Dads and Daughters

This post is inspired by listening to Kwame Alexander read his poetry and speak of the power poetry has to share feelings, as well as a piece on the radio sharing the top 10 things fathers should say to their daughters.

Father – You could not tell me that you loved me, that you were proud, that I was beautiful. You saved that praise for your only son. I was less than, invisible; felt unloved. I dreamed of hugs, kindness, and attention. Instead, I learned to be strong, independent, and to not wait for others to notice me. I owe you my independence and my insecurity.

Dad – Although I was not your flesh and blood, you accepted me into your family. You loved me, laughed with me, and offered me your wisdom. You cared about my well-being. I was heard, noticed, loved. I am thankful for your generosity, kindness, and care. I learned to feel safe, rely on others, and give to others, by your example. I owe you my loyalty and trust.

Husband – You have stood by me through storms and sunshine. You support me and are a great dad to our daughter. You listen to her, play with her, and tuck her in at night. You check in on her before you go to bed. You help her with her homework, coach her in softball, and read to her each night. She will learn to believe in herself, take risks, and live and love all that life has to offer, thanks to your example.

Memory Write – Social Interactions that Stay with You as a Teacher

Before I became a mom, while I was still a high school English teacher, just after I finished my reading specialist graduate work, I was offered a six week summer camp position teaching first grade reading remediation. There were only four students in the class, not many resources or supplies in the room (the teacher had meticulously packed everything away), and no curriculum. It needs to be said that it was my first time teaching at the primary level. I knew if I was to ever be a well-rounded reading specialist, I would have to teach younger students.

Two of the girls in the class struggled to get along. One was a socially savvy girl who had wonderful comprehension, but struggled with decoding. The other was incredibly awkward; in retrospect, she could have had Asperger’s. She was hyperlexic, but struggled with comprehension. She would always say, “I don’t get it.” The other girl would audibly sigh. They were like oil and water.

Once, during center time, the strong decoder shouted out, “She (the social student) is being a bully to me.”

I immediately turned to the second girl and asked, “What did you say to her?”

She replied flatly, “It’s none of your business.”

With my I-teach-16-year-olds-brain, I was physically taken aback that a 7-year old would talk to an adult in that manner. I summoned all of my patience and strength and replied, “I’m the teacher of this class. You don’t get to tell me that what goes on in this class is not my business…” the tirade continued. Eventually, I re-asked, “What did you say to her?”

Trembling, the young girl replied, “I said to her, ‘It’s none of your business.’”

I immediately shrunk down to the size of a mouse. I had completely misread the situation. I had acted the part of a bully as much as this young girl. My role was worse though: I was the adult – the teacher.

I learned an invaluable lesson from that 7-year old that day: not to judge situations against my default-schema. Every student was not going to try to test me/challenge me. Young children should be taken at their word. Life is not filled with sarcasm.

I make sure to let that young girl know that I was completely wrong. I apologized and thanked her for telling me the truth in the first place. I asked for her forgiveness.

That lesson has taught me very well to adjust my approach and interpretations as I have worked more consistently with K-5th grade students in reading and with their teachers as well.

Teaching in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania teachers have seen test scores decline over the past four years. The state claims that these waning results are due to the increased rigor of the PSSA (the common state assessment in grades 3-8), as the state moves toward full adoption of the PA Core Standards (Pennsylvania’s interpretation of the Common Core).

At first, the state started to introduce pilot questions that were formatted to measure students’ ability to write about their readings (text-dependent analysis). 2014-2015 marked the first year that the PSSA reading and writing elements were combined into one ELA test.

The state has shared that they would realign the baselines so that districts were not penalized for earning low scores. Unfortunately for teachers, however, these scores are calculated into their overall performance, under the new teacher evaluation system. The current evaluation system does not account for many variables, including the changing tests, aka moving targets for student learning, against which teachers are measured.

Unfortunately, the public is not made aware of all of the details that are behind this assessment story. What is eventually reported is an overall score called an SPP – School Performance Profile, reportedly reflecting how the entire school (and district) made out the previous school year. Left out is that the work that Kindergarten through second grade teachers, specialists, and any other non-tested subject area teachers is not included in the “report card.” Left out is the fact that schools can earn “bonus points” for students who take SAT and AP tests, which is how some schools are able to “look better” than others when the school report card is published. Left out is that teachers are working so much harder each year, because they are tasked with teaching standards that it would take the typical K-12 system 22 years to cover. Then, teachers are asked to teach to mastery skills that are assessed differently each year, making achievement comparisons tenuous. Teachers are doing more while the public is being told they are achieving less.

In my experience as an classroom teacher in a tested subject, I shared with my students that my role was to guide them toward becoming critical readers and writers of a variety of texts (literature, informational, persuasive, poetry, music, art, video), so that they could be thoughtful consumers and learners. I, unfortunately, would share that the test may or may not measure these qualities, but it was something that I hoped they would take seriously so that they would not have to enroll in a remediation course that would take away a pleasurable elective or other academic choice. I have attended many workshops from renowned literacy experts, during which they share that they explain to their own students that testing is a separate “genre” that they will only complete during their school years, and will only “study” briefly so that students felt comfortable taking the test. Test-taking reading and writing are not life-long skills to be practiced and treasured.

There will always be two sides to the question, if assessments were divorced from accountability, might the improvements made each year be moving in the right direction? Many in the workforce see how accountability is essential to understanding job performance. Society would never allow a doctor to not have to account for the death of a patient. A CEO must fill out quarterly reports to show that money has been earned and not lost. But teachers who work with our most precious commodity (our students) are not made better when the issues of poverty, homelessness, safety, and equity in our schools are consistently ignored by policy makers. Rather than address the real barriers to a student’s ability to grow academically, which require large and real financial solutions, teachers are blamed for the lack of progress.

What the public really needs to understand right now is that teachers provide safe, supportive, nurturing environments for society’s children. In Pennsylvania, teachers are spending their own money to purchase sneakers for students who would go without. Counselors are putting together back-pack programs so that children (and their families) will have food over the weekend, when school is not in session. Librarians are meeting with children and their caregivers in local libraries and giving them tours of various community resources so they can make ends meet. And all teachers are reading, taking courses, and planning to welcome the next year’s groups of students all summer, so that each child is greeted with a brightly decorated room and learns to know that they matter. Pennsylvania needs to rally around our teachers and hail them as the advocates and heroes they are to PA children and not allow politicians determine how we view them.

When did your report card ever tell the whole story about you?