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Category Archives: Teachers Who Change Lives

For citizens and friends of the USA: an important article in Education Week

I had an email alert from Education Week just now and it is important enough to pass on. Read Backers Say Chicago Project Not ‘Radical’.

The Chicago Annenberg Challenge, chaired from 1995 to 1999 by Barack Obama, is being portrayed by John McCain’s campaign as an attempt to push radicalism on schools.

The project undertaken in Chicago as part of a high-profile national initiative reflected, however, mainstream thinking among education reformers. The Annenberg Foundation’s $49.2 million grant in the city focused on three priorities: encouraging collaboration among teachers and better professional development; reducing the isolation between schools and between schools and their communities; and reducing school size to improve learning.

The other eight urban projects that received money from the foundation under the Annenberg Challenge initiative, launched in 1993 by the philanthropist Walter H. Annenberg, pursued similar aims…

Last week, the campaign of Sen. McCain, the Republican nominee, posted a Web ad asserting that “Ayers and Obama ran a radical education foundation together” that distributed more than $100 million to “ideological allies.”

Mr. Ayers and Ms. Hallett, who was then the executive director of the Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform, led a citywide group called the Chicago School Reform Collaborative that met frequently throughout 1994 to write a proposal to secure Annenberg funding.

“They are taking what was a very positive civic undertaking to improve public schools and characterizing it as something it was not at all,” Ms. Hallett said of the bloggers, commentators, and TV and radio hosts who for months have been discussing Sen. Obama’s association with Mr. Ayers. (“Ayers Controversy First Smoldered, Now Flares Bright,” Oct. 15, 2008.)

Critics have focused not just on Mr. Ayers’ involvement in violent opposition to the Vietnam War, but also on what they see as his espousal of a radical “social justice” approach to education…

The context for the Chicago proposal to the Annenberg Foundation was the 1988 decentralization of the city’s public schools by the Republican-controlled Illinois legislature, a response to frustration over years of teachers’ strikes, low achievement, and bureaucratic failure. Among other changes, the law set up “local school councils” at all district schools and gave the panels, which included community representatives, the power to hire principals…

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Posted by on October 16, 2008 in America, culture wars, current affairs, education, Teachers Who Change Lives, teaching, USA

 

One and a half cheers for Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard

PM aims to teach unions a lesson – National – smh.com.au reports, among other matters on which I have no competence to comment:

KEVIN RUDD and Julia Gillard turned up the heat on the education unions yesterday with the Prime Minister telling them it was time to move into the 21st century.

But as Mr Rudd and his deputy began the hard sell of tough new measures to improve school standards, the trade unions continued to flex their muscles behind the scenes over a number of policy measures.

The Australian Education Union organised a briefing for about 40 members of caucus and staff over the school announcement in which future commonwealth funding for the states would depend on them adopting greater transparency and accountability measures for the schools system.

There is, however, more concern among the backbench over the earlier announcement this week of a trial program in which parents of truant children would have their welfare docked for up to three months…

The AEU has been hostile to Mr Rudd’s new funding conditions for schools. From next year, public and private schools would have to publicly disclose performance information.

Schools which continued to underperform after receiving additional funding of up to $500,000 a year would be expected to sack the principal or teachers, and even close or merge with another school.

Mr Rudd urged the unions and states to embrace the measures. There would be a significant boost to funding in return for agreement but the Government no longer intended to write “blank cheques”.

The Opposition leader Brendan Nelson introduced similar laws in 2004 as a condition of the last four-year funding agreement he introduced as education minister but was largely ignored by the states and unions.

“Mr Rudd has the power now to withhold money from states that have not complied with this and and the challenge for him is will he do so?” he said.

One and a half cheers for at least being serious about education, and no cheers at all for Brendan Nelson whose chest merkin (a pubic wig, for those who don’t know) ill becomes him.

But I believe Kevin and Julia should actually listen to the education unions because they just might be right this time. I have no faith at all in the bureaucratic thrust of the K&J scheme, just as a very short time ago I railed about Looking to America, but not like Julie Bishop. I suspect that K&J will create a situation where schools will be issuing report cards that bear a strong resemblance to steel production figures in China during The Great Leap Forward or in the USSR under Stalin — inventive rather than strictly factual. Why? Because money will be at stake. Even if that fear is absurd — and it may well be — I can’t help thinking that the whole scenario will subtract even more from the time that is given to actual teaching.

