Posts Tagged ‘ideas’


I am riveted by the TV news these days. I am horrified, shocked, angered, frustrated, immobilized by the images coming out of Gaza right now.

Poor little ones! Poor children!

I had a boy in my class this past year. He was ten years old. He was a “football” fanatic. Lionel Messi was his hero. He was the one child I could always find out on the playground, because he was either wearing his bright red “Messi” jersey or his bright orange “Messi” jersey.

This morning a little boy name Mohammed, a boy the same age as my football fanatic, was killed by a bomb that was most likely paid for with my very own tax dollars.

I am sickened by this fact.

I am angry beyond speech, and I am overwhelmed by a feeling of helplessness.

I do not feel that I have a voice in this conflict, no matter how many of my hard earned dollars are used to carry it out.

And this is why I love to be a teacher: those 25 little ones who will greet me in the fall will be challenging, feisty, funny, amusing, angry, defiant, loving, joyful and sad. They will be thoughtful, impulsive, anxious and confident.

They will be mine, for a few short months.

They will love or hate Lionel Messi. They will admire or be bored with international soccer.  They will be young and alive and human.

They will be the embodiment of hope.

They will all make me think of little Mohammed, and the bomb that ended his tender young life. Their laughter and their struggles will help me to ease the guilt of having paid for the terrible weapon that murdered their young colleague, so far away on the Gaza strip.


Back to school

April vacation is over.

The kids have rested, gone to Disney, travelled to Europe, slept late.

The teachers have planned the rest of the math lessons, read and scored the essays, created the next writing prompt, chosen the book groups, made the class lists for next year, ordered the new book bins and science materials, set up the end-of-year conferences and commented on the kids’ stories.

And now its time to go back to school.  This is the last push, the final segment.  This is the time of year when we will take our state tests and will move on to the true curriculum.

This is the time of year when I will let the children create, write, produce and perform a play.  They will have to learn how to work to to consensus. They will need to compromise if they want to do the play. They will negotiate with each other, solve problems together, work as a team.

It will be REALLY hard for them.  There will be tears, and hurt feelings and anger.

I will be absolutely resolute in my  determination to Make. Them. Solve. The. Problems.

I will listen, guide, facilitate.

I will NOT make the decisions.

Every year, at this time of year, when the damn tests are finished, I watch my students learn how to be creative and cooperative and sensitive and caring.  Every year, when I can finally stop feeding them answers, I am allowed to watch them as they find those answers for themselves.

I am excited.

I love this time of year, because this is what true teaching is all about.  This is the time of year when I will be amazed as I see which quiet, awkward child emerges as the director of our play.  This is the time of year when I will see the athletic superstar stepping back to the let the nerd come forward as the star of the show.  The sensitive math brain might become our technology expert, creating the backgrounds and soundtrack for our play.  The silly goof-off might become the primary writer of a show that is based on fifth grade humor. The silent observer just may end up with the funniest ten seconds of acting in the entire production.

This is the time of year when my hardest job is to stay out of the way, to let the kids take the reins.  This is the time of year when I believe, with my whole heart, that the best and most meaningful learning will take place.

Without me.

Which is exactly as it should be.

H’mmmm. Something here sounds familiar….

I am such a history geek!   Over the past several years, as I have taught American History to my fifth grade students, I have learned more and more about the social and economic history of the United States, and what has lead us to where we are today.

A couple of summers ago, I took a graduate course with a bunch of other teachers.  We learned all about the Industrial Revolution, and we got to travel to the Lowell Textile museum and to the Tenement Museum in New York City.  We read “Triangle” and “Bread and Roses”.  Man, what an eye opener!

Did you know that at the time of the Industrial Revolution, at the turn of the twentieth century, the original mill owners were actually pretty socially progressive?  They built those big mills on the rivers, then they set up housing units for the young women workers.  The pay was pretty good for the time, and it included housing and food.  The original millworkers were offered educational opportunities, music, lectures and a chance to enjoy city life.  You know, come to Lowell, earn a living and “better yourself”.  What an amazing opportunity! The textile mills could improve the lives of Americans, support and improve the economy and make money for the mill owners all at once.  What a win-win situation.

Unfortunately, as I also learned, over time the mill owners faced so much competition from other entrepreneurs that they were forced to make some changes.  For example, they started to charge the workers for their housing.  They increased the hours of work while keeping the pay the same.  H’m.  Gradually, as more and more factories popped up all over the East Coast, the workers faced more and more hardships.  Wages declined, the housing got worse and worse, the work became more demanding. The mill owners were desperate for more cheap labor.  Enter the giant wave of immigrants, the tenements of the Lower East Side, the squalor, the poverty, the disease.

Workers were fired or jailed for even thinking about forming unions.

The original progressive ideas of the early mill owners were beaten down by the demands of capitalism. The profit motive trumped any social motive.  Factory workers were looked upon as the lowest rung on the social ladder.  Those in power cared nothing for their lives or well being.

