Every job has occupational hazards. I have learned in talking on a regular basis to 1300 of my nerdiest peers that one for government teachers is that we like to talk politics. This can be hard even among peers. There is a lot of feverish "typing-and-backspacing-and-retyping-and-double-checking-and-OMG-did-I-come-off-too-strong"-ing going on.
This gets even harder in the classroom. I tell my students all the time ALL THE TIME my opinion is irrelevant; think for yourself; I will challenge all views; I will present all sides; and most importantly what do you think.
I have this class this year that really wants my personal opinion. I get all shy and bashful and awkward...
"No, kids... I'm not important."
"No brainwashing going on!"
"Some __ would say this... while others would say this..."
But these kids, they are relentless.
A discussion the other day centered on what-I-have-no-idea because I was trying to teach, but in essence they were trying to guess who I have voted for in the past.
I interrupted to say, "HEY! LET'S WORRY LESS ABOUT SILLY LITTLE ME AND MORE ABOUT YOU!"
But I caught a snippet of what one kid said about my vote.
"I betcha she is probably ___, but knows too much and so she can't decide how to vote most of the time."
Oh? Am I that transparent?
Why, yes. Yes, I am. (But guess what: We all are.)
So you ask, why is this an occupational hazard?
See, peeps don't like indoctrination in education. Not at all. So I have to be delicate, respectful, and most importantly: balanced. And I respect that. A lot. It teaches compromise to students; after all, cooler heads prevail. Kids dig it because it makes it okay for their ideas to develop and change... to be fluid.
But I have a new occupational hazard. (I will approach carefully.)
I like kids doing democracy. That's lower-case democracy. No, not Democrats, not unless they want to. Same thing for Republicans; not unless you want to. Heck, as long as decorum is in the classroom and we are not being offensive, you can be any party you want. Key. DECORUM. Key. NON-OFFENSIVE. Key. RESPECTFUL.
See, I have a very diverse student population. Kids constantly amaze me with their lives, and I have learned MORE from my students than they have from me. And that diverse population is asked by myself and my school district to participate in politics in ways from old-school canvassing to new-school twitter chats.
Some kids dig it; some don't. But what is making me really sad these days is that I am very nervous to encourage kids to do any and all volunteering, but especially any brand of political volunteering.
Why? Because no one is showing respect these days. Yes, some are worse than others, but from White House pressers to candidates doing other, more disrespectful actions (of which I will not name because what is the point?), I feel like my little government bubble is bursting. In essence, I can't wake up and tell myself my kids are going to like doing democracy, much less be safe.
Not to be all kumbayah, because I respect the fact that we are all entitled to our views. I am not here to tell you not to have them. Particularly, I understand the economic and political forces that are frustrating so much of American culture... The shrinking middle class... the perception that no one is on your side... interestingly enough, this is a perception alive for whites and minorities alike. These are very real problems. However, the signal is lost in the noise. These discussions, bound in facts, that is what makes discourse compelling and influential. (At least for me. Read The Victory Game and you will find personal contact and emotion is what wins votes.) But I take my discourse with a side of data, not dirt. I try to teach my kids the same thing; that personal attacks and rhetological fallacies will kill your argument. Always check yourself before you wreck yourself.
I have been thinking about this a lot. In fact I was lost deep in thought this morning... I found out Diane Rehm, one of my favorite people is retiring, and her reflection on the radio encapsulated so much for me...
Things are different politically in America. I would not be so bold to tell Americans that you are not entitled to your opinion. That is that privilege of an independent mind. However, discourse that is civil... and maybe a bit more of the "typing-and-backspacing-and-retyping-and-double-checking-and-OMG-did-I-come-off-too-strong" would be in order to really examine these issues. If for nothing more than your own kids are watching. And trust me, they know a lot more than you suspect.
The other day, my daughter asked me when I had last written anything on LovGov.
It was an interesting comment from my astute little ten-year-old, seeing that LovGov takes time away from the family. I asked her why she wanted to know, and it seems that she is "proud that [her] mommy cares so much."
