The Bay Needs to Get Off Its High Horse

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Techie engineers have informed me no less than three times in the last week that the tech community is progressive and open and just generally has no issues with race/class/gender etc.

The Bay Area in the last decade has become the economic engine of our country, and there are people throwing rocks at Google buses much to the confusion of the “progressive” people on those buses, so since I speak both, I thought I’d take this opportunity to explain why people are so angry.

The Bay Area, like most of the rest of this country IS NOT progressive. I’ve personally witnessed several instances of discrimination, if not, downright hatred of a large number of the general public. It is frustrating and sometimes it has made ME want to throw some rocks, but I think that a lot of people in the Bay Area are confused and I’d like to help with that.

So, I will allow you to call yourselves “progressive” when you accomplish the following:

1) When you no longer have the worst public transportation I’ve ever been on. Seriously, for a bunch of environmentalists, our public transportation is embarrassing. I’m doing serious, permanent damage everyday to my neck because of Caltrain and the VTA buses are worse than the buses that we had in the ghetto in Sacramento. It is indefensible and embarrassing and the only reason it happens is because Silicon Valley is one of the most classist places on the planet.

2) When you stop one-way busing, stop sending your kids to private schools, stop drawing district lines so that poor kids don’t go to school with your kids and when you fund schools properly. Seriously, if you are so progressive and you value education so much, why are all of these things happening? Why don’t you want your children to go to school with poor and non-white children?

3) When start-ups have more than 8 percent female representation of founders, when internet forums are safe spaces for women and when girls are no longer talked out of engineering and science because they don’t want to hang out with people who demean them.

4) When you actually do something about the fact that you’ve made it completely impossible, not just for the poor, but also for the middle classes, LIKE TEACHERS, to live in this area. By the way, who is going to feed you when we all are gone?

5) When you treat soldiers with the respect they deserve. Stanford, Berkeley and the Internet didn’t happen without defense funding. You are all so excited to meet Condi but you’d spit on my brother if I would allow you to do so.

6) When I no longer have to ask able-bodied men to get up from disabled seating.

7) When you start treating the people who serve you, feed you, clothe you, and otherwise care for you, with some semblance of dignity.

8) When I see inter-racial dating beyond the White Guy/Asian Girl trope, and you when you stop acting surprised by relationships that deviate from that norm

9) When you make apps that actually benefit someone other than lazy, socially awkward rich people.

10) When you vote to raise your taxes to pay for all of the social benefits I just listed.

Until you do these things, you can shut up and go to work like the rest of us in the Bay Area. People who were here before you, tirelessly working to make this area so incredibly wonderful, who get up everyday to serve your children and you and do it in silence while you act like entitled, spoiled brats. That would be progressive, what you do currently hardly makes you any better than the Republicans who are at least honest about their prejudices and hatred. The reason people are throwing rocks is because you walk around talking about how wonderfully progressive you are while being blissfully unaware of all of the problems other people are facing. Its infuriating and while I don’t condone the rock throwing, and I don’t think it is effective, I do understand the anger and I also understand that the people in question were left with few options because you choose not to listen to anyone but yourselves. So, I hope, that you will finally listen to someone who speaks in your own tongue. Please for the love of god, get over yourselves, shut up, and get to work before I start encouraging people to get the pitchforks and the guillotines.

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Results from Asking my Students What Worked for Them

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I had my students fill out an exit ticket of all the things that are working for them in my class. This is what they said. Notice, nobody called me cool.

Multiple essays to enhance essay writing
Taught us how to annotate documents
Uses primary sources
Has us practice with difficult vocabulary so we learn from it
Helps us to write essay to prepare for the CAHSEE
Is teaching us how to write a research paper
Teaching us how to annotate documents so we are prepared for PAUSH
Helps us with our writing skills
Shows us how a country/government runs
Shows us how to tell if something is propaganda
Tells us we need to use credible evidence with our arguments
Gives us support in this and other classes
We take notes
We look at lectures
She helps us a lot on our essays
We watch video clips
She works with us to understand topics.
Spends one-on-one time when needed
Treats us with respect yet also treats us like young adults
Believes in “us”
Pushes us to the limit, yet pushes us to succeed
Cares for the students
Lets us know when we do good things
Outlines for essays
Not much homework, we already have enough from our other classes
We get to choose our seats
Lots of group work
Teaches well which makes it easy to understand
Gives us time in class to work on things
Makes learning interesting
Gives reliable life examples and experiences
Lets us eat in class
Is more realistic than other teachers
More motivational than other teachers
We have group discussions
We have class debates
She ties things into modern issues
She makes sure we are comfortable
She uses a lot of vides and resources and FUN!
She gives us opportunities to do make-up on essays
She’s kind but very direct and patient
She makes learning very fun
She makes us feel comfortable
She teaches assignments in fun and intuitive ways
Doesn’t force certain ways of thinking that almost all teachers good or bad do here which is bad for students, instead lets us for our own opinion which makes education fun
Is constantly pushing us toward success which includes one-on-one time, help in all subjects, and even help on critical thinking skills
Teaches us how to shorten long passages
Is very descriptive and detailed when teaching
Helps us to understand history in another way
You make sure we understand the work
You believe in us
Never say no to helping
Very supportive
Makes sure we are ok in our daily lives
Helps s get work done in class so we don’t have too much to do at home
Connects with the class
Really energetic
Knows what she is talking about
Can relate with some stuff
Group Assignments
She taught us how to source and it actually helped on the CAHSEE Prompt
She taught us how to write an essay
She gives more freedom than anyone else, she lets us work in groups
She leaves us thinking
She doesn’t teach history, for she teaches us how to use our minds and question things and how to think critically.
She makes it soooo easy to get help
She doesn’t just wish us luck on our assignments but she gives us help
She understands us.
She shows good historical movies
Inspires us to challenge ourselves
Takes time to help us individually
Teaches us how to write proper essays
Prepares us for standardized tests
Understands individual needs
Makes sure everyone is heard
Gives us notes that are brief and get the point across
She trusts us that we will get our work done
She provides us with documents that are very helpful when writing essays
Her lectures are short but filled with everything we need
Whenever we need her to elaborate on anything we just ask.
She lets us use our phones to look things up and do work
She lets us listen to music.
We do a fair amount of writing that helped us make a well constructed 5 paragraph essay
We have intellectual discussions
We look at multiple sources to distinguish evidence
She teaches us how to think on our own.

