Tapping Into the News to Teach Math (Forrest Hinton)

“Forrest Hinton is a math instructor at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, a STEM-focused public boarding school for high school juniors and seniors in Durham, North Carolina. He teaches a wide range of core and elective math courses in his department and for programs like Summer Accelerator and ENC STEM. He also serves as the coordinator of the Teaching Contemporary Mathematics Conference. In his work, he inspires students to critically examine and improve systems by using analytical tools from mathematics and statistics. He is strongly committed to making the study of advanced mathematics more accessible to students who have traditionally been underrepresented in the field.”

This article appeared in Edutopia, June 7, 2019


“Why should the people who work hard and earn more money foot most of the tax bill?”

“People at the bottom need their dollars more than those at the top.”

These are snippets of a political debate that many would expect to read in The Washington Post. They wouldn’t expect to hear these ideas in a high school math class. Yet these are the types of ideas I regularly hear in my classroom. Sure, my students solve equations and graph curves like all students, but they also apply the math we’re studying in real-world activities that are open-ended, complex, and collaborative in order to get them excited about the possibilities of using math. One way they do this is through math debates—passionate arguments about the data sets they analyze and the mathematical models they create.

Connecting Math to Current Events

The student debate highlighted above comes from an activity about federal income taxes that I use in my precalculus and modeling course to introduce piecewise-defined functions, which use different formulas for different input values. My goal is to convince students that studying piecewise-defined functions is worthwhile. In calculus, my students do math debates around state transportation as I introduce them to the mean value theorem. Math debates around real-world issues allow them to explore, ask questions, and be creative with the math.

Most students don’t know much about the topics I introduce. I teach students about the fundamentals through a brief discussion. For the federal income tax activity, I generally ask questions like “Why does the federal government need revenue?,” “What are the different ways that the federal government collects money from citizens?,” “What is a progressive income tax and how does it work?”

Next, I have students read a news article that explains some of the debates surrounding the current event I introduce. While Congress was writing a bill to reform the federal tax system in late 2017, I had my students read an article from The New York Times about some of the proposed changes.

Diving Into the Math

At this stage students are invested, and they’re ready to engage in problem-solving. I divide students into small groups of two or three. For the federal income tax example, I gave students two data tables from the IRS—from 2017 and 2018—which show the marginal tax rates for the seven tax brackets. With that data they built two piecewise-defined functions. A citizen’s personal income is the input, and the output is the total amount of income tax that person owes to the federal government. I leave out deductions and tax credits from the analysis to keep things simple and to allow students to clearly examine one aspect of income tax policy. Once students have built their two income tax functions, I ask them to graph the functions with an online graphing calculator, like Desmos.

Before students can debate, they need to understand how their math translates to the topic I’ve introduced them to. For example, with federal income tax, they need to understand how the mathematical properties of the functions translate into policy decisions about tax brackets and marginal tax rates.

To explore this, in their groups or through whole-class discussion they describe some of the graph’s important characteristics using precalculus terminology like continuity, domain, and slope. I also have them interpret each characteristic of the graph in the context of income tax policy. I want students to clearly see the connections between precalculus concepts and political choices.

Some students notice that for each piecewise-defined function the slopes of the line segments increase from left to right. They explain that the slope represents the marginal tax rate for each bracket and that the increasing slopes show that we have a progressive income tax in the United States.

Getting Into the Debate

Before starting the debate, it’s important to lay out expectations. I encourage students to listen to one another carefully and then ask questions in ways that seek to understand others’ ideas and perspectives before challenging them. For example, if a student believes that a peer made an erroneous assumption in reaching a conclusion, she might ask, “What are some of the core assumptions underlying your argument?” Part of the expectations around these math debates is that students’ proposals will be challenged so that they have to clearly explain and strongly justify their positions. I play devil’s advocate when students aren’t adequately challenging the ideas put forward.

