0067: Testing, the Existential Crisis, and Hope in #Rebellion
#testing #education #revolution
We’ve been back at school for less than a week and students are already sharing their dissent about testing. Of course, they came back from the holidays to benchmark testing. How could we begin the year without knowing where they are and how much we need to move them? These benchmark tests are a fine and expensive resource provided by a testing company to be predictors of success. They help us, the teaching faculty, “target” the specific “needs” of a particular student. These so called needs have nothing to do with true or basic or even academic needs; these needs have been defined by a corporate testing company and the creators of the state curriculum. The needs of our students are reduced to a certain score on a test. Are their needs so arbitrary?
I hate that we’ve all returned to a hornet’s nest of testing. Everyone’s already anxious. The state could take over if we don’t succeed. Jobs are at stake. The principal devoted 15 minutes on the intercom to explaining the importance of this target test and how it would count as a grade. He told teachers to watch for students who were just bubbling answers. They would receive Saturday school. It’s such a shame that we are subjecting human beings to such meaningless stress. The students above all aren’t learning anything of value. Simply stay in line, shut up, and answer the questions the way you were taught to answer them. The teachers have dead eyes because they know deep down their not really teaching, their just trying to, like the students, stay in line, shut up, and train people to answer questions in a certain way. There is no critical thought. We’re all chained to the test. The principals are terrified of losing their jobs, and are overwhelmed with discipline problems. Students don’t want to be tested. They’re bored and weary from years of testing. Many never move beyond basic and have accepted the futility of their situation. They give up with no one to stoke their curiosity.
Each school that has employed me has faced the same existential crisis. There is no hope in being trained for a test. There is no learning, only training. Learning requires curiosity, but curiosity is killed off in the early grades. And if there is no learning, then there is no teaching. Year by year we become more numb to our positions as teachers. We have been placed in little boxes just like our students. So where is the hope? Where is the light? Is it students’ rebellion? Is it in teachers when they choose to chase rabbits and follow students down paths of curiosity? Sure. Sure, hope is there. It’s in rebellion. It’s in the commitment to step out of line and get your job done so you can stick around, but really to redefine your job so you are really teaching. There is spring and life in rebellion. There is joy in revolution.
0046: Stop Recess: We’re in School Improvement
#teaching #testocracy #rebellion #test
I’ll be brief. Schools get into trouble because of poor test scores. This “trouble” stirs fear. People fear for their jobs from the top down. Threats are made, also from the top down. And then, a symphony of knee jerk reactions.
I was in a school that cancelled recess, music, and P.E. from kindergarten through sixth grade. These were noted as a waste of time when “we should be preparing for state tests”. The kids went wild and classes didn’t run as smoothly. No shit, right? People need balance. Anyway, some teachers took their kids to recess, and we’re written up and reprimanded. Other teachers had recess in their classrooms, looking out for the wandering administrative spy. Teachers did what they needed to do, but to their own avail.
There was also a ban on silent sustained reading. This was labeled a “waste of time”. Teacher’s were told that kids had time to read outside of class, and reading should “just be taught”. We know that there are myriad benefits for free reading time from motivation to reinforcing skills to better behavior because the kids get a moment to debrief and venture elsewhere in their minds.
These knee jerk reactions are harmful. They are based in fear and not in research. Principals, think before you react. Don’t harm your staff, and ultimately the students in your care. Teachers, be bold and clever in your rebellion for the betterment of your students. Everyone is under the gun, and it’s causing permanent damage. Standardized testing and it’s fallout is injuring a generation of our society. So be bold. Do what you can to survive, but don’t forget you’re responsible for the survival of others too.
0044: We need conversations, not evaluations
#teacher #teaching #edchat
I was formally evaluated the other day and met expectations in every single area. For starters, that is bullshit. I have become fairly effective at what I do. I’m professional, I’m abreast current trends in educational research, I follow policy, and even do some advocacy work from time to time. I “have it together”. I’m a good classroom manager, that is, I seldom send kids to the office because I handle problems internally. Good for me. But, does this shining evaluation reflect beyond the fact that I am liked by my principal? The form is simple, all it requires the evaluator to do is circle or check certain competencies. So, I perform a dog and pony show that is a version of what happens everyday in my classroom. Again, I “know how to teach”. But, these evaluations don’t reflect what always goes on in class. It doesn’t reflect the struggle to teach when things go awry. It doesn’t reflect the struggle to get a single point across, much less have students retain something when several students decide they’re not going to learn today. And most important, it doesn’t reflect my internal struggle. I love teaching and I hate it. I want to quit, but I don’t know what else to do. I want to stay, but I could do other things. I’m not challenged fully, but my hands are full. I’m frustrated, and angry, and joyful, and disgruntled. I’m fighting a losing battle and loving it. Who asks about this stuff? Why aren’t these things a part of evaluation?
I’m not knocking a good evaluation. I just wonder why. And what if I wasn’t liked? Teachers and principals need to be more interlinked. There needs to be an ongoing discourse that brings up problems and solves them collaboratively. These evals are just an extension of the banking model of education that plagues our education system. We need intimate conversation, not distant evaluation.
