My daughter was born to be a teacher. Just like I did when I was young, she would line her dolls up in rows and stand before them and “teach” the old fashioned way. They were quiet, she would talk. But they were taken to make-believe worlds through her books and they were given her diagrams and sketches of the world according to Allison. Fast forward and she walked across the stage at her University accepting her degree in Elementary Education.
Her world is different than mine as she enters the teaching field. I entered pre-test and I remember walking into my first classroom in urban Cincinnati, Ohio bursting with excitement. My students and I created our own lessons as we made our way through the curriculum. There was no “map”, no standardized test at the end of the course, there were no parents asking for grade sheets for me to justify their A or B. Oh, there was the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and other national standardized tests and parents were concerned about their children. To be fair, I taught in an area where those kids, for the most part, would be first generation college. It was 1979.
Allison enters the teaching world with as much excitement as I had as she has worked extremely hard to get prepared to enter the profession. But the reality is that she is entering the post-test era and it is becoming increasingly clear that her “success” will be based on her students passing a standardized test (called SOL’s in Virginia, ironically, for Standard of Learning). She will be given a curriculum map, a pacing guide, and a fat set of facts for her students. She has had a taste of this as she substitutes around Northern Virginia in many of the premiere public school districts in the United States. She has embraced this profession and understands student learning, collaboration, and that she is the facilitator in the classroom. She is substitute teaching in several public districts and one small parochial school.
Here is the email I got from her Friday: I was offered a job in the parochial school for next year and I may be offered a job at the public school I am in now. What should I do? They are both excellent schools. The main difference in SOL’s. All I do now is have to practice and prepare for the tests in May/June. The parochial school doesn’t have that focus, it is about learning. There is a different vibe. They still have the curriculum, but I have more freedom. Help.
She knows I teach in a public school (not where she is substitute teaching). She knows I have taught at a parochial school. I HATE the end of course standardized tests, as well as all the benchmark tests in between. My classroom is Project Based and I am passionate about student learning. But the reality is that I have a pacing guide, curriculum map, a textbook (they only use for reference). And most of the time I feel isolated because of it.
I know what I told her, curious as to what advice you would give?
Just as a physician takes our pulse during an office visit to check our health, schools should be doing the same. What’s your school’s pulse? Here are some thoughts on a healthy school pulse.
When walking through the building do you see:
- Students in groups, not just talking, but asking questions, using content vocabulary, creating learning together, excited about what they are doing?
- The teacher is involved in student discussion and learning and not the center of learning?
- Students can tell anyone who comes in to the classroom what they are researching, discussing, analyzing?
- There is high expectation for learning, not just test scores? There are student projects showcased?
- Learning is taking place all over, even in the hall with students are spread out using computers, textbooks, library books, other devices as allowed? My favorite pictures in my classroom are those of students putting together a presentation while the textbook, notebook, etc are on their laps and desks. I co-wrote and article for Educational Leadership in 2009 and it is still timely. Here is the link for those interested-
- Learning happening anytime, anywhere and are you, the teacher, a part of it during non school hours? Are students sharing writing, projects, and anything else with you on Google Docs, Edmodo, etc.?
- Active not passive learning?
As I walk through the halls of my own building, I think about our pulse. What does learning look/sound like to you?
Watching the events unfold in the last few weeks with Egypt and trying to help my 8th graders understand this history-making event was incredible! It hit me on many levels and, of course, Twitter helped me with links, videos, etc. to use in class. But what really was an ah-ha moment was the fact that as I tried to help my students understand the “social revolution” piece of the history, they didn’t quite get that or see it. It struck me because that while I knew on an intellectual level that my students are 21st century kids and are growing up with technology, they are as immersed in this as I was in the late 60′s with the Martin Luther King civil rights and social unrest here in the U.S. The other amazing piece of this was that I could have a conversation on Twitter to solidify some thoughts. I thought it was just me who thought it strange that the kids were not impressed that the Egypt revolution was bolstered by social media. Thanks to my #sschat educators, I was able to get some thoughts together.
What does this mean for teaching? For me it means that education MUST become what the kids live. They cannot keep coming to school to “power down.” When they walk into my building they have to turn off all devices – the very things that are an integral part of who they are. It is not just music or phones; it is connection, completion, just… them.
When we will have our own revolution for education? What if students were to really understand the power of what it would mean for them to be able to learn the way they want? What if we really teach the way they learn? What if we really want to know how best students learn? What if we… shhh, take away standardized testing?! I believe that we could unleash the power of the next generation of leaders in this country. How can we have a revolution? I am amazed by the amazing educators who have unbelievable ideas and I want a true revolution… reform isn’t enough. Time is of the essence! Who’s with me? Maybe it’s time to get students involved in the revolution. I think I will invite some of mine to the next school board meeting and take them to the office of the superintendent.