Archive for the 'Nick McDaniels' Category

A White Teacher Has No License to Use the N-Word

2906486794_80400b009e_bBy Nick McDaniels

Within the last two weeks, a Baltimore City Schools teacher, a young, white woman, was publicly terminated from Baltimore City Schools as a cell phone video surfaced showing her using the n-word in class.

To be clear, I am not posting this to criticize this teacher. I am not posting this to analyze the context of her use of the word. I am not posting this to attempt to interpret her intent. I am not posting to attack her. I am not posting to defend her. In fact, I am not posting about her at all, or her use of the word.

I am posting to state one simple principle.

A white teacher has no license to use the n-word. Ever. It matters not the context in which you teach. It matters not how many times you have heard the n-word, nor in how many different contexts, nor with how many different meanings. It matters not how strong your relationships are with your students. It matters not how many years of teaching experience you have had. It matters not whether you are in front of students, or colleagues, or your friends from college. A white teacher has no license to use the n-word.

It is a problem, to be sure, if the word is already in the vocabulary, already in the heart and soul, of a white teacher. It is a problem added thereto if a white teacher feels compelled to use the word. These problems can be mitigated, however, if this rule is placed in the minds of future teachers as soon as possible and reminded to veteran teachers as often as possible.

A white teacher has no license to use the n-word.


The sky is not falling.  It only looks that way.

clouds-in-blue-sky-14094113785iyBy Nick McDaniels

We in the education community, many of us anyway, were not elated by the confirmed election of Donald Trump on Wednesday morning. My students, worried about what a Trump presidency means for our society, for their lives, were terrified. As I launched into my impromptu lessons about the powers of the president to quell fears on Wednesday, among the many questions I answered, among the many opinions my students voiced, one piece of wisdom from a student seemed to rise to the top: “our life probably won’t change that much…” a student said.

Frankly, he’s right. Or at least, I think so. George W. Bush will be remembered in history as one of the weakest presidents of all time and Barack Obama as one of the strongest.  Neither dramatically shifted the day-to-day life of the average American, each having eight years to do so. That is not to make light of their impact, because both unmistakably altered the American experience, nor of the importance of the presidency. But it is to say that the likelihood that a president as unconventional as Donald Trump, no matter his degree of crassness and hate, will drastically change the day-to-day life of the average American is fairly slim.

So if that is true then, with our societal fabric pulled to its tensest level in about half a century, it is not a mutually exclusive to suggest that both President Trump will not impact our day-to-day lives and that the sky is not falling. In fact, the reason I suggest that the sky is not falling has nothing to do with the person in the White House. It has to do with the students in my classroom.

I have never seen a more richly accommodating and empathetic generation of students as the one that is developing before my eyes in my classroom with each successive year. This generation of students is the response to the rhetoric of hate and divisiveness. They exhibit a generally more open and welcoming disposition toward others and their ideas. I have heard such a generality as the one I am putting forth confirmed by many of my colleagues.

So the sky isn’t falling because, in the ebb and flow of society and its politics, the response to what may seem a wrong turn for America, is already generationally positioned to control our country in just a few years. The sky is not falling, it only looks that way, because these students–my students and many others–are starting to pull the ground upward.

The Lost Art of the Implausible Multiple Choice Distractor*

board-361516_960_720By Nick McDaniels

*Note: Implausible Multiple Choice Distractors are not an art nor are they lost.

Sometimes, well, all the time, really, we in education, take assessments too seriously.  We research and practice writing the most effective multiple choice (or is it selected response?) answers (alternatives?). We add trial questions for next year’s test to this year’s test and we make sure that our data is as accurate (marketable?) as possible.  Of course, by we, I mean the corporate ed-reform testing giants and those complicit in their acts.

I, however, a run-of-the-mill classroom teacher and one of the fortunate few who still has the ability to write his own assessments, often try to deviate from the standardized-assessment norm. In fact, I’d say I regularly deviate by a few standard deviations from the standardized-assessment norm. But just because I think that standardized-assessment, the endless wave of question stems and A through D alternatives, is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse of good public education, doesn’t mean that I think that all multiple-choice questions are evil. In fact, I employ multiple choice on many of my in-class assessments. But that’s not what this post is about, really.

This post is about finding a way to use multiple-choice assessments in classrooms without triggering the multiple-choice test fatigue which has befallen our young people. I have not found a fool-proof solution to making my multiple choice tests seem less painful, boring, etc…. But I do regularly employ a cardinal sin of multiple choice alternative creation. I seize an opportunity for a play on words, a joke, etc… as a throw-away answer in almost every test I create. And students regularly start laughing during my quizzes. Enjoying a test? What? How could this be? Because, perhaps, I stopped taking my own tests so seriously?

In throwing away an answer every now and again, I am reducing my student’s chance of getting that one question wrong by 25%. I’m not really providing that much of an advantage am I, on a 20 question quiz?

I encourage you, as a teacher, to find a way to bring some joy back to assessments. You can do it! Here’s a corny example from my last Constitutional Law quiz:

Which Constitutional Clause was utilized by the Supreme Court to radically expand Congressional power during the 20th Century?

