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carnival of education

Welcome to the Carnival !

I am honoured to host the Carnival of Education, now in its 133rd avatar. Thanks Ed! It’s been quite an exercise, but I’ve tried my best to make it fun by including everything that was submitted to me and organising it into categories.

 

Thanks to all those who contributed and took the time to fill up the survey questionnaire I sent out. I am including the results at the end of the post post.

 

Next week’s carnival will be hosted by Matt Tabor. Mail him at mktabor@gmail.com by 11pm EST on Tuesday, August 29, 2007 or else use this handy submission form. Thanks to Lennie for last week’s carnival.

Hang on now for Here we Go!

 

Leading Schools

The first chapter of Freakonomics, a huge bestseller (read a superintendent’s post on it here) talks about how incentive govern economics. Incentives are it says, simple means to urge people to do more of a good thing and less of a bad one, they are bullets, levers and keys: tiny objects with astonishing power to change a situation. Dave Johnston brings Economics into school with a post on why School Districts Need the Right Incentives.

Teacher Salaries have always been a huge source of debate. Paying his employees well is a must for every Leader. IB a Math Teacher presents a comparison between US and Finnish (the country consistently ranked #1 in OECD surveys on student achievement) teacher salaries. After you read this, you may be surprised to find out that several Indian teachers are paid between 20-25% of what teachers in the US are (adjusted for exchange rates and purchasing power).

In an article that will shock every school leader, I was surprised to learn that 1 out of 8 children in US schools are on retalin, a drug that impacts behavior, cognition, appetite, and stress and can have negative impact on the brain major impact in adulthood. Lennie contends that Ritalin is used in Government Schools to modify the behavior of students to make them fit into the one-size-fits all systems that these schools employ.

This post was not written for teachers or administrators in school, but can help all of us. Phil presents 13 Steps to be Productive saying”Ever wonder why some people are so productive all of the time while other people never accomplish anything?” I’m sure Christian over at Think: Lab was reading- I wonder how he finds the time to write several quality posts a day!

 

Oh My God, This Cannot be Happening

Is that a Bird? Superman? No its an Elementary School Principal! Jo Scott-Coe introduces us to a Principal who thinks that spending a day on the roof may encourage teachers to get better ‘fodder for lessons’ Head over to School Performance Anxiety–No More Gimmicks! for some Laughs!

I’m putting this post right under the one about our Fiddler-on-the-Roof Principal above, because it talks about a stand taken by the British Univeristy and College Union that’s equally stupid and egregious (or both). Read Darren’s post about the boycott of Israeli Universities here.

 

In the Classroom

Here is one thing that you would not believe closes achievement gaps. Getting children to Chew Gum in Class! A teacher was persuaded to do this even when when the policy strictly prohibits it because it (brace yourselves) helps the children think. I’d have put it in the ‘crazies’ section above if it weren’t for the teacher’s concern for her student’s achievement that made her break the rules and try it.

Asking questions is at the heart of a learning organisation and learning classrooms. Joanne Jacobs suggests that it might be the best way to go when teaching History (which she says is way better as a theatre for the higher reaches Bloom’s Taxonomy than Social Studies).

Several kids trip on word problems because they can’t translate the question being asked into a mathematiucal equation. What does it mean to find two-thirds of six they ask? If your kids are have trouble with this and more, read Denise’s post on Pre-algebra problem solving tools. The comment on the post (and maths problem) with the 3 salesman is worth a read too: its a variant of a classic problem that foxes most at first go.

A teacher’s influence can last a life time. Sometimes it is due to a negative incident that leaves a lasting impression. That’s what Ms.Teacher wrote when she submitted her post to the carnival. Check out her very readable reflections over in her post, The Influence of Teachers

Giftedness is a concept and term that most Educators love to use. Jeremy. in his excellent Conceptions of Giftedness, in light of DVD finding informs us that unfortunately, most of these educators may not agree or know what giftedness means. He presents an overview of scholarly definitions and a series of links to a recent finding that instructional videos aren’t effective in teaching language skills to infants.

Ever wonder why teachers in NYC are so psychotic? (!??!) Head over and check with Dr. Homeslice who’s surprised by the keywords that have driven traffic to his site.

 

Back to School after the summer?

Summer means Teacher Development. Carnival newbie Jennie, who’s just endured this version of Teacher Hell and is probably happy to get back to school, wonders why so many seminars are scheduled when Conferences are what really get the teachers going.

Joel, who’s become a bit of a 10-Tips and 7-Ways-To-Do-Things Guru, presents The Twelve Days of Teaching – a series of articles that may be be interesting to read before you start teaching again.

