We’re in the weeds now kiddo!

A colleague of mine once referred to No Child Left Behind as No Teacher Left Standing.  We laughed – later we cried – and now, speaking just for myself here, we are just plain depressed.

It matters not how diligent an educator is about keeping up with research and data, the stream of new initiatives is never ending.  My professional interest in developing curriculum notwithstanding, absorbing the Common Core standards in BOTH English Language Arts and Mathematics, locating resources for teaching – resources that are high quality and (with a nod to my own personal finances, free) are very seldom available, all takes time.

Instructional planning takes thought and consideration. This often means inventing something from the ground up, something tailored to help meet the needs of very diverse learners. I don’t mind that part as much as I mind getting the curriculum guides a weekend before I actually need to teach the unit.

I work with some terrifically talented grade level colleagues who willingly share – thank goodness!  We often meet on our own time and collaborate. If one of us finds something, we share with the others.  How lucky I am to work in such an environment.

Because what is happening in education now is putting such stress on teachers, that frustrations and emotions are nearly always at the surface.  And that feeling that we are all “in the weeds” just will not go away.


A small moment

It is a reward unlike any monetary bonus or plaque. I can’t speak for other educators, but I live for the moment when there is that small, fleeting glimmer that there has been a connection between students and teacher.

At this time in the school year, I am still sorting out student learning styles and personalities. Still trying to figure out how to engage some students or get out of the way of others.

I noticed one of my more quiet second language learners, one who hardly engages in eye contact, trying to avoid any engagement with me for several days. As part of interactive read-aloud, we had been working on verbal stems for acceptable (and polite! Politician take note!) discourse – “I agree with ____ because…..”, “I disagree with ____ because….”, “In addition to what ____ said, I think….”). This activity may sound stilted to you, but for my students who don’t really speak in sentences – second language or not – it is a critical building block for oral language, socially acceptable expression of opinions, and written language.

So yesterday, as we “discussed” the plot of Kevin Henkes Julius, Baby of the WorldI put my new friend on the spot. At first she did what many second language learners do – she shook her head no, she averted her eyes, and she locked her lips down. Those of you who know me, will know that wasn’t going to fly.

So gently, I fed her the stem…. and after 2 or 3 cajoling nudges, out came the most wonderful contribution to our discussion! And with that, a small glimmer of a smile previously hidden from me. The moment was so brief that I wasn’t sure I had caught it. But for this one student, it seemed to convey, a new confidence and a connection to not only me, but to the safety of our classroom group.

And that is exactly why I love teaching!

Standing up for what is important

It was at the end of our school day yesterday when one of my students matter-of-factly asked if I had heard about “the shooting”. Knowing about the violent incident this past weekend on a street near my elementary school, I waited for her to continue. Which she did. As if it weren’t something out of the ordinary, this 8-year-old described how her mother brought my students and her sibling to an upstairs bedroom where they would be safe from further gunfire. And this revelation led another student to share that he lived on the next street and also  heard gunshots.

Can I just be on the record that no 8-year-old should have to deal with this?

A few years ago, one of my students was nearly hit when a stray bullet went through the front window of her family’s apartment on the same street. When I asked what she did next, she told me she just got on the floor. Simple as that as if a bullet going through the front window was not that unusual.

So yesterday, when I heard about a walk, a community response event sponsored by several city neighborhood groups and UTEC (United Teen Equality Center), I felt the need to walk in support of my students, many of whom are exposed to violence and trauma in ways that are normally quite easy to shut out.

As the walkers traveled from City Hall in silence, I realized how easy it is to detach from the violence my own students deal with. This simple act, made it real – as one speaker said, tonight we would not be driving by, we would stop and reflect on the recent city violence.

I don’t have many answers for my students; they live in an environment that I, a product of white, middle-class upbringing, can hardly begin to imagine.

Eight-year-old or eighty-eight years old, violence is never an answer. Walking with those whose lives are highly impacted by such events made turning away impossible.

Am I Better Off?

If you listen to the pundits, the coming presidential election is boiled down to a single question: Am I better off today than I was 4 years ago?

I think it’s more complicated than a “yes” or “no”.

Certainly my family’s monetary worth is not better, however, I do not blame presidential policy for this. The damages were done long before the 2008 election.

Speaking of my own income, compensation has not increased much over the last several years. After 4 years of Mitt Romney gutting Massachusetts education funding (through state aid, etc.), there were and are draconian cuts to local school budgets. At one point in the last contract negotiations, a school committee negotiating member proposed a NEGATIVE raise. Several years lapsed with either a 0% raise or without a new contract, effectively a 0% raise as teachers worked at salary levels negotiated 1, 2 or more years earlier.

But that’s only the obvious. As school budgets were cut and personnel essential to supporting students disappeared, every line item was slashed. That includes supplies – supplies that teachers need to implement the very curriculum that we are held accountable for. Does this sound like Catch 22? The materials had to be procured somehow; guess where the funding came from? If you said out of my personal money, you would be on target.

In the last year, I’ve seen some improvement to school funding. There is a price to be paid for that – some of that policy I disagree with – but some positions have been restored. And for this change, I can say I am better off. Not restored to what things should be as there is much work to be done – but the fiscal improvements toward funding education are a step in the right direction.

My opinion is that the state of our country’s fiscal health was well-hidden by the previous administration.  The recovery process is only in its beginnings; the US economy – tied as it is to world economy and coming from a state of near collapse 4 years ago – is going to need a long recovery.

A simple yes or no answer to “Am I better off” really isn’t that helpful.

Start Up

The first days of a school year always challenge me. Often, I feel like I’m not, you know, getting anywhere. Last week (northeastern Massachusetts schools often begin before Labor Day unlike many districts inside of Route 123), was no different. As my students came into the classroom I came to the panicked realization that they weren’t even aware of the expectations for arrival routines!

What to teach that first day when there are so many critical and essential things to be taught when there are so many essentials? As an enthusiastic Daily Five fan, applying the 10 Steps to Independence to basics seems natural — we’ve applied it to walking in the hallway, to getting started on the day and closing off  a good day’s work, even to fire drill practice.

We’ve got a long way to go before the day moves seamlessly. But we are well on the way to student independence, to building an environment in which I can trust students to make good choices about their learning – an in which my  students can trust me to guide them when needed.