Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
Photo courtesy of

Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

South Korean Journal -- Final Entries & Closing Reflections

August 9, 2010

Well, my final day in Korea has come. Since my hotel room had not been cleaned and the female manager insisted on tidying it up a bit (and never bothered to tell me when she was done), I ended up on the hotel lobby computer until very late and not asleep until after 2 a.m. Whoops!

After I finally woke up and felt somewhat rested after 10 a.m., I confirmed I could receive a later check-out and headed out for my run, which turned out to be more like a torturous walk in extreme heat for over 1.5 hours. Today I brought along my camera to capture some of the beautiful countryside on film, including the nearby pebble beach. I didn't want to leave!

Back at the hotel, I showered, ate a bit, caught some of Dreamgirls on TV, checked my email one last time, and was then shuttled to Incheon Airport only to discover my flight had been delayed by 6.5 hours to San Francisco. I now have to take another connecting flight to Las Vegas and then finally to DC, where I will supposedly arrive at 7:09 a.m. Tuesday morning EST. Oiy! Luckily, I have plenty of books, food, and interesting airport people to entertain me. I also took advantage of my complimentary United meal voucher with a delicious chicken curry and mango smoothie. Yum!

This time also affords me the opportunity to more critically reflect on my time here in Korea. With that, I have some other things about Korea attitudes and etiquette to add to my first list:

1. Never tip in a restaurant. They will find it offensive. If only this were true in the USA! Haha.
2. Koreans are often kinder to foreigners than to their own people. Worrying about their national identity and image, they want you to have a favorable impression of their country.
3. Walking around with a stern, unsmiling face and ignoring strangers are part of the Korean custom.
4. Be open-minded and non-judgmental as a tourist here!
5. There is very little crime here. I never felt uncomfortable walking alone at night, even in Seoul.
6. The main problem you will encounter in Korea is the scarcity of English speakers.
7. Get into a Confucian state of mind and show outward respect and generosity toward all of your elders!
8. Dress casually but neatly here, as you will always be judged by your appearance.
9. Wearing socks is more polite than bare feet.
10. Receive gifts using both hands.
11. Always bring a small gift with you when visiting someone's home. They will probably refuse it at first as to not look greedy, but it will be appreciated and opened later.
12. Koreans are fanatical and take everything seriously.
13. Life is competitive and stressful here, as there is no safety net provided by a welfare state.
14. Many Koreans are very fit and healthy/nutrition conscious.
15. Families are becoming much more Westernized and nuclear, with divorces and abortions being much more commonplace.
16. Koreans are some of the nicest and most generous people you will ever meet.

I could go on and on about what I have learned to do -- and NOT do -- here, but I think I have given you a solid glimpse into the daily life, customs, and values here in South Korea. I can genuinely say that Korea is one of my favorite countries I have ever visited. I am grateful for the unique opportunity to volunteer and teach the children of Jeju Island. That unique, unforgettable experience provided me with a much more authentic and comprehensive snapshot into Korean life and culture. I will always feel indebted to my time here and in awe at the smiles, generosity, kindness, and warmth the children -- and adults!! -- afforded to me each and every day here. A Koreans say all too well, "Gamsahamnida" (Thank you).

We will have to see whether next summer's adventure can match up to this once-in-a-lifetime experience....

Sunday, August 29, 2010

South Korean Journal -- Part VIII

August 8, 2010

This morning while on my run, it became obvious why I chose this hotel in the middle of nowhere to stay: it offers the most breathtaking country and ocean views. I always love exploring new places on foot, by running or walking, enjoying my new surroundings while attempting not to get lost (NOT always an easy task!). Today, I passed vast corn fields, authentic farm houses, a quaint local church, tiny houses, and a charming beach community, where the locals are friendly, dogs incessantly bark at me, and the views of the ocean never end. I even found a clean toilet to use (Seoul and its vicinity are known for their free, clean, and widely available public restroom facilities)! I will definitely need to see more of the beach before leaving tomorrow.

Another perk of staying in a small, family-owned hotel? Unlimited access to free high-speed Internet in the lobby. Yeah! I took full advantage of this opportunity for over an hour before taking the hotel shuttle to Incheon Airport and bus 6002 again to downtown Seoul.

