Photo: Graur Codrin (click photo to link)

Monday, October 04, 2010

One Nation Working Together rally

From a friend of mine in Norfolk, VA who attended the One Nation Working Together Rally:

Yesterday, after some finagling, a van with six, interesting, diverse and progressive people left Norfolk for Dunkin' Donuts and then on the D.C. for a rally for jobs, peace, and education. Last week end we had promised a ride to a friend who wanted to go. Then someone called Wednesday evening, a call my husband took. He told him where we lived but took no other information. In the meantime, some other friends, a couple wanted to come too, we could not fit four people in our small car, so after some soul searching, we decided to rent a van and drive the six of us up. The Thrifty and Dollar car rentals made going for all much cheaper than going on the bus and more intimate too. After a week of rain, in our neighborhood, 10 inches over the course of 3-4 days, having a bright, sunny, 72 degree day in D.C. was heaven. We parked in Pentagon City in a parking garage and took the metro in.

The rally was called One Nation. It had thousands and thousands of people from all over the East of the Mississippi area, many wearing bright tee-shirts with either their union affiliation or the "One Nation" logo. The speaker line up was equally impressive. Just to point out, this rally was sort of a counter to Glen Beck's (a reactionary TV talk show host's rally on Martin Luther King's Birthday in January, I believe) rally and according to helicopter view estimations, the crowd was much, much larger and more rainbow colored too. The major M.C. for this rally was a progressive TV talk show host, Ed Schultz. He's been pushing it for a while. But the speaker line up was moving and inspirational. The ones whose speeches I most remember and enjoyed, though certainly not the only ones who spoke, were, Harry Belafonte, a singer now maybe in his 80s whose beautiful creamy voice is now cracked and high pitched but his delivery was very much of conviction and determination. Martin Luther King's memory was brought up and so was his march of 1963, the march for hope and reform were brought up. The venue paired youth unknowns with celebrities as when Jesse Jackson introduced a student whose parent had been deported but his brother, who was born in the states and was a citizen and he, who had been granted a stay because of his student status could stay, then the student introduced Jesse Jackson who too, spoke of King and of hope and of not letting the vocal, but sparse "tea party" people lead to apathy amongst us and a defeat of the reforms Obama has managed to bring about. There was a young man from Los Angeles who was twenty three and had been spared from youth gangs from some program that the Obama administration put into play. He spoke very, very well and tried to inspire the youth to have faith in themselves and not let drugs and crime tempt them into temporary riches. The former secretary of education in the Clinton administration and now some administrator for children in the UN spoke. She spoke of learning all we needed to know as activists from Noah's Arc story. #1. Get on Board,...other lessons included grouping together, working together to get things done, to plan ahead and don't think that solving problems for now is the only thing but to plan ahead, though there is more, I can't remember all, though the last point everyone laughed and agreed with..."remember, Noah's Ark was built by amateurs, the Titanic was built by professionals!:" People of all ages, colors, ethnic backgrounds spoke, they all spoke of hope and for the need for action. I was very moved and have hope again. Hopefully this rally along with Jon Stewart 's(yet another comedic talk show host) at the end of this month will bring out the vote in November to prevent too many congressional seats from being lost.

I, unfortunately suffered from some sort of knee/hip ailment which made walking difficult, the others in our group, however, walked around and mentioned that they had met at least 20 activists from our area and we already knew that a bus had been hired. Progressives are popping out in this military area and it is encouraging.

After the rally, we had dinner in Pentagon City near where our car was parked. We were sitting and chatting and eating. Near the end of our meal, our waiter was taking away some root beer bottles when I stopped him. I asked him if his restaurant recycled. He said no. Then we commented on that. He then shyly but courageously told us a story about how he and his partner lived in an apartment complex and they sent around a petition and got the complex to have recycling in their complex. We asked him where he was from, he told us, from the mountains of Virginia and then he told us that his partner had just bought a new sports car and they went the back ways through the mountains to visit his home and how much fun it was. At least in the states, it is a sign of progress when your waiter can admit he is gay. Aside from problems with the parking meter, we made it home without incidents. An exhausting but very rejuvenating and bonding time with some fine people. New hope, new energy and cooler weather!!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Waiting for Superman in Michigan

I know that NBC's hype of the release of "Waiting for Superman" has stirred up feelings in a large number of dissatisfied "customers" of the "education market". Since I don't believe that public schooling should be market-driven, but rather serves a common democratic good of preparing an informed citizenry, I felt the need to address some of the complaints and claims that I saw today in the SpecialEdLawMichigan listserv. These revolved around teacher preparation, teacher qualifications, and teacher quality. Notice that "teacher" loomed largest in the finger-pointing. The most publicly visible, teachers take an awful lot of unearned abuse. So here's what I posted in response to the comments, mostly about process, but a little about systems.

