Monday, April 18, 2016

Reflecting on Respecting

Teaching First grade is like I imagine Puppy Class must be .... lots of bouncy little enthusiastic little beings vying for attention and treats.  They mean well and want to please, but need reminders on how to behave and get along in a civilized way.  We've come a long way since September, my Firsties and I.  They are a sweet loving group who are growing and maturing every day.  Every now and then, one will call me "Mom" and then blush.  They leave love notes on my desk,  have a new BFF every other minute, are growing taller, and love to read.  My quiet ones are now chatty.  My chatty ones know when to stay quiet.  Each one is unique and beautiful.

Today marked 136 days into the school year.  My Firsties and I have been together for nearly 8 full months.  And... just like siblings, they are pretty comfortable with each other and know how to push each others' buttons.  So, it was time for a class meeting and a discussion on respect and kindness.  Later, I reflected on our discussion.  In a child's world, the concept of respect is simple: listen, take turns, share, use kind words, keep your hands and feet to yourself, ask for help, say please and thank you, and do your best.  It should be the same in an adult's world too.

A couple months ago, I wrote a couple posts that have garnered more attention than I expected.  I wrote Crossroads after I found out that I would have to change grade levels next year.  It is within our union contract that a principal can change our grade level if he/she chooses.  I understand that, but was not, and am not, happy about that.  As a result, I was able to utilize another feature of our contract to transfer to another elementary building to continue teaching first grade.  Both my administrator and myself are within our rights.  I feel no animosity about that and our discussion was respectful.  In fact, I suspect the change will be a good thing for both of us.  I wrote Crossroads because I felt that not only am I at a crossroads in making the decision to pack up my classroom and say farewell to my fellow teachers and students in my current school, but that we are at a crossroads in education as a whole. You can read about that here.

The next post I wrote was Victim or Survivor.  I paralleled what is happening to teachers and sometimes to students, as emotional abuse.  I stand by that statement.  Teaching is increasingly becoming micromanaged.  Where there was once creativity, there is now standardization and rote instruction.  Where there was once discovery, there is now memorization and close reading.  Teachers are naturally creative people.  Our creativity is being stifled.  We are being monitored, questioned, tracked, observed, and scanned.  Our opinions and experience is being marginalized.  Our concerns are downplayed and even ignored. We are subjected to gaslighting and told that what we are experiencing is not the reality.  Our sanity is questioned and our reputations are being maligned and discredited.  We feel disrespected.  For teachers, their profession is their passion and their identity.  When that is attacked, they take it personally.  I take it personally.

Writing that post was not easy.  I drew on experience that is deep in my past.  It was long ago and it made me a stronger, more convicted, more confident person.  I am a better person and a better teacher because I have been able to put a challenging experience behind me and redefine my future.  I doubt there is a single person who knows me that would disagree.  My experiences changed me for the better.  I am a more empathetic teacher who understands what children experience when their parents separate or divorce.  I am a more understanding teacher when talking with single parents who are overwhelmed and trying to do their best for their children.  I am a more confident person who is passionate about advocating for children and families.

As a result of what I wrote, I am in the line of fire, so to speak.  My ethics, my ability to do my job, my personal opinions and even my "emotional state" have come under "investigation".   In my opinion, I believe that expressing yourself in writing is a very personal activity.  We teach children to write what they say as beginning writers.  I tell my students, "if you can say it, you can write it".  We teach them the importance of their words.  We teach them to express their thoughts with confidence.  I write to express my thoughts and to improve my writing.  Writing, like any other skill, takes practice to create improvement.  Blogging is my way of practicing.  I realize that my readers may agree or disagree with what I write.  That's ok.  Everyone has a right to their opinion.  If you don't like what I have written, you have the right to not read it.  Like I tell my students, "If someone is bothering you, put your blinders on and move away."

However, no one has the right to take away my voice, just because they don't like what I have to say.  They also have no right to twist my words and reinterpret them to fit their narrative.  I teach my students to treat each other the way they would like to be treated.  I teach them to respect each other, use kind words when speaking and listen when someone is talking.  I teach them to solve problems respectfully. Essentially, we all want our children to be happy and successful.  We want them to have good relationships, take responsibility for themselves, be kind in their words and actions, be supportive of others and be respectful.  I teach them through direct instruction and by modeling for I know that they are watching and listening to everything I do.  Maybe, our "leaders" need to return to First grade and learn how to be better people.  Maybe, instead of consultants and business conferences, a few months living and working within the confines of an elementary classroom would help remind them of how important it is to create and maintain an atmosphere of respect.

The testing culture that has invaded our schools across the nation has changed the climate of education, and not for the better.  Thanks to Data Walls and data meetings, collaboration has given way to competition and blame. The definition of what constitutes a "good" school is based on ELA and Math scores rather than on the quality of the staff, the sense of community in the building and the outreach programs that help to encompass and engage families.  There is a distinct lack of respect for the teachers who work with students on a daily basis.  Experience is no longer seen as valuable, but rather as a hindrance to change.  Speaking about concerns is viewed as being disrespectful rather than advocacy for students based on expertise and knowledge.  Professional judgment is looked upon as not implementing with fidelity.  When, exactly, did teachers become the problem rather than the solution?

Currently, there is a "temporary moratorium" on the use of the scores to evaluate students and teachers, but everyone knows that scores will still be used in evaluating teachers and schools, one way or another.  As a result, we continue to have to prep our students for tests, collect more and more data, and try to quantify the unquantifiable.  When you evaluate and rate teachers and schools based on a numerical rating system, you are disrespecting the intricate and complicated process of educating children. You are not treating the most important people in a child's life with respect.  How can we teach children to value each other and their relationships, if we do not model that within the profession of education?

Personally, I do not believe that a test score, or really any numerical value, can measure a person's worth or even their knowledge.  The true measure of a person's worth is how they treat others and the relationships they build.  At the end of the day, no one writes a eulogy that says that so-and-so scored a 4 on a NYS test.  They speak about how that person treated others.  They talk about that person's impact on their family and their community.  They reminisce about their relationships.  No one cares what your average was in high school or what you scored on the SAT.  No one cares about your GPA.  No one can convince me that numbers mean more than people.  What ultimately matters is that you are kind, you are respectful and that you stand up for your convictions.  I hope that someday, someone can say all that about me.

In the end, it simply comes down to respect.  We can respectfully agree to disagree.  We can respect each other's opinions.  We can respect the processes of teaching and learning.  We can respect our schools, our teachers, and our children.  Remember, those little people are watching everything we say and everything we do.

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