Driving into work today, I wondered if I would have time to squeeze in an entry, seeing that I have a million things on my plate. After firing off emails for an hour, I decided I could drop a line to assure readers that there are still good things to come, it just may take me a while. Here is why I am distracted (aside from the usual work/life balance).
New School, New prep(s)
In June, I said goodbye to my family of eight years at a certain high school in Northern Virginia. I was leaving behind great friends who were a bit like family in search of a shorter commute (you'd have to live here to know) and a chance to teach AP Government.
I have landed in a new school, and have found myself challenged with AP Government and US History. Two new preps! US History has been a challenge as I have not taught it in eight years, but I have found a great CT who has been a total asset to my transition and has allowed me to continue to geek out government style.
Switching to AP Government hasn't been that bad. Why? Here's the deal. Yes, there is an accelerated curriculum that is far more rigorous and detailed than Honors. Yes, I have FRQs (free-response questions). Yes, I have to get all of this done by May 10th, 2016. (Trust me, the pacing is the hardest part). But, I have found that if you ask for help, help you shall receive. I have two great co-workers who help me out, as well as two great mentors in Ken Halla and Frank Franz of usgovteducatorsblog.com with whom I periodically chat on Google Hangouts. And to cap it all off, I have the AP Government Facebook Group. Seriously, I couldn't have found a greater support group. I can't get you closer to Ken and Frank, but I can tell you that the Facebook group is a life-saver, just like co-workers and mentors! And these are resources you can use! (Warning: Membership in the FB group requires some proof of your status as an AP Gov teacher.)
Switching to Standards Based Grading
I have also decided to switch to standards-based grading. I was skeptical at first, and have found some self-doubt at time, but the time and effort that goes into restructuring your grading practices to emphasize mastery instead of whatever we call the old-school program is eventually worth it. I feel better about what my kids are learning, particularly in advance of the AP test.
More about that later. I promise.
Advocating for Government Teachers
In short, I have been trying to "lobby" organizations like the American Bar Association, Sunlight Foundation, Virginia Public Access Project, iCivics, and OneVirginia2021 to create materials for the high school government classroom.
Sounds weird, I know. But let me assure you, I am not a self-appointed anything. What I am is someone who listens to my peers and seeks solutions. I love this content, I want to make this content understandable and teachable, and sometimes I find that I need to rely on subject matter experts to do this.
So, I write emails, make connections, and try to bring challenging content in textbooks to these individuals to encourage them to think about using teachers as a way to encourage civic engagement.
It doesn't always work, but I have had some pleasant results that I will have to write about in the future. Another entry for another day. That's two now.
Going to the Big Ball
Humble Brag: I got to present at NCSS this fall! Exciting! I will admit, that was very cool. I did not get to stay the whole time, but it was fun to run into old friends from other PD I attended in the past (Shout out, Trish, a former contributor who has added "Contributing Editor" at Politicolor to her awesome resume! )
I did some work with the National Council of Social Studies to help pilot their C3LC Inquiry Arc framework in a non-Common Core state as best practices. The framework is a great way to add direction and affect to your lessons, and I am proud to say that I use it frequently in my class. Again, more on that later.
I figured that my students take you more seriously when you show them that as a teacher, you make a commitment to civic engagement beyond the classroom. This year, I became an election officer and then a chief election officer for a precinct in my area. It is fascinating work that helps me teach elections, voting, and campaigns a bit better. I highly recommend it... although it is a long day. And one day, I will tell you a story on that, too.
So, now I owe you four stories in the upcoming year on what I have been up to that may (or may not) be informative to something important to you... And with that, I bid you adieu. Lesson planning and grading call this teacher out of the land of the blogosphere.
I want to start by thanking Mr. Snowden and Mr. Greenwald for their uncompromising dedication to giving the NSA violations air time and transparency. I wanted to share some of the most important things I have learned from this book bef...
tagged: nerdcation and to-read
tagged: nerdcation and to-read
tagged: nerdcation and to-read
by Bill Bishop
tagged: nerdcation and to-read
I lovgov. LOVE IT! I love teaching government, learning about it, debating, discussing, asking questions about government. And not the standard boiler plate questions, but the hard ones that are NOT in the books.