Teaching Is…

To celebration Teacher Appreciation Week, which takes place May 5th through May 9th, the Center for Teaching Quality is encouraging teachers to share their ideas about what teaching is via social media.

I went back through my photos of the past year, and I dug up some images of my everyday work with my students at the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School, a Boston Public School located in Grove Hall, Dorchester, Massachusetts. I selected photos that represent my daily work rather than photos that seem profound in any way. It is important for people to see how joyful and interesting it is to teach every single day; I could argue that almost every day is a special occasion. There is not a theme or particular order to these photos; they are just images I enjoy.

Teaching Is Teamwork.

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My colleagues are my rocks. This photo shows me with Jozefien, my fellow Boston Teachers Union Representative. We try to keep everyone on our faculty feeling supported and cared for in our school community.

 

Teaching Is Inquiring.

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This student came to my room for the purpose of taking a mandated test on the computer. I noticed his bass case and asked about it. I was treated to a performance of Metallica and Nirvana songs. A boring test day was relieved by a brief sing-a-long. This young man always says hello and updates me on his playing when we pass one another in the hallway.

 

Teaching Is Welcoming.

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This photo is from the first week of school. Students in my ESL class are meeting and greeting newcomer ESL students from the class next door.

 

Teaching Is Performing.

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This photo was taken at the television studio at Roxbury Community College. Students had prepared a script using lines from The Autobiography of Malcolm X to perform on a local television show. I accompanied the students using a hand drum. Interestingly, Roxbury Community College is located on Malcolm X Boulevard.

 

Teaching Is Exploiting Our Democracy.

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I consciously prepare students to be future voters. In this photo, students are researching Boston’s 2013 Mayoral Candidates online.

 

Teaching Is Publishing Parties.

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I love having publishing parties for my students. In this photo, students have just received copies of their “This I Believe” publication. We always have cake at these parties, and you can see the cake on the table in the background.

 

Teaching Is Getting The Whole Community Involved.

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I invited Ms. Emily from the Uphams Corner Library (a Boston Public Library) to read to our 6th grade students, who have completed over 1300 minutes of independent reading this year so far.

 

Teaching Is Movement.

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Students embodied action verbs found in D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths and created movement presentations that showed the Labors of Heracles. Here is a shot from one group’s rehearsal.

 

Teaching Is Dedication To The Advancement Of Learning.

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For the past two years, I have organized a Saturday trip to take students to the Boston Book Festival.

 

Teaching Is A Source Of Pride.

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I (far right, pregnant with twin girls) was very proud to accept a citation from the Boston School Committee for achieving my National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification in English as a New Language.

 

Teaching Is Identity.

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You can learn a lot about Angel’s values by looking at his identity sculpture. The base is a skateboard. It is covered in family photos, and he painted a box with a Puerto Rican flag. What does this say about Angel?

 

Teaching Is Getting The Students There.

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Quddus (far right) was accepted into Grub Street’s prestigious summer writing program. His mom could not take him on the first day, so she called me to help out. It was no problem to take the train downtown with him, and he had a great experience in this program.

 

Teaching Is Time.

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Every week, I offer a couple hours of homework help to my students. Mostly, they enjoy just having a quiet place to work after school, and I usually give them some kind of snack.

 

Teaching Is Making The Call.

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Last year, I called the Girl Scouts, and they sent a wonderful volunteer to run a troop for our school. All it took was a call to start a program that is still going strong for our girls.

 

Teaching Is Getting Down.

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Why sit and “do” character analysis? Here students participate in using a full body outline to display quotations and inferences about a character from a class novel.

 

Teaching Is Knowing Your Students Will Always Surprise You.

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Jose often avoided my classroom last year, preferring to hang out in the hallway and peek into the window. Once we began our unit on architecture and engineering, beginning with the exploration of tetrahedrons, he couldn’t get enough of the class.

 

Teaching Is Getting Out Of Your Comfort Zone.

