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Exchange Brings Teachers from Palestine
by Jan Rog Summer Institute 2008 MCC Longview Dear Jan, Hello from me and on behalf of my friends. Hi from Palestine and its people, as well. Hello from my children and wife, from the doves of land, the grapes, figs, and olive trees of Palestine. So began a recent email from Professor Mahmoud Hajouj, who visited MCC Longview on June 24, 2010. Two chaperones and 13 teachers pursuing their MATESL degrees at Hebron University comprised this 15-person delegation, visiting the United States through the Department of State’s Interna- Teachers enrolled in Hebron University’s MATESL program visited tional Visitor Leadership Program. MCC Longview in June, meeting teachers, administrators, and others. When Katie Kline, our Greater Kansas City Writing Project director, contacted various area ESL from a far different part of the wore the stole bearing the Palestinand ESOL teachers asking if we world, here in the Midwest for just ian colors, the entire room was filled with awe as these two leaders might host class visits, I immedi- a brief time. First, President Fred Grogan embraced. Dr. Joan Bergstrom, ately said yes. Many people volunteered to be addressed the delegation when director of our ABLE program, part of that day: our president, they arrived, setting the tone of described it this way: “Something unexpected hapfellow teachers, many students, respect and peace when he personand even my husband, Steve. I still ally greeted Dr. Ahmad Elatawneh, pened for me. When President marvel at the opportunity we had who in turn gave a gift of gratitude. Grogan was presented his gift, I (Continued on page 2) to meet and welcome teachers When Dr. Grogan accepted and
• Fall Writing Retreat Oct. 9, 9 a.m., Diastole • Study Group, second Mondays, 5:30 p.m., 5201 Rockhill Road • NWP Annual Meeting, Nov. 18 - 19, Orlando • Work Day, Dec. 4, 8 a.m. - 5 p.m., 5201 Rockhill Road • Write to Learn Conference, March 3 - 5, 2011, Osage Beach, MO • Rural Sites Network Conference, March 11 - 12, 2011, Little Rock, AK
Inside this issue:
New ELL Conference 2 Call for Proposals Western Kansas Plans Mini-SI Study Group News TC Spotlight: Paul Donovan 3 3 4
Spring Summit Rewards Middle School Writers & Teachers
by Kathy Moran Summer Institute 1993 Retired Long before winter loosened her icy grasp on the metropolitan area, GKCWP Teacher Consultants Maria Robertson and Kathy Moran began preparation for the much anticipated annual Middle School Writing Conference. That work paid off in the spring. On March 31, 66 students came to the UMKC conference from Barstow, Antioch, Pioneer Trail, Lakeview, Notre Dame de Sion, and Oxford. Session topics ranged from writing with figurative language to expanding journal entries into narrative essays. Students collaborated with TCs Chris Esch (Blue Springs), Mary Beth Rich (Pleasant Hill), Cyn-
Read excerpts of the prize-winning entries and see the list of winners. Page 7
thia Knight (Hyman Brand Hebrew), Kristin Meyer (Fort Osage), and Gretchen Carroll (Oak Park). As the students delved into writing, twelve public and private school teachers from both sides of the state line attended presentations led by TCs Shawn Schmelzle (Blue Springs) and Dana Demar (Orrick). Schmelzle discussed the benefits and barriers of writing across the curriculum initiatives; Demar addressed strategies to develop personal
Writing Center News 5 Student Writing Conference TC Reflection Teachers Open Up About Losing Jobs Calling All Techies Winners of the Middle School Writing Conference 5 ? 6 7 7
reading portfolios based on the different intelligences. Inspired Occasions catered lunch, and many students took advantage of the beautiful weather to eat outside before gathering in the auditorium to hear the writing contest results. Contest judges Rich, Robertson, and Moran were impressed with the skill and talent of the many young writers. Using criteria of creative content, fluency, voice, and overall presentation, they selected nine winners in three categories: poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Winners received a journal and a certificate and were invited to share their work. First-place winners also received full scholarships to the Student Writing Project in July.
