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Tupperware Teachers

Business has much to teach teachers and I hope vice versa. Searching for the magic bullet to give “people a reason to come to work” one district has joined the 300 school systems and charter schools to “undergo” Disney training in the past two years. Business can help schools become more focused and efficient, particularly as budgets are shrinking” – Agreed.  Nonetheless, the scene described in the article “A page out of Disney’s book” where “three dozen recently hired teachers and bus drivers were introduced to their new employer’s vision statement in evangelical call-and-response fashion” reminds me of my aunt’s district manager Tupperware parties. I love Tupperware and I love what I do as a teacher.

“Give me a “T” ! ~ for Tupperware, no actually for Teacher. How sad. Let’s take back our profession and pay back the favor to business companies by helping teach them how to teach and reach their clients. We can learn from and with each other while still remembering our own reasons for why we chose our profession and why we come to work.

“I learned it in the classroom.“

“I learned it in the classroom”:  Call for a Residency for Teachers

Something that any teacher will tell you, is what he or she learned most about teaching, was learned in the classroom. And so why do we limit teachers’ student teaching or internships to less than a semester of actual classroom experience? Money mostly ~ and because we don’t invest enough in our teachers.

If we are willing to invest in students’ learning, then we need to invest in teachers’ learning situated in their practice.

Bravo for D.C. in being bold enough to try that in a charter school that is a spinoff of the nonprofit Center for Inspired Teaching. I know the program well from my earlier work in Washington, D.C.  I was glad to read in today’s Washington Post front section that Aleta Margolis, Director of the Center for Inspired Teaching, “wants to nurture teachers” in this demonstration school; “an education equivalent to a teaching hospital, with first-year residents leading classes alongside seasoned “master teachers.” After a year, the residents will leave to teach at regular or charter schools”.

I’ll be following this reform effort.

On your mark, get set, go!

There’s a “relay” going on to prepare teachers like “champions.”  A race to assure the teaching profession is practical, technical, and where teachers “can study Vygotsky later,” said Tayo Adeeko, a 24-year-old third-grade teacher at Empower Charter School in Crown Heights. She was referring to another education school staple — Lev Vygotsky, a Soviet theorist of cognitive development who died in 1934. “Right now,” she added, “my kids need to learn how to read.”

See Ed’s School Pedagogical Puzzle (New York Times, Sharon Otterman, July 21, 2011)

As a professor who has designed, studied, and enacted pedagogical applications of Vygotskian theory, I could easily argue that to teach reading effectively, you need to integrate theory with the practical “how to” which has been widely supported by literacy experts and practicing teachers.

But there’s something scarier than leaving a theoretical knowledge base out of teaching reading going on. What’s scary is that no one is scared about preparing teachers like skilled labor:

“Teacher U was founded by leaders from three prominent charter school chains — Achievement First, Uncommon Schools and KIPP — in part to provide a setting where their own teachers could receive master’s-level training that was tightly focused “on stuff that will help you be a better teacher on Monday,” said Brent Maddin, the program’s senior manager of teaching and learning, and Relay’s future provost. “

To make a crude analogy, if I am learning to become a blacksmith, I also don’t learn how to be a pipefitter,” Mr. Maddin said of Teacher U’s focus on pedagogical technique. “I also don’t read a ton of books about how to shoe a horse. What I do is I show up and shoe horses.”

We need innovation in teacher education preparation and with teachers and teacher educators studying how they can improve their teaching.  That’s my scholarship and practice.  I am a pragmatist and a researcher. I believe in creative ideas that challenge the status quo. But when prospective teachers are taught that there is “right” way and that is the way, (e.g., using a technique in which teachers learn to hold out until their students give them answers that are 100 percent accurate) that diminishes the role of teacher to a technocrat and not a professional who can adapt pedagogy based on a differentiation of students’ learning.

Teaching and teaching teachers is not like constructing a perfect puzzle or shoeing horses. High quality teaching entails a level of understanding dilemmas in practice and making contextualized decision-making like any other professional, and yes, even applying theoretical understandings into practice to improve students’ learning. It’s certainly not a relay.


Why hasn’t someone asked the teacher?

Reviewing education reform for the year highlights that teachers need to be included in the conversation about reform.

See Valerie Strauss, Washington Post Blogger

The Answer Sheet: Reviewing education reform in the 2010-11 school year

By Valerie Strauss, Published: June 12, 2011, Washington Post


“Deborah A. Gist, Rhode Island’s education chief and a former top D.C. education official, said Obama’s agenda spurred important innovations. But she said she worried about what teachers make of it all.

“The most detrimental occurrence of this past year has been the blow to teacher morale nationally and in our state,” Gist said. “We must address this issue and bring teachers into the center of this work.”

Clogs and Bogs in Teacher Assessment

You might want to take a look at the article posted in the Washington post on

June 5, 2011

Md. teacher evaluation redesign bogs down


“Bogged down by political infighting, large gaps in technical know-how and regulatory hurdles, Maryland recently applied for a year’s extension to fully execute the evaluation system it has yet to develop.”

