Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Teaching is an Art!

By: Bruce Knecht

Teaching certainly requires an array of skills. But if it is to rise above mere adequacy it must become something deeper. Then it becomes an art. Playing music requires a multiplicity of skills. That may be enough to make the performance workmanlike. But that alone won't ensure the result is musical. When teaching "sings", there is an artist at work... I'll say a bit more about why I think the idea of teaching as an art is powerful and liberating. For one thing, the notion that teaching can somehow be standardized becomes completely implausible when teaching is viewed as an art (of course, it would then follow that learning can't be standardized either). In that case, the entire education "reform" effort at least since NCLB is misguided…an exercise in futility!  
That also means studying "best practices," while useful, is a long way from sufficient. Art students can learn something of value by working in Renoir's an exercise. But if that's where they stop, they've really missed the boat. A teacher's most powerful resource, like that of any artist, is her individuality. A great teacher develops that individuality until she can use it like a well-tuned instrument. Of course, that takes tremendous discipline, insight, and imagination. It's damnably difficult but it gives us all something to work toward…a hell of a lot more inspiring than the gobbledygook of Common Core, college and career readiness, canned Pearson lessons, etc. It may be that every average teacher is about the same as every other average teacher. But every great teacher, like every great artist, is great in her own way.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


By: Lorri Gumanow

After a week off from school, one would think that a teenager would be happy to go back to school. Not my kid! Last night, my 15 year old freshman told me he hated school, he hated studying things that were not interesting, and there was too much boring writing. He hates all the talk and pressure about being “college-ready,” “this will be on your Regents exam next year so we have to get ready,” and “this type of writing requires a lot of practice.” But all kids complain about things like this, so what’s the problem? My son has an IEP, is in all general education classes, and realizes he isn’t going to make it. He is passing all his subjects and is working very hard, but knows that the tests he has to pass to get a diploma are going to be out of his reach. He gets great supports from the special education staff at his school. He is making great progress. And unfortunately, he also realizes he doesn’t have “the right stuff.” This past week, he happened to see questions from the recent ELA Regents exam given in January, posted on Facebook. And his heart sank! He attempted to try to answer the questions, but gave up before finishing the first reading passage. His brain is not wired to do this kind of reading. And we can’t refuse the tests anymore because in NY State, students in grades 9-12 must pass specific Regents exams to get a high school diploma. He’s got severe ADHD and executive functioning challenges. What does that mean? He has trouble juggling more than one idea at a time, and needs very specific types of instructional strategies that none of his teachers know, or don’t have enough time to use with him. When asked to read three 3-page passages of single-spaced text on topics he is not familiar with, and compare/contrast, infer meaning, and answer questions like: on page 2, line 23, what does the author infer by… he completely shuts down. Can he orally read on grade level? Yes. Does he understand what he reads? Could he complete these tasks, independently, even with extended time? No. Could he complete these tasks with assistance? Yes. Would he choose to do this type of task, close reading and analysis, as an adult? No. Is this type of reading that is going to be required in his chosen career as a puppeteer? No. So he asks himself – why are they making me do this when I can’t do it? Most of the parents of children with disabilities that are protesting excessive standardized testing are parents of children with severe disabilities. My child, by definition, does not have severe disabilities. We have always believed that through his hard work, our unending love and support, and the hard work and support of his teachers, he would be successful. Now that we are in the home stretch of high school, that dream has been destroyed. He feels like a failure that he has let everyone down, and he wants to give up. Getting a tutor would just be rubbing salt into a wound that won’t heal, and would take him away from the one thing that boosts his self-esteem – performing in musical theater. I won’t do that! There is something very wrong with these standardized Common Core tests when only 5% of students with disabilities can pass them!!! We have built up our children’s hope, only to destroy them. From their perspective, we have lied to them and given them false hope. Forcing every child to adapt to the Common Core, with the wave of a magic wand, at their grade level, has taken away the dreams of many young people. They have become collateral damage, which is acceptable to you! “Well you have to start somewhere.” “It will take a few years for scores to go up.” THE SCORES ON YOUR SPREADSHEETS REPRESENT ACTUAL HUMAN BEINGS!!! THESE ARE OUR CHILDREN! THEY ARE NOT SCORES! Did you hear me???? You are hurting my child, and my friend’s brilliant child with Asperger’s – with a 150 IQ who is now failing every subject in high school! There are hundreds of thousands of other children whose disabilities are NOT A CHOICE!!! Why are you doing this?? What are you doing to help them, other than testing them (which doesn’t help them) and punishing their teachers? My son’s teachers have no time to help him because they have to do test prep. Those who can’t keep up? … Oh well… They just need to try harder. What if your best wasn’t good enough? Ask yourself – would you do this to your own child? I wouldn’t do it to my own child either – but I don’t have a choice! As a retired special education teacher, I can’t afford to send my child to a private school where he wouldn’t have to take these tests. I don’t care about my child’s scores on your tests! They mean nothing to me. I know, and my son’s teachers know my child’s strengths and weaknesses. My son has a disability – he is not in a competition to help the USA be #1 in the world. I don’t care about that! I care that he is happy, healthy, and will make a difference in this world. He didn’t survive extreme prematurity, 83 days in the neonatal intensive care unit, and get to this point in his life; to have you beat him down and punish him, for something he has no control over. It is not his fault. He is trying his hardest.
Basketball Buddy