by Lucinda Comer Summer Institute 2009 Central Middle School A research brief published by the National Council of Teachers of English contains this staggering metric: “In the past thirty years, the foreignborn population of the U.S. has tripled, more than 14 million immigrants moved to the U.S. during the 1990s, and another 14 million are expected to arrive between 2000 and 2010.” As a result, schools are being held much more accountable in meeting the needs of the growing population of English Language Learners (ELL) and students who are Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CLD). How can schools meet the challenge? How can teachers best serve this student population so that they can achieve academic success? One of the goals of the Greater Kansas City Writing Project is to create a network of teachers who sup(Continued from page 1)
within the classroom. Each participant will receive a notebook that will include handouts from all of the presentations. Throughout the sessions, educators will be given time and support to network with other schools, have conversations with presenters and attendees, and develop implementation plans for best practices in their own programs and classrooms. Participants will also learn about professional development opportunities offered by the Greater Kansas City Kansas Writing Project and by the Kansas Writing Project Coalition. It is the hope of the organizers that those who attend the conference will be inspired to apply to the Summer Institute to become Teacher Consultants. As TCs, educators further develop their expertise in working with and supporting ELL and CLD students, and become part of an active network of teachers who support each other in this goal.
New Conference Planned for Teachers of Diverse Students
port one another by sharing effective instructional practices. The ELL Committee is pleased to announce the Greater Kansas City Writing Project Conference: Serving Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students. This two-day seminar will be held at Central Middle School in Kansas City, Kansas in June 2011. The school was selected to host the conference because 65 percent of the school’s students are English Language Learners and 95 percent of its students are culturally and linguistically diverse. The school is also celebrating its success in closing the achievement gap for its students. The conference will address the academic needs of ELL and CLD students from kindergarten through post-secondary education, and attendees will benefit from national and local expertise. Keynote speakers include Dr. Diana Geisler, who has done extensive work with Josefina Delgado, a woman from El Salvador, later told me, “Too much violence exists because we cannot learn to know each other. That day I wanted to meet people who want peace because I know some of the hurt they know. I want to be one person more who works for peace. My daughter will see me and learn integrity in doing this.” I’m still amazed remembering her sincerity and compassion. I was especially proud to work with my colleagues in this endeavor. Strong, steadfast, professional support for other teachers underpins The National Writing Project, and we truly exemplified this spirit of collegiality. Mike Ekey, our public relations specialist, came at the beginning and interviewed various people. Burke Maxted, a counselor, spent the afternoon with the delegates, willing to facilitate conversation if needed. Other faculty presented their expertise. Joan Bergstrom shared innovations she has brought as Director of ABLE, highlighting her students’ strengths and achievements. Biologist Greg Loftin led a tour of his labs, fascinating onlookers as they searched for the animals and Committee Members: Emilee Rose, Jan Rog, Carmen Truax, Jessica Brookman, Jean Halley, Katie Kline, and Cindy Comer providing best practices for ELL instruction in Kansas City, KS, public schools; and Professor Bruce Inwards from Avila University, where he is Director of International Studies and founder of MATESL. Local educators who have had success with their ELL and CLD students are invited to submit proposals for sessions; the deadline is December 2010. Invitations will be sent in February to schools in Missouri and Kansas. Teachers will gain a wealth of effective strategies, ideas for conducting teacher inquiry and action research, and methods for incorporating cultural diversity of family and community plants his students regularly study. Jim Pratt, a retired computer science teacher, provided many of the best practices and lessons that reflect his master teaching. Dr. Jim McGraw, one of our counselors, noted: “My most salient impressions include the relevant and collegial discussions that occurred throughout the visit. The outpouring of gratitude, appreciation, and friendliness expressed by the Hebron teachers throughout their visit were very positive and stimulating. In my opinion, this was a mutually beneficial interchange among all involved parties.” As the teachers presented through the day, one recurring theme was telling one’s story, leading to many other poignant moments. When Wayne Yang presented an anthropology lecture about culture, he deeply touched the delegates’ hearts by sharing some of his own experiences coming from Laos and growing up as an ELL in the Midwest. Jim McGraw’s lecture about “The Myth of Sisyphus” inspired and prompted many to share; the lesson of taking on
