A Picture and a Bag of Rice – Un Dibujo y Una Bolsa de Arroz

A Picture and a Bag of Rice

by Laura Landstrom, Teach a Teacher Volunteer June 2014Laura p 3

My usual commute to work involves gazing out a metro window into blackness or looking out a car window at bumper to bumper DC traffic.  And so as I peered out the bus window at the immense desert coastline and the rolling mountains of the Cordillera Blanca on my initial  ride from Lima into the Ancash region, it became clear to me that my visit to Peru would not only be beautiful,  but it would be like nothing I had ever experienced.

Laura p 2As we got closer to my home for the next few weeks in Caraz, we drove through several small mountain villages.  In each of these villages, I noticed a curiosity – painted onto the sides of houses, fences, and businesses there are small, brightly colored pictures.  While there were various pictures from people, to a single letter in a circle, to a tree or sunburst, the pictures were repeated throughout the towns.  They piqued my interest, and I began taking pictures of them during my travels, wondering what the significance of these small creations were.

Laura p 1

I arrived in Peru the summer after I completed my 9th year of teaching – all in public Title I schools in the United States.  I have taught in schools in Texas, Georgia, and I currently am starting my 10th year of work in Washington DC.  Working in Title I schools, I have spent a great deal of time working with students and families living in poverty.  While there are many challenges facing students and teachers in the schools I have taught at in the United States, many of those challenges pale in comparison to the challenges faced by many of the teachers and students I encountered in Peru.

One of the things I was most surprised by as I got to know some of the teachers better, is that there is no formal training process or certification required for teachers – including attending college. Basically, many teachers show up to their classrooms the first day and are told to “Go for it!”

While I was inspired by the effort and dedication shown by many teachers with limited resources and education, this deficit in pedagogical knowledge was apparent in many of the teaching practices I observed.  In the pre-k classroom I visited, students devoted a large portion of their morning every day to marching practice (as in “Attention! Forward March!”).  And while in the classroom there was evidence of learning the alphabet, they were learning the letters and their sounds in isolation.  They were not spending any time showing students the connection of the sounds of letters to their sounds in words.

Reading instrucleyendotion in most classrooms primarily consists of either copying sentences a teacher has written on the board into a notebook or the whole class reading sentences or a short passage from a workbook and then answering questions independently on a worksheet. Teachers do not read aloud daily to their students, do not utilize graphic organizers, and no teacher I met with had heard of Guided Reading.  Students never spend time independently reading to themselves, which makes sense when one realizes classrooms do not have books for students to read or even a school library.


When I visited a classroom in Caraz, I looked through the one reading resource for students- workbooks (and each family buys their own child their workbook which might cost a family a whole day’s salary). Within the entire READING workbook there was not one story!!!! I quickly understood why many teachers were asking me what to do for students that hate to read.

Despite the many differences between schools in the United States and schools in Peru, I surprisingly found many similarities and I was also able to learn ways to improve my personal teaching practice from teachers there.

While I feel majority of educators in the United States are grossly underpaid for the work they do, I feel an even deeper issue is not a lack of pay, but a lack of respect.  Comments surrounding teachers choosing their profession in order to get summers off or the assumption that the primary reason schools are failing is because of ineffective teaching are sadly accusations thrown at teachers every day.

Likewise, there seems to be a belief among many (but not all) of the education departments or administrative personnel in Peru that teachers do not desire learning opportunities, like those offered by Teach a Teacher, so why would the Education Department go out of their way to help organize them? I, however, was impressed by the passion and enthusiasm of the teachers I worked with to improve their skills as an educator.

Kelly’s sweet neighbor, Anna, informed us the night before a workshop in Caraz was to take place that the teachers at her children’s school never received the invitation from the education offices to the workshop. When she and Kelly visited the school to talk to the director and ask if he would announce the workshop to the staff, he told them that they should invite the teachers themselves. So Kelly, Anna, and I went around the morning of the workshop to each teacher’s classroom to invite them.   Despite the short warning, we still had a large group of dedicated teachers show up to the workshop eager to improve their instruction and to take advantage of a learning opportunity.stripes

At the first workshop I facilitated, I had modeled for teachers completing a readaloud for your students and we focused on character analysis using the book (in Spanish) A Bad Case of Stripes. For those who have not read this fantastic book, basically a girl is so worried about what others think of her that she will not be true to herself. She literally wakes up one morning covered in rainbow stripes form head to toe. If a person calls her a color or shape, she morphs to match it. In the end she realizes the only cure, of course, is to be herself!

