Photo from "Make A Wish" bulletin board at my school.
It was written by a student. Everything speaks!
As I sit and face another year of blogging and working, I find myself stifled for topics. This is not because I don’t have them; it is because they are blocked. Yes, I tell you-blocked-from my true desire to write, explain, and enjoy. What is blocking them you may wonder? Writer’s block you may think! No, it’s the realization of where this career as a teacher is going! The realization of where our students are going. The realization that there is no end, but the end, may be coming! So, I’ve decided to take a stab at it, to expose the deeper frustrations that are robbing my thoughts and fingers of other things, of helpful things, to further the good things still left! Here’s what I’ve go!
The Two Kinds of Crying
I have spent more time crying over my job in the last two years than I have in the entire 21 years prior to this combined! I’ve cried before-over kids, over decisions I couldn’t control, over saying goodbye and job changes, but NEVER like this before. A good cry can do a lot to get someone over something, but these are not good tears. As more and more pressures and bad decisions are passed down from the government to teachers, to children, the tears are different. It is a deep, soul problem. So deep that one doesn’t want to go there or they may never come back. It is a mourning of our teaching souls, knowing that there is nothing that we can ultimately do to change what is occurring, but with a prayer and a hope that someone, anyone will step in to stop this madness! We can see the damage being done to both students, but, more importantly, the children involved in this madness! There is a difference in those two! The worst part of this is that the madness comes from industry-an industry that is exploiting children in the same manner that many of the human trafficking industries are doing-for MONEY! They don’t care what they are doing to them mentally! Their pockets are filling, they are making changes on a constant basis to refresh that cash flow, they are winning! Winning in the same way that other children are being exploited across the world, only more “safely”, more hidden in the corners where parents can’t see or don’t want to see! Isn’t this exactly what happens in the rest of the world but only with far more serious results to the lives of children? I know there is a difference; I know that human trafficking is far more serious-but why does my teaching heart mourn for my students in the same way! Why does this violation of their learning lives hurt in the same manner? Something that cannot be undone or fixed. We are loosing a generation of learners right now to an industry that is bent on one thing-profiting from their loss!
How do I know-tears! Yes, this time it is from my students. These tears are from students who are babies and should be learning to love reading for the joy of reading. Instead, there are tears. According to the standards, students MUST respond to their reading in deep ways and in complete sentences (usually with the restated question) in FIRST GRADE! “What, you don’t know what it means? You don’t know what is being asked? Sorry for you! YOU ARE UNDERPERFORMING!” WHAT!! What about learning to read, what about learning basic comprehension, what about the joy….instead, tears! I haven’t had a week yet that there were not tears about work that we have to do! Without going into detail, my school is full of students who “CAN”! There is lots of documented evidence through state testing and more to prove that! But our kids CAN’T! They are struggling and trying their very bests-which brings tears! Heart wrenching, “I’m a looser” tears! Why, oh why, is this right! These children are not losers, they are smart and witty and fun and loving and caring and thoughtful…yet the work is speaking to them more than anyone of us can! And so there are tears, with words such as, “Why do we have to do this?”, “It is too hard" (something that I would never accept in the past-but now, it’s truth!), “This isn’t something I’ve learned!" (Which is true on testing pieces that are based on “their” learning ability, yet ask a 5th or 6th grade level question as the SECOND question in their assessment!), and “I’ve tried my best, I can’t answer it!” These are all things I’ve heard out of students’ mouths. The worst thing is, I’d never accepted any of these in the past. But, we have reached the ridiculous! Now I have to hug them, encourage them, support them, and know that I am also, in a way, lying to them. I can’t keep them from tears and I can’t protect them anymore from what is beyond their reach. It has come and it is inappropriate. So there are lots of tears, over and over and over…
Lack of Parent Support
Then there are the parents! Oh, the parents you say, they don’t do anything, they can’t help, they allow their children to do anything they want, they don’t help! Well, this isn’t true at my school! So, let’s go there! I have parent volunteers that come in and help with students reading-the foundations, just read to me! I am so blessed to have them and would never give them up! But here is what happens over and over again, “I’m an engineer, and I don’t get this math!” “What in the world are they trying to teach?” “I spent two hours on -line trying to figure this out and I have no clue!”, and “I used to teach but I don’t know where to go with this or even what the right answer is!” We are not talking about common folk! We are talking about college educated, extremely intelligent people! THEY CAN’T HELP THEIR CHILDREN LEARN! That is a real dilemma! Talk about robbing a generation! I can’t even blame them when they hand me the paper and say they just couldn’t do it! I’m as frustrated as they are! I know the basic principal behind the idea, but I’ve read research too! When a professor says it’s a good “idea’ but there is no way kids are developmentally ready for this form of algebraic expression in elementary school, don’t you think we should listen! Don’t you think we should pay attention to the EXPERTS and RESEARCH!
