A Guide To Discussing Race With Your Students

Guest Writer: Ali Andrews

The reluctance to discuss racism in American public schools actively harms students of color. 

While structural racism shapes their lives, the topic goes largely unaddressed in schools, often by educators who simultaneously enact discriminatory policies. Opening up discussions of race in the classroom is essential for engaging with students’ realities and enabling them to understand and cope with trauma.

Students of color deal with American racism on a daily basis, living “under a survival mentality” (PDF, 277 KB) that schools fail to acknowledge and support; this is described in the First Book Social Issues Impact Survey (PDF, 277 KB). According to the report, children most often initiate discussion in school on the topics of racism, immigration policies and police enforcement, all of which teachers feel ill-equipped to address. 

Additionally, students of color face active discrimination within school, with harsher discipline and disproportionately high suspension rates. According to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (PDF, 2.1 MB), Black students account for 16 percent of the student population; however, they make up 32–42 percent of suspended or expelled students and are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than White students. 

Interventions are clearly required at a macro level. Public school teachers—who, according to the United States Department of Education, are approximately 80 percent White—often don’t feel they have the proper teaching materials to adequately assist with concerns regarding race, even when public school populations are about 50 percent students of color. Efforts should also be focused on diversifying the teacher population (PDF, 1.2 MB), particularly through adjustments to structures that prevent undergraduate students of color from reaching teacher certification. 

However, while larger scale changes are still to come, current teachers can address the long-neglected needs of students of color by initiating conversations about race. A guide about classroom conversations about racism from the USC Rossier Master of Education in School Counseling online program breaks down the process into four tenets: 

  • Be Honest

Educational strategies evoking the concept of “colorblindness” do not work. Students are aware that racial categories have meaning in our society, and ignoring this only fails to prepare them to live with the injustices of reality. Ignoring color assigns an objectivity to the current power structures, which actually overvalue whiteness. Psychology Today race and culture columnist Mariel Buque opened up to USC Rossier about the value of being transparent with children about racial inequalities. 

“We’re just trying to eradicate the damage that has been done already,” she said. “Being able to socialize a child around their racial identity in a positive way can mitigate the effects of trauma and racial discrimination that they’re likely to encounter throughout the rest of their lives.”

  • Brace for Impact 

Be prepared to receive blowback for speaking frankly to students about race, but remember the ultimate goal is to improve the lives of children. Don’t let fear of obstacles or mistakes stop you from acting at all, and reach out to friends, co-workers or experts who can help inform your approach.

  • Walk the Line

Create a supportive space without dictating how students must think or feel. Teach them critical thinking skills and avenues into deconstructing racist societal myths. Allow students the space to vocalize feelings and thoughts around racial identity if they so choose to, but don’t require it. Chicago teacher Dwayne Reed plays devil’s advocate with his fifth-grade students to elucidate new ways of thinking and conceptualizing. 

  • Engage in Self-Reflection 

It’s difficult to effectively serve the needs of students of color without clearly grasping your own prejudices, biases, and understanding of and experiences with racism. Take the time to self-reflect so you’re approaching these topics from the most empathetic perspective possible. Olsen Edwards, an anti-bias consultant for K-12 schools, says children connect to an honest and solution-oriented approach: “This is really interesting how we are different. And it’s really heartbreaking that people don’t treat each other well. And what are we going to do about it?”

Ali Andrews is a Digital PR Coordinator and supports community outreach for 2U Inc.’s mental health, education and business programs. Find her on Twitter: @alisandrews

3 Simple Things You Can Do This Summer to Make Next School Year Easier

 

Regular readers of this blog know what I think about teachers working over the summer. For those late to the party, allow me to summarize:

Most teachers shouldn’t and they shouldn’t feel an ounce of guilt over the number of days they don’t even think about their job.

Read: Teachers Should Not Feel Guilty About Taking the Summer Off

However, like many things in life, there are exceptions to the rule. One of those exceptions is this:

If the work you do over the summer saves you a bunch of time/energy/aggravation during the school year, then it may be worth doing, even if you are working for free. 