As a teacher of history, I am always hoping that my students will learn valuable lessons from the past.  As a student of history, I am always hoping that my fellow humans will have learned from the lessons of the past.

So you can imagine my surprise and disappointment when I read this morning’s Boston Globe.  It featured an article titled

Some chafe at charter school’s low pay for tutors

Believe it or not, many Charter Schools around the country are hiring new college graduates to work as “tutors” for their students, to help them to raise their test scores.  The young people were hired at a low rate of pay, but were given free housing with other tutors, and offered the opportunity to train as teachers.  Unfortunately, over time the corporate owners of the Charter Mills……I mean “Schools”…..realized that it costs a lot to have a fleet of tutors available at all hours of the day and night to assist students with every possible academic question.  They kept the salaries intact, but asked for more and more hours of work.  They began to charge the tutors for housing.

Sound familiar?  It sure does to me.

So here is a newsflash for all of those “education reformers” out there who bow to the superiority of corporate Charter Schools.  When you treat teachers like factory workers, you aren’t actually improving education.  When you hire the cheapest possible laborers to provide a service, you aren’t exactly getting the most highly skilled work force.  When you claim that you are working to better the lives of teachers and students, you are full of shit.

We’ve been down this road before, folks.  Go out and research The Bread and Roses strike. Research the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.  Read about the labor movement of the 1920’s.  Then read the article that I linked above.

The more things change, it seems, the more they remain the same.

Sapping my strength

What do you do when you have one child who simply saps every bit of your energy?

One child who demands your constant attention, whose burning need to be special and different pulls you away from every other child all day long?

What do you do when you are faced with a vulnerable, needy, lost child whose parents have allowed her to think that she has the right and the power to control the actions, words, thoughts and opinions of every other child in your class?

I don’t know.

But I know that I am becoming increasingly angry and frustrated with this situation, and I know that my frustration and anger are fueling this child’s need to continually seek my assurance that she is, in fact, more special and deserving than anyone else in our community.

I am caught in a vicious cycle.  And I truly don’t know how to get out.

This little girl is so desperate for validation and attention that, quite literally, every time I call on her, she coughs/chokes/swallows her gum/trips on a word so that we are all left waiting for her to finally speak.  Every eye is trained on her, every ear is waiting for her words.

This girl manufactures injuries so that we can hold the door for her, get her some ice, ask if she is OK, dote on her. She drums up conflicts so that we can all process the differences of opinion.

She is the last to line up, pausing to tie her shoes and making the rest of the class wait for her. She asks if she can eat her lunch in the classroom because her head hurts. (“No, honey. You can go to the nurse, but you can’t stay in the classroom because I won’t be here the whole time to supervise you.”)

The entire grade is told that they must either choose one of the band instruments to play, or join the grade level chorus.

This child tells me that she plays the guitar, so she should be able to skip both band and chorus.  I repeat the school rules, and she answers, “Yes, but I play the guitar, so its different for me.”

I don’t mean to be harsh. I don’t mean to be heartless.  But every time this child finds a way to drain off my attention and my energy, I want to scream at her (and her equally entitled parents), “This class has a child with autism. It has a child from a third world country who has witnessed terrorism and war.  One of your classmates has a mental illness. One has witnessed violence in his own family.  You are so incredibly and overwhelmingly NOT special.  Not the way you want to be special.”   I resent the way she drains me. I resent the way that she tries to control every interaction in our classroom so that she is always cast in the very best light.

I resent her parents, and the time that they demand from me.

What do you do when one family just doesn’t understand that they are only one teeny tiny piece of the complex puzzle that makes up a school community?


More on Testing

Ah, jeez.

I just read an article in the Boston Sunday Globe that includes a description by the writer of the many weeks in which her nine year old daughter was “drilled” on how to pass the reading comprehension test on the MCAS, the Massachusetts test.  She interviewed a bunch of teachers in the town where I grew up, and asked them about the benefits of going to the Common Core and the soon to be enacted national test.

The article made me so sad!  As a parent, as a teacher, as a lover of literacy, it just made me feel so sad.

I am sad that Ms. Weiss finds it acceptable to put third graders, including her own daughter, through the “pressure” of “drilling for weeks” in order to insure that they pass one standardized test.  Ms. Weiss doesn’t seem to be aware of the fact that children can learn to read texts, understand them and answer open-ended questions about them without being “drilled” in these skills.  For years, before the onset of the standardized testing craze, children learned to do all of these things while also learning to love reading and writing.

The desperate effort to craft a single curriculum, a single test and a single measure of academic success has given us an education system which makes it abundantly clear to every nine year old that literacy is a chore, an onerous and stressful task that must be drilled and mastered.

Academic “success” no longer means learning to ask great questions or find creative solutions to problems.  “Successful learning” now means giving the right answers.  That is just plain sad.

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