Sunday, September 26, 2010

NO child is unworthy

Waiting for Superman. a new movie/documentary about the lousy educational system awaiting our youth. I expect to see this movie Tuesday evening. However, having seen clips and listened to discussion, I feel even more impassioned than ever about the inequities of the educational system in America. I am so lucky to teach where I teach, and to teach what I teach (English as a second language). I am given the opportunity everyday to work with small groups of students, enhance their skills, encourage learning, be creative, and see that children, no matter their economic backgrounds, all share curiosity and a desire to learn. So, what is it that we do as adults to discourage that!? We put these children into unwelcoming environments, are told to teach by rote, forget creativity, teach as if all students learn the same way, "dumb down" programs when we think that this group of kids can't or isn't really interested in learning anyway, test them until they can't think outside the box, and discourage learning for sake of learning. What happened to the joy of discovery? Why should/do some students get better educations than others? When was it decided that teachers could no longer use the skills and passion that they had to foster a love of learning? Isn't it amazing, that when I was working in a school as a substitute teacher, I was brought into a 5th grade where the students were sitting on the desks, music was blaring, papers were flying and I felt like I was going to get eaten alive; and had I followed the "script" exactly, I would have. However, as I tried to follow the teachers' lesson plan for the day involving science, I realized that reading the material from the book was never going to engage these students. So I deviated by taking the information and turning it into an experiment which orally, visually,  and kinesthecially showed the information. Before I knew it, instead of a disruptive class, I had students all around me, listening to me use the vocabulary from their textbooks in conjunction with what they were seeing. They were actively engaged, asking and answering questions and more likely to have learned something that they will remember than if I had just read from the book. Interestingly, though, I was later told, that had I been observed, I would have been chastised for not following protocol which dictated holding the book like a bible, and reading directly from it, including the questions that were proposed in the margins. Did they really need a "teacher" to do that? How bored would you be? Every school has the potential to engage students, if they have engaging teachers. NO child is unworthy of an engaging teacher, a safe and welcoming school, and the ability to learn. I believe that it is time to be proactive and put our money at the forefront of education. Think of the benefits society will reap at the end. And maybe, just maybe, we will not only have a more productive society, but a happier one as well.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Teaching is what I was meant to do. It is my way of giving back. Disappointingly, I find that while so many of the teachers feel the way that I do, our government, fails to find value in education. Oh, they find value in rhetoric, but education? not really. If they did, our children wouldn't be falling so far behind other nations, our schools would not be falling apart, programs would not be on the chopping block on a regular basis, and teachers, aids, and all school staff would be appreciated for the amount of time, effort of love they bring to their jobs. Teachers are thought of as people who have easy hours, great pay, (considering that they have their summers off) and ease with which to do their job. What the real world doesn't see are the teachers who come in early, stay late in order to help their students, take work home with them so that they can be prepared for each day, (creating new lessons to fit the varying type of students that they have each year), educating themselves both in service and outside of service, work through summers supporting failing  and struggling students, creating new lesson plans, ordering supplies on their own dollars, working to better the coming year. Summers off? Not really. This is a job that requires passion and commitment. It would be nice to leave at the end of the day and forget the job until tomorrow, however, many teachers take their students lives, problems and struggles home with them, (mentally) trying to find solutions to help those students see a better day. We work in environments where students are homeless, transient, malnourished, under-loved, go home to under-educated parents, have little respect for the teachers or the educational system, see violence as an answer rather than a problem, can't read, can't speak, have physical and mental issues, need I go on? These are not the classrooms of the 1950's. Our schools are trying without success to educate children without the support that they really need. At what point does education become a "true priority" in this country? I believe that the time has come for the United States to stand up for studies, put its money forward at the beginning of a child's years instead of the end, when those children are filling up our prisons, our welfare systems and lacking the skills to be a contributing part of this wonderful society. You can't put a price on self worth. Calculators and computers are not the answer!! Good Teachers, their hearts and skills are! Let's rethink our priorities, shall we?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Can I have a calculator?

Ok, Ok, I know it has been way too long since I posted. Life gets in the way sometimes and well.... the month of March is coming to a close, the students are ready for spring break, and PSSA is awaiting our return. Whoopee!! I can't get over how much testing is done and how little actual learning for the sake of learning is actually accomplished. It fascinates me to observe the rhetoric of the "standards" vs. the "reality" of the task. Most teaching is postscripted with teaching to the test. Teachers cannot take the time to find out if their students really comprehend a concept, however, if that concept will be found on the PSSA they can preview it, review it, overview it, subview it, and any other type of view that will enable the student to be able to "do" it when they see it on the test. Other concepts be damned! In the school in which I work, one of the most frustrating aspects is the use of calculators. Students can no longer add or subtract without their fingers, multiply or divide without calculators, and lack the basic skills to comprehend word problems. Where are the basics? How do you build a house without a foundation? When they come to me for help, as they often do, they know that I do not allow calculators to be used. Isn't it sad when 6th graders cannot add a plus 1 or 2 without using their fingers? Have no idea how much 7 times 6 is? Or even the concept of doubles (8 plus 8)? This is universal, not just the ELL students, which is why I feel so frustrated!! Then, there is the PSSA, which allows me to read the information regarding the math portion, but not the reading section. So when the state is looking at the scores to see how our school has fared, will they actually take into consideration the fact that my students read at least two grade levels below where they are being tested, and that some of them read at lower levels than that? I know that we are all in the mindset of fixing health care, and rightfully so, but somebody better help us fix our educational system.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mrs. L., can you tell me.......