I served as co-chair of the Professional Standards Commission for
Teachers until I began my doctoral studies in special education. This
was nearly ten years ago, and we recommended the addition of the
"Seventh Standard" for technology. At that time, there were teachers
who still did not use computers for record-keeping, for integration of
technology into instruction, or, most importantly, to create access to
the general curriculum. As one of the members of the ad hoc team
looking at the standard, and as a special educator and parent of a child
with learning disabilities, I advised the team to be sure to include
universal design, and assistive technology as part of this standard.

Because I served on this commission, I learned a few things that I can
bring to bear on this conversation.

First, elementary teachers come out of their initial preparation with
one or two education classes in almost any content area within their
programs. This means that they have had minimal exposure to the
pedagogical (teaching skills) aspects of language arts, social studies,
science and math. So, this needs to be factored into the equation when
one considers where to focus one's energy on improving the education
system. There is only so much time that colleges can expect students to
remain dependent on loans, financial aid, and their parents.

Second, some programs have one or two courses in meeting the needs of
diverse learners, including students with special educational needs.
Others, including MSU, have integrated special education content into
every education course taught in the elementary teacher education
program. I was one of many doctoral students working with faculty at
MSU in the teacher education program over a five year period to analyze
the goals of each course and to identify the best researched practices
in special education to help instructors integrate special education
concerns into their courses. Susan Peters, Ph.D. led this initiative. We
also identified teaching resources (videos, speakers, web content) to
support their instruction. Instructors in elementary education come from
a broad range of backgrounds, and so the deliberate infusion of special
educational content is one of the ways to improve the general level of
knowledge for both faculty and students in the program. It probably
doesn't go the full distance toward "fixing the system" but it is a
promising start, since it attaches knowledge about special education to
the context in which education students will apply it.

Third, when new teachers enter the classroom, they have two years of
general college coursework (a major and a minor), and about two years of
a mixture of education coursework and additional general courses. They
also have varying amounts of experience with teaching in a classroom.
Some programs embed classroom experiences throughout their education
courses, others offer the minimum required classroom contact for student
teaching. That's what you get in a new teacher. (See my comment about
remaining dependent, above).

Fourth, teachers are trained in 4 to 5 years, and shell out tuition for
that period of time, just like many starting college-educated
professionals. Many are in debt, because they are unable to work while
they are student teaching. We also require them to continue their
learning throughout their teaching years in order to maintain their
credentials. One of the least-supported areas of learning for most
teachers is the professional development offered by their school
districts. Funding is low, and priorities may reflect the need to
bolster test scores, rather than more elusive things such as the success
of all students upon completion of their schooling. Districts are faced
with the dilemma of providing qualified substitutes so that teachers can
attend professional conferences, and in-house professional development
can range in relevance and quality from trivial to vital, depending on
the leadership (principals and central office administrators) within the
district. Many districts use data to enhance the academic skills of
their teachers but offer very little to enhance their pedagogical skills
(how to teach diverse children, e.g.)

My point is: if you are dissatisfied with the skill sets that teachers
bring to bear for children with special educational needs, make sure
that you support efforts to improve their opportunities for learning.
Within every academic workshop offered by a district, there needs to be
some support for how teachers can differentiate for diverse learners,
what the district can offer in universally designed curriculum
materials, and how to support access to the curriculum through IEP
development. This responsibility cannot fall entirely on the shoulders
of teachers.

Oh, and as a side note, I was an AP student in high school, a National
Merit Letter recipient, graduating with high distinction from UM, and
qualified as one of the first National Board Certified Teachers in the
country, certifying as an Early Adolescent Generalist while teaching in
a special education resource room, because there wasn't a certificate
for teachers in special education. Smart and talented people do go
into teaching and it is our job, I believe, to encourage them to enter
the profession, to support their continued growth and service to the
profession, and compensate them appropriately for their work.

Kathleen Kosobud, M.A., N.B.C.T., A.B.D. (all but dissertation)