I finished my residency in clinical pastoral education at the end of August. As part of that ending, I was in transition to stay in training by beginning work in supervisory education. I needed to stay on somewhere since the church was keeping me part-time. And an opportunity opened.
In effect, my life will continue to look like it has over the last year. I’ll continue to serve my church as one of the pastors, and I’ll continue to serve my patients as a one of the chaplains.
Most people in my church seem surprised when I mention my CPE training. They don’t feel the impact of my work. They don’t notice the differences in how I spend my days.
As a church that focuses its mission on twenty and thirty-somethings (and certainly not exclusively), most of our people are involved during their days. They aren’t coming to a church, meeting with pastors, or attending ministry meetings. That was very much the culture of my last church. At New Community, people I meet with meet me at night or on weekends because they work, study, or otherwise occupy themselves.
So, attending weekend activities at church, while working during the day at a hospital and working at night to see our church people, lends to a congregant’s surprise when learning that I’m also working in CPE. But I am continuing that work. And I’m glad to be doing so.
It’s been an interesting mix of experiences starting my program these last weeks. I’m still serving as the primary chaplain in the medical intensive care unit. I’m observing the work of my supervisor as he works with a new set of interns, starting to see supervision from a different ledge. I’m preparing didactics, reading a lot, still seeing the ups and downs of people’s lives in a busy level one trauma center that sees death daily. I sit with people going through hard spots. I pray all the time. It seems that way. It’s getting easier to sit quietly.
I’m not sure how that’ll impact my posting. I’ll still post quotes of people I read. I’ll write reviews of some of the books I’m appreciating as a way to keep my mind engaged in a number of ways with the authors of those books. I may not be able to post as much as I like.
The process before me is faith-filled. Like any growth process, the most constructive parts are unseen. The strongest impacts ahead aren’t written in a description. And I couldn’t tell you all the gifts I’ll receive as I step into what’s next. There will be love there though. There will be people that love me and people that I’ll love.
There will be learning and I’ll necessarily make more mistakes. My average has already gone up this year for mistakes! I’ll require more from my family and friends, and I’ll return the gains I’m getting from one work environment toward the people within the other environments I’m placed. I’ll deepen my conversations with my spiritual director. Me and Dawn will speak and listen more meaningfully. Bryce will get a better dad. And we’ll see what else there is.
I asked a friend, Sonia Wang, to comment on the current moment with a particular view toward our teachers and what she’d say to them. As she has before on this blog, Sonia gives us clear, translatable instruction for which I’m thankful.
Our job is a complex tapestry of nuanced roles that impact and influence the young people we engage with on a daily basis. We teach, we counsel, we push, we heal, we redirect, we advise, we feed, we hold hands, we remain present. All the while, we ourselves grow in who we are as men and women because of the amazing young people who walk through our doors each day.
In the current state of affairs, where the lived lives of many of our students are marred by injustices from the minute they awake to the minute they rest their eyes at night, we have to ask ourselves, how do we best honor our students and their families? their lived experiences? And we make difficult decisions – what realities do we bring into the classroom, provide platforms for or safe spaces to come into? And how do we preserve our commitment to the words we say to each child through our own words and actions – that, when the going gets tough, we remain present?
We must anchor ourselves in aggressive honesty and expect nothing short of the most rigorous achievements of our children.
Our black and brown children are living in a time where they are seeing themselves in the media, and the message tells them clearly that they don’t matter. They may have learned about or been exposed to historical events or literary works that resemble their current lived lives.
As teachers, we need to first be honest with ourselves, in a “Come to Jesus” and aggressive manner that this is the reality. For some, it may not be our reality, but it must be part of our known reality, because it is our students’ reality. And thus, our curriculum, our language, our classroom structures, and our approach to relationships building must honor this reality. Now.
Why aggressive? Because our students don’t get back those eights hours from their day in school of being overlooked or denied of their lived reality. The time is, and must be, now. When we are honest with ourselves, we can be honest to our students in the choices we make. How awesome that we have the agency and power to impact students as they enter our classrooms.