You may also want to consider visiting a wiki set up by Dan Myer to help you get prepared for a new term of teaching (this is not a carnival contribution, I’ve added it).

If you are a new teacher or are advising one this year, it would be helpful to read Graycie’s e-mail exchange with a New Teacher that has some excellent tips and the Right Wing Professor low-down on getting it right the first time around.

Ms. T talks about engaging lower-income and minority families in the school this year, using her dismay over the poor-attendance at her school’s recent back-to-school Open House as a context.

Former Wilmington Mayor Jim Sills shares her concern as he claims that “absence of parental participation plans (meaning budgeted finances and assigned personnel) has contributed to African-American and low-income parents (a) not feeling any “significant sense of ownership” of public schools, and (b) having low levels of parental participation in Parent Teacher Association (PTA) meetings. Unfortunately, we are left with a very large contingent of low-income parents, who feel ill equipped to give their children sufficient personal support in school settings.” Hube thinks that Sill’s enthusiasm may be misplaced and presents his own view on the subject in Once again: Teachers “not doing enough.

Best of luck to all of you starting the new school year! As you do so, read California Teacher Guy’s rather humorous poem on what he didn’t do last summer and Why He Is Rested and Ready to Go.

 

Grading

The best thing about blogs is sometimes the open-source stuff that gets shared- the Science Goddess has put out a draft of her standards-based grading policy on her blog. She’d like your comments! Go have a look- its definitely worth a read as is the discussion developing on the post and this wiki set up by Eric, Repairman, Miss Profe, Exhausted Intern and others on Grading.

A few weeks ago, there was a debate about Austin Lampros and his resignation from a Manhattan School that was activated by a ruling that no student should be given less than 45% marks, irrespective of performance. Now, R.Pettinger, an economist from across the Atlantic presents Are British A Levels Getting Easier? where he examines how lowered standards have doubled the percentage of students getting an A on their national exams.

 

Achievement Gaps and Standardised Testing

Here’s a Quiz for you- the winner gets a Testing for Dummies Handbook. What could the passage below be referring to?

We implemented a national literacy strategy in primary schools, followed quite rapidly by numeracy using the same model: Large-scale reform driven from the top down; designing all the materials at the national level and training everybody in a cascade out; using the accountability system to publish results and school inspection to check that people were adopting better practices.”

NCLB did you say? Nope, it’s the British version that now been imported to the US Shores in Ohio. Read more about it at Middle Shool World

What causes achievement gaps? Race? Parental Income? IQ? Expectation? Parental Pressure? Chanman’s got the lowdown on his post Quotable Crap about the “Achievement Gap”

One person who doesn’t need to read Chanman’s post is Margaret Spellings who seems to have got it all figured out. In a recent statement she asked, “How do we close the achievement gap and prepare all children to succeed in the global economy? To me, the answer is clear—the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Building on the success of this landmark law will help ensure we keep our promise to have every child learning on grade level by 2014.” Read all about it over on EduWonk’s post The Spellings Report: Margaret Heads South!

 

What Schools can Learn from Businesses and Funding in Schools

At a (private) school I worked at, parents were customers and so were students. Fees were income. Annual Days were Marketing promotions and Parent Relations was under a Public Relations Department. I hated the terms but liked the premise. Nancy Flanagan gets into the details on what schools can learn from big business in Business as Usual while Jose Vilson says that “much of the relationships we have in the educational setting have scary similarities to politics, corporate or otherwise” in his review of the book 48 Laws of Power.

Bill Ferriter, who writes for the same network that Nancy does, also handles a similar issue- the question of Funding, Accountability and Donor Relations in Schools- all things we can learn from business about. His post, Just What is a Republic Anyway?, is in response toone on the DeHavilland Blog titled The Upside of Less Education Funding.

I humbly present another post on state funding for education, arguing that higher-ed subsidies that are keeping large numbers out of primary-school should be re-evaluated and maybe, done away with.

Staying with funding and money; Norm Scott presents Oh man, did your readers leave stuff out! that tells you where dues money goes in the largest local teacher union in the nation

 

Essential conversations with our children

What should we tell our children and what should we not? Presenting three articles that touch different angles on this- NYC Educator talks about discussions with children on homesexuality and sex. I present a post on the death of Adnan Patrawala a 16-year old student in Mumbai who’s death may have been abetted by Orkut, an incident that calls for a more careful exposure to social networking sites. To round up is Jeff’s post Putting them in a Bubble (this is not a carnival contribution, I’ve added it).

In India, several schools are attempting to bring in grandparents into schools- acknowledging that the contribution of these elders in the children’s education can be significant and that in Inidan families where generation stay together it’s important that the Elders are on board with the school their grandchild goes to. Dana talks about a British example where elders are encouraged to come to school and share experiences with kids and adds that this may be an implicit vote for homeschooling. Read about it on her post – Bringing intergenerational experiences to the schools.

