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As a teacher, one must always "professionally develop" one's self, either through courses offered through the district, at a college, or in a specialty area in which one is interested.  I never thought that taking one of those courses, fully intending to broaden my professional horizons, would bring me back to a near infantile state of disequilibrium, and cause me to question if I've lost my philosophy, creativity, basically my "religion" as a teacher.

Everything started out innocently enough. I decided, because of an additional role I have at the high school, to take some classes that the state offers on gifted education.  I've been working on the classes for about two months now (they're self-paced, mostly).

The other day, I revisited my work on the final assessment for one of the classes, which involved creating a new, unique unit plan based on the object of the class, to "Raise Thinking Skills."  Then it hit me: in the past nearly four years, during which time I've worked for high poverty and under-performing school districts, the two districts I worked for provided me - and all of the other teachers - with prescribed curriculum.  I've been handed, in all my years teaching, pre-designed unit plans, complete with "grade-level essential targets," based on state standards, which strive not necessarily to raise the thinking skills of a group of kiddos, but to move students to the level at which they truly should be before even reaching my high school English classroom, and, as a bonus, raise their scores on the state standardized test.

As I sat and stared at the blank template I'm supposed to fill with my wonderfully creative ideas on how I can raise thinking skills in my classroom, I drew a total blank.  Other than the teacher work sample I had to create before graduating from my student teaching program, I had not created a totally new and original unit plan.  Sure, I've designed daily lessons plans for my students, set out the calendar for the semester based on the "targets" prescribed by the district, but I've not used my deep-down creative juices to create something new and interesting since I was in college learning to be a teacher.

In my teacher program - which was effective in its aim of exposing me to the reality of what it was like to teach students in an urban setting - we were encouraged to think creatively, outside the box, with our students in mind, in terms of differentiation, in terms of...a dream world.  I say that because, as I quickly discovered during my semester of student teaching, there is a "college version" of what it's like to teach, and then there's "actual" teaching.  Outside the walls of the college I attended, there were and are still forces at play that govern the way some teachers in under-performing schools teach.

Then, of course, I moved on to the next step in that logical thought process; I had to give some thought to why I originally wanted to be a teacher. I was fortunate in that I had some of the best English teachers - but then, I think we all might say that of our favorites.  What I remember most about my classes, in addition to those fantastic teachers, was that I was able to come up with my own ideas; to be creative, to challenge the generally accepted view of things and think of all possible alternatives. As a result, my ideal classroom was one where students learned through inquiry - to be able to examine assigned texts using the framework of their natural curiosity about a theme, to question their way through their literary lives. The classes that I envisioned teaching were ones where Socratic Seminars fostering deep, meaningful discussions about texts happened every day, because I believed that people learn through discussion, through teaching others; classes where students thought of new and creative ideas about literature; where they wrote eloquent, meaningful criticisms of characters in novels.

The reality of my teaching situation varies vastly from my original vision. There are several reasons for this, but the end result is that we - teachers in all disciplines in my school - are required to use the teaching method "Teach 4 Success" because the Director of Secondary Curriculum believes that it will assist in raising the general achievement level of our under-performing students. In the first year of the program's implementation, we were all checked regularly to ensure that we were adhering to the district's "vision." Upon checking the data after a year of implementing the program in our classrooms, our state assessment data dropped - but no one in the district will mention it because they spent so much money to buy rights to use the program. I've read many posts and comments from other teachers who say that their situation is similar - if not identical to mine. Proscriptive curriculum dictated by a school district. In Texas, I know, they even have scripts. Yes, I mean the literal definition of "scripts." Teachers read them.

Also as a result of being forced into a lockstep teaching method, I've lost touch with my original vision of teaching, and by extension, my original philosophy - my teaching "religion." I had one when I graduated. I had a genuine fire behind my passion for teaching (and no, I have not lost my passion, but the coals of my fire are closer to becoming smoldering embers). I had visions of...teaching. Instead, I don't think that what we do is teaching at all, nor do many of the people with whom I work. I think the rigorous, lockstep "teach-the-same-thing-the-same-way-in-each-11th-grade-English-classroom" program with which we work is so minutely managed and also scrutinized for adherence that it leaves no room at all for teaching - at least any sort of teaching that's concerned with what a student needs because of their individual learning style, vs. what numbers our district needs to post on the state assessment to avoid becoming a turnaround school.

Questioning my philosophy is bad; what's worse still is what students experience as a result of this focus. Teenagers are not stupid - they see everything going on around them, and they sense the restrictive atmosphere. When administrators come in my room every week (sometimes twice a week) to check my board for the appropriately-phrased objective, and to see whether or not I'm employing the Teach 4 Success method to teach, they don't ask students what they're doing - they look to see that all of them are doing what they should be so they can determine my percentage of "engagement," and then they leave. While they're in my room, though, my students are not learning; instead, they become instantly resentful of the the presence of administration. One of them even told an administrator, who wanted to conference with me about his observation of my class, "But I need her more right now." And, rather than allowing the student the time he needed with me, he said, "Well, it will just be a minute." The students see, quite easily, what is more important to "the man."

So again, I'm compelled to revisit the idea I posted some time ago in a diary - the people attempting to "reform" education are not focusing on what truly matters: the students, as human beings learning to reach their potential, and teachers as educated, professional human beings capable of making appropriate judgments in their own classrooms. They're focused instead on the "Return on Investment" testing potential in a kid that, according to Teach 4 Success and other companies that attempt to "fix" education, learns the same way as every other kid in the room, and teachers who are supposed to teach them as if that were the case.