Impossible Goals Set by Impossible People
And that statement leads to the heading above! Who in the world decided that high-stakes testing should determine what the Common Core looks like? Because, here’s the deal! At the basic level, there are a lot of good Common Core Standards. But they are being destroyed by the companies like Pearson and the consortiums like PARCC, AIR and SMARTT that are creating the guiding tests that determine the level of instruction that is expected. I’ve taught a long time and I’ve seen a gradual shift to harder and harder work being passed down from one grade to another! For instance, when I first started teaching, basic multiplication was in third grade. Master it, introduce basic division, and an introduction of 2 by one digit multiplication with basic mastery. Today, basic multiplication is an expected EXIT SKILL of 2nd grade! They have to have their facts mastered and understand how multiplication works before they leave 2nd grade! That is just one example of how bringing it down works. But this is an attainable example. Now let’s talk about how kids need to know the CENTRAL MESSAGE in first grade. This amounts to THEME! Why not call it what it is! It is not the main idea (they built a garden together) it is the theme (they shared-the idea, the work, the product) in first grade. Think that through people-they are 6!!!! This is an example of what I mean about sneaking things in that are harmful-give it a different name, cover it in a pretty wrapper, but you better know it. After all, you are SIX YEARS OLD! These “people” don’t know what they are doing, nor do they care! That is the real problem! They are lawmakers (Jeb Bush included) who have never stepped a foot into a classroom. They are business leaders, like Bill Gates, who think that schools are a business! They think competition is the answer for teachers! It is NOT the answer! It is what is messing up kids of all ages! I’ve heard stories from every age group! This is not a business! We are talking about flesh and blood! Brains that are forming! The latest research shows that we are harming kids brain development when we force kindergarteners to read! And these people, legislators and business men, are supporting this!
Lack-o-Fun for ALL!
This mess has lead to a lack of fun. Yes, I know, what job is fun! Well, when you used to love what you did and had fun doing it, it made it worth it. Trust me, we aren’t doing this for the money, or the “accolades”! We are doing it because it is our passion, our calling, and our fun! We like to laugh with our students. We like to explore and learn with them. We discover things every day we don’t know because of our students. We like challenges that are creative and interesting and, well, challenging! We like to set goals and attain those goals. We live for this stuff. Well, the stuff isn’t what it was, it isn’t, well, fun! The challenges now are because a child isn’t attaining mastery at 80%. In other words, C students are now “in danger”. In danger of what! I know plenty of professionals with huge degrees that will tell you they were C students! Why! Lots of reasons! I know plenty of adults that were A students who have done NOTHING with their lives! It amounts to NOTHING in the end! But to sit there and say a C is now a kid in danger!! Who thinks this stuff up! If I weren’t living it, I wouldn’t believe it! So this goes right back to my previous point-who is the creator of this impossible? Who thought this 80% rule up! It is in plenty of professional teaching texts and I am NOT a fan. I shouldn’t be sweating and having heart palpitations because a student got a 70% on a Unit Assessment that is totally out of the reality of a first grader! And I am not alone! I know a teacher/parent who is having the same concern! So, needless to say, the fun is gone! The glow is gone! The pressure and the out of hand expectations are killing this job and it will, mark my words, do the total opposite than the expected-NO ONE will want to teach, anywhere!
Crushed Creativity-FOR REAL!
So where does that leave creativity. Isn’t that the goal of our government? Create independent thinkers that will bring creativity back to the American people. Well, I see this time in education as a creativity killer. Since when, in first grade, is the use of crayons and coloring against the curriculum? Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t my school or district. I do, however, know a teacher who has been told this very thing by a district level worker. They were told to put those crayons away! No where in the first grade curriculum does it say they can color! REALLY! The thing is, if it is happening there, it will slowly trickle all the way through the entire state! Then, to the national level! Put those crayons away! Paint, oh NO YOU DON’T! Create-where, where in the curriculum is that??? Why, because they need to attain that 80% success rate to be anything in life! Or worse, because your VAM counts on it! So, kiss creativity away! It is a lie being told to society today! You can still spot it here or there, but it will soon dwindle away into a thing of the past-no more construction paper, crayons, or paint-you have work to do!
Can I Just Go On!
Oh, and then there is VAM! Oh yes, the Value Added Model. The thing that will spur every teacher to the highest pay level and eliminate the bad eggs! Well, all it has done is put undo stress upon all teachers. We spend hour upon hour interpreting data that no one really understands, showing us that our students are low, asking us that unanswerable question of “how are you going to fix this”, followed by form after form to fill out telling how to “fix it” with NO supplies or materials to do so! Isn’t this just so much FUN! I can’t even get my grading done half the time because some paper or another is needing to be filled out, or run to this meeting on this topic, or go to this “optional” meeting on your planning time when you are supposed to be doing you real work! (And by optional it means you better go or you won’t be able to understand any of the data that you are given!) All of this so our VAM doesn’t suffer! Our VAMS are suffering! Our “Value All Marvelous Students!” We can no longer just look at them as the ones we want to move along on this journey of life by giving them the foundation they need. Now we have to look at them as a growth number! Worry enters in and our thinking changes to “How am I going to get that child to do what they need to do on that assessment that is coming?” This isn’t the education we want our students to face. This isn’t the job we want to be doing! This is NOT what we are made of! This is a business decision!!! This is…
I don’t even know where to go next. Time will only tell. Choices will have to be made. As more and more parents join our camp, we hope for change. We hope for a return to sanity, to educating children to where success can be attained, students can feel positive again, creativity and fun can return to the classroom. A time where real reigns again-real standards, real learning, real community. We can all help. One way is to write your legislators. Call on them for a return to sanity! Our children are worth it! Their hearts and minds are worth it. Join groups that are organizing movements against this trend! They are working to save kids and teachers! Speak out to local school boards and administration at the highest level. They have to listen! They have to act if enough people join together! It is time to save this education system! It is the time to save our students, our children!
I know that this is a hot topic. Please remember that appropriate comments are important. Also, if you know an article that would be a great link up addition to my post, please share. I will add it to the document.