So, if you’re sick and tired of the beach, or if it’s a rainy day, your cable is out, and the wifi is down, or if you just can’t stop thinking about next school year, here are three things you might consider doing now so you have less to do later.

Purge and Organize

A lot of teachers have a lot of crap. That’s not a good thing. Neuroscientists at Princeton University found that subjects in a disorganized environment had a harder time maintaining attention than those working in an organized environment. The study showed that physical clutter competes for our attention, resulting in poorer performance, and increased stress. You and your students will be less irritable, less distracted, more productive, and better able to process information in an uncluttered space.

So purge and organize. Ideally, you should do this at the end of the school year, while there’s free labor around to help you do it and while you’re still getting paid. However, the end of the year is a busy time, and it’s just as likely you’ve been tossing things in a file cabinet or on your desk, knowing you’ll have all summer (or the beginning of next school year) to get around to it. So if you didn’t declutter at the end of the year, now’s the time to do it, because once the students show up, you’ll have far too many other things to do and your untidy piles and hidden messes will snowball.

I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve had to pack up my room two years in a row. This has done wonders for clutter. The fewer things I pack, the fewer things I have to unpack, so the moves have served as excellent motivation to throw things away. I also benefitted this year by being relocated to a room that has much less storage than last year’s room, which meant I had to be more judicious about my stuff.

These decisions were forced on me, but they provide clear guidance about what all teachers should do before the start of a new year. Here are the rules I used to decide what stayed and what went in the Dumpster:

1. No sentimentalism – I’m not a sentimental person, so this one was easy for me. However, many people hang on to things because of the fond memories they attach to them. I had a stack of road maps I inherited years ago that were likely used for a social studies project back in the day when all maps were printed on paper. I like maps. And road maps remind me of family road trips when I was a child. But I hadn’t used these maps in years and I wouldn’t ever again because technology has made them obsolete. Nostalgia isn’t a good enough reason to keep a bunch of stuff you won’t use.

2. The two-year rule – Marie Kondo tells people to throw stuff away unless it brings them joy (or so I’ve heard), but that’s a little too emotional for me. If I followed that rule, I’d still own a Skid Row T-shirt that I have long outgrown and that should never be worn in public.  I follow the two-year rule instead: If I haven’t used it the last two schools years, then it stands to reason I won’t be using it this upcoming year and also that I’ll probably never use it again. Why two and not one? Because if you don’t use something one year, you might just have forgotten that you own it. But if you don’t use it two years in a row, then a.) you just proved you don’t need it and b.) it is, by definition, forgettable and therefore probably not all that great, so you shouldn’t be using it anyway.

3. The “Would I Buy It Now?” Standard – One of the psychological challenges with throwing things away is what’s known as the sunk-cost fallacy. Once we’ve spent money on something, we’re reluctant to let it go. This may be because we don’t want to admit we didn’t get as much value as we expected out of our purchase or because we don’t want to see ourselves as wasteful. A good way around it is to apply the Would I Buy It Now standard. When determining whether or not to keep those unifix cubs that are taking up room in your tote of math manipulatives, don’t ask yourself, “Might I have a use for these this school year?” Instead, ask, “If I didn’t own these, would I go to the store and buy them for the upcoming year?” That answer is often no, which tells you that if you’re considering keeping the item, you’re probably doing so for bad reasons.

4. All paper has to justify its continued existence. As the years have gone by, the files in my file cabinet have grown. This in spite of the fact that I hardly ever pull anything from my file cabinet. Even if I own a graphic organizer, my first stop is almost always Google because I can find things faster on Google than I can in my file cabinet and because it’s easier to hit print than it is to walk a paper copy down to the copier. Therefore, all paper has to justify its continued existence. This summer, I went through every file and applied this standard. When I was done, I was left with 12 file folders. The only papers I kept were those I didn’t have in digital form and that could not be found online.

