Saturday, November 21, 2015

Silence Isn't Always Golden

It is said that "Silence is Golden".  At times, yes, silence can be a lovely thing.  But, it is not golden when silence is a result of intimidation, fear and an attempt to silence a voice.  When we are silenced into compliance, there is something very wrong.  Intimidation is a form of emotional abuse.  When a person is afraid to speak the truth or give voice to concerns, then they are being manipulated into compliance.  I see this all the time and it infuriates me.  

At the State level, teachers are being silenced from voicing their concerns.  First, there is the farce of the Common Core Survey.  It is lengthy, standard specific and worded in a way that teachers cannot voice their true concerns.  It is nearly impossible to finish in one sitting.  It also comes with a notification that NYSED can view where you visited online prior to taking the survey.  The intent of the survey is to "tweak" the standards, not get rid of them or to involve real, live educators in the process of writing standards and benchmarks that are appropriate.  Early results are already being manipulated to say that "over 70% want to keep the standards".  Intimidation.  Who wants to take a survey where they can spy on your website visits, take up gobs of precious time, answer questions that are standard specific and then make sure that the outcome is already decided?  Not me. I know the standards and I don't want to be bogged down in that #shitshow for hours on end.  I can't imagine how the average parent feels, but I can guess they may feel intimidated.

If the survey isn't bad enough, we have the Common Core Task Force (AKA The Listening Tour).  How convenient that they hold meetings at times that are inconvenient for parents and teachers to attend.  How about the rumors that they have "plants" there to sing the praises of Common Core and have seats reserved for people who don't show so that it limits the audience?  Best of all, they wait to announce the time and location until just prior, making it harder to find childcare and adjust schedules.  Intimidation.  

It's no better on the local level either.  Teachers have been warned about speaking about the OptOut movement.  We have been reminded that our facebook pages can be checked.  We are careful about conversations with colleagues out of fear.  We are being watched, monitored and checked on.  We are even getting our own version of the Listening Tour, which is turning into a carefully scripted affair where only certain people are supposed to speak.  Intimidation

Personally, I know what it is like to be intimidated into being silent.  I know what it is like to emotionally abused.  I see how voices are being silenced.  I see teachers who are too bogged down in all the new curriculum and data collection to take the time to speak.  I see teachers who are afraid to veer off script and allow the kids a moment of fun for fear that an administrator may walk in and check the learning targets.  I know of teachers who are reprimanded for speaking their minds, voicing their concerns about the time expectations, developmentally inappropriate materials and practices, amount of testing and the stress that is being placed on their students.  I hear of teachers who are physically ill as a result of the stress that is being placed on them.  

Silence is not golden.  
Silence is compliance.  
Silence is what got us here in the first place.  
Silence must not prevail.  

Saturday, November 7, 2015


As teachers, our "year" begins in September with the start of a new school year instead of in January with the start of the calendar year.  So every September, I make a resolution for my "year".  This year, I resolved to practice yoga at least 3 times a week.  I found a studio and began my practice.  Yoga has helped me to bring clarity and peace to my mind over the past 2 months and, like all good classes, has taught me something.

As I began my practice on the mat this morning, I realized how powerful this is.  Although I had dabbled in yoga on and off over the past few years, I hadn't really committed myself to it.  When I began practicing again, I was at a distinct disadvantage.  I really had no knowledge of the vocabulary used, the poses or the routines.  I was out of shape and struggling.  The instructors were wonderfully helpful and encouraging.  They gently coaxed me into poses and kept reminding all of us that our practice is individual and that no one's practice is like anyone else's.  They encouraged all of us to do what we could.  Over the past few weeks, I came to understand that my yoga practice is a journey and not a marathon.  Each time I enter a pose it is different, possibly better, and uniquely my own.

As I meditated on the mat this morning before class began, it occurred to me the parallels between how we should be teaching our students and what it means to practice yoga.  When teaching children we need to begin with a solid foundation and slowly build upon that foundation with each lesson and each day tweaking that learning.  Education is a journey, not a marathon.  As humans we learn throughout our lives.  Each experience, each day, each event adds to our learning.  We retain learning when it is grounded in our foundation.