Dunking Duncan has the ball, 
He’s dribbling down the court,
He stops, he fires, up in the air.
Suddenly suburban mom’s kids aren’t so brilliant anymore.
What a punch in their gut,
As he misses his solid shot.
Running down the court again
He does a wicked layup!
And hurricanes are the best thing
For New Orleans schools
Since good old sliced white bread.
Oh, another failed shot.
A rebound and he hits
The backboard, but we fail to recruit
Our smartest college students for teachers,
Or reform resistant unions!
Dunking Duncan on the boards
He’s got to run and gun.
The ball is passed
But it has slid right off this big man’s hand.
A second grader sits in the stands, catching the errant ball.
He hand it back and Duncan says,
On track for college soon my son,
Or else your actually not,
Somewhere in this baffled land some plan is not quite right.
Common Core is crushing youth and bringing forth a blight.
And somewhere schools are testing as parents begin to shout.
There is no gain in learning, Dunking Duncan has fouled out.

Gilbert Sarabia

The one about TV ads, the Lansing School District, and misleading claims...

By: Dr. Mitchell Robinson

Originally posted on his blog:

Recently, the Lansing School District released a series of TV and radio ads designed to promote their schools ( Amid a floating stream of expertly produced and edited video of young children bouncing basketballs and playing music instruments, the voiceover claims that the Lansing Schools "offer more educational choices to students than any other school district in the greater Lansing region." This, in spite of the fact that the District decided to slash the offerings for those very children by eliminating all of the 27 elementary art, music and PE positions in the Lansing schools over a year ago, leaving the city's students with only 2 music, art and PE classes per semester, while their peers in neighboring school systems often receive these classes twice per week.

Now, if the superintendent, board of education and teachers union in Lansing had just gotten together and cut the elementary art, music and PE programs and teachers in the schools, that would have been one thing...

  • But to hear the former AMPE program now be referred to as the "Innovative Arts & Fitness" Department, as though there is anything "innovative" in firing 27 teachers and depriving thousands of children of a full and complete education...

  • To read press releases and interviews with district officials touting the current art and music offerings as being better than what was previously in place, because of the presence of "real artists and musicians" in Lansing's schools...

  • To see that the LSD held a promotional fair at the Lansing Center this past weekend, with radio and media coverage, in an effort to stem the tide of those leaving the District, largely due to the curricular narrowing and impoverished offerings now available at the elementary level...

  • And now, for the art and music teachers in Lansing who had their careers taken away to be subjected to thousands of dollars worth of TV and radio ads promoting the "rich and diverse curricular offerings" in the Lansing School District, even as the elementary curriculum has been gutted of art, music and PE, and to know that their former students are only receiving instruction in these subjects 4 TIMES PER YEAR...

Let me be clear: I believe that there are many excellent teachers in the Lansing schools, including several outstanding music teachers working in the District's high schools. I've been blown away by what the music students and faculty are doing in Lansing, especially given the difficult conditions under which they are working. These students and teachers deserve nothing but our support, encouragement and respect.

But cuts to music and art programs in any school system are unacceptable ways to manage school finances, and are disproportionately devastating to children in urban communities, whose families may not have the resources to provide them with alternative forms of instruction in the arts. School district leaders are charged with providing the students in their care with a full and comprehensive education, which includes the arts. Eliminating these offerings, at any level, is an abrogation of their duty, and merits a strong and forceful response.

