Sunday, May 27, 2007

More to think about

I always read Borderland, but Teaching the Controversy gave me more to think about than usual. In addition to talking about teacher rights, he talks about teaching the curriculum. He discusses the idea of teaching the curriculum and teaching about the curriculum. He says:
The adopted curriculum might actually invite discussion and controversy if you study the curriculum document itself with students.
My thinking is that if we take a critical stance toward curriculum, we can still use it, and at the same time question it’s content, viewpoint, assumptions, and relevance. Along the way we can teach what it intends for students to learn, and we can also think about why. Learning that’s embedded in a real social context stands a far greater chance of making sense than simply reading through a catalog of goals and objectives.
I wrote the curriculum in my last job. And I never once shared it with my students. We never had that all-important discussion about why they were learning what they were learning. I never gave them the opportunity to question my assumptions or the curriculum's relevance. Not in any formal way, that is. We talked a lot about how we could improve the program, but we never did it in conjunction with the curriculum. I can only imagine what insight I might have gained if we had done that.

Many of my K-12 teacher friends struggle with a mandated curriculum that they feel doesn't allow them to do much real teaching. I wonder if Doug's ideas about sharing the curriculum with the students would help. Would it even be possible? As long as the curriculum is the enemy, it controls our lives. But if we make it our own, study it with our students as Doug suggests, maybe -- just maybe -- we can all learn something from it.

Freedom of Speech

Doug over at Borderland has a very thought-provoking post called Teaching the Controversy. In it he talks about the case of Deborah Mayer who lost her job because she told her elementary school teaching job because she told her students she honked for peace. A US court of appeals ruled that the school board was justified in firing her. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle,
As a federal appeals court in Chicago put it in January, a teacher's speech is "the commodity she sells to an employer in exchange for her salary."
My first reaction to reading that was amazement. Then it was disgust. Then I thought about the fact that I was bound, in my last job, not to publicly advocate anything that was in opposition to the teachings of the Catholic Church. And it hadn't bothered me. Of course, I don't publicly advocate much of anything. And I never felt that it limited my freedom to say what I wanted to about any topic in my classroom. My students always knew who I am and what I believe in. But in spite of my own feelings of freedom, I basically gave away my freedom of speech when I took the job.

What amazes me now as I think about it is the way I never really realized what was being asked of me. I just accepted it as something buried in the faculty handbook that didn't really apply all that much to me. And I am sure that Ms. Mayer never really thought about it either -- until she had lost her job.

But that is where the problem lies, I think. We need to be thinking more.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Am I ready to teach in the 21st Century? Are you?

I love reading Barbara Ganley! She has a great post about the 21st century college teacher. It is actually the written version of a talk she gave.

The talk begins quite unconventionally:

Because I am a writing teacher and because I believe you have to explore your own perspective on a topic a bit before hearing what someone else has to say, I'd like you to ponder this question for a few moments:

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When does a speaker ask the audience to think about the topic before beginning her/his speech and really mean it? It makes so much sense, though. That is something I want to remember to do when I make my next presentation.

The entire post/presentation is fascinating. She concludes by saying:
Yes, my father was right, if we have any hope at all that reading and writing matter, that schools matter, we do have to change our way of teaching -- what we teach even-- to focus on creativity and resilience, boldness and deep listening and observing, on conducting research and collaborating in fluid online conversations, to create bonds with community and bridges between the personal and the other. In other words, a liberal arts education should expose us to ideas and perspectives and give us training in collaboration, communication and creativity. And we have the tools, right here, to help us do just that.
As I contemplate moving into a different classroom in a different school this fall, I want to be better at doing what Barbara does and what she advocates doing. I know that, in spite of how I have changed my teaching over the last few years, I am still learning.

I am going to go back and read Barbara's post again and again, I think. There is a lot there.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The end

Of my job, that is. I just got home from cleaning out my office. I am officially unemployed.

I have had some interviews. I withdrew myself from consideration for one when I realized it wasn't what I wanted to do. It became apparent in the first interview for another job that it wasn't going to be a good match. Then there was the cool second interview in San Francisco which also ended in no job offer for me.

But there are still applications out there, and I keep finding more. Something will happen -- soon, I hope!