IMG_4799Quechua is the native language of many people in Peru, however, the school system is moving to all Spanish. All I could think of was my experience teaching at a highly bilingual school in Texas. We were so quick to transition students from Spanish to English, and many times what would happen is our students would end up not truly fluent in either.

It scares me how quickly the whole world seems to be moving to English. Don’t get me wrong – there is great value in being able to share a common language with others for communication purposes. I just worry about students losing a valuable part of their identity – their native language – in their quest to learn English.

One teacher made the profound connection with the text to many of her students whose native tongue is Quechua feeling the need to deny their culture and speak Spanish only. I have read this book aloud to my students many years, and not once had I made that connection with my English Language Learners.

With all the above and a long history of low funding for education taken into consideration, it’s no surprise in many towns there is a low literacy rate. As my trip came to an end, I learned the significance behind those small pictures painted on the walls of buildings I had seen on my bus ride to Caraz. Kelly disclosed that these pictures stood for candidates running Waldoin elections. All Peruvian citizens are required by law to vote.  Since many citizens cannot read, they vote in elections by picture. Many candidates have handed out bags of rice to people with their picture logo attached. They can get the rice by voting for their picture. One, candidate whose logo is painted on rocks and trees and countless unsightly places, like a mad graffiti tagging binge, is even offering every family 500 soles a piece for their vote!

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
Margaret Mead

In my time in Peru I was lucky enough to encounter many small groups of thoughtful, committed citizens: A group of teachers wanting to improve their practice were determined even after a hard day at work to make it to a training they learned about just hours before.  Two Americans who have chosen to make Peru their new home and have become involved in changing their community for the better in so many ways. Generous neighbors who pitch in at the last minute to prepare a training space when the initial venue fell through, a teacher who attended my first training and set up an additional training for me to hold in Lima where over 30 teachers and two representatives from the Ministry of Education attended. Most teachers attending that SATURDAY workshop had to travel long distances on buses (some from over 9 hours away) and combis (small, public transport, packed to the gills, mini-vans) to arrive. (Take that Department of Education, Administrators and the like- teachers do want to grow professionally!) And every teacher I encountered in my travels who wishes for more and better for their students and who has come to the Teach a Teacher workshops with an open mind and heart.thumbs 2

While many seem to think they will solve all the problems in education by implementing a new teacher evaluation tool, raising the standardized testing bar, or purchasing the latest research- based curriculum,  I truly believe any real, valuable, and lasting change that will happen must come from  the teachers themselves.  Having an opportunity this summer to work with teachers and help build teaching efficacy together is an experience that has forever changed how I look at my profession.

A quote was shared with me during my time in Peru that resonated with my overall experience – “God is in the details”.  In the seemingly small day to day interactions I had with Mac and Kelly and the teachers I worked with during my time with Teach a Teacher I saw tremendous possibilities.  And I do think with thought, commitment, education, and compassion – we can change the world.

There is too much at stake in life to base important decisions on just a picture and a bag of rice.


Expectations without Education, Nonexistent

Quality Education Creates Expectations for the Poor and the Overall Economy

outside Lima Peru

Outside Lima Peru

by H Mac Wooten

On a recent trip to Lima last week on the day bus, I  again took note of the poverty and living conditions of many here. The population of Peru is approximately 31 million with about 1/3 of the population living in Lima (South Americas 5th largest city). About 2 hours from Lima as we paralleled the pacific coast, the shanty towns begin to appear.  Bastions of poverty where I presume most people (given the choice)  wouldn’t want to raise their children.