I am of course a back number, but I am writing from the heart — I will let you judge if it is also from the head — as one who after all recently discovered that I have been, on occasions, an actual “teacher who changes lives.” Furthermore, my approach to such issues as literacy seems to have been endorsed recently when my English/ESL blog was peer-reviewed and placed in the top 100 language blogs on the Net. That does not make me infallible, but it does make me feel my instincts about what K&J are up to may have some substance. And I am not alone. I am writing also primarily as a secondary (and occasionally tertiary) English teacher who began the game forty-two years ago. I have seen a few Education Revolutions in my time.

I endorse Don Brown of Narrabeen in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

As a former “recalcitrant” (“Rudd’s school revolution”, August 28) member of what Peter Hartcher has called a “huddling collectivist mediocrity” (“Pugilistic PM has picked a classy fight”) I wish to make a few things clear to the Prime Minister, whose election I, and many other similar recalcitrants, worked hard to bring about.

Years ago, the State Government introduced the principle that parents could elect to send their children to any public school they wished if space was available after the enrolment of local students. There was some relatively insignificant movement at the primary level. At the secondary level the most common reasons for parents not to choose the local high school were the availability of a specific subject in another high school or a decision to enrol in a private school.

Schools began a vigorous campaign to publicise their offerings, campaigns in which the media showed little interest despite some impressive performances, particularly during the participation and equity program of the federal Labor government in the 1980s.

The print media, and particularly the broadsheet media, continued to contrast the “elite” private schools with the public schools supposedly being run on Soviet lines by the above mentioned collective. The main story was the continuing drift to private schools because the public schools were “values free”. What nonsense.

Research by the Greens MP John Kaye showed that the greatest factor behind the drift was the allocation of public funding to private schools.

I would love the space to document all the flaws in Kevin Rudd’s proposal but two points will suffice. On the demand that schools provide more information, the fact is that schools have information on hand and communicate it to parents in various ways, including newsletters, parent-teacher nights and open days. Those parents who are interested can always seek an appointment with the principal or a specific teacher. In most cases this request would be welcomed.

Secondly, having taught in schools that were difficult to staff because of socio-economic disadvantage, I am very proud of their record in raising the aspirations of many students. I can cite dozens of students who were the first in their family to gain a qualification such as the School Certificate, HSC or a university degree.

These teachers are paid no more than teachers in privileged areas and frequently must travel great distances from their homes. Students owe a great debt to those teachers whose dedication and concern for their welfare made such a difference.

I also endorse Alan Young, even if while I agree in principle with his first point I think a lot of thought has to go into how it works.

Kevin Rudd’s proposal to link teacher pay to performance is long overdue, opposed only by those who would argue that what teachers do is in some way incapable of description, unlike the work of dentists, doctors, lawyers, plumbers and the rest of the workforce.

He is on more contestable grounds, however, when he proposes to link funding to results as though disadvantaged and advantaged schools operate on similar planets. Dire consequences are implied for those who don’t measure up.Some school environments have a clientele who will do well regardless of the dunces that teach them. Others will struggle despite the Messianic proclivities of staff.

Allan Young Retired principal, Strathfield

I even more strongly endorse this letter:

Never in 32 years as a professional educator have I felt so abandoned. If there is a problem in a school, Kevin Rudd says sack the principal and the teachers. He does not say give them adequate resources and smaller class sizes. He does not say provide support to deal with a broad range of challenging students. He does not say that if teachers need more skills, he will provide the funds.

Why won’t he and the rest of the politicians forget the populist claptrap and provide appropriate funding? Why won’t he work with us and not against us? If he and the others don’t, the standard of education must, as a result of their policies, decline.

Patrick FitzGerald Deputy principal, Young High School

Listen up, Kevin and Julia, lest your Education Revolution morphs into Education Reaction.