The children in Lansing deserve strong, quality arts programs, delivered by qualified, certified music and art teachers. What is currently being offered as "Innovative" is unacceptable, and the District needs to restore the teaching positions they have eliminated so that Lansing's students get the education that they deserve.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Dear Governor Cuomo
By:  Veronica Gaboury

While this might be too long of a letter to actually send, not sure he reads what he receives anyway, I think it is something that needs to be said. Or at least I need to say it.  

To Governor Cuomo,   

What can I say that others more eloquent and knowledgeable haven't already said?

My story.

I am the mother of 4 children. Chris is 27. He graduated from NY public schools and attended Bennington College in Vermont. He now works in Washington DC at a job he loves. Nick is 25, almost 26. He graduated from NY public schools. He attended the University of Rochester. Alexandra is 10 years-old, she is in 5th grade and she has gone to Miller Hill Elementary School her entire education career except that year in our local pre-school. Katharina is 8 and she has spent more time in educational programs than any of my other children had at this point in their lives. Her path has been different.

My first 3 children have always been full of curiosity, they loved to learn and had wonderful educators who helped bring them along to their next level of education. Many times that level was ahead of their peers and ahead of grade level, but these teachers were not concerned with keeping students "on the same page" or on "test prep," nor were they concerned with a formal formula curriculum, so these educators helped to feed my children's curiosity and allowed them to keep growing at their own paces, which further encouraged them to have curiosity and love of learning. It's a great natural cycle.

And these educators did it for all of their students. They met the students where they were and brought them as far they could. Not everyone reached the same end points...but they learned as much as they each were capable of. They had individualized instruction because everyone knows that everyone learns differently.

My last daughter, Katharina is a stroke survivor and she has had to be more involved with learning how to learn and formal education for some of the years my other children had free-play time. She has mild cerebral palsy, vision issues, cognitive delays and speech delays. But before you discount her as someone not worthy of a 'normal' education, let me tell you about her.

Katharina fought like hell to survive and be here. She survived a stroke before she was born. She has been blessed to have wonderful doctors at Albany Medical Center and now specialists throughout the Capital District. She had wonderful therapists and programs through the Rensselear County Early Intervention program and has amazing public school teachers in our home district of Averill Park.

My Kath has a burning curiosity and desire to learn. Just like her siblings. She has more empathy than many adults. She has the resiliency and the persistence that would outshine Olympic athletes. Her laugh is contagious, her hugs are healing and her eye contact is steady. She dances in ballet, tap and jazz with accommodating teachers who see potential and not disability. She rides a horse at hippotherapy. She loves museums and books and dolls. When she grows up she wants to work with Winter, the dolphin that the movie "Dolphin Tales" is based on.

Kath knows she had a stroke. She's beginning to understand that's the reason she can't always keep up with friends on the playground and in the classroom.

Kath is beginning to understand that for her, her life will always mean that she will need to work harder and smarter. She knows that learning her math facts means spending 5 times (or more) longer than the other kids. She knows she might not get through all of the stations in physical education class or have the time to complete an art project or finish reading the library book in the given week of borrow time. She knows she wants to play an instrument when she gets to 5th grade, besides the piano she already takes weekly lessons on with another wonderfully patient teacher. She knows when we sit to do homework each night it will probably take her two hours to do the work she missed during her different therapies as well as the 'normal' homework.

My community--Averill Park, Miller Hill Elementary School, Albany Medical Center, Rensselear County, Isabelle School of Dance, EBC Horse Therapy, Ms Mary, my friends and her siblings-- have surrounded Kath with so much love and support that Kath has succeeded in ways none of us imagined when she was first diagnosed as a massive stroke survivor.

However, what I fear now for my amazing daughter, as well as for my other daughter, my students and my husband's inner city students is a one-size-fits-all education model which does not work for the various abilities and strengths our real life children (the children behind the data) have.

We, as communities, have an obligation to raise our villages up. To lift one another to our highest branches. Our children each bloom at different times: some need more sun, some need more rain, some need more time, some need it all, but they bloom and they grow...given the respect for who they are and what they can do. And given the time they need.

The idea behind making sure that each student has an equal opportunity at a solid education is a noble one. The idea of testing and forcing each student to gallop through the curriculum regardless of how they learn is devastating to our children. Tying students' scores to the effectiveness of a teacher is insane. Teachers are not quality control agents inspecting each product and passing them along or rejecting them.

My beautiful, courageous, strong, smart, caring daughter struggles to take tests, especially timed tests. She shuts down and cries when we try to practice at home. Her confidence-level is fragile and this education reform of standardized one-size-fits-all education is chipping away at her and other students who teeter in your data margins.

