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If you have been following my blog, you may have noticed a gradual transition from a focus on educational issues to a focus on book reviews. Actually I have not dropped my interest in developmentally appropriate education, and you will continue to see posts on that topic in the future.
I began “Education Pathways” when I retired from teaching and still had a lot to say about education. As I read the blogging efforts of others, I discovered many (mostly retired) educators saying a lot of the same things that I was saying. Suddenly I was not the lone voice speaking up for children. What happened? Part of the reason for this phenomena was certainly that I had more time to read when I was not wasting time trying to please administrators who had really strange ideas, provided for the most part by highly profitable businesses, about what is good for children. The other big factor is that a large number of frustrated teachers with lots of years of experience all said “No!” at about the same time: “No, we will not go down this insane path that is damaging to children any more.” With retirement, we found our voice because we no longer were threatened and intimidated by our employers. The result was a huge increase in the anti-CCSS (Common Core State Standards), anti-overtesting, anti-VAM (Value Added Model of teacher evaluation) blogging world.
At about the same time, I moved to Mexico (mostly) and discovered netgalley.com* which lets me preview books written in English, in an electronic format, for publishers in exchange for reviews. After a few rusty efforts, I began flexing my critiquing joints and discovered that I really like recording my thoughts about books. So, I set out on a different education pathway that involves reading and which I think intertwines quite nicely with my original focus of developmentally appropriate education.
In the future you will see posts about education and reviews of books for children with discussions of how they might be used with children. You can also expect reviews of books for adults which are soon to be released as well as a few from my own collection or e-books from the Gutenberg Project. My reviews contain little in the way of summaries. Those are readily available from the publisher, online bookstores, and Goodreads. I prefer instead to present my personal reflections on and reactions to a book. Since I can choose my reading material, I will only choose books I think I will like. For example, I won’t be reading and reviewing a horror novel, but suspense and mystery will certainly have a place. Please join me in the world of books as I continue the education that never ends.
*Many thanks to my daughter Tara for introducing me to netgalley.com. She immediately recognized the problem I would have in Mexico of feeding my reading addiction and provided such a wonderful solution which has blossomed into reviewing as well.
“I saw education before No Child Left Behind. I also experienced education during No Child Left Behind up until I got elected to Congress. Basically, test and punish did not work. Because of No Child Left Behind, I suddenly had to follow a syllabus and a pacing guide dictated by the district office. There was less trust of the teacher, and that’s a mild way of putting it. We began being treated like we were a transmitter of someone else’s idea of what is good education. Effective education doesn’t work that way. Effective education is building relationships with students. It’s about teachers strategizing on how to engage students. You can’t do the canned lesson or scripted content.”
–Rep. Mark Takano of California, U.S. Congressman, 24 years of classroom experience
The message today from school administrators to teachers is “we are always looking over your shoulder and you need to hit the mark every single minute of the day.” The message should be “we are here to support you as you experiment in your classroom. Keep it vital, new, creative and full of growth. Every class you teach will be different. Classes and students will even have different needs from the day before. Keep trying until you find what works for this class. Education is not a one size fits all endeavor.” This message of school being a “no mistakes” zone is passed along to the students. Real learning is messy. Let teachers and students engage in the process!
My new blogger friend, Wendy from Ramblings and Musings, invited me to participate in this three day quote challenge.
The rules for the challenge are:
- Thank the person nominating you for the challenge.
- Post a quote on your blog for 3 consecutive days.
- Invite 3 of your favorite bloggers to join the challenge.
My nominees for the challenge are:
- David from David Snape and Friends, whom I originally started following because of an interesting post he wrote on autism. It is also through his blog that I discovered the fantastic Kindness Blog.
- Shellie from Shellie Woods who writes about marketing and life, from a Christian perspective.
- Kim from Learn to Love Food. Through her blog Kim has taught me about the need some children have for food therapy and her fun approach to helping those with food issues.
No obligation–just fun, inspiration and exposure to bloggers you may not have encountered before.
My first quote has been my favorite for years. It was my signature quote on my work email. I wanted it always there as a reminder to the “Standardistas” that accumulating facts is not what education is all about. Many education policy makers and enforcers (in my former school district and around the country) have forgotten that education is inspiring children to be lifelong learners.
What do I hope you remember about me as your computer lab teacher?
