‘Teachers’ debuts on TV

TV Land’s new series, Teachers, is “really funny at times” and “a little bit raunchy,” writes Mark Walsh in Education Week.

The Katydids, an all-female improv group (all are named some version of Kate or Caitlin), based the show on a series of shorts called Teachers, a Web Series, set in a suburban elementary school.

Hollywood Reporter calls Teachers “wonderfully loose.”

However, the New York Times says the show “mistakes crass for cutting edge” and was better as a web series.

Le robot educateur est arrivant

European scientists are developing language-teaching machines to help five-year-olds learn a second language, reports Jacek Krywko in The Atlantic.

L2TOR (“El Tutor”) robots will use “microphones to listen, cameras to watch, and artificial neural networks that will analyze all the information that’s collected.” The project is funded by the European Union.

Designers believe the machines will be able to pick up nonverbal cues to monitor students’ boredom, confusion, happiness and sadness.

“The problem with previous generations of teaching machines was their complete lack of social intelligence,” says Stefan Kopp, a German L2TOR researcher. “Our robots will notice tears, smiles, frowns, yawns … and dynamically adjust to how a child feels.”

Designers will observe kindergarten teachers “and then program our robots to act like them,” Kopp says.

It sounds crazy to me. But a robot teacher that looks like a poodle and speaks French — well, who knows?

“New” and techy isn’t necessarily better, advises Andy Smarick on Star Wars and Education Reform. “Like the Empire and manymanymany other reform movements, today’s education reform also seems to place an outsized faith in technology.”

Social learning burns out introverted teachers

Teaching’s stress on social learning and collaboration is raising the burnout rate for introverts, writes teacher Michael Godsey in The Atlantic.

After 11 years of teaching English at a public high school, Ken Lovgren quit the profession.

Engaging in a classroom that was “so demanding in terms of social interaction” made it difficult for him to find quiet space to decompress and reflect. “The endless barrage of ‘professional learning community’ meetings left me little energy for meaningful interaction with my kids,” he told me.

Jessica Honard, author of Introversion in the Classroom: How to Avoid Burnout and Encourage Success, left classroom teaching to escape the “constant bombardment of social stimulation.”

“Collaborative overload” is a problem in the workplace, warns Harvard Business Review. “Over the past two decades, the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50% or more,” leaving little time to get things done.

It’s even harder for teachers, writes Godsey. After meeting with adults, they “go straight to the classroom, where they feel increasing pressure to facilitate social learning activities and promote the current trend of collaborative education.”

There’s no time to think.

Losing ‘The Battle for Room 314’


After 20 years working for non-profits, including a foundation that puts smart, motivated, low-income students on the Ivy track, Ed Boland earned a graduate education degree and became a high school history teacher on New York City’s Lower East Side. He lasted for one year, then quit to write The Battle for Room 314.

The book is “tragedy and farce,” writes Maureen Callahan in the New York Post.

Boland starts with a scene from ninth-grade history class. It’s his first week. “Chantay” is sitting on her desk gossiping. He tells her to sit down and get to work.

A calculator goes flying across the room, smashing into the blackboard. Two boys begin physically fighting over a computer. Two girls share an iPod, singing along. Another girl is immersed in a book called “Thug Life 2.”

. . . “Chantay,” he says, louder, “sit down immediately, or there will be serious consequences.”

The classroom freezes. Then, as Boland writes, “she laughed and cocked her head up at the ceiling. Then she slid her hand down the outside of her jeans to her upper thigh, formed a long cylinder between her thumb and forefinger, and shook it .?.?. She looked me right in the eye and screamed, ‘SUCK MY F–KIN’ D–K, MISTER.’?”

The principal has announced he won’t expel any student for any reason. Kameron is suspended for throwing a heavy sharpener at a teacher and again for threatening to blow up the school. Then he’s caught with a hammer and switchblade. Finally, he’s expelled

“Oh, they getting real tough around here now,” a student says. “Three hundred strikes, you out.”

