Dear Chick and Thomas,
I need to rant (about education) and you guys were the only ones I could think to rant to because my colleagues don't have the same beliefs/ideas as I do....and I needed someone objective. So you have been picked. If you choose not to read all the way through, that is okay. I will have accomplished my objective (writing it in a journal didn't seem productive for me, for this).
Some background....I teach in a medium-sized K-12 building with about 800 students. We have a building principal who we don't see much. I teach Title I Reading and Math for K-3 students. Previously I have taught kindergarten, first and third grades. I loved teaching in the classroom but felt a special pull to work with struggling students. I have been in the Title I position for over ten years.
Last year we got a new principal and I did what I normally do with schedules, instruction and collaboration with other staff, etc. He went with the flow. This year he decided that he was going to take a more active role and made out my schedule for me. He assigned me (with no input on my part) to four days a week of a planning period in conjunction with the other two teachers in that grade level. Friday is now the only day I have to plan on my own without meeting with two other teachers. I was not happy about being given no say in the schedule but sucked it up and leaned in to make the best of it. Still, I felt my 20 years of experience was not recognized or valued by this new administrator.
The push again this year is: THE TEST!! It's been that way for a while now. Our school district's report card is not good. The state has us on "watch." We are told we are an underperforming school. We hear about that all the time at meetings. Funny how we never talk about the poverty that makes up our students' lives! We don't talk about the transient population of students in our school. There is no acknowledgment of the high-achieving students who open enroll to other districts. And do you think the huge number of students identified with learning disabilities is invited into the discussion? It is not. In fact, bringing up those issues with our administration invites scorn and accusation of making excuses and not believing that every child can learn. Several of us just want to scream, "The emperor isn't wearing any clothes." We have learned that it is not worth it. So now we pretty much stay quiet.
Yesterday, I got called in to the office. My principal had previously come in to my room for a walk-through. The group that was in my room for this observation was a group of two boys and two girls who have no idea that there is an alphabet, nor are they able to identify those letters. Sadly, they don't even know all the letters in their own names.
During the walk-through the administrator observed me reading The Busy Bee. I picked it because Bonita and Bobby are two of the group. My students then received the pieces to cut out to make a bee: a yellow body B, a black (B) oval for the head and white wings. We talked about words that started with B and the sound B made (BUZZZZZ.) I thought it was a good session. The kids were engaged, talking and following directions. I was pleased. So were they.
I was called into the office on my planning time to receive feedback. I learned my administrator had been to a meeting the day before where a team of administrators were examining our testing data and noticing again how far behind our low kids are. Since the consensus of administrators was that we need to really close that gap, my administrator told me he didn't feel that activities of cutting and pasting would achieve that goal.
At that point I spoke up and told him that he had not seen the culmination of my lesson. Those Bees are still in my room and my kids added the sight words "ball" and "big" to the background page as well as the word bee and they cut out Bb's, finding them in magazines, which helps their eyes discriminate among letters and recognize it in text, as well as pictures of things that begin with /b/. While they were doing a search for those things our conversation was rich with learning (Does bump start with /b/?) and discriminating sounds.
Since that meeting with my administrator I realized that even the cutting out of the bee body which was shaped like a B gave their hands the opportunity to get a feel for the shape of the B. They have done similar activities in the classroom, but these youngsters are really struggling, and extra practice with someone new, in a different classroom, helps to reinforce that skill. That’s what I do with them.
My principal inquired if I was actually talking to the grade-level teachers to make sure that what I was doing is what they wanted done. He admitted that maybe he needed to be present at our planning periods to make sure that he heard our conversations, because he didn't know what we were discussing. And our discussions and planning needed to be about how to close those gaps, period.
That was when my frustration became tears....not because he didn't think I was doing my job effectively (well, maybe a little)....but mostly because these young children are being asked to do things they are NOT READY FOR! I am all for raising the bar and raising expectations, but drill and kill in kindergarten doesn't cut it!!! This is why you two were chosen for my rant. Both kindergarten teachers in my building just want me to drill flash cards. "The testing that is required doesn't leave much time for anything else," they say.
I understand protocol and mandates, but someone needs to stand up to this madness!!!! How about starting with where the children are currently at and raising the bar slowly and steadily as their skill increases? These children are little human beings! And at 5, they only have two recesses a day!
We all have differing educational philosophies, and it should be that way! Kids all learn differently!!
So, as much as I hate it, I will discontinue the letter craftivities (even if I can see the good that has come out of it and the kids loved doing them!) and find other ways to have "fun" while teaching FUNdamentals. I really pray that we find a way to end this madness and have decided that is the reason I am still in education even though others my age have retired.
My administrator didn't know what to do with my tears (I told him the tears weren't for me, but for how much education has changed and not for the better!) and told me not to let it ruin my weekend. It won't ruin my weekend, but I am very sad. The children I see in my classroom are what’s important, and I will find a way to keep pressing on.
Thanks for listening.
Dear Name Withheld,
Our hearts are hurting with you. So much of what we do in schools today borders on malpractice. We can offer you this:
- Yes, rant to us whenever you want to. We will hear you. We will acknowledge you.
- Please know you are not alone. There are many of you out there disturbed about the testing craze, the narrowing of the curriculum, the pushing skills down to lower and lower grades, the overuse of homework, the move to strip your due-process rights, the lack of respect, making you a scapegoat for political and parenting failures, being told how to do your job by corporate entrepreneurs who have never faced a class of 25 students, pay disproportionate to your value, lack of input on issues that affect you and your students, and more. We’ll say it again: You aren’t alone. You are one of many who work valiantly to heal children and protect them from well-intentioned people who are driven by data and the desire to look good rather than by the real needs of children.
- Check out our new webpage, www.spiritwhisperersanctuary.com, designed to affirm, uplift, honor and encourage all you Spirit Whisperers who are out there feeling alone. In this sanctuary you will find ideas, articles, resources, posters, quotes and appreciation. Check it out. Pass it on.
- We have also created a new Facebook page: Spirit Whisperer Oasis. For those of you who use Facebook, go to the page and LIKE it. When you do so, let your finger hover over LIKE until the "get notifications" choice appears. Click that and you will get daily reminders and ideas about teachers and parents who are working to put Spirit back in that important educational trilogy of mind, body, and spirit.
Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the coauthors of The Teacher Talk Advantage: Five Voices of Effective Teaching. They are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free monthly e-zine for educators and another for parents. To sign up for their newsletters or learn more about the seminars they offer teachers and parents, visit their websites today: www.chickmoorman.com and www.thomashaller.com