I loved being a teacher (first grade, mostly) and I believe that I was a very good teacher. But it became increasingly painful to see what was/is happening in schools. There is an intense focus and reliance on “data-driven instruction” which in itself doesn’t need to be bad, as it can improve one’s teaching. But if you were to spend even one hour talking with talented, caring teachers, you would hear stories that would horrify you. In the “Race to the Top,” in a relentless pursuit of better test scores and more “effective” schools, we are ignoring the souls of children and teachers and principals -- you name it. The children are captive in our classrooms, 7 hours a day. If one does not purposefully try to put joy and creativity, and empathy and enthusiasm for life and learning into the school day (ignoring directives which require every classroom activity to address specific test standards and objectives), the classroom becomes a seven hour sentence in a grim workplace, for both teachers and students. You will hear stories -- No time for the briefest of morning meetings, where teachers greet kids and let them know that it is a treat to have them there. No time for a song. No activities with crayons! You’ll hear stories that tell of pep rallies during state-wide testing periods, where it is communicated to kids, both directly and indirectly, that their reason for being is to achieve high scores. Principals and teachers feeling intense pressure to perform, and very tidily passing that pressure on to seven and seventeen year-olds. (Ask teachers about kids who throw up on test days, or who rip up the test booklets before the test starts, a pre-emptive maneuver to avoid being the failure that feel they will be if they actually attempt the test.).
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I think it is a sin of omission -- we are doing a remarkable job of developing effective teaching strategies and teaching kids to be effective test takers. We are doing a horrible job of recognizing and addressing the humanity in our classrooms and our schools.
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If it makes you feel any better, I think that it is far worse for poor kids in city schools. Urban schools are MANIC about test scores, and gestapo-ish about what teachers may and may not do. And this in an environment where school is often THE ONLY place where kids hear messages about learning. I keep thinking that we may get kids to have better test scores, but in the process we get people who HATE school and think that they also hate learning, because we have provided them with such a distorted version of it.
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I’ve gotta say, that despite what is out there, I feel pretty good about what went on in my classroom. I know I tried, and succeeded at times, to get joy and humor in my classroom EVERY DAY, and to model excitement about learning, AND talked about some big ideas in life, at least at a first grade level. I NEVER gave stickers for ANYTHING. When there were behavior issues in the room, (and there were every year) I tried to manage them by having clear expectations and classroom routines (about things like moving through the room and school, entering and leaving the room, managing materials) and, most importantly by establishing relationships with kids and their families. Your kids do not need reward certificates for ANYTHING.
Monday, January 24, 2011
“A seven hour sentence in a grim workplace”
From an email from a recently-retired teacher (not in Iowa City):