Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Letter to My Son

Dear Calvin,

Today is your first day of Kindergarten, and I am nervous for you.  To start, you are a sportive boy entering a world which will demand that you sit still and read and write like your sister could at that age. And then to add to those real worries, you are young--and honestly, quite diminutive.  You will be tempted to compare yourself to others--the taller and older boys who can reach things you can't or the self-controlled girls who can read things you can't.  But don't. Do not envy them; do not grow jealous of them. 
I shouldn't be nervous because I can see that you are not.  You are ready to experience it all; you want to embrace the challenge. Most of all, I think you want to be with other kids who you can charm, or outwit.  That is what makes you special--your ability to maneuver through a diverse crowd. 
Now to a very serious matter.  You are born into privilege: a white male. Though the early years of school are not specifically designed to suit you, a metamorphosis will happen. Resist the temptation to coast through that privilege.
Be a young man who will stand up for justice and equity.  Never abdicate an opportunity to support the oppressed.  Always remember that "to whom much is given, of him shall much be required."
Finally, I love you to the moon and back, and to infinity and eyeball. Be kind, compassionate, and polite. Work hard and take risks.


P.S. If you want to read the letter I sent to your sister on her first day of Kindergarten, you can go here.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Convince me to stay

One of the brightest teaching talents I know, and who I had the honor of mentoring through her student teaching, started a recent message with, "I am so disheartened and frustrated with education that I thought I'd reach out to you....Convince me to stay in this because I think this is the worst work on the planet right now !"  You probably noticed as well that her frustration was not with the students, but the system--a perfect example of the consummate teacher.
She went on to describe her recent rounds with standardized testing, noting a lack of clarity in the questions, striking similarity in the wording of answers. 
But then it got real because we deal with the hopes and dreams of young men and women.
"She was a known terror in our school and came to me reading on a kindergarten level in 7th grade," the teacher shared. "After a year of building our relationship and staying after school...she knew all of those damn terms (and brought her reading scores to a 4th grade level," she rightfully gloated.  
Unfortunately, the test didn't notice. Because, of course, grade level tests don't particularly concern themselves with growth. 
The young middle-school girl who mourned, "they're not asking me about alliteration and I know alliteration this test sucks" before putting her head down and giving up, will be rated as a failure by a computer.

Convince me to stay...

The author Frederick Buechner puts it this way about our vocation, our calling,
“Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world's deep need.”  Why should bright, talented, passionate young men and women become teachers? Why should dedicated, innovative young teacher stay?

They should stay because the world needs them as much as they need that world for their own happiness. They should stay because without them this world will truly fall apart. 

But most of all, they should stay for that moment, and thousands of others like it, when you know, and the young person knows, that, regardless of what a test says, they have, for a moment or longer, tapped into the greatness they have within, the power of one.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Connecticut and the Common Core State Standards

Yesterday, I had the good fortune to hear the esteemed thinker and writer, @DianeRavitch speak at Columbia's Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. She had many wonderful points to make about teachers, and many not so supportive points to lay out against the Common Core.
To be clear, I support the Common Core as a guiding post for educators. I support the need for some type of quantitative feedback on how we are doing.  And I have begun to align my school's curriculum with the Common Core by adopting CollegeBoard's SpringBoard for English Language Arts and Math.
This morning, I came across a thoughtful Op-Ed by Sara Littman (via Jonathan Pelto) in which she spends a significant portion of the piece examining the supposed down-turn in reading complexities, and specifically pointing out the anomalies of the Lexile Framework, a strong advocate for the Common Core.
Not familiar with the Core's exploration of this trend, and not believing the Core supports only measuring text complexity based on Lexiles, which as a former READ 180 teacher, I know don't necessarily connect with pointing students to deep, meaningful texts, I thought I would take a look.
In the appendix of the Common Core, to be exact, Appendix A, the approach is laid out.
The Common Core suggest three ways to determine text complexity.  The first component described is the qualitative, which "refer to those aspects of text complexity best measured or only measurable by an attentive human reader, such as levels of meaning or purpose; structure; language conventionality and clarity; and knowledge demands." Secondly, the quantitative component "...refer to those aspects of text complexity, such as word length or frequency, sentence length, and text cohesion...and are thus today typically measured by computer software."  Finally, the standards include the reader and the task, which are "...variables specific to particular readers (such as motivation, knowledge, and experiences) and to particular tasks (such as purpose and the complexity of the task assigned and the questions posed)" stating that "such assessments are best made by teachers employing their professional judgment, experience, and knowledge of their students and the subject."
As a non-expert in either the defense or destruction of the Common Core State Standards, I am having a hard time making sense of what I read in the CCSS's description of text complexity and the interpretation of it by a growing number of people, both in and out of public education. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Boarding Schools and Public Schools