“Ms. Charles is such a sweet lady who dedicates time to help us achieve whatever we do in her classroom. Ms. Charles understands that I have anxiety and she works with me so I don’t get behind in classwork. Ms. Charles also makes her classroom feel like a home. I feel very comfortable in her classroom because she doesn’t put pressure on us. She always motivates my classmates and I to always try our best and never give up. I love Ms. Charles and I think other teachers should be like her or follow some of her classroom expectations.”

“The things that have helped me a lot have been the one on one talks and how you teach, you give us a lot of work and you help us through it and explain thoroughly. I don’t really get help like this in other classes.”

“Ms. Charles is a very sweet lady. She cares about her students as if they were her own kids. She makes the classroom feel very welcoming.”

“Ms. Charles is awesome!! The way she teaches is better than any other teacher, she gives us powerpoints, videos, and she explains everything in words we understand. She uses video clips and taught us how to take notes in our own words. She lets us share our perspective, makes topics interesting, she uses thing that happen now and compares them to history. She treats us with respect and gives us equality in the classroom and trusts us to get things done and we do because we have equality and we all look up to her and have respect for her. “

You Can Lecture on Grit Only if You’ve been Gritty As Fuck

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Did you, in your childhood and against your will, ever go to school hungry for extended periods of time? If no, then you lack the qualifications to comment on whether or not it is possible to do that and you lack the qualifications to “teach” anyone how to do so. However for the sake of shutting this nonsense down I’m going to explain why this grit conversation is not a good use of time and resources.

I am a remarkably, unusually, insanely resilient individual. I grew up crazy (not Fox News poor) poor, I had a mother with a substance abuse problem, I was severely physically, emotionally and sexually abused for the first 13 years of my life, I helped raise my siblings, I grew up in poor, dangerous communities that lacked access to basic services, I have a very serious disability and I went to Stanford. There are very few people in the entire world that have a similar profile. There is no one in the world who would love it more than I would if it were possible to teach people to do that, but it is not. It is incredibly insulting and offensive for me to have people who grew up with privilege trying to argue with me about whether or not that is true. Would you go up to Harriet Tubman and argue that she proves that slaves should have just freed themselves? So then why would you tell me that anyone can overcome poverty like I did? Most privileged people can’t into schools like Stanford and getting into a school like Stanford is one of the very few, limited ways to escape poverty.

That would be fine with me if it served a larger purpose but the grit narrative is just more of the “poor people need to work harder” in cuter language. It is possible on an individual level to use my narrative to encourage individual students to do well, I do it very successfully all the time and I’m exceptionally good at it. That is fine, but that is very different from acting like it is acceptable education policy to promote that. It is not a policy position, it is something you use as triage to do your best to help as many kids as you can.

Some people are making this argument because they work with privileged children and have noticed that they don’t deal with challenges well. This is a problem for privileged children but that is a specific population and it’s an incredibly intellectually foolish thing to use that and apply it to the poor, which is why it is so important for us to talk about class explicitly in education.

“You did it, so they can.” Perhaps the thing that bothers me most is that the argument is basically: because an extraordinary individual was able to get past all our intentional barriers we are off the hook for removing barriers. It is basically, gee, sorry you had to suffer so much as a child but you know, I like shinies and it wasn’t so bad so I’m not going to do anything about it. I find it especially aggravating when people who work on social justice issues promote this and then say: well we can’t eliminate these problems so I guess we better teach some kids how to comply with their oppression. Calling that lazy would be generous. That is not good enough. So on an individual level, use my story if it helps the kids but “buck up and learn to comply” is not a policy. Policies would be things like raising taxes on top earners, increasing the minimum wage, helping workers organize, increasing funding to education or providing child care. I see very few people spending their time, energy and resources arguing and fighting for those things. There is no excuse for that anymore. You can give motivational speeches to my kids when you are using your platform to fight for policies that eliminate barriers. Until then, have a seat because, as my mom would say, grown folks is talking.

