This school year started with a gift from the Department of Education for those of us who teach social studies in Ohio. Due to budget cuts, our state will not be administering the Social Studies Achievement Test for the next two years. Excuse me while I yell, “Yahhhhhhhh!” What a gift! Especially since those of us who administer the fifth grade version of this test feel that it is more of a fourth grade test then a fifth grade test anyway. So life is good, right?
Unfortunately, this news, while very welcome, is strongly reinforcing the downfall of state achievement tests. I have been bombarded with questions from my fellow social studies teachers about what I am teaching or not teaching this year. There has been talk of leaving out chunks of previously taught subject matter. And, to make matters worse, there is a general feeling from those who do not teach social studies, that those of us who do should be picking up the slack and volunteering our services in other ways.
First, whether we are administering tests for social studies or not, it is our school’s curriculum, not the tests, which dictate what we must teach, and this is based on our state standards. So why are teachers questioning what to cover this year? Before we administered these tests, were we not accountable for the board approved curriculum? Unfortunately, we are all so bombarded with the continual message that we must get our students to pass state tests, that it becomes our focal point.
Second, if we accept the premise that it is about teaching for mastery of the curriculum, it goes without saying that those of us who teach social studies will clearly be too busy covering our own curriculum to help other teachers cover theirs. So, while I am grateful for the test break, I respectfully decline any additional duties since my job really has not changed at all. I’m just breathing a little easier for the next few years and enjoying teaching social studies a little bit more.
Changes in Teaching, state achievement tests, Teacher-World's Blog
I am sure by now you have seen the YouTube video of elementary students from New Jersey singing their praises to Barack Obama. When I first saw it on Fox News, I was appalled. But after reading the background information behind the video, I became outraged both as a teacher and a parent. What was this teacher thinking when she decided that her interests were more important than those of her students’ and parents’? And what about the principal who allowed this misuse of power? Let me break the issues down for you, nonpolitically, and try to explain why this was wrong.
First, as a teacher, one of my primary obligations is to protect the rights and freedoms of my students. To intentionally infringe upon those rights and freedoms would be criminal. This teacher did exactly that. These were young children who have no idea what Obama is doing as their president. Some of them probably didn’t even know who the president was. If this teacher had simply taught them a song about who their president is and what he does, I would have no issue with what transpired. But to teach them a song to praise a man they have formed no personal opinion of yet because of their age is, frankly, brainwashing. And it robbed them of their freedom to draw their own conclusions about the world around them.
Second, as teachers, we have a huge responsibility not to use our position of influence for our own agendas. Young children in particular look up to their teachers and love them. They have child-like faith that what we ask them to do is in their best interests, and it should be. This teacher took advantage of the faith her students had in her and filled those young people’s minds with her own feelings for her president. How many of those students would have even considered singing praises to their president if she had not manipulated them to do so? Whose agenda was met here? These students were used at the expense of their teacher, and that is inexcusable!
Third, as teachers, our job is to teach our students about government and the people who play a role in government. We should teach them to respect their leaders as people who make important decisions which we may not always agree with. This means that we also teach them to be active in their government and speak out when they disagree with policies and decisions that are made. In all of my years of teaching social studies, I have never taught my students to idolize their president or anyone else in government. I have never taught poems or songs or read stories that make any of these people out to be anything other than what they are or were: real people who accomplished real things. When we cross over into songs of praise, our message is no longer pure. It becomes a form of worship, which is totally misguided. This song crossed over the line from respect to worship. Is this what we want our teachers teaching our kids? I hope, to my God, not.
Politics aside, this should disturb us all, and we must speak up on behalf of our children. Speak up here, and tell us what you think.
I love technology and the fact that it makes my life easier, and I love integrating technology into my classroom.
I preface this blog in this way so that you don’t think my next complaint is born out of a hatred for or frustration with technology in general. What is that complaint, you might ask? Simply this: Every year we provide our students with assignment books which are part of their school fees. Each student is expected to write their assignments down daily in this book copying it from their teacher’s assignment board. The expectation is that students will take these books home each night along with the materials they need to complete those activities, and bring everything back the next day. Clearly, the goal here is to teach and encourage responsibility; the same responsibility that will enable them throughout their life to complete necessary tasks on time and on their own. Sounds reasonable, as certainly, this is a life skill we all must master, right?
