Posts Tagged ‘Badass Teachers’

Why do people DO that?!

Get ready.

Rant alert.

Last night was the first night of school vacation.  The day before I had cleaned up my classroom and packed up the math book (to spend vacation on lesson plans), the Narrative Writing Rubrics (so I can score the 24 Mystery Stories that my class finally finished) and Book One of the Lucy Calkins Reading Program (so I can desperately try to figure out what I’m supposed to be teaching in my “mini lessons.”)

I had woken up yesterday and decided to try to just relax; it was a beautiful New England spring day, and I raked the garden, turned the compost, walked the dogs.  Aaaahhhhhh.  My knotted neck muscles began to relax.

My husband had gotten us tickets to a concert at one of our favorite venues, and we headed for dinner, drinks and great blues with some friends.  And my cousin, whom I’ve known my whole life, but have rarely seen socially.

We chatted about music, our kids, beer.  We had some apps.  We had a great time!  Then someone mentioned the teachers in Atlanta who will spend 7 years in jail for cheating on the State tests.

And we were off.

My cousin, who last set foot in a school in about 1980, launched into the usual attack on public schools and teachers.

You know what I mean, right?  People who haven’t ever, ever taught anyone anything are suddenly experts on curriculum.  It doesn’t matter that I’ve been teaching for 30 years, have a Master’s Degree and 25 years of graduate courses beyond it. Nope.  Everyone feels totally comfortable lecturing me about testing, discipline, teaching math, handwriting and the use of technology.

“Teachers should” are my two least favorite words.

Last night’s diatribe started when my friend asked if I had heard about the teachers in Atlanta. I expressed my shock and outrage at the sentence, commenting that it wasn’t surprising  to find people cheating when they’ve made passing the tests the most important part of teaching.

In the next ten minutes, my cousin, the guy who doesn’t teach, made these brilliant comments as I talked about my objections to the standardized tests.

“They should throw out the tests of the kids with disabilities.”

“They shouldn’t count tests for any kid who has been in your class less than half a year.”

“They shouldn’t depend on one test a year; they should give a standardized test every 30 days.”

“If teachers don’t like the tests, they should say something.”

That last one was the one that did it.  I slammed my fist on the table, shocking the hell out of everyone sitting there, then I jumped up, said, “You don’t know that the fuck you’re talking about!” and ran out of the room.

Seriously?   SERIOUSLY, folks????  WHY does every asshole on earth feel like its OK to lecture teachers about teaching? They don’t try to lecture doctors about medicine, or engineers about bridge building, or baseball players about hitting.  So why the HELL do I always end up being talked down to by people who know literally nothing about what I do every day?


And how can I avoid them the next time I decide to give myself a tiny break from the pressures of teaching?


Boxed Set Teaching

Oh, holy professional development………

Why is it that every teacher on earth is subjected to “professional development”, no matter how developed that professional might be?

Don’t get me wrong. I love the idea of continually growing and learning.  I love the idea of talking to other professionals in order to shape our craft.  But when it becomes necessary to subject us to unbelievably chirpy “facilitators” who are crammed full of buzzwords, I just kind of want to scream.

I have spent the past two mornings with just such a cheery little woman. This person actually referred to us (on numerous occasions) as “beautiful teachers” or “lovely ladies”.   Gag me.

This woman, the hired representative of a major University and the Co-Author of a big old shiny boxed set of literacy lessons, actually used words like “noticings” and “wonderings”.  As in, “Wow, Beautiful Teachers, those are some powerful noticings!”     In normal human-speak, this mean, “Hey, good observation.”

This woman, who came to teach us how to implement the big old shiny boxed set of lessons that her university is marketing, used phrases like, “Good morning, beautiful readers! Today we are going to learn how to use text structure to enhance our reading work!” She said things like, “We can use our jottings to help us to hold onto the new learning that the text has shown us.”


I am NOT going to start speaking to my fifth graders this way.  No Way. Uh-Uh, ain’t happening.

The number of eye rolls that happened during her lesson would have derailed any teacher who was, you know, actually listening to the kids.

Luckily, that was not the case with our “professional developer”.  She had her eyes on the prize (ie, selling more updated shiny boxed sets) and so she gamely plowed on.

“As we do our reading work, let’s focus on enhancing our noticings of the ideas that the text is teaching us, so that we can hold onto our new knowledge!”

OK.  Let me just say this about that.

I have loved to read since the morning when I was four, and I worked out the word “m-i-l-k” on the carton. At no point in the past 54 years have I ever noticed my “noticings”.  Nor have I ever tuned into the “story arc” or the “author’s purpose” or the “text structures”.  Even so, I have managed to earn a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree.  And, most importantly, I love to read.

I. Love. To. Read.

For pleasure, for humor, for excitement, for information, for opinion, for escape.  For all of these reasons, I read.

I want my students to read for all the same reasons.  I want them to pick up a book and fall into the incredible world of the past, or the future, or an island far away or a dream or a magical kingdom or a football team or a romance or a small town with an orphan dog…….I don’t want them to stop their reading to identify the author’s purpose or to make text to text connections. I don’t want them to put down the greatest story of their lives to pick up a stack of sticky notes and do some “jottings”.

