Tag Archives: teachers

Respecting Teachers’ Professionalism in Reading Instruction

booksIncreasing the reading ability of young people is a major focus of critics of schooling, and prescribed remedies constantly rain down upon us. It is refreshing, then, to re-visit Richard Allington’s What Really Matters for Struggling Readers (2006, 2nd edn.), as I (Clive) have recently done.

According to Allington, the remedies mandated at a system level typically have two flaws: (1) prescribing a single method for all students, and (2) not placing enough emphasis on the amount students read (including re-reading the same favorite works). With respect to the first, he says:

“Expecting any single method, material, or program to work equally well with every kid in every classroom is nonsensical. And yet we see increasing pressure for a standardization of reading curriculum and lessons…. The substantial research evidence that such plans have not produced the desired effects is routinely ignored in the latest quest for a cheap, quick fix.” (p. 34)

Regarding the second flaw in system mandates, Allington says:

“If I were required to select a single aspect of the instructional environment to change, my first choice would be creating a schedule that supported dramatically increased quantities of reading during the school day” (p. 35)

Unfortunately, federally funded Title I remedial reading and special education programs (in the US) have not increased the amount of reading children do. According to one study:

“[C]hildren who received reading instructional support from either program often had the volume of reading reduced rather than expanded as remedial and resource room lessons focused on other activities” (p. 43)

These “other activities” – such as extra phonics teaching, correcting pronunciation, asking comprehension questions – mean that children are interrupted in their reading. Apart from reducing reading time, this means children become used to being interrupted and read in a slow, hesitant manner, with half a mind on when the next interruption will come.

While attempting to support teachers in their reading instruction, then, it is essential to respect their professionalism so they are free to adapt to what works for individual students and give students abundant opportunities to read in peace.


Building a Genuinely Social Class Community

This term I (Clive) have two wonderful graduate classes, each with 25 students. One is on Foundations of Curriculum Studies and the other Reflective Professional Development. As part of the community building effort we go to the pub after class three times during the twelve week term (that evening we finish the class half an hour early). This week we had our second pub visit in both classes.

As always, I was impressed with how enjoyable it was and how much we got to know about each other. Only about half the students came, due to the frigid weather, family responsibilities, and school classes early the next day. But it was nevertheless entirely worthwhile.

Other strategies to build a social culture include: sitting in a large circle for most of the evening; having the students say each other’s names around the room each time we meet; chatting and joking at the beginning of the class and at other times; each student giving a brief presentation on their emerging essay topic (2 or 3 presentations a week) with responses from the 3 students sitting to their left or right; small-group discussions on interesting topics, with everyone in each group reporting back. All this leaves less time for me to talk, but I find the students say at least 90% of what I would have said; and anyway, I get to choose the weekly topics and readings.

It is only a 36 hour course, shorter than most school courses, yet a real bond is formed. The social atmosphere adds greatly to the enjoyment of the course and the discussions are deepened. It may not seem very “academic,” but I wouldn’t do it any other way!


Year 13 of Our Longitudinal Study of Teachers

Clare and I (Clive) and our wonderful research team are now in year 13 of our longitudinal study of 40 teachers, 20 of whom began teaching in 2004 and 20 in 2007. Every year we interview them and, wherever possible, observe them in their classroomClive Becks. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) continues to provide funding for the project and will do so for at least another 2 years. We are now gearing up for the 2017 interviews beginning in late April.
Of the original 45 teachers, 3 have left the study and 2 have dropped out of teaching, a remarkable retention rate. As the years mount, interest in the study grows. Four of five proposals based on the study for the 2017 AERA Conference in San Antonio were accepted for presentation. We were also asked to write a chapter on Longitudinal Study of Teachers for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education, to appear this year. For their part, the teachers continue to show resilience despite the increasing challenges of teaching (which they tell us about), including: larger class sizes, reduced special education support, increased standardized testing of students, and top-down control of teachers’ practices.

