0198: Permission to teach or a trap: When evaluators start speaking of #freedom in the #classroom
It’s time to start writing again. First, the third party lords of our schools are back at work. And, I’m getting more and more spam from sites that want me to call upon my inner seventh grader.
Yesterday we had a meeting about questioning and shifting to a more constructivist style of teaching. Of course, the explanation was very vague and condensed. The presenter did a fabulous job of saying: “you [the faculty] teach in an antiquated manner. You must replace your broken teaching style with this new one, and then figure out how to also prepare your students for the test that measures the old way…and while we’re at it, we will be evaluating you with this new form.”
I am not opposed to a style of education that is more liberating. Students actively constructing their own knowledge and understanding optimizing their personal skill sets and developing new ones is marvelous. I strive for that in my classroom…when it’s possible. There is no doubt that I have some hang ups with this cavalier attempt to reform this school and district.
For starters, I’m concerned that teachers here will be evaluated with a corporate instrument that is designed to measure a teacher’s implementation of practices that very few understand. I gather the instrument will seek to quantify something that isn’t terribly quantifiable unless heavily deconstructed.
Further, teachers around me already smell the next best thing. Utterances of “this too shall pass” were audible in the meeting. There will be little to no training beyond the simple “here are some strategies we will be looking to see you use.” An entire philosophical construct will be reduced to mere strategies.
Finally, they recommended teaching less content in order to allow the students develop their own understanding. Help them learn deeper. A fantastic idea, but will the test change? Are we going to have time to help learners adjust? Will teachers have a chance to adjust?
Is this a trap or permission to really teach?
0197: A broken Hallelujah, of sorts, but a warm one
#education #teaching #life #humanity @CletisStump @dloitz
It’s Christmas Eve, or the start of it at least, and I can’t seem to stay asleep. I haven’t been able to really write for the past few months—not consistently. Things have been topsy turvy at best personally and professionally. As a teacher, I’ve been in a haze, as a human I’ve been more awake then ever before. And to avoid being completely obtuse I’ll be flat out truthful. We almost lost my mother-in-law a few months ago, my focus shifted to supporting my wife. She’s still recovering, but doing so nicely. Then, after that seemed to be clearing up, my wife was in a head on collision. She called my from the accident when she came to, before or after calling for help. She told me “I’ve been in a head on collision, and I can’t move.” I was on lunch duty. I walked out grabbed my things, and told my principal I had to go. He took care of things that day and the next. My wife is still recovering, by the way, and back at work. Not paralyzed. Still struggling though.
A week or so later, the school shootings. A colleague shared with me that one of her grown personal children had been attacked by their spouse. Attempted murder. Just blow after blow. And, of course, the punches keep on coming. Out of it all, the adage, “Any day above ground is a good one.” comes to mind. A bar tender in college told me that. That bit of wisdom passed to me through a most perfect human interaction has brought me such joy; rather, it has made me aware of the joyous things right before me in such a seemingly bleak time.
And this moment of joy reminds me of why I teach. Teaching is one of those jobs that allows for, demands even, that we connect with our fellow human being. We are not teachers to meet some quota, or make test scores happen, or discipline people, or train automatons, or even happily keep our jobs. We exist to help make possible the awakening of a consciousness from this dismal world of subsidized slumber. We hope beyond hope to be a part of the humanization of another and to join in the mutual benefit from that moment.
I’ve tried to revive my hope in my chosen profession, to much avail, through philosophical ponderings and pontification. And it is bleak. It’s the system and its trappings that are bleak, not us. We are human beings. We teach human beings. If ever I have had reason to write a Hallelujah, this is it. Cheers dear friends.
I was giving my students a stern talking to this afternoon, what my grandmother would have called a “come to Jesus meeting”. An evaluator walked in in the middle of our “meeting”. I continued as usual. The kids have given up, or have just decided they’re finished trying until after the holiday break. I understand. These things happen. Sometimes we all need a little motivation, even if it’s a little stern, a little loving, and a little not in line with the chosen objective that’s on the lesson plan on the board. I will hurry to my box in the morning to see what charming remarks my dear friend left me. We have to teach. I have to teach. Nothing happens if I keep jumping through their hoops.
0196: Living with Pirates on Your Ship…and getting back to the teaching.
#education #learning #k12 #piracy
I’ve written a series of depressing posts. Perhaps I’m in my blue period as a teacher. I certainly find the mess surrounding me depressing. My conversations with teachers at my school are similarly hopeless. But, we are not without hope. Before proceeding, the juxtaposition of my position, and the position of the students I serve and the educational bliss experienced by the kids and teachers across the railroad tracks is a bit disheartening at first glance.
What is “my” situation? Why is it so awful? Is it as awful as I perceive? What can I do?
