Tagged: leadership high school

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TEACHER VOICES: Michele Godwin, #14

“You got some nerve! Hold on to that!”

michele godwinfavicon Monday, 1/4/16 – 3:15 pm
Back from the holidays. Everyone is excited that it is finally 2016, the year of their graduation. The end is getting nearer and nearer! We spend several minutes calculating how many more school days there are until graduation. Ninety two!

Wednesday, 1/13 – 12:05 pm
It’s portfolio season, and seniors are freaking out. If they had finished their four school-wide outcome (SWO) essays last semester, as they were supposed to, everything would be smooth and easy. But few of them finished all four, and many of them turned in drafts that need revision. Portfolio is a graduation requirement, and they have two more weeks to get their essays cleaned up, their slideshows prepared, their talking points memorized, and their acts together. Judging by the number of crying jags and temper flares, this is going to be a long couple of weeks.

Wednesday, 1/20 – 10 am
C. has left the school. She’s been talking about it for awhile. Actually, she’s been talking about not leaving the school, but wanting something to change. We looked at inpatient treatment centers and independent study, but neither of those are real options. We finally talked her into transferring to a continuation school, where she can come and go as she pleases, and ask for help when she needs it. It was a sad, sad day when we counseled her out of the school. She needs the LHS community; we know her as well as anyone knows her, and she knows that we love her completely. That’s why she comes to school every day! But she never stays in class long, her temper quick to flame and destroy any ounce of productivity in a classroom. Her boyfriend has gone back to jail, so she doesn’t have that distraction anymore, but it’s clear that she’s full of pain and rage, and there’s little more we can do to help her. When she came back from Winter Break, she was covered in fresh tattoos and cut marks.

We all miss her terribly.

Wednesday, 1/20 – 12:30 pm
A ninth grader, M., comes into the library, as he does every few weeks or so. He paces around the room, stopping every once in awhile to look at the manga section. I’ve ordered a few things for him before, and he’s been appreciative. Often, though, he comes in and asks strange questions about buying things.

“How much will you take for that picture?” he inquired once, pointing to a frame on the wall. Another time, he asked, “Was that printer expensive? Can I buy it off you?” I’ve told him several times that I’m not in the retail business, and that he should focus on checking out books. Or ordering books. That’s what I’m here for.

Today, I’ve ordered pizza for my advisory. M. comes in and asks if he can buy the large pepperoni. I roll my eyes, irritated with his repeated strangeness. Just as I start to launch into a lecture, T. laughs and claps M. on the back.

“You got some nerve!” T. tells him. “I like that. Hold on to that!”

M. smiles, shy but pleased by the attention from one of the coolest 12th grade boys in the school. He walks out of the room grinning, pizza forgotten.

Thursday, 1/28 – 3:30
Another Portfolio Day completed. Phew! The day went off without too many hitches, and everyone is glad it’s over. The seniors are proud and relieved, ready to change out of their job interview outfits and back into their everyday wear. Some of them didn’t get to present today, but they know they’ll get another chance and they’ll graduate with their friends. It’s a good reminder for them that they have to take care of their business or they’ll get left behind. They want to be able to celebrate too! favicon

Ed. note: Michele Godwin is in her 15th year of teaching high school. She’s back at Leadership High School, where she taught from 2001 to 2008. An English teacher by training and experience, Michele has changed her focus to build a library for Leadership. In addition to her fundraising and library organizing, she is an 12th grade adviser. These are her musings from the past few weeks. Please donate so Michele can buy more books!

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TEACHER VOICES: Michele Godwin, #7

“I want to make it big.”

Michele Godwinfavicon Monday, 1/12 – 2:35 pm
My advisees are subdued today. Not uncommon for a Monday, but they are even quieter than usual. They seem more serious, maybe even older. They are maturing before my very eyes. All of them talk about how busy they are, how much work they have to do. It’s nice to see them so focused.