I can only hope that this recent focus on teachers - and focus on actually listening to and defending us - will also take into consideration the negative impact this trend of focusing on lockstep teaching, testing, and results has on the students.

Originally posted to Shakespeares Sister on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 04:14 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

    •  I'm so glad I teach in a private school (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Shakespeares Sister

       As far as high schools go, I have taught only in private schools, and I've been lucky.  In every case the curriculum has been designed by the teachers or with input from the teachers - including textbook selection.  One friend who spent teaching for 13 years in the Chicago public system said he felt more like a technician than a teacher because of the curriculum is pre-packaged and delivered to them.

        Critical thinking is a necessary skill.  What I'm finding in college students (I also adjunct in a liberal arts college - have been at a community college, etc.) is that too many don't have critical thinking skills.  In a group of essays I just graded, too many didn't really answer the question.  One in particular just copied portions of her notes (at least she did put them in nice paragraph form for that section of the paper).  Every option they had for the topic made clear that they had to assess a view, but too many didn't even try.

      •  I did too, once (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Temmoku, Shakespeares Sister

        We all had masters degrees.

        That didn't stop them from making us go in and wash the walls in August ~ the cleaning women didn't want to do it.

        We were also evaluated on how many stains were in our carpets. The principal never once came and gave us a professional evaluation ~ so you can guess what our raises looked like.

        Let's not forget that time  I called in sick, and the principal told me I was not a team player and I'd better get my sick butt in the classroom.

        "won't you help to sing these songs of freedom?"

        by Sprinkles on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 02:53:03 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Not my experience (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

           Our maintenance crews do the cleaning.  We don't have carpeting in the classroom.  We turn in lesson plans to our dept. chair, and both the chair and the principle or an asst. principal gives us a formal observation with follow up.  We get 10 sick days, of which 2 can be personal.  
            We don't have tenure (contracts are for one year only), and we don't make as much as the public school teachers, but the environment is good for teaching.

  •  I would tend to think (14+ / 0-)

    of the lock step as the religion.  Religion is always based on a fallacy.  That there is one way that is right for everyone.

    Sad and significant diary.  From here, it looks like education in America is only preparation for drones.

    Fools are the teachers of the wise. It is foolish to disrespect one's teachers. - Old Man

    by A Voice on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 04:48:21 AM PST

    •  Sounds like they are doubling down on (3+ / 0-)

      assembly line teaching advocated by Ford. Instead of seeing how that has failed a large percentage of students in the past it is on to employing more mechanized ideas. We need more adapted teaching to reach more students not more lock step that excludes or turns off more. I think things are getting worse instead of better because now they are devaluing and hamstringing the best teachers. T

      I haven't seen any creative plans beyond those in the trenches... teachers. And now that education has been opened to the the 'make a buck" crowd with their bottom line ideals  we are seeing the same "push the product". Profits matter not whether the product really works or whether it does silent harm in the long run. This is what is going on in pharma too. Pharma spends big money pushing drugs in Drs offices and then the Docs get vested interest in prescribing drugs just because of stats.

      I love math and I find statistics useful but the way we use statistics always leaves a percentage mistreated or missed. And the percentage adds up over the long haul into a lot of people being left behind.

      Fear is the Mind Killer

      by boophus on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 02:38:53 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I think it will be decades before (19+ / 0-)

    we truly understand what we are doing to the educational system. In five years, I watched as the creativity was completely sucked out of my daughter. As a preschooler, she had the most imaginative play -- it was a joy to watch. In kindergarten and first grade, she always had a different approach to doing her work.

    But each year, she got a little more mainstream -- and enjoyed school a little less. She's in seventh grade now and is pretty much counting down the days until she is done with school. She already sees college as just four more years of torture.

    By the time everyone is convinced that this approach of testing and no creativity simply doesn't work, it will be too late. All the teachers will have been educated in this dreary environment and won't even know a better approach...


    "...we don't differentiate between 'them' and 'us.' It's just 'us.'" - President Obama

    by theKgirls on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 05:07:39 AM PST

  •  This Recent Focus on Teachers is Against (24+ / 0-)

    listening to them, it's on them as the problem. That's why  teaching staffs of entire schools and systems are being fired.

    There exists no leadership thinking in the country other than corporate style thinking. Everything is either an asset, a cost, or a return on investment. Only the investors matter.

    Remember, 40% of all the profits of the entire American economy come from finance.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 05:33:35 AM PST

    •  irony is that teachers are held responsible (16+ / 0-)

      for outcomes without the power to make changes in order to reach the desired outcomes.  When little Bobby makes an F because he was too busy goofing off, most parents show up at school demanding to know why the teacher did not inform them (despite documented letters and calls) and why he did not "make" Bobby do better

      •  No irony involved (9+ / 0-)

        that's actually part of the plan.

        Before I retired, when I worked for a large corporation, we drones continually complained about responsibility without any authority.  It was actually formalized, tasks would have R's next to some names (responsibility) and A's next to others in the task matrix.  Almost always different people.