Emilie Buchwald once said, “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” If you want to know what she meant or how to get there read 30+ Teacher’s post on Eleven Ways to Help Your Child Read Well.

WordMama writes a straight-from-the-heart letter to parents who may discover their child needs Special Education.

 

College

Got students or children going to college? Judy’s got some Health Tips, Pinyo talks about the 7 mistakes he made when he went to college, Robert provides you 5 tips on how to get that Calculator to function like a dream while Zantor provides tips on working smarter. If they still haven’t got the financing tied up, look at Robert has got tips on Scott’s post on 32 Weird Scholarships Almost Anyone Can Get.

 

Blogging about Teaching and Education

If you were inspired by Karl’s “Did you Know” Film and want the inside scoop on how Friedman’s World is Flat, Dan Pink’s A new Kind of Mind and speakers the NECC Conference collaborated to kickstart it in his head- go on over to Dr. Jan’s Blog to read The History of “Did You Know” with Karl Fisch and to listen to her podcast interview with him.

Almost 3 weeks after Scott McLeod posted his research on the Top EduBlogs, debate on its methodology and veracity rages on. I am enjoying the debate! You can too by reading Scott’s riposte to the suggestions, comments and questions raised.

We all know teaching can be tough and writing in the little time it leave you with can be tougher. So, when one shares experiences about it through writing on blogs, its frustrating when it gets you pilloried. Andrew, over in Britian, talks about his teaching and experience with blog critics at Just For The Record, I Don’t Hate The Kids

In a related post, Isabella Mori, a counsellor over in Vancouver, talks about her experiences with blogging about Education and Psychology as she debates the difference between blogging and research.

To round up the Carnival, Mister Teacher suggests that I should thank you all for reading and also Thank the custodians who make our teaching duties a lot easier and happier.

One last thing before we go. If, like me, you too wonder who contributes to the Carnival- you have your answers here. Of the 50 contributors to this Carnival, 30 returned my small survey form- I have included the analysis below.

 

 

USA Bloggers Dominate the Carnival of Education

50% are Teachers

50% have been blogging under a year

Blogging in Class is Alive and Well

 

All Contributors were also asked to send in the names of 2 blogs they read daily. Of the responses we received, Joanne Jacobs had the highest Readership (8 votes). Her blog was followed by The Education Wonks and EduWonk (Education Sector Blog) with 4 votes. California Teacher Guy, Weblogg-ed, Edspresso, Right on the Left Coast all got 2 votes each while Education Intelligence Agency, April May, College and Finance, NYC Educator, Principled Mom, NYC Public School Parents, AcademHack, EdWeek, Ms Whatsit, The Thinking Stick, Second Hand Thoughts, Eduholic (Teacher Magazine Blog), It Shouldn’t Happen to a Teacher, Homeschool Buzz, Why Homeschool, Tutor 2u, MathNotations, JD2718, Sicheii Yazhi, Repairkit, What It’s Like on the Inside and The Red Pencil got 1 vote each.

Hope you enjoyed the Carnival. You can access an archive of the previous carnivals here. Thank you all for reading!

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With only ten days to go before I head to the United States, I’ve been bust typing up odds and ends leaving me with little time in which to think about writing a thoughtful post.

Between all the assembling, wrapping and packing however a series of thoughts, some coherent, others less so; some connected others as different as the quiet of assembly to the ruckus of recess.

I’m going to jot down thoughts in random order. Here we go!

How can we improve our Knowledge Management?

Schools, as institutions for learning and knowledge-creation often do little to archive the creativity and potency of the materials that our teachers create. There are two primary gaps in our management of knowledge:

a) In accessing organisational knowledge and

b) In archiving accessed knowledge

– It surprises me how few of the teachers in schools visit other classrooms or other schools. There is so much to be gained by having two teachers collaborate on observing each other (maybe to solve a particular problem identified earlier while sitting in on a pre-determined session) or even by observing how other schools get their basics right. I would like to see Principals set a policy where every school year every teacher collaborates with another teacher for at least two half-days on peer observation.

– Rookie teachers routinely flounder through teething troubles that a well-organised experienced-teacher-written wiki could easily solve, as could a mentor at school.

