The Missing

by GABRIELLE LENSCH PLASTRIK

“But you know what the best part of my day is? For about ten seconds, from when I pull up to the curb and when I get to your door, ’cause I think, maybe I’ll get up there and I’ll knock on the door and you won’t be there. No goodbye. No see you later. No nothing. You just left. I don’t know much, but I know that.”
Chuckie Sullivan, Good Will Hunting

Most adults who I know go to work at the same place every day. They do the same things over and over again. The details change, but the patterns are the same. The people who surround them are the same. For twenty years, they have worked next to the same two or three people and had office spats with two others.

Teaching is a weird profession because, to some degree, we have that in our administrators and our fellow teachers. At the same time, though, the product that we are producing—students—are people, too. They are not a ream of paper at Dunder Mifflin or money to be traded on a financial market. They talk back. They have personalities. Even, better, they are growing up and becoming better versions of themselves right before our very eyes.

That’s where the missing comes in. We spend so much energy and invest so much time in each student’s development. Then, we send them out the door and off into the world. Some of them, the ones who remember, sometimes send an email or come and visit the school to leave notes on the board. For the most part, they dissipate into the hard work of high school and then college.

Over the course of a 180 day school year, I spend, 144 hours in direct instruction situations with my students. I also see them in the hallways, meet with them during their study halls, and email with them about their assignments. I feel like I really know at least the school side of my students before they leave. We have a close relationship that involves trust and respect. We are not friends, but we are colleagues working toward the mutual goal of their improvement. Then, at the end of the year, there is silence and absence. The students leave and the teachers who care so much about them start missing them. By the following fall, we are prepared for the new batch of students and busy investing time and energy into them.

I just wanted to take this moment to think of all of the wonderful people I have known as students and to reflect on how odd it is to have to miss so many people who you’ve really known but also to be happy to know that you are missing them because that means they are out there, giving the world a try.

Gabrielle teaches English and Drama at a school for gifted students in Madison, WI.

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Obama’s Longer School Days, Shorter Breaks Will Come with a Price

by OLIVIA COLEMAN

President Obama, despite major setbacks in recent elections, has pledged to move forward with his education reforms, and many see it as a space in which bipartisanship can actually work. While there are several components to Obama’s planned reforms, one idea which he courted in 2009 and has very recently reasserted is the idea of extending school days and the school year.

While the President hasn’t made it clear, exactly, by how many days or hours he envisions extending time spent in school, he justifies the reform by noting that other advanced countries spend on average a month longer in school than in American kids do. In a recent interview with Matt Lauer, Obama noted:

“That month makes a difference. It means students are losing a lot of what they learn during the school year during the summer … The idea of a longer school year, I think, makes sense … Now, that’s going to cost some money … but I think that would be money well spent.”

It may sound great in theory, but we should be aware that the supposed “month” statistic rests on shaky ground. According to the award-winning fact checker, PolitFact, Obama’s remark is rated as only “half true”. In the United States, kids go to school about 180 days a year, whereas the average reported by 31 countries to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development was 187 days, and EU countries reported an average of 184 days.

Obama cited South Korea kids as going to school over a month longer than American kids, and even though this is true (their average is 220 days), at what cost do these extra days come? An article written here on Teacher, Revised by Jennifer Green, an English teacher at a South Korean school, noted how difficult it was for children to interact with each other, considering the long school days and arduous hours spent on homework after school.

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A Belated Thank You, Teachers

Jill Hare of TheApple.com wrote a nice thank-you to all underappreciated teachers of the world. Here’s the link. Read it today or wait for a day when a student tells you how ridiculous you look in those pants.

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Slate Magazine Model 21st Century Classroom Contest

In response to the outdated state of the average American classroom, Slate  Magazine recently solicited reader suggestions for transforming American schools. Go to their site to see what readers had to say about a model classroom for the 21st century.

Also, be sure to click on the following links (or just scroll down) to read responses from Teacher, Revised contributors: Gabrielle Lensch Plastrik and Alistair Bomphray.

We hope you will leave your own suggestions/critiques as comments below.

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An Achievable Model Classroom

by GABRIELLE LENSCH PLASTRIK

This piece was written in response to a Slate Magazine contest in which readers were encouraged to enter their ideas a for a model classroom.

The success of a classroom has a lot less to do with the objects that are in it than with the people, but arrangements and teaching/learning aides can make a significant impact. For instance, I taught in a public high school for a year. My classroom was long and narrow with the board on a narrow end. When I had twenty-eight students, kids had to sit in the back row, which was about twenty-two feet from the board. I couldn’t arrange the desks in a “U” or a circle because of how many desks there were. Just the size and shape of the room were limits to the effectiveness of my teaching. Based on my experience at that public school plus my four years of teaching in private schools, I have designed the following model classroom.

