Dialogue

I feel, sometimes, that people who care deeply about education often talk past each other instead of engaging with each other at a deeper level to work through disagreements in order to build solutions. It’s like there are two opposing sides just shouting at each other from across an imaginary line drawn in the sand without really hearing what the other side is saying.

That’s why I love having discussions like this on twitter:*

debryc My new students! @KIPP: A first look at @KIPPHouston’s Class of 2019! RT @KIPPHouston: New 5th graders at #kipp http://t.co/QHlVoix 6/16/11 4:52 PM

tfteacher @debryc Do you still call kids who misbehave “miscreants?” #kipp 6/16/11 4:53 PM

(Refer to http://www.schoolsmatter.info/2010/11/learning-about-kipp-lesson-3-social.html if you don’t understand why “miscreants” is in quotes).

debryc @tfteacher I’ve read the Schools Matter posts & am subscribed to your blog. I respectfully ask you to engage in dialogue, not snarky remarks 6/17/11 3:18 PM

tfteacher @debryc Oh. We’ll see. 6/17/11 3:18 PM

tfteacher @debryc Oh, a young TFAer chiming in. Yeah, whatever. You want to dialogue with me or just give me instructions? 6/17/11 3:21 PM

debryc @tfteacher Dismissing me for being a young TFA teacher is the same as dismissing students’ opinions b/c they’re young. 6/17/11 3:23 PM

tfteacher @debryc No, it’s totally difft, unless U R claiming 2 B an innocent child w/ no ulterior motives. Please, U’re out of yr depth. 6/17/11 3:24 PM

tfteacher @debryc How long have you been teaching? How much longer will you teach? 6/17/11 3:25 PM

debryc @tfteacher I welcome your input (which is why I’m subscribed to you). I’m inexperienced, so please give me feedback: http://t.co/VTTvq0w. 6/17/11 3:26 PM

tfteacher @debryc What input would you like? 6/17/11 3:28 PM

debryc @tfteacher Right now I’m struggling with: How do I teach skills? & How do we change the structure of education to actually support lrning? 6/17/11 3:32 PM

debryc @tfteacher For example, I’m trying to teach through #PBL, but can’t quite figure out how to plan successfully yet. How do I scaffold skills? 6/17/11 3:33 PM

tfteacher @debryc Just give your kids what they need. 6/17/11 3:44 PM

debryc @tfteacher And, for the 2nd ?, I believe it’s important to use data to drive instruction, but our current system of mc tests are terrible. 6/17/11 3:34 PM

debryc @tfteacher *is terrible. 6/17/11 3:35 PM

debryc @tfteacher Sorry! The “*is terrible” was a grammatical correction & I only realized later that w/o the “*”, it said “@tfteacher is terrible” 6/17/11 3:41 PM

debryc @tfteacher Promise it’s not a Freudian slip. (= 6/17/11 3:42 PM

tfteacher @debryc End high stakes testing to start. 6/17/11 3:43 PM

tfteacher @debryc Data to drive instruction? Spelling tests, quizzes are perfect data to drive instruction. That other data is to rank teachers–bad 6/17/11 3:45 PM

tfteacher @debryc If you need data your in the wrong profession. Your data are your interactions with your students. Get to know them, not their #s 6/17/11 3:45 PM

debryc @tfteacher I’ve been learning to build better relationships, for sure! It’s something I’m actively working on. 6/17/11 3:52 PM

tfteacher @debryc That’s what teaching is–a relationship. Anything else is not for the kids. 6/17/11 3:53 PM

debryc @tfteacher Two questions. 1) What do you think about something like http://www.activegrade.com ? 6/17/11 3:48 PM

debryc @tfteacher 2) How do we ensure that every child is getting an excellent education and teacher? 6/17/11 3:50 PM

tfteacher @debryc Um, really? We can’t. Life presents problems and bumps. LIFO at least keeps experienced teachers in the classroom. 6/17/11 3:52 PM

tfteacher @debryc Why don’t you worry about the kids before you worry about how great their teacher is? Poverty a bigger problem, by many magnitudes 6/17/11 3:52 PM

