Wednesday, August 26, 2009

No One Else, No One Else Can Speak the Words On Your Lips

We live in a world where we are conditioned to believe that anyone (and everyone) is expendable. It is perhaps one outcome of the industrial revolution and the rise of factories and factory workers. "It's not personal, it's business" is said far too often. And it's said in too many of the wrong places.
In health care, there is an assumption that any doctor will do. Possibly a different doctor might be more skilled than a person's current doctor, but the relationship between doctor and patient needs to be born of trust, and trust needs to be developed. When a doctor knows and trusts a patient, he is more likely to listen more attentively. When that patient knows and trusts his doctor, he is more likely to follow advice. Yet, we increasingly are sent to HMO's (if we are fortunate enough to be insured) where any doctor'll do seems to be their MO; modus operandi.
This concept of everyone being expendable has also become more and more prevalent in education. All children take the same state assessments, and increasingly, are taught the same curriculum in the same manner.
But anybody who has or knows a child knows that every child is unique and special. Children do not all take their first steps, nor utter their first words at a specified time. And having acquired mobility and language, they do not all walk in lockstep, nor do they have the same speech and communication skills. They don't all grow at the same rate and when growth is completed, they are not all a unified size or shape. Children, much like adults, are all different.
This is perhaps why there is no one definitive guide to parenting, there could not be one. Every parent and every child is different.
Yet 'the powers that be' have mandated a uniform, cookie cutter mode of teaching, which I call "one size fits none". Research says this is ludicrous, the experiences of teachers and parents worldwide says this is ridiculous, and common sense (that most underused of all the senses) says that this is insanity.
On a daily basis, my head wants to implode from all these outer voices trying to impose a relationship between my students and me. At times I cannot sleep because of these voices and at other times, I can't force myself out of bed because of them.
Recently though, I've had another set of voices speaking to me, but they are speaking to my heart and my soul. They are the voices of former students. They are the voices of young people bravely facing a very chaotic, uncertain world. And they are telling me that I played a part in helping them face this world.
And instead of implosion, my heart wants to explode with pride. Pride that these former students who could have been dropouts, a significant statistical probability given their socio-economic and racial demographics, have met and surpassed my hopes for them. They have taken some piece of me with them into their futures.
And these voices remind me of why I teach. I teach for all the infinite possibilities and potentialities of these children. And they remind me that I am not an expendable commodity.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Shout! Shout! ... Let It All Out!

My postings usually start with song lyrics. Perhaps because the hooks speak so loudly to me. But as Tears for Fears wrote, "come on, I'm talking to you".
Today I did one of those things that truly scare me, I spoke out.
It began with an email I received that was sent to LAUSD's Superintendent, the Los Angeles School Board, and representatives of United Teachers of Los Angeles. Its author was venting about the salaries of LAUSD teachers.
He began with a litany of the expectations that are being placed on teachers: to innovate, to tailor instruction based on assessment, to engage all of their students. I immediately thought that he must be working for a different LAUSD. And I got mad.
I got mad, because if it were true that I was given the freedoms to teach my students based on their needs, I would once again love teaching.
In my anger, I wrote. I wrote about the conspicuously low expectations being placed on me. I am expected to regurgitate a scripted program with 'fidelity' according to a pre-determined schedule that I had NO part of designing. This schedule imposes time formats that contradict any research into the attention spans of five year old children.
I'm expected to be in lock-step with a pacing plan that takes for granted that children learn at different paces. I don't object to a pacing plan as a guideline, but when that pacing plan either bulldozes or stultifies my students, it needs amending. I am not expected to amend the plan to best suit my students.
And as for innovation? I am expected to open the teacher's edition and read what it says verbatim, even when it says to ask my students to 'predict' the next event in a story they've already heard four and five times.
If this blurb describing my 'expected' teaching format feels mind numbing, imagine how it feels to do this, and most importantly? How it feels to have this done to you. A classroom of bright, enthusiastic, energetic five year olds with unlimited potentials ahead of them are forcefed this drivel on a daily basis. And all that is expected of me is to force feed them.
(Smoothing my hair and pajama top calmly after my rant...) So I wrote about what is truly being expected of me.
Then I did a remarkably scary thing, I hit 'reply all'.
I sent out into the world my little notice of rebellion, my plea for the well-being of my students. And then I did something brave. I posted my letter for anyone to see on FaceBook and Twitter. I invited people to retweet my personal crusade for children.
There is a part of me that is afraid the district will send me to 'teacher jail', but there is a bigger part of me that hopes they try it. Bring it!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What's It All About, Alfie?

Sorry for my long absence...
While I haven't blogged in over a month, I have been busy tweeting. I've found that there is quite a vibrant community of people committed to making the world a better place. I don't necessarily agree with everything that everybody says, but I find it enlightening. I've begun bookmarking countless links to art projects, classroom ideas, grant writing opportunities, and mostly, thoughts on education reform.
Amongst the voices is Alfie Kohn. I will confess that I had never heard of him pre-Twitter, but several people I've been 'following' are his followers. I just re-tweeted him:
“One of the worst results of NCLB is that some of the finest [teachers] are planning early retirement” (Nel Noddings).
This so succinctly states what I've been feeling recently.
Don't misunderstand... I LOVE teaching. Being in a classroom with my students and being allowed to teach and learn with them is an amazing experience. It's the reason that I still recommend teaching to high school and college students. For me, teaching has been the ultimate "happy accident*"... I never intended to become a teacher, but once I became a teacher, it was the most perfect fit.
But the current social climate is all about teacher bashing. All the failures of education are the fault of teachers. Nobody seems to take into account that teachers have wholesalely been stripped of any ability to make decision for or about their classrooms. It's being omitted that we're bullied into force feeding our students scripted programs that present second and third rate stories in lieu of real children's literature. Never mind that we're set on schedules that defy any and all research about children's attention spans. And mostly, never mind that we're threatened when we aren't in lock-step with this one size fits none idiocy.
And so I take deep breaths and try to remember the words of Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

And on that note... goodnight.