The nice thing about teaching is, that everyday you get the opportunity to make a new start. Yesterday wasn't fabulous, but today was new, so we started fresh. First thing, finish the damn testing!! Which, as of today, has been completed, and awaits being turned in at the administration building. I am not certain who is happier to be finished, the students or the teacher. Today, after these many weeks, I finally, actually, taught a lesson. It felt so good. I felt inspired and my students seemed very happy to see the beginning of the routine start anew. Now, with just four months to go until the end of the school year, there is much to accomplish! Now is a good time to reflect upon all of my goals, set new ones, and see what I can do better in the future. The lessons are many, the time short, and the pace is becoming recognizable. My after school students really carried me today. They come voluntarily to work out projects, learn and relearn concepts that continue to baffle them, and to know that they have a safe place to put forth their ideas and receive honest, yet positive reinforcement. I see the hard work that they do. Sometimes, they are disappointed in my response, since I generally throw the question back at them, albeit, in a slightly different phrasing, so that they can work out the answers themselves. It is in this way, that I believe, they will best retain the information, rather than recalling that their teacher always gave them the correct answer. Often, we laugh about it. But, in the end, they make themselves proud when they realize that they, not I, have figured out the solution.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What can we do better?

I am not sure what hit me today, but today wasn't the day to be disrespectful, disobedient, or obstinate. Today was a day for accomplishing tasks, finishing up testing, and gauging the levels of the students from where we left off, way back before snow days and "forever" testing. I have to know where my students stand and what I need to emphasize when I teach. I can feel the days getting shorter, and there is so much left to impart. My sixth graders had finished their testing, so today we began working again with the language arts program. The students had stories from their regular classroom teachers, dealing with inference, and answering questions related to the text. I decided that in the last 15 minutes to explore the three basic concepts of grammar, based upon the text. Could the students pick out the nouns, verbs and adjectives in a four line paragraph? By sixth grade, this should have been pretty easy, but the students were still stymied by their choices. "Does an adjective describe action?", one student asked. So we spent about ten minutes reviewing and working together to help to cement these basics. I am concerned that I see so much of this, not just with my students, but among the English speakers as well. In addition, why are these students handed calculators when they haven't mastered the four basic computations in math? Why are students still counting on fingers to add 7 + 5? What are we doing differently as teachers? What can we do better?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Can I change my name?

Some days you just want to change your name. You fear that if you hear a student call out your name one more time, you will scream! It is sort of like being on the phone and your children keep calling Mom! Mom! Mom! over and over, ignoring the fact that you are occupied and that their needs will not be immediately met. Then, when you do answer them, they say they just wanted to see if where you were. This was my day on Friday! The majority of the students had earned enough points to go on a reward trip, so I had the students who did not attend. I looked forward to giving these students some serious one on one attention. Slowly through the day, however, my "popular" classroom filled and that one on one time became impossible. The students, though, all wanted to have me to themselves, and repeatedly called out my name, over and over, even when I was working with someone else. By the end of the day, I wished them all a good weekend, and sent them back to their respective classrooms. Some days, you just want to change your name.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Administratively Speaking...

Being new to the teaching field, and having little experience on the other side of the desk, I had little understanding of how important the principal can be to the feel of the school. Not only is he a figure head and leader in a school, but the principal can actually set the tone of the school, from the students up to the teaching staff. As a parent, I certainly knew who the principals of my childrens' schools were, had met them on occasion, listened to their speeches at graduation. However, working with one was new to me. In my first job teaching, I found that the atmosphere really mirrored the temperament of the principal. The teachers were cliquey, the students unruly, the secretaries happiest when the principal was out of the building. As I observed more and more over time, I realized that this principal was a master of facade. Smiles never felt true, interactions with the students lacked warmth, and there didn't seem to be any real positive interaction with the teachers, including supporting them when they needed it most. In this new position, at this new school, the air is lighter, the teachers warmer, the students and principal smile at each other with genuine kindness. He is supportive of his staff, approachable, and caring. I can now see that as in any job, how the administrators work from the top, trickles down either positively or negatively. If the teachers feel supported, it translates into better working relationships, less catty talk, fewer gripes, more positive interaction, and better chances for success for the students.