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was suddenly overwhelmed by the significance of that event. To me, it was very powerful statement. Not only was he representing Longview, he represented the citizens of America who are willing to accept, work with, and partner with people who share our common interests despite political ideology. It was a privilege to see that.” Next, the students themselves were essential that day. JR Byers, Regional President of Phi Theta Kappa, welcomed the delegation on behalf of MCC students. Numerous other students came in support of their teachers who presented that day, enjoying the event so much that they stayed for the entire visit. My class of ELL students prepared food from their respective cultures, and I found myself smiling at their earnestness; suddenly shy before new teachers from another part of the world, they became a little quiet that afternoon. Regaining their talkative, expressive natures later, they pursued correspondence with some delegates through letters and shared pictures for the rest of the summer session. As
Call for Summer Institute 2011 Nominees
2011 Invitational Summer Institute June 13 to July 8, 2011 We will be mailing our annual call for SI nominations later this month, and we encourage you to start talking with your colleagues about this rewarding professional development opportunity. Visit our website to see details and the brochure for the 2011 Invitational Summer Institute. The GKCWP especially encourages the nomination of outstanding urban educators in elementary schools and teachers from underrepresented content areas: math, science, foreign language, music, social studies, and special education. Your instructional coaches and administrators can also be nominated. Email your nominations to the GKCWP office: firstname.lastname@example.org. The initial review of applications will be January 15, 2011.
Save a Few MiniWestern Kansas Plans Mini-SI Next Summer Monday Nights by DeAnna Meyer a joint SI, either by rotating re- tations to writing project events, sponsibility for instruction or including dates and contact inforInstitute for Study Group SummerChrisman2007 sharing it. This might look like mation. This might help plan the William HS
by Thomas Ferrell Summer Institute 2003 UMKC Last year, GKCWP’s third annual Project Outreach Study Group began with something a little unusual: engaging with spoken texts. First, we listened to a discussion with Michael Eric Dyson, Cornel West, and Tavis Smiley titled “The N Word” on Cornel West’s CD, Never Forget: A Journey of Revelations; in October, we attended a talk by Michael Eric Dyson, part of UMKC’s Social Justice Lecture and Book Program. Inspired by Dr. Dyson’s challenge to take up LGBT equity matters, Study Group spent the rest of the year reading, writing about, and discussing texts dealing with LGBT topics. Texts included “Queer Matters: Educating Educators about Homophobia” and “The Safe Space Kit: Guide to Being an Ally to LGBT Students.” The Study Group readings and talks inspired some of us to create opportunities in our lesson plans to write and talk about equity matters present in our curriculum that had not been formally addressed. For me, Study Group directly connected with conversations I was having with writing consultants about allying with underrepresented groups, and provided resources to share with my staff at the UMKC Writing Center. It also gave me space to write and talk about how to continue these conversations with my colleagues. Study Group meets the second Monday of each month from 5:30 until 7:30 p.m. at the GKCWP offices at 5201 Rockhill Road. No preparation required. Participants read, write, and talk about equity matters that relate to the three guiding principles of Project Outreach: relevance, access, and diversity. Graduate credit is available. For more information, email email@example.com. In June, Cynthia Knight and I traversed the beautiful plains of Kansas to Garden City, joining members of the Flint Hills Writing Project, the South Central Kansas Writing Project, and a group of western Kansas teachers to explore what the writing project groups and the teachers of western Kansas might have to offer each other. The KWPC Western Kansas Summit ran like a mini-SI with writing activities and demos. Discussions with teachers and others showed that there is a need for writing instruction and a need for an emphasis on writing in the district. At the day’s end, the teachers expressed a strong interest in pursuing their own SI. This was very exciting, but there remained the question of how to pull this off, considering that the nearest writing project site is about four hours from Garden City, and no one was excited about spending a month in Garden City (no offense, GC). The representatives of the three sites (GKCWP, FHWP and SCKWP) came up with some great ideas for western Kansas. The most promising was hosting
