Category Archives: John Harlow

Telling it Like it Is

So after a nice break, including another successful round of regents and an end of a semester, it’s time to start bringing the heat once again. We’ve only got a few months left in our second year of teaching, and somebody has to tell you like it is from the view of a young educator in New York City.

In my years studying Political Science at Whitworth University, I stood strongly against the entrenched powers of government. It was a very simple thing: those in power were Republican, and I more firmly identified with Democrats, and as such I utilized my education to critique the stance of those in power. However, as a student of Political Science, my interests moved farther and farther away from ideological positions to the position of effective government. I don’t care about Republicans or Democrats; I care about a government that adheres to the principles of good government. In the case of the United States I care about a government that is responsive to the Constitution and the interests and will of the people. As such, my criticism now turns to our new administration. I guess I’m destined to always be part of the counter-culture, even when counter culture is the culture.

Today Barack Obama addressed Congress. He stood before the lawmaking body and eloquently laid out his plans for economic reform. Speaking without pause, without stumble, and with passion, Obama laid out his views on what our nation needs. This charisma and call for change helped Barack Obama to conduct what we might soon call the most effective campaign in history. However, it’s no longer campaign season. Barack Obama has shown himself to be an excellent politician. The question now is can he go beyond the political grandstanding of Congressional speeches and actually lead our nation towards an effective government?

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Respect This

New teachers in the inner city always ask themselves the simple question, “Why won’t my kids respect me?” They wonder why the kid won’t just sit down and shut up when they say “Please sit down and be quiet”. In trainings we learn about the meaning of respect, and Teach for America among other teaching programs emphasizes the need for respect in our classroom. Teachers need to respect students and students need to respect their teachers. In addition, we need to respect families and communities. Inherent within this need for respect is an understanding of what respect is, and it seems to me that we often miss out on the process of defining respect and the need for respect.

In this blog, we wrote a daily aim regarding what to say if a student says that you don’t respect them. In essence, we pointed out that you shouldn’t allow that kind of talk in your classroom and respond with a rhetorical question. For example, “Why should I respect someone who doesn’t respect themselves enough to put the minimal effort into passing my class and graduating high school?” Essentially within this ideal, we do not emphasize that a teacher should disrespect their students, but rather emphasize that students should respect themselves first. In reflecting on respect, I think that further investigation is needed into how meaning for the word is created in different worlds.

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The Value of a Teacher

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. In the United States it also makes Jack a wealthy boy. Ever since human beings began to trade goods with one another, time became more and more valuable. The time and skill taken to cultivate a good would be reflected in its relative value because these elements create higher degrees of scarcity. In a post-industrial economy, we primarily exchange our money for services. The time and skill invested into training for a given service then is reflected in the cost for that service. Inevitability, the price for services comes back to the problem of scarcity. This holds true in nearly all professions except for one: teaching.

To be an effective teacher according to the standards established by the New York City Department of Education you need to juggle a lot of balls. First, you need to have engaging lessons to make learning fun for the students. Additionally, you need to differentiate those lessons so that each child has access to the information in the mode easiest for them and can produce a product that fits with their strengths and weaknesses. To be sure students are working with their strengths and weaknesses, you need to keep in depth data and share it with all stakeholders so that the students can choose their best route of education. You need to give essays and give each essay individual feedback. You need to give tests. You need to call home and try to reach out to the parents of every student. You need to keep track of all your students’ grades and attendance. You need to post student work and create a “text rich” environment. I think that’s about it…until the DoE tacks on another element to the Quality Review and Progress Report.

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Did Sports Lead the Way?

