Pillar to Post

This week was short and sweet.  Students in all my classes arrived prepared to learn, and our school finally had its first bona fide Black History assembly.  My students all wanted to know how the Carnegie Corporation and Education Writers Association (EWA) conference went, and I appreciated their interest.  No one actually said it, but I could tell they were proud of me.

I began blogging on the first day of school this year.  Naturally, I also commenced visiting other blogs for both inspiration and ideas.  My oldest daughter suggested I start leaving occasional comments on entries that intrigued me.  I could use comments to both build traffic to my blog and share my ideas on a host of topics related to education.

I followed her advice and have gathered here a sampling of my comments over these past few months.  But first I want to share something written by another reader of Valerie Strauss’ The Answer Sheet on washingtonpost.com.  The day was January 26, and I had left a brief response in the morning to her entry “Things I’m sick of hearing.”  Her post, in the form of a multiple choice quiz, took a humorous swipe at some of the standard attacks lobbed by education “reformers.”  I suggested an additional item and ended with my usual request for her readers to also visit my blog.

There was nothing special about my comment, but when I checked my blog later that evening, I learned that well over one hundred readers had visited that day–my highest single day total to date.  It was only after I revisited Ms. Strauss’ site that I stumbled upon this comment, which both humbled and electrified me:

“Anyone who argues against cookie cutter curriculum where students and teachers alike are asked to perform like robots – no real dialogue as a teacher can only address the learning point in a 5-10 minute sound byte followed by 20 minute independent student work time where students demonstrate understanding of the teaching point… concluding in a 10-15 minute share out time.

A) should read the teachermandc.com blog as it reveals that there are teachers out there who still are inspiring students to love learning and are managing to teach despite the enormous influence of poor quality “top-down” curricular models.

b) Should read a good number of his entries that reveal the importance of socratic style teaching in developing critical thinking skills (and yes teachers need to hop off the “scripted curriculum” to engage students and make it applicable to their lives to enhance understanding.

c) In particular pay attention to the entry… “Sticky Truths” and then read the entry “Gratitude and Impact”. Do we really want to stop unscripted but real classroom dialogue connected to curriculum such as we see here in teachermandc? Do we really want to stop this quality lesson planning in favor of scripted sound bytes that act more like a dog and pony show to show evidence of curriculum coverage for school district heads rather than evidence of real learning? Really? Real reformers should be angry at how scripted/mandated teacher methodologies are prevented good teachers from teaching – in fact de-professionalizing the teaching profession.. destroying education for students and then falsely blaming teachers!

Thanks dcproud1 creator of the teachermandc.com blog for such an insightful blog… brings me back to my own days as a student who loved to learn… I was fortunate enough to have teachers like you. And thanks to school closings for allowing me time to read the always insightful Valerie Strauss blog!

Posted by: teachermd | January 26, 2011 12:53 PM

I do not know teachermd, but I want to thank him for his warm words.  Here is the sampling of comments I have made:

Coment on: Courtland Milloy: Rhee needs to take a look in the mirror at 9/26/2010 8:23 PM EDT

If Rhee does indeed exit DCPS, it is my hope she is capable of learning from her mistakes. Without community engagement throughout ALL of the city, nothing meaningful can transpire. The notion that Rhee and Rhee alone knows what to do and how cannot be sustained by her history here.

Comment on: D.C. school chief Rhee’s next move probably toward the door at 9/19/2010 11:33 AM EDT

I just finished teaching my students a lesson on logical fallacies. There certainly are plenty in evidence here. The notion that a post-Rhee world means educational Armageddon is as preposterous as the assumption that parents who voted against Fenty either want the worst for their children, or are simply too dense to understand the issues.

