Countdown until I lose it

Friday, January 06, 2017

Educational scam: EdTPA in New Jersey

In a world where no one seems to agree about anything, I am guessing that almost everyone would agree that good classroom teachers are important. Certainly, in the State of New Jersey, we often see billboards or even public service messaging touting the quality of our public schools. To be sure, great learning communities lead by dedicated and creative teachers should be a point of pride.
However, the State Board of Education is on the verge of disrupting the flow of great teachers into our schools and classrooms. Effective, September, 2017, all candidates seeking certification will be required to jump through a new hoop called the EdTPA. (

The EdTPA is an additional teaching performance assessment. This comes in addition to meeting high standards to get into a teacher education program, having multiple practicum and student teaching experiences, being mentored by both college faculty and in-service professionals, and passing standardized Praxis exams administered by ETS. There are several problems with this new assessment that include pedagogical flaws, additional costs, and the fact that it is creating a cottage industry that opens the door to cheating if you have the cash to pay.

Even in New Jersey where many of our school districts are performing well, we must admit that we also have many historically underperforming districts. Students and families in those under resourced areas cannot afford to lose the opportunity for strong teachers. However, there is evidence to suggest that teacher candidates who are placed in “urban” (low resource, non-White) classrooms score lower on the EdTPA. This reality is troubling as teacher candidates may stop choosing high needs placements for fear of unfair scoring. This may disrupt the pipeline of qualified teachers to our most vulnerable children.

Also, as any in-service teacher can tell you, more learning happens during practicum and student teaching experiences than at any other time. Those are the moments where something you learned in your college class either confirms or clashes with the reality of facing 25 little faces. In those moments the teacher candidate, mentor teachers, college faculty, students, and parents form a community that helps grow the next generation of teacher. These authentic experiences are transformative as they require teacher candidates to demonstrate how to support children in real classrooms. Instead, the EdTPA will now measure of candidates’ ability to follow directions and write narratives than their readiness to teach (e.g., Berlak 2010; Madeloni and Gorlewski 2013).

But wait, it gets better, it comes at a price. The EdTPA, administred by Pearson, will cost each teacher candidate $300. This fee will come in addition to typical tuition costs, Praxis exams, and State certification fees. When it is all said and done the typical teacher candidate will pay more than $1000 in fees in order to be licensed. And, if you are lucky enough to have even more extra cash, the dawn of the EdTPA has spurred a cottage industry of people who will do it for you. These services cost anywhere from $500 to $1000 and will guarantee a passing score.

I will leave it for you to decide – will adding another high cost, high stakes test to the gauntlet to become a teacher produce better teachers? I can tell you for sure that there is no data to suggest that is true. If you have children in New Jersey public schools, stay informed, use your voice, and look out for the student teachers who will be filming your children as part of their EdTPA assessment.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Breakfast at Tiffany's: Revisited

On my recent trip to Thailand I was treated by an airplane with individual entertainment screens. Having been on 13 hour flights with and without these units, I can tell you that they make a huge difference. Once, on a flight to Egypt -- one with just the small screen in the front of the plane where everyone watches the same film -- I was somewhat pleased to find out that the movie was one I would enjoy. Within minutes, the film went wonky, they couldn't fix it and we watched the same documentary about finding Egyptian artifacts that I had seen numerous times on these flights. And, they looped it, so it played continuously throughout the flight. I didn't want to watch it, I tried not to. But, inevitably my eyes would wander to the screen and that long flight became less tolerable.
But, this flight was different. The entertainment unit was loaded with great (and not so great) films, new and old. Among the choices was Breakfast at Tiffany's. I hadn't seen it since I was very young but remembered liking it. I thought it would be fun to revisit such a classic film. As the cast members were shown across the screen in the introduction I was already having fun. Hepburn -- she is so cute, Peppard, the A Team guy, Buddy Epson from the Beverly Hillbillies! This is going to be gre... wait a minute, did that just say Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi? What the hell? OK, why don't I remember this? Maybe he isn't going to be an awful Japanese stereotype. Maybe I misread that name. It couldn't be --- no, it is.