One man/boy pulls me aside and tells me he has so much work to do, he’s not sure he’s going to be able to finish the application for the scholarship program I’ve nominated him for. “I have to study for my pre-cal exam, I have to make up some chemistry work, and I am missing some assignments for Spanish. I don’t know that I’ll be able to finish the application by Friday.”

“That’s not an option. You have to finish it,” I say.

I check myself when I see how flustered he gets. He does have to finish it! If he is accepted into the program, he gets $7,000 AND the an excellent bonus on his college applications. Plus, I spent a solid hour writing the teacher recommendation, emphasizing his story, working to convince the readers that he is absolutely worthy of being one of only 10 students for this program. His teenage brother was killed a few years ago. He takes his toddler nephew and niece to daycare every day, on his way to school. He has miraculously kept his grades at As and Bs, until recently. He has ambitions, but he has very little idea what happens after high school.


“You need this!” I almost yell at him as I try to talk him into pushing himself just a little bit harder to finish the application. I don’t though. He doesn’t need me yelling at him, reminding him how hard life is sometimes.

We make a list: THINGS YOU NEED TO DO BY FRIDAY. It’s not that long, and he remembers that the Spanish homework isn’t that tough.

“I’ve started the application on my phone. I can work on it while I’m on MUNI,” he finally says.

Tuesday, Jan 27 6:30 pm
Today is MY first day of school; I’m finishing up my Masters in Literature at SF State, and I took last semester off, so I haven’t been on campus since June. I’ve been looking forward to getting back to school and working that part of my brain again. I arranged a sitter to pick my child up on Tuesdays, bring him home, and get his dinner under way. I’ve purchased one of the several books for the class, and I’m ready to get started.

When I walk into the classroom, though, and ask the very young woman who is sitting inside if she is there for the Emily Dickinson class, she says no, she’s there for English 214. Not English 760.

Oh, I say. Maybe I’m in the wrong room.

I check my schedule and confirm I’m in the right place. As more people come in, though, it becomes clear that I am not in the right place.

I walk up to the professor’s office, on the fifth floor, to see if I might catch her before she goes to class. She’s not there. I walk back down to the second floor, to see if the English graduate office is open. Nope. I walk back down to the first floor, to see if there’s a directory or something that will tell me what I want to know. Of course there isn’t.

I see an older woman who looks like she knows where she’s going, so I hop on the elevator with her and assail her with my struggle. I ask if she can help me figure out where I’m supposed to be. She, of course, says yes, and I follow her back up to the fourth floor. She checks the master schedule.

“English 760 meets on Monday night, not Tuesday.”

I can feel myself about to cry, so I thank her quickly and leave. I drive home too fast, yelling at cars who get in my way. I don’t cry, but my frustration is overwhelming. I can’t take a Monday night class! That doesn’t work for me!

After I let the babysitter know she no longer has a steady, Tuesday-night gig, I go online, find another class that, honestly, I’d rather take, that happens in the middle of the day, Tuesdays and  Thursdays. Perfect! I try to register, but I need a permission code, so I email the professor (who I’ve had before, so I happen to have her email address AND a nice rapport with her). She sends it to me, along with a warm greeting and the make up reading assignments. I navigate the ridiculously user-unfriendly website to drop the Monday night class and add the T/TH class. Voila!

I realize: This is similar to what my students will go through when they go to college, but it will be even more overwhelming. What will they do when they need to change their schedule? when they can’t find their class? I have the time, experience, and patience it takes to navigate this kind of situation, and STILL I almost flopped myself on the floor of that woman’s office and had a temper tantrum. Many of our students don’t have the attention span or the technology or the willingness to engage with the middle-aged lady in the elevator to say, “Do you work here? Will you help me?” I worry about them.

Wednesday, Feb 11 – 2:00 pm
Overheard between two seniors and a sophomore, as we are walking the track for the women’s fitness class we are participating in:

Senior #1 to Senior #2: “But I want to make it big!”

