lit lover book

reflections of an ever-evolving educator

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

I lost my planning everyday this week to graduation testing. Only a teacher could appreciate how this impacts a work week. Apparently it is completely beyond the understanding of the guidance counselor who organized the testing and the administrator who supervised it. To top it off, I was coming off a couple of weeks of yearbook overload. I have completely neglected my other classes, my grading, updates to the school website--all of it shifted to the back burner as I pushed to meet our final deadline. Last weekend I put in 19 hours (yes, I counted) on compiling and editing the index. Thank goodness, the book is finally done. And after all that work, I have to face the fact that I am now unbelievably behind.

So then I lose my planning for the week--guess how behind I am now?

Spring break is only a week away. Rinse and repeat.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

pointing fingers

Once again, I spent the morning in an in-service, this time one on curriculum mapping. The presenter was funny and engaging, and the concept of curriculum mapping seems like a really good one and a direction that education should definitely be heading in.


I can't help getting more than a little bit annoyed with the current trend in teacher in-services. What I'm seeing is this tendency to emphasize differentiating instruction, and the acknowledgement that we as teachers should also receive differentiated instruction, all while the presenters choose NOT TO DO SO. Yesterday we sat for a solid two hours in an auditorium crammed to overflowing with teachers and listened. That's it. She talked. And talked. And talked. We nodded. Took notes. Occasionally chuckled. That's differentiation?

The other trend I've noticed is far more insidious. Presenters begin by claiming that they have been in our shoes. They then begin to subtly attack our strategies and teaching tactics, and they get away with it by claiming that they themselves have been guilty of the same transgressions. Slowly, the presentations build the case that everything we teachers and schools are doing is wrong--short-sighted, hopelessly outdated and old-fashioned, designed for teacher convenience instead of student learning, etc. The presenters push this agenda skillfully, by cracking jokes we relate to, by empathizing and claiming to understand, by starting sentences with things like "I understand that..." Problem is, those sentences always include the word "but."

My question is, why is it necessary to tear us down in order to enlighten us? Why not just share these new strategies, made possible largely due to advances in technology, without trying to hammer and blame all the poor teachers who have been muddling along to the best of their ability for all those years that the technology wasn't available? Is it really necessary to point fingers in order to shed light? Why not start off with some positives, begin by saying "I know you've been doing the best that you can with the resources you've had available. But wouldn't it be cool if you could...? Wouldn't it make things even more effective if you could...?" Just an idea.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

differentiate this

During our in-service on Friday, the presenter brought up differentiation and the general consensus that it is necessary/impossible in our classrooms. She suggested that instead of focusing on differentiating curriculum, we differentiate assessment instead. She gave the example of a student she had once taught, one with an 80 IQ, who had great difficulty reading and writing. However, he had an intuitive understanding of the literature, a more insightful grasp than any of her other students. But he couldn't pass her tests, couldn't write to grade level standards, so she failed him. She talked about how much she regrets that, how she could have counted his insightful contributions to class discussions as assessments, given him other alternate assessments that would have provided him an opportunity to pass her course.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I understand that people learn different ways, thus the need for differentiation. Problem is, given the time constraints and our class sizes, meaningful differentiation of instruction isn't always possible. Sometimes, we do it hit or miss--appealing to one set of learners one day, another set the next. Too often that's the best we can do.

But differentiating assessment speaks to something else entirely. It sounds good initially, but then we have to ask ourselves, doesn't that change the game altogether, and perhaps unfairly, for a lot of students? If, for example, the point of a particular course is to train students to read critically and write at a particular level, but we choose to assess some of them based on their ability to discuss verbally and pass them based on that ability, even though they haven't demonstrated the skills the course was supposed to teach--what the hell? And just how long do you think a school administration would support a teacher doing that? I can tell you--until the first parental complaint, at which point that teacher would be hung out to dry.

I agree with Bloom that our kids are being treated as if they are "cans of beans" --part of this is happening due to the continuing effort by the government to run education in the same way profitable business is run. In that scenario, students become product, their achievement (or lack of it) a measure of our productivity, and thus we set the same expectations for every kid, which is unreasonable and impractical. My question is what should be the alternative? I don't like the current model, I think it is harmful to many students who don't meet the government-established standards, but what should we be doing instead? Any ideas?

Friday, March 04, 2005

no apologies necessary

Today we had an in-service for half the day, and then returned to teach our classes. We spent three hours listening to the high school language arts supervisor from the county office go over the new, improved performance standards. These are basically the same performance standards we have always used, but with a new acronym and longer sentences (they keep bragging about how there are fewer standards now, but they just took the old ones and combined sentences).

After 18 years with this county, I am a bit tired of our general lack of follow-through. I expressed this view to our illustrious new LA supervisor today, when she opened the floor to questions and suggestions. I offered the example of the two whole days I and many other teachers had spent back in October in vertical team training, during which we were assured that we would be given further time to collaborate and plan with the middle school teachers we trained with there. To date, not a single minute has been scheduled to continue our work, despite repeated requests. The supervisor launched into an explanation of the politics involved in the district, of her lack of access to funds earmarked for other things, yada, yada, all interesting, none of it addressing the issue inherent in my example. Namely, why should we take this training seriously, when this, like everything else the county insists we learn, is never fully implemented? Even if we make the mistake of getting excited about any of it, we quickly learn that this too shall pass before we have ever had the opportunity to actually use it. I cannot count how many times this has happened over my career.

Most irritating of all, however, was baby dept. head's reaction. At the end of the meeting, I overheard him apologizing to the supervisor for my comments. He didn't name me specifically, but his implication was unmistakable. It was all I could do to maintain my professionalism and not confront him right then and there. Maybe when he has more than 5 years under his teaching belt, he'll have a better understanding of where I'm coming from. Sometimes he really pisses me off.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

sick day

One thing I really hate about this job is that you can't just be sick. Period. Instead, you have to plan to be sick, and prepare for some other unqualified person to do your job for however long you are sick. On top of it all, the unqualified stand-in doesn't really do your job while you're sick, because when you return you have the responsibility of scoring all the assignments you planned and that your stand-in may or may not have explained correctly.

In case you haven't guessed, I'm sick. But I'm at work because it's just too much work to stay home. Yee-haw.