Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Back to the Dark Side

Oh, how I wish I was referring to chocolate, cookies, anything other than teaching. I've been a bit torn lately in fact, because I've found I've been spending more and more time reflecting upon home, family, creativity, emotions, and craft explorations than I have on teaching as our year-long stay in the Bordertown stretches on. Totally natural, I'm sure, but I'm going to have to dive head-first back into the Land of Public Education when I return to teaching kindergarten (hopefully this fall), and that means I'll be back to inservices, professional development days, collegial groups, and trying to pep-talk myself into demonstrating a rah-rah mood about the new learning community to which I will belong. School number four, back in Oz. Which hopefully will be pro-student, and pro-teaching, not pro-Kill-and-Drill-for-the-State-Assessments.

Baby steps, baby steps. So I've gone back to listening to podcasts related to education, visiting the blogs of some of my favorite teachers (their moods don't help, most are bummed out, burnt out, sick and tired), exploring web sites and blogs featuring actual kindergarten classrooms, and trying to leave meaningful comments at the posts that speak to my inner-teacher. Staying on top of my game requires that I continue my own education, formally and/or informally. This year, podcasts, online essays, e-books, and visits to Barnes and Noble to follow up on recommended reading suggestions have been the affordable way to go,and have kept me from having to choose a subject of study for a Master's program.

With NCLB and the attacks on students, teachers, and public education as a whole, I cringe at the thought of one day growing up to be a principal... of being a curriculum coordinator whose job it is merely to buy the the sole program and products approved by the government-approved corporations that have no scientific basis for their claims to fame and success...or the education professor at a university rehashing this whole nightmare for future generations of teachers. Nope, sorry, I'd rather do crafts. Make wreaths. Figure out how to read stories to blog visitors via podcasts. Learn more about digital photography. Lose myself in an antique store or flea market. Or wow, just TEACH.

I'd like to introduce my students to new forms of expression, to new authors, new voices. Encourage them to sing, to question, to discover, and to help others. To take chances, to forgive, to problem-solve. To laugh at knock-knock jokes, to encourage their friends, to persevere when an answer doesn't come easily. To try something new, to enjoy something not-so-new. To paint, to plant, to pretend. To read, to write, to communicate with a diverse group of people, to know they have value. It's wonderful when students realize that LMNOP is really "L-M-N-O-P," five letters, not one. It's even more rewarding when my students help one another celebrate an accomplishment like learning how to tie one's shoes, writing both first and last names, or reading a story. Sharing wonderful stories with parents about those moments they miss as a result of allowing me to spend so much time with their children is something I'm happy to do. Offering longer conferences, sending silly emails, keeping parents in the loop, inviting them to spend time with us.

Time spent actually teaching and guiding is a gift, not a chore to tolerate or endure. But the careful activism that seems to be required right now, advocating for my students, advocating for their future, advocating for their parents, advocating for my own children, advocating for my colleagues, and frankly, advocating for my job is a heavy burden. They're worth it, we're worth it, I'm worth it, but it is difficult. Unpleasant. And it takes away from what I feel I should be doing: opening finger paints, helping cut yarn, vacuuming sand out of the carpet from our sand table...whatever it takes to give my students an environment rich in kinesthetic, emotion-imprinting discoveries and inspirations.

Here's what I've been reading- some of them are lengthy, in-depth... all provide important information and viewpoints of which more parents should be aware...of which more new teachers should read up on if they ever hope to be "real" teachers and not just script readers and assessment administrators:
Drop Out Explosion: Wonder How Come:
"...teachers and principals are blamed and held "accountable," which reinvigorates all over again the inhumane and immoral practices that the Bush kind of tough-love exacts from educators turned into brutal bureaucrats. In order to keep their schools from being shut down or taken over by charter outfits or EMOs, the just-following-orders educators make sure the losers are shoved out, encouraged out, and pushed out in order to avoid their negative effect on school test performance."

A Nation at Risk: Burn in He** (outlines the scare tactic that has been used to great success to destroy public education):
"From an irrational faith in the ability of standardized tests to inspire greater learning, and from an unwillingness to finance more expensive tests that would sample critical thinking as well as basic skills, we’ve again narrowed the curriculum to “minimum competency,” precisely the 1970s standard that A Nation at Risk denounced. From a belief that an alleged decline in student achievement must be attributable to a decline in teacher quality, at best, or to malfeasance (‘low expectations’) of teachers, at worst, many districts have attempted to overcome this teacher incompetence by implementing scripted, or nearly so, curricula. We’ve attempted to focus teachers’ attention by a testing regime so rigid that it threatens to destroy teachers’ intrinsic motivation and their ability to address the full range of student difficulties that can only be diagnosed by creative teachers, student-by-student.

Again, this does not suggest that teachers are as well trained as they should be, as well-motivated as we would like them to be, or as student-oriented as they must be. But it is hard to defend the proposition that teachers, especially those of minority and disadvantaged children, have been sitting around making excuses for poor performance when these children have gained a full standard deviation in test score improvement in a single generation."

Mike in Texas posted "Get Those Test Scores Up or I'll Kill You" at his blog, Education in Texas (and oh yes, I left a comment):
"Of course, it had to have happened in Texas, where the drive to destroy public education began via high-stakes testing. A principal has threatened 'I will kill you all and kill myself.' if TAKS science scores don't improve."

(What galls me is that parents decided to pooh-pooh the teachers, when those same parents would have been the first to worry about and report the incident if it had happened in their own workplaces, or if their child had come home and told them that another student had made a similar threat. )

Endure. Teach in spite of the ever-increasing-list of obstacles. The students need me. Their parents need me.

I'm going to need a LOT of coffee.

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