Suddenly, our principal announced at our opening meeting that he would like us all to have a web page on which we post our students’ homework daily. Now, bear with me as I think out loud here, but if the students already have assignment books provided by their school, and they are being told that they need to copy their assignments and use this assignment book to be responsible and get their work in on time, and then we tell them that if they forget their assignment book or don’t write their work down as they were instructed to do, it’s okay; all they need to do is get on their teacher’s web page and the homework will be right there, how are we teaching and encouraging responsibility? The only responsible party then becomes the teacher who not only needs to write the assignments on the assignment board, but must also post it daily on a web site, which may include updating it during the day again if the homework was adjusted for whatever reason. My responsibilities have now increased as my students’ responsibilities have decreased! And students will learn that they don’t really have to listen to their teacher and write their assignments because they can always use the website later.
Why have we been asked to do this? Because some parents want to be able to see for themselves what their child has for homework either because their child is not copying their homework at all or they are lying about what their homework is. Wouldn’t it be wiser to deal with these issues directly? Shouldn’t there be communication with the teacher to change the negative behavior in order to achieve responsible behavior in the future?
I am all for technology, but this is one time when I feel very strongly that it is a copout, and I will not design a web page (at least until I am told that I must) because I feel that the life lessons that will be missed in the process are far too valuable.
Changes in Teaching, Teacher-World's Blog
In my first blog concerning President Obama’s speech to our nation’s children scheduled to air on Tuesday, I touched primarily on the reaction from our parents over the upcoming speech and the decision made by our school system as a result. While some of the anger expressed by parents was purely political in nature, in fairness to parents, some of it was undoubtedly fueled by the Department of Education’s suggested lesson plans for teachers to use as follow-up activities after the speech. Before I even discuss the initial lesson plans that were suggested, can we address the obvious? Isn’t the Department of Education a non-political entity? Their very involvement in this issue muddied the waters, as far as I am concerned. Did the DOE suggest lesson plans after Reagan or Bush’s speeches? Why this time?
At this point, what seemed like an important message to our students becomes something suspicious and tainted. Especially in light of the originally suggested activities. For example, in grades K-6, it was encouraged to have students “write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president. These would be collected and redistributed at an appropriate later date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals.” Furthermore, it was suggested that teachers “build background knowledge about the president of the United States by reading books about presidents and Barack Obama”. Whoa!!!!! Suddenly a speech about doing well in school and staying in school takes on a whole new meaning! Are we concerned about our children, or are we influencing children to support Obama and his future policies? And should our children by writing letters about how to help their president or how to help their country? This seems like dangerous territory to me, as I’m sure it did to parents.
To the Department of Education’s credit, they did realize their mistake and amended the suggested lesson plans to something more palatable, but by then, the damage was done. As a result, many districts like mine are probably being told not to show this speech. And unfortunately, if the message is powerful, which is very likely knowing President Obama’s style and eloquence, our students will be the losers. A sad ending to what I think was meant as an innocent and relevant appeal!
What a hailstorm has erupted over the announcement of President Obama’s speech to school students nationwide on Tuesday! As a teacher, I must admit that my first reaction to the news was annoyance that after countless interruptions to my schedule hampering my ability to teach what I have planned to teach, now it was the president telling me that I had to put my educational plans aside to make way for his. And I am reticent to allow something to be viewed by my students that I have not had the opportunity to either preview or have a solid understanding of its content before I show it. I had concerns that the message might by political in nature, and not only would I be unwilling to participate in that, but I knew there would be concerned parents if this was the case. Then I heard a synopsis of Obama’s speech; to encourage students to work hard and stay in school. Since our superintendent left it up to individual teachers whether to show the speech or not and it airs during our lunch time anyway, I thought I would tape it, giving me the opportunity to determine my comfort level with the message expressed, and show it at a convenient time if I so chose. But that plan was thwarted when we received another email from our principal, this time saying that we were not to show the speech at all.
So what happened in a matter of one day to precipitate such a turn around? I believe parent reaction was largely responsible for this new decision, as I know that countless phone calls were received at the board office regarding this upcoming speech. And upon what was their reaction based? Some of it was probably purely political; a gut response to a president that they neither elected nor support. Some of it was probably fear over the possibility that the president might use this as an opportunity to mix politics with a pro-education message and their children would be caught in the crossfire. I think some parents worried about the follow-up activities teachers might use to reinforce President Obama’s speech.
I find it interesting that both George Bush and Ronald Reagan gave speeches to school children without the anger and accusations that surround Obama’s speech. It makes me wonder if this attitude is born out of the frustration and distrust of government which has seeped into our society, especially due to this terrible economy. Whatever the cause, we will not be watching the president’s speech on Tuesday, and apparently I will not be able to show it later even if I wanted to.
I am interested, as I am sure many of you are, in knowing how other school systems have handled this delicate situation. Leave a comment, and let us know what’s happening in your school on Tuesday and how you feel about it.