Sophomore, who didn’t hear the first part of the conversation: “You want to make what big?”

Senior #1: “No, I want to make it. Big.”

Soph: “Right. Make what big? Your ass?”

Senior #1: (frustrated) “No! I mean I want to make it! I want to make it, big time!”

Soph: “Right. What do you want to make big?”

Senior #1: “I want to make it in the world! I want to do it in a big way!”

Soph: “Oh. Yeah.” favicon

Ed. note: Michele Godwin is in her 14th year of teaching high school. She’s back at Leadership High School, where she taught from 2001 to 2008. An English teacher by training and experience, Michele has changed her focus to build a library for Leadership. In addition to her fundraising and library organizing, she is an 11th grade adviser. These are her musings from the past few weeks. Please donate so Michele can buy more books!

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“Rigor is love.”

Lexile Books

favicon Kathleen at Leadership High School in San Francisco is celebrating Valentine’s Day with love. She is challenging her students to read a book of their choice above their Lexile level.

Kathleen has been meeting and conferencing with every student. The conferences are conversations about what students are reading. They’re also how Kathleen is sharing with students their results on the latest online reading assessment.

When hearing their Lexile levels, this is how students have responded:

– “Thank you.”

– “It’s important for us to know the truth.”

– “How can we improve, if we don’t know the truth of where we are?”

– “Thank you.”

This truth-telling is a form of love. So is giving students choice. So is pushing students to challenge themselves with books above their Lexile level.

Here is a photo from Kathleen’s classroom.

You are loved

What a great way to move into Valentine’s Day weekend. As Kathleen says, “Rigor is love.” I’m lucky to be able to partner with her on this Kindle Classroom Projectfavicon

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Books students finished reading today

favicon The Kindle Classroom Project is taking off.

Recently, I set up an add-on to my Google spreadsheet that emails me a message whenever a student has completed a book.

The emails come in every day, hour by hour. Students are reading, and they’re completing books, and they’re telling me about them.

Here are a few books that students completed today:

My Bloody LifeMy Bloody Life: The Making of a Latin King
By Reymundo Sanchez
Review by Eduardo, Kathleen’s class, San Francisco

This book was amazing due to the format it is set up in. This is actually one of the first books I’ve finished, but what helped out was how interesting the book was and how I could relate to some parts of the story. It was more like a movie than a book because I could picture all the scenes in my head. I like how it deeply explains what caused him to become gang affiliated. It inspired me to count my blessings and to appreciate what I have — because people have realities that I probably would have never survived. I recommend it to those who like gang- affiliated books because it does a great job explaining the struggles of a gang banger as a whole.

The ShallowsThe Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains
By Nicholas Carr
Review by Nicholas, Kathleen’s class, San Francisco

While reading The Shallows, I found it incredibly informative and provided a lot of useful information; however, it is not without its faults. The main problem with this book for me was that I found that it dragged on for too long. It takes Carr quite a long time to actually get to his point, but he does fill the in-between time with some interesting information. This alone should not divert you from reading this book. It is quite interesting if you are patient when you read; however, I suppose it all depends on your own reading style. As someone who reads a plethora of books at once, yet at the same time at a slower pace, I found this book to be interesting and recommend it for fans of non-fiction or people looking to get into non-fiction.

Paper TownsPaper Towns
By John Green
Review by Melissa, Kathleen’s class, San Francisco

I gave this book four stars (out of 5) because I loved it, but it is very predictable. It is very similar to Looking for Alaska and Abundance of Katherines, some of his other very popular books. It is pretty unoriginal that he writes about a dorky teenager secretly loving another mysterious teenager over and over again. Even though the storylines are very similar, the book has many quotes and metaphors that I enjoyed.

The completed books keep coming and coming. Over the weekend, one student in Hayward requested a book on Friday, and then requested the second book in the series on Sunday. Another student in San Francisco finished his book on BART on his way home.