debryc @tfteacher We need a million and one solutions to the issue of inequality, and I can’t work in a million and one places, so I choose edu. 6/17/11 4:04 PM

tfteacher @debryc Teaching is not a science, it’s an art. either you can do it or not. Has little to do with knowledge. 6/17/11 3:54 PM

tfteacher @debryc Any smart person who has a way with kids can teach. 6/17/11 3:54 PM

debryc @tfteacher If teaching cannot be learned, then why does experience matter? 6/17/11 4:01 PM

debryc @tfteacher We learn to be creative. We learn to be artists. We learn to be teachers. One of my favorite sites: http://t.co/wc2rYNY 6/17/11 4:02 PM

tfteacher @debryc Experience is how we learn–that’s why kids need projects and interaction, not seat work. 6/17/11 4:02 PM

debryc @tfteacher Agreed! Learning through experience. I’ve wondered if learning to teach should look more like learning how to play sports. 6/17/11 4:06 PM

debryc @tfteacher Teachers begin as “fellows” embedded in schools w/ a mentor teacher to learn discrete skills. Theoretical knwldg as needed. 6/17/11 4:07 PM

debryc @tfteacher Beginning of the yr, observe a lot. Then, work w/ small groups to lrn how to guide student lrning. Then, behavioral expectations. 6/17/11 4:09 PM

tfteacher @debryc Right, we learn, we aren’t so much taught. 6/17/11 4:03 PM

tfteacher @debryc Observe constantly. Just dive in and get with them on the floor and learn about stuff. Talk with them. Listen to them. 6/17/11 4:10 PM

tfteacher @debryc There is no substitute for experience, hence LIFO. And it’s common sense too. Give kids meaningful experiences and they love it. 6/17/11 4:08 PM

debryc @tfteacher My impression of LIFO is that it is an imperfect fix for an imperfect system. 6/17/11 4:10 PM

tfteacher @debryc Could you possibly substantiate your impression with something? 6/17/11 4:10 PM

debryc @tfteacher I think we’d all rather be evaluated fairly on skills, but w/o trust in our administration/system, teachers hold on to LIFO. 6/17/11 4:10 PM

tfteacher @debryc LIFO respects experience. Surely you want an experienced surgeon? Or an experienced mechanic? Why not an experienced teacher? 6/17/11 4:11 PM

debryc @tfteacher I want a better system that reflects BOTH respect for teachers and how good that teacher is. 6/17/11 4:13 PM

tfteacher @debryc And, LIFO is only for a budget crisis. How about we stop those budget crises? 6/17/11 4:12 PM

debryc @tfteacher Plz excuse my ignorance. Is LIFO only for budget crisis? If a school loses enrollment, for ex., & needs to cut, does LIFO apply? 6/17/11 4:16 PM

tfteacher @debryc LIFO comes in when a mandated (state, disrict–legal thing) RIF (reduction in force) is put in place due to budget cuts. 6/17/11 4:17 PM

tfteacher @debryc If America chose to fund their schools we wouldn’t be laying off teachers. Those opposed to LIFO are simply union-busting. 6/17/11 4:18 PM

tfteacher @debryc As a teacher you surely know the horrible history of union-busting and the hard-won rights unions have brought us, right? 6/17/11 4:19 PM

tfteacher @debryc You should find out the details of an issue before you make fact claims about it. A good lesson for your students, too. 6/17/11 4:19 PM

debryc @tfteacher I agree that details are important. I used the term “impression” for a reason. (= 6/17/11 4:22 PM

debryc @tfteacher What do you think is the best book, or site(s), to learn more about the history of unions, teacher unions in particular? 6/17/11 4:24 PM

tfteacher @debryc follow these: @irasocol @TeacherSabrina @TeacherReality @fklonsky @mikeklonsky for union stuff 6/17/11 4:27 PM

debryc Followed! “@tfteacher: @debryc follow these: @irasocol @TeacherSabrina @TeacherReality @fklonsky @mikeklonsky for union stuff” 6/17/11 4:32 PM

