiate daily. Attend a city council meeting, attend a community meeting, attend a rally… let the people know that you care enough about their condition that you wish to engage with them beyond the parameters of your job.

Parent engagement isn’t simply about having programs and event that parents want to join or attend. It is about meeting parents where they are. It is about looking in on the condition of parents; not to serve as a savior but to assist as a partner to improve their community; to improve the human community. If you are willing to partner with parents to improve the conditions that impact how they parent and live, they will be more than willing to partner with you to improve the conditions that impact how you teach their children.

Let’s continue to press towards the mark!