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.

 

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Handling Disrespect from Supervisors and Others

For the most part I'm a very easy-going person. However one of the things that I cannot tolerate is being disrespected by an colleague or superior. I don’t tolerate being disrespected by a child either, but I digress. A few years ago, I had a job where I work very close with our unit lead. This individual made it a habit to berate everybody within our unit when they felt justified. I had a number of run-ins with the individual and needless to say after a few years of working with this person I was eventually let go. There wasn’t a specific event that precipitated my dismissal; it was more a buildup. I reached a point where I would no longer allow myself to be disrespected, nor would I brown-nose to keep my job. I started to stand up for myself. I spoke truth when it had to be said (sometimes to my detriment), I put my head down and did my job… and I was damn good at it. Thankfully, I landed on my feet. I have no regrets; once I stood up for myself, the blatant disrespect stopped immediately. I know I was talked about. I know I was hated on. But my work stood for itself and the people that mattered vouched for me… and they still do. Now, my decision (and implementation of it)  may have led to my ouster, but I knew my worth and I got another job.

As a teacher, I was very cordial with individuals and very polite. I am that in my current role as well. Yet I continuously strive to give  an aura of no-nonsense cordiality. Thankfully, I've never had a serious confrontation…. well, there was this one time; a “curriculum consultant” tried to son me in front of my students – “son” is the vernacular for embarrass.  I don't even remember why; it was something I forgot to do and the guy called me out on the hallway with some bass in his voice. I walked out the door halfway and he told me to do something I disagreed with and he attempted to check me. Had he came correct, I probably would have done it. But since he came at me, I told him not to ever interrupt my class like that again and I shut my door on him. Of course, he was pissed but I didn't care… don't disrespect me. This guy was a bully. He was notorious for disrespecting teachers fearful of losing their jobs because they were without tenure. I didn’t have tenure at the time this went down… made no difference to me. Needless to say, I had no more problems with dude. The encounter didn't go a long way in keeping me there, but you see my point; actually, homeboy respected me for it. He went out of his way to converse with me, and I exchanged pleasantries as well The point is, I am a professional and I will be respected.

Unfortunately, I have seen teachers get disrespected. I've seen administrators berate teachers, I've seen administrators undermine teachers, and I've seen teachers disrespect each other. That is not cool. Even more unfortunate is that there are some teachers who allow this sort of behavior to happen to them. What should you do when you're confronted by an administrator who mistreats you in the middle of an observation or during a conversation or has a lapse in momentary judgment and gets out of line? I can never advise people what they should do. However there are some tactics you can employ to assert yourself while maintaining professional poise and not stepping out of character.

ACTION STEPS:

  1. Sternly suggest the individual to try again; to do a conversation reset. This suggestion serves as a warning. Sometimes, any given moment may get the best of any of us. A quick reminder to anyone with the wrong tone may be enough to deescalate a disrespectful exchange on their part. If the individual catches themselves after you make that mention and apologizes, then no harm no foul. If they disregard your warning and continue in their disrespect, be prepared to engage.
  2. Check your emotions and remind yourself this is business. When outside a professional setting, anything goes i.e. cursing, low blows to one’s esteem… but this is a professional setting and the concern is over professional business so when you check someone, it should be professional. No emotion should fuel your potential response. This is a procedural issue… the procedure is that if you have an issue with my work performance or behavior, you can discuss it with me respectfully so that we can come to an agreement on what is to be done about it. An individual choosing not to follow the ‘procedure’ is breaching that procedure and that individual must rectify it before continuing. Address them in that spirit.
  3. Allow the person to finish there point and allow a pause before you address what they said and how they said it. As the individual is disrespectful to you in word and tone, stand (or sit) calmly while staring them in the face. Let them have their say. Once they have finished speaking, take a 3 to 5 second pause (10 seconds if you got some swag), and begin to talk. Not interrupting them reestablishes the expectation of respect in the conversation because you haven’t breached the procedure. Throughout the conversation, you can always comeback to reestablishing the respect necessary for this conversation to take place i.e. “please do not interrupt me while I am talking. I did not interrupt you.”
  4. Address the disrespect first, the issue wrapped in the disrespect second – do not allow the individual to escape without an apology. Do not move to discuss whatever problem or issue the other individual has until you’ve addressed their disrespect. Make sure that you immediately make the point that they disrespected you, you did not appreciate that and they need to make amends.
  5. If they apologize, good and move on.
  6. If they do not apologize, express your disappointment and
    • (6a) Hope that they come around to apologize for being disrespectful and anticipate that as a leader in the building, they would set a better tone. This gives the individual an out to continue with their problem and you an opportunity to avoid more conflict and/or regroup for a later conversation. Nevertheless, you were gracious to move on but not before you expressed your anger and intolerance of their disrespect. This is the “Tread Lightly” option. There is honor in choosing this option. You still have to work with this individual. Expressing your displeasure with their disrespect doesn’t mean future encounters need to be unpleasant.
    • (6b) Inform them that you will speak to them when they apologize, tell them you’re leaving and walk out. This is the “I am Not The One” option. If you feel like the conversation doesn’t need to go any further until the individual apologizes or if you feel like you may go back to your neighborhood self and curse out this individual, this maybe the option for you. I am an advocate of this option because I never want to say something that I will regret later on. Not to mention, this takes back control out of the hands of someone disrespecting you.
  7. If the conversation turns ugly, don't let it get any uglier… simply leave the conversation. If this happens outside the classroom, walk back in the classroom. As with 6b, just walk away. If they yell back at you to return to them, let them yell and sound crazy. You remain calm and return back to what you were doing. If they get so mad that they tell you to leave the building, get your things and leave. When you arrive at your car, write down the exchange, email or call your union representative (if you have one) to inform them of the exchange, have them advise you on what to do and get a bottle of wine on your way home. If you are without union representation, refer to United We Stand and file a complaint with human resources.
  8. Document the conversation. As soon as the conversation is over, write it down. Whether or not the conversation turned ugly… you need to write it all down and keep your account handy. Moving forward, you should take notes of every conversation you have with this individual. You never know when you will need to refer to it.
  9. If the disrespect happens in an email, request a meeting and get clarity before assuming the worst. I hate email for this very reason. If you have an issue with someone’s performance or behavior, if you can, speak to them over the phone or in person. Emailing misconstrues tone and can create problems where there was none to begin with. So either meet or call them. You may find out that it isn’t a big deal and the disrespect was in your mind… now, if an email has CAPS anywhere, it may be disrespectful. In that case, you could either speak with that person or check them over the email. Email wars aren’t the best thing to get yourself into. My suggestion is to speak to them and check them.
  10. Kill them with kindness. Remember number 2… its business, not personal. Once you’ve moved on, be kind to this individual. Do not give the individual the satisfaction of knowing they pissed you off. It sends the message that although you will check disrespect, you are unbothered by their immaturity. For example, at my school we have assigned parking spaces. I parked in an assigned spot after hours (as I do daily), and the person who the spot belonged to was mad I did that on back to school night – mind you, I did this last year with no problems. The person wrote me a stern note and put it on my car. It wasn’t nasty or disrespectful. They had a right to be mad, but the note was tone heavy. I was led to purchase a Dunkin Donuts gift card for $5. I gave it to the individual… when I say heaps of coal fell on them…The individual can hardly look at me when I pass by them… and I ALWAYS speak to them. Kindness may not kill, but it certainly humbles.

Working in an urban school district can be tough. It can be high-strung and everyone is under a lot of pressure to perform. The stakes are indeed high. But folks also need to know how to act. I’ve seen school leaders and supervisors lose their good sense being disrespectful… I’ve seen teachers do it too. You may be on the receiving end of the disrespect. But you can advocate for yourself. NEVER allow yourself to be disrespected by anyone. For years, I remained timid because of my young age. One day I got tired and made my mind up to no longer tolerate it… and not tolerate on behalf of students. My path has been interesting since. But my dignity, my respect and my word is what I stand on both professionally and personally. Always choose to defend yourself against the bullies in your building.