If You Fail Kids, That’s on You. Here’s Some Ways to Prevent it

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“Ms. Charles won’t let people fail.” I have a virtually unheard of pass rate and my sophomores are also doing research and reading primary source material daily, they also write daily. I work at a comprehensive, large, integrated public school. About two thirds of my students are ell and a little over that is poor. I’ve been dragged into a lot of meetings by bosses this year because my pass rate freaks them out. They think I’m cheating or letting the kids run wild. The truth of the matter is that my behavioral and academic standards are insanely high. My kids do more intellectually rigorous work in my class then any other. My AP seniors squeal all the about how hard I am and they all pass my class and most of them pass their released AP exams. Most of what I do might not be replicable. I have a B.A. from Stanford and an incredibly strong research background, I have SPED training and experience and I was a key activist for poor students undergrad and I have my masters from Stanford, I trained under crazy good teachers and at 26, I have worked in nearly every educational environment imaginable. I’m also nuts and probably unique but there are some things I do that are immediately and easily replicable and would benefit the majority of students.

There are three foundational principles to this.

1) Don’t be a dick to kids

Adults aren’t as productive at work when they are stressed out, miserable, uncomfortable or depressed. Why we would expect children to perform under those conditions is beyond me. Make your room as comfortable as possible and the kids will do better. People are more motivated by love and community. We perform better for people who inspire us than we will for people we fear, kids are no different. Teachers are leaders, first and foremost.

2) From each according to their ability, to each according to the need

IEPs and 504s are legally binding documents so if you aren’t implementing those you are breaking the law. You have no right to an opinion about whether the kid needs it, ever. But there are lots of kids who fall into the cracks, and very few people have the temperament, ability and motivation to be successful in the industrial model of schooling. So all of my kids get all of the accommodations they need to be successful. I have high but realistic and individualized expectations for all of my students and I provide as much structure as they need to get there.

3) I take personal responsibility for each child’s success

The quote above is commonly said in my class. When they told me that most teachers were failing half their kids I wondered how they slept at night. Notice that I said “failing their kids” not “half the kids are failing.” My job is to train them to be productive members of society and to help them a achieve their fullest humanity. When they fail, I’ve failed them. My kids know this so well that when one of them says something about not doing an assignment the others say: ” dude, you know she’ll find you and make you do it.” Failure is not an option in my class. They don’t have the choice, I am an efficient and benevolent dictator.

So again, not everything I do is easy to do but a few are

1) Don’t assign homework unless it’s for practice

Homework is unfair and unnecessary in the vast majority of cases. It’s ok to assign a little bit of reading and some math and science practice but it should be avoided. Some kids go home to moms and dads who do it for them and some of them don’t have a home. It doesn’t tell you anything about their learning because you have no idea how it got done. With homework, school, extracurricular and family commitments (some of my kids are working full time or raising their siblings) kids are pulling more than 8 hour days, usually much more. That’s not right and it’s unhealthy and they aren’t gaining from it. It is also incredibly unfair for educators to ask their students to do something they haven’t, couldn’t and wouldn’t do and very few teachers have had to be successful in our high stakes environment while raising their siblings and working.

2) Accept late work

If you don’t accept late work you are grading them on organization, how good their home life is, and compliance. Most of my Hispanic kids won’t turn in work unless it perfect out of respect for the teacher, some of my kids don’t know how to keep track of their work because their home life is chaotic and some are just forgetful. It is a bald-face lie to say this is preparing them for the real world. Find me an educated adult who has never asked for an extension, forgotten paperwork or refused to do something they thought was stupid and I will find you a liar or someone who is really into compliance which is only good for bureaucrats.

Allow the children the opportunity to revise

The goal is everyone getting mastery, yes? So some kids do that at different times, if you allow them to revise it will encourage them to reflect and improve. It you make them feel terrible for not understanding at your preferred pace they will develop fear and poor self esteem. When you screw up at work, your boss tells you to do it over. They don’t say, you’ll never do this right and you should have done this earlier. If they do, they are a bad boss and most adults won’t succeed or tolerate that for long.

Don’t grade attendance, compliance, tardiness, the number of times they speak or neatness

Unless those are the content and skills that you are measuring in your area (which would be SPed, AVID, or advisory not math, English or history) their grade should reflect mastery of the content or skills only. Does your boss micromanage you and tell you job is inadequate when it got the job done? As adults we know that would be bad management so you aren’t preparing them for anything valuable. Most kids have little to no control over attendance and tardiness because they are minors and also because they don’t have magical healing powers. 9 times out of ten they are out or late for reasons outside of their control and the tenth isn’t so egregious that you can’t deal with it individually.

There are a lot of things I do beyond this but these are the easiest and quickest to implement, it won’t guarantee every kid passes but a lot more will pass than if you are doing the opposite. As teachers we should be continuously reflecting and improving our practice to ensure that we don’t fail our kids because it is good teaching but also because it is the best way to teach personal responsibility.