For some people, a sporting event is mere entertainment. It might have some appeal and aesthetic value, but in general it contains no higher meaning. For others like myself, sport transcends the play on the field and provides symbolic moments that embody entire movements. When the Seahawks went to the Super Bowl and lost to the evil Pittsburgh Steelers, that moment symbolized a move forward for the Northwest as whole. However, I must now apologize for the entire sporting scene of the Pacific Northwest. The Mariners became the first team to spend 100 million dollars and lose 100 games, the Sonics were so bad they moved to Oklahoma, and my Seahawks failed to live up to my preseason prediction of going to the Super Bowl, and I’m left cheering for draft picks. Those events have personal meanings, but often sports can provide meaning to an entire nation.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you now know that Barack Obama will become the 44th President of the United States of America. Furthermore, he will become the first non-white male president, and the first African-American president. Many people have said that this is the culmination of a 143 year struggle following the end of the Civil War. Interviewers have found individuals whose parents or grandparents were a part of the Civil Rights movements in the 1950’s and 1960’s who cannot believe that they are seeing the day when an African-American enters the White House.

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The Onus on Us

Teachers have many things to fear in the course of their career. For most teachers, their administration will enter their classrooms about six times for the dreaded observation. They enter the room looking for student work, writing folders, binders, note-taking, engagement, differentiation, and too many other things to list. Once a year, the pressure increases during the quality review, under which all that we do as teachers comes under the scrutiny of a microscope. Some middle schools already are experimenting with the “added value” system, which will likely be implemented in high schools next year, which could pave the way for merit pay. All this adds up to extreme pressure. As teachers, we face one of the most stressful jobs as we have the two-fold responsibility of educating children and meeting the expectations of policy makers.

In the new wave of education reform the focus of responsibility seems to have shifted heavily from students to teachers. If I remember correctly, when a student failed even when I was in high school, it was that students fault and it was their responsibility to rectify the situation. In the school I teach at, I’ve seen several teachers raked over the coals because of their passing rates. These teachers have had to review their grades and see which students they can “get to pass” so that they have better statistics. As a result, little Timmy who has a 44% test average ends up passing the class even though he has no evidence of actually mastering any of the skills that he should have during that year. Anyone who has been in a room grading regents knows the effect of this responsibility. No student will ever fail a test with a 54 or 64. Utilizing creative rubric interpretation points suddenly materialize and passing rates suddenly soar. When students approach graduation, suddenly an “independent study” takes the place of a required credit. So in a few hours of work, a student is able to get the credit that required an entire semester of work from others.

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Confessions of an Adrenaline Junkie

New York City is not my world. Crowds, tourists, and enclosed spaces represent three of my greatest pet peeves. Going to crowded bars encompasses these three elements, and makes me extremely anxious and on edge. More than these, I need adventure in my life. Of course in New York City we can have “adventures”, but I’ve never done anything in the City that makes me want to just scream with excitement. I used to do activities like that on a daily basis. In college, I never drank that much, never did drugs, because I’m addicted to one of the most powerful drugs around. Hi, my name’s John and I’m an adrenaline junkie.

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Don’t Fear the Reaper

Anytime you’re about to do something stupid courageous, a special moment exists. In this moment all the negative thoughts and fears go out the window and the only vision that you see is you reaching the goal flawlessly. Courage requires that you take action in that moment and hope for the best. In my own life I’ve worked on being able to take the leap in that moment and I’ve enjoyed the benefits of that mindset everyday as a teaching.

As a young kid, I remember being afraid of heights. I recall once not walking close to the edge of the viewing platform of Multnomah Falls because I simply couldn’t bear to look over the edge. However, sometime after that in my life, I found that jumping off ledges produced excitement. I began to take more and more risks while skiing. The small jumps I’d hit became forty foot table tops, and then eventually cliffs in the back-country. This newfound sense of adventure spilled over into other aspects of my life. I began to take up rock climbing and soon found myself climbing up to the edge of the cliff and rappelling down. Bridges over rivers and lakes soon became a challenge to conquer during the summer months. While on a trip in New Zealand, I accomplished one of my life goals and went bungee jumping. This transformation took time, but in every instance it took emphasizing the moment of clarity, and downplaying the fears in my own mind.

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