The houses are precariously perched one above another on the hillsides. Four walls and a roof made from mats woven from a type of cane.  There’s no park, pool or tennis club for the children, there’s often no electricity but there’s a community water supply. waterGiven enough time, electrical service will possibly be installed.  The areas are lit up dimly at night by the orange sodium vapor lights.  Although it’s not yet 5 o’clock, our neighbors are sitting with nothing to do , watching the buses go by as their life passes and leaving them to contemplate their future as they watch the sun go down. The contemplation part is most likely mine and mine alone.  I suspect they don’t think much about what tomorrow brings and tomorrow is just one more day to survive.

Can you imagine your life with no expectations?  Assuming you’re not dealing with clinical depression and honestly can’t get out of bed, could you imagine not thinking about tomorrow?


Meet Lucho:

He’s a day laborer with nothing certain about tomorrow except hungry mouths to feed.  I hope someone comes by today looking for workers. I don’t mind working, but I don’t have the money to go look for work and I might miss someone if they come by.  My wife takes a combi most mornings at 6:00 a.m.  She rides 1 1/2 hours and then walks 9 blocks to cook and clean at a house. She makes S/30 for a 10 hour work day and then 1 1/2 hour ride back. It costs S/3 for the combi.

Poverty is the worst form of violence.   Mahatma Gandhi

I can see the ocean from here, but I can’t smell it.  All I can smell is the fields of sugarcane burning.  The smoke fills the air and blocks the view of the sky and the dreams I should have.  But the smoke from the burning sugarcane is my reality and poverty is my life and future.

“Can you smell the smoke? Does it block the view of your future or are you able to see through it with your education?  Can you visualize next week or next month or next year?  I can’t.”

Whatever education you have is a gift.  Use and cherish it.  Use it to see through the smoke and time and despair. Don’t waste it watching your family sit on a dirt floor while waiting for the soup to cook over an open fire in the corner. Fourteen hour days are exhausting and wear you down and make you numb and they kill all expectations of a better life for me and my children.  14 hour days have destroyed my expectations.

Carlos is in the third grade.  He spends much of his school days learning to march. He needs a new work book. It costs S/15. That’s more than half a days work for my wife.  I don’t want to spend the money. His teacher is demanding we buy uniforms for the sports day and a costume for the next parade.  I don’t believe a workbook a costume or a uniform is going to help get him a better life, am I wrong?


“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”  Nelson Mandela

When you live so deep in poverty, your expectations come hour by hour. So, I sit here, waiting for another hour and watching the smoke.

That education allows the best chance of escaping poverty is not news to anyone.  But perhaps the policy makers and heads of governments should take note that a more fair playing field, providing quality education across socio-economic classes,  actually drives economic growth. 

 The American Prospect explored this theme in 2007 within the context of the U.S. economy, stating the need for education as a tool to combat poverty is a given, but without an economic context in which to provide opportunities, it is ineffectual.

Peru, indeed is verging on the perfect context for which to study this effectiveness of this theory. If quality education were expanded and provided across socio-economic boundaries, perhaps Peru’s economy would not be slowing.

Why did or didn’t Chicken Little (Pollito Chiquito) Cross the Road?

                                                                                                     By Kelly Dwyer  Exec. Director Teach a Teacher

Over the past two weeks Teach a Teacher has made the strides and the kind of sense that we were hoping to achieve from the program.  Laura Landstrom, originally educated at the University of Texas, Austin and current teacher at the District of Columbia Public Schools, soon to be IB coordinator at her school, has been the type of volunteer we are hoping to attract over and over again, through Teach a Teacher.  You will soon be able to read her blog entry here at the TeachaTeacher blog from her Point of View.

However, for some time I have let this important entry slip.

Why is this effort of Teach a Teacher so important?

Living in Peru has created a new found value for our own educations.  With all of its flaws in informing us that Columbus was a “good guy” who discovered “America” and writing 50 times “I will not…”  we recognize that even former education and its evolution through the years in the states, taught us critical thinking skills and how to continue learning throughout our lives.  It seems every day Mac and I share a story where there is a realization of missing pieces in the Peruvian education.