      •  It's so odd that B-school thinking (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Temmoku, Shakespeares Sister

        along the lines of "Wisdom of Crowds" "let the market decide" and "incentivizing the workforce" somehow stops dead at the school door.  Wisdom of Crowds thinking would toss out a regimented everyone teach the same way approach since regimented decision making is exactly what causes failure.  The marketplace is supposed to have many different products, not just one.  A monopoly wrecks the market--no choice, no signals--yet a monopoly of methods and ideas is somehow good, so corporates think, in our schools?  Finally, incentives.  Teachers certainly don't teach just for money.  By taking away the creativity and time and freedom to craft a teaching relationship with students, where is the incentive to do a good job?  We need a "business approach" to schools, but folks, the corporates need to be talked to in their own language to understand what that means--because it certainly does not mean at all what Shakespeares Sister describes.  Forcing teach to the test approaches and limiting creative adaptation by teachers who know their communities and students best is a sure prescription for failure, according to every single theory and case study taught in B-school.  The corporate behavior described by TJ (below) would cause me to sell any stock I had in such a company, as it is a sure recipe for failure.

        America needs a UNION NEWS channel. We (unions) have the money, we have the talent. Don't buy 30 second time slots on corporate media, union leaders; fund your own cable news channel and tell the real story 24/7/365

        by monkeybrainpolitics on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 03:15:27 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I forget who originated the concept (16+ / 0-)

    but "guerrilla teaching" was a concept from the 60s and 70s regarding working around the prescribed lesson plans and instead, being able to reach that stage of wonder, a willing suspension of disbelief as students discover how wondrous it is to learn.  All too often, this is hard to attain since so many students have had their palates for such things dulled.

    Looking back on my teaching, I remember the frustration of students who, in attempting to do what was expected of them, haggled over every decimal point and doggedly insisted that all material be taken from the text and all courses come complete with syllabus and tests so class rank could be computed.  I fear I frustrated many who either got last year's notes or else wanted previews of the next week's lessons. The problem was that frequently, in going over material, I would suddenly have an epiphany or else a chance comment by a student offered a new avenue to explore.  Off we would go, to the frustration of so many of my students, as they argued as to how my lectures would benefit them later in life as doctors and bankers and lawyers but no Indian chiefs.

    The problem with pushing against the envelop is that you are like a knife that is whetted often, to keep it sharp.  All too soon, you find yourself a sliver of what you were

    •  My trick was to change districts often, (15+ / 0-)

      have excellent outcomes, and to work  in special education with behavior disorder students.

      There is a competence deviance hypothesis- that the better you are at your job, the more freedom you earn   to deviate from the norm.  

      Involve parents and get them to support what you do.   Find professional associates who understand and support your vision.
       Find educational resources  that supports free learning. "Cooperative Learning", and "Multiple Intelligence Learning" have respected road maps to humanize classroom interactions and excite intrinsic learning.

      Translate activities into bureaucratic jargon that does not threaten your easily frightened principal.  
      I began each day in my BD classroom with an art activity with relaxing music to set the tone for the day.  I called it "following directions".

      Whenever the suits started closing in with restrictions that would clip my wings,  I would stand up for essential freedom in my classroom and change districts if needed. I would only take jobs where I could breathe.  
      Teaching BD kids is not the kind of job that many people want.

      The "guerrilla teaching" tactics are especially necessary at the beginning of a career.  It was great fun to be  teaching without fear in the last year before retirement.  I realized that I was a better teacher when cut loose more  and could have been more fearless all along.

      If cats could blog, they wouldn't.

      by crystal eyes on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 08:21:20 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  'students discover how wondrous it is to learn' (3+ / 0-)

      Forgive me, please, as I attempt to present the 'atheist' equivalent to your religion. This isn't necessarily my own approach (I'm more of a 'school should be a library and a friendly librarian' kind of guy) but in light of current issues in education, I would like to see it addressed:

      Shouldn't you just present the legally required information to the children, tell them to study it, and then test them on their retention?
      Because part of the alternative to that oh-so-boring by-rote approach is that well-intentioned but fully human teachers start unconsciously implementing their implicit bias and "frustrating" some students who have pragmatic requirements and 'delighting' others who have the luxury of entertaining philosophical discussions concerning their future upper-middle-class professions. And frankly I'm not all that sure of your ability to actually improve the children's education by dropping in your occasional "epiphany".

      Ultimately, the difficulty of education is similar to the difficulty of medicine: experimentation presents ethical problems, yet every instance is empirically experimental. When doctors perform their duties with explicit reliance on protocols and an aversion to 'winging it based on their instincts', it improves medicine. I hope for the day when education is as thorough.

      As I mentioned, I think that 'empirical approach' will be a friendly librarian model, but I'm not willing to simply assume it would be best and mandate it based on that intuition. I have noticed that teachers (whom I love and respect and admire) are often pretty quick to "know" the right answers about education based more on instinctual assumptions (philosophy, 'religion') than methodically accumulated empirical data.

      Balancing between serving every student and serving all students, benefiting individual children without failing to benefit other individual children, providing necessary information to all of them regardless of how 'wondrous' they find learning, these are not easy things. They don't get easier when every teacher does things in an entirely idiosyncratic manner.

      •  well... (5+ / 0-)

        I read your comment through a couple of times, and here's where I ended up "staying" the longest:

        As I mentioned, I think that 'empirical approach' will be a friendly librarian model, but I'm not willing to simply assume it would be best and mandate it based on that intuition. I have noticed that teachers (whom I love and respect and admire) are often pretty quick to "know" the right answers about education based more on instinctual assumptions (philosophy, 'religion') than methodically accumulated empirical data.