  1. Necessary and Proper
  2. Commerce
  3. Supremacy
  4. Santa

And when the first student reached this question of the quiz, his belly shook like a bowl full of jelly. Not really. But he did smile. That’s more joy than we see during most assessments. Lighten up. Have fun. And throw an answer to the wind every now and again; a Nobel Prize winner once said that the answers are blowin’ there, anyway.


The Brave New World of Today’s K-12 Student

september_11th_tribute_in_light_from_bayonne_new_jerseyBy Nick McDaniels

This year, as we mark the 15th anniversary of the events of September 11, 2001, it is apparent to me that today’s K-12 students have grown up in a post-9/11 world. Even the 18 to 20-year-olds have very few memories before that day, which, for me and many others, changed the way we operate in America.

You see, in today’s student’s world, profiling of arab-appearing people in the airport is the norm. Government tapping of phone calls and emails is the norm. So too are the seemingly unrelated experiences with high stakes testing of No Child Left Behind and later iterations.

Such a perspective that today’s students hold is worrisome for teachers my age and older. You see, my historical perspective is shaped by the way the world seemed before 9/11 and the way the world seemed after.

I cannot relate this dichotomy in a meaningful way to students without it seeming like “up hill both ways” nostalgia, which it surely isn’t. The world really changed in 2001 at an acute moment in time. This was not a slow, gradual, cultural shift.  The world was one way on September 10th, 2001, and then quite another by September 12.

I’m not sure what our duties are to our students regarding the world before and after, but it is an observation worth noting when it comes to helping students understand the world around them.


Fostering Positive Staff Morale

google-76522_960_720By Nick McDaniels

Lately, I have been listening to Laszlo Bock’ book Work Rules! on tape (I don’t want you to think I actually read during the summer). Mr. Bock is the Senior VP of People Operations at Google. While I rarely ever read or listen to self help, better-your-life, or better-your-company texts, this one, because it came out of Google, a company with a reputation for doing things differently in a lot of ways, but particularly as an employer, struck me as one that was worth checking out.

Some of it is certainly preachy, in that way that my generation, millenials, are preachy, by stating opinions as truth but being so cut-your-heart-out honest about everything, that everyone just wants to believe your words.

But some of it, the honesty of it, the statistical, research-based approach of Google’s People Operations, gave me a ton to think about that I could extrapolate to a school setting.

One of the thoughts I had while listening to Mr. Bock was inspired by his description of how Google’s employees, Googlers, helped shape one another, positively, through well-structured ways the Google allows co-workers to provide feedback to one-another.

In schools often, we don’t structure such time very well, or, if we do, it is done in a mentorship capacity, where there is still a veteran/novice dichotomy.

So I started to think of ways in which staff members of a school, operating at the same employment level (i.e. as teachers), could help support one another to improve staff morale.

Well, teachers, because the job is so challenging, often have to put their head down, work as hard as they can, just to take care of their own responsibilities. Because of this, they are often not able to support or lift up one another. This creates silos of isolation, which crushes morale, as everyone struggles alone.

As one simple suggestion, school administration, or a group of teachers, on a bi-weekly basis, could place blank greeting cards in teachers mail-boxes, and encourage, even by modeling, teachers to take the time, once every two weeks to write a nice note to a colleague. Perhaps, the note could contain a congratulations, a thank you, a note of support. Such a gesture, if structured in a regular way and performed consistently, would undoubtedly find its way ingrained into the school’s culture and would, in my opinion, boost morale. The key is though, that the effort must be structured and supported collectively, must not be mandatory, but must be made easy-to-complete.

This is, of course, one idea of the many that could flow from the important lesson of allowing same-level employees to support each other, improve each other, and build a positive staff culture through well-structured and consistent mechanisms.

I’m excited to think of more ideas in line with this thought. If you have one, please leave a comment.



Are you prepared to teach about the Presidential Election?

american-flag-1020853_960_720By Nick McDaniels

Because I am not. I split my time recently between participating in the American Federation of Teachers 100th Anniversary Convention and watching the Republican National Convention on television. As you might expect, the differences were striking, though the format was largely the same. But this post is not about my convention. This is about the big party conventions. I spent time watching speech after speech on TV, watching delegations leave the floor, watching convention rules of order crush dissent, and I reflected on what this historically entertaining election means for me as a teacher.

In the past, I have done what many teachers do. I harness the power of presidential elections to discuss the democratic process, the electoral college, the use of rhetoric. But this election, make no mistake, is decidedly different in the opportunity it affords for teachers. It is, of course, a sociologist’s dream, and, as such, creates many new ways to present to students our political process in this country.

But where I struggle, though the difference between this election cycle and any other one in my lifetime is clear, is how to teach this differently. Do I use Trump rhetoric to further my Teaching Tolerance-driven teaching? Or do I seize the historic moment of the strong possibility of Mrs. Clinton becoming the first female to occupy the oval office? I don’t know. I think because I am having so much trouble myself wrapping my head around this election and the media coverage thereof, I am struggling to come up with exciting ways to teach this election differently.

So here I blog, on my knees, pleading for some help! How do we help make sense of this election for our students? How do we teach our students about the ratings-boosting, shoot-from-the-hip style of one candidate and the same-as-it-ever-was cover-up the bad stuff style of another? How do we express to students that there are more than two choices? And more importantly, how do we, with two major candidates that very few people actually support, teach our students that they should still have hope for the democratic future of this country?

If you have an idea, leave a comment. Help me figure out how to teach this.



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