Posts Tagged ‘#badassteachersassociation’

Keep Reading Aloud !!!!


My school is a “Teacher’s College Project School”, which means that we are all following the strict interpretations of Lucy Calkin’s reading and writing programs.

That wouldn’t be so bad, given that Ms. Calkins knows what she’s talking about, believes in the wonder and magic of the written word, and used to have great respect for actual teachers.

In the world of “TC”, though, we are reduced to such inanities as, “We teach reading strategies, we don’t teach BOOKS.”

Really.

As an old lady teacher and a long time speech/language specialist, I firmly believe that children learn to love great books when they hear them read aloud with passion and excitement.

When my own kids were small, I remember reading “The Hobbit” out loud to them.  They loved it, and couldn’t seem to get enough.  When the book finished, we went on to “The Lord of the Rings”.  I remember, very clearly, closing the book so that I could make dinner.  When I came back into the living room a half hour later, my then 9 year old was reading the rest of the chapter out loud to her little brothers.  “We couldn’t wait”, they explained when I came in to ask what was going on.

I once had a student tell his mom that he wanted to improve his reading skills, “Because someday I want to do “read aloud”.

It’s the best part of the day.  The kids forget the class hierarchy of coolness for those twenty precious minutes. They forget that they are trying desperately to be mature.  Instead, they curl up like a pile of puppies on the rug at my feet.  They listen with such rapt attention that I can’t look away from their sweet faces. They lie still, so unlike their usual bouncing selves.  They plop down together, a head on a stomach, a leg stretched over a leg. They are a beautiful woven fabric of childhood imagination, and my voice is what animates them.

I am nearing the end of my teaching days.

I have only so many “read alouds” left in me.  I have begun to make a list of those books that I simply MUST read to my class.

“The Liberation of Gabriel King”

“Granny Torrelli Makes Soup”

“The One and Only Ivan”

“Heartbeat”

But what about “Tiger Rising”?  And “The Hobbit”?   What about the beauty of “Mr. Lincoln and His Boys”, such a poignant portrayal of war and power?

There are so many wonderful books.  The library is the same rich treasure chest that it was when I first discovered it at the age of 8 with my best friend, Sue.

There are so many beautiful, touching, moving, powerful books.

May every child hear at least one of them read aloud by a loving and attentive adult.

May every child find himself falling in love with the sound of the sounds of the language, and my ever one of them think, “I can write a story, too.”

Scenes From an Insane Asylum


If you are a parent with school aged children in the United States, you might want to proceed with caution.  I swear that I am making none of this up. None of it. Not one word.

I’m not even exaggerating.

The following description of test days in an upper middle class suburban school district may make you panic and hyperventilate about your children and those who are in charge of their welfare during the school day.

On the other hand, the following description might make you decide that you absolutely MUST opt your children out of any further standardized testing in the future. In that case, I salute you, I thank you, and I promise you that you are doing the right thing.

Scene 1.  Teachers have been trained in maintaining security during the standardized testing days. We have been told that once we receive our giant tupperware box of testing materials, and have signed our names on the papers, we must NOT leave the boxes unattended for any reason.   This means that if we have to go to the bathroom before the testing starts, but after we have received our tupperware boxes, we have to take the boxes with us.   Yep.  We pee with the tupperware box full of high security tests at our feet.

Scene 2.   All of the kids are seated and ready.  Each has been given an official #2 pencil.  They wait expectantly, and nervously, for the testing to begin.  I hand out all of the test booklets, all of the answer sheets, all of the bright pink Math Reference Sheets, all of the rulers.  Because this is the second day of the math tests, I expected every ruler to still be inside every test booklet.  I had carefully placed them there the day before, and then I’d sealed up the giant Tupperware Box and returned it to the office.  I forgot that when I got to the office, I had to recount every item, as did the school secretary, and we both signed a sheet with the numbers recorded.  I forgot that we both had to do the same procedure again this morning.

Oops.

I was short two approved rulers. Now, I have to explain to you that the state of Massachusetts, in a fit of fiscal psychosis, buys and distributes hundreds of thousands of these EXACT same rulers every year.  My classroom is packed with them. However, the security rules of the test specify that we must use THIS year’s ruler.

I was faced with a dilemma.  I picked up one of this year’s rulers in my right hand, and one of last year’s in my left.  I frowned a bit.  Exactly, exactly the same clear plastic little ruler.  “I don’t think that inches have changed in a year”, quipped one of my boys.  I handed out two rule-breaking-but-indistinguishable last year’s rulers, and we began the test.