The debate revolves around a final problem. For example, my students debated about their ideal federal income tax function, which I had them sketch as a graph. This is the most fun part! Some libertarian students sketch a horizontal line, which means that every citizen would pay the federal government the same amount in taxes. Other libertarians and some conservatives sketch a single diagonal line, which represents a flat tax rate for all citizens. Finally, some conservative, moderate, and progressive students suggest that the current progressive income tax system is fine the way it is or that it should curve upward more or less steeply.

Of course, there are no universally accepted “right” answers to the debate. Math can help us analyze trends and outcomes in public policy, and it can also clarify tradeoffs, but it will never be able to tell us what is “fairest” or “most effective.” It can’t make our decisions for us.

Whether or not some of my students become U.S. senators or IRS tax analysts, all of them are future voters and participants in our democracy. My hope is that, through math problem-solving activities like this one, they will be informed and engaged “mathemacitizens” on tax policy and on all of the other issues that impact the well-being of our people.


Leave a comment

Filed under how teachers teach

Another OOPS! Philanthropist Sees The Light… Finally

Here is a “mea culpa” from Nick Hanauer, an entrepreneur and venture capitalist who made his fortune in technology companies. Hanauer gave much money to transform schools so that they could become engines of equity erasing economic and social inequalities (and poverty as well) that bedevil American society.

Long ago, I was captivated by a seductively intuitive idea, one many of my wealthy friends still subscribe to: that both poverty and rising inequality are largely consequences of America’s failing education system. Fix that, I believed, and we could cure much of what ails America.

This belief system, which I have come to think of as “educationism,” is grounded in a familiar story about cause and effect: Once upon a time, America created a public-education system that was the envy of the modern world. No nation produced more or better-educated high-school and college graduates, and thus the great American middle class was built. But then, sometime around the 1970s, America lost its way. We allowed our schools to crumble, and our test scores and graduation rates to fall. School systems that once churned out well-paid factory workers failed to keep pace with the rising educational demands of the new knowledge economy. As America’s public-school systems foundered, so did the earning power of the American middle class. And as inequality increased, so did political polarization, cynicism, and anger, threatening to undermine American democracy itself.

Taken with this story line, I embraced education as both a philanthropic cause and a civic mission. I co-founded the League of Education Voters, a nonprofit dedicated to improving public education. I joined Bill Gates, Alice Walton, and Paul Allen in giving more than $1 million each to an effort to pass a ballot measure that established Washington State’s first charter schools. All told, I have devoted countless hours and millions of dollars to the simple idea that if we improved our schools—if we modernized iour curricula and our teaching methods, substantially increased school funding, rooted out bad teachers, and opened enough charter schools—American children, especially those in low-income and working-class communities, would start learning again. Graduation rates and wages would increase, poverty and inequality would decrease, and public commitment to democracy would be restored.

But after decades of organizing and giving, I have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that I was wrong. And I hate being wrong….

To be clear: We should do everything we can to improve our public schools. But our education system can’t compensate for the ways our economic system is failing Americans. Even the most thoughtful and well-intentioned school-reform program can’t improve educational outcomes if it ignores the single greatest driver of student achievement: household income.

For all the genuine flaws of the American education system, the nation still has many high-achieving public-school districts. Nearly all of them are united by a thriving community of economically secure middle-class families with sufficient political power to demand great schools, the time and resources to participate in those schools, and the tax money to amply fund them. In short, great public schools are the product of a thriving middle class, not the other way around. Pay people enough to afford dignified middle-class lives, and high-quality public schools will follow. But allow economic inequality to grow, and educational inequality will inevitably grow with it.

Hanauer’s open apology for misconstruing cause and effect between the larger society and public schools–a basic proposition that educators and non-entrepreneurs and venture capitalists  over the age of 25 learn–appears sincere but, for me, unconvincing. Why? Because Hanauer is only the most recent of well-intentioned philanthropists who underestimate the complexity of public schools in a market-driven democracy and see schools driving societal change. They donate large sums of money to transform schools.