Over the past few days, I've been thinking about the joys and challenges of international travel by yourself. After two weeks of no privacy and little to no free time, I was more than ready to experience Seoul for a few days solo. Ironically, Koreans are much more likely to be friendly, approach, and talk to you in English when you're alone than when you're in a small group or even with just one other person. I can't tell you how many smiles, curious looks, "Hello!"s, and peace signs and waves I got here in the city. Koreans, on the whole, are very kind, generous, and accommodating to foreigners, feeling an obligation to represent their country well and having pride in having you here -- wanting you to enjoy your entire experience in Korea. Perhaps Americans can learn something from this philosophy.

Back in Seoul, I boarded the Seoul City Tour Bus again, this time for the two-hour downtown tour that stops at over 27 destinations, including all of the city's major markets. I took our guide's private recommendation and hit up Myeong-Dong market. There, car-free narrow streets are seen as the fashion mecca of Seoul. I enjoyed purchasing several cheap and chic earrings, bookmarks, street food, and tops (which probably will not realistically fit me!). I stumbled upon The Foot Shop, where I got an awesome foot and full body massage for less than $35 (for over an hour = not bad!). The experience started with me soaking my feet in a fish-filled pool, where all of the fish carefully remove dead skin from your feet and lower legs. While it certainly tickled, the fish really did their job well, and I now have super smooth feet to show for it! Very cool.

I made it back to the bus stop with just a few minutes to spare before catching the last City Tour Bus of the night. I finished up the tour and enjoyed seeing the National Theatre, palaces, and the North Seoul Tower again. Not ready to head back to the boondocks yet, I jumped off the bus at the end of the tour, determined to find Namdaemun Market and somewhere to eat nearby. Luckily, I succeeded at both tasks! I found some awesome veggie fried rice with egg at a local hole-in-the-wall restaurant and thoroughly enjoyed spending some money on shirts, Korean tea, Jeju chocolates, traditional Korean chopsticks, fans, pens, fruit, and chocolate marshmallow bars. I bargained well too, though it is easier to do in China (at least from my own experience).

On a roll and having just consumed some of my favorite watermelon, I took a quick cab ride to Dongdaemun Market to see what the fuss was all about. Basically, it is a GIANT shopping area with wholesale and retail stores that caters to teens and 20-somethings (Yay; that still includes me!). Combining traditional markets with modern high-rise shopping malls, the area is clearly buzzing with activity all day long and never seems to completely close. You can get great deals on fashion and accessories here. I've been toying with the idea for a few months and finally decided to get a second ear piercing. Don't worry; the male piercer was completely safe and legitimate. I am now sporting a second hole with pink studs! You'd think that I was a teenager again or something...

With newly pierced ears, three bananas, OJ, green tea, and an ice cream in hand, I found a taxi and had a much easier time directing the driver to my hotel 65 km away. Somehow, it still cost me $75,000 won (about $60) with tip and toll, though. Boo!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

South Korean Journal -- Part VI

August 6, 2010

I really hated saying goodbye to the older kids today. Before they left, fellow volunteers Kate and Elena introduced their country of Russia, we viewed a beautiful slideshow of precious photos taken from the past week (Mr. Moon is a gifted photographer), and we exchanged gifts with the teens. I received a gorgeous watch from Hungnoon and a delicate handmade fan from Hyunjeong. I was surprised by how many of the teenagers were crying about having to leave (Not shockingly, none of my macho boys did! Hehe).

Immediately following the kids' departure, we enjoyed an elaborate feast of a lunch of prawns, eel, rice, fried veggies and fruit, sliced fresh veggies, kimchi, eggs, and seaweed. I stuck to the safer options to avoid any possible GI reactions.

With the kids gone, we spent the rest of the afternoon happily napping, cleaning up the school, walking, checking email, packing, giving one another silly hairstyles, and driving to downtown Jeju to shop and eat at the large E-Mart. I managed to buy several fun, cheap, and unnecessary items, of course!

August 7, 2010

Well, my time in Jeju has come to an end. I was able to sneak in a run/walk before cleaning up, takking photos with everyone, and having Mr. Moon drive us to the Jeju Airport. It was bittersweet saying goodbye to everyone, as we really have become like family these past two weeks. God-willing, our paths will all cross again someday.