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Last year, I was told I had to teach a math unit as part of my ESL class. I dreaded doing this, until I learned of the novel All of the Above. Prior to reading the book, my students built tetrahedrons and explored their unique properties – unlike a pyramid with a square base, the tetrahedron can balance on any side.

Teaching Is Getting Out Of The Neighborhood.

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Every year, we take our 8th graders to explore the African American Heritage Trail in Beacon Hill. Here students learn about the African American debate tradition from a park ranger.

 

Teaching Is Arts Integration.

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Early in the school year, my students created identity sculptures and then wrote about them. I am not a visual artist, so I enlisted the help of my colleague, art teacher Lynn Rosario.

 

Teaching Is Including the Whole Family.

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For the past few years, Mr. Patlan (far right) and I (far left) have taught Tech Goes Home, an evening technology class for students and parents. Here we are celebrating the graduation of 6th grader Randi and her mom Michelle.

 

Teaching Is Knowing What Students Value.

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Before launching into writing essays about beliefs, it was important for my students to identify, share, and discuss their personal values together.

 

Teaching Is Doing Something Different.

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My students went to see a classical guitar concert as part of a Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration at the Boston Public Library in Grove Hall. It was a soothing experience for all of us, and we connected in a different way.

 

Teaching Is Facilitation.

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This photo shows reader’s workshop in my classroom. Students have a reading and can choose to work on their own, with a partner, or with a small group to discuss the reading as well as answer and generate questions.

 

Teaching Is Celebrating Success.

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These students were recognized as outstanding leaders in our school community, so they got to go to a special lunch at Burger King before attending a concert at the library.

 

Teaching Is Getting Help From Your Students.

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My colleague Alice Laramore enlisted the help of 7th graders Gladmaya and Rebecca in reorganizing her classroom library.

 

Teaching Is Creative Organization.

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I could never figure out a way to organize my students’ headphones well until one day I saw this vitamin box at CVS, and I invented this headphone case.

 

Teaching Is Alternate Assessment.

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After performing the play “The Conquistador’s Wife” (about the encounter between the Spaniards and the Mexica in Mexico) with the group Spirit Series, my students created memoirs of their experience as actors. A wonderful young man, Jesus, who is also severely dyslexic, created this cover that shows the battle between the indigenous people and the conquistadors with the feather serpent Quetzalcoatl in the center.

 

Teaching Is Enlisting Experts.

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My students have made many trips to 826 Boston, a writing center in our community that offers specialized writing workshop field trips. This photo is from a scriptwriting workshop that my students took with an expert writer.

 

Teaching Is Therapeutic.

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I purchased jewelry making materials for 8th grade girls to use after school. These girls were having some difficulties, and I needed a way to re-engage them in school.

Malala Yousafzai News Broadcast

Below you will find three wonderful video clips from Japan’s NHK Television Broadcast about Malala Yousafzai’s speech at the United Nations in July. It was interesting to watch and re-watch these clips in Japanese. Although I do not speak any Japanese, the images alone served to tell Malala’s story and how it has affected children in Pakistan and around the world.

 I am so pleased that my student Quddus Rodrigues and his fabulous “super mama” Filomena are featured in this compelling program. Quddus is a model of how reading and writing can inspire us and empower us to advocate for others. I love that he is a young man that stands for education. As Malala says: “Let us empower ourselves with the weapon of knowledge…Education is the only solution.”
Quddus’ Clip in the Broadcast
Malala Broadcast, Part I
Malala Broadcast, Part II

Rising Star: Quddus Rodrigues, Teen Civil Rights Advocate and Creative Writer

I am extremely proud of Quddus Rodrigues, who has been my student for the past three years at the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School. I have always known Quddus to be a thoughtful and creative person who expresses a deep concern for those around him, and it has been to my absolute delight that his talents have been recognized both locally and internationally in recent months. I will now present you with a photo essay of  Quddus’ life as a rising star in both the civil rights and creative writing arenas.

