Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I did it my way...

I began my teaching career in a classroom that had almost no textbooks. It wasn't in some remote village in a 'third world nation' but rather a marginally inner-city school in California, one of the top ten economies globally. I was teaching on an 'emergency credential' based on a wonderful letter of recommendation from the head of my previous union, M. Contreras, a valid BA degree, and passing scores on the CBEST and NTA exams.
Fortuitously, I had spent time in my mother's classroom, have a natural rapport with children, and learn quickly. I trusted my intuition and worked very hard with that first class of third graders. One of my principal assigned mentors had retired from teaching in a juvenile detention facility, another was a fellow teacher who could intimidate adults, but somehow I managed to bring compassion to the situation and gain the trust of my students.
With the help of our computer teacher, E. Armour, and our coordinator, J.Polite, I was able to pull together a 'curriculum' with the books that I was able to find around the school and materials that I purchased or borrowed. I was frequently at Kinko's making copies that would be clear enough to read.
I found 'core lit' books that were supposed to be for fourth and fifth grade and intuitively modeled comprehension strategies. Somehow I managed to get through the year unscarred and unscared by the LAUSD teaching profession.
The following year, I began an internship program where I got support from a network of mentor teachers. Everything was tailored to the needs of a new urban teacher. I took a great number of professional development classes in curriculum and management. Over the next two years, I got my credential as I honed my skills in the classroom. I even became a solid disciplinarian without having to become someone else (think Miss Nelson is Missing). I continued taking various professional developments and even managed to earn a bilingual credential.
I quickly became one of those teachers who parents request for their children and whose classroom the students wanted to be in. I was selected by my principal and a group of colleagues to be a mentor teacher and assist new teachers. My students' scores on standardized tests showed significant improvements. One year, my entire class scored above the 50th percentile (many scored 80th and above) in listening skills on the state test despite being English Language Learners.
Lest it seem that I'm trying to 'toot my own horn', my point is that I've been able to make a positive difference for my students. I even dealt with No Child Left Behind's scripted program and did whatever I could to make it work for my students.
I had one administrator who tried to mandate my methods of teaching, but upon seeing how well my class was progressing decided that I should keep doing whatever I had been doing, and help my grade level colleagues do the same.
Now, I am dealing with a principal who spent very little time in the classroom before climbing the career ladder. I don't begrudge her choices, but she does not have a good sense of what real teaching is. She mandates classroom schedules, pacing plans, and this year she mandated how I teach to force me to instruct 'whole group'.
Whole group means that five year old children sit through tedious scripted lesson for most of the time instead of being actively engaged in activity. I'm not even referring to the developmentally appropriate activities of painting, singing, socializing, dancing, building, and exploring. I'm referring to selecting books to browse, drawing pictures to develop their oral and written expression, cutting and pasting, and independently 'writing'.
My students suffered this year. Because of the "whole group mandate" I was unable to give them sufficient individual attention. This translates to my being unable to work on clear speech articulation, differentiated instruction, phonemic awareness, and explicit direction in letter formation (not exactly the cookies, milk, finger-painting, and nap-time of my kindergarten days). My insomnia went into overdrive, unable to sleep because I felt horrible weighing the choice of insubordination and failing my students.
Next year, she wants to mandate how my classroom will be set up? Everyone who has entered my classroom has commented positively. Kids want to be in my classroom, parents want their children to be in my classroom, even administrative visitors like the environment.
I have spent 21 years working on being the best teacher for the community I serve and I'm undermined by my principal and yet, I go online and find all kinds of teacher-bashing. I just wish that some of these people could walk a mile in my shoes. If they only walked a quarter mile, they'd recognize that there are dedicated teachers. And if they walked another half mile, they'd see that it's not teachers who are failing students.
As for next year, I think I'll do it my way.