Saturday, August 20, 2011

kindergarten 2011-12 on the left coast

Thanks to continued Federal intrusion into the learning lives of children and the importance of data points and accountability, here's the new and improved schedule for the Kindergarten Class of 2011-12:

Other than the 5 minutes allotted for Opening Activities (greeting each student; putting backpacks away; getting settled; attendance; lunch count; mail; announcements.... Right, like in 5 minutes?), these 4 and 5 year old children will enjoy 2 hours and 55 minutes of seat time as I effectively deliver a skills based, scripted, academic English Language Development, English Language Arts, and Math curricula. During 60 minutes of ELA and Math Strategic Support, I will address the needs of the Below Basic and Far Below Basic children while the other 4 and 5 year olds are working independently at their instructional level. (NOTE: In the school districts in my city on the Left Coast we do not have instructional aides, or specials - music and art teachers.)

I am sure my students will enjoy the Health Nutrition break, where they will be able to eat a snack and play play play to their hearts' content and socialize for an entire 10 minutes! Wow! Life doesn't get much better than that when you're 4 and 5 years old.

Now regarding the 20 minutes allotted for Science/Social Studies/Music/Art..... well I won't even get into the reality of those 20 minutes. Anyone who's ever taught kindergarten can look at the above schedule and figure out why.

So the year has begun... On your mark. Get set. GO! And while I'm at it, I'll be giving the Emerging Literacy Assessment, one-on-one, to each of my students (To Be Completed by the ninth day of school. No excuses!) After all, it's never too early to labels kids as failures, is it? So in 9 short days, my kids have been bibbidy bobbidy booed and magically turned into data points... because, well, DIG*! 

*DIG = Data Is God

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Monday, August 1, 2011

the devolution of the teaching profession

Last night I returned home from an invigorating, yet sweltering, five days in Washington, DC for the Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action. My profession was affirmed by not only the keynote conference speakers, Diane Ravitch and Jonathan Kozol, but also by the thousands of like-minded individuals attending the event. At the rally, the voices of Deb Meier, John Kuhn, Taylor Mali, Nancy Carlsson-Paige and Matt Damon were added in the mix. We listened. We learned. We marched. We engaged democracy.  I returned home inspired, energized and ready to start the new school year.

And then I went to training for our new language arts curriculum.  We were handed the obligatory copy of the PowerPoint slides as we signed in. I'll admit, I was tired and not particularly looking forward to the training, but here I was, like it or not. I get that my district is held hostage by the policy makers at the state and federal levels and they're just doing what is being mandated. But, really, I don't know how much more of this absurdity I can take.

As the trainer read the PowerPoint slides, I reflected on how unamusing I find it when trainers read their PowerPoint slides to their audience. I mean, all of us are college graduates who are very capable readers. We don't really need a read aloud. The story's just not that good. 

Then we were introduced to content and language objective frames, and my eyes started rolling around in my head. I mean, how many times do I have to point out that our kindergarteners can't read the frames, so what's the point in posting them? And why in the hell do they have to repeat them after me? I'm teaching children here, not monkeys. And regarding focus walls... don't even get me started. And I am so over using academic language with my four year olds.

So I admit, I was kinda having a brattitude about all this, but I was doing a pretty good job of not looking seriously pissed off. After all, I do have a degree in Theatre Arts and am a highly proficient actor. So I can look interested if need be. And though it's annoying enough to have to choral read the PowerPoint slides, that was nothing compared to what we were told to do next.

The topic was the importance of reading with expression. Yeah, ok.... like, duh?! That's a no-brainer, dude. But I was completely unprepared for what came next. With the text projected on the screen, our trainer selected several words from the text. We were told that we were now to read the passage, chorally, putting emphasis on the selected words. 1, 2, 3, go! Geeze. If this is a bad nightmare would someone please wake me up? I mean, we're already handed a script for teaching, complete with comprehension questions in red to ask during the read aloud which is utterly joy killing. Seriously, can I just read the story to the kids for fun? Interrupting the flow of a good read aloud to ask these inane questions is a real story killer. And now we're being told which words to emphasize in the text? Sh!t. What comes in the next edition of the Teacher's Manuel? Will Houghton-Mifflin start color coding the words they deem important enough to emphasize when reading aloud? I mean, I may be blonde, but I'm not stupid! Is this absurdity never ending?

After the training, I returned home and reflected on the day and what was being asked of, and imposed upon, my profession... my practice. I'm tired of forcing a joyless curricula on my children. I'm tired of interrupting stories to discuss pointless questions. I'm tired of having 8 million standards to cover to prove the rigor of our curricula. I'm tired of discrete lessons focusing on useless details taught without context. I'm tired of hearing myself talk talk talk. When do I get to listen to my children's voices? I'm tired of racing to reach the ever rising bar. And I'm beyond tired of doing stupid sh!t that is not supported by research, just because it's in the Teacher's Manuel. And I am oh so so tired of our collective wisdom, expertise and understanding of how kids learn and should be taught being ignored.

I just think I'm done. I don't think I can keep imposing this stupid stuff on my kids. These kids are my future. What will happen if they don't learn to think critically? What will happen if they never learn that their voices are important and need to be heard? What will happen if they think the only thing that gives them value is a test score? What will happen if they only learn how to listen and not how to participate in a meaningful way? What will happen if they never learn the importance of relationships and working together? What will happen if they never discover the joy of reading or develop a love of learning? I worry about this because the current day curricular programs put my children's brains, hearts and lives in harms way. And like doctors, I believe teachers should do no harm yet that is what we are being forced to do.

I know how the kids will feel someday if their voices are not heard, or if their expertise is not honored, because that's the way teachers are feeling today. Disillusioned, demoralized, angry and uncertain whether or not they can carry on in today's climate. So the big question is what do I do now? Perhaps I'll just close my door and read stories all day long, without being interrupted, and choose which words I want to emphasize. I cannot live without reading. I want my kids to feel that way too. And if I need to have my spirits lifted and my efforts encouraged, I'll just go to YouTube and watch Diane Ravitch's inspiring and passionate speech at the Save Our Schools rally because bottom line, I've got precious lives to save!