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this: The first three days, SCKWP would lead, sharing the third day with GKCWP, who would then take responsibility for the next three days, followed by FHWP. Since Garden City typically closes school before Memorial Day, June seemed the best time. Also, the district already hosts a literacy institute every spring, which could extend into the summer institute. One important challenge remained: how to keep up this momentum and energy and extend it to others in that area. The following is a list of suggestions generated that day: * Keep the original group of teachers together and encourage them to bring a friend. * Invite teachers to attend or drop in on one or more of the three sites. * Have GCKWP/FHWP and/or SCKWP come to Garden City to recruit and inspire by presenting a full day in-service at the high school, perhaps in August. Any such presentation might focus on supporting instruction for ELL and/or continuing the family story. * Use email to communicate regularly; for example, send invi-
seed of SI 2011 as well as encourage teachers to recommend others who may be interested. * Create an online or inperson book study. Provide reading materials such as “Because Writing Matters” or “Breathing in, Breathing out.” * Identify a Garden City teacher to participate in the August 3rd KWPC meeting. * Create a distance learning setting. With all of these fantastic suggestions on the table (and online), writing project site reps hit the road with optimism and a genuine appreciation for the concerns of western Kansas. In August, writing project reps met again to discuss what could be done. We looked back at the suggestions from June and considered how to make this thing happen. The group decided to continue working to get the 2011 SI off the ground. With three enthusiastic and active writing project sites collaborating, it seems entirely feasible to conduct a shortened SI in Garden City. While many details must still be worked out, we all look forward to seeing this project come to fruition next summer. visit, we had a few technical problems, and the June heat was just a bit excessive during the campus tours. All in all, though, I was greatly pleased. In fact, this is among my proudest collaborations with my colleagues and our students. Everything within this exchange renewed me: love of learning, respect for the individual, and commitment to professional and intercultural relationships. Perhaps that hope is what we can continue to give each other, just as Mahmoud concluded in his letter: I am happy to exchange knowledge with respectful people like you and with all wise people in the States we knew. Health and Happiness to you, to your generousspirited husband. Please write soon and keep in touch.
life’s greatest challenges spoke to them just as it does to students. When I taught my regular class and included the Palestinians, I focused on children’s rights in coming-of-age novels from around the world. The underlying message was that children’s rights are human rights. As the day went on, we grew more familiar and comfortable with each other. Some of the Palestinian teachers spoke directly from the heart about their life stories. It was humbling to hear these first stories, and I would have enjoyed hearing them all. My students and I have begun writing to these delegates, and I hope to continue. We all have stories to share, some painful and some joyful. This was not a perfect visit.
Dr. Fred Grogan accepts the delegates’ gift of a stole.
Before the visit and even after, a few people responded with sarcasm and pessimism. During the
“Once the SI is over, don’t let it just float off into your memory. You have to keep the fire going. You learned plenty to keep developing as a teacher and as a person. Don’t squander it. ”
TC Spotlight: Paul Donovan
by Kathy Moran Summer Institute 1993 Retired Surely, American philosopher Henry David Thoreau had TC Paul Donovan in mind when he wrote, “If a man loses pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away.” Paul, a seven-year Schlagle High School (Kansas City, KS) math teacher and a third-year adjunct instructor at KCK Community College, is definitely not a lock-step educator or thinker. A member of the Summer Institute Leadership Team, Paul also leads GKCWP workshops on using technology in the classroom, and he is working on an interdisciplinary PhD in urban education and mathematics from UMKC. Composing Ourselves: What inspired you to become a math teacher? Paul: I became a teacher partly by accident, and partly as revenge. In the early 2000s, I was working for the National Conference for Community and Justice. I had been hired under a federal mental health grant to work with high school students in the Kansas City metro area on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered issues. In addition, I began doing workshops for students in areas surrounding racism, sexism, and religious bias. In 2004, President Bush decided not to renew the grant I was hired under, and I found myself