The other day an employee told me he needed to kill a honey bee because it contributed to the Black Sooty Scale on the citrus leaves!  When you smell a skunk it is because it peed. All snakes are poisonous and dangerous when no snake in this area is either of the two. The process of educating and re-educating many times over how to square a building or how electricity is not actually magic are common every day topics.  And while we are on the topic of chickens, a common belief is they won’t lay eggs without a rooster, or at least if they do, the eggs will explode when you cook them.

Laura has reminded several teachers in the Callejon de Huaylas how reading is actually thinking and how we must model that thinking to our students.  I remind her, myself and the teachers that all these skills and knowledge do not assimilate in a teaching practice overnight and my objective is to bring more volunteers to provide more and more ideas and skills for their own teaching tool chests.

Any elementary educator reading this blog entry, is sure to recognize this scenario (but hopefully it is not your brightest student in the third grade):


My neighbor Carlitos is a third grader at a local public school and identified as the brightest and highest achieving student in his class.  Anai, his sister, is now a first grader.  The first time they sat in my house and read the story, Chicken Little , I became critically aware of this particular missing piece in their education.

I asked the basic inference, prediction and character questions that any teacher or informed parent would ask.  “Why does Pollito Chiquito think the sky is falling? What is your opinion of Pollito Chiquito and his friends that follow him in his quest to inform the king? What is the foxes plan and what eventually happened to all the fowl and Pollito Chiquito? …why didn’t they arrive at their destination and inform the king?”

The answers were arduously drawn out and without much related and appropriate thought.  Pollito Chiquito was just being nice and wanted to inform the king.  His friends joined him because they wanted to.  And most disheartening of all, neither of them after much coaching and rewording of the questions was able to infer that the fox had tricked and eaten the fowl.

These answers came from country kids, who know foxes and whose mother, when I pointed out a beautiful eagle overhead, replied, “He’ll eat your chickens!” Remember, this is a third grader that does an hour and a half  to two hours of homework every night and was selected by his teacher to represent the 4 sections of third graders in a match of wits in a regional contest.

In  a small group reading session with the same book and outcome, a teacher who practices Balanced Literacy instruction would conclude that this very intelligent student needed work on inferences and predictions.

His teacher did indeed attend one of Laura’s sessions.  So there is hope for her now using some of these teaching skills and promoting greater comprehension in her class.  Carlitos’ education is enhanced in his proximity to me and his mother’s interest in education.  I continue to work on their skills in reading and urge their mother to shut off the cable and borrow more books!

I am nearly certain Laura will share that she has learned and had many take-aways as well from this experience.  She did an expert job in communicating that reading is thinking and how a teacher must model and involve the students in that thinking process.

post 1

I thank each teacher that showed earnest interest in learning these new skills and came out after a day of teaching to learn the basics of Balanced Literacy from Laura.  Teachers are the heart and soul of education and disprove time and again the world over that, you are “only interested in a paycheck and time-off.”

Laura laughed and shared, while reminiscing over our professional experiences, “It shows the irony of our and so many other educational institutions that a “teacher,” is the lowest rung in the hierarchy of education’.

 It is so often a top-down directed institution, where the TOP has literally no experience in a classroom or even educational theory.  Unfortunately it has become our job to educate across the field, up to the top and back down again.  Teachers are the relentless force that has driven true progress and enlightenment yesterday, today and tomorrow.  Keep it up.  It is terribly important that everyone know the importance of the honey bee.

And for those of you living in “Developed Countries” with “Developed Education Systems,” there is still time to get out and volunteer before the sky falls.


“One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time.” 
― Carl Sagan


Teach a Teacher and our Volunteers provide Professional Development and help teach basic teaching skills  to Teachers in some of the poorest areas in Peru.   Please visit us at www.teachateacher.org and www.teachateacher.wordpress.com and at teachateacher on Facebook.

Kelly J. Dwyer is Executive Director of Teach a Teacher Nonprofit and feeds our chickens almost every day.  A native of Montana. She has been an educator in the U.S. and internationally.   We live and focus most of our work in the Ancash region of Peru.