        The friendly librarian idea works in a lot of cases - where students are driven to learn, where they already have an innate intellectual curiosity, or even when their parents force them to go the library for various enrichment opportunities. But there are two realities that make that method of offering information something teachers can't necessarily employ, philosophy-based or not:

        1. We are penalized - as a district, school and sometimes individually - if, after patronizing our library, students decide they don't like it, don't come back, and/or don't retain the information they browsed while there.

        2. Some kids - especially kids in high-poverty settings with heavy gang influence and other things outside our control - don't even know how to find the library.

        Balancing between serving every student and serving all students, benefiting individual children without failing to benefit other individual children, providing necessary information to all of them regardless of how 'wondrous' they find learning, these are not easy things. They don't get easier when every teacher does things in an entirely idiosyncratic manner.

        There is a lot of research out there about how people learn, including various learning styles and methods, based on different types of intelligences inherent in different types of students. Striking the balance, as you said, between serving every student/all students, and benefiting all without giving short shrift to the random individual is difficult. I agree, too, that some teachers' individual teaching styles may not be the best and may not benefit all students. But my job - and the job of other teachers - is to blend our ability to exercise our professional judgment with an ability to adjust our instructional practices to the needs of those students who may benefit from different teaching methods. One student I have is almost entirely a self-directed learner. So rather than boring him with the daily routine, I write him a pass, he goes to the library and finishes his work - unless, of course, it's a walk-through day.

        My issue is less with wanting to traipse about with fairy-wings and be glaringly individualistic in my classroom, and more about the fact that, because of our current trend in education, I'm not even trusted to exercise my professional judgment, but must submit to the theories of people who don't even know my students.

        Thanks for reading.

        "There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them." - Joseph Brodsky

        by Shakespeares Sister on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 01:56:04 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  The biggest reason for dropping (3+ / 0-)

        out of school is boredom. Second is needing money.

        When doctors perform their duties with explicit reliance on protocols and an aversion to 'winging it based on their instincts', it improves medicine.

        So could an untrained person, with a little skills practice, become a doctor? I am not sure you have the same concept of protocols as the best doctors do: they are more on the order of checklists — and all protocols must be subject to constant revision. But doctoring is more of a trade; and doctors are notoriously deficient in areas where the most humanity is required.

        Actually doctors (and hospitals) are notoriously sloppy. You are much more likely to die FROM your medical care than from lack of it. About 200,000 Americans die each year in hospitals from preventable medical errors versus arguably ~ 45,000 die from lack of it.

        Much work is now going on into humanizing medical practice in areas where it is most deficient — particularly in the area of death.

        teachers ... are often pretty quick to "know" the right answers about education based more on instinctual assumptions (philosophy, 'religion') than methodically accumulated empirical data.

        Wrong. Teachers actually get pretty rigorous training — which is kept up. There is no evidence that the mechanistic programs have been based on "methodically accumulated empirical data." They are often based on someone's whimsical theory and a love of profit.

        ... providing necessary information to all of them regardless of how 'wondrous' they find learning,

        is a recipe for the present failure. Teaching is not "providing the necessary information all to them: people don't learn much having a book read to them. Learning is not like taking medicine. If uniformity of lessons was valuable we could plug them into a computer and all go home.

        Education of doctors has changed greatly. They don't spend the first two years of med school stuck in classrooms for a lot of rote learning. They are out in real life earlier and more subject to the epiphanies arising out of life and real patient care. Thus the education of each med student is much more individualized and even fragmented and far less uniform than before.

        And teaching now is far more regimented than it likely was in your days in the classroom.

        I'm asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about real change in Washington ... I'm asking you to believe in yours. Barack Obama

        by samddobermann on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 02:24:09 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Teachers actually get pretty rigorous training (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Sparhawk, Shakespeares Sister

          I know; I'm very familiar with it, since I live with two teachers.

          There is no evidence that the mechanistic programs have been based on "methodically accumulated empirical data." They are often based on someone's whimsical theory and a love of profit.
          That was my point. Can you tell me why, if we have the ability to methodically accumulate empirical data, and we have rigorous training for teachers, and we have all these dedicated professionals, then why are mechanistic programs based on whimsy and profit? Bear in mind, I am highly skeptical of the "they won't let us fix things" kind of responses.

          Personally, I learn the most by having a book read to me, jsyk. Learning is exactly like taking medicine: it is necessary and often resisted. I appreciate the value of making it palatable, but I disagree about the importance of making it inspiring. A big list of "memorize these facts so we know you aren't entirely ignorant as a citizen" is what I ask of public education; let the students become inspired or not on their own because that is frankly not anywhere near as important.

          In other words, I suspect that one of the reasons American schools have been turning out teabagger-quality material is that the idea that we should be teaching students "how to think instead of what to think" is an assumption without evidence. We need to teach them what to think, because many of them are never going to master the skill of how to think to begin with, and we can no longer afford to allow them to remain entirely clueless.

          •  Excellent point (3+ / 0-)
            We need to teach them what to think, because many of them are never going to master the skill of how to think to begin with, and we can no longer afford to allow them to remain entirely clueless.