Thursday, July 11, 2013: Preparation for Malala Yousafzai Documentary

Quddus prepares for his interview for a Malala Yousafzai documentary for NHK television.

Quddus prepares for his interview for a Malala Yousafzai documentary for NHK television.

In late June, I was contacted by Yoshiko Uno-Flukes, a UK-based researcher for NHK television, a respected Japanese station. NHK is producing a documentary film on Malala Yousafzai, to whom my students had written letters in October after she was attacked by the Taliban on her way to school. They were especially interested in Quddus’ letter. Last Thursday, Quddus and I prepared for the interview for several hours by reviewing the events and responses to Malala’s shooting and recovery, including the well-written piece “Girls Who Risk their Lives for Education“. The above photo shows Quddus writing his responses to interview questions provided by NHK while referencing an article.

Friday, July 12, 2013: Grub Street Orientation

Quddus and his mother, Filomena, attend his Young Adult Writing Program Orientation at Grub Street.

Quddus and his mother, Filomena, attend his Young Adult Writing Program Orientation at Grub Street.

Quddus poses with the famous Grub Street red typewriter.

Quddus poses with the famous Grub Street red typewriter.

Quddus and Filomena enjoy post-orientation sushi, shrimp-fried rice, and Boba tea in Chinatown after the orientation.

Quddus and Filomena enjoy post-orientation sushi, shrimp-fried rice, and Boba tea in Chinatown after the orientation.

In April, at the suggestion of my colleague and dear friend, author and educator Paula Leoni, Quddus completed his application for the prestigious Grub Street Young Adult Writing Program Summer Teen Fellowship. This program awards young adult writers with a stipend and provides them with a three week intensive writing experience that includes instruction from and meetings with published authors. Click here to read his application. The piece “Mystery Mansions of Madness” will have you in stitches!

Last Friday, Quddus, his mother, and Paula attended the orientation at Grub Street, located in the Steinway building at the edge of Boston’s theater district. Afterwards, they enjoyed a sushi dinner at which Quddus apparently tricked his mother into eating a mouthful of wasabi. Luckily, laughter quickly ensued! 

Special thanks to Paula Leoni for providing the photographs.

Saturday, July 13, 2013: The Making of a Malala Documentary

The NHK film crew captures Quddus and his mother strolling through their Dorchester Center neighborhood.

The NHK film crew captures Quddus and his mother strolling through their Dorchester Center neighborhood.

The NHK film crew captures the art of thinking, writing, and reflecting.

The NHK film crew captures the art of thinking, writing, and reflecting.

The NHK crew interview Quddus.

The NHK crew interview Quddus.

NHK records Quddus' reactions to Malala Yousafzai's recent speech at the United Nations on her 16th birthday.

NHK records Quddus’ reactions to Malala Yousafzai’s recent speech at the United Nations on her 16th birthday.

The NHK crew records Quddus' verbal reflections on Malala's speech.

The NHK crew records Quddus’ verbal reflections on Malala’s speech.

I was so impressed that NHK traveled all the way from New York City on a hot Saturday afternoon to interview Quddus. He is certainly a very interesting young man.  I cannot wait to see the documentary.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Quddus grabs a caramel Frappuccino at Starbucks before the Grub Street orientation. He complained, "It's so much work being famous! You always have to have your picture taken!" HA!

Quddus grabs a caramel Frappuccino at Starbucks before the Grub Street orientation. He complained, “It’s so much work being famous! You always have to have your picture taken!” HA!

Waking Up

Quddus poses with his fellow writers on the first day of the Young Adult Writing Program.

I was so excited to receive the following text from Quddus on Monday afternoon: “Had fun made friends had a great time”. I cannot wait to attend the final celebration. I’m sure we will all be hearing so much more about Quddus, a rising star on a bright path. We are all so proud!