After posing on my Twitter handle, @AndrewMcNamar, the question, "Is it possible to replicate the learning models of @TABSorg or @NAISnetwork in pubic ed," my snowy morning exploration led me to a list of 25 critical factors in boarding schools, written by Pat Bassett and Pete Upham.  Their list inspired me to return to my blog, because 140 characters on Twitter is not enough space to share my thoughts on how their list connects to a public school world.

Here are three important points from their list that public and elite private schools should have in common:

"1. Create a distinctive and robust culture rooted in the school’s mission and values, informed by institutional history, energized by hope, and responsive to change."

By nature, human beings connect with stories; our history has been told through pictures and words for as long as we existed.  Local public schools should explore and honor their history in the same way storied boarding schools do with their histories.  Who are the graduates, the great teachers?  What are the legends and traditions?  

"7. Design experiential learning opportunities that serve a dual purpose: building student knowledge, confidence, and resilience through exposure to novel contexts, unfamiliar people, and fresh challenges; and deepening the esprit de corps between and among students and teachers." 

At other points on their list, Bassett and Upham attend to the need for focusing on each student's development, as well as creating opportunity for engaged students through leadership.  In point 7, I am struck by the language of "dual purpose."  Public education has moved too far down the testing accountability path.  As a result, these schools are lacking the "esprit de corps" that thrives at institutions like Phillips Exeter or Loomis Chaffee (those are two boarding schools I have visited).  Public education, in far too many instance, but specifically in the urban environment, are not attending to the basic human need for connection and belonging. 

"17. Attend to a faculty culture that is supportive of colleagues and school leadership, open to new thinking about teaching and learning, and hungry for professional growth."

Like many other states, Connecticut is moving in the direction of tying teachers' evaluations with standardized test scores.  We have read about teachers willing to walk away from this profession because they don't feel free to take risks beyond the curriculum associated with the test.  School districts force feed a one size fits all professional development strategy without consideration of the individuals.  Today's public school teachers are not afforded the same respect or academic freedom provided to boarding school educators

Public education needs to start examining the world of private education, specifically as it relates to school culture and climate.  Students who feel connected to teachers who feel empowered are far more likely to succeed academically. 

Friday, June 15, 2012


It's funny, the words that stick in your head at important junctures. Today is my final day of teaching at a school that needs good teachers. It is also potentially my last day of teaching in the classroom because I've accepted a new position as an Academic Dean.
Driven came to mind this morning. The uncertainties of teaching in one of Connecticut's "Network" schools has driven me to want out of the school.  As of the last day of school, many of my colleagues don't know where or what they will be teaching, despite years of great reviews.
Driven came to mind two days ago when I asked a student twice to put away a cell-phone during the final exam before taking the test away on the third time it came out. I am tired of being blamed for the failure of students like that and so I am being driven out in order to take care of my self.
Driven came to mind a week ago when I realized that there are plenty of people who doubt I can handle this new position. Sure, it is a stretch for me, but I hate failing. It is that fear of failure that has caused me to read anything and everything about this profession. It is that fear of failure that makes me ask questions of the people who I think can guide me.
Yes, driven is the word of the week.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Missed Opportunities

Every morning in schools around the country, the P.A. system beeps on and the daily announcements come on. Some schools use broadcasts, which is at least much more interesting than the voices in the sky.
But, I can't help but think that these modes, especially the P.A. system is hopelessly outdated.
In a generation where schools are constantly looking to draw their students in and engage them, it seems to me that we are missing many great opportunities to deliver messages through Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Youtube. Schools are still fearful of these social media sites, and the result is a greater divide between the students and the school leaders.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Governor Malloy Must Just Show Up for Four Years Pt. 2

Unless I am misunderstanding Governor Malloy's Education Reform movement, he would like to see teachers held accountable for poor student performance. But for the University of Connecticut's men's basketball team, Governor malloy finds it "ridiculous" that the NCAA has banned the team from post-season play for poor academic standards in the past.
Interesting. I guess it isn't politically advantageous to call out the UConn Huskies and Coach Jim Calhoun, but those poor, incomepetent teachers...