Boland admits he came to hate most of his students. Colleagues urged him to put their behavior in the context of their poverty, their dysfunctional families. He couldn’t.

The problem is the teacher, not the students, responds Thomas Martone, who teaches history at a Brooklyn school for students who’ve been kicked out of their previous high schools.

My classroom is filled with students who are parents, students without parents, students who receive free lunch, students who don’t speak English, students who are in gangs, students who are in legal trouble, students with mental disabilities, students with physical disabilities, students who are overaged, students who are under credited, students who are unable to identify the seven continents . . .

Martone hands out candy to “help explain the wide gap between the Estates during the French Revolution” and plays Tupac when teaching that Machiavelli’s The Prince is “about how to get power and keep power.”

One student did nothing but tear up paper. Martone “gave the student activities where he would rip out vocabulary, geographic features and social classes from one piece of paper and label them appropriately on the wall next to him.”

Will Martone’s students do any better in life than Chantay or Kameron?

Teller talks about teaching as performance art

Penn & Teller’s Teller, who normally doesn’t talk, discusses teaching as performance art with Jessica Lahey. He was a high school Latin teacher for six years before joining the magic act.

It’s a teacher’s job “to make the student fall in love with the subject,” he says. “That doesn’t have to be done by waving your arms and prancing around the classroom; there’s all sorts of ways to go at it, but no matter what, you are a symbol of the subject in the students’ minds.”

A small man, Teller’s secret in the classroom was “delight,” he tells Lahey. “I get excited about things.”

He created his own Latin primers, paired with supplemental readings.

He chose Book Two of The Aeneid, because it contained the Trojan Horse, and not-too-pornographic selections from the poetry of Catullus. “Everything had either humor or sex or blood or romance in it, because that’s what you’re thinking about when you’re in middle and high school,” he says.

Teacher who learns more than she teaches is fired

Science teacher Jennifer Steenman, who says she learns more from her students than they do from her, was fired by Southwest High officials for not teaching science, reports The Onion.

Student Connor Nelson says he got tired of inspiring his teacher. “Just teach us photosynthesis.”

Teach for America students become teachers

Sobella Quezada, a 2015 Teach for America corps member, reads to a student in her Head Start class at P.S. 152 in Manhattan. 

Fourteen years ago, Sobella Quezada’s eighth-grade English teacher, Nick Marinacci, a Teach for America corps member, introduced her to Shakespeare, persuaded her to make college plans and urged her to apply to a good Catholic high school.

An English major in college, Quezada is a “second-generation” TFA member. She teaches Head Start students at a Manhattan community school run by the Children’s Aid Society. Her class is made up of “15 economically disadvantaged 3- and 4-year-olds, many with special needs.”

“I feel like I’m living my purpose,” she told The 74.

Twenty-five years after TFA was founded, about 140 of this year’s 4,100 new recruits say they were once taught by TFA teachers themselves. In New York City, where the non-profit is looking for more ethnically diverse teachers, almost 1 in 10 new recruits this year are second generation.

Jessica Pena is a "second-generation" Teach for America teacher.

Jessica Pena is a “second-generation” Teach for America teacher.

A Bronx native, Jessica Pena, 23, knew she wanted to teach. She contacted her former TFA teacher-turned-mentor, seventh-grade science teacher, Anu Malipatil, to ask about applying to TFA.

Pena now teaches social studies at the Bronx Claremont International School.

There’s a lot of resistance to TFA on the Colby campus, writes Dylan Alles, who’ll graduate in 2016. She wishes Teach for America didn’t exist and that’s why she’s joining.

“In a perfect world,” there’d “be no need to rally new teachers to the most at-risk classrooms,” Alles writes. “A system would be in place to incentivize the best proven educators to serve and be supported in those spaces.”

In an imperfect world, Alles will begin teaching in Washington, D.C. in fall 2016.

How much autonomy do teachers want?

Nearly three out of four teachers say they have a “great deal” of control over how and what they teach, but that’s down from 82 percent in 2003-04, concludes a U.
S. Education Department survey,  Public School Teacher Autonomy in the Classroom.