After a Day of Renewal, un Accion de Gracias (a Thanks Giving)

                                                                                                                                                                              By Kelly J Dwyer


I continue to be a cheerleader from afar of those voices of courage, battling the so-called Reform Movement in education.  A big resounding thank you to G.F. Brandenburg, Diane Ravitch and Mercedes Schneider for their parts in noticing and bringing attention to Teach a Teacher and my 3 part expo on teaching in the nation’s capital.  Thank you to all who continue to write, comment, demonstrate, protest and EDUCATE about the issues facing education today.

By resigning my formal teaching position, I have not given up on teaching or teachers. I believe education is and has always been our only hope as a planet and a species.

Teach a Teacher is the evolution from those beginnings and my experiences as an educator.  It is our way of continuing to give our graces (la accion de gracias) to the educators of the world.  We truly hope to lift up local teachers’ here in Peru by elevating the esteem for their profession and giving them a renewed enthusiasm for their daily challenges. On the other hand, we hope to give the volunteer teachers an opportunity to renew value to their often devalued professionalism and skills, work closely with another culture and travel on their often, more limited budgets.

With the advent of Diane Ravitch posting news of Chile’s end to state-subsidized private education from the Shanghai Daily News, seems Chile may be ripe for sharing professional development experiences as well. There is hope. Some are realizing the error in handing over public funds to private profit seeking entities. Hopefully they will learn to value the educators’ opinions in the path forward.  Anyone want to head up a Teach a Teacher-Chile?  If I could put a bug Michelle Bachelet’s ear, I would certainly say, “Look to Finland for guidance.”

When eating a fruit, think of the person who planted the tree.   Vietnamese Proverb

Although I lean Buddhist and slightly pagan, through my traditionally and raised Lutheran self and living in a most entrenched Catholic country self, Easter will always have that renewal and rebirth connection for me.  On this day after the day of rebirth and renewal, let me pay homage to a group of sites I recently discovered that are solely dedicated to thanking and showing appreciation for teachers.

On these websites one can submit stories about their teachers and thank them:  Thanks for Teaching.us  and Teacher Shout Outs

or this Story Corps National Teacher Initiative project.

Unfortunately the only real “teacher” blog that took a moment to thank teachers: Dear Teacher/ Love Teacher  , thank you Teacher Love.

And this: on the Ted Blog honoring Ted presenter and educator, Rita Pierson.

Note: What my education has also taught me is to “Beware the Jabberwock” and other “wolves in lambs clothing”. Way, way too high on the Google Search for teacher thanking was Students First. org.  No link there, I hesitate to steer you in the wrong direction.  ;)

We so live in the time of doublespeak and truly deceptive language. Thank you to the teachers who continue to promote critical thinking skills, so that we may continue to have speakers of the truth disrobing the hypocrisy of phrases political phrases designed to deceive. 

“As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate, action: you liberate a city by destroying it. Words are to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests.”    Gore Vidal


Teach a Teacher and our Volunteers provide Professional Development and help teach basic teaching skills  to Teachers in some of the poorest areas in Peru.   Please visit us at:   www.teachateacher.org and www.teachateacher.wordpress.com and      at teachateacher on Facebook.

Kelly J. Dwyer is Executive Director of Teach a Teacher Nonprofit.  A native of Montana. She has been an educator in the U.S. and internationally.   We live and focus most of our work in the Ancash region of Peru.



Evolving and Devolving

The Education and Economies’ of North and South Americas’ Growing Likenesses 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        by Kelly J. Dwyer


Years ago when I first began teaching in Peru, I vividly remember the culture shock of returning stateside that year.  A small nearby town was celebrating the opening of their very own private prison. I couldn’t believe their glee. Did they not care about the disproportionate and rising prison population? I concluded that prisons would become their own mini-military industrial complex.  Once these private prisons were filled, they would become an economy dependent on the poorly educated and poor to exist.

The other issue that struck me with major concern is the growing momentum of vouchers and charter schools as a “fix” to education.  I knew immediately that it would lead to the same economic/educational structure that existed in Peru and other Latin American countries. Public  schools were for the poorest of the poor and anyone who had any avail of funds, sent their children to private schools. (Albeit not always the best in quality either).