Based on the study, perhaps the biggest problem we see in education today is this ill-conceived, top-down monitoring of students and teachers, which does very little good and a great deal of harm, and ignores the steadily developing expertise of teachers – which again our study reveals. We can only hope that governments and school systems soon begin to realize the harm they are doing. Meanwhile, we work to encourage teachers to look for the many opportunities for decision-making and professionalism that still remain in school classrooms.

A Constructivist Approach to Literature

On the weekend, Clare and I (Clive) saw a wonderful production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya Uncle Vanyaat the Shaw Festival in Niagara on the Lake. We were struck (once again) with how “dark” the play is; but it is so well written and was so well done that we really enjoyed it.

A central theme of the play is how boring life can be. And one thing that occurred to me is how important it is not to take plays (or any literature) too literally. In experiencing such a play – or discussing it with students – we don’t have to accept that life is utterly boring, or even think that Chekhov believed it was.

Rather, we can take this idea as a starting point and go on to consider ways to overcome boredom in our lives, to the extent possible. We can enjoy ourselves, both as we experience the beauty and cleverness of the literary work and try to resolve the problems it raises. We can use the work for our own purposes, rather than feeling tied to a literal interpretation. I think this is part of what is meant by a “constructivist” approach to learning, and it can make literature more enjoyable and useful to teachers and students alike.

You Can’t Win Them All

Teaching can be very satisfying, but it isn’t easy. I (Clive) just received my course Clive Beckevaluation for last term and was reminded that “you can’t win them all.” I thought the course was my best ever, and most students rated it as “excellent.” But some just said it was “very good” (hmmm – why was that?) and one gave it a “good” or “moderate” on every item (what’s their problem?!).


One of the most important principles in teaching, I think, is that you can’t win them all. Some people don’t like it because it implies you aren’t going to try hard enough: it lets you off the hook. But on the one hand, it helps you be realistic and maintain your morale as a teacher; and on the other, it reminds you that everybody’s different. Different people want different things from a course and have different views on how to teach. Yes we should try to meet every student’s needs in a course, but no we shouldn’t be surprised or become dispirited when some students are not ecstatic about our teaching approach.

Gold StarBut come to think of it, if I found some good videos and varied the class format more, maybe I would get excellent from everyone…. Just joking!


Chimamanda Ngozi’s Book Being Distributed to ALL 16- Year-Old Students in Sweden

I have written about the powerful words of Ms. Adiche before. Her words stop us in our tracks and make us re-consider notions of identity, language, and gender. She has a new book out entitled We Should All Be Feminists. It is based on a speech she delivered at a TEDx conference a few years ago. I have already ordered it!

The most amazing thing about her new book is how it is being distributed. The Swedish Women’s Lobby has decided to distribute Adiche’s book to every 16-year-old student in Sweden. In a CBC article, publisher Johanna Haegerström believes her book will be an entry point into a larger discussion about gender roles in society. He said:

“Our hope is that the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie text will open up a conversation about gender and gender roles, starting from young people’s own experiences”



Teacher Diversity: Study Reveals a Decline in Teachers of Colour Across the U.S.

The Albert Shanker Institute recently released findings from their study titled: The State of Teacher Diversity in American Education. The examined teacher diversity from 2002 to 2012 in nine major American cities: Boston, Chicago, Clevland, LA, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington D.C.

Findings from the study revealed that the number of teachers of colour has dropped over the past decade across all nine cities. Albert Green from The Atlantic noted “Despite the fact that more students of color will be filling classrooms at increasing increments every school year, it’s a well reported fact that almost 80 percent of their teachers are white—and it doesn’t appear that that will change any time soon.” Green concludes his article asking pertinent questions in attracting and retaining effective teachers of colour. He says:

It is no longer a question of, do we need teachers of color? There is no shortage of data that shows that minority teachers not only help improve the outcomes of ​students who share their background, but also that of academic performance of students of all races are improved. The questions now are: What can be done to curb the high-attrition rates for minority teachers, and will addressing hiring disparities for black and Hispanic teachers do enough to equalize students’ attainment levels?