debryc @tfteacher Do you agree with this? “I believe a fair layoff sys. would eval. tchers […] on mult., clearly-def. measures of effectiveness.. 6/17/11 4:26 PM

debryc @tfteacher (class obs., lesson plans, stdnt portfolios, stdnt achievement data) & then use seniority as a tiebreaker.” http://t.co/rv0tEaY 6/17/11 4:27 PM

tfteacher @debryc No. We don’t have those measures, and never will–too many variables. Must be done with observation, not test scores. 6/17/11 4:28 PM

tfteacher @debryc Lesson plans shld B burned. Lesson plans R 4 folks who dont know wht they R doing. U cnt plan 4 kids not understanding. 6/17/11 4:29 PM

tfteacher @debryc All a teacher needs is a scope and sequence, and that may change year to year. Nothing should be rigid. 6/17/11 4:30 PM

tfteacher @debryc follow @joe_bower to see why tests, grades and homework cause problems, not help learning. 6/17/11 4:31 PM

debryc @tfteacher I love @joe_bower. 6/17/11 4:32 PM.

tfteacher @debryc That’s good! So do I. Many don’t. I would love my kid to be in his class. 6/17/11 4:33 PM

debryc @tfteacher I’ll have to think more about teacher evaluation. If surgeons and mechanics can be evaluated, why not teachers? 6/17/11 4:34 PM

tfteacher @debryc They are not evaluated! Their evaluations are, a healthy patient and a running engine. 6/17/11 4:35 PM

tfteacher @debryc A patient can die, but if doctor did all the right things, they keep doctoring. Teachers have a kid fail and teacher gets blamed. 6/17/11 4:36 PM

debryc @tfteacher But the key is “if doctor did all the right things.” What is “all the right things” for teachers? 6/17/11 4:38 PM

tfteacher @debryc A doctor has to abide by best practices and the standard of care. If they do, all good, no matter the outcome. Not so w/ teachers. 6/17/11 4:50 PM

tfteacher @debryc A good teacher can use the class as a tool. But you do have a point. 6/17/11 4:51 PM

tfteacher @debryc They are determined by experienced doctors who self-regulate, like lawyers and oil companies. They know from experience what works. 6/17/11 4:52 PM

tfteacher @debryc Of course, self-regulation can be a problem, like the oil companies and other greedy industries. Doctors tend to be more humane. 6/17/11 4:53 PM

debryc @tfteacher Slight tangent. I think tchers r expected 2 be solo experts, which is y it’s imposs. 2 reach every stdnt. We should work as teams 6/17/11 4:41 PM

debryc @tfteacher What are those “best practices” and “standard of care” for teachers? 6/17/11 4:51 PM

tfteacher @debryc For teachers, best practices do NOT include high stakes tests or trading experience for youth and vigor. 6/17/11 4:54 PM

debryc @tfteacher I agree that self-regulation is huge. It seems to come down to trust. We don’t need LIFO if we have that trust to make decisions. 6/17/11 4:57 PM

debryc @tfteacher Small anecdote: We don’t have seniority protection in my district, but we have trust. During budget cuts, no teachers were cut. 6/17/11 4:58 PM

debryc @tfteacher Agreed. Our current state tests r terrible assessments. But, I wouldn’t make a blanket statement and say 10 yrs exp. bet. than 1. 6/17/11 4:59 PM

debryc @tfteacher 10 yrs. experience vs. 1 dependent on individual teachers in quesiton. 6/17/11 5:00 PM

tfteacher @debryc Or are you referring to the one in a million outlier? Outliers are not data, they lie outside the data. 6/17/11 5:02 PM

tfteacher @debryc I really can’t believe a highly educated person would claim that 1 year is as good as 10 years of experience. 6/17/11 5:03 PM

debryc @tfteacher I’m referring to outliers, which is important because LIFO doesn’t seem to allow for outliers. Correct me if I’m wrong? 6/17/11 5:04 PM

tfteacher @debryc Outliers are to be ignored. Did you take statistics classes? 6/17/11 5:04 PM

debryc @tfteacher And, what about the case of 1 years of experience versus 8 months of experience? 6/17/11 5:04 PM