The Kindle Classroom Project is removing many of the gaps that deter young people from building robust reading lives. Some are:

– I don’t get to read what I want to,
– I don’t have the extra money to buy books from the bookstore,
– I don’t like going to the library, or it’s too far, or I have too many fines,
– My school doesn’t have enough good books,
– I always have to wait to read the book I want to read.

Those deterrents are real, and I’m very pleased to see how getting Kindles in students’ hands is addressing those obstacles, solving many of them, and encouraging students to reclaim their love of reading. favicon

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What students are reading this weekend

favicon The epicenter of the Kindle Classroom Project has recently moved to San Francisco, where reading activity has skyrocketed, thanks to excellent English teachers Kathleen Large (Leadership High School) and Angela Barrett (City Arts and Technology High School).

Kathleen and Angela are new teachers to the KCP, and they’re infusing energy, passion, and high levels of reading instruction into the program.

Their students are reading and requesting books, then reading and requesting some more. Today, one student requested Amy Poehler’s Yes, Please after reading a review that Michele Godwin wrote at LHS Books.

And the students’ reading doesn’t stop over the weekend. It just keeps going and going. Here is what some students are reading this weekend:

As I’ve said over and over again, when students get to choose what they read, they choose well. The same thing can be said about requesting books.

I don’t have the data yet to back up the assertion that I’m going to make, but I’m going to make it anyway: On average, students read much more and more often on Kindles than they do in print.

It’s wonderful to see students coming back to reading, reclaiming their love of reading, building robust reading lives, building their reading identities, and living a life of the mind. favicon

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TEACHER VOICES: Michele Godwin, #6

“Every kid deserves a nice school!”

Michele Godwinfavicon Monday, 1/5/15 – 9:15 am
We are in our beautiful new building!

Today, our first day back from winter break, is our first day in the new space, and it feels amazing. We started off with a ribbon cutting, followed by some words from our principal, a former student, and a city supervisor. So exciting! The kids act like it’s nothing, but I think they feel good in this space, with new furniture and clean walls. And a cafeteria! And a dance studio! And A LIBRARY (still under construction, though)! We have all the things a high school should have, and it feels great. Our message: you deserve this school. Every kid deserves a nice school!

Wednesday, 1/14 – 12:30 pm
Winter break feels like a million years ago. We are back in the thick of school, and the long semester looms ahead. My students are acting out a bit, stressed about the pressures of junior year and how quickly half of it has gone by already. I remind them that we need to work on SAT prep, and that it’s time to start writing their personal statements. The imminence of college and young adulthood weighs on them, and they are cracking a bit.

I’ve seen this before; for many of these kids, LHS is their home away from home. For the several in foster care and group homes, and for the handful who are homeless, our school is the only safe space they have. While they look forward to the freedom of adulthood, they hang on to the comfort and safety of high school life. They revert back to ninth grade behaviors, then scream when they’re treated accordingly. It’s a tough time for everyone.

Thursday, 1/22 – 3:45 pm
Today was tutorial day in advisory, where students work on homework and get help from their teachers. My job is to give them help when they ask and remind them to stay focused on work. At the beginning of the year, I would get extremely frustrated if they were off task or being loud. I’ve relaxed a lot, and they have improved. Now I try to bring some joy to the situation, and use the looseness of the time to connect with them individually. It’s my favorite day of the week.

Friday, 1/23 – 12:15 pm
A wonderful surprise! The LHS library has received a donation for EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARS! What a wonderful surprise! That means we are well on our way to our $60,000 goal. Such great news.

It’s time to make my LHS Library Donation Thermometer. I’ve always wanted to make one of those! favicon

Ed. note: Michele Godwin is in her 14th year of teaching high school. She’s back at Leadership High School, where she taught from 2001 to 2008. An English teacher by training and experience, Michele has changed her focus to build a library for Leadership. In addition to her fundraising and library organizing, she is an 11th grade adviser. These are her musings from the past few weeks, her sixth contribution to TEACHER VOICES. Please donate so Michele can buy more books!