From English Language Learners to Cross-Cultural Scholars: Perception, Practice, and Policy

Please click to download my latest presentation: From English Language Learners to Cross-Cultural Scholars: Perception, Practice, and Policy. I will be presenting this tonight as a guest lecturer in a course for graduate students in reading and speech/language pathology at the MGH Institute of Health Professions.It contains an outline of practices for teachers of English Language Learners based on the National Board Standards, and it also provides a very brief overview of the SIOP model.

Presentation

The front page of my latest presentation.

The Banality of Ignorance of Quality Reading Instruction

Below is my letter to the editor of the New York Times, regarding their recent article: “In Raising Scores, 1 2 3 Is Easier Than A B C”. Interestingly, although the article was on the lower half of the front page, only two letters about the article were published. Mine was not one of them, but I agree with the letter from Terry Thomas, a veteran reading specialist from Houston, who states: “After learning advanced decoding skills and realizing that making an inference is not simply a wild guess, most students find that their reading scores improve dramatically.” Thank you, Terry!

To the Editor:

I am disgusted by the banality of ignorance with regards to effective reading instruction. Mathematicians approach their content methodically, yet many who claim to be teachers of English lack a scientific knowledge of language development. Administrators announce their bewilderment at students’ failures to develop reading skills rather than turning their attention to the myriad of studies focused on effective reading instruction.

If more teachers instructed their pupils in systematic word identification skills, they would see a rapid increase in their pupils’ vocabulary because students would be able to independently gain exposure to new words, rather than having to rely on a teacher to do it for them.

The ideological “reading wars” are a mere philosophical distraction; the science of language is the key to unlocking literacy for struggling readers. If educators don’t look at the research, they are simply playing games with children’s lives.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Dines, M.Ed.

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards: Mission Accomplished (Almost)

Over the past two years, I have been working towards my National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification in English as a New Language – Early Adolescence through Young Adulthood.

Electronic Portfolio SubMISSION: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

At 6:34 am on this Memorial Day Saturday, I completed my electronic submission. Yay, Me!

  • Entry 1: Assessment: 14 page essay + 20 pages of student work
  • Entry 2: Scaffolding: 14 page essay + 15 minute video
  • Entry 3: Interaction: 14 page essay + 15 minute video (passed in 2012 through Take One!)
  • Entry 4: Professional Accomplishment: 25 pages of writing and documentation + 2 page reflective summary

The Examination

Well, I just have a 6-essays-in-3-hours assessment center exam to complete on Saturday, June 29 that will test my knowledge of: “the relationship of language domains in the English Language”;

Domains of English Language Development

Domains of English Language Development

the linguisitic structure of English (phonology, vocabulary, grammar, and discourse) in planning instruction;

Hook Model of Processes Involved in Reading and Writing, including phonology, vocabulary, grammar (which encompasses morphology, syntax, and phonology, often complemented by phonetics, semantics, and pragmatics), and discourse

Hook Model of Processes Involved in Reading and Writing, including phonology, vocabulary, grammar (which encompasses morphology, syntax, and phonology, often complemented by phonetics, semantics, and pragmatics), and discourse

factors influencing second language acquisition and strategies that can enhance second language acquistion“; “academic language associated with concepts common to curriculum”; “description of performance objectives designed to develop students’ knowledge of academic language”, adaptation of text and identification of content goals and supplemental resources for text; and definitions of terms related to English as a New Language and their instructional implications.

Lightbown, P. M., Spada, N., Ranta, L., & Rand, J. (2006). How languages are learned (Vol. 2). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Will this be me in 2014?

 

Sunday Dialogue: A Talent for Teaching

I am positively giddy over my New York Times 7-Day Home Delivery and Unlimited Digital Access, which I purchased as a gift to myself for all of my hard work this year.

How poignant that today’s Sunday Dialogue discusses what makes a talented teacher! I enjoyed reading the readers’ comments (some of whom are students, some veteran teachers, and some Teach for America “folks”), as they caused me to reflect on my own teaching practice.

