Once Upon A Time

There was a wicked, evil woman.  Her name was Renee’.  Renee’ was a teacher.  Renee’ had become a teacher because it was such an easy job.  Earning money by pretending to teach the poor village children.  Renee did not even work a full day and she had summers off.  Renee’ held several degrees but it was known throughout the land that she could not really “do” anything, she could only teach.  Poor sad, wicked Renee’.

This is the the story that we continually hear on the news.   It is pretty much the only story.   If people understood the sheer magnitude of work a teacher does, would they still begrudge them their pay?   If they came in and tried to run a classroom where nine of the kids with IEPs have been pushed in (without any of their aides), where many of the students cannot follow directions; would they understand how hard the job is?  Would they understand that the failure of a school is not all on the backs of the teachers?

Teachers tell themselves a story too.  – It is the parents fault.  I have a good lesson.  I should not have to adjust.  Those kids are just bad.  If I had more (fill in the blank) paper, help, crayons, books, support it would be perfect.  The other teachers before me didn’t do their job.

There might be some truths in these, just as we might find some truth in a stereotype; but it is not the whole truth.  It is easier to listen to just one story. Then we don’t have to weigh the pros and cons, think about the moral dilemma, reflect on our own shortcomings.

If we believe the “one” story, we believe that there is one reason for school failure.  Listening to the other stories helps to unlock all the issues.


Socially Awkward

There is a dichotomy in teaching.  I have had parents come to me and ask me how to fix their child.  What can they do to make him a better student, a better human being?  I try to answer them the best way I know how while in the back of my mind I am thinking, “Why do you think she knows any more than you?  She is making it up as she goes along!”  These parents think I know the answers, it’s a trap to believe that they are right.  Listening to these parents prevents me from reflecting on the work that I am doing and thinking about how to improve it.

On the other hand, I have parents that come in and tell me that I, we, the school are all wrong.  Everything we do is wrong.  I had a child hospitalized this week because she was suicidal.  We knew there was a problem with the child.  We had a safety plan in place for her and we have been begging the guardian since the beginning of school year to get her some counseling.  The guardian told me that “it is perfect at home, it is the fault of the school that she is in the hospital”.  When kids don’t feel safe, when their needs are not being met, we cannot teach them.  If the parents/guardians do not listen or believe us, we cannot help them either.

Things Fall Apart – The Centre Cannot Hold (Yeats)

Structure – First it was the ISBE State Standards and now it is the Common Core.  I actually liked the state standards.  They were pretty clear and they left enough wiggle room that you could build a magic lesson plan if you really tried hard.   (Ask me about the tiny little village we built as a geometry project.)  Then they upped the game.  The states moved to Common Core.  According to these new standards, students who had been tooling along just fine were now three years behind.  Don’t get me wrong.  It is important to have a framework to hang things on but it was as if we were playing a game and we were winning, so the other side decided to change the rules in the middle and make it harder for us to win.  I think that we need to consider moderation in all things…including overhauling our education system.

It seemed like a good idea at the time…

“We will make the teachers accountable!”  “We need standards!”  “All children will be proficient by 2014!”

The Republicans needed a rallying cry.  They needed an issue…and well, they had always thought that the public education needed an overhaul.  This was as good a time as any.  They brought forth the blessed words of St. Reagan in his reading from the Gospel, “A Nation at Risk”.

It is odd though; the original report did not suggest all the testing that we currently do.  According to Garland (2014) testing was only supposed to be at “at major transition points to identify either the need for remediation or advancement.”  Where did all this need for testing come from?

In my head, I play a scene where I compare Bush and his NCLB with the Caesars and their Colosseum.  It is almost as if  the crowd was crying for blood and Bush thought that giving them Education Reform and tests would keep the plebeians happy.  Of course, that fact that Bush was good buddies with the Chairman of Houghton Mifflon (the people that we all buy the standardized tests from) probably had nothing at all to do with it…

Neither Depth nor Intensity

If school reform is not made by the teachers, the students and the parents – the real stake-holders in public schools – it will have neither depth nor intensity.  We need only look at how the NCLB act increased the use of standardized tests across the nation; which in turn has caused very shallow teaching because teachers feel forced to teach to the test because their jobs are on the line.

All children cannot be taught the same way, neither should they be tested the same way.  To believe that using linear knowledge with all children will result in said children being proficient in all aspects of the test at a certain point in time is in the words of William ShakespeareStandardized Test -“It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”