Why Some teachers hate teaching Social Studies or why I flunked Math (part 1)

This post is half rant half research article review. This week I set the stage with an epiphany about why some teachers love teaching social studies, while others do not. Next week, will be more serious research and less punk rock.

Image result for sex pistols

Atlantic Journal

I write this blog because I feel like I am a good teacher. I actually feel I am a damn fine teacher, but I’m pretty sure I should keep that to myself. People find overconfidence annoying.

Other things that annoy teachers are things they don’t understand but are expected to teach, or worse yet, maybe they are things they HATE from their personal life that they are forced to, or simply decide not to teach.

I am always cognizant of one of my first experience observing a teacher for my undergrad. Our job was to go in and see the methodologies the teacher employed to teach in our core areas of focus, mine being social studies.

Mrs Petuna told me straight up she didn’t like teaching social studies. She talked about how she did it, but more or less begruguingly. She liked math and science. She also was very good at both.

I was amazed at the ease and dexterity she could employ while instructing her students in both. Her love of the subject and depth of content knowledge allowed her to easily extend the learning of some kids, while supporting others who were struggling. The question I had, was, how could someone so smart and talented not be interested in a subject that is clearly so essential to our students learning? How was she not moved by the stories, the objects, the places, the wars, the struggles for freedom,and the facinating cultures that roam our planet? How could a smart person not like something I ( a futurte damn fine teacher) liked? Simple: she just dosen’t like it.  Or that was how she felt.

It has taken a long time but I think I finally get it. In the past, I myself hated math. I had two math teachers in high school. Neither was as attractive or fun to talk to as the red head who sat behind me. They almost never talked about the Sex Pistols, or how much a jerk Regan was. They were always correcting my behavior and giving me bad grades. I hated math!

Now I don’t know who was Mr. Grant for Mrs. Petuna but I am guessing there was a pretty good reason why her Mrs Nesbit instilled in her, at best an ambivelance for history and social studies, or her own preferences got in the way with her connecting with the subject matter. (See redhead above)

The point is there are many reasons that people don’t connect with a certain subject, grade, or level of education. I have been trying to understand from a research perspective why teachers either don’t like teaching social studies, or what gets in the way of us teaching it well. I will happily say that what I am seeing is that many of the reasons are not maliscious, but sometimes really good people do stupid things. (myself included!)

So next week we will look a little deeper into why people don’t like, feel frightened, or just overwhelmed by how to teach social studies.

Happy Teaching!

What would Lucy Calkins do?

An example anchor chart from our friends in Portland

Are you one of those teachers who asks yourself WWLCD? (What would Lucy Calkins do?) Or are you one of those teachers who feels if Lucy said run out of a burning building, you would run back in? Or are you just afraid she is somewhere in her cloud fortress, knitting, drinking tea, and looking down omnipitantly , silently judging you?

Yeah, me too.

Many of my  co-workers  got to be whisked off  to the Big Apple to get the training right from Mecca. They returned enlightended, inspired, and with a bright new outlook on writing.

By the time I showed up at our school, they figured out this was way too expensive. They hired consultants and forced us to stay two weeks after school ended to learn the curriculum. As a side note this is the worst approach a school can take. It was the end of the year. People had no nerves left. They were raw, and cagey. It was a little bit like uping the torture on a prisioner of war. We sat motionless, taking our training in dutifully, and wondered if all of this was real?

Eventually we were released and as fall came, it was true: we would be teaching like Lucy would do….

And its been good. I had been out of teaching since the mid 2000s.  I started working in fourth grade; a younger age than I was used to. There was so much to learn. I had been teaching middle school, and the developmental differences are deceptively huge . Lucy gave me the tools to talk about writing. I got time limits on what I could say.  I got scripted teaching points, and mentor texts picked out for me. Best of all I could make, (or my school could buy from the massive LC merch machine) nifty gospels called Anchor Charts that summed up what good writers/readers do.

But,  I have more than once been in fear that I have strayed from the path. That I have imposed an idea about a subject and basicaly told my kids what and how to write.  Lucy sayeth:

In a writing workshop, a lot of actual writing happens in the classroom and right then and there, teachers give feedback and kids give each other feedback, too. Revision often begins before a draft is completed. There’s more of an emphasis on teaching in the midst of writing. (Calkins 2016)

I feel I have been doing this for sure.  My kids write after the mini lesson. They sign up on a parking lot. They come see me. I ask what their questions areor concerns are. I take that moment to do some teaching/suggesting.

But sometimes, when deadlines are approaching., when the most appauling thing a child can find about Japaenese Incarceration was “they had to share bathrooms with other famalies,” I lose it a little.

I write all over their papers. I highlight parts of their research for them and ask them to read it aloud, and then explain it for me. I give them sentence starters like” Harvey Milk’s agenda included…” I take them back to their original research even when the due date is tomorrow and find out when and why the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed . 

I have them look at passages and write the main ideas, causes and effects, then ask them to explain it back, often leading them to a point or idea. I think I have done what Lucy wouldn’t do. I worry that the gods on Mount Columbia College may be vengeful!

Mary Ehrenworth, Deputy D of TCPWP , hath  warned not to turn to a path where:

“kids are supposed to be compliant writers, and all they’re doing is flipping through the pages of a text looking for evidence of the teacher’s idea.”

So I worry I have sinned. That I have strayed into old ways of just correcting and not teaching. I see posts like this and run for the shadows in shame!

But  besides craft, sometimes I need kids to learn to learn about what they are writing. I need to teach them about people, places, and events. I need to put in their hands the things that will help them learn indisputable facts, and tell them  GOOD WRITERS WOULD INCLUDE THIS IN THEIR PAPER!

The kid who was missing  the horrors of the incarceration of Japanese Americans figured out on his own that he needed to talk about the bombing of Pearl Harbor first. He also knew he had to talk about American misconceptions about Japanese Americans and Order 9066.

But what his writing lacked was the evidence. He knew the bombing was bad, but he didn’t know he needed to site numbers of ships sunk and deaths associated with the fifteen minute attack.  He listed a few facts about the  conditions in Japanese Icarseration camps, but had to learn that he needed to support it with fining out there were 120,000 people wrongly imprisoned.

I taught him about Fred Karimatsu, discussed seeing his daughter speak and hearing her story about finding out from a textbook in middle school that her father had defied 9066 and taken it to the Supreme Court. I found a bio on his foundation’s website and walked my student through some of the harder bits to tweak out the importance of Fred as a Civil Rights hero.

So, I am left wondering ” Am I not letting my kids grow as writers? Am I screwing up my ten minute mini lessons? Are my metor texts not mentoring enough?”

I may never know the answer to these questions but now Max knows who Fred Karimatzu is.