I am a back number, as I said, but I know there are those out there still — or about to be out there — who have the capacity and will to deliver the best to our present and future students. No matter what I may have said about or to The Rabbit at times, I am confident he is a fine English teacher with a great future; his love for the subject is unquestioned, and the progress he is making professionally is very pleasing to this old stager. Similarly, I am sure Thomas will deliver in spades in the future. And that’s just two I know about… Aluminium, too, in another sphere — and sometimes battling in a rather strange environment — knows what good English teaching is and what students need. My visit to The Mine the day before yesterday — I ran M’s pics by the Head of Art and Photography there — revealed a first-rate band of English teachers hard at work.

You may note this entry — and some other recent ones on this subject — are tagged “right wing politics.” Sadly, it is not inappropriate…

NOTE

…in a classic Freudian typo I posted this first as “One and a half cheers for Kevin Rudd and Julia Bishop”! What was I thinking?

 

Only sorry I couldn’t help more…

I have had a number of emails lately via English/ESL. I will share the gist, because I find this both heartwarming and admirable, but I am leaving out many details for privacy reasons.

The first email was a request for help.

My daughter is in year 12 at [a south-western Sydney school]. She has recently sat her trial HSC. She received her marks for English paper 1 and was very disappointed. […] is in English Advanced…

My daughter is a high achiever and wants to continue her studies into Uni studying medicine… I looked at her paper … and i can see where her mistakes are.. and i believe there is room for improvement.

I noticed on your site the HSC workshop 2 on imaginative journeys and also creative writing. I was wondering if those workshops were available out side of the school you teach & if so how much are they, also how much do you charge for tutoring. Or is it possible we can work something out online that can help her improve her arguments and overall writing… I have tried to explain answering the HSC English paper to her but i do not think that i am helping her as she knows that i myself did not finish high school.

I want to help […] gain her dream of being a Doctor.

When she gets into Uni she will be the first of my family ever to have gone on to such a high degree or in fact the first to ever go to Uni. I am a single mum of 4 and will try to find the funds necessary.

I look forward to hearing from you and would like to thank you for your time and any help you can give […] to improve her writing.

I explained that for a number of reasons I could not help much — being constrained by the fact I am on a pension and am thus limited in what extra I may earn being just one. I also pointed out that any materials on English/ESL are free to use.

Without telling the correspondent I forwarded the letter to The Rabbit, who may have been able to help as he does tutor in an area much closer to her than I am. However, The Rabbit is fully booked until after the HSC. (Perhaps, though, he knows someone else who could help?)

There were some follow-up mails which I won’t place here. My reason for posting the one above, though, is that I really admire this woman. These are the kinds of people who give heart to teachers in what are so often depicted as “hopeless” areas. Additionally, what a mighty job those teachers are doing.

Tangentially related 😉

Finding your voice… on Bruce’s blog.

 

Maralyn Parker at Mascot Public School

The Daily Telegraph today gives the NSW state school system some much needed positive publicity. Mind you, Maralyn Parker often says sensible things.

Why more kids are now at public schools

The Daily Telegraph’s education writer MARALYN PARKER was principal-for-a-day at Mascot Public School. Here’s what she found in the classrooms…

Mascot is a thriving public school almost under the flight path near Sydney airport. It is a shining example of all that is great about NSW public schools and why enrolments in public schools across Sydney are increasing. There are now 228 public schools and 159 private schools in the area bounded by the Sydney CBD through to Port Hacking, including the eastern suburbs and Mascot. It is unique in that there are so many private schools concentrated in the area.

After decades of private school growth, Sydney families began turning back to public schools about four years ago. In 2004, 84,789 children were enrolled in Sydney’s public schools. In 2008, there are 87,908.  One of the many reasons for the turn, according to Sydney regional director Phil Lambert, is the myriad connections public schools have with their local communities.

Such a connection sparked what can only be called a magic public school moment, about half an hour into my Mascot principal-ship. Having already greeted and chatted to many parents, about the tenth who stopped us as Ms McKeown showed me around the school was Ruhal Ahmed. He is also general secretary of the Bangladesh Association of Australia.  The association uses the school premises on the weekend to hold classes for Arabic and Islamic studies. Mr Ahmed wanted to tell the principal that he could easily move the classes around to accommodate the Maori Christian Church services, which are also being held there on weekends. As the weather was getting colder, Mr Ahmed said, he was happy to share the warm inside rooms with the church.

