What do you want?

A friend of ours posted this article from the Washington Post yesterday. The Post article largely relies on a piece by Arthur H. Camins, and in my opinion rightly so.  Mr. Camins explores two essential questions that should be driving the dialogue about education and teaching: when do you persist to do your best and what kind of experience do you want for children in school?

It’s that second question that has been on my mind. And the experiences that my students – “my” children – have today is nothing even close to what I’d want them to experience.  In the last 10 days, 17 of the 23 have endured 2 days of standardized English Language Learner (ELL) ACCESS testing in reading, listening, and writing PLUS an additional one-to-one test session to assess their speaking skills. When we finished up last Thursday, even the native speaking kids applauded!

We’ve also had to test all of our students using Scholastic Math Inventory, District Benchmark, Unit post-testing, next unit pre-testing, and Scholastic Reading Inventory.

Lately it seems that if we’re not actually taking a test, we’re getting ready for one.  This is definitely NOT what I’d like my students to experience. Can we put the No. 2 pencils down now?

What would I like?

More time to play at recess. Social skills and executive function notwithstanding, such little time at recess means kids don’t have a chance to blow off some of that pent-up energy.

Opportunities to teach inquiry based science and social studies.  With all due respect to a former superintendent of schools, no, children do not learn science by reading a textbook.  They need to discover it.

A chance for a do-over when it is needed. Not every one “gets” a concept the first or even second time around. Lock-step learning is dumb on so many levels. When the children have a natural curiosity about exploring a topic we are in the midst of, we should be able to continue down that path without fear of falling behind.

Accountability is here to stay. I get that. But between the constant assessing, distrust of teachers as professionals who know how to do their job and the climate of privatization of education, have we allowed the bean counters to take all the joy out of learning?

I want my students to learn love learning and to question. That is what I want for “my” students.

It May Just Be a Good Time to Cry “Uncle”

I’ve heard all manner of reasons for why this year is exceptionally difficult.  I’m a believer in the Daily Five. It makes sense, it’s based on research – brain research AND literacy research. I saw my students grow.

But I feel that it is time to give it up.

The message I’ve been getting is that in order to follow the curriculum guides, particular lessons need to be implemented.  I tried to creatively roll these mandatory lessons into the CAFE, but sadly, there just isn’t time to do the CAFE justice.  Trying to do both the Daily Five/CAFE and the required curriculum is driving me insane.

So even though I believe the Daily Five/CAFE is a powerful tool toward helping my students become independent and become better readers than I ever thought possible, I am giving it up. Reading groups, here we go.

Sometimes it is better to admit defeat. But better for whom? Of that I’m not sure.


Some Safety Suggestions from the Peanut Gallery

Lots of schools districts – including the one in which I work – have been revisiting safety procedures since Newtown’s tragedy.  That’s a good thing. But as with many suggestions for educators, there are some incredibly myopic ideas out there.

Recently I heard the suggestions that educators plan room arrangements so that bookcases can be installed close to the classroom door. The thinking behind this is that, in cases of emergency, a teacher could push the bookcase in front of the door thereby providing a barrier to an armed intruder.

Well, I consider myself fairly strong after over year of strength and conditioning, but I can tell you it would take a lot more than my muscles to move a bookcase in front of an entry way in an emergency situation.  Not to mention classroom entry door open out into the hallway thereby allowing an intruder to simply open the door to gain entry.

If you truly want to know what may or may not work in safety situation, invite the people who might actually be in the situation in to the discussion. Any teacher or building administrator could have reminded a consultant of these two factors.

What might work? Well, that would probably cost more money than a school district is prepared to spend to retro-fit classrooms.  Currently, in order to lock the classroom door, I need to open the door and lock from the outside of the door.  Keeping the door locked and shut during the day means every time one of my students needs to use the bathroom during the day, a student would need to knock to regain entry to the classroom, thereby interrupting teaching and learning.

Two thoughts. One, change the door material from wood to steel. Two, install a dead bolt throw high up on the door (so that small inquisitive fingers don’t accidentally throw the bolt) that could lock the door within seconds while students are moving to safe spots in the classroom.

It’s a different environment we’re teaching in. Answers to school safety concerns will not be easy. What are your ideas?

With Gratitude

Teachers have taken it on the chin for quite a number of years. If the media are to be believed, we are a collective bunch of incompetents who need to be whipped into shape. And then Newtowne happened. A curtain lifted on the noblest of colleagues, who placed their own safety and protection secondary to their students.

What really made me start thinking about all the teachers who have helped me was this Story Corp segment. Wow, would that every teacher could hear from just one student who remembered what their teachers did that inspired them even into adulthood!

So here’s my thank you: Miss Buell, Mrs. Keefe, Ms. Brown, Mrs. Nichol, Mrs. Harrell, Mrs. Garten, Mrs. Hoffman….. thank you for inspiring me to love learning so that today I can try to teach my own students to love learning too!