Saturday, February 13, 2016

Listening, Learning and Loving

Valentine's Day is the biggest day in the life of a six/seven year old.  There is something about those tiny pieces of paper with a miniature candy or tattoo attached to them that sends them into an absolute frenzy.  Combine that with a Friday before a week off and, well, you get my drift.

We celebrated Valentine's Day yesterday at school.  Since I have 6 English Language Learners in my classroom, explaining this "holiday" is a bit of a challenge.  Three of them arrived at school without Valentines to pass out.  Luckily, I always purchase several boxes after the holiday each year and store them for just such an occasion.  Problem solved, sort of (they were still confused).  One child arrived with a handknitted tissue box cover that his mom made for me.  It was obviously wrapped by him and his face shown with pride.  Another little boy brought me a rose.  Several wrote special notes and cards and brought chocolate.  One brought a half eaten sucker ("It's good," he told me, "I checked.)  It was so sweet my heart nearly broke.

We veered off script and had lunch in the room.  I ordered a sheet pizza from a local business (totally against Wellness Policy) and we had snacks and pizza and celebrated birthdays with ice cream and cookies.  We watched Charlie Brown's Valentine during lunch.  We made cute little gifts for our moms, we read stories, passed out valentines and then I let them play.  Just play.  One little girl had a toothache so she laid her head in my lap and we watched the kids play with legos, magnifying glasses, markers and pens, wooden blocks and puzzles.  I love watching these children play.  I love the sound of their giggles and the snippets of conversation:  "Look what I made.  It's a castle and it flies!","Let's make Valentines for our teacher", "Can you help me with this? You are a really great artist.", "Guys, we have to clean up one thing before we can do something else." "I love you too, you're my BFF".  At the end of the day, they left with hugs and waves to go home for a week of Mid-Winter Break.

There is something so special about children in Elementary School.  Most are so eager to please.  They have a bottomless capacity to love and be loved.  They are spongelike in their learning, always seeking knowledge, always questioning.  They have a natural capacity for play and for laughter.  It pains my heart to think that the system of Education that we are in is crushing these natural abilities in our children.  I sometimes feel like our veteran teachers are our last line of defense from keeping corporate interests and all the Kool-Aid drinkers (aka Ed Reformers) from stealing our children's childhood.

Our district has proposed a longer school day next year for our Elementary students.  Children would have an additional 40 minutes of class time.  How this will be used is yet unknown.  However, our proscribed minutes for ELA and math are already 40 minutes over our school day this year, so it is not a giant leap to figure this out.  This means that our children will have more academic time, less playtime, less family time and less time to be little children.  Will this raise test scores?  Will this be in the best interest of our youngest learners?  Is this what we want for our children: more Common Core and less common sense?  My answer is NO.  We need children who grow up to thrive.  We need parents who are engaged and teachers who are empowered.  Most of all, we need an educational environment that supports and listens to children, parents and teachers.

#SpeakupSpeakout #refuse #speaktruthtopower

Monday, February 8, 2016

Instructional Triage

The definition of triage is defined by is as follows:  

1. The process of sorting victims, as a battle or disaster, to determine medical priority in order to increase the number of survivors.
2. The determination of priorities for action.

I am doing Instructional Triage.  In this disaster of Common Core, I have resorted to sorting the victims in order to determine priority to increase the possibility of success for my students (survivors), all while attempting to mitigate the damage done to these innocent victims.

I am rewriting math tests so they are developmentally appropriate (phonically spelled names, font, type size, space for answers) and make sense to students who are not yet proficient readers.  I am sorting through the 180 lessons of math so that I can cut, condense, merge and retool the lessons to fit it all in (along with it making sense).  Even though there are 180 days, that does not mean I can teach 180 hour+ long lessons of math to 6 year olds.  I am angry that I am asked to do what is so wrong for my kids and I am sad that I have no choice.  I am hurt that they try so hard to do what I ask of them, only to have them look at me with such innocent eyes and say "Why?  Why is this so hard (confusing, stupid, moronic) Teacher?  Why?"

I am buying books to meet the concepts of the NYS Domains so that kids can have real literature to listen to, rather than my disembodied voice from behind the computer reading the text while they stare at the screen.  I want them to associate books with stories, not weird images on a screen that they have to stare at.  I want them to interact with the books after I have read them, pretending to read them, sharing the stories and acting them out.

I am sneaking in Author studies and crafts quietly with my door closed so that we can laugh and work on fine motor skills.  I am crying silently inside as I have to hide what we do so that it looks like we are meeting our "proscribed minutes" instead of dancing and singing because that's what we need to do between hours of sitting.  I am running the PE movie in the background with the sound off while we walk outside or practice a little yoga.

I had to skip Chinese New Year this year.  First time ever.  It's not in the curriculum and there is no time.  I have to skip President's Day.  Too many math lessons to catch up on.  I have to condense Valentine's to one-half day.  Reading coaches are coming in for more "coaching" and we need to be ready.  I have 7 more kids to tests that I couldn't get to last week because my new ipad kept disconnecting from the Internet.

I am doing instructional triage.

I am entering data for tests that were stupid and pointless and told me nothing about my students.  I am caught between wanting my little ones to score well for both their sakes and mine, and exposing these flawed instruments for what they are.  If the kids look good on paper, I keep my job.  If not, well, I am ineffective or developing.

I am entering notes for meetings I barely remember because we are forced to meet when we really need to be planning or prepping for students.

I am doing educational triage.

How did this happen?  How did we get here?  When did childhood become a race rather than a journey?  Why aren't parents fighting back harder?  Why aren't we demanding some sanity in our children's lives?  Why aren't we protecting the teachers who love the kids?  When will our society realize that we've been tricked by a snake oil salesman?  When all our kids are sitting behind screens?  When social skills  have become non-existent?  When children are being medicated for anxiety along with ADD?  When?

If I sound frustrated, I am.  I sometimes wish I didn't care so much.  I wish my heart didn't ache over this.  I wish I wasn't trying to figure out how to translate my teaching skills into something else.  I wish I hadn't cried when I got home.

I hope my little ones can't sense my angst and my frustration.  I hope this goes away sooner rather than later so they aren't totally damaged by this.  I look at those sweet kids and wish with all my heart that some sanity returns before it is too late.