Let’s continue to press towards the mark!

On Teaching The N-Word

I recently read a thread on Twitter regarding two Black children and their discomfort with their teacher’s usage of the N-word during a lesson. Long story short, a White teacher, in a room of mostly White students, in an attempt to teach about the N-word (the lesson objective was neither directly stated or implied in the thread) only normalized the discomfort those Black students felt via responses of their White classmates who said their various points of discomfort in life was equivalent to the discomfort the Black students felt about from their teacher saying the N-word in that moment.

The focus of this blog, the Urban Education Mixtape is urban education; hence the blog name. City schools are populated primarily by Black and Brown students. A good portion of their teachers are White. The above story is relevant to urban education because there are some ill-informed opinions that some non-Black folks have about the N-word, Black people’s use of it, and the sanctioned use of it for others depending on the context of the situation. There are scholars who have eloquently provided their explanations on the use and non-use of the word, so I won’t write a thesis on this subject. But I will say this: the N-word was and is still used by some White people to strip Black people of their humanity and prevent their access to opportunities for their economic and social progress. Black people who use the N-word with one another and in various art forms do not and cannot execute the word as Whites have and still do – the word and meaning is not of our creation. We’ve manipulated the word to mean something different. If there is a crime we’ve committed by using the N-word in the earshot of White people, and others, is that some White people believe that what’s good for us to do is good for them to do… that’s White privilege talking. Whether or not Black people use the word (and there is internal discussion among Black people on use of the word) under no circumstances should any non-Black person use the word or say the word.

With that all said, if you happen to be a teacher who is race conscious and aware of White supremacy in our society and you desire to teach about the use or creation of the N-word, there are some things that you must consider before delivering such a lesson:

ACTION STEPS:

  1. Know your audience. Your audience has a lot to do with how you will go about constructing and executing your lesson. Know the demographics of your room i.e. age range, maturity level, and racial breakdown of your students. This absolutely matters because you wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) teach this lesson the same with a majority of White students that you would with a majority of Black students. Sensitivity should be high in either room but sensitivities change depending on your audience.
  2. Check your own privilege and your Whiteness. Before you pat yourself on the back, explore and examine your privilege and Whiteness and how that shapes the dynamic of your classroom and your student’s interactions with you on a daily basis, and your own biases and racial insensitivity. Playing the “I am not a racist” card will not work here.
  3. Consult with a Black educator. Before you teach this lesson, you should find a Black educator that you trust and run the lesson by him or her first. It would be wise to speak with a person with presumably firsthand experience with using and/or being called the N-word. They will be able to offer you assistance with implementing the lesson.
  4. Consider writing a letter home to parents detailing your lesson. You may receive immediate pushback, but it can never be said that you didn’t consult with parents before conducting the lesson. If you receive any responses asking you to reconsider teaching the lesson, you probably should sit down with your immediate supervisor and discuss whether or not you should discard the lesson.
  5. You should probably do this anyway. The thoughts of your principal will save you the trouble of pissing people off and having to abandon your lesson in the process.
  6. Bring someone else in to teach it. If you are not the best person to teach the lesson, find someone (preferably a Black person) with a level of sophistication to teach the lesson with the attention to detail and sensitivity it deserves. You can of course chime in and give your knowledge also. But sometimes, it is just good to step aside and let someone better equipped to teach the lesson do so.
  7. Invite other adults to co-teach. Maybe co-teaching would work better – for approvals and parental consent. If you and a Black teacher or a member of the community who is Black decided to teach the lesson, that may serve best. You can defer to that Black teacher as the conversation turned a bit uncomfortable for whatever reason. Not to mention, collaboration with teachers may serve you for your year’s evaluation.
  8. Turn the lesson into a panel discussion. Invite teachers, scholars and community leaders to discuss the used of the word. Such a discussion may be a bigger event than a regular class period. Be prepared for things to get bigger than you intended with a panel.
  9. Observe a lesson taught by someone else on the N-word. Rather than teach it blindly, ask to observe a colleague who has taught this lesson or a difficult lesson like this one to get a feel for how you may need to approach the classroom the day of the lesson.
  10. Don’t teach the lesson at all. Maybe, you should leave this lesson alone. Maybe you’re not ready to teach it or you aren’t a strong enough teacher to overcome the various pitfalls that will abound in this lesson. There is no shame in regrouping and re-configuring your strategy for such a lesson as this. Your intentions may be good… the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

