So, Thursday was a much needed planning day for my team. We met in our parenting center equipped with standards, unit books, and other planning resources. Substitutes took our unruly children and we were free to hold conversations at leisure instead of on the run in the hallway. We were able to go out to lunch like real people do during the workday.
Part of our time together was spent creating a rough framework for culminating assessments for a few of our social studies and science units. Our system supports the Backwards by Design method so these assessments are not necessarily paper and pencil tests but rather opportunities for students to show us what they have in their heads. We brainstormed great ideas that will measure mastery of specific standards. I’ll post some of the social studies ideas soon.
I teach with a wonderful group of ladies. Three members of our team are veteran teachers in the most extreme way….one has 27 years experience, another has 30 years, and the third has 35. I don’t try and kid myself…I’m not team leader because I am so organized or knowledgeable. I’m low man on the totem pole compared to my capable teammates. I’m paying my dues by serving them as team leader.
During our brainstorm session as we were coming up with ideas for the culminating assessments my experienced colleagues’ conversation went something like this:
“Remember when we used to teach?” said teacher one.
“No! Remember when we were trusted to teach?” countered teacher two.
Teacher three said, “I remember when we didn’t have to all be doing the same thing or something very similar.”
“Yeah, you could walk down the hall and hear different things being done instead of the same lesson, the same graphic organizer, or the same projects hanging in the hallway,” teacher one agreed.
They continued to lament that the creativity has been sucked out of education due to NCLB and the accompanying testing mentality. I agree somewhat. I mean, I think I’m fairly creative…sometimes. I still think the number one problem in education has to do with consistency. However, I feel I need to elaborate on what I mean.
We need consistency with discipline. Children need a firm hand with clearly defined limits and teachers need administrators who have support from the system level to do what is need to have order in the classroom. Too many of our violent, disruptive students have too many rights while our students who want to learn seem to have none.
We need consistency with curriculum. I’ve written and rewritten units too many times in the last seven years all in the name of conforming to the latest ‘be all and end all’ method to get those scores up. Don’t even get me started on the consistency of the state mandated assessments. How can students be successful if the state monkeys with the test as well as the standards we teach every year?
We need consistency with parents. It’s a two way street. We need to contact parents consistently as well as have them contact us. Some of my parents were going like gangbusters in August, September and October. By Thanksgiving break they were virtual strangers to my email inbox and I never could seem to get them on the phone. One of my goals for the upcoming year is to attempt to build a personal relationship with every parent. I didn’t say I would….just that I was going to make an attempt. I need their help. I cannot do the job I’m expected to do with it.
We need consistency with administrators. Too often they tell us one thing and a colleague another. Too often they will discipline one student with in school suspension when out of school suspension is more appropriate. A few weeks ago I read a post over at Alpha Shrugged called ‘Dark Clouds, Silver Lining’ that fits well with my rant. By way of Dan McDowell at A History Teacher, Al was making the observation that the “ever expanding bureaucracy seems dominated by entrepreneurs.” He stated further,
“We're living in an age wherein teachers, much as they might want to make, as much as they might hope to make, as much as they might actually succeed in making a difference with individual students, are viewed as interchangeable steps on an invisible ladder by the people who revolve through the leadership door. We want to be consistent. We need to be consistent. Because when you get right down to the bottom line, none of it works without us. We are the school.
And then every two or three years the wind changes direction…”
The longer I teach the more his words ring true to me.