– As a newbie teacher, I spent several hours designing experiments, crafting props to use in the classroom and making sure I got my hand-outs spot on. It took a lot of my time. It was easier back then without a wife to come back home to, with more energy and maybe more nerves. Sure, all of us would love to have children immerse into practical hands-on learning, we would love to wipe the dust of teacher resource books and create new materials- but if you are teaching a large number of classes (or worse, large number of students) even the best intentions can go awry. Moreover, many activities-for-teachers books are well-intentioned but often carry programs that are not-pilot tested, causing demonstrations to blooper and learning to falter.Some of us give a few classes our best, disadvantaging the others – the best of us try and give all classes our best and are forever running to catch up with own own schedules. Several of our classes then become ‘chalk and talk.’ It would be nice if schools kept teaching materials, curricular samples, worksheets from year-to year as a one-stop-resource for teachers looking for a handy resource. It would help the dull teacher make his classroom more exciting and help the reflective teacher think about improving student success rather than with cutting chart paper.

 

What makes a good teacher?

I spent some time crafting a personal vision for myself. At the very top of this assignment, I wanted help!

What kind of teacher did I want to be? Obviously the kind that motivates students towards a love for learning, that makes class fun. What did that mean? What traits would embody a teacher of that kind?

I reflected on my own days as a schoolboy and found myself remembering teachers who were as different as chalk from cheese; from the tough booming-voice Mr. Sharma who was soft on the inside, who set us dry assignments and made us read textbooks in class as a way of learning, yet who loved each of us dearly to Mr. Bhagat whose classes were an intellectual adventure like no other but who outside the classroom was unapproachable. Also Ms. Singh, who would feed us (I went to a residential school) cookies in the evenings and run an efficient classsroom in the mornings- yet who wasn’t even a trained teacher (she was a teacher’s wife subbing for a regular on leave). Why did each of them endear themself to us?

I realised that my year at Harvard would do nothing to make me a better teacher. It could probably make me a more aware teacher and a better-equipped one, but not a better teacher because teaching rises above what we are and comes alive in the moments when we reach out to a student and focus on him, not on ourselves.

Which is why most we had less hiring mistakes with those we hired post a Classroom demonstration compared to others hired through more conventional recruiting procedures.

I wonder if you could help me with this? What do you think makes a good teacher?

 

 

Who does the Principal learn from?

In this country, most Principals are captains of their own ships. Yes there are board meetings with experienced educators. Yes, there are workshops. But that happens one one or two occasions a year. A principal is coming from a context where as a recent teacher he has had a Principal/Administrator to guide him, workshops in collegial environments to share and learn from. With the elevation to Head, he moves from being to counselled to being the counsellor.

I know many people who find it rough. It can be difficult to provide all the answers when you are at sea yourself.

I call for a Learning Circle where Principals of a few nearby schools visit each other, observe, evaluate, comment, critique, learn and share. Apart from making the Principal a more able leader it would also send a strong signal to the staff about personal development and collaborative growth.

 

 

Better Writing and Better Assessment

This one could interest all you bloggers and creative writing teachers. I came across Creative Writing 101- tips on better writing by Kurt Vonnegut in the introduction to his excellent collection, Bogambo Snuff Box. I have included 4 of the 8 tips here:

1. Use the time of the reader in such a way that he will not feel that the time was wasted.

2. Every sentence must do two things- reveal character or advance the plot.

3. Write to please just one person. If you make love to the world, your writing will get pneumonia.

4. To heck with suspense, give your readers as much information as possible.

I found this interesting because I love to write and have penned several short stories. But his tips, especially point #2- every sentence must either reveal character or advance the plot, is relevant to every writing situation, be it blogging or even teaching- whether in class or while setting questions for student assessments.

1. Use the time of the reader in such a way that he will not feel that the time was wasted. Students know when the unexpected assessment in class means that you have not prepared your material and being unable to teach, are using the assessment as a diversion. Don’t waste their time. Ditto with asking them to read pages and pages of hand-outs that have little relevance to the learning objective, simply because as a teacher, its been difficult to find appropriate passages and reading material.

2. Every sentence must do two things- reveal character or advance the plot. Now wouldn’t that make for great teaching even if we were lecturing?

3. Write to please just one person. If you make love to the world, your writing will get pneumonia. A call to action for those differentiated instruction and differented assessment designed to meet the needs of individual students.

4. To heck with suspense, give your readers as much information as possible. Very often we either expect students to guess what we want in response to a question on an assessment. It tickles our ego, provides us with the thrill that beseiges a creator of a good puzzle, but it does nothing to advance student learning.

 

Other Random Thoughts

– One way to promote classroom collegiality may be to shift seating plans in classes around every few weeks. It will make students more comfortable with each other. The next time there is a problem, the student in question, will have several other to consult with rather than just one trusted friend; a situation that most teachers crave.

– If there is one thing I would like to do at the start of every school year it would be meeting every student of mine for a one-on-one chat where I learnt more about him as a person, as a member of a family and community, as a young man with hopes and dreams for his future. That would probably help me shorten the learning curve and understand him better than I could even after several conventional assessments or classroom sessions.