tfteacher @debryc Considering a school year is 9 months, I assume you meant 1 school year, not 12 months. Silly question. 6/17/11 5:05 PM

debryc @tfteacher Again, please mind the snarkiness. We’re having a conversation, not trying to outdo one another. 6/17/11 5:07 PM

debryc @tfteacher I appreciate what I’m learning from you, and I appreciated comments like “But you have a point.” 6/17/11 5:07 PM

debryc @tfteacher Yes, I mean 9 months versus 8 months. And, not a silly question because there are people hired one month into the school year. 6/17/11 5:08 PM

tfteacher @debryc I really don’t need you to tell me how to act. Deal with me or not. Don’t tell me not to be snarky. 6/17/11 5:08 PM

tfteacher @debryc I am not here to make anyone feel good, just to be clear. 6/17/11 5:08 PM

tfteacher @debryc 9 months is not much different than 8 so LIFO would probably piss those 2 off. Sorry. 8-monther gots to go. 6/17/11 5:09 PM

debryc @tfteacher Yes, and in my case, your ideas would be more clear if presented respectfully. 6/17/11 5:09 PM

tfteacher @debryc Really? Are my ideas confusing because you perceive disrespect? How are those 2 things related? I am fighting a battle here. 6/17/11 5:10 PM

debryc @tfteacher I know I’ll be prejudiced against your ideas if I find them snarky, which is why I ask politely for respectful dialogue. 6/17/11 5:10 PM

debryc @tfteacher I love statistics. Think this should be a larger part of math. 6/17/11 5:11 PM

tfteacher @debryc A battle of ignorance masked with false information. 6/17/11 5:11 PM

debryc @tfteacher By all means, use snark in other mediums! It’s very effective. But, in a one-on-one conversation, lets move past that. 6/17/11 5:11 PM

tfteacher @debryc You should try to combat your prejudice and take what I say with a grain of salt, like anything anyone says. Content, not delivery. 6/17/11 5:12 PM

debryc @tfteacher Just like you differentiate what you do for students (give them what they need), please differentiate for those you engage with. 6/17/11 5:12 PM

tfteacher @debryc Enough with your behavior coaching. We can talk or not. I don’t really care. 6/17/11 5:12 PM

tfteacher @debryc I don’t feel the need to coddle grown-ups. Those adults who need coddling can piss off. Seriously, this is an adult conversation. 6/17/11 5:13 PM

debryc @tfteacher Back to the content, then. If the 8-month teacher is much better than the 9-month teacher, then shouldn’t the 9-month teacher go? 6/17/11 5:14 PM

tfteacher @debryc No. 6/17/11 5:14 PM

debryc @tfteacher Why? 6/17/11 5:14 PM

tfteacher @debryc You are looking for a problem where on doesn’t exist because you are steeped in TFA anti union Rheeness. 6/17/11 5:15 PM

tfteacher @debryc Becuase that ruins LIFO, and we have yet to see that assessment that can differentiate the 8 monther from the 9 monhter 6/17/11 5:15 PM

debryc @tfteacher Thought experiment. What if tchers in the school constantly obs./supported both & all agree 8 better than 9? Do we need LIFO? 6/17/11 5:18 PM

debryc @tfteacher Or, even in a more common example. 1 school year’s of experience versus 2 or 3 school years? 6/17/11 5:19 PM

tfteacher @debryc Yes. Politics. 6/17/11 5:21 PM

tfteacher @debryc What is your beef with LIFO, which you did not even fully understand until this afternoon? 6/17/11 5:22 PM

debryc @tfteacher I still don’t fully understand LIFO. That’s why I’m asking so many questions. 6/17/11 5:24 PM

debryc @tfteacher I argue forcefully things I have done a lot of research into, and even then am willing to change my mind. 6/17/11 5:24 PM

debryc @tfteacher The short list right now is only: evolution, education is important, we should make decisions for the long-term, not short-term 6/17/11 5:25 PM

tfteacher @debryc It is simple. When the school must layoff teachers due to a budget shortfall, they use seniority to determine who must be laid off. 6/17/11 5:25 PM

