Sunday, October 29, 2006

Hurry Up and Wait, Part Two

As I’ve mentioned at this site before prior to becoming a teacher I dilly-dallied in the legal profession as a bona fide paralegal. I went to work each day, completed a must-be-done-today slate of activities, usually provided myself with a lovely lunch out in a real restaurant, regaled in stimulating conversation about tort reform, case law, and current events before journeying home to cook my family’s dinner and completing some type of at home project such as rearranging furniture or planting flowers. I felt important. I felt what I did mattered and was appreciated. The work I did was streamlined and efficient.

Now I teach.

It consumes my thoughts, my days, my nights, my weekends, and even my summers. It doesn’t appear that I can turn it off as easily as I could my legal work. I worry about students, I ponder over different strategies, I wonder why and what if much more than I should, and obsess over teaching so much I even have this website where I write about it. I now play some strange game of reinventing the wheel or justifying my actions for everything I do. I run the race to complete my work in a streamlined and efficient manner, but I never seem to reach the finish line.

Yesterday I began part one this post here where I explained a bit about my weekend traveling back and forth to be with Father Dear who had hip replacement surgery on the 27th. I detailed the hurry up and wait type of mentality that goes along with hospital visits. You hurry, hurry to get there to be with your loved one and then wait, wait, and wait some more to be supportive, helpful, and simply there if needed.

The day before Father Dear’s surgery I attended the social studies meeting along with approximately 49 other social studies teachers from across the county ranging from Pre-K through 12th grade. Georgia is rolling out new standards soon so I see the need to meet to set up a curriculum guide that will assist new and veteran teachers make more sense of the changes in their teaching area. The fourth and fifth grade teachers at my table are taking our task very seriously as we want a product we can sign our names to and, we know that it will be something we can use as well.

What doesn’t make sense is the hurry up and wait mentality of these sorts of meetings. I hurry up to get to the meeting so I don’t have everyone looking at me as I walk in late. I find I’m one of the first ones there. The meeting was supposed to start at 8:30 instead of 8:00. I wish I had gotten that memo…..kind of surprising since my email box at school greets me with at least 25 emails each morning.

As the minutes ticked by I found myself sitting, visiting with those around me, and sitting some more. The start time for the meeting ticked on by. We still sat. Last month when we met for two days we started late on those days as well. This time those in charge rushed about conferring over a computer screen, making quick trips to the parking lot, or basically moving boxes of unidentified stuff from one side of the room to another. Come to find out the paperwork different grade level groups needed to complete their sections of the curriculum guide had not been brought to the meeting. Hmmmm….Also the cords needed for the lap tops we would use to type up our sections of the curriculum guide were in South Georgia in someone’s trunk. Hmmmm…….and then a bombshell was dropped.

Nice Curriculum Lady referred to some forms that had been placed on our tables. One set appeared to be a list of social studies themes. She didn’t inform us which group but did advise the themes came from one of the national social studies groups. Then Nice Curriculum Lady began to tell us about a meeting that county folks like her had attended led by state officials. Apparently they were told the state would like for teachers to begin teaching thematically instead of chronologically with the implementation of the new standards. The room got very quiet, very fast.

Nice Curriculum Lady kept talking, but many in the room had stopped listening. We were too busy looking at each across the tops of our glasses, rolling our eyes, or choking on our biscuits. You could tell who in the room is close to retirement because they were saying under their breaths, “Well, if this is what it’s coming to I’m out of here.” I noticed one veteran teacher across the room push here papers back to the middle of the table and announce to those around her, “Well, I’m done….”

Yes, it looked like I was at the brink of rebellion.

Several people were asking Nice Curriculum Lady questions and, she quickly saw she had lost many of us in the room. She repeated some of what we had missed. Yes, state officials wanted social studies taught by themes, however, she and many of the county officials at the meeting balked enough for the state officials to finally agree to no requirement for thematic instruction, however, the units listed in the curriculum guides must have themes listed with them. In other words we must add themes to the wording of our units as window dressing to meet someone’s need in a tall downtown building to justify their ridiculous salary.

Nice Curriculum Lady dropped the next bombshell. Not only would we add themes as window dressing (my words…not hers) to our curriculum units we would need to come up with our own themes as a county system. This was met with lots of question marks…..mine included.

