Tuesday, November 27, 2012

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.

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.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

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.

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.

Monday, June 4, 2012