Reading five blog posts and offering thoughtful comments and engaging in dialogue is better than reading twenty without doing any of these. Holds true for any kind of reading. I plan to stick to this principle even when new carnivals and my Google Reader conspire to seduce me into reading several blogs at a go.

 

 

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The three-day hiatus in blogging owes in large part to several visits to Doctors (the medical kind). It’s depressing business, sitting in hospitals for hours waiting in grubby offices, but I now know more about the Heart than I care to.

I visited a leading cardiologist two days ago. He sat my Mother down and checked her blood pressure. 140/90. He scribbled it down on a small paper (not on his diagnosis sheet). He proceeded to check her breathing and then, two minutes later, asked her to put her other arm forward and again wrapped the Blood Pressure sensor around it. The blood pressure this time? 130/85.

I frowned. How could the readings be different?

The Doctor smiled. He think took out his fancy pen from its holder and made a note on the diagnosis sheet. He saw the look of bewilderment on my face.

I asked him to explain.

It’s simple, really,” he began. “Most patients come into my chamber for the first time feeling anxious. This accounts for a higher first reading. After a couple of minutes when they’ve warmed up to me, they relax, and I get a lower and correct reading.

I pondered his statement. It did make sense. My Mother was quite the picture of nervousness when she stepped into his chamber, now she had settled down to a healthy chatter about her symptoms.

He pointed out that this pattern repeated itself for almost every patient who consulted him for the first time.

Now as I sit here writing this, I wonder about what he said and what it could mean for us. We, who have been told by psychologists and researchers that in a hiring process, most decisions are made within the first few minutes of the interview. We, who evaluate students (often many more student and very little time) in a hurry, quizzing the student in a viva-voce rapidly about his topic as we thumb through his project.

Is it possible that we may be making Type-II Errors?

If we are indeed choosing in the first few minutes, is there a possibility that we may be rejecting as unsuitable, candidates who may indeed be fit for the job?

Is it possible that the low grade on that project on the Incas was because the student was a first-timer to this kind of evaluation? Because he was nervous coming in? Maybe he really did know Inti from Pachamama?

Or does Malcolm Gladwell and his ‘Thin Slicing’ Theory hold true? In his seminal Blink (a book I loved, successor to Tipping Point which again, I devoured) points out that we make judgements about people within a few seconds of meeting them.

Let me give you an examples from his writing – it’s one from Teaching that you’ll love (and that may make you shudder!).

“Some years ago, an experimental psychologist at Harvard University, Nalini Ambady, together with Robert Rosenthal, set out to examine the nonverbal aspects of good teaching. She used videotapes of teaching fellows which had been made during a training program at Harvard. Her plan was to have outside observers look at the tapes with the sound off and rate the effectiveness of the teachers by their expressions and physical cues…. She showed her raters just two seconds of videotape and took ratings.

She compared those snap judgments of teacher effectiveness with evaluations made, after a full semester of classes, by students of the same teachers. The correlation between the two, she found, was astoundingly high. A person watching a two-second silent video clip of a teacher he has never met will reach conclusions about how good that teacher is that are very similar to those of a student who sits in the teacher’s class for an entire semester.”

Gladwell mentions that in his view, any footage longer than the two seconds is superfluous: anything beyond the first flash of insight is unnecessary.

Clearly the students had decided, by the facial expressions and the body language how effective the teacher may be. It sounds uber-cool, the kind of research we’d all love to lap up. I love Gladwell and his work (he goes on to give other examples of snap judgements, even in interview situations), so would be inclined to agree.

But somewhere it doesn’t agree with me.

If fifteen of us were to sit together and watch footage a few seconds of footage of a potential teacher in the classroom (or in the interviewee’s chair) would any of us be comfortable making the decision to hire based on our median vote?

Ditto for grading a student on a viva-voce?

The fictional Severus Snape doesn’t have great body language. Nor did some of my most inspiring teachers. I would vote (my lowly teacher voice against that of the great Psychologists) in favour of the theory hinted at by the cardiologist – our recruits, our students, indeed all of us are anxious in new situations.

When evaluating, give these folks time to prove themselves.

I wonder what you have to say on this? I’m all ears.

 

Further Reading (as always, click on numbers to follow links):

#1: The New Boy Network (from the New Yorker) – the article that led to the writing of Blink, and the article excerpted above.

#2: Keen on Higher Ed? Here’s Malcolm Gladwell on the Social Logic of Ivy-League Admissions. You should read it to get a handle on what went on behind the heavy oak doors of Admissions Departments.