Scene 3.  The testing in the classroom is complete.  We have collected every test booklet, every answer booklet, every approved math reference sheet, every approved ruler.  We are supposed to pack up the giant tupperware box (can we just refer to it now as the GTB?) and carry it ourselves back to the school office, where it can be placed securely under lock and key.  However, one student is taking the test in a special education classroom, as specified in his IEP.  HIS official test administrator has his test booklet, his answer booklet, his approved reference sheet and his ruler.  She has to bring it back to the classroom (along with the student, but no one seems too concerned with that part).  Until we have this final test form, we can’t return the box to the office.  We wait.

Scene 4.  Given that the classroom full of antsy kids has now finished the testing, we’d like to go outside on this beautiful spring day.  But we are not allowed to remove any of the testing materials from the building. We are not allowed to leave the GTB unattended in the classroom.  We are not allowed to return it to the office without one of its tests.  We try to learn some science instead of going out to play.

Ha.

Scene 5.  I have a meeting to attend about one of my students.  They have all gone off to lunch, but my one student who is still testing with the special educator has not returned.  I cannot leave the GTB.  I hoist it up and haul it with me to my meeting, where it will sit on the floor for an extra hour.

In the meantime, of course, the special ed teacher has collected the finished test from her student, and is searching the building for me.  She can’t leave the test on my desk, nor can she return it to the office.  She MUST hand it to me. She goes to the office to find me, and has to interrupt my meeting in order to hand me the test, which I then insert into the TGB.

Scene 6.  Like any teaching in the world, I have become an expert at bladder control.  But the meeting finally ends, and I rush off to the ladies room.  Where I am confronted with the hilarious sight of three clear tupperware boxes filled with testing materials.  All in a row on the floor of the bathroom as their owners get some relief.

Please tell me, someone, anyone, how in hell this craziness is really going to “improve student outcomes”?

I feel like I spent a week in One Flew Over the Coocoo’s Nest.

So you think we’re exaggerating?


Dear Standardized Testing supporters,

I am writing this post after having spent the past two days administering the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System- Math, Grade 5.

I have a few little anecdotes and insights for you folks, given that you believe all this testing is actually useful.

Let me give you a very brief description of the absurdities of the educational testing world.  If you still believe that High Stakes testing is good for anyone who spends his/her day in a school, then you are either delusion of on the Pearson Payroll.

Scene 1.   As a public school teacher in my state, I had to participate in an “MCAS Security Training Session.”  I had to watch a Powerpoint presentation, and then sign my name on a document swearing that I had watched the presentation.

Scene 2.  On Day 1 of the testing, every teacher who was giving the test was required to come to the school office to pick up our materials.  Materials were available for pickup from 8:45 to 9:00 AM.   All 18 of us showed up in the office right on time.

Scene 3: Before we were allowed to take our Boxes of Test Materials, every teacher had to count every test booklet, answer booklet, MCAS Approved Reference Sheet and “any additional materials”.  We then had to sign a document where we recorded our counts. Then an office staff member had to repeat the process and write the same numbers, and sign.    This took a long time. To say the least.

Scene 4: We read the directions.  We are instructed to tell the children that the test session is scheduled to last for two hours, but that they will be given as much time as they need, up until the end of the school day.

Scene 5: We tell the children, our sweet, trusting eleven year old kids, that “cheating in any form is forbidden”.  We tell them that they are not allowed to use cell phones, game consoles, music players (?) or any other electronic devices.  We tell them that they can’t use scrap paper, but they can scribble all over their test booklets.

Scene 6: The test has begun.  A very bright, hardworking student raises her hand.  I signal for her to come to my desk.  She does not recognize one of the many words that mathematicians use for “number”.   I am forced to give the scripted and MCAS approved answer.  “I’m sorry. I can’t tell you what it means.  Use your best judgement.”

Scene 7: My wonderful, smart, exceptional Chinese student, who started the year with exactly one phrase of English is working very hard at her desk.  Uh, oh.  I notice that she is using her everyday Chinese-English dictionary, given to her by our ELE teacher.  She is supposed to be using the MCAS Chinese-English dictionary, given to her by our ELE teacher!  This could be a violation!  I hurry to her desk and crouch beside her.  Her beautiful dark eyes rise to meet mine. I can see by the flush in her cheeks that she is anxious.

“Honey,” I say, “I’m sorry, but you can’t use this dictionary.  You have to use THIS one.”   She frowned a bit.  “But this book doesn’t has the math words.  THIS book has.”                                                       “Yes, I know.” I say, “But you have to use this one.” I hold up the everyday dictionary.  The one with no academic vocabulary.