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No Kindle? No problem. Become an integral part of the Kindle Classroom Project!

favicon If you don’t have a Kindle to donate, please don’t feel left out. Remember that the Kindle Classroom Project is a reading project, not a technology project!

Here are a few ways to become a sustaining, lasting donor to the Kindle Classroom Project. Choose one and then scroll to the bottom to donate!

For the Book Lover
A Kindle with no books is just an empty electronic device. The power of the Kindle Classroom Project is that students get to request books they want to read. Because of generous donors, I quickly buy these requested books and deliver them directly to the students’ Kindles. It’s like magic. For $10 a month, you can connect one student with a book that may change his or her life. Even better: Each book goes into the Kindle Library, accessible to all 225+ students participating in the program. Make a $10 monthly donation below!

For the News Junkie
I love waking up and retrieving my newspaper from the front steps every morning. Though I love my Kindle, I prefer reading the New York Times in print. It turns out, students in Kathleen Large’s classroom at Leadership High School also love to read the New York Times. They vie for Kathleen’s lone copy, taking turns, following key stories, and getting to know their world better. A print subscription is $15 a month. An e-subscription, which lacks the newsprint but allows the newspaper to be shared among six students, is $20 a month. The other cool thing about the e-subscription is that it gets delivered automatically every morning as students wake up. Make a $15 or $20 monthly donation below!

 Make a Kindle Come to Life
There are two features to Kindles that are inferior to physical books: (1) They are occasionally fragile, (2) They need charging every week or so. The problem is, Amazon no longer includes power adapters with new Kindles. That means that generous donors often send me their Kindles without plugs. To bridge the power adapter gap, I buy chargers at $6 each. Once a Kindle has its power cord and adapter, it’s ready to go to a student. Make a $6 monthly donation below!

For the Storyteller
For some students, silent reading is not easy. The page just has too many words, and all the text is overwhelming. The magic of a story is unlocked only when someone is telling it out loud. Several Kindle models (Kindle 2, Kindle 3, Kindle Touch, Kindle Fire) come equipped with a text-to-speech feature, but the voice is robotic. Though I’ve gotten used to it, most students prefer a real human. A relatively new feature at Amazon is called “immersion reading,” where students can follow along reading a book while a professional narrator reads out loud. An Audible subscription is $15 a month. This will ensure at least one audiobook per month. (It could be more than 1 book: Sometimes you can add professional narration for cheaper when you buy the e-book at the same time.) Make a $15 monthly donation below! (And thanks to Susan, my new friend on Twitter, for helping me with this!)

How to Donate
The easiest way is through PayPal. Click on the Donate button below. (Sorry for all the blank space.)

(Be sure to click on “Make This Recurring (Monthly)” — here’s a screenshot. Also, once you’re into PayPal, there is a Comments and Questions link. Click that so you can let me know how you’d like me to spend your donation!)

Screenshot 2014-12-26 18.36.04

You see? You don’t need to donate a Kindle to become a sustaining donor to the Kindle Classroom Project. There are many options. I can’t wait to see who is ready to make the plunge! favicon

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TEACHER VOICES: Michele Godwin, #4

“Have I always been this ineffectual?”