#3: Fun Aside! Will you be happily married or divorced? Predicted marriage-success in 60 seconds at the Love Lab (referenced in Blink)

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number-of-students-beaten-in-school.jpg

Data from India. Source: The Telegraph

Think of it another way. If you have two kids, it is highly probable that one of them will be beaten while at school.

I don’t know whether the numbers looked at all strata of society and whether the percentage represents number of school going children beaten every school-year or number of children beaten over the course of their school going years.

I don’t think I care. These numbers are terrible in either event.

Further reading:

#1. School children electrocuted in Hyderabad as punishment

 

#2. Factbook on Corporal Education in India (snippet from Delhi School Education Rules, 1973: Rules for caning in schools in the Delhi area of India – if a cane is used, it is supposed to be applied to the palm of the hand, max. 10 strokes)

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I was speaking to my wife who, sharing a few friends’ experiences, mentioned that teaching kids in the West was more difficult than teaching kids in India. The main difference, she felt, is of relationship- here the teacher is revered, there the relationship is more of equals- respect, maybe, not reverence.

She hypothesised that having kids revere you makes it more easy to teach them.

I feel what she really meant was “having kids revere you makes it more easy to teach control them.” All other things – and a healthy dose of respect – constant, I feel that teaching ‘equals’ is much easier and much more effective.

Reverence in the Indian school context makes the teacher an Authority who is supposed to inspire awe and intellectual subservience. (although in private schools across urban India this may have changed, it still remains a reality in many others). Students are tacitly expected to take the teacher as an expert on his subject, hang on to every word spoken in class, smile politely and not ask too many questions. But, without questioning, can learning happen? Sure the classroom is more disciplined quiet, but is it really more enagaged?

What do you think? Would you rather be the Sage on the Stage or the Guide by the Side?

 

 

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This one is a rant.

If you had a student who missed one-third of the classes, arrived late for 20 sessions, turned in half the required homework assignments, failed 11 of 14 tests and quizzes, and never took the final exam, what would you do?

I would have probably:

a) Checked with the administrative department on news from home the first time she skipped class.

b) The second time it happened, I would call home.

c) The third time, I would write and inform the Principal.

I wonder if any of these steps were taken by Austin Lampros, Mathematics Teacher in Manhattan when his student Indira Fernandez careened of-course at the Arts & Technology High School.

If he did, what did the school authorities do about it?

Truancy Superhero

Whatever the case may be, I was shocked to read in the New York Times article this morning that the student in question, who had been failed by Mr. Lampros was given perimission to take the exam separately after being coached by another maths teacher for 2 days. After her aggregate score still fell below the pass mark, Mr. Lampros decision was over-ruled and the student promoted by the Principal. Apparently the school has a poliy that all students who turn up for even one class in the term get a minimum of 45 marks (of 100) when 65 are needed to pass.

Mr. Lampros quit.

What it worth it?

I don’t know. The student still graduated. The school still goes on unaffected. Hopefully he will find employment in native Michigan, but knowing the rather conservative administration of schools, I don’t see many jumping enthusiastically to have him working on their team.

Was it the appropriate thing to do?

Maybe. If he had indeed done Steps 1, 2 and 3 I mention above and has reason to believe that Ms. Fernandez’s absences were better categorized under truancy than illness, I can see why he was disillusioned.

Would I do it?

I would have probably brought the walls down if someone skipped 11 of the 14 tests I gave. Matters probably would not have come to head. But assuming Mr. Lampros did create his share of noise and the student was passed only to keep graduation rates soaring, I’d have to side with him. It would probably be the honourable and loyal thing to stick with the school and try and change things from the inside but lets be realists. As rookie teachers, none of us would have had the clout that early in our careers.

Frankly, I could not have worked under a head who I felt had compromised on the reasons for which we become teachers.

If change is what was important, I’d say Mr. Lampros has made a useful first step by talking to the press.

What’s my view on the action taken by the Principal?

This one action has probably seriously jeopardized the culture of the school, plunged the respects students had for her, made the other teachers feel a little distanced from their jobs and seriously undermined the confidence and the will-power of Ms. Fernandez who may never learn to take responsibility for her actions.

If the Principal may be in duress (low graduation rates may mean less money or no job) – the policy makers and boards deserve a swift kick in the pants.

If the Principal did this to cover her own inadequacies in not having discovered Miss Fernansez’s prolonged absences earlier, she is the one who should have quit.

Chivalry notwithstanding, maybe even received the aforementioned kick in the pants.

This is the kind of thing that gets my goat. What do you think? Let me know by writing in the comments section. Thanks.

See our latest EduPosts here.