tfteacher @debryc They first look at credentials, and those without or on temps go first. It is simply seniority based layoffs, per common sense. 6/17/11 5:25 PM

debryc @tfteacher Right, but the answer to “Is LIFO the best policy?” is not simple. 6/17/11 5:26 PM

tfteacher @debryc Why is it so complicated? 6/17/11 5:26 PM

tfteacher @debryc What gives you @debryc ny authority whatsoever to even comment on LIFO or anything in education? 6/17/11 5:26 PM

tfteacher @debryc You are a novice with virtually no experience, yet you seem to feel qualified (and were shown not to be) to comment on layoffs. 6/17/11 5:27 PM

tfteacher @debryc Again, why do you think your opinion should be heeded? 6/17/11 5:28 PM

I stopped replying here because I felt it was time to walk away, but I learned a lot. I’ve always wanted to look more into the history of teachers unions for example, so this conversation has given me inspiration into diving into that. Do I agree with everything? Certainly not. But, like General Patton once said, “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” ** Plus, this is start! I hope only that I was respectful, humble, and honest throughout this entire conversation.***

*I tried to recreate the threads of the conversation as faithfully as possible, so the tweets aren’t necessarily in timestamp order.

**Like I said, “I love @joe_bower,” and this is a quote shared from Joe Bower’s blog: http://www.joebower.org/2011/06/seek-dissent.html

***And if I was not, call me out on it!

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Jenny Hsi says:

    Deborah, I marvel at your patience and largeness of mind. It would’ve taken me (and the average person) a lot fewer tweets to stop responding to this person, who is clearly not interested in hearing others and only in saying what s/he thinks is right as loudly as possible. You did a great job inviting discussion given what you had to work with.

    Independent of the content of TFT’s beliefs, it’s sad and scary to think that a teacher who supposedly cares all about “div[ing] in” with the students and “listen[ing] to” the students is so apparently incapable of engaging in real dialogue with someone younger than him/herself. It makes me wonder if this is a side effect of advocacy work — that in order to lobby for your position, you eventually end up deaf to everyone else’s. Definitely an important trap to avoid.

    As to the topic of discussion itself, as someone who knows little about education, I can’t really decide one way or other about LIFO. BUT, I do know healthcare, and I feel TFT’s analogies between doctoring and teaching are off the mark on multiple counts:

    1) TFT makes it sound as though doctors self-regulate by their professional associations, everyone’s happy, end of story. But in fact, the healthcare world is undergoing just as much of a debate as is the education world about improving quality of care (per cost unit).

    2) But like teachers, hiring decisions for doctors are NOT based on seniority. Whether you’re in a hospital or small-clinic setting, older doctors are not guaranteed jobs against younger ones. Patients and administrators base their decisions on a doctor’s reputation — which is often correlated with experience in pure years, but also often not. Things like education pedigree and, most importantly, track record, matter just as much if not sometimes more.

    3) Also, it’s not entirely fair to compare (for lack of a better term) “forgivable failure rates” between a doctor’s practice and a teacher’s. Most people don’t see / get sent to doctors until something has already gone wrong. But all children go to school, not just the problematic ones. As such, the baseline of an average doctor’s patient pool is by nature “more likely to fail” than an average teacher’s classroom.

    4) As well, my feelings as someone trained in biology, is that there is WAY more about what makes a person healthy that we currently don’t understand, than there is about how to make students learn well. I absolutely agree with TFT that there are many more factors that contribute to a patient/child’s success than the doctor/teacher’s skill, but there is often more that teachers can do to help children than there is with doctors for patients.