The idea that next year she will be asked to have hours of test prep instead of furthering her love of learning, her curiosity, her math facts, her reading, her love of cultures is frightening. The fact that with her disability she will be permitted extra time for this insanity...time which will be taken from learning...means that my daughter will not have a chance to 'catch up'...she will not be able to ever ever catch up.

This education reform that you are pushing through, Governor Cuomo, goes against everything we have found to be research-based. This education reform will mean that only certain students wll be able to get a decent education, the rest will be forced into more 'academic intervention services' (missing more classroom/learning time) for prepping for tests that are developmentally unsound and unjust.

I never want my daughter, or other children who struggle to learn the 'normal' way and speed, to believe that they are 'not-good-enough' or that there isn't enough room at the school tables for them.

I beg you to reconsider your position and your push for Common Core, standardized testing and draconian teacher evaluations. Our children need us to be the village that can help them through their school years with support and research based methods for teaching and education.

Thank you for taking your time to read this,
Veronica Gaboury
Mom of 4
Public High School English Teacher

Sunday, February 22, 2015

BATs Leadership Team Releases Statement Against Sit and Stare Policies

The Leadership Team of the Badass Teachers Association would like to make a statement against Sit and Stare policies that some districts may impose on children whose parents refuse them from state testing. Testing season will be upon us this spring. We anticipate large numbers of parents refusing their children from testing this spring. We would like to state that making a child, who refuses to take a state test, sit and stare for hours is abusive. To make an innocent child sit and stare for long periods of time over the course of several days is abusive and a form of harassment. We would encourage any parent to file a formal complaint with their state education department for bullying and harassment against any district that did that to a child.
The New York Allies for Public Education, in which BATs is a member, put it strongly in their released statement about sit and stare policies in New York State (…)

In child care settings for school-age children this type of punishment could be considered corporal punishment by forcing “prolonged lack of movement or motion” and could be a violation of regulations under NYS Social Services Law section 309, part 414.9(e). These child care regulations also state, under part 414.9(b), that “Any discipline used must relate to the child’s action.” Punishing a child for following the direction of parents does not relate to the action of the child in any way. The regulations can be found here

Under the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA), Article 2, Section 11, Part 7(a), harassment and bullying are defined as the creation of a hostile environment that would interfere with a student’s mental or emotional well-being. Confining a student to a chair for an hour with nothing to do for six days would certainly create a hostile environment which would interfere with a child’s mental or emotional well-being. The child has done nothing wrong and is being served with a corporal punishment. Parents will file formal DASA reports against districts that intend to enforce these policies. It is clearly harassment and bullying on the part of the school administration and school board to try to persuade parents to allow children to participate in NYS testing. The regulations can be found here… - See more at:…

In most states it is considered child abuse to force a child to sit or stand with no movement for a prolonged period of time. We equate forcing a child to sit and stare at a desk a form of child abuse. It becomes even more horrific and abusive when the child must sit and stare day after day for several weeks during test season. Again we will encourage all parents to please contact their state department of education if this should happen. We also consider it a violation of a child’s right to due process. According to a sampling of school discipline policies nationwide we see that most schools allow their students a “due process” hearing before they are punished. In this case we see that forcing a child to sit and stare for hours is a form of punishment. Students have a right to due process. Before the punishment, students must be told why they are being disciplined and be given the chance to address the situation. The Parents or guardians should be given specific written notice and the student may present evidence in his/her behalf. According to most policies we surveyed the student and parents or guardians have a right to an impartial hearing before the principal or superintendent.
Any district that forces a child to sit and stare for hours on end, day after day, for several weeks is committing state sanctioned child abuse. We will encourage all parents, teachers, and district administrators to please contact your state board of education and state ACLU chapter to report this matter.  We would also like to ask you to contact National BATs or your state BATs chapter so that we can make this matter public.  Forcing a child to sit for hours at a time is CHILD ABUSE!

For more information on Bullying and to report bullying go here -

Friday, February 20, 2015

Thank you Montel! 

Public school teachers have been shunned by the media and silenced by the politicians. We have been standing up for our schools, profession and students alone for so long.  It is very rare that someone on a national stage with INTEGRITY has taken up the cause of students and public schools. He is not being paid a DIME for speaking out!  The leadership of the Badass Teachers Association, representing  54,000 teachers and parents, thank Montel Williams for supporting public schools, the Newark Student Union and teachers, against the privatization agenda which operates under the guise of school reform. Teachers appreciate having our backs, we fight for our own, but it is nice to have company. ^0^