Saturday, August 27, 2016

Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself

            Back when I was a new, young, naïve teacher, I assumed that it was in the best interests of everyone involved; teachers, administrators, teachers’ colleges, publishing houses, and the government that students succeeded. Over the last 27 years, I’ve learned how wrong I was.
I don’t want to be wrong. I would rather think that everyone who says they are concerned with American education really was concerned with American education. But they’re not. They’re concerned with keeping their jobs, with making more money, and with establishing a reputation (which leads to more money and prestige). Whether they do it consciously or through rationalization, they’re invested in failure.
            It’s failure that brings in the big money from government and from charitable organizations. It’s failure that allows crusaders to crusade and bring out their NEW! and IMPROVED!! resources and curricula for school districts across the country to adopt (especially the “urban” districts with classrooms full of children being raised by single mothers, grandparents, foster parents, or nobody)*. It’s failure that allows each generation of “gurus” from Columbia Teacher College to ride to the rescue with this generation’s child-centered, research-based, data-driven method that the nation’s teachers must learn in order to insure this generation of students graduate with even lower skills and knowledge than the previous generation, which graduated with fewer skills and less knowledge than the previous generation, which, etc. Of course, that’s not how they phrase it. We’re supposed to ignore the reality of the past 80 or so years and concentrate on the soothing buzzwords; “child-centered”, “progressive”, “data-driven”, “researched-based”, “higher order thinking skills”, etc.
And even though each generation is less knowledgeable and less scholastically competent than the previous one, none of the Columbia College gurus, textbook publishers, or politicians are ever held accountable, nor do they pay any price for their failure. It’s the students who pay the biggest price, and it’s the teachers and administrators who are held accountable (sort of**).
It’s the teachers who are mandated to put the latest rehashed theories into practice by using the methods foisted on them by the teachers’ college. When these methods fail, as all of them have, the method must not be questioned. The method, after all, is flawless. It’s research based, for heaven’s sake! It can only be the teachers’ fault. They did something wrong. I was hounded and threatened once until I allowed a carpet to be put in my classroom because Lucy Calkins insists that the class be given mini-lessons on the carpet. How can they have a mini-lesson on the carpet when there is no carpet?
And then there are the new bureaucratic paper work requirements. We need data walls, written daily objectives for all to see, lesson plans with differentiation, depth of knowledge, 5 Ds (or something like that) and daily common core standards. All of this new and improved paperwork will, of course, lead to greater student achievement because . . . because . . . because we are told that it will.
I’ve been a teacher in a small “urban” school district for the past 27 years. In that time I, like every other teacher, have been subjected to everything that has come down the pike. Before things became completely regimented and tightly conformed, I was allowed to learn and teach a phonetic language arts program for a very limited number of years. My students actually learned to read and comprehend what they read. I was able to read Shakespeare with fourth and fifth graders. I will be writing about these experiences and about things that are happening today in “urban” education. Stay tuned. There is a lot to write about, and I will get to as much as I can as often as I can. Comments are welcome.

*Notice that I didn’t refer to “minority” children. Skin color and ethnicity have nothing to do with their academic struggles. They are struggling because of poor and selfish choices their parents made and continue to make. You bet I’ll have more to say about that.

** Yeah, accountability, another post

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