Layout: The room should be a 20’X20’ square. There is no teacher’s desk. There are thirteen of these desk/chairs and thirteen bean bag chairs. (The Great Books Foundation recommends that, in order to be effective and all members to equally participate, there be no more than 12 participants in a discussion. Those twelve students plus the teacher make 13.) Sometimes these are arranged in a circle, for discussion, sometimes they are pushed to the walls, so students can be up and moving around in the empty space in the classroom. Sometimes, they are in rows, so the students can best see an area of interest. It is important that the chairs be comfortable because learning is hard work, and being comfortable can make participating in hard work more enjoyable. Also, students’ backs shouldn’t need to suffer from poor chairs. While I personally love carpet, this is to be an all-subject classroom, so it needs to have a floor that is very easy to clean. As such, it would be best if it were patterned concrete. This wood design would give the classroom a homey feel, but also be incredibly easy to clean.

One of the walls will have slim bookcases built into it. On these bookcases, each student will have a shelf. There, they will keep a small journal, any books they are currently reading, any necessary texts for the class, and resources they have found useful to their reading, writing, math, and science. The remaining shelves will hold free-reading books and teacher suggested resources. Another wall will be covered with cork board. Each student will have a spot to display his/her work. In addition, the teacher will have a spot to display his/her work and information that will be helpful to the students. The remaining two walls will be painted with idea paint, a new product that turns walls into white boards. It is better to use paint than actually have a white board because a) the paint can cover the entire wall and b) the walls can be repainted when the white board becomes un-writable because of all of the smudges from past work.

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The False Promise of Technology

by ALISTAIR BOMPHRAY

This piece was written in response to a Slate Magazine contest in which readers were encouraged to enter their ideas a for a model classroom.

Technology is amazing, hey? The fact that you’re reading this blog right now is nothing short of amazing. How many new tweets/blog posts/Facebook status updates have been projectile vomited into cyberspace in the short time it has taken you to read these three sentences? It’s like that scene in Stand By Me when Lard Ass Hogan barfs on four-time pie-eating champion, Bill Travis, and then “Bossman” Bob Cormier barfs on Principal Wiggins, and then Principal Wiggins barfs on a lumberjack, and then everybody starts barfing on each other all the way up to the Women’s Auxiliary barfing on the Benevolent Order of Antelopes. Which is all just to say—amazing!

No doubt about it—technology has revolutionized our world. Google is our collective hippocampus (how ironic that I just Google fact-checked that), and wireless broadband our neurons and axons.

But when it comes to school innovation, technology is a crutch. This isn’t to say that it isn’t good, or that it shouldn’t be a part of school innovation, but that too often it enables laziness on the part of school leaders. Rather than do the hard work of thinking about what will really make our students the kind of people we want to inherit the earth (or improve their test scores, if that’s your thing), we compensate for our lack of ideas by bowing before the altar of technology. Got a spare 100K? Build a new Mac lab, by God! Smart Boards in every classroom! Surgically implanted grammar chips!

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Book Review: Wireman: A graphic novel series for inner city students

by ALEXANDRA BOMPHRAY

During my time teaching first and second grade English language learners (ELLs), I was very frustrated that all of the written texts that they were able to successfully independently read were also texts that were written for much younger students.  These texts tended to be simplistic pictures books with limited, if any, story line and were of little interest to my students. The written text provided students with a simpler, fragmented, and often awkward example of the English language.  To make matters worse, these ‘baby’ books—as they were thought of by my students—carried with them the negative stigmatization of being for struggling readers. My ELLs needed books with exciting, age-appropriate storylines that were also accessible for their reading level. Unfortunately, I struggled to find texts meeting that criterion.

Three years ago I became familiar with graphic novels—a new, invigorating genre of children’s literature that provides ELLs with accessible texts that are rich in meaning. Graphic novels look like more advanced chapter books and their complex storylines match those found in higher quality children’s literature. They are an ideal solution for teachers looking for quality texts for their ELLs. Reading graphic novels has the potential to help ELLs avoid the negative stigmatization connected with traditional ELLs’ texts and provide an opening for them to experience the types of texts that lead to vigorous conversation and comprehension. The text in graphic novels also tends to be rich in authentic, interactional English thus helping to model to ELLs the appropriate use of English in a variety of social settings.

While quality graphic novels provide accessible and engaging texts for ELLs, few graphic novels are written specifically for ELLs living in inner cities. This is not unique to graphic novel genre—elementary teachers often struggle finding books in any genre that are personally relevant for students in their culturally diverse inner city schools. For this reason, I was ecstatic when I came across Sue Stauffacher’s Wireman series. Stauffacher created Wireman with the goal of creating a story—within a familiar urban setting—that would help inner city students ‘see’ themselves reflected within the literature. To achieve this objective, she had inner city teens assist her in developing the different storylines in order to ensure the authenticity of her writing. She also uses appealing, black and white images that help to create a gritty and mysterious tone to the novel.

The result of Stauffacher’s work is an engaging, complex story that is steeped in mystery and supported by well-developed and relatable characters.  The multiple mysteries that are weaved together throughout the series help motivate students to read more.  These mysteries also provide an excellent opportunity for students to practice important reading comprehension strategies such as making inferences, asking questions, and predicting. Each addition in the series leaves room for students to discuss with each other what is actually happening and how the different pieces of the mysteries might fit together.

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