Foundation officials often consult with smart people before giving away money to schools and districts but they seldom ask people who do the daily work or experienced practitioners who know the system from the inside (see for example the history of the Annenberg Challenge in the 1990s and Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million dollar gift to Newark (NJ). Or consider the Melinda and Bill Gates foundation.

The Gates Foundation gave over a billion dollars to make high schools smaller beginning in 2000. They stopped funding small high schools in 2008. In 2009, they began funding Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching in multiple districts across the country. No more funding after 2016 (see here, here, and here). My initial reaction was, hey, these foundation officers had not thought through carefully the complexity of schooling or the familiar perverse consequences that accrue to “innovations” that do belly-flops.

Critics of current donors often point to how philanthropists have supported centralizing school governance (e.g., mayoral control, state takeovers of districts and schools, No Child Left Behind). They note that the inevitable companion of consolidated authority is increased top-down regulation of schooling in cities and states. And that regulation, they claim, has seen the growth of explicit federal and state accountability mechanisms. The critics are correct.

Yet as venture philanthropists have advocated market-friendly ventures in public schools and approved of centralized local, state, and federal policymaking, donors themselves have escaped responsibility for errors they committed in grant-making. Like the Ebola virus, donors dread federal and state regulation of their publicly subsidized foundation activities. The fact is, however, that they have no accountability for their own “oops!” or dumb mistakes.

When foundation grants fail to achieve the objectives officials sought, philanthropists turn their backs, shrug, and walk away. They have no responsibility to districts, individual schools, teachers, students and parents for hopes raised and dashed. They shrug when anticipated consequences of their “gifts” harm districts, schools, teachers, and students. But donors are beyond the reach of being fired or voted out of office. Yet as anyone knows from personal experience, admitting error is crucial to insights into a problem and, ultimately inventing better ways to solve it.


At least, venture capitalist Nick Hanuaer owned up to his mistake in thinking that transforming public schools will erase societal inequities. I do not know of other donors who have the guts to admit that they erred in their thinking and gift-giving when it involved public schools.




Filed under Reforming schools, school reform policies

Cartoons on Social Media



Ever bump into someone while walking and staring at your smart phone screen? Perhaps, even texting while walking. Lots do in cities nowadays. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and on and on have seized youth and adults (not yet those of my age cohort, however). Cartoonists, as always, capture the phenomenon. Enjoy!




























1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

In Classrooms: Social Justice Humanitas Academy (Part 5)

Brenda Arias teaches chemistry first period of the day—from 8:30 to 10:21. First period of the day is longer than other classes that run about an hour and a half). This is her fifth year at Social Justice Humanitas Academy (SJHA). While she taught physics the first four years, she is now teaching chemistry.  (Earlier posts about SJHA are here, here, here, and here.)

The 31 students—the largest class I have observed at SJHA–are mostly 10th graders. They are having breakfast at the beginning of the first period of the day. Two students had gone to the cafeteria and brought back milk, juice, cereal, and egg sandwiches to class. Students picked what they wanted and they spread out among lab tables to eat and talk. This occurs every morning across the school.

After breakfast, students toss trash in a can and pick up Chromebooks to take back to their lab tables. All tables holding 2-3 students face the white board and teacher desk—also a lab table. As Arias takes roll, I look around the room and see the “Habits of Mind” and “Common Core Mathematical Practice Standards,” college banners and the obligatory Periodic Elements chart for a chemistry room. A teacher aide is in the room because there are a half-dozen students with disabilities that will need help with the lesson. He circulates and talks to particular students about the tasks they have to work on.

Arias tells class what’s due today and during the week. “I need you to look at me,” she says. “I need you to focus.” Most of the class will be taking a 20-minute practice test for a later exam that will improve their low scores the first time they took the test. All of the practice questions and answers are loaded on the Chromebook and students begin working. Some students work with partners and others in small groups or alone at different tables. A nearby student shows me the questions and correct answers on her screen as Arias walks around the room checking students’ work and answering questions. I scan the class and see everyone clicking away on their devices.