A little over an hour flight later, I launched at Gimpo Airport in Seoul. After checking into my hotel, I took a bus to Incheon Airport, asked for the bus to downtown Seoul, took it, and then arrived in Gwanghwanum (right near the Koreana Hotel, where I stayed the night before leaving for Jeju). I explored the area on foot for an hour and then boarded a very cool double-decker Seoul City Tour bus for the Palace Cheonggye tour). For 1.5 hours, we drove to several famous Seoul sites, including Deoksugung, Cheonggye Plaza (where the Korean Information Center is). Dongdaenum Market (where I will try to do some serious damage at tomorrow!), Cheonggyecheon Museum, Seoul Folk Flea Market (by Hwanghak Bridge), Daekangno, Cheonggyeonggung Palace, Insadong, the Seoul Museum of History, and the Agricultural Museum. I really enjoyed having a glimpse of all the famous traditional palaces here.

Back downtown, I explored more of the area on foot and stumbled upon an open air music concert and three-on-three basketball tournament. Two older men saw to it that I had a cushion to sit on and even offered me food. How sweet! I ate a quick unhealthy dinner at McDonald's (I'm a bad American, I know) and then boarded a single-deck bus for a night tour of the city. I befriended three Korean University students, who spoke excellent English and gave me an insider's view into the city. On the tour, we saw Namdameun Market, Seogang Bridge, Mapo Bridge, the expressway, Hannan Bridge, Seongsu Bridge (Beautiful!), Cheonggye Plaza, and the North Seoul Tower, where we climbed to the tower entrance and saw spectacular aerial night views of the city. Some young Korean boys kept yelling "Hello!" to me, which I am more than used to now at this point in the trip.

The real laugh of the day came when I waited for my bus to come for over an hour (It never did) and was forced to hail a taxi back to my middle-of-nowhere countryside hotel, the Oceanside Hotel, located 60+ km from Seoul. I'm not quite sure WHY I chose to stay there, but at least it's very close to the Incheon Airport and has beautiful rural scenery. Oh well! Not being able to communicate in the other's language, the cab driver and I exchanged a lot of laughs trying to find this God-foresaken hotel. Over an hour and 65,000 won (about $50) later, we finally arrived at my hotel. Let's just say that I slept well tonight and enjoyed speaking to both of my parents for the first time in two weeks before bed. Goodnight!

South Korean Journal -- Part V

August 3, 2010

I am trying to get out to run and walk in the mornings as much as possible, though it is often difficult for me to log any kind of respectable mileage (by my coach's standards at least!) in such intense heat and humidity here, which can already be felt at 7 a.m. I have several marathons and my second JFK 50 Miler to prepare for this fall. I am trying not to beat myself up over this, though, as my time away in Korea was meant to be a welcome break from my usual hard year-round training. My training is bound to get back to normal (and where it needs to be) after this trip and our Utah adventure, especially once school resumes.

Meanwhile, my time in Korea continues to fly. And I must say that I am having "a damn good time," as fellow volunteer Zarina would say. Though the language barrier may be difficult and impossible at times, I am doing my best to make the most of everything, go with the flow, and treat this incredible experience as a real eye-opening cultural exchange. Not a bad idea.

Today we lived, breathed, and completely consumed ourselves with preparations for the global festival. It was challenging, tedious, and monotonous at times, but hopefully, ALL of our efforts will soon pay off!

Boy, am I exhausted! It was an excruciatingly long day but well worth all the efforts, I believe. All four of my performances went well, and the audience especially enjoyed my singing, which felt gratifying. I felt most proud of my solo of the American national anthem during our anthem medley and of our group's drum performance. We sounded like professionals! All of our practice certainly paid off. We were even reunited with the younger students from last week, whom I genuinely miss, and it was heart-breaking to have to say goodbye to them again, this time probably for good. :(

Many locals attended our cultural festival, including other international volunteers from another workcamp. One of them is a professional choreographer from Canada who performed a beautiful dance for us. It was a truly special evening filled with music, memories, laughs, hard work, and collective pride and desire for world peace. I certainly think we will all sleep well tonight...