And how much more awesome that we honor their voices in the very realities of their lives in their learning. (And yes, I’m thinking of all grade levels, considering what is developmentally appropriate at each grade.) You, teachers, do this. You can do this. Your students learn from you; we must learn from them to best teach them.
most rigorous achievements
Yes, our students come from broken streets. Violence pervades their walk to the bus stop. They see children who look like them being oppressed and wrongly persecuted. They belong to a city, a world in fact, that is comprised of too many broken systems that perpetuate privilege that does not bat an eye towards them.
Yet, our students are Poets. Mathematicians. Architects. Actors. Critical thinkers. Debaters. So, why do we succumb to the second class curriculum of drilling reading and math skills into their hungry minds in the name of closing the achievement gap? We don’t. Because we know who is in front of us.
We set high expectations for our students, and we make it clear that they are going to reach those goals with soaring achievements. We create inquiry and comprehensive units that explore themes and questions that are interesting. And we ask our students to think for themselves to get to your final objective for that unit. And then we scaffold the concept and the skill, we confer with our kids, pull small groups to re-teach, and we continue to push and honor their achievements when they have achieved them.
And we continue to do this complex job because we know from our own lived experiences in our schools and classrooms, the deep joy that comes when our students gain those understandings, master the objective, show kindness to a peer, and stand up for an opinion of theirs.
Teachers, we are in the beautiful position to impact and influence. Which I often find immensely scary as well. But it is in this tension that we must remain: the tension of all the roles we play, being warm and demanding, of recognizing yet safeguarding from realities, of supporting through and pushing towards high expectations…
Our students deserve the empowerment that comes from knowledge. To have agency to make informed choices. We play a role in shaping these young minds and characters. And we must remain present to them – knowing that the strength to do so does not come from immediate evidence, because we know all too well that sometimes the fruit takes a few years.
And we also know it doesn’t necessarily come from our system in regularly honoring the amazing work of teachers. But my hope is that the strength comes from the deep understanding that we are part of a much larger tapestry – one in which the beauties we only get glimpses of are more perfect and frequent.
And so we persevere each morning, welcoming back each young person into our lives to reaffirm to them that they absolutely matter.
A couple years ago, I asked Sonia Wang, a teacher and friend to write about the importance of parental involvement. I’m sure you’ll enjoy her post again for its continued relevance.
Advocacy. This word is often seen as a job of someone else. But I think we forget that advocacy is merely being “in the know” so that we can speak up and respond appropriately as needed. One thing that our students, especially in urban environments, are lacking is having an ample group of advocates.
Where does this absence of advocates stem from? Often it starts with the students’ parents. It is argued that students spend the majority of their day in school, however, the more important truth is that students need consistency in their lives.
Consistency must be obtained in two ways—from home to school and from school to home. When a student is told in school that they need to read at least 30 minutes at home, but they are expected to cook dinner, watch their younger siblings, and then manage their work without a space to do work, there is a mixed message sent to the student. At the same time, when students are told at home that helping out with the family day care program holds priority in their lives and that message is overturned at school, students are flooded with mixed messages.
How do we as adults integrate into the lives of our students to best support them? As a classroom teacher, I strongly believe that there are two main sources for support—parents and mentors, which include teachers.
The role of parents in a student’s life is invaluable. A teacher can only impart so much when it comes to skills, content, and values, but if that is not reinforced by what happens at home, it becomes obsolete to the child. From my years of teaching, I cannot count how many times a student has referred to their parent’s indifference or absence in their academic achievement as a reason for their own indifference or absence of care for their academic progress or goals. The attitude and tone a parent holds for their child sets the baseline for the child’s personal expectations and hopes.
When a student knows that his/her parent knows what’s going on in their lives, especially in their school life, it not only sets a new tone to the importance of this thing known as “school” but it also redefines the student’s approach to school. Suddenly their work in school matters because what they do in class matters to people who matter to them. Reading a chapter and jotting personal thoughts on what was read isn’t just homework but it is an opportunity to show the parent what’s happening in class, what is being learned, and what thinking is happening.