The film opens with the most horrifying scene of Rooney playing up the most ridiculous and embarrassing stereotypes of Asians. Buck teeth, clumsy, nutty accent, wearing his headband in the bathtub. Then, I realized that my plane is on it's way to Tokyo. I am surrounded by real Japanese people and I am horrified to think they might see one of these scenes as they stretch their legs or walk to the bathroom and think I am one of those ugly Americans laughing at this ridiculous stereotype. The worst part is that this character adds absolutely nothing to the film. The entire purpose of the addition of this character is to take a brief intermission from the actual story to make fun of Japanese people. This character adds absolutely nothing of substance to the film.
To be honest, I think this really stinks. I love watching Hepburn live in denial, play the part "of a real phoney" and finally give up the facade in the end. It's a predictable script but one for which many young girls can relate. But now, it's ruined. I feel like a dope for sitting through the Yonioshi bits. I feel like the studio should remaster it or whatever they do to edit things to make a non-racist version for those of us who just want to watch young girls be stereotypes as young, frivolous and foolish gold diggers (believe me, I see the irony).
Still, maybe having these films as a way to document how our sensibilities have evolved is important too.

Friday, December 03, 2010


About an hour ago I walked out of a computer lab in my building feeling a combination of relief and wonder. I was definitely relieved that my students didn't balk at the idea of creating videos. In fact, once they got started I heard them sharing ideas, laughing and even saying things like, "this is going to be great!". Some of the other groups worked much more quietly but still seemed to be enjoying the process.

Viewing the footage also gave all of the students a chance to reflect on their experience with the kids. They were remembering what they did and sharing stories about the experience. It was good to hear that kind of talk as well.

There were, what I feared, some technical glitches. Unfortunately, the IT folks burned my footage on to DVDs in a format that was not suitable for editing. I knew that yesterday and scrambled to create CDs myself. However, in class we realized that I only put the footage from one day on the disc. This, of course, was disappointing and limited what they could do. About an hour or so into the class I had an idea and finally was able to produce one disc that had all of the footage. Three of the groups decided to incorporate the new footage, two of the groups had already made decisions about their project and didn't want to make changes, and two other groups left class still on the fence about whether they would use the additional footage.

And, one kind of strange and sort of embarrassing interaction occurred. I remarked how one of the students is my advisee and we would be together for the next four years. She responded by saying that she was even taking another class of mine next semester. To which I replied, "And, that's a real class". Another student overheard me and said, "You're dissin' your own class!". I was kind of embarrassed and I don't even remember exactly how I responded to him. Something lame like, "oh, I just meant she is taking a class with me that is closer to my expertise" -- I am not even sure.

I wish I could take it back. All semester I was concerned that students would consider this course a joke and not a real class. And, actually, none of them ever said anything to that affect. So, why would I hand this to them? Why would I say the thing that I didn't want them to say? Is it what I really believe about the class? Or, am I pre-empting the possibility of them rejecting me by rejecting myself first? And -- how pathetic is that?

Let the right one in

I recently read a book called Let the Right One In. It was a vampire book and so I didn't really think it I would make any personal connections. But, as I reflect on teaching my Applied Theatre class, I realize that I needed to be aware of who to "let in". Over the course of this semester I have decided to let my entire class into my metacognitive process concerning the class. This was somewhat successful and yet has caused me a great deal of anxiety -- still does.
I have told my students that this is the first time I am teaching this class and giving these assignments so I have no idea how they will go. They have to trust me, I have to trust myself, I have to trust them. I've given assignments and seen eyes roll only to find out later that they enjoyed doing them. I've given other assignments that are official flops. Yesterday a student wrote to ask how long his final paper should be. He was concerned because he said that his draft is getting lengthy. I wrote back and told him I would stop reading when I got bored. Having never assigned that paper before I could only guess at page length. My general instruction to the class is to include all the parts that I've asked for and write until you are finished. We will see how long they are.

Today will be another adventure. They have no idea what they are walking into. Over the past six weeks we have taken a lot of pictures and video footage of the after school program where we volunteered. The other day I imagined it would be fun and interesting to edit this raw footage into something for the class. And then, I thought, "What if they edited the video themselves?".
By the end of the day I had reserved a lab, made CDs of the footage and called a colleague to help with some basic instructions about iMovie. Today is the day. I am going to put them in groups of three and ask them to come up with a creative 3-5 minute video that represents their experience of working at the after school program. There will be 8 videos produced and my hope is that they will all be different.
We spent some time this semester talking about how people are represented in plays, films and books. I am looking forward to how my students choose to represent themselves and the children with whom they worked. And, I am hoping that 8 very different films are produced.
To be sure, if we show up next week and watch essentially the same film 8 times it will be painful. I have actually a few fears about this project. Part of me is excited. It is a creative idea. My students will get an introduction to video editing (a great skill), they will work in groups and be required to collaborate, and they will apply some of the ideas we have discussed this semester in creating the video.
On the other hand, there could be technical difficulties. What if one of the CDs doesn't work? What if they feel overwhelmed by the idea of learning the editing process? What if groups of three are too many? Should it be 2s? What if they just think it's stupid and then when they complete my instructor/course evaluations I get slammed?
So, in about 20 minutes these questions will begin to be answered. I am a little nervous about showing up for class today. I feel like I am always selling my next idea like it's a Ronco product.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Great lessons are co-created between students and teachers

