All posts tagged education

Everything is Awesome…Or Is It?

Published June 19, 2014 by Susan Woodward

Lego MovieAll the kiddies who have seen the Lego Movie know this song.  I hear my 9th graders bopping to it in the halls, especially as we near the end of the year.  Go ahead and play it for yourselves to hear the be-bopping tune that will have you dancing around with the idea that “Everything is Awesome”…the lyrics are even included for you to sing along!

Okay…now look closely at what is so awesome:

– walking and working in formation

– everyone looks alike

– everyone thinks alike

And if you have even seen the movie, only those who conform to watch the same television shows, buy the same products, wear the same clothes, and act the same as everyone else is considered “awesome.”  Anyone who dares to be different or creative is shunned.


The villain of the film is Lord Business.  Need I say more?

As I was sitting in the theatre watching this with my six year old granddaughter who was bopping and squirming with delight to the music in her seat, eyes brightened by the colorful and fast-paced animations, all I could think about was the droning of America.  The more I watched, the more I understood this film as a masterful work of satire of how Big Business controls the masses, and the masses are so caught up in what BB is selling that they think that everything is awesome.  As long as you don’t rock the boat, don’t voice dissenting opinions, don’t try to educate the masses that they have been duped into lining BB’s corporate pockets, then everything is awesome.  No one bothers you except with maybe an occasional pat on the back and, “You’re a real team player…awesome!”

Now I am not saying that there is anything wrong with being a team player…we do need to work together toward common goals, support one another in times of need, cheer one another’s accomplishments.  That’s team work.  I’m talking about the creation of Drones of America… teaching children to think and do things one way, and if they don’t do it the way they have been carefully taught, then they are marked wrong.

Hello, Common Core testing.  Hello, Lord Gates.  Hello, Prince Pearson.

The movie infers that Lord Business watches and knows what is going on, and as long as everyone is in accordance with the plan, then everything is awesome.  And, of course, everyone has to be on board with HIS plan.  LB is in charge, and he knows best.

Just like Lord Gates seems to know what is best for American education.  It was his money and his power that allowed the CC to get pushed through.  If anyone from the Joe Schmoe class had come up with the idea, he’d have been shot down as a crazy radical who thought that controlling how children learn and think was a great idea.  Add a little (okay, a LOT of money) into the equation, and let Lord Gates be the spokesperson, and lo and behold, it’s not such a radical idea after all.  In fact, it’s such a GREAT idea that the federal government jumped on board, dragging with it a majority of state governors.  The modules on EngageNY are an attempt to create a one-size-fits-all curriculum for every child, regardless of ability (including students with learning disabilities and those whose first language is not English).   And the hasty implementation of this idea with its “hurry up and test ’em” attitude has set this nation’s greatest natural resource, its children, up for failure.

Good job.  Awesome.

All kids across America will have the exact same experience, be taught to think the same things, complete problems the same way…so much so that if one moved across country, the child could walk into any classroom of his/her grade level and be on the same page as he’d been on previously.  Like a machine moved to another room…just plugged into a different socket.

And that is what is going to be created.  Machine cogs who are programmed to work in cubicles, assembly lines, and Walmart.  No individual thinkers, no creative ways of finding answers to problems…just drones who can fill in the working slots of Corporate ‘Murica.

That way the people in charge can STAY in charge.  Those who HAVE can continue to have while the rest stay put…and all the while thinking that everything is awesome.  No one is bothering me because I am a do-bee.  I don’t rock the boat, so everything is on an even keel.  I keep my mouth shut, go to work, do exactly what I am told, and never question anything, even if I disagree.


It’s the creative thinkers, those who do NOT think exactly like everyone else, who will find the cures for diseases, will find a way to balance the budget, will find answers to society’s problems.  If everyone thinks exactly the same way, if everyone does his/her job in exactly the same way as everyone else, then where will we find our next innovators?  Our next inventors?

Do not tell me Lord Gates got to BE Lord Gates by being like everyone else.  He couldn’t have.  But once one gets to the top, in order to STAY at the top, everyone else has to be kept down.


I look forward to my new assignment in teaching Juniors this year.  I have already decided that this video will be our first Visible Thinking exercise, and we will dive right in to the Transcendentalists, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.  The first pieces we are going to read are “Self-Reliance”, “Life Without Principle” and “Civil Disobedience.”

And you know what?  That IS awesome!



One Voice United: NYSUT Rally in Albany!

Published June 8, 2013 by Susan Woodward

I think everyone who is in any way involved in the field of education in New York State will get the following picture:

Hiking and Teacher Rally 020Yeah… remember, pineapples don’t have sleeves.