0033: Notes from an Education Underground (teachers become radical please)
#teaching #edreform #revolution
We must move beyond things that are only quantifiable. Our people are being neglected as we focus more and more on quantifying their intelligence. Teachers and students are forced to work mindlessly. Critical thought and the human spirit are being neglected. Students are leaving schools semiliterate and unprepared. We are working toward an undefined and nonexistent goal. We are simply a consumer culture. Do we want a mindless future. Or an underclass?
The value of the arts. The production of culture. The transformation of an individual through the creation of culture thereby transforming a community. We are a spiritually impoverished nation. Beauty and truth unnoticed because of the focus on empiricism and survival. The wasted time in classrooms. Students are neglected because there is no time to explore. Can we look for life in our students? It’s when they’re fully engaged in something meaningful. It’s when they’re given power. We need radical teachers. We need bureaucracy to be lessened in schools. Teachers need to be quality, but so do the people and policies policing them. Learners need to be free. Teachers need to be radical. Good teachers step outside the boundaries of what is expected. They connect with their students as people not students. Teachers empower and lead because they are good people who care and are intelligent. Teachers are and should be radical. The predicament we are in requires a a radical change. Our country needs a revival of arts and beauty and truth. We are poor. The daily grind no longer serves to help our people. We need a breath of spirit. No longer can we toil away in factories. We must innovate and join together. We need a change. Rather, we must demand a change. Let our souls be acknowledged and then awakened. There is life to be had.
We must see to it that the status quo is upset, because it already has been. Our education and culture and grasp of beauty is famished, and so will be our people.
Our youth are innovators, but education is not meeting that inquisitiveness. Schools are wasteful places where children learn to wait in lines and hide their cell phones while ignorant teachers numb their minds as theirs have already been numbed by countless directives from blind administrators. This must change. The school must change. The best work I did as a teacher is when I engaged the learners in my care in dialogue. Whether they were 8 or 18. Our intelligences sharpened each other. We worked together. The curriculum stands as a guide, but in reality is a step by step manual. Is there a step by step manual to becoming more fully human? If you say yes than my words a null and so is the concept of freedom. Freedom is an unexplored concept in our culture and our schools. We are killing America.
0025: How Social Media (namely Twitter) is Making Me a Better Educator
I would like to see teachers, myself included, become more aware that they are a part of a global community. Within our own schools and classrooms we become myopic. The education system becomes a weight bearing down so heavily on us that we are forced into submission and silence. I started researching various technologies as literacy tools a few years ago, and was blown away by their effects on teachers. We’ll get to the students later. I looked specifically at social media sites like twitter. What I was surprised to find was a worldwide community of educators who are all connecting to and supporting one another with advice, research, and professional development tools. I’m slowly becoming a better user of social media to benefit my own practice. Almost every PD tool I uncover on twitter is more valuable than any staff development I’ve been subjected to. And, they were free of charge. Districts pay $1000 or more for professional developers. I’ve gotten to do some myself. I like making the money, but districts could save millions a year by using free resources at their fingertips. They could start by treating their own teachers as professionals, but I digress. Teachers working in communities of teachers are more effective, hands down. Beyond professional development and networking their are, of course, myriad classroom resources available.
I’m learning to communicate globally by experimenting. I’ve grown up with technology, but social media is relatively new for everyone. If your new to it, experiment. Go to your search area and type in #edchat, #ctchat, #sschat, or #____________ anything else like literacy or whatever and you’ll be linked to a worldwide conversation on your topic. Creating this blog has given me an outlet for reflection, and a bit of feedback. As I learn these skills I’m learning to convince administration to allow these skillsets to be integrated into the classroom. Our school has a few iPads that are minimally used by administrators. I try to get them to play with new apps. The learning and convincing is slow. As I progress I’ll share more.
My point is try to expand your education experience to the global community. Engage educators. The worst thing any of us can do is stand silent or alone.
0017: What is Student-Centered Instruction? How do we get there?
Many teachers don’t know what student centered instruction is. They’ve been told countless times to make lessons “student centered”, but that is nothing more than a meaningless phrase to many. Notably, I’m writing here to sharpen my understanding of the phrase “student centered” and maybe trying to decide if that’s even the best way to describe quality instruction.
The phrase is polarizing. Learning was teacher centered, now it should be student centered. This sounds to many like anarchy, and out of confusion teachers often hand the reigns directly over to their students and step completely away (some with hurt feelings) allowing their students to fester in their own frustration while still demanding the same things and assessing learning in the same ways. This very clearly is not the goal.
Perhaps a better goal would be collaboration between teacher and student. Classroom should be think-tanks that require everyone’s input— teacher and student. And, everyone should learn, even the teacher. The phrase “prepare student-centered” lessons is not quite functional. If I the teacher completely prepare the lesson, then it is teacher centered. It becomes inauthentic. Certainly, the teacher should think through the lesson, but the burden of thought and problem solving should not be on the teacher alone. Students should do the bulk of the research, problem-solving, lesson prep, and so forth with the teacher there to guide discussion sometimes and more important foster an environment that lends itself for directed lateral thinking. The teacher should help generate questions until the students are able to themselves. And then the teacher should become a partner in the learning.
Progressive teachers and principals help your fellow teachers learn. Empower them. Build relationships. Make collaboration a part of your faculty so it can be mirrored in the classroom.