August 5, 2010

I love the sound of soft rain hitting the roof in the wee hours of the morning. What a welcome invitation to sleep! Unfortunately, my alarm went off way too soon afterward. I ate a large breakfast and was delighted to learn that we had an extra hour before we had to leave (translation: just enough time for a long walk and alone time! I had already showered, so a good run was out of the question. Oh well).

After more sporadic bouts of downpour and a long, sleepy bus ride, we trekked one of the mountains on the island adjacent to Mt. Hala, which was about 1,200 meters high. I enjoyed leading everyone up in about half the time it's supposed to take to climb (Me? Competitive? Never! Haha). I impressed myself with my ability to remain relaxed and calm at the top, despite the severe drops and expansive panoramic views of towering mountains. My husband chuckles when I proclaim my fear of heights, as I have climbed some of the most difficult mountains in the world. My fear does exist, I know; it's just a matter of learning how to mentally control it. The mind is such a powerful thing.

Luckily, the sun came and stayed out, making it an ideal beach afternoon. I thoroughly enjoyed being a true Pisces and fish in the water, even when it started to rain. Unfortunately, we somehow lost the key to our van, so let's hope we're not here all night looking for it! Ahhhh!

It's hard to believe that I will be leaving Jeju in less than 48 hours. I have genuinely enjoyed the workcamp experience here and am already eager to enroll in a different camp in a new country next summer, if at all possible. Two main frustrations have arisen for me, though: the large amount of down time required to be with the kids (that could easily be turned into a bit of well-deserved down time for the volunteers) and the overwhelming majority of language being spoken in Korean. This cuases me to truly feel like an outsider at times. It also requires a great deal of effort to get to know the older kids, as they are SO shy and reluctant to speak English.

Regardless, I am still trying to make the most of this experience and become a better person for doing so. While we never found the van key and had to take the bus to downtown Jeju (while Mr. Moon drove back to his house for the spare key), we divided into our three teams (Mine is love, obviously!) and had dinner, etc. My group ate some really funky -- and a bit unappetizing -- Hawaiian-style pizza at Mr. Pizza. The salad bar was stuffed with what looked like everything but actual salad, even offering plain yogurt with cereal! Quite bizarre. We then headed to the ever-popular Digital Photo Picture Shop, where the nine of us posed in a tiny single photo booth for both serious and funny shots together. They will be memorable keepsakes indeed.

We ended the nigh playing fun board games at a downtown cafe and had ice cream from the Family Mart on the corner. I cannot tell you the amount of ice cream I've consumed in the past two weeks -- not to mention the two small slices of pizza tonight -- but I am beyond grateful for not a single GI reaction to any of it. Hopefully, I haven't jinxed myself!

South Korean Journal -- Part IV

August 1, 2010 (contd.)

Today we enjoyed a relaxing morning and then were picked up by Mr. Moon, the principal of Gotjawal Little School, for a day of exploring Jeju Island. And explore we did!

We began the afternoon by climbing one of the tallest peaks on the island. Even though none of us was appropriately dressed for the climb (I had on a blue dress that I quickly sweat through and my plantar fasciitis flip flops!), the breathtaking views at the top made the struggle and inconvenience worth it. I even enjoyed fishless sushi for lunch. How I am surprising myself!

After climbing the mountain, we visited a scenic pebble beach and then explored the 4/3 Jeju Peace Memorial. This building honors the lives of 30,000 people on the island who lost their lives to a bitter rebellion in the 1940s. Ninety percent of them were not Socialists but innocent citizens. That day of hell was 4/3/48.

We enjoyed a buffet dinner and then settled in for the evening. There is always a nice breeze in the evening, which makes for perfect sleeping weather. Yippee!

August 2, 2010

Today we met the older camp students (Korean ages: 14-17; actual ages: 13-15/16). There are six boys and seven girls, all of whom are kind, polite, easy-going, and happy to be at this international peace camp. We practiced our traditional Korean music program for the upcoming global festival, met the students, enjoyed a delicious Korean buffet lunch outside, dyed t-shirts using traditional Jeju green dye, colored in our fans, saw a short animated film on peace, discussed similarities and differences among us in pairs (I got to work with two rising eighth grade boys, one of whom speaks very good English), ate a healthy light dinner, played soccer with the kids (I even escaped for an hour-long walk by the mountains, which was heavenly!), and prepared to introduce the USA to the group again tomorrow morning.

