Friday, August 03, 2007
Getting back into the teaching mode...
Getting back into the mode...
I've moved, unpacked, settled, and explored, and after once again having the time and inclination to visit the blogs and websites of teachers I admire, I feel myself getting back into the teaching mode.
After visiting Doug's blog Borderland, I read Shauna's latest blog entry concerning her apprehension with her son starting preschool. I visited the Sylvan Learning Center website, entertaining the possibility of shaking up my own professional development paradigm by working at one of the centers this school year, and then checked out an article at NEA Today that had some fascinating responses to the question: what does the future hold for public education?
After 1) reading the responses, so many of them reaffirming my own opinions on the politics of education versus the reality of education, 2) being reminded of parental concerns thanks to Shauna's thoughts, 3) perusing a website where education really is a business, and 4) hearing Doug's teacher-thoughts echoing in my mind, I tried to determine where my own personal interest and focus falls each July or August as I prepare to meet another group of young learners. With the boost of an afternoon cup of coffee, my mind came up with a question instead of an answer:
Is a child's/student's intrinsic motivation to explore, learn, risk, and try being damaged or otherwise thwarted by the poor teaching practices of parents, teachers, and other education "professionals" as a partial result of NCLB's Test, Test, Test, Punish, Punish, Punish design?
Without gory details or my usual ramblings and recounting of classroom horror stories, I would have to respond, "yes, very often." It's a question I'll be trying to answer with more precise responses over time in the future, since I've been feeling for the last few years that I've been a good teacher in spite of NCLB, and not because of it. Until then, I'll share some quotes from notable responders to the NEA inquiry (while wishing that there had been some responses from "plain ol' parents" too):
Education Activist and Author "We will see a return to celebrating childhood, enjoying those immensely useful childlike qualities instead of squashing them. Instead of making 3-year-olds do "academic" worksheets, I imagine K–12th grade will look more like the kinder (children's) gardens of yesteryear, with everyone involved in serious activities. Playfulness, after all, is at the core of what strong intellectual work is all about."
Author "When I ask teachers what their long-term goals are for students, one response I hear almost everywhere is "lifelong learner." It's not just that we want them to know certain things but that we want them to keep wanting to know, not just that they're able to read but that they do read . . . and think, and question.
If we took this objective seriously, every educational practice and policy – from whether to assign homework to how to assess learning, from the size of classes and schools to the length of school days and years – would be evaluated primarily on the basis of how it affected kids' excitement about ideas. Higher achievement (let alone higher test scores) would never constitute a sufficient basis for doing something. If a proposal might well turn students off to a given topic, let alone to intellectual inquiry itself, it wouldn't stand a chance. And of course intrinsic motivation to learn would be the principal outcome variable used by educational researchers.
I believe that schools should and can make student interest their primary criterion, but I can't say whether they will. The likelihood of this transformation will depend on how willing we are to align our practices with our goals."
Educator/Rethinking Schools "Education is at a dangerous crossroads. While the federal government urges schools to close the achievement gap and work for equity, it endorses programs that teach compliance and rote answers. School districts write mission statements about creating citizens of the world, but more and more, they turn teachers into robotic hands to deliver education programs designed and shipped from sites outside of our classrooms.
The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation has pushed administrators to grab quick solutions to get a fast bump in their test scores. Instead of taking the time to build teacher capacity to improve instruction or creating schools as learning communities, more administrators opt for "boxed" professional development— from fill-in-the-blank writing curricula to stick-the-kid-on-the-computer reading and math programs.
But against this tide of top-down reform, a counter movement of resistance is surfacing. Many teachers are insisting that the real world must be at the heart of the curriculum, inspiring students to acquire the academic skills that help them understand self and society.
My vision for the future of education is that as teachers, as union members, we have the nerve, the audacity to struggle to nurture a curriculum that simultaneously responds to urgent social demands as well as the academic needs of our students."
In my mind, everyplace is a school or classroom. We'll see how it goes this year.