Media Training Basics for Educators. (And Why Teaching Does Not Prepare You to Speak to the Media.)

Readers of Adequate Yearly Progress may notice an underlying theme of educators being really, really bad at media communication. In the book there are several situations in which a teacher or principal ends up trying to explain an educator’s point of view on TV and it goes wrong. Sometimes, the teacher is simply shut out of a discussion and never gets heard. Other times, the situation turns into a complete disaster. These are scenes in which a career educator ends up facing off in the media with someone who seems to have a better sense of. . . something. (more…)

Dangerous Minds: The Siren Song of the Student Feedback Survey

I should start by saying I’ve always been a fan of giving an anonymous survey to students at the end of the year. The last chapter of See Me After Class includes a long list of survey questions that teachers may want to ask, and I’ve asked all of them with my own students at various times.

That being said, teachers are often encouraged to ask students for feedback about their teaching as if this is unquestionably good advice in every situation, and it’s definitely not that. I’ve spent nearly two decades having confidential conversations with teachers in various forms. And I’ve heard far too many stories from teachers who asked students for feedback and, instead of gaining the valuable insight they’d hoped for, ended up feeling utterly flattened by the experience.

With that in mind, here are some notes of caution before you ask a room full of students for their unvarnished opinions.


Rescuing Your Ideas from the Good-Intentions Abyss

Early in my teaching career, a colleague told me about her plan to give every one of her students a personalized card on their birthday. What a wonderful way to show students she cared! I decided that I, too, would be the type of teacher who gave out birthday cards to students. I bought the cards, wrote the birthdays on my calendar, and proudly announced the plan when I gave out the first birthday card in September.


Adjusting Your Teaching Dials

Is this the right moment to show compassion by allowing a student to turn in that late assignment? Or would a tough-love approach teach them to be responsible about deadlines? Should you follow that interesting topic that came up organically or stick to your lesson plan? How much of your class time should be devoted to activities that don’t feel like good teaching but might help your kids squeeze extra points out of a high-stakes test?

The answer to all of these questions is: (more…)

The Personal Lives of Teachers (Or: The Personal Lives? Of Teachers?)

When I wrote my most recent novel, Adequate Yearly Progress, I wanted it to be different from most of the stories I had read or seen about teachers before. Probably none of us is ever our whole self at work—we want to seem like Competent Professionals, after all—but in the same way we can be cagey in our culture about discussing the ways in which parenthood can be deeply challenging, I’ve always thought that media depictions in particular never leave enough space to talk about how teachers’ personal lives impact their teaching, and vice versa.

“Personal life? What’s a personal life?” you just asked, with a knowing, bitter laugh.