To begin, I am not without hope or fight. I am greatly concerned for my students and the teachers with whom I share this sinking ship. Our vessel has been boarded by pirates who have the golden elixir that will systematically heal all that ails us. I could have called it a coup. Intervention is too benevolent of a term. You intervene when you care, not when you wish to take control. And that’s what’s happening here (and in many other places). Our “interventionists” are here to “organize” our already ineffective system into a smooth operating system that will close the achievement gap and heal the societal wrongs that can only be measured with a standardized test. How can this be done?, you may ask. You take an existing structure that is dying or in crisis (a created crisis, mind you) and you hire outsiders. Pay them at least three times as much as the teachers. It never hurts if they drive and wear their wealth. It makes it easier to distinguish the teachers from the saviors. These saviors will bring with them a plan to be implemented by the teachers and administration. It will involve a lot of paper work and extra meetings. In these meetings teachers should analyze every aspect of the school function, from finance to curriculum. The kicker is that you must ask the teachers for suggestions how to make improvements and then shoot them down kindly. Say something like, “that’s a really great idea, but it probably won’t work for us.” Do this until teachers understand that their voice will not be heard. Also, pit teachers against one another in meetings. Give then things to debate and use emotional topics to divide them. Or better yet, just frustrate them with opposing ideas that could never be mitigated. And so on so on so forth.
We have three outside organizations in our school working to help us “fix” the problem. That comes to approximately 3 evals a week with at least 4 more walk throughs. We have quality in house academic coaches by the way, but they’ve been deluged with even more paperwork. We’re under constant surveillance. We’re internalizing that and beginning to function as we are being watched constantly, and not to the betterment of our students. We’re following a simple algorithm for staying out of trouble, not teaching.
The answer? Conversation. We, as a faculty have to talk. We have to join forces. I’ve seen it work before. The faculty came together and agreed to teach regardless of the outside forces. We supported each other. We banded together. We talked. We became closer in and out of the work place. We made a huge impact on our students, each other, and not surprisingly test scores. We’re just a little further down the hole here. This faculty has been incredibly divided for some time now, but the other one was too. That’s the answer, we have to give voice to our problems. We have to wade through the never ending pile of papers and constant observations and observed meetings and really work together. I don’t know if I’m in a position to do this at this school, at least not overtly. We’ll see what happens.
And, then to tackle this on the systemic piracy.
0195: Drowning as an Educator or Finding the Surface
#education #teaching #SOS
Over the past few weeks I’ve struggled with my problem with top down models of education. I attempted to allow the thought “this is for the greater good” into my mind. I tried to hold it in my mind and make it fit. It only made me sick the way the body rejects foreign objects. I’ve labored over the necessity of my concern. Will contemplation of this directly benefit my students? Will it benefit me? Or should I simply give in and follow orders in order to be at peace? If I can’t fall in like with the system perhaps I should quit? Is resistance futile?
I’ve also questioned the purpose of writing and publishing these internal quarrels. Do I write to benefit others? Am I simply an exhibitionist? Am I writing so someone, anyone, will hear my cry as my ship sinks slowly? Am I looking for a rescue? Support? Perhaps I’m planting a revolutionary seed that will grow beyond my imagination? I hope all of the above are true. That is for you who finds this message in a bottle to decide.
But, back to my original aim and/or question: should I resist or acquiesce? Certainly, if you are familiar with me or my rantings and raving you know that acquiescence is not an option. Compromise is a possibility and is best, but is not always possible. I have to also wonder if my rantings are spur me, or someone, on to action or am I merely bitching. If my reflection does not lead to action it is nothing more than mental and rhetorical masturbation which is the utmost waste of time and energy.
So, has my worry recently been of use to me? I think so. It’s helped me to understand where I am and what I’m doing professionally and personally. I’ve certainly lost sight of why I teach for a stint. My focus has shifted from the students to pleasing evaluators and jumping through hoops. I’ve tried to keep the devil off my back, and in doing so I’ve forgotten the world of which I’m a part. I’ve simply lost sight of anything. I can only compare to the panic that occurs when one believes they are drowning. The only fight is for life. I’ve been in that fight as a teacher. I’ve spoken of that fight theoretically, but no matter how much we practice or reaction to drowning there is no comparison to the real thing.
I’m fighting to regain footing to I can teach what I know is best. I am a mediator between curriculum that is prescribed, which is not necessarily to be rejected, the curriculum that is needed, and the human beings that are, or should be the recipients of what will be taught. I think I’ve found the life vest. It’s time to move forward. It’s time to teach, and resist, and voice my dissent. It’s time to reconnect. Thank you for your constant support, dear reader. May my confusion ever be of some benefit to someone.
I teach in a prison for kids. I try to see it differently, but I can’t. It’s a corporately monitored public prison for less than wealthy kids. Here’s to the top down managerial model of authoritarian education.
Bleak, I know, but this moment shall pass.