Michele GodwinEd. note: Michele Godwin is beginning her 14th year of teaching high school. She’s back at Leadership High School, where she taught from 2001 to 2008. An English teacher by training and experience, Michele has changed her focus to build a library for Leadership. In addition to her fundraising and library organizing, she is an 11th grade adviser. These are her musings from the past few weeks, her fourth contribution to TEACHER VOICES. Please donate so Michele can buy more books!

favicon Tuesday, 11/4 – 11:50 am
More students requesting books. I’ve run out of money, but I can’t tell them no! Many of them are repeat customers, back to ask for a sequel or something new altogether. Some of them are brand new, though, quiet kids I’ve never met, kids who have heard about me or seen me in the classroom I share with Ms. M. For some of them, it is an effort to overcome their shyness to speak to me, to request a book. Occasionally, I look up from my computer to see a kid, usually a girl, hovering near my desk expectantly. It’s not until I speak first that she tells me what she’s looking for: “Do you have that book Bronxwood?” Sometimes, though, a kid will be much more expressive in his or her request. “HEY! YOU GOT THAT BOOK, MAKING OF A LATIN KING?” a boy yelled across the room to me recently, right in the middle of Ms. M.’s math lesson. No matter who asks or how, I say yes. Because reading!

Thursday, 11/14 – 5:30 pm
Today has been an especially horrid day. My advisory talks over me and doesn’t listen to anything I have to say. One girl is up all the time, asking to go to the bathroom and raising hell when I say no. I’m tired of asking kids to put their phones away, stop cursing, don’t use the N word, please sit down, did you read the directions? do you have your homework? do you even know what we’re doing? I’ve lost my patience with everyone, including my own child, who keeps asking me what’s wrong and “Can I do anything for you?” I spend the evening thinking about my 13 years of teaching, and wondering, Have I always been this ineffectual?

Friday, 11/15 – 8:30 am
I woke up feeling hung over, like I’d spent all night partying instead of weeping and beating myself up. I’m going to tell my principal that I’m done teaching advisory, that it’s too much, that I’m not serving these students and I need to stick with what I’m good at: putting books in kids’ hands. I’m tempted to call in sick and just not deal, but we have visitors on campus today and I don’t want to add to the stress. I go, but I’m good for nothing.

Friday, 11/15 – 12:45 pm
I tell my principal that I can’t do it anymore, that I need to go from 80 percent to 60 percent, forgoing my insurance and benefits to preserve my sanity. She is supportive and accommodating, and we agree that I will stop trying to teach my advisory, that I will just be a warm body in the room until next semester, when she can find someone else to take over. I feel too drained to be relieved.

Friday, 11/15 – 2:50 pm
I don’t speak to my students as they walk into Advisory. I stay in my seat, reading my book. The ones who can’t sit still wander around the room, bouncing off each other as usual. Others sit down and chat quietly with their table mates. Phones come out, but I don’t acknowledge them. A few kids join me in reading, and, overall, the room stays pretty relaxed. No one speaks to me, and I don’t speak to them. Thirty minutes later, it is time to go to the monthly all-school meeting. They don’t wait for me to release them; they just go.

Sunday, 11/17 – 8:45 pm
I’ve talked about it all day. Mark helps me by asking good questions; my partner helps by supporting me no matter what I decide; my 9-year-old helps by being sweet. I feel relieved but guilty, resigned but disappointed. What will I tell my students? Will they agree that I am not the person they need, that they deserve an adviser who can hold their attention and guide them to adulthood in a way that they can understand and appreciate? I’m going to bed.

Monday, 11/18 – 2:30 pm
Again, I do not speak to my students. I lower the lights and sit in the front of the room, reading my book. They are more subdued today, four long days away from the weekend. Eventually, they are all reading independently, no reminders necessary. Twenty minutes later, I turn the lights back on and stand up, not knowing what I’m going to say. I wing it.

“Advisory is going to be different from now on. It’s not working this way. I don’t know how it will be different, but it is going to change. I can’t fight with you anymore.”

A girl raises her hand — the girl who bounces around the most, who disappears every day to get water or yogurt or aspirin, who sometimes dances in the middle of the room, regardless of whether or not I’m speaking.

“Yes, M?”

“It feels like you’ve given up on us. I know we’ve been a handful, and some people have been disrespectful, but that’s not cool. It feels like you’ve given up on us, and don’t y’all always tell us that we learn the most when we’re doing something hard?”