My enthusiasm! I was so fortunate. In the middle of a job I loved, teaching first graders in a school that valued developmentally appropriate, early childhood instruction, I was given the opportunity to create a computer lab and the curriculum to go with it. I loved teaching kids and I loved technology. What could be better?
Our beginnings were quite humble. We pulled together a lab using one Mac computer from each classroom, but also leaving computers for classroom use. Children had to share computers in the lab, and computers had to share printers. We’re talking primitive sharing, not networking; I unplugged the printer and plugged it into the neighboring computer so you could print your stories using tractor pin feed paper. And I did it very carefully. If one of the pins in the Imagewriter cord got bent, it could be a minor crisis. No printing from two computers and no spare cords. Over time, the lab was continually updated, expanded and kept state of the art.
We were a school where few students had computers at home, but you had a reputation for being able to use computers better than other students in the district. Your teacher joined me in the computer lab, and we worked together, learning and teaching. It was exciting for me and for you. It was learning at its best. I used my knowledge of good teaching to integrate what you were learning in the classroom with our technology projects. As the standardistas took over education, that became more difficult to do. Learning became focused on skills instead of knowledge. The computer lab became “child care” for teachers so they could attend Professional Learning Committees. It was a welcome release of pressure for you as a student. I tried to give you what you needed: mouse skills for K while you learned about jellyfish and celebrated holidays and paint programs for first grade to work on math and writing. In second grade you wrote and indulged in clip art in PowerPoint. Third graders, do you remember the excitement of beginning keyboarding and using Publisher to create visitor brochures about the state of New Mexico? Some of you even got to proudly present them to legislators when you visited the state capitol. Older students, we worked on projects too, but we also dipped our toes into the emerging world of blogging, emails, and Internet safety (which I see many of you practicing today). Our district was trying to enter the digital world in a safe and thoughtful way. To look back now, it appears to have been baby steps, but that was the beginning and it was an exciting and important time. We also struggled with learning about the confusing world of copyright laws and fair use. I hope all of that helped you as you moved on to middle school.
Testing—the Beginning of the End
For many years in the computer lab we always had a word of the week, a technology term that we learned to expand our vocabulary. At the end, even that got put aside. Three times a year, the schedule was thrown out the window as we had to take the required Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests. It was quite high pressure. When you were younger, most of you didn’t understand and were thrilled with the seemingly high score. As you grew older, the “cut score” reality set in. Regardless of how well you scored, it was rarely high enough and you could have always scored higher. There were rewards given by individual teachers and by the school. Even more pressure. Some of you must have felt like failures. You weren’t. The system failed you. What you probably didn’t know was that people above your teacher were telling your wonderful, hardworking, caring teachers that they were failures as well.
At some point I became too expensive as a certified teacher. The only written qualification for my replacement was that he or she should be able to use Microsoft Word. Seriously, that was what was viewed as necessary to do my job? This “assistant” (who she was assisting?) was charged with the care of you, two computer labs, scheduling, ordering equipment, preparing reports, training staff members, and a lot of technology maintenance. I worked with my replacement on the transition, and she is very capable and wants the best for you. The hardest part of this transition was moving my focus from all of the students at the school to only a classroom. I felt so responsible for all of you. I was also a little disappointed that the administration did not announce this change to students. Many of you felt I had abandoned you. This was definitely not the case, and nothing made me happier than to see you on campus and get one of your great smiles and maybe a hug.
What do I hope you remember about me in the computer lab?
A teacher who cared about you as a person and not a number on a test.
A teacher who cared about where you came from and what you went home to. A teacher who helped you learn about writing, language, art, math, science and developing technologies as well as about computers.
A teacher who tried to share with you things that would help you in your classroom and in your life.
A teacher who loved school and tried to provide opportunities for you to love learning as well.
A teacher who respected you because YOU are a person worthy of respect.
Dear Former Students,
What do I hope you remember about me?
Our Special Learning Space
I hope you remember our room. Bright, colorful, creative, inspirational. Most years, our room and our studies focused on a theme which varied from year to year. It might have been dinosaurs or space or animals. Maybe you were with me when we explored the rainforest. Whatever the topic, it was real; it didn’t just provide decorations. It was the springboard for learning—reading, math, language, science, social studies, art and music. We did it all centered around our theme. Sometimes we jumped outside the theme and that was OK. Creativity, learning, and children—none of them belong in a box.
