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?


Anonymous said...

....I made it to RETIREMENT...but those last few years, where the educational plans of those who weren't in the classroom made those years difficult...Retirement was sad because I missed my students and what I could do/be for 7 years into Retirement, I'm at peace....let all those who are not in the classroom, spend a year (not a day) there...

MJ said...

Chills! Send it!