Well, when it comes to the over-testing of our students with flawed assessments, Jeremy Dudley of Albany says it all:

“Stop this Madness!”

And that’s what thousands of teachers from across New York State shouted from the crowds: “Stop this Madness!”    Pre-assessment, Post-assessment, Final Assessment, SLOs, APPR, CCSS… testing, testing, testing, and cutting into our time to TEACH!

Hiking and Teacher Rally 014Here’s the REAL SLO!

Hiking and Teacher Rally 016

Hiking and Teacher Rally 017Because it was forced on us and we had little time to digest and prepare before being held accountable for its content!  It was a Race to the Top… of our stress levels!

I sweated all last summer to change my lesson plans for every unit so that they aligned with the Common Core.  I lost a LOT of time for the pre-assessment (three days of classes to administer, and HOURS to “rate,” not “grade”… and then more time to individually upload each student’s scores that didn’t count for anything).

Stop this Madness!!

Since the English teachers in our district knew that our SLO and APPR scores were driven by persuasive writing, we were compelled to teach to the test or risk our APPR score and face the possibility of being put on a TIP (Teacher Improvement Plan).   And that’s not an idle threat…

Stop this Madness!!

I wish I’d seen this video about a week or so ago…I’d have posted it to get more folks to join in!

Here are some highlights courtesy of the NYSUT website (click on the pics for links):


John Nichols: “Every teacher is a hero…”

rally_130608_teachersoftheyear_01Teachers of the Year

Hiking and Teacher Rally 035Rich Ognibene taught my kids in Fairport!

rally_130608_iannuzzi_crowd_01Dick Iannuzzi got the crowd chanting, “Get it right!”

rally_130608_weingarten_01American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten was a real firecracker to listen to!!

Hiking and Teacher Rally 034 Hiking and Teacher Rally 033 Hiking and Teacher Rally 032  Hiking and Teacher Rally 029 Hiking and Teacher Rally 027  Hiking and Teacher Rally 040

And let’s not forget Evidence Binders!

Hiking and Teacher Rally 031Commissioner King, you may click on the picture to see MY Evidence Binder.  Let’s see yours!

Stop this Madness!!

My English Class is Your 14 Year Old’s Empty Parking Lot!

Published December 14, 2011 by Susan Woodward

How many parents out there would hand their 14 year old child the car keys and say, “See ya later!  Have a good ride to Pennsylvania!”?  NONE… I hope.  Why not?  Because most kids that age don’t know how to operate a three-ton, motorized chunk of metal yet!  Most people accept this as the norm, am I correct?  God, I hope so!

Don’t most parents, when teaching their child to drive, take them to an empty parking lot somewhere to teach them the basics like:

1)  how to start the damn thing;

2) how to put it in the proper gear (or for those driving a standard, how to find the clutch);

3) where the accelerator is;

4) which pedal is the brake;

5) how to operate the turn signals;

6) how to turn on the lights…

And that’s all before even MOVING the vehicle first!  While there may be many who will pass the test of where to locate these simple necessities, there are probably more who will not… the first time.  But does that “failure” mean that there is something wrong with the kid or, God forbid, something wrong with the parent because the kid doesn’t know?  Of course not!  Both the parent AND the child take it in stride that he/she is not going to be 100% successful this first time behind the wheel.

No one in their right mind would try to teach a child to drive on the 490 right off the bat.  It has to be in a safe place where failure isn’t that much of a high risk… like an empty parking lot.

Now let’s get to accelerating.  First, it has to be in “drive”, both hands have to be on the wheel, he/she has to learn just how much pressure to put on the accelerator pedal to get it to move forward, and also just how much pressure to put on the brake to come to a smooth stop.  Most parents are white-knuckling it the first time… I know I did when I taught my five kids to drive.   And the kids’ hands were gripping the wheel for deal life.  And how DOES that first attempt at stopping a moving three-ton, motorized chunk of metal go?  Most often, it is a herky-jerky stop… and sometimes a few screeching tires are involved.  But the car does stop… hooray!  So does that mean the kid gets a gold star and is ready to go out on the 490 yet?  NO!  And most parents (and student drivers) would agree.  It was not an acceptable stop that one could do in real traffic.  Again, does that “failure” mean that there is something wrong with the kid or with the parent/instructor?  NO!

But would you give a driver’s license to the kid?  NO!  And rightly so!

Before anyone can go out and tool about the neighborhood with one hand on the wheel while simultaneously changing the radio station or taking a sip from a cup of coffee, he/she MUST go through a series of failed attempts first.  And these failures are acceptable.  No one gets angry because we want the child to be a safe driver who will not get into accidents, bringing possible harm to himself or others.  It’s natural.

