The worst thing you can say to this teacher.


Like most school districts these days, mine is determined to provide as many “Professional Development” days as possible.  Theoretically, these days allow us all to learn new tricks which will make us more effective/successful/motivated teachers.  So we all get together in a big room and learn about new programs that the district has bought to help us to do what we’ve all been doing for years.

Woohoo.

I don’t usually love those days, to tell you the truth, because I have a very hard time sitting still and listening for 6 hours.  I am used to recess, you know? When I’m in a room full of adults, I really miss the kids.

But I do what I am asked to do, and I read and talk and listen and take notes.   I try to get along with everyone and I try to be enthusiastic about the “new” information.

Sometimes, though, by the end of “Professional Development” day, I just want to climb onto the nearest bridge and scream out my frustration before hurling myself into the abyss.

A few years ago, for example, I was in a big room full of fifth grade teachers, and we were asked by the facilitator to create a piece of art that represented how we feel about teaching.  I happily launched into poetry writing, while planning a series of watercolors to illustrate my ideas.

One of my colleagues, though, from a more traditional, structured, buttoned down school was struggling to understand the task. “Oh, come on!”, she urged the facilitator, “I hate all this creative stuff! Just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it!”

I was aghast.

Her comment has been fodder for many a joke among my more creative and spontaneous colleagues, as you can imagine.  See, in our district there are five elementary schools, and each has had, for almost 40 years, a distinct “culture” and “flavor”.  My school has always been the offbeat, creative, expressive, “crunchy granola” school.  We loved our quirky ways, and for decades now we have prided ourselves on our child centered approach to learning. We have long embraced the idea that children can only thrive and grow when they are engaged, excited and curious about the world around them.  We have always been the place where children can collaborate, create, inquire and learn with other children.  We have always been the place where intellectual curiosity is prized over “correct” answers. So the very idea of “Just tell me what to do” has been anathema to us, and the utterance of the phrase has caused us to shudder in dismay.

And that is why I was shocked to speechlessness this morning by the Science Curriculum Coordinator, as she stood in my doorway just before the students arrived for the day.

She was asking me for feedback about the new $1,100 science “kit” that the district had purchased for the fifth grades, in an effort to raise our scores on the standardized state tests.  She wanted to know how well the nicely scripted, neatly boxed kits were working for us.

I don’t know what came over me when she asked.  Perhaps it was my night of poor sleep, broken up by an hour’s obsession over how to organize four distinct reading groups in the classroom. Perhaps it was the fact that I was arriving an hour later than I had planned, after enduring a two hour commute to work.  Maybe I was just plain feeling ornery, and in need of a second cup of espresso to see me through the day.  All I know is that for some strange reason, when she asked about that damn kit, I answered her truthfully.

“Well, you know,” I began, “This program seems to be a little redundant.  We are going over the same information virtually every day.”

“Ah!”, she miled, “Of course!  The program is designed to be redundant, to foster concept development.”

I cleared my throat, “Well, uh, but the kids are finding it pretty boring.  It’s just going over the same information again and again.”  I wanted her to understand that the students were certainly able to memorize the little factoids, but they were feeling restless about the lack of excitement in the program.  I tried to make her see what I meant.

“The kit has left out a lot of really interesting ideas.”, I said, “Like, you know, acid rain, and pH testing!”.

My science curriculum administrator shook her head. “No, no!” She said, wagging a finger in my direction. “You don’t need to teach all that!  They don’t need to know that!”

What?!  Who says they don’t?  I felt a little spurt of anger in the area around my heart. “You mean they won’t be tested on it.”, I declared firmly.

“Right!” she answered, apparently happy that I understood. “They don’t need to know that stuff!”

To my credit, I held my tongue and held my breath and held my blood pressure down below extreme explosive stage. I smiled and I nodded and I let her drift away, out of my classroom.

But I have not let go of what she said, and why I know it to be wrong.

My students don’t “need” to know any of the crap we teach them.  They don’t “need” to know how decimals work, or why the Pilgrims really left England, or how various species interact in aquatic ecosystems.  They don’t “need” any of that stuff.

