Ask Angela Anything: October Edition

October 18, 2012

in your questions answered

Teachers' questions answered: what to do with students who miss instruction due to pull-out classes, how teachers can stand up for themselves politically, etc.Welcome to the October edition of the monthly post series in which I answer readers’ frequently-asked questions. Although I do respond personally to every email, with this series, you can submit any teaching-related question anonymously to maintain your privacy and student confidentiality. I’ve called the series “Ask Angela Anything” because I share what has worked for me in my own classroom and in the rooms of the teachers I coach. My personal philosophy is that there’s no one “right” solution that works for every child in every classroom: I encourage you to adapt the ideas I share for your own situation.

I have a student who is in special education for about half of the day. She misses the first 30 minutes of math every day, which is when I give instruction. Still, both the resource room teacher and the student’s parents insist that I give the child grade level math work. If I give her any assignment (even a shortened or simplified one), she needs help with every single problem because she has missed the instruction. If I try to reteach concepts to her in a smaller group, she demands most of the attention and moves much slower than the other students. I have tried talking with our instructional facilitator, the resource room teacher, and the child’s parents about the issue and no one has any helpful solutions. Currently, I am giving the child busy work to keep her out of my hair, but there has to be a better use of her time without making a separate assignment for her every single day.
–Michelle

Hi, Michelle! You might find some helpful ideas in this blog post I wrote called How to support kids who miss instruction due to pull-out programs. I’m assuming the child is getting below-grade-level math instruction in the resource room and that is why the teacher and parents would like the child to be exposed to on-grade-level math in your room–that makes sense, even though I know it makes things very difficult for you.

If you can’t restructure your math block or schedule so that this child is in the classroom during the math instruction, maybe you can re-think how you use the last 30 minutes of the block. I often had students play math games and/or math centers during the second half of my math block–that makes it much easier to differentiate practice and meet the needs of a wide range of students. You could also consider math journals which are open-ended and therefore great for all levels of students. If you’re doing small group instruction in math during the second half of your block, that could also meet this student’s needs.

A final thought is to have the child practice math on the computer, iPad, or other device. There are programs and apps which make it very easy for teachers to assign tasks to students and have them complete the activities online, even offering reports to show the child’s progress. Maybe this particular student could participate in math games, centers, and/or journals 3 days a week and work independently on a computer-based program for the other two days? Try out a few different solutions and see what works best.

I have been a teacher for 24 years. The last three years I have been a Resource Teacher and a Literacy Coach. I would love to improve my practice with the inquiry process when I am coaching teachers. Any ideas?? Thank you very much.
–Candy

Hi, Candy! It’s so tough to find coaching resources, isn’t it? There are a few online resources for using inquiry process when coaching here. These aren’t specifically about the inquiry process, but I’ve found some nice forms and ideas on instructionalcoach.org and PICC. Additionally, I’ve reviewed a few instructional coaching books–you might find that some of them are helpful.

Also try the #educoach hashtag on Twitter–lots of knowledgable instructional coaches follow that hashtag and would be willing to help with whatever questions you put out there. The instructional coach chat wiki is a compilation of some of the best resources shared through the chat.

How do I “politically” stand up for myself and other teachers when we are in the overwhelming position that we are now in? I’m not sure everyone realizes, but this school year brings the following changes ALL AT ONCE in Louisiana: new evaluation system (far more extensive than before), new salary scale, new student learning targets to write, new common core standards. Now to top all of that off, teachers have been given no resources to match CCSS requirements, there has been much confusion surrounding the evaluation system, and there has been no preparation or training to speak of in order to make us feel more comfortable with at least ONE new change. We are drowning. How can I help? What can be done to support teachers in Louisiana?
–Anon

Anon, thank you for speaking up on behalf of the countless number of teachers who are wondering the same thing right now about the educational system in their own states. I think the first step is to follow your local teacher’s union on Twitter, Facebook, etc. and read its blog so you can be kept up-to-date with what’s happening in your district. For example, New York City teachers can fill out The United Federation of Teachers’ political action sign up form to find out how they can get involved in the UFT’s efforts. Though I am not as familiar with them, I know that other organizations exist for teachers in various areas of the country–here’s the one for Louisiana (LFT). The National Educator’s Association (NEA) shares national school reform initiatives and also has state affiliates.

You can also check out Save Our Schools (which supports public education).  You can find resources for parents and teachers who want to reform the standardized testing movement in these posts on boycotting tests from The Innovative Educator and the related opt out of standardized testing wiki. If you all know of other organizations that support teachers in creating change and education reform, please share them in the comments!

I know your question was about taking a stand for teachers within the political sphere, but I don’t want to overlook the importance of school-based change. You can band together with other teachers in your school and bring your concerns to your principal, asking him or her to approach the superintendent on your behalf. When this is done respectfully and with the needs of students in mind, it has the potential to be extremely effective. Get your union’s backing as needed. I have personally experienced my school district backing off of all kinds of unreasonable demands when teachers do this in large numbers–the principals get tired of defending ridiculous policies they didn’t create and they go higher up to get things reversed.

I also want to reinforce that what you do every single day in your classroom matters. Change starts with individuals, and the work you do in your classroom has a tremendous impact on your students. Sometimes the most powerful thing you can do is document things on paper as needed and then “close your door and teach” the way your students need to be taught. Make a conscious decision not to allow the new initiatives and demands to discourage you to the point where you have nothing left to give your students. Try to focus the majority of your mental energy on the kids and give what’s leftover to understanding the new evaluation system (etc), rather than vice versa.

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Angela Watson was a classroom teacher for 11 years and has turned her passion for helping other teachers into a career as an educational consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has published 3 books, launched a blog and webinar series, designs curriculum resources, and conducts seminars in schools around the world. Check out the free teacher resource pages for photos, tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

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