I kinda laugh, noting that, for once, I have every single person’s attention.

I say, “Please direct any further questions to M., who is clearly the wisest person in the room.”

Some of them laugh. Some check their phones. Some wait for my answer, some start talking to their table mates. I repeat myself, “Things are going to be different. I’m not sure how, but things are going to be different.” Some hear me, others don’t. And that’s OK.

Monday, 11/18 – 8:15 pm
I will continue to be an adviser; I’ll tell my principal tomorrow. I’m embarrassed that I went to such a dark place of despair and frustration, and that I told my principal I was done. I know she’ll understand, though. She knows, better than I do, that this is the work, and, like our students, teachers have so, so much to learn. favicon

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TEACHER VOICES: Tony Johnston, #1

“Good Education”

Tony JohnstonEd. note: I had the tremendous fortune to teach and share a classroom with Tony Johnston at Leadership High School in San Francisco. In addition to always having my back, Tony pushes me to think about big ideas: Why do we do what we do? What’s the best way, and why? Now a professor at a college in Connecticut, Tony continues thinking about the good stuff with his students as they prepare to become the next generation of English teachers.

favicon Lately, I’ve wrestled with the complicated and contradictory terrain encompassing what is meant by the term, “good education.”

After a doctorate in education and 265 years of schooling, I’d like to have a sense of what this term should indicate.

But maybe that’s just the trouble. As a parent of two school-going children, a former high school teacher, a teacher of future teachers, an administrator seeking accreditation for a department, and an academic — I’m left weary and confused by the competing agendas and ideologies around this term.

In the name of providing a “good education,” I am working to gain accreditation for the program I direct at my school of education. I’ll spare you the details. But I will offer that this work is both at odds, and seemingly irrelevant, with the work I will do in my classes that evening. My aspiring secondary school teachers are asked to interrogate entrenched notions of teaching as the administering of tests, handing-out of worksheets, and management of classrooms.

The following day, in a faculty meeting, someone raises the point that school reform efforts have clouded what the work of teaching entails, while another optimistically chimes in, “But unlike current teachers who resist these efforts, our new teachers won’t know any better.”

As I head back to my office for an afternoon of reviewing the Common Core State Standards and aligning our syllabi to the standards, I wonder, “Shouldn’t our work be to teach them to know better?”

After we recently moved East, my children enrolled in “good” schools. I know the schools are good because the website GreatSchools.org tells me so. So do the fellow parents that nod knowingly to one another in the halls as we scramble from room to room during the frenetic open-house event, where the well-oiled machine of my son’s middle school churns impressively.

Veteran teachers wear matching shirts and matching smiling faces, classrooms are equipped with computers and Smart Boards, signs in the halls signal to me that “character counts” and remind me to “walk on the right side of the hall.” Structures, routines, practices and traditions that have produced strong students for decades dazzle. After the chaotic and unstable realities of his elementary school, I am heartened by the security this school will offer.

Yet my son does tedious homework assignments that take him hours, and he expresses little genuine interest in any of the courses he takes. He feels the teachers do not know him and that he is not allowed to ask for help.

I broach his early sense of alienation and struggles with adjustments to both middle school and being in a new state with the vice-principal — hoping he will reach out to the teachers and maybe to my son. He tells me, “Yes, I can see he is struggling because he has two Cs.” I fight the urge to tell him that my son is not a report card.

In one of the courses I teach, I shared with my students something I learned when I studied the works of Lev Vygotsky. The Russian language uses a word, obuchenie, for which English has no real equivalent. My limited understanding of this term is that it captures the dialectical relationship between teaching and learning – not as two separate acts, but rather as a joint activity. Implications for this vision of teaching/learning intrigue me. If teaching has occurred, and students have not learned, did teaching ever take place?