This week is supposed to stay very hot and humid, unfortunately. I really found the heat unbearable today. However, Mr. Moon has promised to turn on the AC in the school we are at tomorrow. Yay!

On another note, I really wish the older kids here were better encouraged to step outside of their comfort zones and be forced to use more English daily here. Since their principal doesn't speak English at all and the five Korean counselors here prefer speaking Korean, the kids -- even the older ones now -- easily revert back to Korean in over ninety percent of their conversations here. This, I think, is a real shame and lost learning opportunity. So, I am taking it upon myself to engage the kids in conversation as much as possible and really experience a true cultural and linguistic exchange every day here. After all, isn't that what an international volunteer workcamp is all about?!

August 3, 2010

It is definitely harder to connect with the older kids now compared to the younger children from last week. While they technically know more English, they are much more shy and often do not feel comfortable speaking it aloud. They would much rather speak Korean and go through a translator. This is really a shame too. I keep trying to get them talking voluntarily in English but am often frustrated, as the students have their own cliques and ways of communicating with one another that I cannot understand. I often feel left out and that it takes me twice the time to get to know the students, compared to my Korean counterparts.

Today, I got to introduce the USA again, we practiced peace skits for tomorrow's global festival, enjoyed a delicious curry and English trifle lunch, played games with the kids, and spent the rest of the afternoon at the same park we visited last week to work on and finish our stone carvings (It seemed like we were there WAY too long!). The kids talked Mr. Moon into buying ice cream for all of us on the way home, which I was grateful NOT to have a reaction to (I am lactose intolerant). We ate a fish dinner, listened to a local family's drum performance (Very impressive!), and spent the rest of the night preparing "Stand by Me" and our national anthem medley for the festival. I am ready for ALL of our performances to be over with!

Do's and Don'ts of Korean Culture & Volunteering -- Part II

My do's and don'ts about Korean culture continue...

21. Korean black pork is quite famous; I happen to hate it.
22. Expect to do everything on the ground without much cushioning, even sleeping.
23. Your luggage WILL get lost en route from the USA to South Korea. Plan accordingly (and don't be like me and forget to pack extra underwear and clothes in your carry-on. Whoops!).
24. Koreans despise tanning and want to stay as while as possible. To do so, they sport umbrellas and arm sleeves to block out all UV rays.
25. Unlike China and DC, tap water here is actually safe to drink. Yay!
26. Korean MTV blows.
27. You CAN bargain for most goods and services here (I wish I knew this at the Jeju airport, where I was overcharged for a second suitcase, pink backpack, and tech sports tee).
28. Korean children -- and even adults -- are very nervous about speaking English to you. Insist that they do and encourage them, especially the children.
29. AC apparently doesn't exist here -- except if you are in an expensive foreigners' hotel in Seoul (ie: the Koreana Hotel where I stayed my first night here).
30. Korean rice wine is pungent -- and frankly disgusting!
31. Be prepared to volunteer with adults half your age (OK, well maybe I am exaggerating a bit here, but I am still 27 compared to a lot of 20 year olds here!).
32. Korean shoes, clothes, and underwear do not fit a normal average American female (ie: I am 5'9'' and weigh 145 lbs., and almost none of the clothes fit me).
33. When a Korean says a dish is not spicy, it is indeed VERY spicy.
34. Get used to taking a shower in freezing cold water (see #29 for the exception).
35. I feel sorry for any vegetarians here.
36. Most Koreans either think Americans are either too fat and lazy or too active and hard-working
(ie: the crazy American female runner who insists on running every morning).
37. International phone calls are FAR too expensive and difficult to make here. Use Skype instead!
38. I'm not sure if the rumor about Korean male parts is true, but I'm certainly not about to find out. Perhaps you can. Hehe.
39. You WILL sweat through all of your clothes on a daily basis here. Deal with it.
40. Koreans of the same sex have no problem showering together, especially the men.
41. When a Korean says you will leave at a certain time, add an hour.
42. A Korean traditional spa is not actually a spa. Instead, it is a massive series of locker rooms, showers,  pools and baths, and sauna rooms of varying temperatures. Expect to get over yourself and be butt naked in the showers and pools. I have never seen so many naked women in my life! If the sauna rooms are unisex, you will be blessed with two towels that are way too small and a simple shirt and shorts to wear (pink for women and blue for men. How cute!).
43. When sleeping over at a Korean spa, expect to receive a cheap mat to spend the night on with no blanket or pillow (Is this a problem?!). You may even have a small child (neutrally dressed in yellow) tyr to curl up next to you and unknowingly smack you in the head throughout the night. Yay!
44. Dunkin' Donuts here have fruit-filled donuts. Yum -- or not??
45. Learn to LOVE kimchi. I still do not.
46. Outside of Seoul, most Koreans do not speak English. Sorry.
47. You can buy anything at a Korean supermarket.
48. No Korean dog will like you.
49. You are cool if you wear anything with English writing on it, even if it makes absolutely NO sense to native English speakers. Who cares?!!
50. Expect to meet some of the most kind, tender, gentle, and generous souls EVER here.