Arias then asks class to close Chromebooks and return to their seats. She tells class that they must have the practice test completed by Thursday or “you get….” She pauses and a number of students say: “a zero.”

She then segues to next part of lesson. “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are going over 4.3 homework. Log on to 4.3 and we will go over 7, 10, and 11 because I made mistakes and want to correct them.” A loud hum arises in class. Arias says, “Everyone calm down. If you didn’t do homework, what will you get?” Class responds: “A zero.” Students also know that teacher gives them three chances to do homework correctly. The number the teacher calls (4.3) out corresponds to a text chapter on gases and solids accompanied by worksheets, eventual homework assignments.

She goes over the incorrect answers on the whiteboard at front of the room and asks class to correct them. On one of the corrections about the temperature of a gas compared to a solid, she says, “My knucklehead move was the wrong answer.” She says, “I’m sorry. Everyone makes mistakes.”

Teacher asks students to pair up and make corrections. As they do, they are completing homework on the Chromebook. The students I observed in the class pay attention to what the teacher said and respond to her requests. I saw no students who rested their heads in the crooks of their arms on desks, students playing with devices, or whispered, sustained conversations among the 10th graders. I left the chemistry class after an hour there to go to another lesson.


Since Social Justice Humanitas Academy opened in 2011, its student enrollments have stayed consistent. SJHA has 513 students (2019) enrolled in 9th through 12th grades. On race and ethnicity (2015), 95 percent were Hispanic, 2 percent African American and one percent each for Caucasian and Native American. Of that number 12 percent were English Learners. Special education students were 10 percent of enrollment. And 88 percent were eligible for free and reduced lunch (the poverty measure for LAUSD schools).

And some of the academic results were sufficiently eye-catching to attract media attention.

* Graduations rates increased between 2011 and 2015 from 83 to 94 percent. Both exceed LAUSD and state rates of graduation.

*Ninety-six percent of students have an individual graduation plan.

*Seventy-five percent of students passed all college required courses.

*Suspensions sunk to 0.2 percent in 2014.

*Six Advanced Placement courses are offered (English language, English literature, analytic geometry/pre-calculus, macroeconomics, Spanish language, Spanish Literature).

While tests scores in reading and math fall above and below state averages, overall, the school’s record in graduation and college attendance and its social activism, community participation, and teacher-powered decision-making have made it a candidate for awards. In 2019, SJHA received the Gold Recognition award for being a School of Opportunity from the National Education Center for Policy.






Leave a comment

Filed under how teachers teach, Reforming schools

In Classrooms: Social Justice Humanitas Academy (Part 4)

Social Justice Humanitas Academy is located in the city of San Fernando within the Los Angeles Unified School District. According to the website,

Our mission is to achieve social justice through the development of the complete individual. In doing so, we increase our students’ social capital and their humanity while creating a school worthy of our own children.

These mission statements act as a guide to all decision making” for a school that opened in 2011 on a new campus. Consider the school’s demographics and academic profile.

Since SJHA opened in 2011 its demographics have stayed consistent. SJHA has 513 students (2019) enrolled in 9th through 12th grades. On race and ethnicity (2015), 95 percent were Hispanic, 2 percent African American and one percent each for Caucasian and Native American. Of that number 12 percent were English Learners. Special education students were 10 percent of enrollment. And 88 percent were eligible for free and reduced lunch.

Since March I have published on this blog a series of classroom observations about a school that seeks social justice, advocates student activism, and self-actualization (see here, here, and here). In this post and the next I describe two additional lessons I observed.

Shaved pate, wearing a white shirt, blue tie and grey slacks, English teacher Robert Martinez immediately turns to the white board as the period begins—right after lunch, mind you–and directs the 24 ninth graders’ attention to what he has written on it: “Community Cultural Wealth: A Review.”

The students, sitting 2-4 at a table facing one another, look at the whiteboard as Martinez launches a whole group discussion through a series of slides on Community Cultural Wealth. From time to time, he calls on students to read a slide by addressing the student as Ms. Rodriguez or Mr. Montero.