If students experience a “good education” after which their minds are full but their hearts are empty – was this education a “good” one? After a brief but provocative discussion of how this term could benefit education in America, an especially “good” student asks, “Will we be tested on this?” favicon

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TEACHER VOICES: Michele Godwin, #3

“They don’t want to stop reading!”

Michele GodwinEd. note: Michele Godwin is beginning her 14th year of teaching high school. She’s back at Leadership High School, where she taught from 2001 to 2008. An English teacher by training and experience, Michele has changed her focus to build a library for Leadership. In addition to her fundraising and library organizing, she is an 11th grade adviser. These are her musings from the past few weeks, her third contribution to TEACHER VOICES. Please donate so Michele can buy more books!

favicon Wednesday, 10/8 – 10:55 am
The first cross-advisory meeting, where every junior is grouped with juniors from other advisories. They are to discuss their individual passions and then look for intersections. Many of them find this difficult; they have never been asked to think about what makes them fired up, excited, angry. Most respond with generalizations: “Music feeds my soul,” or “I enjoy spending time with my family.” Between now and May, it is my work to help them find an issue they feel strongly about, so they can work toward affecting change. It is a high-stakes project. There is much to do.

Friday, 10/10 – 11:15 am
Ms. M, with whom I share a classroom, tells me, “Some students were looking for you.” Really? Because my advisees don’t seem to have much interest in anything but my granola bars, at this point. Turns out they were looking for “the book lady.” They wanted to put in a book request. I’ve died and gone to heaven.

Tuesday, 10/14 – 3:45 pm
Ms. P, senior adviser, stops by after school, a tall boy in tow. “Ms. Godwin, I want you to meet R. He has never read a book the whole way through until this year – until now. He’d like to make a request.” R. smiles nervously and asks, “Can you get the sequel to The Maze Runner?” I want to say, “Are you kidding me? You’re my dream come true! Of course I’ll get that book for you! I’d do whatever it takes to get that book for you! I’d got through a maze myself to get that book for you!” — all while jumping up and down and whooping and hollering. I don’t, though, because I can imagine how disturbing that could be for this shy boy. “Sure!” I say, and send him on his way.

Wednesday, 10/15 – 10:15 am
Independent reading time in advisory. It takes a while to get students settled down and reading, but, once they’re there, they love it. One student is reading The Divine Comedy, another is reading essays from The Best American Sports Writing 2014, another is reading as many articles as he can find about Ebola. When I tell them, “Time’s up. We have to move on,” they groan. They don’t want to stop reading!

Wednesday, 10/22, 11:00 am
Giants fever is in the air. A few of my students request books about baseball, which are surprisingly hard to find, but I manage to get a few, including a book about Derek Jeter. It feels like blasphemy, but my student doesn’t seem to care. In fact, he finishes it in a day and asks for more. I need more sports books!

Friday, 10/24 – 2:10 pm
In the hallway, I see a boy with whom I have not had pleasant interactions. I stop him and ask, “Have you read this?” It’s Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison. I have heard this boy use the words “hegemony” and “dominance” before, and I know he reads at a college level. I tell him, “It’s super advanced, but I hear you can handle it.” He reads the back and says, “Yeah. I’ll give it a try.” He walks away, but turns back and says, “Thanks.” I do NOT jump up and click my heels.

Thursday, 10/30 – 9:15
The Giants have won the World Series, and our students are over the moon. The building is humming with energy, everyone recounting their favorite moments from the game, arguing about who should have been MVP (Bumgarner. Duh.). I wonder about the books that will be written about our team. And will future librarians have to ask for donations to get those books? Will they worry about how to raise $60,000 to fill a beautiful new library space, or will books be obsolete by then, libraries reduced to nothing more than charging stations? I shudder to think about it.

So I will stick with being in the present, enjoying today and the pride that unites the entire city, and the excitement our students experience as they are reminded that amazing and triumphant things can happen, and that, indeed, together, we are giant. favicon