I spent the summer vacation dreaming, planning, and creating for our learning base for the coming year. Until the Testing Monster emerged to swallow up the joy and adventure of learning. After that I spent summers investigating Common Core State Standards. I learned that first graders should be ready to do what had always been expected of second graders. I learned that a Kindergartener was a failure if he or she was not reading by the end of the year. I had nightmares of angry administrators and nonsense posters and charts. I tried to make sense of a disjointed melange, a mishmash of portions of reading programs, books, and plans stuck together by an “expert” to create a hideous and unworkable mess. BUT even then, I tried to create a warm and welcoming place to learn with a fun reading corner and an area for some messy art and forbidden science.
I know you must have felt my efforts. You would come into the room before school (and again at lunch) when you should have been on the playground.
You wanted to put your things away.
You wanted to say hello, to find out what we were going to be doing that day, not from the required posted chart, but from your teacher who had big plans for you.
You wanted to be reassured that despite your problems at home, you were safe at school and could have a good day.
Then after a hug or a smile or a moment to chat, I shooed you outside and we were both happy and ready to begin the adventure.
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.
One of the strongest arguments seems to be that if fewer than 95% of the students take the test, then the school’s grade will be low. For example, according to the Zannesville Times Recorder, “The consequences, however, mean the district and child’s teacher will not be given credit for progress that is made, affecting the school’s department of education report card and educators’ individual evaluations.”
So, it’s always good to ask yourself, “what is the worst thing that could happen?” In this case if fewer than 95% of the students take the test, across the board, then the affected districts and state departments of education would have to admit defeat and develop a new plan. And that sounds like a great plan to me!
Who seriously thinks a state is going to give a rating of “F” to all of its schools?
High school students, teachers, and parents are being told that instead of civil disobedience, they should take their concerns to school administrators, school boards, state legislators, the governor, and the Department of Education. That advice sounds really good except for the fact that people have already written letters and made phone calls to the appropriate people and their concerns have been ignored. School districts publish official statements provided by state departments of education that attempt to explain why they are wasting so much instructional time on testing and contributing so much to Pearson’s coffers. Pearson constructed the PARCC tests and the test preparation materials that support the test. They are also the ones that mandate a blackout on test discussions. The people who need to make changes, from the district level all the way up to the political powers in each state, are ignoring the real problems in the name of better education for our children and are lining their pockets at student expense.
Opting-out is not an easy decision. Parents receive a lot pressure from school districts to “do the right thing.” Students are putting themselves at risk for a variety of unspecified punishments. Since the decision makers obviously underestimated the anger of the people, they have not yet decided what the consequences of this civil disobedience will be. Threats have included not being allowed to graduate and suspension. Teachers are caught in the middle between a system that financially supports their families and a career that focuses on doing the right thing for students.
Opting-out has certainly gotten the attention of policy makers at all levels. Now what will they do about it?
Once upon a time, in a land far away, there was a small rural area which had some barren land and some lush pastures. The local people had a lot of cows to raise. They hired some experienced business managers to oversee the cow production. The managers developed a business plan and set about implementing it. First they hired some motivated ranchers who loved cows and tasked them with the care and growth of the cows. The cows were fenced in so they could not leave the dusty patch they inhabited. With little to eat, the cows did not gain weight. In fact the cows were becoming agitated for on the other side of the fence the grass was green. The well-meaning business managers did everything they could think of to improve the situation. They went across the country to learn new ways of making the cows gain weight. They came back and told the ranchers to weigh the cows every week, every day if necessary, to look for weight gain. Surely that would help! Unfortunately no weight gain followed, but the ranchers had less time to bring in hay for the cows who, in fact, lost more weight! The business managers declared that there would be twice weekly meetings (Producing Cow Lessons) in which supervisors would berate the overworked ranchers and make them say hurtful things about themselves and the other ranchers. Soon the exhausted ranchers were also depressed. The business managers next brought in experts to teach the ranchers new tricks for making cows gain weight—steroids and lots of water. The cows temporarily gained a little weight but it dropped off when they returned to their regular meager rations.
Then, one day a very frustrated, very overworked, and formerly very successful rancher went berserk. He knew the answer. He had been telling the business managers the answer, but they wouldn’t listen because he was just a rancher. So, the rancher cut the fence allowing the cows to enter the grassy area they longed for so much. The cows became fat and happy. The ranchers were elated to be productive ranchers again. And the business managers? They all received promotions and bonuses for the great work they had (not) done.