Earlier classes have dealt with fixed and growth mindsets, grit, and three forms of capital: “Aspirational Capital, Familial Capital and Navigational Capital.” Martinez says, “I use these Capitals to resist and overcome oppression.” Then he asks the class what is “oppression.” A few students offer answers. He then defines the word and refers to the book they are currently reading, Always Running (full title is La Vida Loca: Gang Days in LA by Luis Rodriguez).

Whole group discussion continues as teacher moves through slides and students read about Aspirational Capital (hopes and dreams) and Navigational Capital (the different communities beyond family that each student interacts with). On the slide for Aspirational Capital, Martinez points out the upcoming trip to California colleges as a experience they will have that looks to the dreams they have for themselves—many are the first in their family to consider college.

Martinez intersperses reading of slides and occasional questions from students with comments such as: “Ultimately this (different forms of capital) is for you to see yourself, what mindset you have. Make the jump and get out of your comfort zone,” he says. To one student who reads a slide correctly, the teacher compliments her: “College level, girl.”

As I look around the room, I see that about half of the class has notebooks out and are taking notes.

Phone on desk rings and teacher answers. Hangs up and directs a student to go to office. Teacher returns to definitions of different forms of Capital. On Familial Capital, Martinez states: “You know the people who hold you back. You may be in a toxic relationship and have to ask yourself, ‘Do these people have my back?’ “

Some students yell out questions and statements after teacher makes comments about a slide. When he asks for students to calm down, class responds immediately and gets quiet.

After completing the slides on different forms of Capital, Martinez shifts to next part of lesson when he will divide class into groups of 4-6 students to read Chapters 7 and 8 of Always Running. He chooses which students will be in one group and directs them to read Chapter 7 and does the same the other groups asking them to read Chapter 8.

He directs both groups to fill out worksheet on each form of Capital. He passes out the worksheets and asks students to jot down what transpired in each chapter and link examples to different kinds of Capital. Then he says he will reassemble both groups so that each group will present information on their chapter to the other group. Each specific example drawn from the chapter and written on worksheet will get one point, he says. He then announces: “Read for 20 minutes and complete chapter.”

Groups turn to task of reading and completing worksheets. I scan classroom and see that individual students in each group are reading. Martinez walks around monitoring students reading. At this point, I exit the classroom to see another teacher.





Filed under how teachers teach, Reforming schools

The Problem with Too Much Screen Time And Too Little Privacy Is Parents (Anya Kamenetz)

Anya Kamenetz is an NPR education reporter and the author of “The Art of Screen Time.”

This appeared as op-ed in the New York Times, June 5, 2019

Parents this year were introduced to a goblin for the digital era: Momo, a bird-woman with an eerie grin who commanded the children who watched her videos on YouTube to harm themselves. The story turned out to be essentially a hoax, but it went viral in the first place because it seemed to validate a widely held belief: Our kids are in danger because of threats associated with the dark corners of social media and risk of addiction to phones and tablets.

The annual American Family Survey found last fall that “overuse of technology” had risen to the top of the list of concerns for parents of teenagers, above drugs, sexual activity and mental health. Viral headlines like “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” and books like “Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids” are resonating with parents. One of the authors of the original American Academy of Pediatrics “no screens before age 2” rule (it has since been softened) has written a book with the fearsome title “The Death of Childhood.” Screens are his main culprit.

The truth isn’t so simple. Smartphones and social media may be, in fact, transforming the experience of childhood and adolescence in some ways. But the hard (for many adults to hear) truth is that many of technology’s effects on kids have less to do with screen time per se than they do with the decisions grown-ups are making — many of which place children’s privacy at great risk.

First, there’s surveillance. Children are now under intense scrutiny from a young age, from platforms and advertisers, but also parents and other authority figures.

