It's known to most in my profession as "A Nation At Risk." (Entire text here here.) Many believe, myself included, that we can "credit" this report for NCLB and turning students into data. But heaven knows there's been enough written about that.
Teaching during this storm is a lightning rod for snide comments. Somewhat like attorneys, I would guess. Who can resist tossing a "Just what the world needs, another attorney" comment when you meet one. I've gotten more "Must be nice to have summers off" and read more scathing LTEs about my pension than I care to remember. (I'll be lucky if I ever see it - I live in Illinois.)
I deliberately chose a life in public education. The storm was so far away; I couldn't begin to imagine that I would ever think of shutting the windows, let alone being concerned about that patio furniture. But if I am honest, it seemed less of a choice and more of a compulsion.
It began to take root for me, no doubt, during my attendance in Dade County public schools way back in the early 70's. My father made partner with Price Waterhouse and my parents, sister and I enjoyed a privileged life in Coral Gables, FL.
While nearly everyone else attended private schools during the height of desegregation, my mother insisted that we attend public schools. Bussed to the "black" schools for a few years, bussed to the "white" schools for a few years. Student body: one third black, one third white, and one third Cuban. My mom became president of the PTA at Sunset Elementary and perhaps that - combined with the amazing presence of an incredible principal, Flora Sampson - "doomed" me to a life of public education. I can imagine no other way of being.
As is so often the case, I come from a family of teachers. Besides my mom's degree in Christian education (yes, really), my mother's brother retired after a career of changing the lives of highschool students in Pittsburgh public schools. He taught fine arts - jewelry and drawing mostly - and always created a refuge for the students who were angry and jaded by the time they reached his class. We seem to be creating more and more of "those" kinds of kids.
After spending many formative hours in 7th-12th grade working with students who struggled in school, I attended Carthage College in Kenosha, WI and earned a BA in teaching, "triple majoring" in elementary ed, learning disabilities, and mental retardation. You can't even do that anymore - must be "endorsed," "highly qualified" and otherwise too credentialed to get all three at once.
Life was good, I got hired in the district from which I graduated - and still teach in that same district to this day. I spent 3 years teaching highschool special ed (the kids who bring in knives and throw desks - yep, even in my well-to-do suburb) then got into regular ed. It was the paper work, not the kids, that drove me out of special ed.
After about 7-9 years of doing my thing and getting accolades from parents and students and administrators, I started to wonder why I seemed to be working so much harder than the students. It wasn't any one thing - just a general nagging. I switched content areas and grade levels, but it was more of the same. Not much passion, just kids plodding along, even in the 6th grade where I've spent the last 15 years.
Another teacher and I started an alternative "choice" program at our public middle school in an effort to shake things up, us and the kids. We kept the kids for all three years (adding new ones each year) and taught by themes, not subject areas. We had incredible support from parents and students. Teachers were another story, much to my surprise and dismay.
My teaching partner decided he wanted to go into adminstration (traitor) and we got an educational divorce. I didn't hold it against him too long, even though he continually tries to recruit me to join the dark side and become a "suit."
I was lucky enough to find another soulteacher and spent several years with a fabulously non-traditional colleague. We taught 6th grade combined social studies and language arts, keeping the kids for the entire afternoon. A few parents freaked out, but overall the support was incredible. I still have people who ask me why we aren't doing it anymore. My second educational divorce happened when that teaching partner decided she wanted to marry some guy and move to Australia. Seriously - just like Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day.
Then NCLB came on the scene. Just a fad, they said. Hang in there and you'll outlast it. I'm not so sure. And I haven't found anyone else who is willing to put their professional reputation and comfort on the line with me again to do something different. The sad truth is that I'm not sure we could even run anything "non-traditional" up the flag pole in the prevailing winds.
My Master's work at National-Louis profoundly changed my voice as a teacher. I had always leaned left, but my research turned my compulsion for teaching into a determination to drive my ship right into the storm. That's where I find myself today - but that needs another diary.
I'm most concerned about the kids who become jaded and angry and disenfranchised and have their self worth completely undermined by the system. These kids have been drifting in the storm for a long time. I'm not sure whether we'll make it or not, but I can keep them company while the adults try to figure it out.
And by the way, it's definitely time to shut the windows and bring in the patio furniture.