Friday, March 18, 2016

Playing the Game

Elementary Teachers on the whole are lovely people, but we are strange creatures.  We hoard office supplies.  Scented markers and colorful paperclips can make us swoon.  We get excited for the one time a year that we get to have a whole hour for lunch.  This is because we have a career which, by design, isolates us from other adults for hours at a time.  Often times, our only human contact is with people who are significantly shorter than us.  It's sort of like working in a cubicle with 25 gremlins in it with you.  Those little people demand 100% of our attention for the entire time that we are with them.  As a result, we do not have access to news or information outside of our classrooms until the end of the school day.  We often have little energy left when we leave school. Essentially, we live in a bubble.

In addition to that semi self-made bubble, over the past few years the ever increasing curriculum and testing demands have made it so that we are all in survival mode.   We are becoming ever more isolated as the demands have increased along with the class sizes and the assessments.
Moreover, we are now being pitted against each other as data walls are shared like some bizarre academic version of an immunity challenge (Teacher A, you have over 75% of students on level this month... you get an immunity necklace...for now).  For some, survival is measured by how they disconnect and go home to their families.  They have little left to give, if anything, to activities outside of the school day.  Others survive by closing their doors.  For me, survival hinges on finding outlets for my frustrations, like writing and yoga, so I can go back each day and give myself 100% to the children.

I have been a teacher for over 20 years.  I have seen many things come and go over time.  I have seen the full pendulum swing from Whole Language to Scripted Phonics lessons and everything in between.  Through it all, myself and my fellow teachers have worked to perfect our craft.  Teaching is an art form that is rapidly being lost to "facilitating" and constant assessment.  Good teaching cannot be replaced by technology.  Nor can it be replaced by continuous assessment and data collection.  Good teaching can transcend poor curriculum as long as we are allowed the academic freedom to make improvements to it.  Good teaching can, and will, help our students be successful.

Unfortunately, all the good teaching in the world cannot make up for the crap that teachers are now being mandated to teach.  Common Core Standards and the testing and data craze have given birth to this ugly two headed monster that is the current curriculum.  It is so poorly written and so poorly formulated that all the good teaching in the world will not make it better.  It is obvious to any teacher worth his or her salt that this curriculum was written without the input of experienced teachers, without research, without being piloted and without any regard to the children.  It was cobbled together and put in a (semi) pretty package and rushed to market in order to make a profit and appease the data gods.

Along the way, the public was told that the teachers were slackers and that our current standards were no good.  Parents were told that their schools were failing and that there is no way to know if the teachers were teaching unless the children weren't being continually assessed.  Taxpayers were told that teachers were a drain on the community.  Salaries were published and teachers were shamed for demanding a wage that reflected both their advanced degrees and their years of experience.  When that wasn't enough, data was manipulated to create the message that our children were underperforming.  The cherry on top was the budget cuts, property tax caps and the give backs that all resulted in layoffs, program cuts and higher class sizes.   Meanwhile, new curriculum was purchased, tests were purchased, computers were purchased and consultants and coaches were contracted.

This is where we find ourselves now.  We are playing the game of Survivor.  We are struggling through every day to try win the next immunity challenge.  We are working overtime and beyond to try to preserve the art of teaching while still meeting the mandates.  We are overwhelmed and overtired and sick of being stuck on this island.  We are given expectations that are not reachable and when we try (very nicely) to express our concerns and frustrations, we are threatened with being voted off the island.  We are given more challenges, not less.  We are given more student contact time, more curriculum, more expectations.  We will have less planning time, less ability to be creative, less time to reteach (keep on pace people!) and less opportunities to advocate for kids who need more.  When we speak up, we are told that we are not in the majority and that we obviously do not care about our kids or our jobs.

The time has come to take back our schools and our profession.  It is time to burst that bubble.


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