 

(Image courtesy: Comics Reporter)

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child cowering down

This article seeks to present an overview and provide tips of sexual harassment in schools in the US, in India and look at some measures taken around the world. It also provide resources for further reading.

I have 2 nieces. Since they were born, the male domestic help has been replaced by ladies who come to help out.

I notice how sensitive my sister-in-law is about the events the girls will attend, about who will accompany her and how late they will be allowed to stay out.

In most schools I’ve worked in, there are rules to make sure that no girls are sent on errands alone and if there is training for the girls-team after school, a senior lady teacher is always at hand.

How real a problem is sexual harassment? Does it affect only girls? What about the boys?

This post is not intended to be an opinion or experience piece. Thankfully, outside of reading about the subject, I have no direct experience of this phenomenon. This post will be used to point you to resources that you may want to look up if this subject interests you.

A. How real a problem is sexual harassment at schools?

Lets start by defining sexual harassment. It includes intercourse but goes much beyond it to include: Sexual jokes and cartoons, slurs, repeated meeting requests, invitations for intercourse, sexual remarks, insults or innuendoes, attempted kissing, unequal facilities (lesser or no restrooms for girls or shared restrooms), nude or suggestive pictures and posters. Another important consideration is: Would the Behavior be different if the victim were the opposite sex?

I pulled up Google News on my browser. I search for “sex offences in schools”. I got 4 separate news items in the last 20 hours. When I broadened my search to include the wider definition discussed above, the results jumped to over 20 unique results.

Two days ago a leading daily in India screamed about a boy being sodomised for 3 months by 3 male teachers.

Lets look at some data from the US. This information is primarily from Hostile Hallways (published by the AAUW) and Sexual Harassment in Schools (published by the NASBE)

  • Students most often experience sexual harassment for the first time during sixth or ninth grade … but some instances ccur before third grade. — Hostile Hallways (AAUW Educational Foundation, 2001)

  • 91.5 percent of LGBT students report hearing homophobic remarks frequentlyor often at school—but 82.9 percent report that faculty never or only sometimes intervene when they overhear such remarks being made. — J.G. Kosciw, The GLSEN 2003 National School Climate

  • Boys are nearly as likely as girls to have experienced some form of sexual harassment: 76% of boys said that they have experienced sexual harassment, compared with 85% of girls. However, girls were more likely than boys to report that they had “often” experienced sexual harassment at school (31% for girls, compared with 18% for boys), and girls were more likely to report that sexual harassment had a negative impact on their education.

  • Nearly one-third (32%) of all students who have been harassed first experienced harassment before 7th grade.

  • Perpetrators of sexual harassment in schools are far more likely to be fellow students than adults. Of students who were harassed in school, 18% said they had been targeted by a school employee, while 79% said they had been harassed by a current or former student at school.

  • Students who have been sexually harassed are most likely to talk to friends about such incidents (63% report that they have done so). Roughly a quarter have talked to parents or other family members and another quarter have told no one. Only 7% said that they had reported being sexually harassed to a teacher.

– All 4 statistics above from the NASBE report

What is the scenario in India?

I could not find hard data on schools and sexual harassment. There are cases reported in the press (read one here) and the frequent report about Goa as a pedophile paradise but nothing concrete in terms of data about schools and sex offences has come to my notice.

 

  • Almost one in two children is sexually abused.
  • 70% of the children never reported the abuse.
  • Compared to those in the age group 13-18, younger children (5-12 years) faced higher levels of abuse (not that more children in the lower age group are affected, but that an affected person in that age group would have a greater order of atrocities committed against him)

  • The highest percentage of abusers were known people — friends and family

 

 

(graphic from Indian Express Article)

Given this situation what is disturbing is the debate around what is possibly the most important step in the control of sexual offences is often debated in India- Sex Education. Lets look into that here.

 

There is a strange situation in India: kids are learning about sex earlier and earlier- a survey in Mumbai showed that the age of access to pornography has dropped from 16 to 12 for boys and I posit that the same is true of connected communities over the world. At the same time schools and the government are becoming increasingly prudish about sex education.

Some months ago Madhya Pradesh banned sex education in schools (aimed at classes 9 and higher) because “illustrations in an the texts intended for teachers to instruct from were found obscene!” The obscenity in question? Diagrams of human bodies.

Other news reports indicate that: Maharastra has banned sex education (Mumbai, the city noted earlier is its capital!- BBC News, April 2007), so has Karnataka, there are appeals by the BJP for it to be banned in Delhi as it this could lead to schools becoming sex spots and compel a large number of girl students to drop out (Yahoo news , July 2007) and only ten days ago our honourable ex-Chief Minister of Bihar and sitting Minister for Railways said that Sex Education was a blot on Indian Culture and should be banned (DNA, July 2007)

It seems that most of the religious, social and political voices who discourage sex education have misunderstood it. Sex education is not about teaching kids “how to do it” it is about making them aware of themselves and their sexuality so they are more prudent, discretionary and alert in their sexual behaviour to response to that of others. If implemented thoughtfully, sex education can control or avoid sexual offences, increase hygiene, check unwanted pregnancies and HIV and clear many a confused adolescent mind.