Teachers were asked about their control over “selecting textbooks and other classroom materials; content, topics, and skills to be taught; teaching techniques; evaluating and grading students; disciplining students; and determining the amount of homework to be assigned.”

Teacher autonomy is a mixed blessing, writes Robert Pondiscio.

As a new fifth-grade teacher in a South Bronx elementary school, I spent countless hours planning lessons and writing curriculum—hours that would have been far better spent practicing and mastering my craft. Sure, I had plenty of “autonomy,” but I lacked the time to exercise it.

“Creating curriculum and lessons from scratch each week took prodigious amounts of valuable time,” he writes. Autonomy meant “frustration and dissatisfaction.”

“The question is where to strike the balance of accountability and autonomy so as to maximize teacher satisfaction and student outcomes even while fostering innovation,” he concludes.

At the very high-scoring Success Academy charters in New York City, “every teacher teaches the same content on the same day,” writes Morgan Polikoff, a USC education professor, after a visit to a Harlem school. Curriculum, which is created in house, is the same across all schools in the network.

Teachers “get tons of training” in curriculum and instruction and two periods of common planning time with grade-level colleagues each day, plus an afternoon to work together. The principal “interjected with pedagogical suggestions for the teacher in almost every class we visited.”

Math teachers group-think about what’s best

Traditional teaching is “outmoded and ineffective,” according to the new guard’s group-thinking, writes math teacher Barry Garelick after a day at “education camp.” Teachers no  longer debate “best practices,” he writes as the only traditionalist.

Scaffolding — starting with what students know and teaching more in small steps — is out, he learned at ed camp. Instead, teachers are supposed to provide “feedback and guidance” that helps students solve completely new problems, a moderator said.

“Think-Pair-Share” — students discuss a problem or question with a partner, then share their ideas with the class — is obsolete, Garelick learned.

. . . students didn’t know what to say to each other about whatever it was they were to discuss. And that was likely because they had little or no knowledge of the subject that they were supposed to talk about, and which was supposed to give them the insights and knowledge that they previously lacked.

However, student-centered and inquiry-based approaches are still alive and well,” he writes. Feedback and guidance are the new think, pair, share of math teaching.

The power of intensive tutoring

At Chicago Vocational Career Academy, which is desperately trying to raise its test scores and graduation rate, nearly all students come from low-income black families. Most ninth graders are years behind in reading and math. Intensive tutoring provided by MATCH Education is helping students catch up, reports Maya Dukmasova in the University of Chicago Magazine.

On a day in early June, three girls sat face to face with tutors in the Math Lab, which they attend in addition to their normal math class.

They were working on division with unknown variables. “Number 23 is a little curveball but I bet you can do it,” Nichole Jannah, a recent college graduate, told her student.

Math tutor Amelia Hansen works with one student at a time. Credit: Maya Dukmasova

Math tutor Amelia Hansen works with one student at a time. Credit: Maya Dukmasova

Veronica, a freshman, started the year with a D in math. With daily help from a tutor, she finished the year with a high B.

Sarah, also a freshman, raised her math grade from a C to an A with the help of her tutor. “When I go into math class, I fly through work,” she said, snapping her fingers.

“Everything in education policy right now is about getting teachers to do a better job teaching grade-level material,” says Jens Ludwig, who co-directs UC’s Education Lab. But good algebra teaching can’t help students who haven’t mastered third-grade arithmetic.

Being able to successfully teach in the classroom involves years of practice and training in pedagogy and classroom management. . . . To get results as a tutor, he says, requires only knowledge of the material, good rapport with people, and commitment.

MATCH recruits recent college graduates — and a few career switchers — who are willing to work full time for $17,000 a year plus benefits.

Before the school got MATCH tutors in fall 2013, the first-year on-track rate — the percentage of freshman passing all their classes — was in the low 70s. Now 86 percent are on track to graduate.

CVCA was able to cancel its summer credit-recovery classes for failing students, writes Dukmasova. “Instead the school focused on offering higher-level math and honors courses.”