Many public schools use online gradebooks, and sometimes app-based communication systems like Class Dojo. Depending on their settings, these systems allow parents to instantly see the score on every quiz, and a record of every time their child is disciplined or praised. Family dynamics vary; these updates may be the catalyst to an important conversation, an invitation to hover or get overly involved in a child’s progress, or a prelude to harsh punishment.

Even more worrisome is the widespread use of software from large tech platforms like Google in the classroom. Some privacy advocates have expressed concern about how the data collected on students who are required to use these apps and email services to complete assignments might be used.

As I reported for NPR in 2016, GoGuardian, a form of school-based security software, monitors kids’ online searches on school-issued computers. Middle-school students who searched topics related to suicide, even at home, have been referred to mental health services by school webmasters. Benjamin Herold detailed in Education Week how private companies are monitoring student assignments, emails and even social media posts. Students have become accustomed to the surveillance. One wrote his concerns about a classmate acting strangely in a Google doc, and added profanity to make sure it was flagged by the automated system.

Meanwhile, just a few years since it became possible, checking in on your children as they surf the web and stroll to school is in many circles seen as the basic obligation of a responsible parent. The average age at which a child gets her own smartphone has dropped to 10.3 years. In other words, just as kids start to expand their physical boundaries and spend m ore time with peers, it’s suddenly become standard practice to equip them with a tracking device. The message could not be more mixed: You can spread your wings, sure, but we’ll be banding your ankle, using products like Circle at home and Find My iPhone when you’re out and about.

Then there’s “sharenting.Today, many children’s social media presence starts with a sonogram, posted, obviously, without consent. One study from Britain found that nearly 1,500 images of the average child had been placed online by their fifth birthday. Parents get a lot of gratification from telling kids’ stories online. Advertisers, and platforms like Pinterest and Instagram, get a lot out of it, too. Baby pics drive clicks. “Millennial moms are the holy grail,” one marketer told me.

It’s less clear what our children have to gain from their lives being broadcast in this way. Stacey Steinberg, a scholar at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, wrote in The Emory Law Review that parents’ rights to free speech and self-expression are at odds with children’s rights to privacy when they are young and vulnerable. “A conflict of interests exists as children might one day resent the disclosures made years earlier by their parents,” she noted.

This is especially true when the information is potentially damaging. Imagine a child who has behavior problems, learning disabilities or chronic illness. Mom or Dad understandably want to discuss these struggles and reach out for support. But those posts live on the internet, with potential to be discovered by college admissions officers and future employers, friends and romantic prospects. A child’s life story is written for him before he has a chance to tell it himself.

Even if you confine your posts about your children to sunny days and birthday parties, any information you provide about them — names, dates of birth, geographic location — could be acquired by data brokers, companies that collect personal information and sell it to advertisers.

Finally, there’s display and commodification. In 2018, the top earner on YouTube, according to Forbes, was a 7-year-old boy who brought in $22 million by playing with toys. It’s never seemed more accessible to become famous at a wee age, and the type of children who used to sing into a hairbrush in the mirror are often clamoring to start their own channels today.

What’s the harm? In most cases, none. Maybe even some benefits. But there are horror stories, too. YouTube’s algorithms make it easy to discover ever-more-extreme content, and videos starring children are no exception. Some channels have been taken down from the platform, and parents have even lost custody of their children for harassing and humiliating their own children in videos that earned millions of views. Or, you could post a completely innocuous video of your daughter doing cartwheels and a pedophile could comment with a time code of a particular split-second view as a signal to his fellows.

The most egregious abuses are just the tip of the iceberg, though. For every moneymaking influencer, there are millions of less-successful stage parents and wannabes scratching for followers on YouTube and Instagram. They’re out there shoving cameras in children’s faces, using up their free time, killing spontaneity, warping the everyday rituals of childhood into long working shoots.

Forget Momo. When it comes to childhood and technology, we adults are the horror show.


Filed under raising children

Respect for Teaching: One Teacher’s Story

To be a teacher is honored in name, with awards, and fond memories of former students. Sometimes, however, those honors and memories are betrayed, albeit inadvertently, by bureaucratic rules that reveal disrespect for teaching. 