5. No outside storage allowed – Once I was done unpacking this summer I was left with two boxes of math supplies that I will likely only use on a handful of occasions this coming year. Because storage space was limited, I was tempted to bring the boxes home and return them to school when they were needed. But that’s a slippery slope. When you expand the amount of room you have for things, the number of things you have will expand. Creating more space for your stuff leads to more stuff. So I made a rule that every school-related item I own needs to find a home at school, preferably in my classroom. When you put limits on yourself, you’re forced to make decisions about what you really need to keep. Only by doing this will you whittle your possessions down to the essential.

You will make do with what you have, just like you did when you were straight out of college. When you don’t have something, you figure out how to make it work. Limits lead to creativity, so impose them on yourself.

Establish Systems, Then McDonaldsize Them

If I were advising a first-year teacher on how to spend the week before school, I would tell him to make a list of everything he will ask or expect students to do. Most of the time, these items start with the words “How to.” How to go to the bathroom, how to turn in a paper, how to listen during instruction, how to write during writing time, how to sharpen pencils, how to enter and exit the classroom, how to request help, how to answer questions in whole group, etc. Then, I’d tell that new teacher to write out exactly how he wants those things done. You can’t teach procedures to students until you know how you want them performed yourself.

Most of the problems I have had in my classroom were the result of bad systems. It stands to reason then that having good systems is the key to saving yourself lots of time, energy, and aggravation. I remember hearing about the success of McDonald’s when I was younger. It’s been pointed out many times that McDonald’s is as much a real estate company as it is a fast-food chain. And that’s true. But the other huge factor in McDonald’s success is its systems. Every McDonald’s you walk into is essentially run by 16 year-olds and adults who can’t find jobs anywhere else. That these McDonald’s function at all is a testament to their systems and training. McDonald’s designs systems that can be run by people who most of us wouldn’t trust to babysit our kids.

To McDonaldsize your systems, make them as simple for others to run as possible. Then train your students. The ideal classroom is one that could function without you in the room because students understand and can perform every procedure correctly.

Plan To Do Less

Many teachers start the year with too many goals and quickly become discouraged and overwhelmed when reality falls short of their lofty expectations. Since you’re not going to do everything well, decide ahead of time what’s most important to you and focus your energies on that. I recommend a three step process that will help you focus on what really matters and will, as a consequence, prevent you from exhausting yourself on unessential tasks.

First, choose a focus. Your focus will depend on your values and the specifics of your position. You might choose to focus on making school a place where kids want to be, in which case you’ll direct most of your energy to building relationships with students and designing engaging lessons. Alternatively, you might focus on your subject area and students’ academic performance. As a high school chemistry teacher, you might not have the opportunity to build relationships with many students since you see so many of them for so little time. It may make more sense for your energy to be directed toward teaching students as much chemistry as you can or instilling in them a love for your subject.

Whatever your focus is, the point of it is to direct your energy. You will do things that help you reach your goal and avoid things that pull you in a different direction. Which brings us to the second step: Establish rules.

Start by drawing some lines in the sand. Decide now how you will respond to administrators’ requests on your time. What kinds of opportunities will you say yes to and which will be met with a no? How will you handle colleagues who want to come into your room to talk for thirty minutes after school? How will you respond to parents who want to meet or talk on the phone after school? Protect your time now by figuring out where you’ll set limits and then follow through when the year starts.

The third step is to decide on your defaults. Think of defaults like the font on your word processor. Most of the time, the default will do. But sometimes, you need something different. Defaults are rules that you allow yourself to break given certain circumstances. One of my defaults is: I won’t join unpaid committees. Most of the time, I stick with this default. But last year, I joined the building leadership team because I was new in the building and I a.) thought it would be a good way to learn how things worked and b.) was low man on the totem poll when my grade level colleagues didn’t want to do it. The year before that I’d been on my district’s technology team. It wasn’t paid, but it was something I was interested in and it afforded me the opportunity to pilot new tech products like SMART TVs and Chromebooks.