This year, my students have shown a great deal of growth in standardized reading test measures. In fact, predictive assessments show that my special education and ESL students have grown by an average of 11% on measures of grade-level reading assessment (moving them from the “Warning/Failing” NCLB category to “Needs Improvement”), with several students showing growth of 20% or more (almost “Proficient”). Additionally, my students have very high attendance (around 95% or so).

I am a sixth year public school teacher, yet I had several years of experience working with children and young adults as an after-school music (piano, voice) instructor as well as experience tutoring college students in ESL. Also, throughout graduate school, I worked as a substitute teacher in the Boston Public Schools, where I currently teach (and plan to teach for a long time).

So, what has shaped me as a teacher and what has made a difference for my students?

1) Mentorship

When I was a student teacher for four months in 2006, I had the great fortune of having Dr. Berta Berriz as my practicum supervisor. This incredible, strong woman possessed a doctoral degree and a NBPTS certification, and she had diligently served for 27 years in the Boston Public Schools as a classroom teacher. How inspiring to work with a veteran teacher who had continued her professional growth and developed her practice over three decades. I worked alongside Dr. Berriz in her classroom, and I found her methods for teaching reader’s and writer’s workshop and building students’ identities as scholars to be positively inspirational. To this day, I incorporate her style of writer’s workshop in my own classroom.

I made up my mind to follow in her footsteps. After becoming an ESL teacher, I pursued my special education degree (just like Dr. Berriz) and I am currently pursuing my National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Certification. Six years ago, I also made a promise to myself to stick with teaching for 30 years, by any means necessary. I want to be that teacher in the future who teaches her students’ children and maybe even their children’s children.

For the past three years, I have also had the incredible opportunity to work with Mrs. Deborah O’Shea, a middle school teacher and teacher leader who pursued her Reading Specialist license while serving at our urban public school. Mrs. O’Shea recruited me at a difficult time in my career, after I had been asked to reapply to my position at a highly dysfunctional “Turnaround School” and had refused. Mrs. O’Shea encouraged me to continue my professional development and strongly encouraged my enrollment in the MGH Communication Sciences and Disorders Reading Specialist CAS program. This program has not only developed my knowledge of reading expertise, but it has also provided me with a network of like-minded literacy teachers and speech and language pathologists who value knowledge of phonics, decoding, fluency, comprehension, and oral language development as essential elements of classroom instruction. Mrs. O’Shea has been a continual source of encouragement, and she shares my pride in my students for each and every academic and social achievement that they make.

2) Quality Professional Development

When I say quality, I mean research-based. There is a breadth of educational research literally at our fingertips (http://scholar.google.com – Most articles on this site from leading educational journals are accessible from the Boston Public Library website with a library card number and PIN number).

There is absolutely no reason for professional development of any kind that is not research-based. Be skeptical of what you spend your time on and look for the research to back it up. There are tons of “educational products” available for sale. Be wary of “white papers” and research by corporate entities themselves. Look for the citations of research from universities and esteemed professional organizations (i.e. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, The International Reading Association, etc.) when you attend a presentation or seminar.

The best professional development for me has been self-selected graduate courses and programs, as well as a fantastic training provided by our district and taught over several weekends by Connie Henry and Bruce Kamerer on examining the base-10 number system to develop number sense.

I consider the gold standard of professional development to be the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Certification in which teachers examine and reflect on their practice through the careful examination of student work and videos of their teaching in the classroom. Teachers completing this certification must submit a dense portfolio, which includes 4 extremely dense 14-page essays that include description, analysis, and reflection, and they also must pass a rigorous three hour examination that consists of six essays about the content and practice of their certificate area.

Basically, the more I know about teaching and research, the better I can teach my students.

3) Rigor

My students have a lot of challenging work, every day of every week.