My student frowns harder.  She is a very diligent student.    She holds up the forbidden dictionary, given to her on the first day of school by her English Language teacher.

“This book has math words.  THIS book,” she holds up the official MCAS Approved dictionary, “THIS book no has this important words.”

My heart sinks.  “I know,” I say, as I take the forbidden dictionary away from her.

Scene 8: The room is silent.  22 kids have completed the test.   One is still working.  I have to keep the 22 silently in their seats, reading books.  No talking.  No walking around the room. No pulling out your unfinished work.  No writing in your journal. No drawing or sketching or painting.  Why not? No one can tell me.  This goes on for nearly an hour.

Scene 9:  My colleague and close friend texts me in the middle of the test.  Her husband has been taken to the hospital with chest pain!  She isn’t sure what to do!  The MCAS Security training has told her that she can’t leave the room while the kids are working.  But she wants to go to see her husband!! Luckily, our fifth grade assistant is in my room!  She has worked for this school for almost 25 years. She has subbed for us all, she has taught small groups, she has come on a hundred field trips.  She offers to stay in the classroom while the kids finish the test.  “Sorry”, she is told. “You haven’t taken the Security Training.  You haven’t signed the papers.”  She cannot monitor the test.  My friend and her husband must both wait.

Stay tuned for tomorrows set of “Scenes from an Insane Asylum”.  They are even crazier.

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?

WHY???

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

Lemme get this straight……


Ok.  Let me just get this straight.

If I want to be a classroom teacher in the United States today, I have do do a few things, and I have to accept a few realities.

If I want to spend my life teaching children to read, to write, to understand math, to become educated voters, I have to go to college.  OK.  Then I have to get a Master’s Degree. Oh..Kay….(lots more cost, lots more debt, but I get it.  They want me to be well educated.)

After I finally get my Master’s Degree, I have to take and pass several exams that theoretically qualify me for the job.  I have to pay for these exams myself.

If I pass, I get to apply for teaching jobs.  Fun!

And once I get a job, I have to submit to a CORI check (just to make sure that I am not a pedophile or anything.)  AND I have to be fingerprinted.  In case I passed my CORI check but somewhere in my past I committed a crime.  I have to get in line, pay out of my own pocket, and go through the very same process that purse snatchers, rapists, drug runners and murderers go through.  I have to swallow my embarrassment,  push down my discomfort and submit my fingerprints to the local police.

Even if I’ve been teaching for 25 years already and this is coming far too late to do anyone any good.

After all that, when I have finally achieved my dream and gotten a teaching job, I have to accept the fact that people who have never, ever , ever taught one single child one single skill will be the ones who pass laws that define my job.

I will have to come to terms with the fact that giant corporations intend to make millions of dollars off of my students, my classroom and my school.

Once I have become an actual, real life elementary school teacher, I will have to find a way to work 22 hours a day, 7 days a week in order to score every rubric, plan every lesson, follow every teaching guide, gather every bit of data and make sure that every student meets every standard.

I will have to accept the fact that if I actually follow the “Teacher’s College” reading and writing program, I will be losing all of my language impaired, learning disabled, hearing impaired, emotionally impaired students.

And I will have to grin and bear it when my administrators follow the state guidelines on teacher evaluation and pop into my classroom for ten minutes at the very end of a Friday afternoon and then write up a scathing report on how our students are “failing to work toward a uniform goal.”

All of this for the chance to earn an average salary with average benefits.  All of this so that you can check the news every day and see some airheaded politician referring to “our failing schools.”

So I have to ask:

How stupid do you have to be to want to be a teacher today?

I had a dream


Last night I had a dream.   It wasn’t a typical teacher dream (I was fully dressed and the kids weren’t screaming and ignoring me).

But it was a dream that embodies my teaching life right now.

I dreamed that I was in our school conference room (where I have been trapped far too often this year) with one of the “literacy coaches” who have been hired to train us in teaching kids to read and write.  Just like in real life, I was seated at the table, faced with a cheery, young, fresh faced woman who spoke to me in a high pitched voice with a distinct rise in intonation at the end of every statement.  You know what I mean, right? Like this, “Readers need to learn a variety of robust skills? Like learning to identify text features?”

Anyway, in my dream, just like in life, I felt my frustration mounting.  In my dream, I sat there as reading was described as a series of discrete, separate skills to be taught in isolation.  I started to steam as I heard that I was supposed to teach kids the most complex task of their young lives by cramming a lesson into ten minutes and then making them practice what I had preached.

But here is where the dream diverged from reality.