    — I’d love to hear your thoughts, or that of my fellow readers’. If TFT would also like to respond, I couldn’t be happier to hear. 🙂

    1. debryc says:

      Thanks for leaving such a thorough response, Jenny! Here are my initial thoughts:

      Though this was, at times, a very frustrating conversation, I appreciate that TFT engaged and we both had moments of clarity as well as support. For example, notice how we went from not agreeing to seeing that we do have consensus on teacher training:

      “tfteacher @debryc Teaching is not a science, it’s an art. either you can do it or not. Has little to do with knowledge. 6/17/11 3:54 PM” <– I totally disagree with this statement
      "tfteacher @debryc Any smart person who has a way with kids can teach. 6/17/11 3:54 PM
      debryc @tfteacher If teaching cannot be learned, then why does experience matter? 6/17/11 4:01 PM
      debryc @tfteacher We learn to be creative. We learn to be artists. We learn to be teachers. One of my favorite sites: http://t.co/wc2rYNY 6/17/11 4:02 PM
      tfteacher @debryc Experience is how we learn–that’s why kids need projects and interaction, not seat work. 6/17/11 4:02 PM" <– But after more tweets, we gain clarity and consensus.
      "debryc @tfteacher Agreed! Learning through experience. I’ve wondered if learning to teach should look more like learning how to play sports. 6/17/11 4:06 PM
      debryc @tfteacher Teachers begin as “fellows” embedded in schools w/ a mentor teacher to learn discrete skills. Theoretical knwldg as needed. 6/17/11 4:07 PM
      debryc @tfteacher Beginning of the yr, observe a lot. Then, work w/ small groups to lrn how to guide student lrning. Then, behavioral expectations. 6/17/11 4:09 PM
      tfteacher @debryc Right, we learn, we aren’t so much taught. 6/17/11 4:03 PM"

      We need more of these moments. TFT and I never got to the point where we were both cordial to one another, but I'll take the highlight.

      On the topic of discussion:
      1) I'd LOVE to learn more about the debate in healthcare. What's a good primer on the issues to start with? Care to tell us? (=

      2) How is a doctor's track record looked into? Also, one major concern by many teachers, I believe, is that hiring/firing based on observations/student work will be too political and not at all fair. How does the healthcare profession mitigate this?

      3) Children who are disadvantaged are often times faced with greater challenges than children who are not disadvantaged. The "failure rate" for children who are disadvantaged is probably higher than non-disadvantaged students given an equality of inputs (exact same teachers, facilities, money, books, time, class size). But, where I disagree with people who say we must focus only on poverty alleviation is on three points. First, it's not an either/or, we can both fight poverty AND fight for better education at the same time. Second, I believe that "fair" is not always "equal". Disadvantaged children need MORE time with their teachers, not less, need MORE supports at school (lunches, health check-ups, art, physical education). Third, just because having educated and motivated parents, a rich home environment, and similarly advantaged peers helps ensure education success, does not mean that these are the correct policy solutions to pursue. Yes, I have students whose parents are not supportive, but that doesn't mean I accept the student's failure, it just means I have to work harder to give the student what he/she needs that he/she's not getting at home.

      4) I don't know enough to speak about this point, especially because there are a lot of unanswered questions in education and because I don't know what those questions are in medicine.

      For example, I think that one big challenge with education is, we don't know the corollary of what the goals of education are…. Is it measured by test-taking? Do we need informed and involved citizens? What about cultural education? Whereas in medicine, we know how that outcomes are measured by life and quality of life.

      My school, for example, is wonderful in many respects. Good academics that are getting better and better as we align ourselves to college and career readiness. Character building that teaches how to mediate conflicts, how to act in public places, how to be independent. But, some argue that this is a form of cultural imperialism, and that our schools are segregated.

      Another big question is, we don't know what's best at the systems level. To date, there has not been a successful model district that we can draw from (which serves predominantly children with disadvantaged backgrounds). KIPP Houston is trying to be that district. We're not there, yet. We don't know the answers to questions like, how do we turn around failing schools? How do we ensure high quality instruction in every classroom? How do we have both excellence of standards and independence to innovate?

  2. Observer says:

    What you’re describing is part of a larger phenomenon that affects any political or politicized issue. Fashioning a “us against them” mentality is really a cognitive shortcut to actually thinking things through together.

  3. Dorothy says:

    I read this whole conversation completely backwards the first time on your teachforus account. I thought he was getting nicer, HAHA.

    Those who deny reason can’t be conquered by it.
    Props for keeping it classy.

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