The part that is very exciting is the possibility that districts might be able to create some of their own assessments.  One professional tool they could consider is teachers’ self-study of their practice as a self-assessment with peer review. One can only hope that someone goes and asks the teacher.

“In addition to standardized tests, districts will be able to choose from a list of state-approved options — including, potentially, portfolio-style tests and classroom observations. They also can develop some measures on their own.”

Scar Tissue from Teachers

Each of us have been influenced both positively and negatively by a teacher in our lives. I’m always amazed when I ask practicing teachers to share their education-related life histories of learning at the similar themes that emerge from a content analysis of their narratives.


  • Taught me to be curious about science through hands-on experiences.
  • Taught me that I was worthwhile and worthy of attention.
  • Taught me to self-regulate my learning.
  • Taught me to love the great works of literature.

And yes, there are many negative experiences too:

  • Taught me to fear math.
  • Taught me to doubt my abilities.
  • Taught me I wasn’t as good enough.
  • Taught me I could cheat to get by because I didn’t understand.


Their actions matter in our lives more than we realize when we are young.

Thus investing in ‘quality’ teaching is worth every one’s effort.

What would happen if everyone suddenly announced to teachers that we know they matter and want to support their efforts to improve their practice?

The education-related assignment I use can be found in my textbook, Self-study teacher research, pp. 95-98.

Does your teaching situation make student learning more difficult?

We know that not all teachers are alike and neither are their classrooms and students. Mary Kennedy (2010) writes in her article “Attribution error and the quest for teacher quality, in Educational Researcher, 39(8), pp. 591-598, about how the situation of classrooms can affect “teacher quality.”

In discussing the “parameters of teachers’ work, Dr. Kennedy notes that there is significant variability in teachers’ available planning time complicated by “time-consuming noninstructional activities”, materials available, work assignments, and value-added measures of student achievement.

The case is made that teacher practices do make a difference in student learning but also need to account for situation characteristics and not just teacher characteristics.

What I find particularly interesting is her comment that “teachers can suffer from reform fatigure…Most reforms distract teachers from the core of their work, forcing them to stop thinking about science or history and to think instead about scheduling, grouping, or recordkeeping.”

What gets in your way of teaching most?

How many different subjects do you teach?

How many extracurricular responsibilities do you have?

How much planning time do you have per day?

Have you ever experienced “reform fatigue?”

Do you agree that teacher quality depends on your teaching situation?

If you are interested in this topic, you might also be interested in my blog page under TEACHER DUTIES.

Advocates for Students’ Teachers

Michelle Rhee Launches National ‘Students’ First Advocacy Group. Wonderful!  She exclaims, “I am going to start a revolution,” Rhee declared. “I am going to start a movement in this country on behalf of the nation’s children.” Absolutely!

Now anyone interested in starting a revolution to advocate for students’ teachers as well?

How to “fix” our schools?!

It is with great disappointment that I read the “manifesto” by public school chancellors and educators for our nation’s schools in the Washington Post Outlook section today on “How to fix our schools.”

I do acknowledge that the educators who signed off on this manifesto believe that “the task of reforming the country’s public schools begins with us.” And that’s the problem. Real change doesn’t happen because we threaten professionals who are dismissed if their students don’t score high enough on tests. The educators note, “There isn’t a business in America that would survive if it couldn’t make personal decision based on performance.” And that’s another problem.  Education is not a business. It’s an experience. The “clients” are students, their families, and society and the intricate web of interconnections and demands among them. As a teacher, I am insulted by the current reform movement. There is no easy “fix” or one set of tools to measure children’s learning. We are professionals, not technocrats. We are problem-solvers and innovators.

To complicate matters, how do we “fix” anything by getting rid of teachers who are willing to teach in the most challenging schools where raising students’ test scores is complicated and complex? How do we attract the “top students” to be “top teachers” by simply increasing the pay as noted in another Post article? How do we support teachers’ ongoing professional development in “quality” programs that do make a difference in their professional development?

And how do we make all charter schools attractive for families or how do families make charter school attractive? Simply saying “charter school” does not mean a charter school is better. As Gail Collins with the NY Times reports...only about a fifth of American charter schools “produce amazing results.” In fact, a study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that only 17 percent did a better job than the comparable local public school, while more than a third did “significantly worse.”

It’s the village.

It’s families, it’s community, and yes, it’s teachers – but teachers who feel they are respected – not because they make lots of money – but because they are motivated to change the one thing they can change, themselves and for their students’ learning.

Yes, even those who have given up and deserve to be booted are candidates for change. To “fix” the nation’s broader economic problems as augured by the educators, begins by not punishing or rewarding teachers like they are animals who earn the treat of continuing bashing and disrespect. But by bringing teachers into the conversation to discuss solutions by studying their practice with colleagues because they choose to “fix” their own classrooms. Chancellors cannot “fix” anything without teachers.  Complex structures are built with a firm foundation from the bottom up. We better get started.

Doors Shut For Teachers

Sometimes it may seem that everyone is talking about what to do to teachers but that teachers have not been part of that conversation. Teachers may feel the doors are shut with others inside deciding what to do to improve the quality of teachers.

Rome.Venice 117

Take charge of your teaching by studying your own classroom.