I had an instant vision of Mascot primary Maori children singing their four-part harmony Christian hymns in a room next to Mascot primary Muslim children reciting the Koran in Arabic ; and everyone thinking that it was all just normal. Only in an Australian public school. No need for inter-faith days or cultural exchange days for children at this school. Most children enrolled in Mascot are actually from a Greek background.

Others are from Turkish, Islander, Bangladeshi and Aboriginal cultures…

I would love to tell you about each class I visited and each teacher I spoke to. I have to say I was stunned by the standards being reached by Mascot PS children. I tried to read a book, Reading Makes you Feel Good to some kinder children and they ended up reading it to me. I noticed among the stories written by Year 1 children one including the word laughable; spelt correctly.

Reluctantly I left my school for the day. Ms McKeown had told me, “I don’t go home any day thinking I have finished. There is always something more I wanted to do.”

By then I knew exactly what she meant.

That is what gets lost when politicians and talk-back hosts and academic critics with bees in their bonnets, axes to grind, or knickers in a twist get into the act. Remember this column. It could be replicated from many other state schools…

I saw Mascot, and around ten other schools in this area, for myself fifteen years ago when engaged in a research project on reading; it, and the others, mightily impressed me with what they were doing and the sheer dedication and intelligence they brought to their tasks. (I allude to that project in my essay on literacy.) It seems that what I saw then has been quietly going forward despite all the flak shot up by the pollies and commentators.


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The literacy we need but many don’t want…

I wrote a careful essay on the nature of literacy in 1998; you may read an updated version here. At one level literacy involves just learning to read and write, using whatever teaching methods work — and that is always a combination of methods. (The whole-language VERSUS phonics myth is just that, a myth; it is rather whole-language AND phonics.) Conservative critics always focus on one end of this, and berate schools if 100% of students have not mastered basic literacy by, say, the end of primary school — a great aim, but an unrealistic one.

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Posted by on November 23, 2007 in challenge, English studies, ESL, literacy, Teachers Who Change Lives, teaching

 

My English Teachers 5: Bill Maidment (revisited)

See my earlier entry where I mention a problem with the Quadrant site. This is now fixed, and “Men Without Borders” by Neil McDonald is back online.

It was Maidment’s ability to analyse every nuance of an individual passage of literature, elucidating the rhythm, symbolism and allusions, then to place it in the context of the work as a whole—all the while keeping us aware of the period when it was written—that was of special value to us all as film critics and teachers. In addition, there was his deep understanding of imagery, traditional emblems, heraldry and associations with the paintings of the period of the work being examined. Unlike many contemporary critics, Maidment was particularly good at defining a genre, exploring precisely how it related to other literary forms…

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Posted by on November 16, 2007 in English studies, inspiration, my English teachers, reminiscences, Teachers Who Change Lives

 

My English teachers 5: Bill Maidment

I am not a great fan of the right-wing magazine Quadrant, particularly in recent years, but there are good things in it — the poetry, for example, and most things written by Neil McDonald, so it is frustrating to find the Quadrant site seems to have been hacked just as I tried to track down what Neil McDonald said about Bill Maidment in the March 2005 issue. All I have is this fragment on eNotes:

ON APRIL 4, 2005, the former Associate Professor of English at the University of Sydney, W.M. Maidment, died shortly after receiving chemotherapy. Bill was a major influence on nearly four generations of students, scholars, teachers, historians, writers and artists of all kinds. His special areas of research and teaching were eighteenth-century literature, seventeenth-century poetry and the early twentieth-century novel. But Maidment never wrote a line of film criticism–so why am I beginning a film column with a tribute to his life and achievements?

His wide-ranging…

If I were a student still or a full-time teacher, by the way, I would subscribe to eNotes; it looks very useful.

So I was sad to read of Bill Maidment’s passing. We have already seen how, according to Michael Wilding, Maidment was “one of the old guard, the unreconstructed” in the eyes of Professor Sam Goldberg back in the early 1960s, and he was indeed in that position during my Honours year in 1964.

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Posted by on November 8, 2007 in English studies, my English teachers, nostalgia, reminiscences, Teachers Who Change Lives