I have to applaud Ms, Williams-Bolar, in part, for her initiative. As a public school teacher in an urban school system, I am often dismayed at parents of color who sheepishly send their children to the worst schools, do nothing to agitate for improvements, and then appear shocked when they later discover their progeny are woefully behind academically.Still, I cannot accept the suggestion here that illicit activity is forced upon us by a cold-hearted system. Perhaps the considerable energies spent on circumventing the system here could have been better used demanding change in the neighborhood school. Perhaps this concept of getting-by-at-any-costs perpetuates the self-destructive behaviors we see all too often in our communities–especially in our inner cities. In my classroom, I try to instill in my students an appreciation for honor and hard work. It has never been “easy” being black. Fortunately, many of our ancestors did the work anyway.To me, reading books, growing your mind, and preparing yourself for a productive life far and away beats robbing some poor pizza delivery man trying to do right by himself and his family. Unless and until we start teaching the children that, too many of us will continue to make poor choices which doom both our present and our future

I totally agree that this documentary’s failings lay in its search for a silver bullet. I am a high school English teacher in the DC public school system. Next door to our school is a charter school whose test scores are dismal. Yet many parents continue to enroll their children. Why? I suspect it is because the building (a former public school) is self-contained and deemed safer than public school. The structure of the school is not nearly as important as the content contained within. Until we look at the curriculum, surface solutions will continue to fly.

I want to end with a remark I left on one of my favorite blogs, Conducting the Inner Light by lodesterre (another favorite is The Reflective Educator’s An Urban Teacher’s Education). My comments were in response to an October 12th post entitled, “I’m sure this was for the children, too.”  They are followed by a contact list of those edubloggers and journalists at the EWA, as generously provided by Mark Anderson on his Manderson’s Bubble blog.

“Inner light” is one of those goals easier voiced than gained. The DC public school system is not perfect and needs improvement. We can do better, and I believe we will. What we don’t need now (and never have) is a leader who considers collaboration a weakness and listening a crime.

Somebody say, ” Amen.”


EWA Participants:

Here’s links to the journalists’ sites that were in attendance:


About Mark E.P. Roberts

teachermandc is Mark E.P. Roberts, a middle-aged, high school English teacher entering his ninth year of instructing young minds. This blog is an attempt to capture the challenge of teaching and the essence of learning. At a time when DC has become the epicenter of educational theory, this blog will keep its preferred focus on students in an somewhat typical DC high school. I have taught in both public and private schools. To date, 95% of my students are of color. All names have been changed, and complaints about in-house politics will be avoided. Hope you enjoy.
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5 Responses to Pillar to Post

  1. Michael says:

    teachermandc, thanks so much for including me in the list of EWA participants. It was a pleasure meeting and talking with you, and listening to your thoughtful input at the meeting in NYC.

    Your students should be proud. Like me, you do all you can to represent them well, to be their voice, and to help fill them with the knowledge that will take them to college and beyond.

    I agree with teachermd. We need more teachers like yourself!

    Michael Hicks

    • teacherman01 says:

      I also enjoyed meeting you. What I really enjoyed was spending time with thinkers who understand not only how much we have to gain from honest discourse, but also how much we have to lose without it. Don’t be a stranger.

  2. Chana says:

    I’m a GED teacher in Durham, NC, and I have recently joined Save Our Schools and National Call to Action. I know that you blog against the current corporate takeover of our public schools, and we are currently asking the “real” ed reform bloggers to join with us so that we can all speak with ONE VOICE all across the country during the month of March.Our theme is “Waking the Sleeping Giant”, which was inspired by the events in Wisconsin and other places around the country. The public is finally beginning to wake up to what’s been happening for the last few years – we’re seeing evidence of this not only in Wisconsin but in places such as Seattle and Rochester.
    We are asking you to keep your readers informed by mentioning our July 30 march in D.C. and by providing a link to our website http://www.saveourschoolsmarch.org in one or more of your posts during the month of March.

    If you would like to write a guest post for our website, send your post or your comments to saveourschoolsmarch@gmail.com. Or if you would like to endorse our march, let us know and we will list your blog and url on our website.
    Posts can also be tweeted with the hashtag #WakingGiant

  3. manderson says:

    TeacherManDC, I’ll second both Michael and your students: you have good cause to be proud. You brought your deeply reflective perspective, advocacy for your students, and experience to the table at the conference–and when you spoke, the room listened! It was a pleasure to meet you at the EWA conference.

    • teacherman01 says:

      Mark, it was so great meeting you. I hope EWA does it again. We have so much to share and learn from one another as we do the hard work and the great work of acquainting young minds with their own volition. See you on the front lines.

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