jobless. From a co-worker, I learned about the Kansas City Teaching Fellows. It was a program that took people with degrees, put them in urban school districts as teachers, and sent them to school at night to become certified and earn a master’s in education. My undergrad degree was in physics, so I applied for the program, was accepted, and was placed as a math teacher in Kansas City, Kansas. My other motivation for becoming a teacher, besides the fact I had no other immediate prospects, was to make up for the terrible math and science instructors I had in high school. One in particular, who shall remain nameless, was also the football coach. I ended up teaching the class for more than one lesson that year. CO: The GKCWP leadership actively seeks teachers outside the discipline of English. Still, it’s unusual to have a math instructor take a course that is immersed in writing. What prompted you to participate in the Summer Institute? Paul: A colleague , Erin Wilkey, went through the SI in 2008 and recommended
that I take the course in 2009. At first I thought she was kidding — after all, I’m a math teacher. But she was very serious. And I do try to get my students to understand math as a language in its own right, as a means of communicating. I applied for the SI, almost as a lark, and was accepted. CO: What are some ways you incorporate writing into your math classes? Paul: I regularly have my students write, usually through some sort of critical thinking exercises. For example, math is a way of identifying patterns, so I sometimes present a picture, video, or song lyrics and ask the class to identify patterns in what they see or hear. In “train of thought” exercises, I provide a strange photograph with no context and ask them to conjecture about what is going on and write about it. Working with the WP has helped me refine ideas for writing prompts. My advanced students read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which is about an autistic teenager who tries to solve the mystery of who killed the neighbor’s dog. The boy’s autism provides him with gifted skills in mathematics, and as readers, we see how he operates in the world in a hyper-logical way, identifying patterns in everything. CO: Is it true that you are a rebel as far as mainstream education goes? Paul: Ah, yes, the rebel question. For about five years, our district relied on a bizarre system of “benchmarks” to teach concepts to our students; the curriculum ended up being amazingly successful in making our students even less prepared for college than they were before. I mean, we were actively hurting our kids. After trying to voice my concerns for a couple of years and being stonewalled, I
spearheaded what became known as “the underground resistance.” I collected stories and opinions from anonymous teachers around the district, and then edited and released two reports that were, I admit, pretty vicious critiques of the curriculum. Having been stymied by the proper hierarchy, I released them into the wild among teachers in various schools, as well as straight into the email boxes of high-level district personnel. Let’s just say that when I released the reports, I was removed from several people’s Christmas card lists. I was more than a little concerned for my job. But it was an act of conscience; I really felt I had no other choice. Little by little, I realized that my reports were being taken seriously and discussed behind closed doors. Coincidentally or not, the benchmark curriculum was scrapped this year in favor of one that appears to be much more sane. CO: Tell us about your book on atheism. Paul: A few years ago, as an offshoot of my previous job mixed with my own personal explorations, I published Happily Godless: A Young Adult’s Guide to Atheism (available at various online bookstores). My audience is primarily young adults, and the book includes essays by young atheists. I chose to contract with Publish America, rather than the big publishing companies, because it was much easier to get my book in print — to publicize my message. That was most important to me. CO: What interests do you have outside of education and the classroom? Paul: I am an avid video game player and a part-time movie and theater critic for Camp magazine here in KC. I love horror movies, even bad ones, and one of my greatest pleasures is to deconstruct them for their social, cultural, and sexual messages. I am an outspoken opponent of the Twilight series on the grounds that it is sexist and abusive. I have been removed from a couple of Christmas card lists for that stance, as well. I love reading, especially authors like Bret Easton Ellis, William Burroughs, and old-school Anne Rice. My guilty pleasure is Stephen King. CO: What advice would you give to the ’10 Fellows starting a new school year? Paul: Once the SI is over, nobody is going to make you use the stuff you learned or thought about. Please, don’t let it just float off into your memory or into a collection of amusing pictures on your computer. You have to keep the fire going. You learned plenty to keep developing as a teacher and as a person. Don’t squander it.