So if society at large is willing to accept these small failures that ultimately lead to the successful passing of a road test and permission to navigate our roads, WHY can’t that same philosophy be applied to education?

In my experience as a ninth grade English teacher, very few students come to me with the proper writing and/or analytical skills already mastered.   I teach basic sentence structure, punctuation, and other skills that will lead to sufficient writing.   When I give my first quizzes on sentence structure or assign a short paragraph, they are more often than not riddled with errors that leave many students in the C-F range.   They simply are not exhibiting the skills required to perform the task successfully.

It’s like driving a car where they have to keep in mind a whole series of small tasks simultaneously:  “Ok, how hard to I put my foot on the accelerator?  Which way do I push the lever to turn left? How do I turn the wheel to make the car go 90 degrees to make a left hand turn?”  There are a whole litany of small tasks that go through a beginning driver’s mind.  That same idea can be applied to writing: “How do I spell ________?  What’s a complex sentence again?  Do I underline the title of the novel, or do I put it in quotation marks? How do I cite that correctly?”  There are just as many small tasks that must be completed to produce a successful paragraph.  With all those things to keep track of, it is probable that the student will not do it 100% correctly the first time.

Like driving, they are just not ready to go tooling around the block yet.  They need to stay in the parking lot a bit longer… and accept the fact that they didn’t get it perfectly on the first try.   And don’t get me started on parallel parking!

That only makes sense.  In a car, this whole concept seems logical, but not in the classroom.

WHY do I get floods of emails and phone calls from angry parents when a child gets a C on a test or quiz, or a D on a writing assignment?  WHY do I most often hear, “Well, she was a straight A student in middle school!  She couldn’t have made the honor roll or the principal’s list if she couldn’t perform!”  Right… in MIDDLE SCHOOL.  Welcome to the world of HIGH SCHOOL where students must learn to go beyond plot line and actually begin analyzing a work of literature.   They must learn to understand inferencing and how to read between the lines.  They must learn to draw logical conclusions from a text that are not spelled out for them by the author.  They must learn to understand the Writer’s Craft and how an author, like an artist, CREATES a work of literature.  And they MUST learn how to communicate that information clearly and correctly through the written and spoken word.

A handful of students can do that fairly successfully right from the get-go.  Is it perfect?  No… but some come pretty darn close.  Those are my A’s.   Those are the kids to whom I might want to say, “You know?  You did a pretty good job with that one.  Let’s do another and see if you can do it again.”   Sometimes the second try isn’t as successful… the literary work is of a different complexity than the first, or the writing assignment is measuring different skills.  That one might earn a C or a B… sometimes they get a D.  Does that make the kid a failure?  NO!  He/she is still learning!

But the phone rings.  Or the email will shortly arrive.

Let’s go to the other end of the spectrum.  MOST of the kids will fail miserably on their first writing assignment.  Most often, it is because they fail to follow directions (or the FCA’s… Focus Correction Areas).  However, THAT’S when I get the demand for parent conferences or, better yet, a request for a teacher change!  Really?  If I was teaching that same kid to drive, and he failed to put on the brake and hit a tree, would that be MY fault?  Following the above logic, it would seem to be.   He knows where the brake is… he simply failed to use it correctly.  Is he ready to go around the neighborhood yet?  NO!  He failed to stop correctly.

It’s not until the child learns to use the tools he has been given that he will know just how much pressure to put on the brake to come to a smooth stop.  Get it?  HE has to learn to use the tools… I don’t have a brake on the passenger side to stop the car for him.  And I certainly can’t drive FOR him… the driver’s seat just isn’t large enough to fit both a 14 year old and my ample body.

Parents are simply afraid to let the kids fail.  They think it’s a blow to their child’s self-esteem to see red ink all over a paper and anything less than an A or a B at the top.   And just because a kid is used to getting A’s or B’s on everything in middle school, they feel entitled to the same grades in high school.  It’s a whole new world with a whole new set of skills!  Once the students and parents begin to think of 9th grade English as an empty parking lot where it’s okay to fail now and then until they get it right, tension and performance stress will decrease.  And with the decrease of tension and stress, practice will eventually make passable.  Sometimes there will be perfections, but not every time… but they will be a lot closer to that first trip around the block than the first time they got behind the wheel.

So think of my class as the empty parking lot where failure on some tasks is expected and learned from.  Then they can move on to 10th grade and drive around the block a bit, or maybe in a lot that actually has some parked cars in it.   Once that has been mastered, it’s time for driving on the city streets among traffic in 11th grade.  After that, they can learn to drive on the 490 or the Thruway in their senior year.  THEN they will be prepared for the road test to get that ever-prized driver’s license (or diploma).

But, for now, my class is your child’s empty parking lot.

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