I predicted that charter schools and vouchers would leave the majority of  the behavioral problems for the public schools.  Students who didn’t have an opportunity of choice of other schools (due to their socioeconomic status) would be denied a quality education just because they could not attend another school.  This has become the reality. And many of the children who attend these urban public schools will be the future prison populations.  

The Answer to Tomorrows Education Problem

The Future of Today’s Education Problem

In light of the New York Times article on the eroding middle class over the past weekend and folks like Senator Elizabeth Warren singing out warnings for years, I see that it has all come to pass and full circle.  The Daily Kos’ contributor Tom P contributed link and comment to both the NYTimes article and Senator Elizabeth Warren’s words. However, Richard Lyon’s comments on the blog were those that brought me back to that recollection of my certainty of where we were headed.

 This kind of bi-modal economy could perhaps be sustained if they can keep the revolution from erupting. It likely would look something like the historical configuration of most Latin American economies.

I think that a lot of the problem is that the American middle class has allowed itself to be deluded into believing that it is not an endangered species … which it clearly is.  IMG_3987_B

I struggle with the efforts to help Peru’s education system while I watch the decline from much of what the U.S. system once was. I rest assured that TeachaTeacher provides a rich experience for the Volunteer as well as helping correct a disparity.

It is certainly my desire that TeachaTeacher helps both Peruvians as well as our Volunteers with a perspective of knowing education for all, creates a far more stable economic situation and even better, doesn’t exclude the future world problem solvers, because we are going to need them! There is hope for both, we must believe.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” 

Teach a Teacher and our Volunteers provide Professional Development and help teach basic teaching skills  to Teachers in some of the poorest areas in Peru.   Please visit us at www.teachateacher.org and www.teachateacher.wordpress.com and at teachateacher on Facebook.

Kelly J. Dwyer is Executive Director of Teach a Teacher Nonprofit.  A native of Montana. She has been an educator in the U.S. and internationally.   We live and focus most of our work in the Ancash region of Peru.

* Some images were acquired from Google Images  Thank you Google Images!

Part III of No More –The Best Thing I Ever Did as a Teacher

                                                                                                                             By Kelly Dwyer

Total Class

                      Data, data, data…NOT

From perusing this new found world of kindred spirits and fellow anti-corporate educational reform bloggers and readers, I discovered the notorious, Michelle Rhee, was a rookie contemporary of mine.  Those few and only years of teaching she did in Baltimore achieving miraculous, albeit fictitious test score gains, places her second year at the same time as my first year of teaching in DC public schools.

In part two I reflected on my first year teaching in DCPS (1993-94).  My true success in those novice years came in the next two years whereupon my principal supported my desire to stay with the same group of kids for two years (looping).

Besides gaining their trust, which began about April of the first year, we began our 2 years with a goal to go to Montana, my home state.  In those two years we raised money enough to pay for just about every part of that trip.

In the meantime, I had a supportive and enthusiastic principal who advocated using DC as the classroom. So much of what we studied, was followed with a meaningful field trip to enhance our studies.


In the culminating days as a two-year class, my students went to Montana by train. They kept journals on the land forms and states, towns and cities as we passed by. They went up in the highest building in the U.S. and picnicked by Lake Michigan between train changes.  They rode horse-back up the Rocky Mountain Front.

Ride of they lives

They lay on pelts as they listened to a true mountain man and Lewis and Clark expert, in an outdoor classroom shared by students from the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation.

Mountain Man

An individual from the State Human Rights Office (brown skinned himself) drove ninety miles to share his stories and slides about African American families who settled the west and particularly Montana.

experience 001

Some of the students floated the Missouri River, others visited old forts, they climbed up to waterfalls, they got back on the horse they fell off and a few went fishing for the first time. One student in particular caught his first fish!

Pen Pals

Michelle Rhee contended in her resume and appeal for the DC Chancellor position that she and her Baltimore teaching stint were featured in admiring profiles on TV’s Good Morning America – The Home Show, as well as in print in The Wall Street Journal and The Hartford Courant.  G.F. Brandenburg, sheds some light on the real story of the admiring profiles  as being either outright lies or grave exaggerations of the mention of her and her class.

