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14 February 2005: A Great Idea and About Time (3 of 3)

If youíre in the market for a charity, you simply log on, browse the teacher proposals, then click on the one you want to finance. Donors can fund all or part of any project, and when the donation makes its way to the teacher, along with it comes a disposable camera. Upon completing the purchase/project/fieldtrip, the beneficiaries then send photos and thank you notes to the benefactor.

What could be more satisfying than seeing twenty of Oaklandís third graders working with the abaci that you purchased for them?

Of course, what would a good idea for public schools be without institutional opposition? Alter reports that school districts are not crazy about this system. Though it is designed specifically to remedy the disproportionate distribution of public school funds in favor of the wealthy, there seems to be some distaste for it's effectiveness. Concerns about favoring internet-savvy teachers, fostering jealousy between teachers, or a lack of bureaucratic control seem to be the largest complaints.

Don't those concerns pale in comparison to third graders who can't add?

15 February 2005: Name Calling (1 of 4)

Today I started thinking about the names we use when we're at school. I guess it started when I finally acknowledged my concious dislike for the practice of referring to other adults on campus in the same way that the students refer to us. For example, "Good morning, Mr. Wood! How are you today?" or, "What's for lunch, Miss Beck?"

I have to admit, this really bugs me. I've worked on a few campuses where this was the norm, and just one where it was not. I think it's time to delve a bit into the causes/effects of this kind of school culture.

Of course, there's four parts to this. What we call our colleagues is just the tip of the iceburg. What about our administrators? What do we call our students when we talk to or about them? And, let's not forget the importance of what we expect others to call us at school.

16 February 2005: Name Calling (2 of 4)

I have a colleague who very intentionally does not call her students kids. Her belief, if you were to ask her, is that the term "kids" is belittling to her students because it makes them less than individuals. Her preferred language is "young people."

When she refers to her students as young people, the intention is to affirm their humanity, their ability, and their value.

I know that seems like an unbearably deep reading of a common term of affection for our students, but really, the point to be made is that we should not take for granted the language we use with our students. All language is biased. There are connotations, societal values, and all manner of hidden baggage that accompany our word choice, whether we chose to acknowledge it or not.

As another example, imagine what would be the difference between calling your class "class", and calling them "students"? May seem minor, but in the end "class" emphasizes their situation of being taught (and probably their passivity in that process), while "students" affirms each students' individuality, their participation and their responsibility.

I'm not even going to touch "boys and girls." I'm not saying it's wrong, I'm just advocating that if that's something that you use to address your students regularly, you should think about what values you may be advocating--whether purposefully or not.

17 February 2005: Name Calling (3 of 4)

While I believe that what we call our students is the most important of these topics, I am coming to realize that the relationships and underlying attitudes of colleages can often be read in the names they use for each other.

As you can imagine, where first names are used there is far more time and emotional energy devoted to collaboration at school. Away from school, these colleagues often collaborate in cafes, pubs, movie theaters, and restaurants.

Am I right? Have you ever shared really meaningful workshop or planning session with a collaboration partner and ended with, "Wow, thanks so much for your time, Mr. Jones."?

My experience in schools where teachers refer to each other more formally has been consistent: less on-campus collaboration and little or no off-campus recreation. So what can we infer about the climate on these campuses? I've worked in these schools, and they're just not as good a place to learn or to teach.

18 February 2005: Name Calling (4 of 4)

What do you call your administrator? Are you expected to use a title or a last name? Or, are you comfortable using first names with them?

I've always felt that administrators who preferred to be called by their title and/or last name are struggling to maintain an authoritarian position. Like they just want to be sure that the teachers are all aware of the pecking order around campus. Requiring adult colleagues to refer to you formally seems to reinforce unspoken understandings about power and decision making.

Of course, principals who are more familiar with their teachers, in my observation, are the same principals who have enjoyed less resistance from staff in decision making and less separation from them as colleages. Coincidence? I think not.

Last thing: What do your students call you? I admit, my students call me by my last name, but after writing that last paragraph about "unspoken understandings about power and decision making" I find that I may reconsider it.

Are there other ways for students to show respect to a teacher than using her last name? Am I an effective enough teacher to warrent them?

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teaching quote of the day

Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.

- Chinese proverb

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