New Writing Center Leaders Create Network of Support
by Mary McGinty Summer Institute 2006 Washington HS I’ve been operating an informal writing center at Wyandotte High School in the KCK district for two years. Staffed by one person, me, and located in the library, the writing center’s scheduling revolves around the availability of … me, and it’s not advertised much because, well, it's just me. That is, it was just me until July 30, when I attended a oneday workshop organized by Thomas Ferrell, director of the UMKC Writing Center, and by GKCWP. Ferrell knew that several metro schools were in various stages of operating their own writing centers, and he guessed that we needed some inspiration and some practical networking. He was right. Twenty-nine participants representing sixteen schools turned out for the workshop, with most of us in the planning stages or on the verge of opening a writing center. Our first task was to identify at what stage each of us found ourselves, and problems or obstacles we had already encountered. In my case, the problem involved location and staffing. Our school’s English instructional coach also attended, so he and I took the opportunity to formalize an ideal plan and goal for Wyandotte: a student-staffed writing center, housed in the library. What we needed was a way to use student tutors without interfering in their own academics, and a schedule that could offer a couple of opportunities within the school day for students to visit the center. What the workshop brought all of us was an opportunity to compare experiences: the difficulties we each encountered, the conflicts we could anticipate, and the solutions that each had found. We also had the opportunity to talk via Skype with Richard Kent, the author of A Guide to Creating Student-Staffed Writing Centers. It was, if nothing else, reassuring to visit with someone who has paved the way for studentstaffed writing centers. Postscript: Our staffing and hours have been solved. We have recruited student tutors who are enrolled in college classes, and they staff our writing center on their days off from school. We are currently undergoing tutor training, our center offers two blocks of time on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, the Class of 2009 is donating money for furniture, and we even have a field trip planned to visit the Writing Center at UMKC. I worked hard the first two years on our writing center, but I needed a network of support to make it grow. When it happened, it happened fast ... and it’s not just me any more.
Student Conference Ends in Funky, Jazzy Readings
By Maria Robertson Summer Institute 2007 Yeokum MS “Pleeeeease, can we write just a little more??” That may sound like a dream, but it was business as usual at this summer’s Student Writing Conference. Thirty students in grades 6 through 12 came together to explore new genres and share their work with each other. TCs Chris Esch, Kathy Moran, Krysta Wyss and Maria Robertson met with the students Monday through Thursday in two sessions from July 5 to 29. The Writing Center supported our efforts, and each day found writers stuffed into every nook and cranny, creating and composing to each exercise the TCs offered. Whether it was “The Mysteries of Harris Burdick” or “A day in the life of a shoe,” the young writers produced draft after draft of excellent writing. The highlight of each session was a public reading held on the last afternoon. Prospero’s Books hosted our first reading and provided a funky, eclectic backdrop for the student’s work. The final session ended at the Blue Room of the American Jazz Museum, a fitting venue for the celebration of creativity. This year we added a Facebook Fan Page and a NiceNet discussion board so students can continue the conversations they began this summer. A follow-up session is planned this winter. Both the Student Writing Conference and the Middle School Writing Conference are an opportunity to support the growth of young writers in the Metro area and to encourage more Middle School Educators to join us in the GKCWP.
InTC Leads In-Service Day, Takes Home New Ideas
by Claire Iwai Summer Institute 2009 Blue Valley Northwest HS In early June, I had the privilege of facilitating an in-service for about 20 teachers in the Leavenworth School District, a day of professional discourse framed by writing and filled with ideas. We spent the morning working through various strategies that allow for more frequent daily writing across the curriculum. From Cornell Notes to “Top 5” lists, all participants got their hands dirty and, based on discussion, seemed to have found at least one strategy they could adopt in their classrooms. In the afternoon, I shared the portfolio project I created as a result of my time in the GKCWP’s Summer Institute last year. The project, born out of my Teacher Inquiry Workshop, made its official debut in my junior English classes last year, and I will continue to revise and use the portfolio in the future. During the in-service, to allow for more cross-curricular usage, I altered the presentation of the project as a “composition portfolio” to one of self-reflection, as space affording students the chance to track their own progress. I found participants to be receptive to different ideas and new approaches, and I also was inspired to revise and improve my own teaching methods as a result of the day. Are you interested in seeing more of what the Writing Project can offer your building and district outside of your classroom? Teacher Consultants and Writing