            Additionally in many cases "what to think" is "how to think". You simply cannot get a grasp on subjects without a basic factual understanding of the subject matter. That kind of "how to think, not what to think" philosophy has the very damaging (IMO) effect, for example, of suppressing timed multiplication table drills (why are we teaching them the tables? we should just teach the underlying math!), resulting in kids that can't do quick calculations and always in the future have sub-par math performance. The same could be said of many other topics.

            (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
            Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

            by Sparhawk on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 03:52:17 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  A recent essay (0+ / 0-)

              which I believe I read in Scientific American was written by a professional mathematician suggesting a way to massively improve the success of mathematics education. His suggestion? Stop trying to teach advanced math to non-mathematicians, teach them how to use computers to do the math for them, as most engineers and scientists and such don't need to know the mechanics, they just need to know the answer.

              In a way, that's the opposite of your advice concerning "times tables", yet somehow in the same vein, I think.

      •  I gotta disagree (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        the tmax, Shakespeares Sister

        The amount of standardized testing implemented since No Child Left Behind is horrendous. As a recently graduated public school student, I have experienced the effects of these programs, and they suck. Teaching to a test almost always sucks all of the fun out of the class. The tests are not meant to be fun, and it turns out that neither are the classes for them. And before anyone thinks "well it's school, it doesn't have to be fun, you just need to learn", let me tell you, it has to be fun. Students will not learn a thing if they despise going to class every day, and it will just make test results worse, which makes more teachers teach to the test and the school gets less funding, and it's just a downward spiral. Especially for kids coming from poverty who very frequently are lacking the push from parents to do well in school, having enjoyable classes is imperative.

        You're right about teachers being quick to "know" the right answers about education, but keep in mind that the people making the policies are almost always making them off of nothing but that empirical data, which turns out much worse. Clearly people have not been making the right decisions based on what they see in gathered data, and I think it's because they have to first interpret that information and then form policies around it and the correct response gets lost somewhere in there. Teachers actually have a clear view of what works and what doesn't, if only for their own classroom, and that's much more than the data analysts seem to have.

    •  Teach what needs to be taught (2+ / 0-)

       That's what one of my former colleagues said.  Some days a student's question or comment (or their actions) reveals that the planned lesson isn't what they need most.  It helped that we were in a private school.

      •  we used to call those "teachable moments," (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        when a student's question prompted the chance to think totally outside the box.

        Now, we're instructed to refer to them as "learning moments," but the idea is still the same. we want to have chances to deviate from the set curriculum as is necessary.

        the day after a lockdown in our school because a teacher found a magazine clip for a gun, my 11th grade students couldn't focus on the lesson. they needed to be able to talk about what happened and have me reassure them that, if something happened close to our classroom, they would be all right. another example of, not necessarily a "learning moment," but a perfect example of students needing something way outside what I had planned. So, we spent the entire 52 minute period with them asking me questions and telling me their fears, and me reassuring them.

        You mentioned teaching in a private school; in another comment on this blog, I assured someone that I am looking for a position in such a school - unfortunately, there aren't too many private school positions to be had out here in CO; but I'm still looking.

        "There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them." - Joseph Brodsky

        by Shakespeares Sister on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 02:55:56 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  strange (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Shakespeares Sister

      As a student, I can only think of a couple people who were like that in my high school. I know everyone's favorite teachers in my school were the ones who could go on forever about some random topic. Of course, it's partially popular because you don't have to take notes for a little bit, but I think those teachers were also the best teachers overall because they were willing to explore different ideas.

      What type of school did you work in may I ask?

  •  It seems that there is a disconnect... (6+ / 0-)

    between academia and the policy makers in America where it comes to education.

    The policy makers are too focused on the bottom line, while academia produces higher thinkers.

    At some point you are going to have to sit the policy makers (and the public in general) down and say 'NO! that's not how children learn!'

    If you don't, you are just churning out fodder for the machine.

    'If you want to be a hero, well just follow me.' - J. Lennon

    by Clive all hat no horse Rodeo on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 06:06:10 AM PST

  •  for years... (8+ / 0-)

    during the time when I was un and underemployed people kept asking me why I didn't "go and get a job teaching in the public schools".  You've just explained what kept me from doing it -- a sense that it wasn't really "teaching" at all.  

    I love the irony that your teacher training program helps to point out the teacher constraining program you are working under.

    Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

    by a gilas girl on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 06:10:54 AM PST

  •  Commoditizing education the same way (12+ / 0-)

    that businesses dumb down their operations as they seek ever higher profits will turn out to be one of the dumbest things this country has ever done, and lets face it, were setting a record for stupidity at this point.

    I work for a Fortune 500 company that used to be a joy to work at. Over the last 20 years we have taken away decision making ability at the customer level. We have literally made it a disciplinary action notice for anyone to do anything but follow a pre-ordained metric handed down from the Gods at corporate headquarters. You want to know what has happened? Employees are board to death, they can't wait to go home for the day and our customer service which once landed us on Fortune magazine is dead f***ing last.


  •  I'm done with teaching... (10+ / 0-)

    in public schools. At least, that's where I am right now. 13 years in alternative and special ed. settings. And I'm done for the reasons listed above and more.

    Since I've come to view school administrators as foremen on the factory floor (and all that implies...), the passion for teaching has diminished.

    Honestly, I don't know if this is something we can fix, either.