In my dream, I sat up straight and I asked to see the research behind the method.  In my dream, I spoke eloquently and clearly.  I talked about my background in speech and language development and my 30 years of teaching children to communicate.  I expressed my feeling that young children learn best when they are allowed to wonder, to inquire, to test out their own theories.  In my dream, I asked how it could be the best practice to tell the children exactly what skill to practice as they read. I pointed out the fact that it seemed forced and inauthentic to assign children a partner to talk to, and then to impose a topic on them.  I questioned the value of those conversations.

In my dream, I expressed my belief that children need to try things out, including books. I talked about the fact that I never, ever tell children their “Guided Reading Level” because in my experience, children take labels very much to heart.  They hold themselves back when I tell them that a book is “above their level”.  I talked, in this dream, about my experiences with children who challenge themselves and who read wonderful books that capture their hearts and minds, even if they don’t understand every word or phrase. Even if they don’t full grasp every nuance.

In this wonderful dream, I told the “coach” or “facilitator” that reading is the most neurologically complex task that my students are attempting. I tell her that I can’t parse it down into separate tiny skills.  I also tell her, somewhat firmly, that I find it nauseating when I hear the cute phrases and buzzwords going around our classrooms. “Jots” instead of notes? “Wonderings” instead of questions? “Noticings” instead of observations?

What did the English language ever do to you, I asked in my dream. Why torture it this way? How can it help children to encourage them to use inaccurate, made up words to describe their thinking?

Furthermore, I said in my dream, it seems completely ridiculous to me to have us teach the exact same minute skills in every single grade from k to 6.  How efficient is our teaching if we have to do the same lesson seven times in seven years?  And how on earth could it be useful for us to all use the exact same “mentor text” for every lesson?  “I believe,” I said in my firm, assured dream voice, “that it is supremely disrespectful of children to act as if they need to see the same book five years in a row.  And I think its wrong to limit kids exposure to good books. There are a million books out there that could teach us to notice the story arc. I refuse to pull out the same book they’ve seen in the past two years.”

And here is where my dream really differed from reality.

In my dream, the cheery coach and my school administrator allowed me to express my thoughts.  And in this fanciful dream, they listened.

Judging and being judged.


So I started thinking, as I reviewed the new descriptive writing rubric that I’d created to meet my mandated professional goal. I looked at the rubric. It was very detailed and very specific.  I have been told that kids need to see very clear guidelines so that they can judge for themselves whether their best efforts have earned a 1, 2, 3 or 4 in organization, word choice, detail and editing.  I was picturing my ten year old students, especially the ones who keep telling me how much they hate to write.  I started imagining myself in their shoes, knowing that every effort I made would be judged in minute detail, first by themselves, and then by me.

I thought about the Science Notebook Rubric that we use, and the Scientific Inquiry Rubric.  I imagined myself as a ten year old, trying to come up with a “focus question” and some “objective data” as I wondered what would happen if I put a bug in a tank with a frog.

That sort of got me thinking about the math open response rubrics.  And the history research paper rubrics.

And, Heaven help me, the “narrative writing rubric” that is in place in my classroom.

I tried to picture myself sitting down to write a story. Or a blog post.  I imagined my excitement as I thought about my wonderful new idea.  I pictured the little zing of adrenaline that I always get when I start to write.  I can just see myself, smiling and nodding as my fingers fly over the keys and one idea slips into the next.

Then I pictured myself being doused in ice cold water as I came to realization that despite my very best efforts, the dialogue between the main characters in my short story “did not move the story arc forward in a meaningful way”.  Would I be able or willing to rewrite, reframe, reshape my story in such a narrow way in order to raise my “2” to a “3”?  Would I ever dare to hit that “publish” button on my blog posts if I didn’t feel sure that my words would be worthy of a solid “4” in all of the rubric categories?

And it suddenly hit me: we keep reading about “education reform” and how the goal of all of this “Common Core” and “21st Century Learning” stuff is supposed to be about encouraging kids to take academic and intellectual leaps. It is supposed to be about freeing them to think in new and exciting way, to ask great questions, to dare to pursue their own answers.

Really?

How creative and innovative would YOU be if you thought that every single attempt you made in any area would be judged according to someone else’s idea of “the best” effort?  How many intellectual risks would you take if you knew that your supervisor would be measuring your work on a scale where the expectation is that most people will fail to meet the top score?

I thought about my lovely rubric, all crisp and clean and typed into its little boxes.  Then I thought of JRR Tolkein, and the courage it took to come up with “In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.”

I said a silent prayer of thanks than young JRR never saw a “narrative rubric” in his life.  Then I carefully clicked the button on my computer which placed my lovely rubric into my “professional goals” folder.

Where it will stay, unused, for the remainder of the year.

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