Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Our Kryptonite


Monday, September 27, 2010

Our Kryptonite

In response to Oprah's recent special, the Education Nation special on MSNBC, and the premiere of the controversial documentary Waiting for Superman, I feel it is important to say this. I am a teacher, not Superman. We don't need superheroes to fix the problems in education. We need less kryptonite. What's the kryptonite, you might ask? This is a start:

Inequality in school funding. I'll never forget visiting an elementary school in Topeka, Kansas as part of the Kansas Teacher of the Year team. The band practiced in the school foyer and the speech pathologist conducted her speech sessions with students in the school elevator, with a chair propping the door open. Ten miles down the road, we visited another elementary school, the building straight out of a Willy Wonka fantasy, with billowing clouds as ceiling tiles, colored houses as grade-level team homes, and floors so clean you could eat off of them. In the United States of America, our schools should be palaces. They should represent, literally and symbolically, that we believe education is the cornerstone of our society. When the welcome centers at our state borders have cleaner and nicer bathrooms than the ones our students use on a daily basis, there's a problem.

Unrealistic mandated expectations. Do all teachers believe that 100% of students can read at grade-level? Yes. Of course, we don't want to leave children `behind'. However, it takes time. Schools are not factories. Children are not robots. Some students take more time than others because each child arrives to school with a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and abilities. To put arbitrary timelines on the student's learning without recognizing the GROWTH the student makes over that period of time does nothing to encourage steady and substantial literacy learning. It encourages teachers to teach to the test. Additionally, when the span of reading levels in one given 8th grade class ranges from the first grade level to the college level, it's not difficult to see where a teacher's focus and energy needs to go. When focusing on the students that need the teacher the most, consequently, the teacher is neglecting the students who have achieved grade level and need to be challenged.

Everyone knows how to do it better. When my husband was battling leukemia and under the care of a team of doctors and medical experts, I never considered for a moment to tell them `how `to do their work because I've been under the care of a doctor before. And yet, because most adults completed K-12 school, they've experienced being a learner in a variety of settings and whether good or bad, feel they know what good teaching should look like. Teacher education programs are not all crayons and construction paper. Teachers know a great deal about assessment, psychology, pedagogy, theory, and research.

One-shot assessments. Three days before the starting date of state reading assessments, a battalion of soldiers deployed from our local army post. Of my 120 students, more than half of their dads (and sometimes moms) were deployed at that stage in the war on terrorism, some for the second and third times. Students carry the weight of the world with them sometimes, and certainly these real life events became a distraction when faced with THE multiple-choice test. Poor timing, perhaps…but when we neglect to consider all the intricacies of a student's world, including how their out-of-school lives impact their lives in school, we are all set up to fail. Students should have multiple opportunities to prove their proficiency.

Negative teacher portrayal. There are times I turn down the volume watching Jay Leno's nightly monologue, as he sometimes jokes about bad teachers and their actions. It's a shame, as 99% of the teaching profession is ethical, moral, and beyond reproach. Popular culture focuses too much attention on the other 1%.

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