Project participants are encouraged to speak with their building administrators about in-service opportunities facilitated by the Greater Kansas City Writing Project. If you have questions, contact Jennie Punswick, GKCWP Professional Development Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About This Newsletter: The Greater Kansas City Writing Project, established in 1983, is affiliated with the National Writing Project. Based on the teacherteaching-teacher model of the Bay Area Writing Project, the GKCWP works through the University of Missouri at Kansas City to provide a variety of in-service programs and workshops that incorporate the teaching of writing into academic curricula from kindergarten through college. University Director: Katie Kline email@example.com Professional Development Director: Annie Riggs firstname.lastname@example.org Youth Programs Director: Matt Bolch email@example.com Project Outreach Coordinator: Thomas Ferrel firstname.lastname@example.org Newsletter Editor: Liz Tascio email@example.com
True or False: Only Bad Teachers Lose Their Jobs
by Jessica Brookman Summer Institute 2007 Language Arts, 7-12 At a time when many school districts are not giving contracts to teachers because of budget cuts, the rules of fair play seem to have fallen victim to personal administrative agendas. Many administrators in this hard economic time have released teachers they just don’t like, for various reasons, because they can ignore the tradition of “last in, first out” and instead cite test scores, school redistribution, and student satisfaction. Some teachers in Kansas City didn’t even know until three weeks before school started that they wouldn’t have teaching jobs this fall. The shock and embarrassment of being that teacher without a job brings up questions of personal inadequacy: “What did I do?” “Why me?” “Why didn’t they like me?” “Am I really such a bad teacher?” As hard as it is to accept, sometimes our bosses make decisions based on their personal, undisclosed schema or paradigms, not on the constraints of fairness. The reason one teacher was released instead of another may have little to do with what goes on in the classroom. “Sometimes teaching in a high school is more like being back in high school, with all its cliques and popularity competitions,” one displaced teacher explained to me. “I never ate lunch in the teacher’s work room because of all the negative put-downs and complaints that gave me heartburn with my salad.” She points to this as the reason she was the only math teacher fired from her school in April. She cannot prove it, but she says she believes that the little clique of shakers and movers in her department offered her up as the sacrificial lamb so they wouldn’t have to hurt the feelings of other teachers they felt closer to. “Because I didn’t go drinking with them after work, or join in during their (gripe) sessions, I was told I didn’t make an effort to support the mission of the department,” this teacher said. Other teachers who had been hired after her got to stay; they, she said, were part of the club. An unspoken reason for unfair dismissals is a growing bias toward newer and younger teachers. For example, new teachers cost less than those who have been around awhile and earned masters degrees. Also, the current belief that high school students might perform better for younger teachers because they can relate to them more easily affects hiring and firing more than anyone wants to admit. The Missouri Teachers Union representative for our area
said that there is a lot of “youth worship” in education today, but cautioned those of us given pink slips last spring that age discrimination was the hardest workplace violation to prove and usually unsuccessful, no matter how obvious it might seem. No one told me when I walked into the classroom for the first time that when I turned 50 I would become obsolete or would be let go because I was no longer part of the youth crowd. In my school, our administrator had been letting the whole staff know, in subtle and unsubtle ways, just how she felt about teachers in their 50s and older. She would eat lunch with or sit and visit with younger teachers, getting involved in their personal lives and listening to their complaints, but she behaved very differently with older teachers. When older teachers expressed concerns, this administrator dismissed them with comments such as “You just don’t understand the kids anymore,” and she would advise them to go see how so-andso does things — always one of the younger teachers. She would announce in staff meetings that we were so lucky to have these new teachers, who could bring all the latest information and techniques to the classroom and who could relate better to the students’ needs. She even tried to be funny when meeting an older teacher in the hall by saying things like, “Hey, isn’t it about time you retired?” or “You could be out fishing if you were retired!” One teacher from a different district said the age discrimination was even more subtle in her school. The administration