Somehow I think my list of Korean do's and don'ts will only expand this week!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Can we close the achievement gap?

Here is a fascinating article passed onto me by my new fantastic Assistant Principal. Enjoy!


Closing the Achievement Gap: "All Children Can Learn"
"How many effective schools would you have to see to be persuaded of the educability of poor children? If your answer is more than one, then I submit that you have reasons of your own for preferring to believe that pupil performance derives from family background instead of school response to family background. We can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us. We already know more than we need to do that. Whether or not we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven't so far." -- Ronald Edmonds, Harvard University

The respondents to a recent Edutopia Poll [1] on closing the achievement gap appropriately recognized there is no single silver bullet that will result in eliminating the pernicious gaps in achievement that rob students of access to full participation in American society. Many of the educators, parents, and community members endorsed the survey probes and generated a list of convincing suggestions for closing gaps.

A review of research and the literature documenting best practices align well with the views of many poll respondents. The large body of evidence indicates to me that we can close gaps whenever and wherever we choose. The larger question, raised by survey respondent Tere, mirrors the question the late Harvard University education professor Ronald Edmonds raised nearly thirty years ago. Tere asks, "Now the question is, are we prepared and willing to do this?"

Nearly all educators are familiar with Edmonds's battle cry, "All children can learn." We also know that certain things must be in place for this to happen, including, but not limited to, varying instructional approaches to match the learning styles of students, differentiating instruction, providing access to high-quality preschool programs, consistently exposing students to high-quality instruction, generating support from families and communities, and consistently scaling up implementation of best-practice instructional strategies and approaches in all classrooms and in all content areas.

Schools and school districts that effectively implement these and other high-leverage strategies with fidelity are getting results. The challenge of closing the achievement gap in America has less to do with a knowledge gap and is more connected to a will gap evident across all sectors of American society. It seems that our historical failure to educate generations of children continues to be an acceptable outcome -- why else would we tolerate such a waste in human potential?

This is shameful, and it is time to reject the myths that provide excuses for action. It's time to stop blaming the victims, relying on nonschool factors to excuse our performance in schools, and accepting the poppycock that closing the achievement gap is a problem without a solution.

The will gap is a chief barrier to generating the focus, energy, and resources needed to overcome the dominant belief system that questions the ability of poor children, children of color, and children with limited English-speaking proficiency to master rigorous academic content and the ability of responsible adults to make a difference in the conditions inside and beyond the schoolhouse required to support gap-closing strategies and interventions. Edmonds's question "How many effective schools would you have to see to be persuaded of the educability of poor children?" is as pertinent now as when he raised it back in 1979.

The evidence continues to mount, clearly indicating that schools, school districts, and communities who have the will and passion to make a difference in the outcomes of all students have been successful in closing gaps.

·    Edmonds's pioneering work resulted in the identification of schools serving the most isolated, marginalized, and impoverished children and families that have been successful in their efforts to increase student achievement. (Download a PDF [2] of this very important paper -- "Revolutionary and Evolutionary: The Effective Schools Movement," by Lawrence W. Lezotte.)

