Friday, October 11, 2013

Dealing with change

I love the gentle turning of the seasons.  Its happening again! Daylight is diminishing by about 4 minutes a day.   The liquid amber trees are turning reds and orange, the cottonwoods are showing signs of turning yellow and brown.  I am waiting for the Granny Smith apples to ripen  ...also the Hayashi Persimmons... I know of a street chestnut tree in my neighborhood that drops chestnuts to the sidewalk for people to collect in competition with the squirrels.  The nights are dropping to below 50 F and an extra blanket feels good. 

I am back to work – Field supervisor for 3 student teachers with Mills College, and at Cal State University I have 3 interns (teaching 5 paid periods a day) and 4 student teachers who teach one.  My good friends at Teach for America did not receive a grant this year and so had to drop all paid field supervisors. I miss them; they are good folks.

Education Building - Mills College

The Science/Math program at Mills College is developing a new program to explore how best to support new teachers in inner city Oakland.  We met yesterday, for an evening dinner meeting,  with a group of experienced Oakland teachers who are all hosting student teachers in their classrooms this year.  We met to brainstorm with them such questions as “What keeps a teacher in the Oakland Unified system?" "For what reasons do people leave teaching in Oakland?"  "What additional skills do new teachers need to be prepared to be successful in inner city schools?"  "What role can school administrators plan to increase the chances of new teacher success?"

Classroom wall poster - Designed to build personal accountability

A goal of the meeting was to start in motion a new task force to create a plan to be implemented in one year. The Design Team will advise the Secondary Math/Science Education program at Mills in developing a closer working relationship with a limited number of target Oakland schools to place and support long term success of new prepare them to better meet the need of all kids in their classes.

At Mills we say " There are lots of ways to be smart"... But some of these ways have strong cultural roots. If you are of one culture it may be difficult to recognize or value "smart" in someone of another culture...

These are powerful questions with implications for far more than Oakland schools.  For those of you not familiar with Oakland, it is a perfect laboratory for this project.  Oakland is noted for a wide diversity of communities – bridging the complete national, social, and racial spectrums. The special high tech industries of the Bay Area have attracted talented people from around the world.

View across Oakland, and beyond, across the Bay, to San Francisco

 Many workers from all parts of the US have moved here, attracted by ship building in the WWII years,  and by opportunities to work in Silicon Valley today.  We are a center of many fine medical centers...which also are in need of a vast well trained support staff.  All of these factors contribute to the make up of our schools today.

A lower middle class neighborhood in Oakland

Some of the problems that emerged last night...
·      *  Some school administrators allocate the lowest achieving classes, made up of students who have failed a course at least once to new teachers.
·      *  Some schools do not foster collegiality and communication between teachers.  A new teacher may feel isolated and without adequate support.

A classroom wall poster to remind kids that everyone has something important to contribute to problem solving and learning

·      *  A teacher of one culture may come into classrooms with students of different cultural traditions and may appear condescending or with expectations of imposing his or her culture on everyone.   If they do so, they are frequently met with resentment or a tendency to drop out.
·      *  New teachers often feel that they do not have an adequate knowledge of how to deal with discipline in classes of differing cultural expectations. (What do you do where there is a strong-minded student who competes with the teacher for control of the class?)
·      *  Funding cuts remove vital support people, valuable class offerings, and materials necessary to run the programs.

A village school in Ecuador...

It is important to note that some schools have already developed positive proactive programs to build high standards of student responsibility.  Some teachers last night spoke of staying in Oakland because they loved the students – “Oakland students are unique – they have a special way of seeing the world.”  We heard of schools that do support young teachers to increase the chances of their continuation in teaching.

Self portrait of BayArea student

 There are BITSA  (on site school support) programs to assist new teachers in their first years.  Many teachers are only too pleased to share their files (made increasingly easy with internet sharing).... Part of the problem is setting up real or virtual opportunities to share.  Still there is a lot of work to do.  One suggesting last night was “Just don’t hang out with the negative people that are perpetual complainers – they will only bring you down.”

Self portrait of BayArea student

Self portrait of BayArea student

Self portrait of BayArea student

Self portrait of BayArea student