actually wouldn’t “hear” anything said by an older teacher, but if the same suggestion was brought up by a younger favorite, it suddenly became a good idea. Even committee assignments were given to those the principal liked, not to those who volunteered, and the principal liked younger teachers. The belief that students should be happy in their classrooms often conflicts with the demand by administrators for more rigor in the classroom. In fact, more rigor in classrooms might not really be what parents want once they see that it means holding their children accountable for school work. Teachers caught between these two warring factions have a difficult time pleasing everybody. “I had administrators say one thing, then as soon as a parent complained that their son didn’t like the class or that the class was too hard, the administrator would let the student drop the class or move to another teacher,” said a now-unemployed social studies teacher. “They let any student into AP that wanted to be there, expected me to keep the standards high, and then told me not to let anyone fail. I know why they got rid of me: I complained about it.” Not having a teaching position this fall does not mean that you are a bad teacher. In fact, you may have been a very good teacher who fell victim to someone else’s belief schemas. If you are willing to share your stories and job hunt woes, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Michael Prier Summer Institute 2005 Sumner Academy Your trusty technology trio — Erin, Paul, and me — was recently reduced to a duo when Erin Wilkey moved to California. Determined to continue Tech Days, Paul Donovan and I presented a Tech Seminar on June 12 called Living in a Paperless Classroom. We demonstrated Microsoft Word peer-editing, showing how the various features of Word can enhance student editing. We showed how to integrate blogging in the classroom using Blogger and various web applications. We also showed how free, web-based applications such as Google Docs can be used to easily expand a teacher’s toolbox and make technology more accessible in the classroom. The tech seminar was such a success that participants requested a repeat so they could go over anything they might have missed the first time. So, on July 17, Paul and I repeated the same four sessions with great success. The Tech Team needs more members so we can keep producing great programs like this one. If you are tech-minded and want to share your knowledge of technology, or if you’re interested in becoming the teacher who others look to for help in im-
proving their classrooms through technology, we would love to hear from you. We hope to expand the Tech Team to include all levels of technological understanding. Our goal is to continue the sharedleadership mission of our site, and to form a constantly evolving group of “techies” to support the goals of the Greater Kansas City Writing Project. Our next Tech Team meeting will be Sept. 21 at 5201 Rockhill Road from 5:30 to 7 p.m. We will be planning goals and tech seminars, along with scheduling monthly meetings. If you are interested, please contact me at email@example.com.
Free, Cool Web Software — and a Call for Techies of All Levels
March 2010 Middle School Writing Conference, UMKC
Raindrops by Claudia Alexander Antioch Middle School Poetry: 1st place The raindrops swim across the window, Picking up smaller droplets as they go, Like the little packman picking up his food, As he races through his little maze. My eyes are drawn away from this strange sport of water, Upwards toward the highway lights and clouds. How the car dealer lights make them glow, As if the sun was behind them even in the dark of night. The car still rolls along the gravelly snow, Making a turn for a straight ride home. As the car pulls into the driveway, My door opens into the frozen night, And the raindrops don't swim across the window anymore. Antibella: The Detrimental Beauty Queen Maggie Wilcox Notre Dame de Sion Middle School Nonfiction: 1st Place In 2007, Stephanie Meyer released a whirlwind of novels, movies, spoofs, blogs, and lovesick hearts revolving around her first paper-waster, Twilight. … Some might be proud of their children for taking an interest in reading. After all, these monstrosities make the reader look professional until viewers see the cover. The first time you take a dip into this lengthy screenplay, it’s quite enthralling and exhilarating! However, those were the times when vampire lore was introduced to culture, and posters, calendars, and t-shirts of the powdery Robert Pattinson and drooling Kristen Stewart did not haunt bookstores and movie theaters. Those were the times when the book market’s selection was not hemorrhaging with vampire literature.
From left: Claudia Alexander, Antioch MS; Alexandria Acord, Pioneer Trail MS; Maggie Wilcox of Notre Dame de Sion MS.
Silver and Gold: The Tale of Arcadia by Alexandria Acord Pioneer Trail Middle School Fiction: 1st Place It had been almost two months since Saluki had first met Solara. She visited her in the hospital a few times, but the Gold Master had fully healed two weeks ago. “Could Solara have forgotten about me?” she thought. “Could it all have been a dream?” As she was thinking this, her Headsett™ began to beep thrice in response, signaling that someone was at the door. “Report Operation Headsett™ Trophy status, please,” Saluki muttered, using the official government-mandated command for visitors. “Gold Master,” the silver Headsett™ droned as it scanned the figure waiting at the door. “Female, light blonde hair, blue eyes, fifteen years of age, birth date February 11, 2124, blood type…”
And the runners up are …
Fiction 3rd place Lexi Churchill “A Witch’s Challenge” 2nd place Virginia Vitale “Untitled” Nonfiction 3rd place Clara Miller Bloomfield “Finding Myself” 2nd place Casey Ayers “Repaint the World” Poetry 3rd place Erica Nickolett “Paradise” 2nd place Kaitlyn Huxman “Goddess of Innovation”
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