On Ferguson: Voices from our Future

I began a blog post this morning about Ferguson:

The grand jury reached a decision in the Michael Brown case. The police officer who killed him gets to walk free.

I had to pry myself off the Ferguson hashtag a few minutes ago because I was feeling sick. Not only did this injustice occur (again), someone got off scott-free (again).

Frustrated, I stopped my writing there.  I have blogged about this topic before, and felt like it was pointless to do so again.  There was nothing new that I could say that would fix anything.  It was an exercise in futility.  Dejected, I prepared for work.

On the daily commute, I vented a bit to one of my Voxer groups.  In talking to members of my PLN, the idea struck me to have my eighth-grade students blog about their thoughts collectively, for multiple reasons:

  • To allow my students space to process and vent on an important issue.
  • To raise awareness about current events.
  • To help them review their argumentative writing skills.
  • To empower them, and give them a voice.
  • To bring relevance to the class.

One of my edu-buddies suggested that I let them each claim a slide in a Google Presentation.  I decided to let students choose which they preferred, since so many of them were huge fans of blogging (as uncovered in our first quarter evaluation), but may prefer to do a slide.

We began the class with our usual Tuesday morning warm-up, and class opening routine.  Afterwards, I told them that we would take a detour from our scheduled poetry activity for today, if this was alright with them.  They were very curious, and agreed.

I began by asking students what national headlines they heard about this week.  In both classes, the first response was the verdict of the Michael Brown case.  Then, I asked students to share their initial reactions.  There were scattered responses at this time, because a few students were not up to speed.  We watched a video from CNN, detailing the current situation in Ferguson, post-verdict.  Afterwards, students again shared their reactions.

Finally, I relayed to my students what a teacher friend, living in Ferguson, had shared with me on Voxer that morning, regarding events in her city.  The students said that it sounded like a terrifying situation.  For full disclosure, I explicity stated my personal thoughts, but emphasized that they were just my opinion.  Students were entitled (and encouraged) to share their own, even if they differed from mine or anyone else’s.

After our discussion, we then went to work:

Here is what students had to say.  I have not included names, to protect the identities of my students.  Although no one had an objection to standing by their opinions, I am choosing to keep them anonymous because of their status as minors, and the controversial nature of this topic.

Note: I have taken excerpts from students’ reflections.  My only modifications were grammatical errors, etc.  The views reflected below are those of my students, and not necessarily my own.  

The Google Document/Blog
  • “I feel sad for the family and friends of Michael Brown and I give you my condolences. I hope things get better and r.i.p.  I also think that there was a need of more evidence being collected before the court made a final decision.”
  • “Honestly, I think that this situation is just irrelevant. This is just repeating what happened to Trayvon Martin and it shows that it’s never going to stop. I think that the police should go to jail for what they did and they should not be let off the hook for that. I also believe that they shouldn’t have set buildings on fire. They could have handled that better.”
  • “I think they are just trying to do that because of what happened to Travon Martin.”
  • “I think that it isn’t fair at all what they did. I feel like the Pledge of Alleigance has no meaning, ‘justice for all.’ Michael Brown and his family didn’t receive justice. I feel as if that rule only applies to Whites. This isn’t the first time this happened and it will happen more, I’m sure.”
  • “I think that the people have overreacted. Yes, I understand that this did not seem right and that you guys are mad but setting houses ablaze and breaking into stores was not the best.”
  • “I think…the court was setting him up so [Darren Wilson] won’t go to jail.”
  • “I think that this whole thing is crazy. It’s making people depressed, and miserable. People are tired of this happening over and over again so they decide to take matters in their own hands. But, what they fail to realize is that they’re going about it the wrong way.”
  • “Well, I think that a whole chunk-a-people…are still living in the past, the horrible past that we all had to suffer. I thought it would be over by now…I guess not. We are all equals. No one is better than another. At the end of the day, we all have bones. And blood. And hair…most of us. What I am trying to say…The jury was totally biased.”
The Google Presentation

Students had varied opinions, as we all do.  I was so proud of them for their hard work, and thoughtful insights, no matter what they believe.  As I told them in class, we may feel helpless as individuals, but as a group, we have power.  I hope they keep this in mind for the future.