·    James Comer's breakthrough work with many high-poverty schools using the School Development Program [3] to anchor their improvement efforts has been carefully documented and points the way to the resolution of problems not successfully addressed in many schools that fail to improve outcomes for their students.

·    Dr. Jeff Howard, founder of the Efficacy Institute [4], has several decades of research and frontline experience supporting the notion that "smart is not something you are; smart is something you can become." Howard argues that efficacy, coupled with effective effort, high expectations, high-quality curriculum, and good instruction, are the ingredients to promote high achievement.

·    Robert Moses's Algebra Project [5], which has challenged more than 10,000 learners in nearly thirty school districts, has made success in algebra possible for a large number of students who might have been destined to a minimum basic-skills experience in mathematics. The list goes on and on (Robert Marzano, Doug Reeves, Linda Darling-Hammond, Lauren Resnick, Belinda Williams, Joseph Johnson, Ron Ferguson, and many more), making it clear that we know what needs to be done.

Visit the Web site of the Education Trust [6], an advocacy group based in Washington, DC, to learn about schools and school districts that have increased the performance of students many others claim to be hard to teach. A lot of information is available to us today that was not available to educators of prior generations. The research basis for teaching and learning has improved dramatically over the years, and descriptions of best practices are more readily accessible due to advances in technology. We have many examples of strategies and interventions that have proven effective in educating children and youth that many in our schools and communities don't believe can be educated at higher levels.

I don't argue that we should not continue the research agenda -- that would be foolish. As much as we have learned about learning, pedagogy, brain function, motivation theory, and biochemistry, there is more to be learned that will help us to be even better at diagnosis and prescription to meet learner needs. Ongoing research is necessary, but we have enough knowledge to make a difference for the children who are showing up in our schools over the next several weeks. The empirical evidence is clear, compelling, consistent, and convincing. It is no longer a problem that we don't know what to do; the problem is that we lack the will to do that which is known to have a positive impact on closing gaps.
Poor children, children of color, children with limited English-speaking proficiency, and all other children adversely impacted by disadvantage are as capable as any other children in our society. They can succeed in school and master rigorous content. There can be no tolerance of alibis, excuses, or exceptions! Yes, many influences need to be addressed to wipe out the impact of being economically disadvantaged in a privileged, affluent society. This is important work and would make the job of educators somewhat less complicated. However, as educators, we cannot permit the failures of society to hinder our response to the pressing needs of children and youth.

Educators across the country know and understand that our work grows out of a moral imperative to create a fair and just society. Mission-oriented educators, working with parents, communities, and other strategic partners, have contributed to the development of a body of knowledge of what schools can do to be more effective in closing achievement gaps.

I thank Spiral Notebook for igniting an important community conversation focused on the issue of closing the achievement gap. The respondents inspired my participation in an ongoing conversation through postings on the blog. I look forward to interacting with you over the next several months on a variety of discussion on accelerating the achievement of all students.

Let's see what we can do to generate the will needed to get the job done for our children and youth. The input of educators, students, parents, community members, and others is encouraged to ensure the diversity needed to arrive at a shared understanding of what must be done to stop the waste of potential that is so evident when we allow massive gaps in achievement to persist.

The achievement gap is not a problem without a solution. We just need information on how to close the gap.

This article originally published on 9/5/2006

Edutopia: What Works in Public Education © 2009 The George Lucas Educational Foundation • All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

South Korea Journal II: The Do's and Don'ts of Korean Culture - Part I

August 1, 2010

How is it August already??! Wow, how time certainly does fly! I cannot believe I have been in Korea for only a week now, as it sees like a lot longer (only in a good way!). In this short period of time, I have learned a great deal about Korean life, traditions, and culture.

