Q&A with veteran teacher, author, and blogger Larry Ferlazzo
By day, Larry Ferlazzo is an English and social studies teacher at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, California. In his spare time he has written 12 books and is the face behind the Classroom Q education week blog series.& Aas well as other blogs.
Ferlazzo’s blogs, which essentially bring together advice from educators and experts in response to pressing questions in the classroom, are always popular. A May 2022 blog post, “7 Ways Principals Can Support Teachers.” attracted over 10,000 readers and counting; a 2021 article, “What are the best strategies for small group teaching?” » ” drew more than 28,000.
Education Week had its own Q&A last month with the opinion contributor and award-winning teacher, to talk about his former career as a community organizer, how he manages to do it all now and the importance of relying on teachers to find solutions to classroom problems.
The resulting conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
How long have you been teaching and how have you seen the world of teaching evolve in recent years?
Just completed my 20th year in Burbank working with English Language Learners and IB [International Baccalaureate] students.
The school I worked in is an excellent school. It’s about one-third African American, one-third Latino, and one-third Southeast Asian, mostly Hmong, so it’s very diverse.
The students are great and we had a very supportive administration, so at my school that support has continued.
Certainly, nationally, the past three years have been different for all of us everywhere. Challenges faced by teachers related to the pandemic, attacks on teaching [about] systemic racism and difficulties in supporting gay and transgender youth have contributed to making the teaching profession much more difficult nationally.
Another thing the pandemic has made transparent is the lack of qualified leadership at the top of many school districts now that historically we teachers at the classroom level have been able to protect our students from reckless ideas. [such as failing to mandate masks or create online academies for students who did not want to or were not able to return to physical classrooms.]
How did the idea for Classroom Q&A come about and what is the writing process?
Yes, the series is entering its 12th year.
It is essentially based on [organizing] principle of subsidiarity, which is based on Catholicism: believing that the people most affected by the problem usually have excellent, if not the best, ideas on how to solve it.
By involving teachers and educators in formulating the questions and inviting educators, parents and students to find the answers to those questions and getting a lot of variety, we came up with some really great ideas.
Unfortunately, the world of education is filled with many people who don’t spend much time in the classroom or aren’t very connected to it, but who have very clear opinions about what should be done there, whether whether district superintendents or individuals. foundation leaders.
The idea of Classroom Q&A is to go to the sources and get people’s thoughts based on their experiences.
How do you access such a vast network of parents, teachers and students to find sources?
Well, for the past 14 years I’ve had my own resource–sharing blog for teachers, which has been quite popular. I was able to get in touch with teachers, and the teachers contributed to it.
I also use some social media, be it Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.
Over the years, I have been able to come into contact with many parents. I wrote a book about parent engagement and i also have another blog which is focused on parent engagement for two schools.
I think I’m quite respected by my network and I’ve learned a lot from them over the years.
How do you manage your time juggling so many different projects?
I have an extraordinarily supportive spouse, which helps me a lot, and I work at a great school where I can teach and not deal with a lot of internal politics related to dysfunctional school administration.
I also play pickleball and basketball, and that also gives me energy.
Our children are alone, which also frees up time, but I keep quite busy.
But it is exciting and energizing work. One of the reasons I write is to help me become a better teacher in the classroom. I learn so much from others.
Just as we tell students that writing helps us clarify our thinking, it does the same for all of us, whether you are a student or a teacher.
You have worked extensively with English language learners and ELL/ESL teachers. Can you tell us a bit more about your work?
My parents were immigrants and my father also taught English as a second language. My career as an organizer took place to a large extent around immigrant communities, so I had a particular interest in teaching English language learners.
Sacramento was a hub for Hmong refugees. My first year teaching in Burbank was an amazing experience.
I learned to teach high school students who had never been to school before, and that’s something very few high school teachers can say.
Our school had a significant number of English language learners, and my administrators, colleagues and I believe that good education for English language learners is good education for everyone.
Our administrators have always specifically sought out student English language learners [to teach]because it makes all teachers better.
In light of teacher shortages across the country, what advice would you give to improve teacher recruitment and retention?
It would be nice if district administrators didn’t see themselves as the smartest people in the room and invite the voices of teachers in the classroom, as well as parents and students, into the decision-making process.
In addition, it is necessary to provide fair wages and financial support.
[Staff in] our district last year had to go on an eight-day strike when the district proposed to cut our wages by increasing health care premiums. It was in the middle of a pandemic.
It wasn’t the decision that lifted the spirits of our district leaders the most.
Among all the work you have done for the series of questions and answers in class, are there elements that have stood out to you?
Each year, one of my favorite chronicles is when students recount their best moments at school. and what teachers did to make it happen.
These columns can be an excellent professional development series for any school district, anywhere.
Over the past two years, there have been dozens of posts related to helping teachers teach during the pandemic, whether it’s distance learningsimultaneous teachingor how schools can provide emotional support to students.
I think the blog has really done a great service, especially over the last two and a half years and during the first few months when the teachers were desperate. This is all new to us, how to cope.
On your personal site, you have a “best of” series by Larry Ferlazzo. What is the idea behind this?
After 13 to 14 years, there are like 2,400 different top listswhich are basically about any conceivable subject related to education and teaching containing resources, which I have curated.
These have been recommended by readers, ranging from how to teach students a growth mindset how best to implement restorative practices.
Based on the wide variety of work you have done, what insights have you drawn from the field of diversity education?
In the Q&A contributors in class, I work pretty hard to get a very diverse group of contributors. Now – and I could do better – but about 30-40% of contributors are educators of color, students of color, or parents of color.
I think we need to do a better job of culturally appropriate teaching, and reach out and recruit teachers of color, and most importantly, support them as well.
We need to realize that it’s not enough to bring a teacher of color into a Q&A session or to bring a teacher of color into a school.
That’s a first step, but if we really want to be effective teachers for our students and the American public school population, which is now a majority of students of color, we need to have teachers who reflect that.
I mean, most teachers are white, and that doesn’t mean we can’t effectively teach students of color, but we have to recognize and acknowledge that we have different backgrounds, experiences, and biases.
But, again, there are tons of great things happening in classrooms every day. Millions of students are having great experiences and teachers are doing a great job. It would be nice if there weren’t so many obstacles in our way.
Are there any upcoming projects that you are really looking forward to covering now?
Every time there’s a new Q&A year, there’s always a bunch of exciting new questions that I can learn from, and hopefully others can learn from.
We have some great questions for you, including: What one or two things would you say to your first-grade teacher?
There are so many great teachers, and it’s great that there are teachers of the year and stuff, but there are millions of teachers who are as good as anybody, and I’m just glad that EdWeek gave me the opportunity to tap into and share that expertise.
I know it’s corny to say this, but you know, if you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room.
So what’s exciting about Q&A is that it’s a virtual room and there are so many people who are smarter and better teachers than me. And it’s just a great opportunity to be able to learn.