America’s “relationship” with the N-word is complex. As educated and “woke” as you may believe yourself to be, teaching this lesson may not be a good idea. I would advise that you consider the action steps above and apply them. What you absolutely should not do is not tell anyone about what you plan on doing before you do it and then get in a room full of students of color and teach on the N-word. I don’t care if you hear them say it to each other in passing; teaching them about this may turn out to be more than you bargained for.

Let’s continue to press towards the mark!

When My Students Don’t Like Me

I've had the career affirming task of talking teachers off the ledge who found themselves unpopular with their students. Personally, I’ve had some unpopular moments. My students knew I didn’t care if I was popular or not – I told them so. I told them that my responsibility was to prepare them to be comfortable in their skin; to progress in a world that discounted them, discredited them and sought their demise. Some might argue that seems a bit much, but coming from where my kids were coming from and looking the way they looked, it was important for them to be ready for the world awaiting them. What I had going for me was that my kids identified with me because of the skin I was in and because I came from where they came from. Also had going for me the fact that my students knew that I loved them, and they grew to love me back. When you have love for someone, you trust them and my kids would often trust me with all of their thoughts about everyone, including other teachers who were my colleagues. Students love to vent to a teacher they like about teachers they don’t like. There was one instance where a group of students vented to me about a teacher and later in the day the same teacher came to me looking for answers on how to get in the good graces of the students. I did my best in the moment to advise the teacher and for a few weeks it seemed like my advice worked. But things got from bad to worse. I am not sure what happened, but I am sure that teacher didn’t consistently do what I advised. Needless to say, that teacher didn’t last the school year.

What you must never confuse is the following axiom: good teachers make good students, but students make or break teachers… period. Students have the power to make or break a teacher more than any parent or administrator. I have seen teachers drop everything, yell at a classroom and leave the building to never come back. One time this happened and the students and I had a good laugh about it as I explained to them how the education industry isn’t made for everyone and that sometimes, the industry sets people up to fail. The truth is, everyone is not made to be a teacher. It is not a cushy job with a cushy salary and benefits. You’ll never get paid your true value as a classroom teacher. You’ll work overtime and never get paid for it. Another truth is that you may go into teaching with the best intentions, however, the people in charge (or the college or alternate route program you’ve attended) may not prepare you for day one. If you’re a teacher and your students don’t like you, it is not the most fun time. However, you can right the ship. Here are some things that you can do:

ACTION STEPS:

