Wednesday, November 7, 2012

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.

Monday, October 22, 2012

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.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

0188: Lesson Preparation vs. #Surveillance Lesson Plans

#education #SOSchat #follow @symphily #rebel

I am a big fan of planning for my classes. If I’m prepared, then I teach better— there’s no question about it. Having a plan keeps me on track; it also allows me to deviate from MY plan whenever I find it necessary. Essentially there’s a freedom in planning. However, my lesson plan is not a script to follow. I function more as an extemporaneous improv-er, than a heavily scripted actor (who is fined for deviating from the script).

It should be evident that I have some problem with the expectation of lesson plans. And, the problem is not with giving them to an administrator to know what I’m teaching. While I would like to be trusted as a teacher to do my job, I understand that there may be a need to monitor a bit. I also know that there are stacks of paperwork to be collected for documentation that goes up the ladder. I get it.

While fighting the part of me that I’ve been taught is a lunatic, I can’t help but believe there is an insidious intend behind the heavy monitoring and regulation of lesson planning. There’s the constant recommendation, in teacher education programs and in faculty meetings, that we stick to the plan, and the requirement that we match each plan to a state provided objective. And then, each plan must provide enough detail that someone else could come in and teach my lesson (a script is preferred at some schools— not all). I’ve been in places where lessons are expected to be timed. And if there’s something not provided in the curriculum, even if you find it necessary to teach, you can’t teach it—or at least include it in your plan. If your caught deviating from the approved plan you might get a note in your box, or a reprimand, or worse.

It’s good to plan your lessons. It’s a problem when lesson plans become a tool of surveillance and panoptic disciplinary reinforcement.

Fight the insidious power. Deviate from your plan. Deviate from their plan. Teach to enrich lives. Teach a human curriculum. Get your “job” done so you can do your job.

Friday, March 2, 2012

0115: To train and control or to teach and learn: is there a choice?

#education #revolution #SOS #occupyedu

It seems that the goal of institutions is dominion over mankind. Organizations function to tame wild spirits and make them act civilly. This is not a terrible thing— people acting civilly. But, do the rulers act civilly? Not just the grand rulers, the government, corporations, etc., but the smaller rulers. Those who have dominion over few. Teachers might fall into this category. Are we just miniature tyrants? Are we forced to be? Expected to be? If we are, or aren’t do we have a choice in the matter?

The choice is often a matter of rebellion. Our institutions, which stand to standardize the masses, require a certain level of tyrannical behavior for those who work within their walls. My power as a teacher, in this system, is based on how well I manage behavior and control the flow of information. The flow of information and behavior are tied together. In a system such as our where we deposit arbitrary and minimally useful information into learners then there must be a system of behavioral management. When you colonizing a mind, there must be sanctions to prevent and/or quell rebellion. To teach there must be learning. To deposit information there must only be classroom management and training.

To return to an earlier question: do we have the choice, as teachers, to not behave as mini-tyrants? No, not “succeed” in this system. Learning for a test or standardization or massification requires some sort of coercion, whether positive or punitive, it requires an external force to motivate the learner. Tyranny is required to extend or impose tyranny. There is a choice however, and it isn’t between “success” and “failure”. The choice is between teaching and training. One requires an act of open rebellion. The rebellious and radical teacher will choose to not function as an extension of the hand of tyranny that works to dictate the goings on within a classroom, and more poignantly the minds of the recipients of said education. Our form of education, that focuses on mass standardization at the cost of neglecting the curious human spirit, forces us to choose between doing our job and teaching children. We can train and manipulate automatons or we can teach and learn with humans. Your choice.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

0089: What does in mean to be a rebellious #teacher?

#education #revolution #occupy

Being a rebellious teacher requires one thing: a commitment to your students. And, that is where the language becomes tricky. We’re constantly reminded that we must be committed to our students. We must provide them a world class education at all costs, but by world class education they mean we must deliver high test scores. Countless phrases and sanctions bind us to the test. Documentaries, political speeches, reformers, parents, administrators, and many teachers, even a few students have bought into the lie that test scores indicate our level of commitment to our students. We have been bullied into harming our own students.

If we are committed to our students, then we must take on a different understanding of the word commitment. We must commit to building a critical consciousness among our students and colleagues. We must commit to deviating from the curriculum whenever possible to nurture our learners’ curiosity. We must commit to helping our students connect everything they learn within and outside of the curriculum. We must commit to throwing mindless test prep out the window for the sake of building critical thinkers. Simultaneously, we must engage in critical teaching of the prescribed curriculum in order to keep our jobs. However, this must never be what drives teaching. Teaching is an exchange between learners. All are learners and all are teachers. If students are engaged critically they can learn to beat the test; further, they can learn the reasons for the test and the harm it causes.