They are required to read aloud in our classroom, and they are graded on their decoding and prosody. I assign passages from class novels or selection on articles, and they practice at home, using dictionary.com to perfect pronunciation of unknown words.

My students complete essays regularly using process writing. Every day in my class, they are writing at least a page or more, single spaced. Sometimes they are writing answers to comprehension questions. Other times they are reflecting on a class project. Other assignments include writing, revising, and editing drafts of longer assignments.

What is my classroom management strategy? I provide difficult assignments within the students’ zones of proximal development, and I supply a great deal of encouragement and support. (At this time of year, I can be frequently heard saying,”You know how to do this. I have given you the tools you need. So, reach in the toolbox of your brain and use them!”).

4) Celebration, Joy, and Arts Integration

This is my “warm/fuzzy” side. After we work hard, we party hard (but still maintain our academic focus).

I celebrate students’ achievements. This can be as simple as a high five or a small piece of candy. After students performed in a play, they received certificates, and I put a video of their play on YouTube. When students publish a collection of essays in a book, we celebrate with a publishing party at which students read their work aloud and then they have an opportunity to autograph one another’s books.

After the first and third quarter, students who receive passing grades are invited to special field trips to 826 Boston, a local writing center, and then, they are treated to ice cream at McDonald’s (not the healthiest, I know, but it’s a special treat).

Arts Integration brings excitement and joy to my lessons. Again, this can be as simple or complex as you want to make it. For example, when we studied the concepts of compression and tension, we “acted out” the diagrams of an arch bridge and a suspension bridge in our reading by pushing and pulling of hands. We have constructed a tetrahedron with brightly colored paper in order to explore geometric concepts.

I sing out “Hy! Potenuse” in a silly voice, so that my students can remember the word. I teach using evidence in writing through having students “act out” a weight lifter. Evidence bulks up your argument, just like a weight lifters weights make him strong. A visual image of a weight lifter with rippling muscles is posted on an anchor chart in my classroom that reminds students to “bulk up” their argument with evidence.

One student told me,”When we laugh, we laugh hard, but when it’s time to work, we know you’re serious.”

5) Parental Involvement

My students’ parents are urban immigrant families who work. They are also caring and dedicated parents who love their children and want the best for them. We keep in touch regularly through text messages and phone calls in English, Spanish, and my terrible version of Portuguese-Cape Verdean-Criollo mixed with a splash of Spanish and a dash of made-up words.

At the beginning of the year, students are given syllabi that have my picture and contact information on it and their parents must sign the syllabus, so they at least see who I am. After first quarter, students select their best work and write reflections. Parents are then invited to attend Student-Led Conferences to show their work to their families and to set academic goals for the remainder of the school year. I had 15 out of 18 families from my grade 7 and 8 ESL 3 class attend these conferences.

Conclusion

I will close with one of my favorite quotations: “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” I learned this from working with Patricia Suriel of the Mariposa DR Foundation in the Dominican Republic. For my own practice, I interpret this quotation to mean that I do not need to wait around for an administrator or policy maker to tell me what to do.

I will continue to seek out best practices and apply them to my students and teaching. Teachers do not need to wait around for an official or administrator to approve their work or to tell them which program to use. If teachers collect data on students (notebooks and file folders with dated assignments – make your students write the date on everything!) to show their progress, teachers have evidence to show that students are learning and growing. I have found that if I get good results and act professionally, I will be respected and not micro-managed.

Teachers cannot wait for the government or an organization or even the New York Times to tell us what is best for our students. We all can have a critical eye and examine the research on our own. We can look at data (student work) every day, and see what is working for Angel, what is not working for Clayton, what is working for Natalie…no one else knows the children like we do.

We must become experts on the students we serve and learn practices that serve them well and inspire them to take on difficult assignments and challenge themselves academically. Our students are our future. Will we cloak our future in bureaucracy and petty debates? Or will we forge a path of values, hope, and success? We are the ones we have been waiting for, and we can do this.