The process above helps you focus. It’s planning to do less, knowing that doing less overall makes it possible to do more of the things that will make the biggest difference and help you reach whatever goals you’ve decided on for the upcoming year.

You can read about this process in greater detail in my book The Teacher’s Guide to Saying NO.

Hidden Track: Relax

Of course, the best thing you can do this summer to prepare for next school year is relax. Once the year starts, you’re going to spend 10 months working harder than most other professionals. Even if you manage to stick to 8-hour days, those eight hours will often be stressful and energy-depleting. Do what you can now to make your school year easier, but remember that sometimes the best thing to do is nothing. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You Are Not a Bad Teacher If Your Lessons Look Like This

Guest Writer: Isabell Gaylord

 

As a teacher, you have a responsibility to inspire your students. If your students are bored, it makes your job that much harder. For decades, educators have been trying new techniques to get students excited about learning. Explore the following ways to keep your lessons interesting and your students engaged. 

Relate the material to your students’ lives

Relate your teaching topics to their lives and give them concrete examples to show how they are relevant. When they understand the relevance to their own lives, they will naturally be more engaged. If they’re always asking you why they need to learn something and you just say “because,” it is not a good enough answer. 

Students will always respond more if it is something they can relate to. For example, read them a dilemma and have them write a short response about what they’d do in a certain situation. 

One Sticky Situation, for example, is about a young girl who receives a group text with mean photos of her friend. Your students will probably have a lot to say because they are exposed to similar situations in real life.  

Aim for interactivity

The traditional style of teaching where you stand in front of a class and present a lesson has its limitations. It is much better if you can interact with students and there are some free tools you can use to collaborate on projects and assignments. 

Edmodo is one of the most popular free education tools. It has many features, including functions to enable collaboration, share content, and even get parents involved. Vyew, a collaborative whiteboard, allows you to upload images, write over them, discuss them and more. 

Use a variety of materials

Books, speeches, music, and videos are just some of the materials you can use as a teacher to make your lessons more interesting. Students are all unique and learn in different ways. They will respond to some materials more than others. 

For writing help, they may respond to something like having to keep a gratitude journal. If you show them a video, make sure they do it in a directed way. Tell them why you are showing it to them and give them a question paper to answer. 

Introduce games

If you want to keep students engaged, introduce games into your classroom. For a simple game to test memory and writing skills, gather some objects and lay them out on a desk. Show them to all the students and then cover them after one minute. 

The students must write down as many items as they can on a piece of paper. Creating a PowerPoint Jeopardy game relevant to the content you’re teaching can be fun for students. A popular game that is being used in many classrooms is Minecraft. MinecraftEDU.com is an education dedicated site with resources. 

Flip your lessons

Many teachers are successfully using the concept that children learn new information at home and then use the time in class to reinforce new concepts and do critical thinking activities. 

Students can work at their own pace and then engage in more meaningful ways when they are in the classroom. When students have to write essays, reading essay writing service reviews may help. 

Change venues

Go on a field trip, or take learning outdoors. When you try something different, you break any ruts and your students are likely to respond positively. If you’re teaching them something that they can see outdoors, moving your class outside is a simple strategy that immediately makes students feel more relaxed and yet more engaged. 

Allow yourself to have some fun

To be an effective teacher, you need to be firm but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun in the classroom. Being a little more relaxed yourself and open to having fun helps you to build a good relationship with your students. 

They are more receptive to learning from someone they like. If you regularly use sarcasm, make students feel stupid for asking questions and don’t ever let your guard down, they are unlikely to open up to you. 

Offer your students choices

Be accommodating to the idea that your students may have different learning styles and interests to your own. The choice is often a powerful motivator. Give your students choices and it helps to foster their independence and interest. 

When you’re planning an activity, think about different options that give students a choice. At the end of the activity, you could ask students whether they felt they made the right choice and what they learned from it. 