  1. Run with it. If students don't like you, so the hell what? I mean that in a way that doesn't absolve you from loving them. Continue to do what you do (with a few alterations) in love and consistency and as time goes on, if you really care, you will have opportunities to show it and the students will have opportunities to see it.
  2. Love your students anyway. How students feel about you should not and must not impact how you feel about them because regardless, you have a job to do – teach. And you cannot teach if you do not love. Love them unconditionally or leave the classroom… Agape.
  3. Don't take no mess. Whether students like you or not, don't take any crap from them. Hold your students to high standards, expect the world of them, demand good behavior – but use your discretion. Be fair. Command your classroom and let the students know you don't give a damn if they don't like you – but that they will respect you.
  4. Don't bribe them. Bribing kids never works because you've set an expectation; a precedent that you simply want to buy them off and not really invest in them. This will set you up for having to continue bribing and that will cost you money and credibility. It isn't worth it. You can't afford to expend any unnecessary educational capital.
  5. Win over the classroom leader(s). I am not talking about the kid who you think is the leader or who you'd like to believe is the leader, but who the students understand the leader to be. It could be one or more students, but if you get these kids on your side, all others will follow.
  6. Have a "come to Jesus meeting" with your class. Actually talk to your students about any tension or anxiety in your relationship with them. Give the license to be open and honest (while respectful) about how they feel about you and the class. Listen… really listen and take the info and modify.
  7. Reflect and apologize… really, reflect and apologize. Your students may need to hear that from you. You may have said or done something that bothered or hurt a child. We often reflect on our practice but rarely on how we treated our students. If you said something that appeared hurtful or if there was something you said that wasn't meant to be hurtful, apologize to the offended student(s). Reflection and apology can go a long way.
  8. Have an administrator do a classroom reset. Sometimes you may need someone to help facilitate a change in the classroom culture. This is okay. It may be what's best. As the administrator sets the expectation for classroom culture, make sure that you don't stay silent. The classroom reset should involve you co-facilitating a conversation so that students see you as an authority in addition to the administrator.

It is never fun to know that any of your students dislike you, or even that a whole class doesn't like you. But things do not have to remain that way. You are the leader of your classroom. So lead. Don't wait for your students to come around – lead them where you want them to be by modeling the behavior you seek from them. Remember, students are kids and they need leadership and structure from an adult. But students are also human beings and they need love, respect and affirmation from an adult. Do all things in love.

Let's continue to press towards the mark!

Doing PD The Right Way

One of the things I dreaded most as a teacher was attending professional development sessions offered by my schools. PD sessions were supposed to be a time where I could refine my craft; a time where I could learn from administrators and specialists in the field during workshops where I and my colleagues could strategically decide on how to move forward. Unfortunately, most of my experiences weren’t that. PD involved either (1) going over procedural directives, (2) receiving information from people who were either far removed from the classroom or were never connected to the classroom to begin with and (3) doing the work of the administration i.e. developing amended rules and guidelines for student behavior. In fact, a few of those sessions were so bad that I didn’t stay for their entirety.

The few opportunities I facilitated a PD session, I made it teacher centered. It was easy to do; most of my PD’s surrounded classroom management and student-teacher relationships. Unfortunately, I was never given the opportunity to lead a content specific PD… I was just known as the Black and Brown student whisperer, but I digress. Your school may not offer PD considered by teachers to be worthwhile. I recognize that as administrator, you wear many hats and have many responsibilities; coordinating PD may not be at the top of your priority list. But school administrators are you are instructional leaders first. Everything that you do is to improve instruction for student growth; from observing teachers to handing out discipline. PD, when done right, has the potential to help teachers have a positive impact on the academic achievement of students. As you consider what PD will look like next school year in your building, make sure your PD has the following components…

ACTION STEPS:

  1. Anchored in student learning – whatever the outcomes are for session modules, they must be about (1) what students learn; (2) how to institute the best instructional strategy, (3) how to best facilitate their comprehension, and (4) how to best assess what learning has taken place.
  2. Distributed over time – no one session will address any given topic. Give topics you wish to cover the attention they deserve. Like a good college course, your topic sessions must have parts to it delivered over the course of multiple PD scheduled days.
  3. Content focused – give your teachers content specific attention. In order to improve as teachers, they must grow in their content knowledge and in their content delivery… in addition to all the general teacherisms that they need to know.
  4. Teacher/Leadership Collaboration – whatever you decide PD will be in your school and/or district, you MUST include teachers in the development, the planning and the execution of PD. If you want teacher investment (and you need it), then you must include them in all phases of the work.
  5. Continuous support as follow up – after the session is over, you must have a framework to offer and provide support to teachers to implement the strategies and tools learned. PD is not simply for PD days only; they are to be carried out in the classroom daily. Help embed your strategies in the minds and hearts of your teachers.
  6. Localized – PD must be focused on your city, your community, your school. State and national issues are good for mentions, but if you want to blaze a trail that can have a wider impact, you must start the fire at home first.
  7. Involve active learning – make your PD active and engaging… so that (1) you do not bore your audience and (2) to show teachers how to teach (and not bore) their students. You must be the model of planning and instruction you want teachers to execute.