Ok, let’s get this right……the state wants conformity so they come up with a new set of standards, however, each system can set up their own curriculum guides and their own scope and sequence regarding when the units are taught. Additionally every county or system will arrive at their own interpretation of themes and add them as window dressing to each unit. Many at my table stated the obvious…..where’s the conformity in that?

We had a set of themes on our tables. A set of uniform, plug ‘em in where they go themes yet we were being asked to arrive at our own system themes. Many in the group asked, “We have them right here….why are we reinventing them?” No real answer was given. You see, that solution would be too easy. Too economical. Too perfect. Too streamlined and efficient.

The next three hours was spent attempting to get 50 teachers to agree on a set of themes that looked like the national ones yet were paired down to seven or eight instead of ten and were in words that students could understand. I’m sure I don’t have to state the obvious here….words a first grader would understand and words an average twelth grader would understand are vastly different. Angry words and accusations flew between high and middle, between high and primary grades, and between teachers and country officials.

Part of the problem was that many in the room didn’t see the need to do what we were doing. As it was discussed more and more it finally came out that the state would probably come out and issue their own themes at a later date. The room erupted in a firestorm frenzy after that.

As I finally trekked home at 3:30 p.m. that afternoon I couldn’t help but think my whole day had been a waste. It had been a waste for many in the room. All of us had been away from our students (in case someone has forgotten that’s the main reason why we teach) to participate in a fiasco of government waste to the max. It made me feel ill. It made me feel used. It made me feel sorry for John Q. Public whose tax dollars paid for a substitute for each of us to argue all morning regarding a set of themes that didn’t need arguing over.

I participated gladly in the hurry up and wait mentality to be at the hospital with my Dad. I played the hospital’s game because it’s what you do. You support your family member by waiting, waiting, waiting. You support your family member by sitting there to make sure they receive good care. You support your family member by simply being there. Yes, I care. Yes, I want to help. Yes, I want to show my love and appreciation to someone who has supported me, loved me, and provided well for me over the years. You do what you need to do because it makes sense.

On the other hand I am angry about participating in the hurry up and wait mentality of my other family….the school system. I see no need to waste my time, my student’s time, or the tax payer’s money discussing themes. Why do we keep reinventing the wheel? Why do we follow blindly without speaking up and out loudly? Why are we wasting our valuable time to arrive at a set of themes the state will come out with anyway? Why are we adding them to a fill-in box on each unit in the curriculum guide simply to satisfy somebody somewhere?

In this instance is it hurry up and wait? No, it’s more like hurry up and waste, and waste, and waste…..


Dennis Fermoyle said...

EHT, I think you and I are writing in different ways about the same thing. Great minds run in the same channel! Could you give some examples of the "themes" you were given?

Q's Personal Legend said...

We had the same meeting at the beginning of October. I hear you when you say that the $ spent for subs wasnt justified. And, our students missed out on us in the room too.

"Ms. Cornelius" said...

Oh good gravy. You're reminding me of why I left teaching English officially, and why I left middle school.

All the same story: It's complete Bull-hockey. Like we teachers have loads of time to revise every single thing we do because some pencil pusher somewhere far away from my classroom gets some wild hair.

EHT said...

Thanks for the support you three. I appreciate it. It's been a crazy last few days what with Red Ribbon Week (a big deal in Elementary), a Fall Festival on Saturday, my father's surgery, and faced with the mess I had in my classroom this morning due to being out two days.

Dennis, stay tuned. I don't feel it's right for me to bitch like that and not speak a little more soundly regarding the pros and cons of theme teaching versus chronological teaching. I will be posting the themes provided to us, but they took the themes we finally agreed upon. I guess they are under lock and key for some reason. I hope to post regarding this tomorrow.

IowaEdSpectator said...

I'm just a parent here, but it seems to make more sense to teach in chronological order.
The social studies curriculum is all over the place at my child's school.

EHT said...

Iowaedspectator, never, ever, never feel as if you have to apologize by saying "I'm just a parent..."

You are the most important part of the whole puzzle. We need you. We need your support. We need you to know what really goes on. It's a shame too many parents don't know the ins and outs of education today. It's even more a shame that too many are not even aware of what their child can do, can't do, and won't do. Welcome to History Is Elementary! I hope you comment again soon!

I prefer chronological order as well especially at my level which is basically a survey type course. Later on students have enough knowledge to learn history with gaps and holes. Shoot, I'm still trying to get some students to believe me that Sponge Bob is not a history figure.

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