Sunday, September 1, 2013

Rebel with a cause

It seems like this week has been all about dreams.  Martin Luther King's dreams, Syrian women and children's dreams - nightmares, actually - and students' dreams as a new school year begins.

My school year actually began three weeks ago.  We are on a "moderately" balanced calendar.  I don't hate it, especially when I have extra time off in October and April.  In August, I'm not as much of a fan.  As the school year began, so did the push.  The CCSS push.  According to "everyone," IT is coming.  We have to be ready.  There is much work to be done and our students will never make the bar.

Well, I've had enough.  This "movement" is not about kids.  It is not about education.  It is about money and about power.  If it was about kids, about learning, then we would be looking at how kids learn.  If we would only stop and do that, we could not possible continue down the automaton route prescribed by CCSS.  In fact, we would definitely turn and run as fast as we could in the opposite direction.  Sadly, the ones with the power - school administrators, most states' Heads of Education, the entire national Department of Education - refuse to see the truth, to stop and talk to the real practitioners, to talk to the very students they all profess to care so deeply about.

You see, the emperor truly has no clothes here.  There is literally no money to fund the programs and testing the CCSS requires.  This will mean only one thing: the very programs that make American education unique will be lost.  Our schools will be nothing more than "drill and kill" programs designed to produce the results required for teachers and administrators to keep their jobs.

Real learning is difficult to effectively measure.  Sure, there are ways to see if someone understand algebra (why they can understand it I'll never understand!), or chemistry, or even grammar.  But, how do you measure thinking?  Creativity?  Problem solving? Is there a way for someone to demonstrate the real process of writing in 60 - 90 minutes?  Two hours? How many published writers produce quality work in that timeframe?  Does the ability to identify the structure of a manual on using a laser printer show more insight and understanding than the ability to experience the unique qualities of a poem or to discuss the ways that The Diary of Anne Frank continues to be relevant to fourteen-year-olds even after almost 70 years?

There is real danger here.  I do not doubt that the main framers of the CCSS share my concern for the state of education in the U.S.  My problem?  Most of them have not accurately experienced public schools and what is being done currently across the country.  They may have attended public schools themselves, but they send their children to private schools - schools out of the financial reach of the majority of Americans.  Most have not spent any time working as an educator, attempting to make relevant curriculum that has no connection to kids who are worried about where they will sleep that night or what they will find when they go home.  They haven't seen the look on a child's face when they realize someone believes they are worth the time.  That they have something to say and someone will help them figure out how to say it.  That there is a safe place to share thinking, views, without being ridiculed.

And so I have become a rebel.  A rebel with a cause.  I will find ways to work around the box I'm forced into as a teacher.  I will not become a robot, simply spitting out "curriculum" meant to lead my students to "correct" answers.  I will not give up on the kids others turn away from: the ugly, the poor, the obnoxiously arrogant, the inquisitive, the yearning.  Any child that turns up in my classroom.

My cause is simple: let me teach.  Let my students learn by exploring, making mistakes, revising, talking.  I will not force-feed my students a one-size-fits-all curriculum.  I will differentiate and encourage, push, cajole, and threaten.  I will help every single student understand one thing: they matter.

I'm a rebel with a cause.  I hope others will join me.  Before it is too late.

Friday, June 28, 2013

She's baaaaccckkkkk!

It's been a long time.  Way too long.  I honestly thought I was taking a short break.  Yeah, right.  More than ONE YEAR later, I finally find myself ready to put myself back on the web again.This is really for me, so it doesn't really matter if anyone else reads this or not.  If you do, thank you!  But, it's okay if it's just me.  There are just too many things floating around in my head that need to get out.

This past school year almost did me in.  Almost proved all of my critics right.  I almost walked away.  I wanted to.  Part of me still does.  But I'm not going to.  I'm going to stay right where I am: in a classroom with 100+ students coming and going throughout a day, working hard to know them, to establish relationships, and to find ways to help them realize that English/Language Arts isn't the horrible, boring, scary class we (English teachers) have made it seem.

I want to take some time this summer to think here, to try and put some experiences in perspective while I also think ahead and maybe even find my excitement again for the year that is barely over the horizon.  So here I am.  Twisting and turning.  Again.

And it doesn't feel half bad.