I've decided that the three rules for being a great teacher are as follows;
1. Do the right thing
2. Say the right thing
3. Do your best

Isn't that right? If a teacher does and says the right thing and does their best they will be an amazing teacher. Of course, how one knows what the right thing is -- that can be debated forever. The reality is that the right thing changes constantly. It is different depending on the day, the child with whom you are working, the mood you are in that day, etc. The right thing is local, contextual, and impossible to fully plan.
The same goes for doing your best. What is your best? Isn't that also local, contextual, and difficult to really know. We often don't know until after the fact.
So, how do we operate in order to come close to doing your best and the right thing as much as possible. I believe that you must be in the moment with your students as much as possible. Plan, of course. Have the plan, know the content. But, then free yourself to really listen to your students and respond to what they tell you they need. They might tell you verbally, maybe just through their body language, or maybe the message will be in the work that they produce.
I am in the midst of grading papers and have been too busy to write. But, I needed to get at least this much down now. More later.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Teacher as Rhetor

For the past few years I've been thinking a lot about the relationship between rhetoric and teaching. This was after seeing a presentation by Gary Woodward on what he calls the Rhetorical Personality. Woodward's ideas about rhetorical personality are from the more modern idea of rhetoric -- or the oldest Sophists -- depending on your perspective. He notes people like Bill Clinton and others who seemed to be able to capture a room and face opposition with poise. I immediately began thinking about how this relates to teaching. Teachers must sometime present things that are unpopular, content they don't know as well as they wish they did, to students who may love them, hate them, resent them, fear them, need them, etc.
Teachers can never have just one self. In fact, no one can. We are all multiples of ourselves. I can't help thinking of that old Michael Keaton movie -- Muliplicity -- where each time he made a copy of himself they became more and more demented in some way. However, they were all legitimately part of him even if those around him weren't aware of all of his selves. Isn't that what we all are? Multiples?! For some people their professions make this multiplicity more or less salient. In teaching it is strongly salient.
There is an idealized teacher -- one that loves learning, is a content expert, is pedagogically neutral, nuturing to his or her students, supportive of a diverse range of students in terms of ethnicity, SES, ability, etc.. But, even if there is such a teacher out there, that is only part of who they are. They may also be [just like Michael Keaton's character] insensitive, developmentally disabled, overly emotional, and a myriad of other things.
There is a need for realization that we are a reflection of our context. Our selves are local and ever changing. In any moment teachers must do the right thing. But, how the hell are they to know what the right thing is? They can plan for a theoretical right thing but in the moment, depending on the student, depending what happened a moment before, what is happening in that exact moment ---- everything can change, the right thing can change. And, you don't know whether it was the right thing until after.
For instance, a teacher puts students in groups because the right thing is to encourage cooperative learning. On Monday it works brilliantly. On Tuesday, a few students argue and the activity unravels and objectives aren't met. The right thing becomes the wrong thing. How can a teacher ever know what is the right thing? Must they know? Or, is it a personality that accepts multiple truths, is flexible, accepting of what the moment brings, the one that is ultimately most successful?

Thursday, September 09, 2010

An honest to goodness lesson plan

I just wrote a lesson plan. An actual lesson plan -- for my college class. I was feeling so uncertain and out of sorts about what to do tomorrow that I wrote a plan. It feels good actually.

She said what?

In my class yesterday I was confronted with questions about teaching in the Urban context. Two students in particular pressed me on how to handle "urban language". When I asked for them to give me some examples of what they meant they were intially unable, or maybe unsure about how to phrase what they were thinking.
Two issues emerged, 1. African American Vernacular English, and 2. Values. First, the concern was expressed in terms of "how I was raised" and shouldn't I be able to expect students to act in the way that I think is right. There seemed to be little acknowledgment of the possibility that there could be another version of right in terms of the way a child behaves.
The second issue was around AAVE. I don't even remember what they called it but I just rephrased to a more appropriate terminology. The students seemed dubious when I warned that they should not make a big show of correcting students. I explained that there were times when Standard English would be expected -- writing for example and that expectations about language might change based on the context.
They listened and nodded but I think just because I am the professor. I am not sure I made my argument in a way that welcomed their input. I think I just told them what they are supposed to think. And, I understand that is not very authentic.