    "I was so easy to defeat, I was so easy to control, I didn't even know there was a war." -9.75, -8.41

    by RonV on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 06:12:12 AM PST

  •  So what if you say "f-ck it"? (5+ / 0-)

    How about you design the lesson plans you long to teach and then teach them? What if you tear up the "official" syllabus and do the best you think you can do?

    Worried about being fired?

    So you could tell the administration that this is going to be an experiment, and if your students learn more, do better, etc., then you get to be the leader of a pilot project.

    If they say no, then just do it anyway until you're sacked and then find something better to do because being forced to rote-teach some corporate-approved bullshit curriculum sounds like living death.

    •  Would that I could - (14+ / 0-)

      but I have a kid of my own to feed. Fear of losing my job is keeping me - at least for the most part - compliant.

      Also, if I went against the grain, I certainly would lose my job, as I'm not yet tenured. As it is, even teachers with tenure who don't follow the program were placed on remediation plans last year, and are being forced out.

      There's an issue there, too, because the teachers aren't being dismissed because they're "bad teachers," they're being dismissed because they're not going along with the district's "vision."

      One of the teachers is the last AP-English-trained teacher we have (we discontinued those classes last year also, because of Teach 4 Success), and the other is one who, despite kids thinking her batty at times, possesses an immense depth of knowledge of her content, has a passion for it, and is passionate about kids learning how to write properly. Not to say that the latter doesn't describe the majority of us as English teachers, but their "issue" with her is her lack of ability to adhere to the vision.

      Que sera...

      But yes, I would love to teach the classes I envisioned. I am looking for other jobs in better-performing districts, but with the budget cuts all around, finding a "better" teaching job isn't a likely prospect.

      "There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them." - Joseph Brodsky

      by Shakespeares Sister on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 06:26:54 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  In that case... (4+ / 0-)

        You seem pretty smart, I'll bet you could manage to pull off some interstitial victories - there are probably small spaces and gaps in the program where you could sneak some of yourself in.

        That is, you could succeed in spite of the dreck. Consider John Fanselow's Breaking Rules as an academic Anarchist's Cookbook.

        And I'm sure it will be but a trice to say, "Oh no I can't do anything," and "no I can't, because" and "you don't understand - it's impossible," etc. But if you don't try, then you certainly can't win.

        Fanselow is well worth studying because of his FOCUS method of symbolic coding for teacher-observers. You can use this to explore patterns in your own teaching style and learn to adjust or even break patterns in your style that you aren't aware even exist.

        Best of luck.

        •  Thanks (8+ / 0-)

          for the recommendation of the book - I opened it up and said, audibly, "Ooh!"

          I do find ways around the program - and my kids are most appreciative of that fact. I teach mainly upperclassmen, and at times my seniors especially resent the spoon-feeding method I'm forced to employ. So, with them, I teach them the way they need to be taught. Also, for the most part, I'm safe with them as they're my last two classes of the day, and because they're not tested according to the state test - it's only freshmen and sophomores that are, so administration tend to focus on those classrooms.

          I do get visited weekly - sometimes twice, but as it's usually in my third hour junior-level class, it's mostly perfunctory, unless the higher-ups from the company responsible for the program are in town.

          again, thanks. I appreciate your comments.

          "There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them." - Joseph Brodsky

          by Shakespeares Sister on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 06:55:56 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Your diary is a great first chapter for a book (7+ / 0-)

    I am a retired teacher who knows exactly the moment that you are having from painful first hand experience.

    Now you know, and there is no turning back.

    "A bit of advice
    Given to a young Native American
    At the time of his initiation:
    As you go the way of life,
    You will see a great chasm. Jump.
    It is not as wide as you think."
    — Joseph Campbell

    Welcome to the ritual of initiation as a true educator.  

    You have discovered the ugly secret, that to be true to your profession in these days of fearful conformity to mindless standards of rote learning, you must resist that authority which inhibits free learning of  the human spirit.

    I hope that you document your evolution as an educator and write that book that will help so may other teachers who are at your point of the awful yet wonderful discovery that what schools call teaching is not real  teaching.

    If cats could blog, they wouldn't.

    by crystal eyes on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 07:57:40 AM PST

  •  Losing your religion . . ..? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SherwoodB, Shakespeares Sister

    Don't forget to look behind the refrigerator . . .

    I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever. ~Thomas Jefferson

    by bobdevo on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 01:01:02 PM PST

  •  Evils of Top-Down (6+ / 0-)

    The goal of Gov. Walker in WI is to silence teacher's voices in the workplace.  Living in fear of the "Administration" will result in more teachers who feel like Shakespeare's Sister.  It will produce fewer who can use their creative nature to give superior lessons.

    I have the freedom to meet state standards as best serves my students.  If that changes and I can no longer control the flow of my lessons and units I will quit teaching and go back into "private enterprise".

    Teaching has been very rewarding but pays much less than my former career.  Teaching is also the hardest job I have ever had, both in terms of hours of effort and skill required.  

    I happen to teach high level science and engineering classes, but I spent time watching my child's grade school teachers and don't know if I could manage to do their job.  Most of the demands of teaching are not related to canned lesson plans, but are all about meeting the social and intellectual needs of young people.  Without a genuine human connection the "facts" are dull and quickly forgotten.

  •  Need a mix (3+ / 0-)

    I think the secret is that people learn in different ways at different times and need a mix of rote learning, cookie cutter teaching, free form teaching, and learning through discovery/projects.