Furthermore, let’s consider an example situation:
If a student is reading a novel that is perceived to be at a lower level than the student’s ability, his/her parent is now able to advocate for their student. This can lead to multiple outcomes:
1.)If the book is in fact easy, the teacher is now held accountable to meet the learning needs of the student in order for the student to GROW!! and
2.) If the book is actually at the student’s reading level because he/she is struggling, then there can be an honest conversation about where the student is at in their reading progress, what supports are in place in the classroom to monitor and assure growth, and what strategies can be implemented at home to support the student’s growth.
Regardless of what the outcome might be, the more important fact here is that the student has multiple advocates in his/her life; no longer is their education a passive one but one that is active and purposeful.
Parents must be involved in their student’s educational journey. Involvement does not mean teaching algebra in fourth grade or having the student comprehend Beowulf in middle school. I would actually discourage this type of involvement.
Instead, knowing your child’s syllabus, asking what he/she is learning, and checking in about their academic strengths and weaknesses are ways to be involved in his/her life. By doing so, our young people know they have advocates, people who will not allow them to be invisible in our current education system where too often our students are reduced to an ID number or a test score.
With advocates, our young people begin to see the importance of knowledge and voice. And in turn, they become our community’s most effective advocates.
I’ve been considering something Scottie May said to us in our Christian Education class at Wheaton. She’s repeated this to me when I’ve posed education-related questions since graduation. Professor May–and I’m surely paraphrasing while keeping with the best spirit of her teaching–says that curriculum is a guide, a map. It’s not meant to remove the hard work that comes with reviewing, adapting, adjusting, and presenting content to a learner. You can read more about Dr. May’s approach by reading her book Children Matter if you like; it’s a great resource.
I think some of the critical issues which come up for me as I think about what Marcus and Sonia have said, along with what I’ve read about the TSBE are the following:
1) How powerful, even if vital, the role of elected officials is when it comes to discussing, determining, and disseminating educational standards for students. I don’t know that a state board of education’s role is understood by most citizens, whatever the state, and it’s often not until something incredible happens or looms that people take notice. I suppose this is similar to how most people engage or disengage from the political process in general.
2) A community’s role in education continues to be one of the best ways to confront and support education for children. I heard too many times growing up that “It takes a whole village to raise a child.” It’s true wisdom. Raising a child, involves educating a child, and the responsibility for learning, cognitive development, and social maturation cannot be loaned or sold or passed off to teachers alone, particularly when those teachers are expected to teach what they disagree with, what they don’t believe in, or what’s foreign to their experience–not that all curriculum fits into these. But the community can do things. Develop a reading list with teachers, historians, and writers you respect. Talk to teachers and administrators about how they enrich the curriculum, if they do. Show up to school and read for a day. Donate books and art and articles to a school which fill out new or old images of history and culture for students. The community supports, challenges and aides in the learning process. And everybody, including children and grownups learn from that involvement.
3) Ideology always influences what people are taught. It’s foolish to think otherwise, no matter what a group’s commitments, principles, and philosophies. In my mind, everybody has a religion, a way of acknowledging God–even when that acknowledgment is to deny God’s being–and everybody also lives in response to that acknowledgement. Your spiritual or religious views leak into the decisions you live by. My frame of reference, the presuppositions, and notions which are unique to me enable me to say what I say, think the way I do or don’t, and to choose to emphasize certain aspects of history, sociology, psychology, and theology. Whatever the pattern of voting or thinking, readers and learners should be aware of who’s writing, that writer’s social and political and, if possible, spiritual location, and what the objectives are of that writing.
4) Curriculum comes in three shapes–explicit, implicit, and null. Explicit curriculum is what you see and read and hear. Assignments are given on some topics and not others. Implicit curriculum shapes and influences the explicit, is present and no less important but is unseen. Null curriculum is what is taught, communicated, and learned by absence; these are the questions, areas of learning and knowledge that aren’t highlighted or explained but which are pronounced because of that lack of inclusion. I think this springboard in Texas helps us all think about these three types of teachings, what’s included, what’s not, and what’s learned in the process of and despite presence or absence. This is especially meaningful to me as I consider how assignments are framed to highlight or diminish the light on certain figures in United States of American history as it relates to people with skin like mine.