Yesterday, I cried in front of students.

We were preparing to do morning announcements. Two eighth graders came slightly early, while I was backing up my old Mac before wiping it clean. While waiting on the rest of the crew to arrive, they looked over my shoulder.

I was, at the time, backing up the precious pictures that I had amassed in my six years at the school. Something in the folder caught our attention, a slideshow called “Goodbye Eighth Graders.” As the yearbook adviser, I usually throw together a photo montage of the graduating class throughout the years at the school. We play it at the 8th grade graduation, and everybody cries and hugs. It’s almost a tradition.

Usually the slideshow loses its effect sometime after the new school year starts, so I figured we were in the clear. I had no idea which year this was from, but figured it was from long ago, since it was on this dinosaur.

I didn’t realize it was from last year.

This summer, our school suffered a devastating tragedy, as one of our students was taken from us just a week before starting high school. He fell ill suddenly, so it was a shock to us all. Throughout the years, I had seen him grow from a mischievous little third grader to a brilliant young man, an emerging leader.

This was understandably tough on everyone. The staff learned of the news right before students returned, so we were able to get our tears out among ourselves, and be almost stoic for the children who needed us. I attended the candlelight vigil and the funeral to support my students, although I did not want to go. Funerals make things real. More than anything, I prayed this was a nightmare from which we could all wake up.

In view of my students, I was a rock, a shoulder to cry on. I would not let them down when they needed me. But in private, I was a mess. The school where I teach is a K-8, and I had gotten to know this student very well, having taught him for five straight years. However, in some way outside of even my own comprehension, I was able to repress my grief and start the school year, albeit a bit rockily.

Yesterday, once I hit play and realized the slideshow was from last year, I knew what was coming, but I couldn’t look away. It was like a deer in headlights.

Once his unique smile lit up the screen, I felt the tears coming, but tried to hold them back. One of the students noticed that I was getting emotional, so I turned away and walked towards the door to try to compose myself.

The next thing I knew, I found myself being hugged very tightly, which turned the silent tears into audible sobs.

Last week on Voxer, a member of my PLN said that just as we are there for students, sometimes they can be there for us. I’ve never felt it more than in that moment.

#PostYourDrafts: Rant on Testing

This rant on testing is two years old.  To put it in context, I wrote this one morning when I was fed up, around the time when PARCC first hit many districts around the country.  I still feel the same way, and hope to see it become less of a time and energy suck.  The post may be a little stale, but unfortunately still relevant.  For your viewing pleasure, I #postmydraft.

Yesterday, in one of my Voxer groups, there was a heated discussion on standardized testing.  It was a discussion, not a debate, because nobody was advocating for the insane amount of testing currently going on in our schools.  Come to think of it, I’ve never met an educator who has said, “now now, guys, all this testing is really awesome!  Here’s why!”  *crickets*  Remember, we are the professionals, and often the adults who spend the most waking hours with children.  We teachers know what we are talking about; but I have yet to meet an educator who thinks all of this testing is reasonable.

Testing does have a place; this is not it.

Formative assessment on a classroom level is very helpful to see where students currently stand, and how to best meet their needs.  Even the occasional summative standardized test can serve a constructive purpose, to see how much students have grown over the course of a school year.  However, according to the New York Times, states such as Florida may devote 60 to 80 of the 180 school day calendar to testing.  This is an extreme, and thankfully most of us are not in this situation; however, I feel for the teachers and students of Florida.  Even losing a third of that time is a whole month of school.  Imagine what can be taught in one month…this could be an entire instructional unit.

If we must have standardized tests, can we at least get it right?  To me, the ideal standardized test would be short, sweet, formative, and low-risk for all stakeholders, as many factors can influence a student’s score.  For example, I’ve heard of students who traditionally scored high proficient fall to basic on an end-of-year test, perhaps because they were not feeling well that day.  This has a huge potential for negative implications, perhaps even relegating students to low tracks.  Even worse, I wonder how these scarlet letters of testing affect their self-image.  This kills me.

Why is there this war on our students?  I would say because of money, but that’s a whole different post.  Why aren’t the professionals being trusted to make the important decisions?  I hope to explore this topic more in a follow-up post.  I invite you to weigh in below.