Arrival 002

This rings with irony for me, as around that time, reporting on education wasn’t nearly as popular as it is today. When the trip to Montana became a reality, my principal called The Washington Post to share what a wonderful thing one of her teachers was doing. The reply from the sardonic reporter she talked with was, “Did anyone die?” The Great Falls Tribune did however cover our visit with 4 articles and a column that still makes me teary when I read it.  The column was written by my father who was retired from the newspaper at that time.

column better

Oh, and by the way, I have the data. Although I would love to have the stats from their first year with me, I do have the CTBS data (standardized test of the time and the same of which Rhee’s students took).  The scores in the included graphs are from the beginning of their second year to the end of their second year with me as their teacher. Although at the time I was just pleased to have that as one more marker of their growth, I would have thought it absurd that one day those results would be the greatest marker of my success.

Ironically, I am certain this is what secured my rehiring by DC schools. Even more ironically in those four years I felt stifled and unable to utilize my rich knowledge and teaching skills with regularity. Not to mention, feeling devalued as one of those older, not-to-be-trusted, perhaps even bad teachers that must be replaced in order to reform education.

Math Ind Ind Lang

However, game on Michelle!  I would say this one year shines in comparison to what Brandenburg was able to recoup as evidence of your gains.

No professional would claim to have brought 90 percent of their students from below the 20 percentile to above the 90th percentile, but given the results I am curious to see how they did the year previously.

I don’t mention or show these scores to brag or even give them anywhere near the credence a “reformer,” would.  I show them because there was no teaching to the test, no test prep, no exact formula teaching that fits inside the rubric of the new teacher evaluations but there was trust by my superior in my abilities as a professional.

Individual Total Change

  Some of my students had losses (according to the test), some had terrific gains, there were chronic absences or other obstacles and problems. Yes, there were and are problems that a teacher could not and cannot fix!

Of course I continued to acquire skills and knowledge, through varied professional development opportunities and my own studies. I know that good professional development helps tremendously. That is why we are doing what we are doing here in Peru.

No telling how well my students would have done with that greater experience.  But there is really only so much a generic test can tell.

It is merely entertaining to go back and look at these scores in light of the last 4 years under the testing crazed Michelle Rhee regime.  Under that regime, I was ranked Effective for the first two years and apparently Developing this final year, which, despite constant changes in roles and expectations and plans, the last was actually my most effective year of the past four.  Every year the evaluation process was rife with discrepancies and inconsistencies.

I have caught up with students of that looped class and most seem to be well adjusted adults.  I’d like to think I had a small part in their successes… and more importantly in how they deal with their challenges.

going home bigger

Education is not the filling of a pail,

but the lighting of a fire.
William Butler Yeats 

Teach a Teacher and our Volunteers provide Professional Development and help teach basic teaching skills  to Teachers in some of the poorest areas in Peru.   Please visit us at www.teachateacher.org and www.teachateacher.wordpress.com and at teachateacher on Facebook.

Kelly J. Dwyer is Executive Director of Teach a Teacher Nonprofit.  A native of Montana. She has been an educator in the U.S. and internationally.   We live and focus most of our work in the Ancash region of Peru.

Steve Nelson: Education Isn’t Broken, Our Country Is

Teach a Teacher Nonprofit:

So inspiring, so correct:

Originally posted on Diane Ravitch's blog:

Some months ago, I added Steve Nelson to the honor roll of this blog because everything I read by this remarkable man made so much sense. He is the headmaster of the Calhoun School, a fine New York City private school.

Yet he isn’t looking out for the self-interest of the private schools and their pupils, but for the good of American children and our society.

In this article, Nelson surveys the media moaning over PISA scores and says that the critics have chosen the wrong target.

Our schools are not broken, he writes.

Our society is.

Here is a sample of his thinking, which I share and admire:

We don’t have an education problem in America. We have a social disease. It is as though we are starving our children to death and trying to fix it by investing in more scales so we can weigh them constantly.


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