0194: Why I don’t “just find another job”
#education #occupyedu #revolution #teaching #surveillance
I have a bit of venom toward the system that employs me. It has been suggested that “if [I] don’t like it, then leave.” That suggestion discounts my reasons for staying, and indicates that I’m concerned namely with/for my own well-being. I can see how an outsider might see it that way. Alas, I am a teacher—misunderstood, angry, and often misinterpreted. Those things are constant, but I’d like to speak to ye naysayers and support those who understand because they’ve stood where I have.
To the common comment “if you don’t like it, then leave/find a new job/go to a better school/etc.” Statements such as this one seem to assume that I have dissatisfaction with the work I’m doing. Which would be true to an extent. I’m bothered greatly by the structure of the system, and the way it presents itself. School, public school, presents itself as a benevolent system aimed at making lives and communities better. This also is true to an extent. Certainly, we teachers strive for that goal. However, actions are being taken to measure our effectiveness. Also a good thing, but no one is sitting down and looking at the qualitative data to see how a child is succeeding because of her interactions throughout her schooling. The way she has developed as a human being is given no credence. The way she can read and comprehend and understand and then apply to make her world better is never considered. She is a piece of data presented by a 3rd party testing corporation that measures arbitrary bits of information to compare data set to data set. Legislation has been passed to ensure this practice continues. The data collected is required and the companies that have lobbied for such mandates profit and profit and profit. The statement that I began with assumes that what is being done with public education is actually for the benefit of the children. “If they score better on these tests, then their lives will be better, we’ll have proof.” Of course, there is no real concern for such trivial things as well being.
Yes we live in a world that equates everyone with a certain group of numbers and data. Our existence can be summed up in numbers, if we allow that to be. As teachers we must resist the pressure to dehumanize those with whom we share this world. As humans we must strive to interact as humans and not as divided beings. I will continue teaching in such a way that values the human above the test score. I cannot allow myself to see data instead of kids. This continued belief will be my professional undoing. I refuse the newly prescribed definition of teacher. Perhaps partner in humanity would be better. I’ll be a wrench in the cogs until I’m plucked from the machine.
0193: I’m a good teacher now?
I’m a good teacher now. I covered my walls with posters, and motivational phrases as I was told. I put colorful paper on my door so evaluators could tell I care about my students. I even put up the competitive sticker chart so my students can compete for the highest grade. I’ve even started implementing divisive tactics to turn them against one another. I planted the rumor that one student intended to get the top test score for herself. I’ve created this routine that involves students moving in a unified pattern at a unified pace into their desks. I consider this collaboration. And, it’s really quite amazing. They appear to be working together. I’ve trained them to appear that way, but beneath that is a brewing resentment. Each student is working hard to out do the other. I’ve shifted my focus from learning to achieving. Grades are now the most important thing. I’ve finally stopped deviating from my lesson plan to explore a related to the topic or our needs as human beings. I’ve scripted and timed my lesson plans. It’s brilliant. If I’m not present anyone who can read can come in and do my job. I’m still talking in meetings I’ve just started agreeing with the 3rd party evaluators. I used to question what they were telling us—for my sake, the sake of other teachers, and for students. But I was wrong. They’re right. They hold the evaluations. They are in the know. If students aren’t performing on tests then they’re not learning. It’s so clear to me. It’s important for testing and publishing companies to make money. After all, the corporation has a soul. It’s a person too. I’m a teacher and I care. So I will do as I’m told. Please join me. We can only be unified if we’re divided beneath.
And remember, it’s best to scrutinized constantly. It will help you cleanse your own soul.
0192: I’m almost too tired to voice my dissent.
#education #occupyedu #SOSchat #surveillance #rebellion
I’ve been quieter this year, more subdued. I’ve felt guilty. Today, I failed to attend a meeting that could have served as an opportunity to work for the better, or fight the worse. I can barely find time to write. My posts are fewer, and my involvement in social media is less. Why?
It’s really quite brilliant from the vantage of the higher ups. I was a part of a rather lively staff. A staff with teeth who didn’t take shit from your common bureaucrat. The staff was not without its problems, but poking holes in arguments and scoffing at bureaucrats was not something from which we shied away. It seems the problem is being solved though. The State has been in our school this year, and they’re meeting us to death. We have several meetings a week. Meetings about meetings. Meetings about standards. Meetings about lesson plans. Meetings about what we write on our boards. Occasionally, meetings about students. But, who could tell. Paperwork has increased, and auditors are more common. They’re ever present. Always carrying their iPads with their checklists. Teaching is becoming a show, for many. Those of us who are teaching are being told that our boards are missing this, and our walls that. “Our kids are learning,” we protest. But they tell us we’re missing things on their checklists. It’s the same thing day in and out.
My fighting is turning to defense of my classroom. My new advocacy is the guarantee that I will teach no matter how much they pile on top of me. I’m still teaching—still standing, but I’m exhausted. I will rebel as long as I am breathing.
Hurrah! The State will be conducting an audit at my school today. More to come. #education #surveillance