Tag Archive | Educators

Counting on Accountability

At WestCAST, I had the opportunity to see Dr. Eugene Kowch (@ekowch) speak on the topic “You Got a Job Yet?” While the presentation wasn’t specifically on teacher accountability–rather it was about the national job market for teachers and how to best maximize the opportunities of getting hired–he made an interesting point. He said that teacher accountability should involve “mutual assessment of teaching practices with respect to outcomes.” That stood out to me big time.

I’m not a fountain of knowledge about teacher evaluation by any means, but from what I’ve learned and can see, the system the the US has isn’t working. In Canada, there seems to be less of a push for teacher evaluations. This is good, but perhaps we need to forge a new path that ensures that all teachers are pushing for excellence all the time.

We’ve all see him or her: the teacher that is just putting in time for the last five years or the teacher who pulls a binder off the shelf and teaches the same course the same way every year for twenty years, regardless of which faces they have in front of them. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes these teachers are on to something, but by-and-large, I beg to differ.

The majority of teachers aren’t like this, but the ones who are coasting and not putting in an effort to teach young people maybe need a push to get back into what they used to love to do, which is making a difference.

Dr. Kowch’s “mutual assessment” sounds like a pretty good deal for this. Just as teachers assess students, should students, the community, and coworkers have the opportunity to assess teachers. Note that I chose the term assess, just as Dr. Kowch did. I do not think that teachers should be evaluated (i.e. graded, put in a hierarchy, etc.), but I do think that getting feedback on strengths and weaknesses is valuable.

In my internship, I had all of my students fill out an assessment form regarding my teaching practices, and it was so valuable. Not every form was particularly helpful (although there were many that were), but as whole, I got a great feel for how the students felt I was doing. It held me accountable, and I am grateful for that.

Feedback is good. We love to give feedback, so why wouldn’t we want some in return?

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The New PD: In Awe of My Growing Professional Network

I am so grateful. I would personally like to thank Leonard Kleinrock for writing about “packet switching” in 1961. Why? Because he published the first conceptualization of the internet, according to WWW FAQs. Aside from being interested in trivia, I looked this up because I wanted to find out who I can thank for the great professional development I am getting on a daily basis.

I am constantly able to have this professional development — gone are the days of PD events being the only source of PD. I am a student and I am getting PD in the palm of my hand if I want, via my twitter app on my phone. I have a blog that I can post about anything that pops into my head and get feedback on it from anyone, anywhere. I can do a little clicking around and read the blogs of other educators to gain inspiration, read about success stories, read about lessons learned, and watch videos of real students in class doing real schoolwork.

“Whoa.” That is all I can say about this, for I am in such awe. Over the last month, I’ve been very focused on becoming the best teacher I can be. I’ve always worked really hard at school and my internship, but I haven’t taken the opportunity to look outside the classroom walls enough. Now I am doing just that, and the information I’m finding is magnificent. Yes, it takes a lot of time, but it is beyond worth it. I don’t have to set a time parameter either — some days it’s five minutes, other days it’s an hour or two. I get out what I put in.

That seems to resonate with me — I get out what I put in. This is the whole internal debate I’ve been having with myself about motivating learners. I want my future students to get out what they put in, and I want them to want to put in a lot. Learning how to learn again (i.e. motivated by learner rather than by grades and averages) has been a huge learning curve for me, and I’m so glad I’m doing it. I am no where near perfect, I have a lot of work to do, and I am loving it.

Education is Getting in the Way of Educating: Meta-Teaching Within the Curriculum

This week, Mike asked us to read Learning to Divide the World: Educating at Empire’s End for class. He wanted us to dive into Willinsky’s argument, examine our own schooling, and venture to ponder if we really do believe that teachers need to be “accountable,” as per Willinsky’s interpretation.

John Willinsky’s Learning to Divide the World: Educating at Empire’s End  argues that within every classroom, curriculum, and lesson we teach there is an embedded history. This history defines how we teach, why we teach, and what we teach. Largely, this history favours the white privilege. This refers back to the gigantic English empire, from which most of our modern day schooling framework is derived.

Even outside of curriculum, we see an embedded white privilege: Willinsky gives examples of students from Kathy’s class who define their identity. The students who were white defined themselves by their activities, their interests, and their appearance, mentioning nothing about their perceived “race,” while the Asian students defined themselves by their cultural heritage and perceived “race.” This exemplifies Willinsky’s thesis that we need to actively educate our students on the implicit and explicit forms of racial division, stereotyping, and racism.

Willinsky argues that teachers need to be accountable to their students—we owe our students the understanding of the underwritten and denied historical context of everything we teach. It is our duty to bring these issues to the forefront, rather than perpetuating the white privilege within the curriculum we teach. I whole heartedly agree. There is always a time and place to hold a discussion about the “why” within our instruction. Educating students on the fault-lines of our teaching and curriculum will lead to deeper understanding, as well as a safer classroom community and opportunity to explore different ways of learning as presented by a variety of cultures serving more than just the students who were born into a white privilege. Imperialism has taught us how to divide the world. It is our job to piece it back together for our students.

Within my own education, I can recall one instance of imperialism and white privilege that baffled me until about an hour ago. In grade three, we were instructed to do a heritage project. We had to go home and ask our parents what our nationality was. Like a good student, I hurried home and found that I was part English, part French, and part Acadian. The next day, I told my teacher that I wanted to do a project on Acadia (located on the Eastern Coast of Canada), and she said that I had to do a project on England, since Canada wasn’t a good choice for me. I was so mad because the girl who was sitting beside me got to do a project on Canada because she was First Nations.

I am quite proud of my Acadian heritage. I would have loved to learn more about being Acadian. In this case, I feel like white privilege worked against me – because I was white, I couldn’t possibly be “Canadian.” This gave me a sense that I didn’t truly belong as an Acadian. Whenever heritage came up for years following, I never mentioned that I have an Acadian heritage. Now, I am proud to say that I have an Acadian heritage. As Willinsky would argue, I also say that I am Canadian.

In this instance, I feel that my teacher should have taken time to talk to us about Imperialism (maybe not in those exact words), and talk about the difference between heritage and nationality. She perpetuated the divide within our classroom with this project, rather than fostering a sense of multiculturalism.

In my grade twelve English class, we examined colonialism and scratched the surface of white privilege. However, the books we read really characterized African cultures as primitive and barbaric, despite the theme of the book being anti-colonial. We also only explored post-colonialism within Africa. We never even bothered to talk about Asia, South America, or anywhere else. This class had a fantastic opportunity to dive into Imperialism, colonialism, implicit/explicit racism, and beyond, but unfortunately, we had an exam to write and another unit to work through, so the topic was abandoned.

I guess that I am arguing “Education” is getting in the way of educating our students. Curriculum holds so much potential beyond what we are required to teach. We can meta-teach: teach about teaching these things. Willinsky wants all teachers to have a sense of accountability to their students, and meta-teaching will do just that. However, in order to meta-teach, teachers need to have an understanding of the embedded history within the topics they teach, the way they teach, and their own lives.