    The school in the diary is going overboard in one direction. A lot of TERC (math through discovery) programs actually bully teachers into not using worksheets and rote learning. My child is in a great, creative, project-oriented school, but I honestly think some kids would learn more if they had some more mind numbing worksheets. Sometimes, we have to explore mind-expanding concepts, and sometimes we have to learn that eight times seven is fifty-six.

    If, say, a school asked a teacher to use a respectable script half the time, I think that would be fine. Maybe a good script could keep some teachers from overdoing either rote work or projects.

    The real problems in the diary situation are probably over-reliance on scripts and possibly use of crummy scripts, not the idea of using a script.

  •  One of the joys of teaching at a (6+ / 0-)

    private school has been the absence of structured teaching paradigms.  I'm told what my classes are, how many students I will have and what rooms I will be in and that's about it.  I can do whatever else I want to, as long as I am doing some basic things that are relevant to the course.   No standardized tests other than the PSAT/SAT/ACT or AP.

    In my government classes, I've pulled from the newspapers, NPR, youtube clips, the Daily Show, shown a variety of documentaries, made students read WEB Du Bois, Cornel West, Washington's Farewell Address, Obama's speech on race, etc.  In my AP Euro class, I decided mid-stream to ask for the students to do a book review from Russian literature that I gave them (to keep) from my personal selection.

    It's been a real joy to work outside of the box, though, of course, this is within a college preparatory school.  However, I often wonder of the public system is missing something due to the nature of standardized tests and mandated curriculum.

    PS:  for fellow book lovers, the Russian books were:  Gogol, Collected Works (including The Greatcoat); Tolstoy, Resurrection; Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment; Zweig, The Case of Sergeant Grishka; Sholokhov, Quiet Flows the Don; Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago; Checkhov, Peasants and Other Stories; Ginzburg, Journey into the Whirlwind; Platonov, The Fierce and Beautiful World.

    Puerilis institutio est renovatio mundi. Jesuit dictum, ca. 1590.

    by dizzydean on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 02:14:24 PM PST

    •  How are you evaluated? NT (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      samddobermann, dizzydean

      Don't squander your youth. You never can buy it back.

      by fredlonsdale on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 02:35:12 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  We have a few in class (0+ / 0-)

        evals (usually 3 per year).  Otherwise, unless there are parental complaints, we don't have any true evals.  Our salaries are on a step scale.  We are also encouraged to participate in service, extracurriculars and committees, but it is not mandatory.

        Puerilis institutio est renovatio mundi. Jesuit dictum, ca. 1590.

        by dizzydean on Mon Mar 07, 2011 at 06:46:08 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  I'd like to find such a position (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Sprinkles, samddobermann, dizzydean

      but they are few and far between. you can believe I'm looking, though.

      "There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them." - Joseph Brodsky

      by Shakespeares Sister on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 02:48:51 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I've taught for over 20 years (3+ / 0-)

      during the summer at a Country Day School (George Bush's alma mater) , and during the year work as a tenured faculty/union member in an urban school in a city that Paul Newman referred to as 'the armpit of Connecticut'.

      Guess which one can I count on for insurance, mandated professional development and increases based on a negotiated contract?

      We don't have 'structured paradigms' or a mandated curriculum - except provided reading programs (Mondo and Houghton Mifflin).

      We do have tenure and a contract that's tough to break. Do you have someone who can come in and support you if you piss of the administration? We do.

      GCDS has big time turnover. However, I know everybody at district level meetings in my full-time position - we all go way back, and we older folks are considered 'experienced' and the mentors for the younger newbies. That district is our life.

      Wonder what happened to those teachers at that nice Gold Coast private school? Nobody is there from when I first started 20 years ago.


      "won't you help to sing these songs of freedom?"

      by Sprinkles on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 03:18:32 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  that is the downside (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        dizzydean, Cassandra Waites

        of teaching in a private school; no protection, health benefits not as good as what I have now (even though with my current benefits package I can't afford to cover my daughter and she's covered by another means), and crappy raises.

        we do have professional development on a consistent basis; the unfortunate part of it is that it's now all centered around the Teach 4 Success model.

        as for raises, with the current budget cuts in CO, I recently had to take a survey on exactly how I would like my salary to be reduced:

        A furlough day when students don't normally have school (unpaid day off).
        A furlough day when students normally have school (unpaid day teaching).
        A 1% pay decrease.
        A 3% pay decrease.

        On the survey, I had to prioritize them in the order I would prefer. I think, unconsciously, I listed them the same way here. Any way you look at it though, I can say fairly confidently I don't think we're getting a raise this year. Mind you, my salary is not even close to the "averages" being talked of on various news networks.

        "There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them." - Joseph Brodsky

        by Shakespeares Sister on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 03:29:47 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Assault from All Sides (3+ / 0-)

    My school went to hell. We didnt blame the teachers (well, we blamed one but he was an idiot..since that was my only teacher id ever call an idiot, Id say thats pretty good. WAY better than the average numbers I deal with.) In wyoming, we got great student to teacher ratios, often retaining the same teacher as we excelled past the public schools.

