Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Times They Are A-Changing

I've always been a teacher who relishes change.  I have volunteered to have my grade changed four times, my room changed three times, and my district changed three times.  I changed while I watched others do the same thing year after year after year.

At first, I thought it was wrong.  I remember a teacher who worked in my school when I first started.  I walked into her room one day right before school started.  She reached into her desk, pulled out her plan book from the year before, opened to the first page and announced, "I'm ready."  Wow, I thought.  I can't wait until I am that good. I happened to mention my desire to my principal who told me, "You don't ever want to get that way.  Keep growing and keep learning."  I didn't really believe him at the time.  I believed that there was only so much to learn and once you learned it, you were done and ready to just keep doing what works.

Well, I obviously learned, over time, that this just isn't true.  The learning never stops.  I haven't hit my limit yet.  I am a good teacher...I'll even say I am a great teacher.  But each year brings more challenges I need to overcome.  Those darn kids keep changing on me. LOL

So here I am, 25 years into my career.  I have watched many ideas come and go.  I have embraced most of them, until I realized (usually long before the administration did) that things weren't working.  Whole Language, Lesson Study, Math Their Way, OrtonGillingham. While all of these ideas have great benefits, they also all have great detriments.  As an educator, I truly believe that it is my job to reach everyone.  And if the programs don't reach everyone, then something needs to change.  

Whole Language, for example, replaced a phonics based program which was boring and taught only decoding skills.  Whole Language made learning exciting and meaningful.  Comprehension was key.  The problem?  Kids with difficulties needed phonics, too.  In fact, most of the kids needed phonics, too.  But it wasn't built into the program.  So, while I continued presenting at conferences about Whole Language, while I continued teaching colleagues in district about Whole Language, I began to build a program incorporating phonics back into the reading program.  And every time I demonstrated my program at a conference, participants would breathe a sigh of relief.  They knew it too.

We are now learning about Teacher's College writing and reading in my district.  It is being fully embraced by the administration.  We have trainers coming in.  We are being sent to TC for workshops.  We are being given multiple materials, lots of in house support, and dicta to meet frequently with other members of the grade level to coordinate our work.

And, as usual, I see some great benefits to TC reading and writing.  The language used makes teaching the steps to crafting simple.  The kids are reading and writing much more than ever before.  At least that's what they say.  And it's very individualized, sort of.  (The initial lesson is whole class, the majority of work is partner work, and conferring with kids occurs as quickly as I can make it around the room.)  

But I also see detriments.  It took me too long to get to conferring with one child.  By the time I got to him, he had almost finished his book but couldn't tell me anything about it.  I was angry.  With the program and with myself for allowing this struggling reader to get by for so long reading alone or with a partner.

The whole class lessons, while short and sweet (8 minutes is the goal) still only reach about 50% of the kids.  So I am losing 8 minutes of valuable instructional time with 50% of my students.

There is a literacy block we were given to ensure that no pullouts were to occur during reading and writing.  My literacy block is one hour.  I come back from lunch, have one hour of literacy, and go home.  I need more than that.  One hour is too long for either reading or writing and too short for both.  So the timing doesn't really work for me.  Plus, that precious 2:00 - 3:00 time is the only time I am in school at the same time as our partners across the country.  We need that time to collaborate synchronously.

Okay.  In the past, once I saw detriments, I would change up the program.  Keep the good, get rid of the bad.  And I have ideas.  After all, language arts is something I have always been really good at teaching.  And I have the data to prove it.  So I want to keep the TC language, maintain the amount of time spent reading and writing each day (I always did that anyway), keep the celebrations, keep the partners.  But I want to step in often.  Small groups allow me to meet much more frequently than individually.  I want to group kids according to need and meet with them daily to help them jump the hurdle and move on.  I want my literacy block to be 1 1/2 hours and in the morning.  That gives me a good 45 minutes for both reading and writing.  I want to keep coordinating reading and writing.  We are writing fiction and reading historical fiction.  I like that.  Makes sense.  Can talk craft in both reading and writing.

The problem?  For the first time in 25 years, I am getting push back.  I am being told I cannot change my literacy block time, I must coordinate with the other fifth grade teachers, doing what they are doing, when they are doing it, and I must keep the format of mini-lesson, partner work, individual work with conferring, and ending mini lesson.  For the first time, I am being pushed into a lock step, spoon fed program.  I am not able to use my wisdom and knowledge of my students to change things at all.  I am not able to keep the good and get rid of the bad. The belief is that, once I really work with it and learn it, I will love it and see the benefits.  But I already do see the benefits.  I just see deficits, too.

For the first time, teachers in my district are told what to teach, when to teach it, and how to teach it.  We were always told the what but had so much leeway with the how and when.  Not so anymore.  And it makes me not want to teach anymore.  The times are changing but I am not comfortable fitting into the mold.  Thanks, Barack Obama and Arnie Duncan for pushing Race to the Top.  Thanks, NY for buying into it.  Thanks, administration for accepting it.  Thanks, colleagues, for falling into it. Because of RttT and the fear of accountability, I am being held back from doing what I know will help my students.  Hold me accountable.  But let me do it my way, failing or succeeding on my own terms.  I will pay the consequences if my way fails.  But I will not accept the consequences if your way fails.

I am sad. Maybe it is time for me to go. I hope retirement age comes quickly.  

'X is for...340/365

'Lost on stairs

'Paris Clocks