Source: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/09/teacher-diversity-viz/406033/
Source: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/09/teacher-diversity-viz/406033/

The Albert Shanker Institute reports outlines a number of recommendations on a local, state, and national level. Some of these recommendations include:

  • To increase the number of highly qualified minority teachers—and particularly Black, Hispanic and American Indian teachers—entering the profession, the U.S. Education Department and the state departments of education should invest in and support high-quality teacher education programs at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), the nation’s Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) and public colleges and universities serving large numbers of minority students.
  • To ensure that novice teachers are well prepared to enter the classroom and receive the mentoring and support they need to be successful, the U.S. Education Department and the state departments of education should establish incentives for close partnerships between colleges of education, on the one hand, and school districts and charter networks, on the other hand. Particular attention needs to be paid to providing adequate mentoring, support and training in culturally responsive practices to novice teachers—of all races and ethnicities—working in the challenging conditions of high-poverty, de facto racially segregated schools
  • Urban school districts, district schools, charter networks and charter schools should develop close partnerships with colleges of education to ensure that an increased supply of well-qualified Black and Hispanic teachers are prepared to teach in city schools.

The Albert Shanker Institute Study:


The Atlantic Article:


Let’s Not Forget About the Teachers

I (Clare) read this tribute to teachers in the Huffington Post. Lindsay Henry got it right. If you have a minute please send to this a teacher you know – I know that I would not be where I am today if it not for the many teachers who cared about me and worked tirelessly. I bolded a few lines in Henry’s original text.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lindsay-henry/this-ones-for-the-teacher_b_7555134.html

This One Is for the Teachers By: Lindsay Henry

It’s graduation season. A time where we focus our eyes and spotlights and applause on the students who successfully pushed through the exams, the essays, the sports games, the drama, to walk across a stage and receive that diploma. To graduate. Finally.


So we celebrate. We honor the graduates with parties and families and photos and cake. Lots of cake (preferably with heaps of frosting and rosettes and plastic graduation caps.) We write “Congratulations” on cards and give “How to Succeed in the Real World” books and write “Top 10 Things I Learned When…” blog posts. Of course the graduates deserve the praise and recognition and celebrations and cake and blog posts.

But this post isn’t for the students.

This one’s for the teachers.

This one is for the teachers who stand in front of the students every day, writing on white boards and planning lessons and doing all they can to prepare youth for the rest of their lives. This one’s for the teachers who are full of nerves and anxiety on that first day of class in the fall, then bittersweet sadness as they say goodbye in the spring. The Silent Heroes who put in the work day in and day out, sometimes viewed as the antagonist by the students for assigning those group projects, required readings, difficult tests.

But teachers face their own tests, too. So this one’s for them.

This one is for the teachers who made it through another year full of hurdles. The long days and worrisome nights, the frustrated parents, the conferences. The detentions. The decisions. The reviews. The observations.

This one’s for the teachers that blur the lines because you care so much for these students, as if they are an extension of your own family. The ones that make sure the kids have full bellies and open minds. The ones that are the only constant in some of their students’ lives, filling the void as a caretaker or pseudo parent. The ones that use their own money to pour back into the classroom with materials and books and supplies.

This one’s for the teachers that are so much more than teachers. The ones that are fighters, advocators, listeners, healers, all to reach one more.

This one is for the hard days. The days that are long and the nights are longer, your mind racing and running. The days where teachers feels unsure of themselves, the ones that go home and wonder if they are making a difference, if the lessons are sticking, if they should just pack up the apples on their desks and stop trying.

You matter. The lessons stick. Trust me.

My high school days are long behind me, but the lessons live on and those who taught me. So this one’s for them, too.

This one’s for Mrs. Kochendorfer, my first-grade teacher at Patterson Elementary in St. Charles, Michigan, who’s proud, grinning face is still etched in my memory when I read her “The Rainbow Fish,” just a shy 6-year-old back then with Keds shoes and blunt bangs.