We can no longer call ourselves teachers if we give in to the temptation of just maintaining our jobs by delivering meaningless test scores. Our schools aren’t failing. Our children are being failed by a system that equates them with arbitrary numbers. Education should be humanizing. Teachers, stick to your instinct to really teach. Testing is not teaching. If you think it is, reevaluate your understanding of teaching. We’re all fighting for ourselves, our jobs, that’s understandable, but we have to make sure we are advocating for our students above all else. The next generation has a right to critical thought. They deserve the ability to question and reason and think. Help them. Be rebellious.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

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.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

0062: On Taking a Break and #Revolution

#teaching #learning #testing

Holidays for educators can be many things, but we all know they’re absolutely necessary. After three months of the grind, no matter how much we love it, we need a break. Maybe we need to catch up on grading (probably shouldn’t). Maybe we need to reflect. We need time in the proverbial mountains to refresh, reload, and rethink. Our minds are beat. We have to take time to completely separate and simply be people. Sometimes we need a break to remember our own humanity. It’s important to remember that we are people first, real humans, not JUST teachers. This fact of our own humanity is of the utmost importance in an environment that stresses mass standardization. Our system is flawed, we mustn’t be flawed in the ways the system is. We must strive to maintain our own humanity so we can ensure that same reality for our students. We must remember that we are not the machine, simply workers within it. We are powerful. It must run the way we deem it necessary. We, the teachers, are the powers at be. We choose to implement curriculum. We have the power to give or keep power. It is our obligation to let and help people thrive as humans in an inhumane system. We have a choice. Always.

We will return to a tumult that is the final approach to the Great Test. Remember that is not why we teach. One last drink before we leave our mountain top. Cheers.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

0049: I’ll learn from you, but I won’t go gentle.

#teaching #learning #power

I have a class that is refusing to learn from me. We have days that are functional, but the majority of their energy is spent rejecting my instruction. They are fighting hard to say: “We don’t need you, and we don’t want you as our teacher.” I fight back with a steady dose of teaching and experiential learning that is challenging. I’m frustrated, but I’m in a situation that is in no way unique. I’m replacing their former beloved teacher who taught them the exact way they wanted to be taught. The we’re not terribly challenged, but they had fun. Friday’s were for movies and half of class was devoted to personal conversation. There are lots of classes like that. They’re fun classes. But, they leave craters in students’ learning and self-efficacy. They make challenges harder. But, I digress, and like my reluctant students, I’m focusing on the past.

This challenging class has an interesting and non-unified dynamic. About half the class supports me. And about three kids are die-hard supporters of the old regime. Some of the group, the swing vote goes either way, depending on the day. Additionally, the students have their own problems and drama between each other. I feel like I can’t win. We are “us” and they are “them” and I am “they” and sometimes “we”, and sometimes, on occasion, we are “we”. The challenge is to be “we” all the time.

So, is there a definitive answer to the bold statement of “I won’t learn from you”? Sure, build relationships and rapport, but how when the class is performance based? Where is there time? Is this year an inconsistent wash with this group? Is this a triage situation?

They are learning. That is a plus. But, they don’t go gentle. I don’t know if I have a question or an understanding. Their defiance is resolute. And, while frustrating, I think I respect it.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

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.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

0037: Ode to Standardization and Guerilla #Teaching

#humanity #edchat #testocracy #revolution

I spend a lot of time bitching about standardized tests. They’ve done a terrible thing to our society and our educational system. They’ve created students who think in terms of multiple choice and think no. 2 pencils are tools for performing strange religious ceremonies. They have turned teachers into prison wardens who speak only in terms of a, b, c, or d and the process of elimination. They’ve turned writing into the act of selecting the best passage with the fewest errors, rather than actually writing to find out what one thinks. Standardized tests are our keys into colleges, graduate schools, and many jobs. We all think in terms of a, b, c, and d. If you don’t then you are separate. You will never have access. You will be damned! Damned to what? A thoughtful and peaceful existence?

All of this is quite dystopian and chilling, but what can we do? We could all refuse to give them. Maybe no one shows up on testing day. No one. Or maybe teachers show up and students sit in the parking lots. Maybe someone breaks in and eliminates the tests. Guerilla test forces pop up in school districts across the country, and end corporate testing. It would be nice. But, what can we do as teachers who are chained to the assembly line?

I submit that we teach around the test. Let’s just take a year, and really teach. Teach your subject passionately throwing caution to the pacing guide. Teach at a pace where your students can really learn. On top of that, help them learn to think, and question, and reason. Present the test as a problem, for a problem-based learning activity. We, the class, have this monster of a test before us, that serves to dehumanized all of us. How can we beat it? Let that be the starting point. Standardized testing is a brutal reality of our budding society today. We have to find ways to interrupt the consequences of testing and teaching to the test while still meeting our impossible “quotas”. We’re working hard to cultivate people, not test takers. We have to help our kids transcend their scores of minimal, basic, proficient, and advanced and become real people with faces. Sure, pass the test, but, in our souls and hearts we must always say: fuck the test. I am not a score. I am a human.