    Of course that school no longer exists in the form I knew it. Because apparently wyoming has budget problems (My god. Wyoming? Not making a surplus!?) and they sold the school to the public school system. It would be funny, how fast the scores dropped, if it wasnt repressentative of real humans -_-

    "It was the best of times, it was the BLURST of times?!"

    by kamrom on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 02:37:06 PM PST

  •  Totalitarian mind set (2+ / 0-)

    The totalitarian mind set is always in love with and comforted by its well established boxes therefore it is naturally threatened by "thinking" individuals because thinking in real sense always means busting of the old paradigm boxes and frameworks. Thinking means evolution, change and freedom. It is not easy to control and enslave thinking societies. I suspect the lockstep teaching and testing efforts have its purpose: Don't give them ideas.

    Do they succeed? Only on short term basis so don't get discouraged. Human history is a history of evolution and change, not lockstep sameness. They are on the wrong side of the history. Meanwhile, I recommend that you do everything in your power to teach your students how to think. I can't think of a better service to one's nation than teaching its youth how to think. Period.

    "Corruptio Optima Pessimi" (Corruption of the best is the worst)

    by zenox on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 02:38:55 PM PST

  •  California was even worse... (3+ / 0-)

    The schools in south california seem to have this policy: Expel kids who get harassed. No im not even kidding sorta. Its the only way they could explain their behavior toward me..let kids harass me right infront of them, would demand i get the names of the kids who assaulted me (Because apparently no one can figure it out. except when i finally would snap and fight back. But then, what with the neurological ticks, i was easy to point out.)

    I eventually fought back once..Keep in mind that this was after such lovely events as having my pants stolen..And I got expelled. I somehow feel they were waiting for such an event.

    "It was the best of times, it was the BLURST of times?!"

    by kamrom on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 02:42:04 PM PST

  •  As Read by Stephen Fry: The Meanest Teacher Ever (2+ / 0-)

    Bet Professor Umbridge would have loved, "Teach 4 Success."

    There are earlier chapters where the class does nothing but read the textbook. With questions being strongly discouraged. How strongly, you ask? Listen to the clip.



    •  I must admit, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jabney, Cassandra Waites

      I love the Harry Potter novels. and yes, Umbridge would have loved the program. in fact, my cooperating teacher for my student teaching experience was convinced at one point that Rowling had gotten the idea for Umbridge by watching someone in her school. Not literally, of course, but you get the idea.


      "There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them." - Joseph Brodsky

      by Shakespeares Sister on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 03:13:58 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Congrats on making the rec list (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Shakespeares Sister

    SS. I have read your diaries often and they deserve this kind of attention.

  •  Here's what it's really about (5+ / 0-)

    from the WestEd (company that sells Teach 4 success) web site

    Our typical daily consultation rate is $2550, including consulting services, travel, materials, and program evaluation.

    My district uses a different one.  I can't remember the name of it right now. I went to the workshops last summer.  I was ready to buy in.  It sounded great. But the presenter couldn't answer any of my specific questions about how I would apply the training in my content area.

    I've decided all these consultants can do is talk about angels dancing on the heads of pins. They can't help you make it work because they don't know how to make it work. They're sitting in an ivory tower inventing fairy tales that they have no idea how to implement and they're not held accountable.

    Light is seen through a small hole.

    by houyhnhnm on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 03:39:20 PM PST

  •  My child matters (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Shakespeares Sister

    He must go on without me, probably after he wipes my nose and my butt before I take my final leave.  I used to have a goal with my community that we wanted that for all of our children, that they could go on just fine without us.  And we all used to work to give that to our children until greed and hoping to be the powerful greediest one someday became more important.  I marvel that seeking higher education began in many places like Alexandria and then died away at different times instead of expanding and embracing all.  I don't want to struggle for what I already have that is wonderful, I want to keep it and I want my grandchildren to have it and their children too.  I don't want our civilization to deteriorate, and that is what seems to happen whenever a culture and a civilization destroys its means of seeking knowledge and educating.

  •  There is an argument to be made (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Shakespeares Sister

    At a certain level, it is not necessarily the function of each classroom teacher to develop his or her own curriculum.  

    I don't think that all teachers have to be the creators, but they do need to be able to deliver it at a high level, and they need to be able to recognize who is and who isn't getting it.  

    Certainly, at a school level, there should be the freedom to collaborate and create a dynamic environment for the curriculum that is chosen at the school.

    I sometimes think that many teachers dig themselves a hole when they feel like they have to create everything for their classes.

    It should go without saying that many of the projects and lesson plans that you create on your own have already been made in one form or another, and sometimes by creating a whole new lesson out of the blue, you aren't reinventing the wheel, but you're building a wheel out of raw material, even though the wheel already exists.  

    "Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand."

    by otto on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 03:52:58 PM PST

  •  This happens to lots of people (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Shakespeares Sister

    It is actually normal to come to the realization that your chosen profession doesn't live up to your dreams. Lawyers realize that their job of "fighting for justice" in day to day life involves filing a lot of seemingly meaningless briefs or chasing after trivial cases in order to keep themselves in business. Doctors confront the fact that "helping people" involves dealing with a lot of noncompliant patients and trying to manage the business of a doctor's office. Aspiring professors have to deal with the reality of perma-adjuncting rather than being the next public author/scholar/intellectual.

    Disadvantaged school districts in poor areas are investing a lot of focus in getting everyone's basic skills up to part rather than letting teachers run their classes in an idealized "Socratic dialog" environment.

    It is worthwhile to reevaluate why you chose your profession in the first place and think about where you can find an outlet for what you want. There are schools, though perhaps only private schools, where you might get the opportunity to engage in the creative independence you crave.

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