A final word

You may feel a little daunted about what it takes to make your lessons engaging. However, the more thought you put into it, the easier it becomes. A well-planned week of stimulating lessons can make all the difference to your students and you.

BIO

Isabell Gaylord who writes College-Paper.org Reviews is good at journalism sphere and a lot of people find her articles helpful. She contributes to publishing a lot and her essays are referred to self-improvement, writing, blogging, inspiration. Find Isabell on Twitter.

5 Tips for Classroom Fundraising When Traditional Routes Aren’t Cutting It

Guest Writer: Anica Oaks

Raising enough funds to bring additional materials and activities to the classroom isn’t always easy, and the traditional routes don’t always work. This is especially true if you’re teaching in a non-“core” curriculum subject like art, theatre, or sports.

Educators, it’s time to think outside of the box. When it comes to classroom fundraising, getting extra creative and utilizing digital resources can make a huge difference in terms of how many donations you pull in. Here are five tips to help you get creative with classroom fundraising.

Kick Off Some Crowdfunding

A lot of teachers are coming to rely on crowdfunding websites like Indiegogo, GoFundMe, and KickStarter for garnering funds. You’ve probably seen friends and family share these kinds of links on their social media pages.

Crowdfunding is a great way to reach people across the world—many people you otherwise wouldn’t reach at all. Crafting a crowdfunding site with a specific (and realistic) goal and time-frame can pull in a lot of attention from a wide array of social media users. This method of teacher funding might be new, but it’s proving to be effective for many teachers in need.

Host a Scavenger Hunt

No matter the grade level, students love to hunt for clues! Make it educational by including aspects of your current curriculum. Allow students to form their own small teams, and each team must pay an entrance fee before the day of the hunt.

Make it a school-wide event and get other teachers in on the action. Bring families in on it, too. You can even set up a donation table to add on to the proceeds from the entrance fees.

Create a Superhero-Themed Event

Superheroes (and super-villains) are totally in right now. If you’re a band or choir teacher, consider putting on a concert in which you play songs from DC and Marvel soundtracks. You can even encourage your students to dress in their favorite character’s attire.

Get some of your school’s best athletes, actors, and even some parents or guardians in on the action by having them dress up as Marvel and DC characters and have a Marvel vs DC “battle.”

Movie Night

This is especially fun for middle and high school students. Pick a Friday night and host a movie marathon. You can host the watch party in your school or even contact your local cinema and see if they’d be willing to sponsor the event. A percentage of the ticket and food sales could go toward your classroom or school’s needs.

Start a “Seed” Money Challenge

Start by giving each student in your class a small amount of money (even $1 will do), and ask them to come up with creative ways to turn it into more than that. Not only can you generate classroom funds this way, but you can get your students thinking with entrepreneurial mindsets.

Getting funds for your classroom doesn’t have to be hard, and it certainly shouldn’t be boring. Invoking your creative side and allowing your students to have some input can really take fundraising to the next level.

      

 

What Should You Do If Your Students Start Using Chatspeak in Assignments?

Guest Writer: Agatha Singer

As it always is with the matters related to teaching, your reaction to some issue should be determined on a case-by-case basis. Therefore, if your students start using chatspeak in their creative writing assignments you should stop and think. Why exactly are they doing this? In some cases, this can be considered a legitimate method of expression. But there are also situations where you’ll need to correct this issue before it turns into a bad habit.

Is Chatspeak the Enemy?

There is this trend for demonizing chatspeak today. Demonizing anything social media and Internet-related really. You can see hundreds of articles and hear dozens of impassionate speeches on how children are wasting away staring at smartphone screens, how they make dangerous connections through social media, or how hanging out online, in general, lowers the IQ of an entire generation.

It’s sad to admit that in a way, all of that is true. However, if you stop and think on the matter a bit more, you might remember that a few decades back you could hear all the same things about television.

And before that, there were radio programs, which ‘corrupted the innocent minds’ with scandalous stories.