When did we decide that it is the height of teaching to reduce the most enjoyable and pleasurable parts of learning to cutesie little labels? Seriously? We want the kids to think about “jottings” that show their “noticings”?   What child in his or her right mind is going to want to read to learn when its all presented in this annoying, Pinterest-cute format?  What writer on earth would want to create in this environment?

Here is what I have “noticed”.  The people who so cheerily sell these programs are uniformly motivated by money. They write the shiny boxed sets, they train the rest of us in how to use them, they make money every time one of us orders the latest update on “mentor texts”.

What a pile of horse shit.  Teacher’s College of NYC, you will NEVER convince me that it is a good idea to teach a ten minute “mini-lesson” on a reading strategy that moves too fast for 80% of the kids in the room.  You will never convince me that as long as we assign a catchy name to something, the children will grasp it (“Jot Lot”? Seriously?)

I may be old, and I may be outdated. None of my beliefs will fit in a box. None of them have an adorable name.  But this old teacher lady will tell you this:

Children learn at different rates. They learn by doing, not by having an adorable teacher show them adorable charts. Children need time to think. They need time to wonder.  Children need time to process the strange new ideas that the teachers are teaching.  The vast majority of them need more than 5 minutes of teacher talk to understand a concept based in metalinguistics.

Children need to read for PLEASURE.  Otherwise, they will never read for pleasure.

So I sat through two days of incredibly expensive professional development where the cheery woman from Teacher’s College taught us all about the Reader’s Workshop Model.

And I came away with one firm conviction: I will NEVER try to teach 24 kids a meaningful strategy in less than ten minutes. I will never assume that all 24 of my kids can master a concept at the same time.

And I will never, ever, ever, for any reason, refer to the people in front of me as “beautiful readers”.


Let’s get rigorous!

So I’m not all that up to date with all the latest Pearson Inspired Common Core Standards Based education.  Ya know? I’m old.  When I’m teaching math, I use words like “multiply” and “sum”.  When I teach reading, I use phrases like “Do you like the book?” and “What’s gonna happen next?”   So last decade. So uninformed.  I know nothing, I tell you, nothing.

But I’m a good sport!  I am studying a whole variety of shiny boxed kits that tell me how to teach.  These kits were written by people who obviously know WAY more than I do about teaching.  They’re being paid by Pearson Corporation! They MUST be brilliant!

So the other day when I was forced to sit through yet another workshop on how to teach reading and writing, lead by yet another perky little girly on the Pearson payroll, I did my best to Talk the Talk.  I want to fit in! I do! Just listen to how well I slung the shit… I mean “engaged in meaningful dialogue about the latest trends in enhancing literacy.”

Perky: ‘So, have you found that the rubric is helping you to guide students toward a more rigorous approach to the standards?’                                                                                                                                                                                      

Me: ‘Totally! I find that when I facilitate a close reading of the mentor text, the rubric gives me so much information about which student is approaching grade level on which strand of each standard!”                    

 Perky: ‘So don’t you find that when you confer using the guidance of the rubric and the checklist both you and the student can find common ground for generating next steps?’                                                                              

Me: (nodding wisely) “Well, naturally, we continually refer to the anchor charts generated during each mini-lesson to identify the key areas for continued growth.”                                                                                                    

Perky: So don’t you think that its imperative to continually develop more rigorous assessments to insure comprehensive student growth across all domains?”  (Perky seems to start every sentence with “So”.  I think its in the Perky Standards and noted on the Perky Rubric.)                                                                                                  

Me: “While I’m totally sure that you are right, I’m having a little bit of difficulty decoding the main idea of the body of your thesis, given that your supporting details were framed using non-specific word choice.  I mean, from the voice in your persuasive comments I can infer that you support the idea of more rigorous assessment, both formative and summative, to inform our teaching, but I am not sure that your transitional phrases led me toward the correct conclusion.”                                                                                                                      

Perky: (blinking rapidly): ‘I, ah……’                                                                                                                                                  

Me: (giving my most warm and engaging smile) “I’m sorry! What I meant to say is that I believe in the intrinsic value of self-reflection as students dig deeper into the texts to infer the author’s purpose, and I know that it is essential for me to adhere to the best practice of providing models of grade level comprehension strategies, but how do I maintain a focus on authentic assessment while attempting to integrate cross-curricular units while continually providing the correct individual reading level for each student? I mean, gosh! (I widen my eyes and grin) how many just right books on the Articles of Confederation can there possibly be in one classroom?”                                                                                                                                                    

Perky’s mouth opened and closed, but no sound emerged.

See?  I did my best!  I tried to sling the shit, but the truth is none of it actually means anything and no matter how I try to hide it, I know that.   Fifth graders fall in love with great books when teachers read them out loud with passion, and then talk about them with interest and knowledge.  They learn to write when they are inspired to say something.  Truth? They don’t need to be told what their reading level is: they need to be surrounded by books and they need to play around with them.  Truth? They don’t need a rubric to learn how to craft a story where “the dialogue moves the story forward on the story arc” (Seriously? Whoever wrote this crap never read Vonnegut).  They know that a story is good when their friends tell them, “This was great!”

I did my best with Perky Girly. I don’t know if she accepted my nonsense, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she did.  All you really have to do to appease these folks is to use all of the latest jargon from the latest shiny box of    up-to-date curriculae.

How sad is that?

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