Posts Tagged ‘education reform’

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?

Well, if we want reform, let’s really reform!


I just read an article in the Boston Globe saying that Boston Public Elementary and Middle Schools will be adding an additional 40 minutes to each school day.  The article was pretty positive about the cooperation between the Education Reformers and the Teacher’s Union. Both sides seemed to feel that the extra time will help the kids.

But I watched local Boston news tonight, and you know what?

Those news guys are furious that the day is only being increased by 40 minutes.  They are all upset about the fact that the changes are “incremental”. Education “Reformers” around the state are saying that we should be adding at least an additional hour and a half to two hours each day.

Well.

I for one have had enough of these tiny, incremental, baby step changes to education. I mean, in the last fifteen years, all that we have managed to achieve is to create and apply one set of curriculum standards for every kid in every school in every town in our great nation.  We have only managed to develop and administer standardized tests to kids in grades 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10. How incredibly ineffective!

I want REAL education “reform”, dammit!

I say that if we are truly committed to reforming our education system, we should increase the school day to a minimum of 8 hours per day.  If parents need to work 8 hours a day, then why shouldn’t kindergarteners put in the same time? More minutes of learning will OBVIOUSLY lead to more successful students.

And if we are committed to insuring accountability at all ages, then we need to be testing children every year of school. Kindergarten through Grade 12.  Come to think of it, since we all now believe that rigorous testing equals academic success, I propose that we test every child every four months, all year long. Let’s prove once and for all that summer is time wasted, and that we should be eliminating the unproductive habit of “summer vacation.”

I believe, as a true education reformer, that children should begin as early as possible to practice those key critical thinking skills that will make them successful workers when they reach their twenties.  We want 21st century thinkers and learners! No more lagging behind those pesky Chinese workers.

I propose that we begin to enforce mandatory pre-natal academic training, in which babies in utero must be exposed to a minimum of four hours per day of classical musical, basic math skills, and early literacy activities.  Why should we waste these valuable learning times, while the brain is forming? I’m sure that someone out there could develop a rubric for intra-uterine math performance.

It is way past time for us to let go of outdated beliefs that “play” and “social interactions” are meaningful uses of time in childhood. American children should begin to engage in rigorous, standards based educational activities as soon as they have progressed to a sippy cup.  No more “stacking rings” in the playpen: I propose that we have children write persuasive essays to their mothers when they are requesting a diaper change or a bowl of Cheerios.  I propose that even the youngest babies should be required to demonstrate mastery of math facts before getting any “more” animal crackers.

We must stop these slow, incremental, gradual changes to our education system.  It is time for the American people to demand action.  Teachers should be on-call for 22 hours per day in order to answer questions about how to apply the receptive language rubric when the baby is able to “show me your nose”.  Parents should be held accountable for providing ongoing teaching of reading and writing skills from the moment of conception until the first day of college.

I’m sure that if we really apply ourselves, we’ll be able to come up with a comprehensive evaluation system for even the youngest learners.  I’m sure that if we ask for it, Pearson Corporation can put that evaluation system on the market by next week.

Fifty years in the future…..


“Good morning, boys and girls!”

“Good morning, Ms. Brightly!”

“Sit right down and let’s get started.  Open your Pearson Math books to page 232.”  Ms. Brightly smiles at the ten year olds in front of her.  “So we have already reviewed multi-digit division and multiplication and division with decimals. And, gosh, its only October! Move into your small math groups and take the next ten minutes to read the lesson about finding the volume of irregular solids.  Go!!”

The kids move around the room, settling in with their groups. There is some chatter, but everyone knows that they only have a short time to learn the material, and pretty soon they begin to read the book together.  Ms. Brightly circles the room, stopping to confer with some of the groups and to explain the information to others.

After ten minutes, the sound of a bell is heard and the kids move back to their seats, giggling and chatting as they go. Ms. Brightly turns on her Microsoft Smartboard and demonstrates how to find the volume of an irregular solid.  She adjusts her Microsoft Biometrics bracelet and glances up toward the camera in the corner of the classroom.  She begins speaking a little more quickly.

After demonstrating two more problems, Ms. Brightly turns back to the classroom.  “OK!  Now you have ten minutes to practice by yourselves!”  The kids touch the Microsoft screens embedded in their desks and begin to work.  Ms. Brightly circles the room continually, explaining and encouraging.  She kneels next to one desk for a conference.  Although the teacher speaks quietly and gently, the student is clearly struggling and her responses become increasingly shrill.  Soon it becomes clear that the little girl is fighting back tears.  “But I don’t GET it!” she wails.   Ms. Brightly begins to explain again, but the classroom door suddenly opens, and a tall woman enters, wearing a “Pearson Advisor” badge on her sweater.   “I’ll take over.”, she states firmly.  Ms. Brightly watches quietly as the sobbing child is escorted from the classroom.

The rest of the math lesson passes in silence.

Another bell sounds, and Ms. Brightly sighs with relief, then quickly glances at the Biometrics band on her wrist.  The flashing number shows her that her pulse is too high to meet the Common Health Expectations Standards (“CHEST”).  She tries some yoga breathing as she moves into the “Pearson Reading Area”.

“OK!” she begins, turning her smile on the children in front of her.  “Come on up for a mini-lesson on how to use meaningful dialogue to advance a story along the story arc!”   The kids get up and stretch, and then  move slowly toward the front of the classroom, where they gather  in a circle under the McGraw Hill Biometric Reading Comprehension Dome.  Ms. Brightly sits in the teacher chair, and a series of pale yellow Led Lights begin to blink in the dome.

Ms. Brightly taps her tablet and a hologram of a story appears in the center of the circle. A smiling man begins to wave at the children.  Before the story begins, though, a little hand shoots up.  Ms. Brightly smiles.  She loves it when the kids show some enthusiasm for the lessons!  Her Biometrics band gives a little chirp of delight.  “Yes, Michael?”

“Ms. Brightly, can we read a real story today?”

“What do you mean by a “real” story, honey?”

“Well, at home I have a book that has kids doing really cool things like killing monsters and…..”

Ms. Brightly interrupts. “That kind of book isn’t appropriate for school, Michael.”

“Why?”

Ms. Brightly tries to think fast.  She’s pretty sure that her classroom door is going to pop open again if this keeps us.

“Yeah, why?” Asks another little voice.  All 70 eyes gaze up at her as Ms. Brightly reaches for a firm and clear response.  “The stories that we read in school are written to meet the Standards.  They teach us exactly how to craft our own narratives….”

“Yeah, but they kinda suck.”  A series of giggles erupts and the Dome lights turn a dark red.

“Michael!”

“These stories are boring. Nothing ever happens.”

“These stories follow the correct story arc. They have a clear beginning, middle and end.”

“But they’re all exactly alike!”

Ms. Brightly gulps. They are all exactly alike.  She hears the sound of footsteps approaching rapidly down the hall.  The Dome lights are now glowing a brilliant orange/red and her Biometrics band is humming a warning.   She doesn’t know what to do.  By now the kids have begun to chatter, calling out the names of forbidden stories and talking about the authors.

One little voice calls out a question. “Why are the stories at home so much more fun?”

As the sound of the opening door reaches her ears, Ms. Brightly knows that her brief teaching career is over.  She unsnaps her Biometric band and drops it to the floor.

“Those books are more exciting, boys and girls because they were all written by……” She looks into each eager face, leans in to be as close to them as she can be for this last moment. “……..HOMESCHOOLERS.”

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