I describe here an incident that occurred to me nearly 50 years ago when I worked in the Washington, D.C. schools. I was a teacher who became an administrator and then chose to return to the classroom, Sure, five decades ago is ancient history so readers will have to judge whether the attitudes embedded in organizational procedures that I experienced are contemporary or merely a historical curiosity.

I wrote the following piece for a Washington, D.C. alternative newspaper in 1971.


I have taught off and on for nearly fifteen years. When not teaching, I have been an administrator…. I directed an experimental teaching project called the Cardozo Project in Urban Teaching 1963-1967. [Afterwards] I taught half-time while writing a book. The following year, in the hope of working with others who shared my interest in [reform], I returned to administration as the Director of Staff Development in the Washington,  D.C. schools. That lasted two years since the budget and program [were] gutted … by the D.C. Council….  At that point [1970] I decided to return to the classroom rather than occupy a desk [downtown].

It was an uncommon decision I discovered. To understand why, you have to appreciate the nagging guilt that haunts administrators about leaving the classroom. Talk to most central office administrators … and you will inevitably hear how important it is ‘to stay in touch with kids. That’s where the action is. How I miss it.’  When I would ask why not return to the classroom, I would hear: ‘I would like to, but, you know, the money, and well, I like to make decisions, and well, I needed a change.’

Shortly after I was appointed director of staff development, I suggested at an [administrative] meeting that [their] perceptions … and sense of urgency might be considerably sharpened if [they] would teach one or two weeks and then return to [their] desks. The idea was beaten down. I began to see that administration was as much an escape from the … classroom as it was a search for status, authority, and dollars….

[Yet]  administrators deeply believe that the classroom is the backbone of education. Thus, when an administrator decides to teach, one would expect some encouragement from colleagues, perhaps a bit of support, and an easy transition. How naive I was. Disbelief, punishment, and shame dogged each step of my return to teaching….

When my colleagues found out [that I would be returning to the classroom], a wall of silence appeared. Except for some close associates, the response–-when people chose to talk to me–was disbelief. They seemed to suggest by smile, smirk, or wink that I must be waiting for a good offer….For the most part, I was ignored.

In hallways when passing someone, eyes turned away…. Within two months, a series of actions, unmalicious in intent, initiated and executed in a most efficient bureaucratic manner occurred that created within me a sense of shame and failure.

The first shock came [over] salary. To teach meant taking a one-third wage cut… The Board of Examiners* informed me that my four years of administrative experience meant nothing in dollars and cents. Of my ten years of prior teaching, only seven met the standards set by D.C….

Next … I received a notice that said I was “demoted without prejudice.” The phrase is semantically correct. I am now on a lower rung of the school ladder and being there was my choice. [But} demoted sounded like grade school, like being pushed back to a lower group because you are dumb and misbehaving. The phrase is from the language of failure.

Then the Board of Examiners informed me a week before [I returned to the classroom] that I could not receive a regular … contract because I had never taken a college course in teaching at the secondary school level. With well over a decade of classroom experience in three different cities, with five years experience in preparing teachers to work in [D.C.] schools, with a book and numerous articles on teacher education–I am told that unless I take a course on Teaching in the Secondary School within two years I will not be able to teach in D.C.

After a pay cut, a demotion, and then a threat, I felt like I had committed a crime. What had I done wrong?

The unintentional but very destructive way a school system punishes administrators and teachers from moving freely back and forth between classroom and central office reveals [that] the stated value is: teaching is cherished; the real value is that teaching is [tough work] and unimportant; anyone with sense will get the hell out of it and the quicker, the better….


Civic and business leaders and politicians often praise teachers. Awards for excellence in teaching abound. Yet often overlooked is the disrespect for teaching that too often hides in organizational rules.


*The Board of Examiners no longer exists. Those functions have been assumed by the Office of Educator Licensure in the Office of the State Superintendent, District of Columbia.


Filed under dilemmas of teaching, how teachers teach