In today's education reform, we are presenting information to children that is far too advanced for their development and foundation.  We no longer teach letter and number formation, spelling, what it means to add and subtract and how to listen before we are teaching writing paragraphs, commutative properties of addition and subtraction and taking reading tests.  This is the inherent problem in our current "college and career ready" push.  The curriculum has been "back-mapped" instead of being built from the bottom up with an understanding of developmental levels.  We are pushing little children to be "college and career ready" before they have even lost their baby teeth.

In my yoga class, each pose helps to build a foundation for more complicated or challenging poses.  Hip openers, shoulder openers and stretches all help us get ready for back bends, inversions and other poses.  In our classrooms, we must do the same.  In the primary grades, we need to lay the groundwork for future learning.  If we are spending all our time on the complex tasks and testing, we are shortchanging our students of the foundation they deserve and require.  We must support and scaffold that learning all while remembering to honor the children for who they are.

As we work through each of the poses in yoga, there are built-in "shavasanas" or rest periods that allow the body to absorb the stretching and learning.  In education, we need to do that too.  Children cannot sustain long periods of learning.  There need to be breaks, or shavasanas, to help them absorb the learning.  Time off is necessary just as is time to play and time to relax and just be.  Recess is important as is time to socialize and time to be with family and friends.

At the end of every yoga class, we end with a shared "Namaste".  Essentially, this means:  The Light in Me Honors the Light in You.  This is the most essential lesson that we must remember in Education.  We absolutely must honor the light in every child.  Each one is unique and each child has value.  We must honor their journey through their learning and remember that their journey is uniquely their own.

Friday, November 6, 2015

If You Can't Say Something Nice...

The comment by "Joe" on my recent article in the Buffalo News stung the first time I read it.  Ouch.  He believes that children are sent to school to "survive in our current times" and that the only responsibility that teachers have is to "TEACH".  Ah, Joe, if only that were so.  In fact, for many of our students, it is the exact opposite, just as it is for teachers.

Many of our students come to school because it is a safe haven from "surviving" out in the current world.  The world where they have limited food, love, time and safety.  School is a safe place because it is predictable and the the adults are caring and loving towards them, even when they act out.  Food is available to them as is basic medical care and much more.  Teachers I know have provided clothing, shoes, eyeglasses, school supplies and holiday gifts to their students all in an effort to better the children's lives.

And... let's be honest, if the job for teachers was just to "TEACH", well that would be easy.  You would plan a lesson, execute it and move on.  Simple.  But the job of a teacher is so much more complex no matter what age level you teach.  Teachers are also counselors, therapists, nurturers, advocates, nurses, parents and so much more.  In any given day we take on many roles for our students to meet their needs.  As our "current world" becomes so much more complicated, so do our jobs.  Our students come to us needing so much more, even if they come from "good" homes.  Time is limited and resources are at times scarce.  Teachers fill the gaps as best as they can in between teaching lessons.

If my job was to simply teach, I would be able to disconnect at the end of the day.  Instead I go home and worry about my little ones who need more.  I also go home and talk about my littles ones, like a proud momma.  They are close to my heart for the entire time they are in my charge.  If I could simply teach, it would be much easier.  My job is so much more and I do believe that I am not alone in the way I feel about teaching.  I work with an amazing staff in the district and in my school.  Every one of them goes above and beyond for their students.  I have never heard a teacher complain about their salary.  In fact, I have never heard a teacher say that they are in it for the money.  Mostly what I hear is the frustration that we are being expected to do so much with so little time and resources.  Teachers naturally want to do more, but we want to be understood too.

"Joe"'s comment was very typical of those who truly do not understand what is happening in schools. Unfortunately those voices are often louder than teachers' voices.  In today's education climate, teachers are afraid to speak out and to defend themselves.  Maybe it is because we are nice people or are more comfortable speaking to children than adults.  I don't know.

I do know this, however, I will continue to speak out.  I will continue to be a voice.  I will continue to believe that schools are amazing places and that teachers do amazing things.  I will continue to be all I can for my little ones.  And "Joe"... well, maybe he needs to teach for a week or two.  Or maybe he just needs a hug.