5) Being critical involves listening, analyzing, reflecting, and most times confronting. While the nuances and the actual voted-upon changes in Texas are not as scandalous as they were first thought to be earlier this year, the process leading to them open a window into how curriculum is framed and fixed. There are expert educators and non-educators, and their decisions are sure to influence how publishers spend money printing books across the nation. Interested people need to hear and think about the impact a state or a city or a neighborhood can have when it comes to what’s sold and consumed in their schools and libraries. Just because a book is printed doesn’t mean it cannot be read, reviewed, critiqued, and left unpurchased when found lacking in truth and veracity when compared to history and life of black, brown, and white people.
In addition to what’s been offered in the comments–and I have a sneaky suspicion about the tags and automatic replies–the following links may be helpful as you consider Texas State Board of Education, their process, and relevance for where you live and learn.
What say you?
Marcus Campbell works as an administrator at Evanston Township High School and also pastors a church in Chicago. I asked him to weigh in on the same issues Sonia Wang did the other day. Me and Marcus “go way back”. We used to sing together in the Soul Children of Chicago when we were small, and I know he’d enjoy any reactions and questions which come up for you from this post.
History, Remains His-Story in Texas
The purpose of curriculum is to highlight the goals and assessments that provide a roadmap for instruction. Curriculum is a critical piece in schools in that it is the primary element of what gets delivered in the classroom. Curriculum prepares students for the world in which schools have trained them to be equipped. Curriculum is also what shapes the scope of a school’s values, culture and goals. Providing an analysis of curriculum also reveals what knowledge-base a learning community embraces and it also has the potential to reflect the passion of its creators. Curriculum does not consist of multiple lists of inanimate objectives, goals, plans, lessons and assessments, but it is rather a living document that comes alive each day of the school year in every classroom across the country. When curricula are planned and implemented well, the learning outcomes for both students and teachers are tremendous.
The ideal or model framework for curriculum is that it should be structured by skill with content-reinforcing skills. The content should be framed with the following in mind: district or school demographics, valued cultural knowledge and other items that can frame multiple disciplinary content areas that will prepare students for working in a particular field or profession. Most importantly, curriculum should be framed with the student in mind. Student-focused curriculum is built firmly with stages of adolescent development in mind, student interest and the need to know content to function in a democratic society. Far too many times, curriculum is out of date, referred to as the textbook or the state standards posted in the teachers classroom. These provide the necessary components for what includes curriculum, but these are a far cry from what curriculum actually is. It is up to district and school leaders to make sure that there is a common understanding of curriculum among the various constituencies in the district, but every teacher must also be clear and able to articulate what curriculum is and demonstrate it in action in the classroom.
With that being said, as a Senior Pastor, Director of Academic Programs for a school district and a doctoral student in Education, I believe that the recent curriculum approved by the Texas State Board of Education will in large part serve as a disadvantage to the students in the Texas education system. The changes subtract from the rich pluralist history that belongs to our nation and it devalues the varying of opinions that make this nation as great as it is. Valuing and analyzing multiple perspectives across all content areas are important for developing a critical consciousness as young men and women seek to find themselves and understand the world around them. Affirming a conservative curriculum will only lengthen the divide between the two political factions at work, when the goal of education is the act of preparing students to live in a world of difference. Continue reading →
The state board of education in Texas made some pretty audacious decisions earlier this year. It’s no secret that their decisions were motivated by their responsibilities to the students in their state. Perhaps their political leanings impacted those decisions, too. In fact, that’s just as obvious when you read through some of the litter leading to their choices.
I’ve followed some piercing reflection over the last months about these decisions, thinking about them as a learner primarily and as a theological educator secondarily. I’m not even ready to consider this from the perspective of a father. However, I asked two friends to respond to a series of questions about education, curriculum, and how children learn.
So, I’ll feature two substantial posts from two friends–one from Sonia Wang and another from Marcus Campbell. They are both educators. They have things to say.
If you’d like to read the articles I sent them to start them on their critical, analytical paths for their posts, take a look here and here. You can search other materials but I didn’t want you to have too many options. These articles come from a perspective, as all articles do, but I think they’ll give you a fair amount of background for what Sonia and Marcus (or Ms. Wang and Mr. Campbell) have to say. Take the weekend to read the short articles.