What they do “need”, though, in spite of what the bureaucrats think, is a healthy dose of curiosity about every single thing in the universe around them. They need to wonder about acid rain, and water pollution and dragonfly nymphs and the rotation of the goddamn earth.  They “need” to learn to wonder and think and ask great questions and go out there in the big wide world and find the answers.

And that is why the very very worst thing that you could EVER say to this teacher is “They don’t need to know that.”

They are the future: they need to know everything!

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17 responses to this post.

  1. Very well said!! I’m so tired of doing things just to make sure kids pass a test! It’s squelching their love of learning.

    Reply

  2. I’m so with you on this–and truly understand how you feel, especially about PD. Thanks for sharing your frustrating experience–it helps the rest of us cope knowing we’re not alone.

    Reply

  3. Tomorrow and the following day (double whammy, plus I get to drive an hour each way with no prep time or fuel reimbursement), I have been “invited” (i.e., required) to professionally develop, in a high school gymnasium, on cold metal folding chairs. I cannot begin to tell you how much I dread these PD days. Breathe. In. Out. I will remain quietly optimistic now, despite no longer being the classroom decision maker I once knew and loved being.
    eM

    Reply

    • Posted by momshieb on October 11, 2012 at 6:30 am

      Oh, those folding chairs! I bring “Aspercreme” to PD days now! I love your idea of remaining “quietly optimistic”, and will try to do the same!

      Reply

  4. We just spent what was supposed to be PLC time going over lists of all our students and counting. Yes counting. How many boys/girls? How many white/Afr. Amer/Asians? How many special ed? What percentage of all of these groups have been suspended? Does it not seem that the computer that generated these lists, with handy little ethnicity codes attached, could have also sorted these same lists and gotten the same info??? Is it valuable use of 20 staff members time to sit and count? Arggggg.

    Reply

  5. Well, it’s actually not bad data to have, I just wish the computer could have done it. We’re looking to see if there’s a higher incidence of discipline referrals in any of the subgroups. We’re going to use the same data to check for achievement gaps in the subgroups. It would have been a better use of time to show us the data and let us plan strategies for how to address any problems that we found.

    Reply

  6. I guess I would just have expected the data to be generated by the computer, as you said, and then analyzed by the administrative team. THEN they come to you for ideas and solutions! Talk about having to do it all….!

    Reply

  7. Posted by Lisa Williams on October 21, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    Very well said! I am a former classroom teacher and now work for an interactive technology company… still in education but train teachers how to use the technology they have. I’m understanding when I work with teachers today, and help them see the possibilities of technology and how to engage their students. It is most often the same response I get… “What we have to teach is so overwhelming, I don’t have time for this”… or something very similar. It angers me that an administrator would tell you your kids don’t need to know something! Really? This is where the frustration begins and where teaching falters. Sad…

    I respect the use of good data and the need for it, but I relied more on my individual kids, their personalities, their interests, their state of mind, their motivation…. etc. All the data in the world cannot tell me if my Logan is “on track” or if he needs “intervention”… only my awareness of Logan will allow me to see that and modify where needed in my teaching.

    Sorry so winded! haha I am passionate about this stuff, and was just writing about it in my own blog. 🙂

    Reply

    • No apologies needed~ its fabulous to know that I’m not alone! And the world of technology is a miracle for our kids, as far as I am concerned! They are so engaged and happy when we are using a wiki, or creating powerpoints, or making iMovies. Good for you for being in the forefront!

      Reply

      • Posted by Lisa Williams on October 21, 2012 at 4:02 pm

        Thanks! I have always been an “out of the box” teacher and some of the best teaching moments were those that were unplanned, those moments that lead to discussion and enlightenment. I taught 3rd and 4th grade (2nd for one year). Yes, technology is crucial and it seems like “those people” still want us teaching to the test and everything in the whole world depends on the scores on those insane tests! Ahhh…. Absolutely, you are not alone!! 🙂

  8. So true. Great blog!

    Reply

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