You have the power to create experiences for your teachers that take build them personally and professionally… you also have the power to craft experiences to make them worse. Your attention to detail, or lack thereof, can lead you down one of those two destinations. Be careful not to neglect the obligation you have to your teachers. Just as they owe the best that they have to give to students, you owe the best of what you have to give to them.

Let’s continue to press towards the mark!

Camden City Charter Schools Must Recruit More Black and Latino Teachers

I’ve argued the need for school districts to hire more Black teachers; specifically Black male teachers.[1] My argument isn’t limited to only adding more Black male teachers – but Black and Latino teachers of both as well. My call isn’t limited to where Black and Latino teachers are largely absent; but also for where they are “plentiful.” Black and Latino teachers tend to be “plentiful” in urban and inner-city school districts. However, if one were to do a deep dive into the numbers, they’d find that these districts could do a better job at recruiting and retaining Black and Latino faculty. Schools in the city of Camden could do a better job; Camden City School District (CCSD), renaissance charter schools[2] (RCS) and non-renaissance charter schools[3] (NRCS). On its face, TPS in Camden have gone through a number of changes that are responsible for declining enrollment and a reduction in faculty. Schools have closed, others have merged, and some have been given to RCS to manage. Also, NRCS have always posed competition for TPS. One can look at all charters and point out that growth in both enrollment and faculty is due to the changes felt by TPS. What do all these changes mean with respect to Black and Latino teachers? Black and Latino teachers are losing their jobs with TPS but are they faring better with RCS and NRCS where faculty employment demographics is concerned?

To read the full article on the Local Knowledge Blog, click here.

When To Get Out

Sometimes, you just get a gut feeling on if you need to leave an organization.

Too often we (teachers) attempt to convince ourselves that we should remain within an organization that we really should leave. You may have accepted an offer from an organization for the wrong reason(s); your experience within an organization may have soured over time. However you tell yourself to stick it out rather than leave because you want things to work. That brings to mind a movie where the protagonist was in a romantic relationship that he wanted to work out although there were signs that he needed to end it. Jordan Peele’s Get Out is a horror story where the protagonist finds himself trying to desperately ‘get out’ from a dangerous situation with some really twisted people. That might describe some of the experiences some teachers have at their schools where they work; a dangerous situation with some really twisted people.

It may be hard to simply get out. We (teachers) forge relationships with students. We see the need at the schools where we work and our commitment to our students inspires us to persevere; if you can persevere, then you should. I am a firm believer that the most challenging school environments need the most dedicated and passionate educators. If you are dedicated and passionate about loving and educating children, you are needed everywhere but especially in the most challenging of school environments. However, I am a realist and the reality is that there are unexpected and unanticipated events that take place and policies that take shape where you have no other choice but to get out. Disclaimer: getting out isn’t about leaving a school or organization after a short time – it isn’t about leaving a school because your classroom management stinks. It isn’t about leaving because someone pissed you off on a given day; because you weren’t recognized or you felt you were considered an afterthought. Teaching is a thankless labor of love; teachers often go unrecognized – particularly those teachers whose success goes beyond standardized test scores. Getting out is about threats to your professional career and/or to your personal livelihood. Such incidences do not have to be extreme cases, but they are incidents that can alter the course of your professional and personal life. Getting out is not about a ‘want to’ but is rather a ‘need to.’ Here are some incidences where you should strongly consider getting out of an organization or school district:

  1. When the work environment becomes TOO toxic. There are time when the work environment can become toxic. That isn’t the time to panic. However, if the environment is consistently toxic and then doubles down on the toxicity levels, it may be time for you to consider leaving. You shouldn’t just get up and go when the going gets tough. However, if the moral is beyond repair; if the environment is teachers vs. administration vs. students on a consistent basis, it may be time to get out. Toxicity cannot be the culture of your building or organization. Depending on your personality, you may be able to manage it all for the sake of your students. However, managing a toxic environment will become stressful and draining. It could also supplant the passion and commitment you have to the work. Have a sense of when it is no longer manageable.
  2. When your boss(es) stifle your career goals/aspirations/trajectory. Let’s be clear, for the most part, administration is about making sure the ‘machine’ works. They pull and plug. Your career goals may not be on their radar; particularly if they aren’t a fan of yours. You could be stifled professionally for various reasons. There are cases where you’re so good at what you do that they don’t want to move you under any circumstances. You must reevaluate what your career intentions are and if your current status affirms the goals you’ve purposed for yourself. If where you are doesn’t align with where you want to go, it may be time to get out. I would caution however that you give some time and consideration to your circumstances. If you think you can make things work, make them work. Remember, getting out of anywhere isn’t a want, it is a need.
  3. When your certification is at risk. If any employer asks you to do something that is unethical and may compromise your certification, your ability to get a job and maintain your career, you need to get out.
  4. If you sue an organization. If you file a lawsuit against your employer or coworker for any reason, you may need to consider getting out to avoid retaliation from them. Or, your presence within the organization during a lawsuit may facilitate animosity amongst co-workers and supervisors with you. You may have done nothing wrong and your lawsuit may very well be justified, that doesn’t mean smooth sailing if you remain employed by the organization you are suing.
  5. Your safety is at risk. If you feel unsafe for any reason i.e. afraid the building may collapse, poor air quality in the building, fear of students and parents physically attacking you, then you need to get out. Your feelings of unsafety may or may not be real, however if you feel it, it will not go away… so maybe you should.
  6. *HONORABLE MENTION* No pension benefit (specific to public school teachers). A public school is a state institution meaning that employees are entitled to state benefits – including pension benefits. If you work for an organization that has lost its status as a public entity or is denied recognition as a state institution with the rights and privileges therewith, you may want to reconsider your employment options. It is not a deal breaker, but worth your consideration.

Not Quite “Get Out” Worthy, but Problematic Nonetheless:

  1. Receiving a bad or unfair evaluation – if this happens, there is a grievance you can file that will resolve the issue.
  2. No union representation at your school – While unions are not a cure all, they are advocates for teachers. But if you’re school is without one, it isn’t the worst thing in the world. You have to decide whether or not you wish to remain.
  3. Poor physical conditions of the building – You may be able to take or leave this one, but if the physical conditions make it hard to teach, you should address it. Just note that plenty of teachers have not only taught but have thrived in buildings not quite up to par.
  4. When you unsuccessfully attempt a romantic relationship with a co-worker – this can get sticky. If you attempt to have a romantic relationship with a co-worker and after dating things end on a sour note, it could make for sourness at work. That is the last thing you want, however that isn’t the norm. But you must beware. Be careful and cautious when attempting a workplace relationship.
  5. The students are a bit too rambunctious for you – if the students are a bit much, there are some things that you can do, namely strengthen your classroom management game and call parents. Those two things will make life easier for you.

Here are some things that should make you want to stay in a school district or organization even though these are problematic as well:

  1. When students are treated unfairly
  2. When parents are not given information in a honest and transparent manner
  3. The disproportionate discipline of students of color
  4. A lack of racial diversity in faculty and staff (particularly if you are a teacher of color)
  5. A lack of culturally relevant teaching

These last five items are problematic. However, they are also opportunities to make your school district or organization better for your students and for your colleagues. The “Not Quite Get Out” list is just that; problematic, yet these obstacles can be overcame. The top list is the list you must consider when judging a realistic need to get out. Once more, getting out isn’t about what you want to do, but rather what you must do. My sincere desire is that no reader of this post has the need to get out. However, if you do need to get out, I hope you do.

Let’s continue to press towards the mark!