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B. What can be done? Sexual harassment can be a torment. Apart from the huge emotional stress it results in, Targets of bullying and harassment experience anxiety, distress, confusion, loss of self-esteem, depression, and loss of concentration on schoolwork. Severe consequences may include psychosomatic symptoms, avoiding school, and committing suicide.

It is clear from the data presented that both genders are susceptible and that smaller children are more susceptible to sexual assault involving intercourse while older chidlren may be more at risk for harassment including abuse while the numbers of sexual assult may dip.

It exists in both, rural area and in cities and shockingly, your near ones may the one you need to be most careful of.

The data presented effectively kills any misplaces notion of “this happens only in poor families” or this happens only when “parents don’t care.” It can happen anywhere, anytime but thankfully there are several small initiatives that can go a long way:

1. Establish and Follow a Sexual Harassment Policy: A good policy should give a clear message that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. There may be be two policies, one for students and one for staff. In any event, the policy statement should be comprehensive enough to include student-to-student, student-to-staff, staff-to-student, staff-to-staff, and supervisors-to-staff harassment. It should define sexual harassment and give some examples of unacceptable behavior. It should have a clearly explained complaint procedure and make it easy for the victim to contact responsible authorities. The policy should be posted in a conspicuous place in theschool, included in the student handbook, and an effort should be made to ensure that all concerned students, staff, and parents — are aware of and understand the policy.

Survey a sample of your students periodically to find out attitudes about sex, information about harassment at school, school culture and information about school policies etc.

 

2. Start Young: Most people balk at sex education for little kids. This is because the labelling of the term is incorrect. I would call it self-awareness, where the child is made understand his body and what kind of touch is clearly inappropriate. For example, being touched anywhere under your clothes is wrong. If it happens, what should be done? This is the kind of simple information that can be given to kids.

Sex Education then should be introduced systematically. In addition, students should be encouraged to speak to parents and counselors (as opposed to peers) in the event of an incident taking place.

It is important to communicate that anyone engaging in improper touching or fondling should be discussed with the parent. In schools, especially in hierarchical societies, in India actions of family elders and teachers are not questioned openly as children are told to ‘obey elders’ and going against any of their actions is usually poor manners.

 

3. Start Conversations: Conversations can be started by talking to parents- making them aware of model parental behaviour (not laughing at lewd jokes, for example), encouraging them to discussing information about peers and schooldays with children etc. Information should be made available to students clearly and explicitly through special workshops and through integrated curricular elements.

In school and in homes, encourage open discussion. Repression will lead to ‘experiments’ with the body, urge to access (unsafe) materials or adults for enlightenment on this subject.

 

4. Run background checks: This is obvious, yet many of us, in our hurry to recruit candidates skip this step as it takes time. Research has shown that most crimes or cases of harassment at school take place through older students or employees. While one can’t predict how recruits will turn out, one can surely restrict past offenders from working on campuses that we serve.

 

5. Control access through online pornography: This one is extreme- yet is it is a rising data point in sexual harassment scorecards worldwide. Research has established that on-line Pornography plays an accessory role in negative social issues such as child abuse, violence against women, rape, inequality, relationship and family breakdown, youth crime, promiscuity and sexually transmitted diseases. Access should be controlled until children have been talked to about the birds and the bees and is easily made possible by browser settings and specialised software like NetNanny. Online pornography can easily lead to access to other forms of sexual content on the net, including chat and video- putting a child at risk.

But these tips are just me. To know what the experts think about this, do read some interesting (some with ready-to-use tips) here.

 

Further Reading

1. Hostile Hallways: The seminal work from the AAUW. Read their report here and access a complete guide for students, schools & parents here. It has sample surveys, questionnaires and guidelines for policy-setting and following.

2. STOP Project: Chad Harms at the Iowa State University has done some interesting work on identifying sexual predators on the internet. His articles delineate strategies they employ and what parents/schools/counselors need to be aware of. Access his useful website Stop and Help, here.

3. New York Times: On How you can Distinguish a Budding Pedophile from a Kid with Boundary Problems. An involved, but very readable article.

4. Global Measures against sex offenders and their employment in school: A BBC report on what the UK, US and France have done in this regard. Also read about the Vishaka guidelines, the lame effort by the judiciary in India to control sexual harassment here.

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