Here are some do's and don'ts I've come across thus far:

1. Do take your shoes off before entering any room or building ... ALWAYS.
2. Do be polite and always put others before yourself, even if it is inconvenient to do so.
3. Do expect to do everything as a group with little opportunity for individual reflections or escape time.
4. Do be prepared to get eaten alive by mosquitoes, and get acquainted with some nasty looking bugs, including cockroaches over 5 cm! In fact, we named our rented house The Cockroach Hotel!
5. Be ready to eat spicy kimchi with everything.
6. Bow to your elders and anyone in authority.
7. Be prepared to eat all of your food and meals while sitting cross-legged on the floor. We have never heard of chairs here.
8. Never wear an actual bathing suit -- or God forbid, a bikini! -- at the beach. Always prove your self-consciousness by wearing full shorts and a t-shirt in the water.
9. Get obsessed with one random American song and play/sing it constantly, especially if it is called "I;m Yours" by Jason Mraz.
10. Never put used toilet paper in the actual toilet. It always goes in the separate waste basket (Don't ask me on Earth WHY this is necessary!).
11. Be prepared for hot, humid summer days with daily rain showers. Hey, at least they actually cool things off for awhile!
12. Spend lots of time with the sweetest and most innocent, sheltered village children you'll ever meet. Why can't urban students back home be more like them?!
13. Never use a napkin while eating any meal or snack. It is wasteful. If you're lucky, though, you may receive a hot wet towel to wipe your hands.
14. Hand and dish soap are not really used here. Sorry! Bring your own wipes and hand sanitizer!
15. Don't attempt to be a blonde American female running in the heat on the side of the road and expect not to be stopped by several cars with the drivers looking concerned and asking in Korean whether you are OK. -- This is too cute!
16. Don't come here expecting to satisfy your lazy, voracious American sweet tooth. Sweet coffee and/or a rare chocolate bar purchased at the local E-Mart will have to suffice.
17. No, your American cell phones will NOT work in Korea, despite what Verizon may say.
18. When traveling in a large group of 11 volunteers, don't expect to always have things go your way. Instead, have patience, an open mind, and a willingness to do and see things that you may not have initially considered.
19. No, you are most likely not near a beach if you are volunteering on Jeju Island.
20. Sneak in Internet time on the head of school's computer whenever possible!

Please do not be offended by this list; I do use sarcasm, and this reflects only my personal experience while volunteer teaching in Korea. More of this list to come tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Back from Korea -- and ready to blog about my experiences!

SO, after over a month of traveling to South Korea and the Western USA, I am finally back in DC. Much of my time this week is consumed by preparing for the new school year, but I do want to take some time to document my amazing travel experiences.

I kept a journal on both trips and would like to transcribe them for you below. Both were phenomenal, life-changing experiences. I hope you enjoy reading about them!

SOUTH KOREA - July 31, 2010

Hello from Jeju Island in South Korea! I am here as an international volunteer with CADIP (out of Canada) teaching and traveling with five other volunteers and five Korean experts. For two weeks, we are working and playing with two groups of Korean children at the summer International Peace Camp at Gotjawal Little School, one with young middle school students and the other with older high school students.

Marking my midpoint here (I arrived in Korea on July 26), I am bursting with lots of different emotions. First and foremost, I am blown away by the kindness, youth, innocence, generosity, and all-around joy the young children here possess. Each day, the kids have boundless energy and are fully prepared to joyfully put their entire selves into each and every activity. They take us by the hand and want us to never leave their side, no matter what their mood or the weather may be. Very unlike my own eighth graders, these children do not need to be "plugged into" technology 24/7. Not once in our week together did they EVER mention TV, gaming systems, cell phones, iPods, or anything like that. Consequently, they emerge as some of the most carefree and happy kids I have ever met. Perhaps my own students could learn a great deal from them.

Summary of first week with the younger children:

Monday, 7/26 - arrival at airport; met and played with the kids
Tuesday, 7/27 - played with the kids and worked on original stone carvings in the park
Wednesday, 7/28 - lunch at a traditional restaurant and lots of good times at the beach!
Thursday, 7/29 - learned Korean traditional music and prepared for evening cultural festival where we arranged our own rendition of "Stand By Me" for the children (As a singer, I was in heaven!)
Friday, 7/30 - exchanged gifts and goodbyes with the younger kids; ate a nice lunch out; lots of driving across the island to key tourist destinations (including the beautiful waterfall and lonely stone!); ended day at a traditional Korean spa and sauna (More about that later!)
Saturday, 7/31 - enjoyed Korean spa again; did more sightseeing and traveling to another beach; visited an art gallery; toured a traditional folk village; and ate in downtown Jeju City