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Education in New Mexico has gone from bad to worse. Teachers and, more importantly, students are suffering from bad decisions made at the state level by the Governor and her Secretary of Education, a non educator, cheered on by administrators at the school district level who fear retaliation if they stand up to the system. Teachers, in turn, fear from certain retribution (i.e. loss of job through inexplicably bad evaluations or being blackballed), if they hold their ground. The sweet children just do what they are told and suffer through overtesting and curriculum taught in a lockstep, one size fits all manner, while administrators claim that the “data driven instruction” will help students achieve higher levels. No, but it certainly wipes out individual initiative, creativity, and a love of learning. Oh, but the students do become better test takers!
Senator Tom Udall asked for my support for early childhood education on Facebook. Below is my response:
Get past the probably well deserved rant against TFA and read what teaching is REALLY like.
Dennis Ian, a regular reader and commenter on the blog, writes here about Teach for America:
Teach for America … little more than camp counselors without the pine trees on their shirts.
Imagine for a moment the instant promotion of butchers to surgeons … or deck builders to bridge engineers. Imagine Cub Scout troop leaders as military generals … or menu makers as the next classic authors.
Like any job, teaching is layered with misconceptions … and it’s further distorted by Hollywood fantasies.
Everyone is so seduced by Hollywood and tv-land that they actually think they could sail right into a classroom and every kid would sing the theme song of “To Sir, with Love”. And the world would cry because of their greatness.
Everyone seems to see that “To Sir, With Love” guy winning over the thuggery class and becoming a revered legend overnight. Or that Mr. Chips who…
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I just finished reading Anne of Avonlea in which Anne (of Green Gables fame) becomes a teacher. At the age of 16. Teaching students she went to school with. She has been to school for teacher preparation. Before the year begins, she and two other first year teachers discuss their planned approaches to discipline and disagree on which method will be most effective. Anne’s plan works in general, but she has to deviate for a student who just doesn’t fit the mold.
As her second year of teaching begins, the author, L.M. Montgomery, says “School opened and Anne returned to her work, with fewer theories but considerably more experience.” As soon as I read that line, I knew that L.M. Montgomery must have had teaching experience. She had. Her statement reflects the importance of opportunities to explore and try out new things in the classroom. Certainly for the first year, but also for every year after that. Every class of students is different. Even if you take the same class and loop grade levels with them, there will be differences. And not just because there will be a few students who are new, but because life has happened to these students during the year, they are a year older, and the curriculum and expectations have changed. Every class is different. Every teacher needs the professional and academic freedom to try out new variations every year. Is this experimentation going to happen with CCSS and excessive testing? Is this experimentation going to happen with the evaluation of teachers based on test scores, teachers marching lockstep with their grade level colleagues, or with administrators scripting manically on iPads while missing the important things that are happening in the classroom?
Another issue that arises from “fewer theories but considerably more experience” is that our policy makers have lots of theories but little or no teaching experience. Current teachers should be included in the decision-making process. Instead they are disrespectfully treated as incompetents. Teachers and children are being set up for failure. We must fight back for academic freedom accompanied by a healthy dose of creativity.
January can be an exciting time for teachers. We all know the rush that comes at the first of the school year as you and your students start with a clean slate. There are so many possibilities for great things. Jumping into the new calendar year can be almost the same—except you don’t have to set up your classroom! Some of you are finishing up the first semester and others are already in the second semester. Everyone has a chance to rethink what you want to accomplish this semester and how you want to get there.
In the spirit of optimism, here are my wishes for all teachers in the new year:
1. I wish you opportunities for creativity each and every day.
Our job is to teach students how to think logically and to unleash their creativity. You, as a teacher, will have to think “outside the box” to make that happen. Creativity on the part of teachers and students is a huge factor in satisfaction with the educational process.
2. I wish for you the respect that you as a professional educator deserve.
Respect can be shown in so many ways. It is the administrator freeing teachers to do what they think is best for their students in their classroom. Respect is supporting teacher decisions regarding discipline, curriculum, and use of time. Respect is encouragement through positive interactions: the principal who pops in and leaves a thumbs up, specific note of praise rather than a “gotcha.”
3. I wish an abundance of patience in your encounters with students, parents, colleagues, and administrators and wisdom to know when to hold your tongue and when to stand up for what is right.
Unfortunately, speaking out about professional issues depends so much on the character of the administrator and the tone set by the district. There can be repercussions so choose your battles wisely and try to find ways to do what is best for kids when directives are oppositional to good educational practices.
May God bless you with a year that fulfills the hopes and promises of new beginnings for you and your students!
Matilda, a book by Roald Dahl, then a movie. Somehow I missed both in my earlier, busy life as a teacher. Now as a retired educator, I can indulge in so many things I missed. By day, when the Mexican light is good, I pursue my pleasant goal of reading all of Agatha Christie’s eighty-eight plus works. By night, I explore Mexican Netflix which is limited compared to availability in the U.S. Last night I watched Matilda, and I was caught up at once in the fictional tale of the precocious preschooler who taught herself to read and then went daily by herself to the public library to devour its contents.
Innocent Matilda has her dream come true as she is finally enrolled in school. The principal is terrifying, but her teacher is the sweetest you can imagine, seeing potential in children and valuing their dreams. At this point the movie becomes a horror story for me. I gasp as I see the motto in large letters at the top of the chalkboard: “If you are having fun, you are not learning.” Then as the principal arrives for a visit, the teacher and children spring into action as a team. Shades are quickly pulled down and charts flipped over to cover the meaningful and colorful projects that are the result of engaged learning. I could feel the stress of my last years as a teacher return. I could hear the sucking sound of laughter being withdrawn from the classroom.
The evening over and the lights out, I lay awake with memories of real charts that had to be in place on the walls in my classroom. Curriculum and Instruction let them drift down at intervals all year from the ivory tower with specifications as to their importance. The principal directed that they needed to be displayed; to do otherwise would mean a label of “ineffective” on the teacher’s evaluation. Every new workshop that administrators attended resulted in new mandates with accompanying visuals. We were to implement post haste this hodgepodge of procedures received third hand from experts who didn’t have a clue who our students were or what they needed.
For me, the nightmare is over, but I can not and will not forget those brave teachers still fighting the good fight and struggling to do what is right and best for their students. As a teacher I took unpopular stances and now I continue the battle against the forces of educational destruction which are directed by politicians, funded by big business, and implemented by misguided administrators.