This one’s for Miss Bell, with her huge heart and booming voice shouting throughout my high school hallways: “Practice abstinence!” We laughed with her and loved her because she laughed and loved us first.

This one’s for Mr. Brownlie, with his easy-going manner and button-down shirts and soft-spoken voice. He retired this year, and his dedication and love for his students poured back to him as his former students created a hard covered book thick with pages full stories of how he impacted their lives.

This one’s for the future teachers, the college students in classrooms of their own right now, balancing the act of being a teacher and a student, observing and soaking it all in so they are ready to change lives.

Because that’s what teachers do. They do more than teach. They shape us. They lead us….until we reach the finish line and throw our caps into the hair, grinning at the idea of the future, unsure of what’s next.

But teachers know what’s next: another school year. And so they begin another season of preparation and books and lessons and worries centered around fresh faces sitting in desks.

In this season of mortar caps and gold tassels, Dr. Seuss and “Oh The Places You Go!” lines are repeated as we stare at the backs of the graduates running forward into the so-called real world. But let’s pause for a moment and thank the teachers that helped get them to this point. Because without them — sorry Dr. Seuss — we wouldn’t have a lot of places to go. We would all be a little lost.

Congratulations, students. And congratulations, teachers. You did it. All of you

Teacher Image in the U.K.


Gillian Harvey from The Telegraph argues for a shift in how teachers are viewed in the U.K. She argues:“[r]ather than heaping initiative upon initiative or effecting more change on a curriculum that is altered almost before it can be implemented, it would be better to take measures to improve the image of the profession as a whole.”

Harvey claims teachers fall victim to a culture of blame in education. Teachers are blamed for many things ranging from unprepared youth for the work force to a failure to raise standards. However, Harvey points out that the government officials often receive credit for perceived successes in education. She comments: “[y]ou can rest assured that the moment improvements happen, the praise will be placed at the doors of Nicky Morgan and David Cameron.”

In an era of educational reform driven by data, teachers are feeling pressure to do what it takes to have the data reflect their “effective” teaching. However, as result, pupils in the classroom may be suffering. Harvey says, “teachers are spending more and more time on meaningless bureaucracy and less on teaching and learning or interacting with pupils.”

An interesting read! To read the entire article click here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationopinion/11645808/Does-teaching-have-an-image-problem.html

High Levels of Stress, Low Levels of Autonomy

The Washington Post recently reported on a survey conducted by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) of approximately 30,000 teachers. Survey results reported teachers felt high levels of stress and low levels of autonomy. The rise of government initiatives such as the Common Core Standards were identified as a source of stress for teachers. The article reported: “Teachers said they feel particularly anxious about having to carry out a steady stream of new initiatives — such as implementing curricula and testing related to the Common Core State Standards — without being given adequate training, according to the survey. “


The AFT website reports some key findings from the survey:

  • Only 1 in 5 educators feel respected by government officials or the media.
  • Only 14% strongly agree with the statement that they trust their administrator or supervisor.
  • More than 75 % say they do not have enough staff to get the work done.
  • 78% percent say they are often physically and emotionally exhausted at the end of the day.
  • 87% percent say the demands of their job are at least sometimes interfering with their family life.
  • Among the greatest workplace stressors were the adoption of new initiatives without proper training or professional development, mandated curriculum and standardized tests.

Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, noted stress could be a result of teachers wearing multiple hats in the classroom:

“We ask teachers to be a combination of Albert Einstein, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr….We ask them to be Mom and Dad and impart tough love but also be a shoulder to lean on. And when they don’t do these things, we blame them for not being saviors of the world. What is the effect? The effect has been teachers are in­cred­ibly stressed out.”

Read more about this issue at: http://www.aft.org/news/survey-shows-need-national-focus-workplace-stress#sthash.mryeqegY.dpuf