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For my entire career, an ominous storm as always been on the horizon, visible and threatening, but no reason to bring in the patio furniture.

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.)

But saddest of all to me is that lately when someone tells me they're going into education, I physically cringe.  My experience and the experience of many teachers across the country is that neophytes' blossoming aspirations may be swept away by the onslaught before they have a chance to grow roots.

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.

Originally posted to sick of it all on Sat Apr 01, 2006 at 06:23 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thanks for trying.... (3+ / 0-)

    You are working harder than the students.  Most good teachers do.  The goal is to engage students and have them become passionate about teaching themselves.  This can be a maturity level for many students and any individual teacher may plant the tree and never see the fruit borne on the branch.

    I think some are wanting monoculture- wide fields of soybeans.  Ironic that we want a uniform education at the very time when our country needs people to become more creative.  That is why I am sad when schools have to teach reading and math all day and have no time for other subjects.  

    You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you mad. Aldous Huxley

    by murrayewv on Sat Apr 01, 2006 at 06:24:01 AM PST

  •  yours is an astonishing biography (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sick of it all, JanL
    'inspirational' yet completely reasonable. i sympathize. i'm not a ps educator. but i hope one day (soon!) to find the kind of intellectual and moral footing by which you steer your ship. i'm so so tired of 'consulting' in suitland.

    thanks for sharing.

    Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

    by MarketTrustee on Sat Apr 01, 2006 at 06:47:37 AM PST

  •  physical plant (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    chantedor, sick of it all

    I'm interested. My mother was a public school teacher (high school) and we also attended public schools that were economically and racially diverse.

    I am most interested in your thoughts whether the middle school with grades 6-8 inherently inhibits learning about anything other than social cliques. I have not researched this so my observations are only anecdotal and based on my own family as well as hundreds of my patients and their families.

    It would seem common sense that ANYTHING that refocused a middle school student on learning should be cherished and nurtured (rather than the fear of getting one's ass kicked, write-ups, suspensions, and hormones that is the reality of the existing middle school).

    NCLB fails to address existing difficulties in our educational infrastructure.

    I bet your students shined.

    "And tell me how does god choose whose prayers does he refuse?" Tom Waits

    by madaprn on Sat Apr 01, 2006 at 06:56:19 AM PST

    •  The middle school movement (5+ / 0-)

      has taken a real hit in the last 10 years.

      I teach there primarily to counter those fears you so eloquently cited.

      Kids are starved for a sense of purpose, IMO.  They are extremely savvy (thank the internets) and just don'y buy the "sit there - we know what's best for you" crap schools try to impose on them.

      I believe that the cliques are a natural part of kids establishing identity and we need to help them learn to navigate that.

      However, I also think the "importance" of those cliques is over-exaggerated due to the sense of "unimportance" kids feel in general.

  •  great diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sick of it all

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I had a few teachers like you "back in the day," and sometimes I wonder how they're holding up in this environment.

    My neighbor teaches home ec at the local high school and has been seriously starting to look for a job in another state. She seems to think it's worse here in Florida, but I don't know--it all seems to be predicated on NCLB, which is a national program.

    She told me that in the past few years, the teachers have had to spend increasingly more time working--on lesson plans that have to be approved ahead of time by someone higher up, and grading more and more exams. She said that all they do now is teach for the tests. "In home ec??!!!" I asked. "Yes," she said. "Even in home ec."

    She also told me that five teachers quit this fall and about five more quit in January. Morale is at an all-time low here.

    •  Florida (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      chantedor, EdlinUser, JanL

      has the high stakes FCAT.  My understanding is that kids at certain grades CAN NOT pass to the next grade until they pass the test.

      There is a lot of political support for this (and I'm even hearing teachers get on board sometimes - so the kids will "try harder."

      The research contradicts high stakes testing improving learning.  Brain research shows that fear inhibits the kinds of critical thinking most of want our kids to work on.  Of course, those tests don't really test much critical thinking.

      Yeah - Florida really sucks right now.

  •  Cool! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    chantedor, sick of it all, JanL

    I love your idea of teaching by theme.  I remember when I first realized the links between history and the art (painting, music, literature etc) of its respective time, and thought how interesting it would have been to have had some formal cross-over in school.

    Nice diary.

  •  anyone remember Harrison Bergeron ? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sick of it all, JanL

    interesting movie

    it is our cares which organize the human mind....

    by wildwisefree on Sat Apr 01, 2006 at 07:08:15 AM PST

  •  Resistance is reaching critical mass (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    chantedor, sick of it all, JanL

    Things are always darkest just before the dawn.  Don't assume that things can't or won't change.  I believe they are and they will.

    As someone who keeps his ear to the tracks on this issue, I hear a distant rumble getting closer and closer.  Too many parents, too many teachers understand the truth of children and can document and demonstrate the hideous failings of "test, test, test."

    The crucial thing is to articulate a positive vision of what can replace NCLB so that there is a natural alternative all ready to go  and be advocated by politicians as this critical mass achieves political legitimacy.

    Education? Teaching? NCLB? Read my book _Becoming Mr. Henry_

    by Mi Corazon on Sat Apr 01, 2006 at 07:24:11 AM PST

    •  So true (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      chantedor, JanL

      especially about having a positive vision.

      I know people are doing amazing things that challenge the system, but I have found it incredibly difficult to sustain and virtually impossible to do myself.

      Hope is not lost, but we're in for a hell of a ride.

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