Thursday, March 25, 2010

We're gonna' make it after all...oh, no we're not...

Education reform, bold in its intentions, purportedly designed to close achievement gaps and to guarantee that every child at every grade level has achieved a standard gain in skills as determined by uniform assessments. The same assessments are given to every child at the same time in a particular grade. One-size-fits-all accountability, but the legislation also mandates the best practice of differentiation, perhaps creating 25 or more simultaneous individualized lessons while managing the physical, emotional and medical needs of the delightful, squirrely, and unpredictable children in our care.

I'm all in favor of making education the best it can be. As a teacher I constantly strive to innovate and to seek out the latest and best-proven strategies for helping each student to succeed. I work hard to craft lessons that engage, activate prior knowledge, encourage students to make connections, work with some level of autonomy, and have room for expressing their responses with a nod to their different learning styles and multiple intelligences. I do my best to stretch the rigid standards to allow for different levels of "readiness" to achieve success in our everyday activities. I make my decisions based on my knowledge of the students in my classes as acquired by data, observation, and my study of the content. It is my sincere goal that every student grows, no thrives while in my charge.The evaluation of my performance should be based on the work that I do, my lessons, my contact and cooperation with parents, my interactions with students, my professional knowledge in action on a day-to-day basis.

I would never write off a child, but those of us who have been around education know that there are some that may just not be ready to blossom during the fraction of time they are in our classes. Standardized education and its timetables, curriculum maps and learning calendars are misguided attempts to move kids down the assembly line. The truth is there can be a Teaching Calendar, but learning happens at different paces. Our students begin with many different starting lines, some way ahead, some further back, and the overwhelming majority of teachers I have met in both my teaching and educational consulting careers want every child to finish the marathon successfully.

And there are unspoken truths. Truth: The most powerful factors that affect a child's education are often outside the classroom. Truth: I differentiate instruction and design effective lessons, yet there are always students who don't bother to complete them.

Another unspoken truth: kids are different. I am the parent of a child who should be genetically designed for academic achievement. There are more teachers in her family than any other profession, both parents included. Our house is text-rich, we provide her cultural experiences, and this only child was raised in an environment of inclusive conversation, not by the Nickelodeon Network. Yet she's an educational minimalist, unmotivated by grades, taking a dispassionate view of most academic subjects. Because of her under performance on these standardized assessments our neighborhood high school would exclude her from the areas where she soars, the "extras." Thank goodness she's in an Arts School, a place where she can thrive in her passions while still being prodded along to maintain her studies.

So these bold reforms are for the children, right? Don't pay the teachers unless their students succeed on the tests. Restrict the curriculum so kids have a double or triple schedule of the subjects in which they fall behind. Eliminate the extras, and focus on the basics. That would be the plan for disaster for my child.

What really motivates this plan? In this Time Magazine opinion, Bloomberg and Klein tout reforms in NY City, proclaiming that "Sure, experience matters," but that the system that offers protection to veteran professionals is flawed and that the hope for the future is the "Energetic, new teacher." Experience matters? It's essential. So is the plan designed to help students, or to cycle in the energetic (less expensive) teacher and cycle out those protected by seniority(more expensive)? Teachers are to blame when the safety nets of society fail to catch the children. Clearly, the problem in education is the high teaching salary.

The salary was never high, it was barely a living wage. And now my two teaching income family is in real jeopardy. I cannot build a stable future for my family based on the work ethic and environmental factors that affect the performance of the children in my classroom. I cannot budget pay my bills and fund my child's college, my retirement, and my obligations to pay taxes and contribute to society. If you want to evaluate me, I say fine. Scrutinize my data and lesson books, observe me, put a camera in my classroom if you need to. But evaluate my performance. And for this household, with its two former teachers-of-the-year, willing to forgo the earning power of other professions to pursue the passion of the less lucrative teaching career, we find ourselves wondering what is our plan B?

Monday, March 15, 2010

A little post

I wish I had the energy to blog daily, but I've truly just returned home after leaving the house at 6:30 AM. And this isn't a complaint. I am blessed to be so busy. Busy with a good job and plenty of extra-curriculars. This weekend we celebrated health and the good life with our 4th Gate River Run, slower than the last, quicker than the first, but most importantly together for always. My post today, brief, tired, and grateful. And now, before bed, I must book the travel to bring my daughter to a Senior High School Prom, the likely topic of many a future post.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Listing 3:41 AM

Maybe it's the fact that I miss the therapy of the blog, or maybe it's the music running through my head, from Schubert to Sondheim, my brain perpetually practicing. Maybe it's the silence caused by my ear infection, or the 1/2 glass of Merlot at dinner, in combination with the decongestant and antibiotic. It could be the frustration over my viral school computer loaded with the next several weeks' lesson plans. Whatever it is, I am sitting at our home computer in the wee hours, two sleepy-eyed and confused cats at my feet. Without the daily routine, my head bursts with blog possibilities: the latest teen daughter developments, a new set of personal physical failings, the upcoming Gate River Run (our fourth), the one-year anniversary of the husband's lifting incident, and not least of all the anxiety and excitement found in my reunion with music and performing. Too many topics whirl around for me to dig into just one. I'll settle for this list, my self-indulgent little piece of writing about sitting and writing, and then return to the bed with the sleeping husband, confused cats, and warm compress to my infected ear.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Street Cred

With this week of consulting I've been considering how my schtick may have changed now that I'm a "real" teacher again. I really don't think that it has. I never thought that participants in my seminars would take all I say as The Word and The Truth. As an attendee in such trainings myself, I always thought that getting one good idea would make my time worthwhile. With this knowledge I have always worked hard to try to find an idea that may work for each teacher in attendance. In my nearly 8 years of consulting I never lived under the delusion that teachers were working under the best of conditions. The truth is, most of them work under conditions that are far worse than mine! I am in a school with wonderful kids, a supportive administrator, and really thoughtful and intelligent colleagues. Next year, maybe I'll be a full time consultant, a full time teacher, or a hybrid like this year. Either way, I think I've seen enough of the front line of education to be credible, street or not.