And before that, people invented print and book burnings came right after that. During some of those, scholars, authors, and printers were burned or buried along with their works. One can only be proud that centuries of evolution made us less brutal and that today people prefer flaming through online comments as opposed to setting something on fire for real.

But do you see the pattern here?

Every time some new way to expand the limits of communication and entertainment comes along, a fraction of society resents it. In the majority of cases, this is the older generation, which grew up with the previous medium and is clearly struggling to master the new one. This begs to question whether the resentment comes from valid concerns over moral and ethical integrity or from one’s inability to adapt to change?

As a teacher, you have to adapt to the times and use the tools that appear every day to teach the skills that are timeless. For example, you can use comic books to teach creative writing and your students are bound to love those lessons much more than picking through some 15th-century poetry. You also can and should use language learning apps when working with ESL students. Acceptance of chatspeak is a part of this necessary adaptation to the times.

Why Do Students Use Chatspeak?

Youths use chatspeak today because it’s fun, because it’s easy, because everyone is doing it, or all of the above. Simply put, this informal language helps them have more relaxed conversations.

This is what’s really important because even a sliver of a chance for kids to be less stressed is extremely valuable. The lack of free time, constant stress, and pressure have devastating effects on the youths of today. They push students to cheat, make them depressed, and drive hundreds of teenagers to suicide. Stress is the main enemy of students, and one cannot deny that a requirement to write properly articulated sentences all the time would add to it. Not by much, but everything counts in such a dire situation.

Bear in mind that the kids of today already write more than their predecessors did 20 years ago. This means that they spend a large part of their life developing that writing skill, which it is your duty to teach.

Yes, they are doing most of that writing with chatspeak, which has little in the way of grammar and spelling that can make anyone cringe at times. However, studies from the University of Alberta and Coventry University prove that using chatspeak does not affect students’ ability to learn and use proper grammar. It doesn’t even interfere with their essay-writing skills and doesn’t interfere with distinguishing between formal and informal language situations.  

Therefore, the point is that students are writing more and you should use this trend to nurture their creative writing talents. The trick is to teach them when using chatspeak is appropriate.

When Using Chatspeak in Assignments Can Be Appropriate

The use of chatspeak can be acceptable in creative writing if it’s a tool for creative expression. Therefore, if the character or situation from the work allows for such informal language, you shouldn’t scold your students for it.

After all, how is using chatspeak as a valid form of creative expression different from Burgess’ Nadsat or the vernacular in Catcher in the Rye? Both of those are nothing short of atrocious if you try to measure them against the neat formal flow of ‘good English’. However, those are the details that fill the books with life and personality.

As a creative tool, language is flexible and it’s a joy when students realize this and start bending it to find their own voice. That’s exactly what you should be teaching.

However, there is a different side to this coin. The situation when your student uses chatspeak might not be justified by the plot. In this case, you have a problem on your hands.

It’s a fact that informal language can leak into situations where it’s unwarranted. This can happen not only in writing assignments but also in everyday life. And when it does, the person using such vernacular is perceived as uneducated or rude.

This is what you should be explaining to your students who start using chatspeak all over the place. Impart on them the distinction between the kind of creative situations when this is acceptable and when it’s not. However, do your best to be both gentle and reasonable when doing this. Make sure you explain the issue in detail instead of throwing a blanket ban of chatspeak. This is how your students will be able to understand the nuances of situations where formal and informal language can be applied.

Overall, chatspeak isn’t the devil. Regardless of how much of a traditionalist you are personally, this type of language is the norm today, so you can’t pretend it doesn’t exist or diminish its role in modern society. Therefore, the best you can do is to help your students learn how to use it without offending anyone.

I’m Agatha Singer, a work-from-home mom of two little nuggets. My interests range from the latest business management trends to healthy living and adventurous traveling. I always stay open to new ideas and expertise to make my writings handy and captivating for you. I’ll be happy to see you on my blog: http://www.agsinger.com!