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24 January 2015

CHOCOLATE HILLS

When people come to visit us, they make us realize all the peculiar details of coastal living taken for granted. 

For example, a visitor became impatient with talk of low and high tide. "What does that mean?" she demanded. Another friend was concerned about the polluting "soap suds" all over the beach. Still another wanted to go for a walk in the sand with an umbrella. 

Just now a retired friend from work, Neil, is traveling in the Pacific, working his way through the Philippines and imaging friends as he goes. He's sent me a picture of a tarsier and another of the Chocolate Hills, some 1200-1700 rounded formations on Bohol Island in the Philippines. If I hadn't received the photo and found the entry on Wikipedia, I'd have thought he'd made those conical hills up. The formations extend over miles. They do not look like naturally eroded grass-covered marine limestone, but that's the explanation I've found. 


I've known about tarsiers for more than forty years, but if someone told me about them, how could I believe they were real? They have eyes like cartoon characters and finger and toes as if manufactured from bamboo, little wooden beads joints—a creature more imaginative and creative than any dragon or griffin of legend. 

It was the hills that amazed me. 

I suppose to Filipinos, there is nothing noteworthy about either tarsier or hills.
The pull of moon and sun draw the water of entire oceans around the globe; the sudsy pounding of wind-driven energy beats a froth of salt water and plankton; the wind is from the north, but soon enough will swing around and turn your umbrella into a crumpled crow. 


23 January 2015

TIRED

Maybe it's because I am sick and have to go to school today because I will mess up my students if I'm gone. Maybe it's my age showing. 

Lately, I've been coming home and taking a nap in order to stay awake past 8pm. (That's me and the cat and the dog, all sound asleep in the middle of the day.) I lie awake thinking and often again in the middle of the night. But I am alert and sitting up in bed and working by five each morning. I've warned my college students that the secret to success in college is to get enough sleep. I try to follow my own advice, but the truth is I've cut about an hour out of sleep in recent years in order to keep up with my work load. 

Teaching, as John Gardner warns, demands the same creative energy that every other creative activity requires. He warned against teaching as a day job for writers. But like most creative activities, there is great satisfaction in teaching, which is only one reason I love my profession. 

I was sick when I went to school on Wednesday. I had to be there, sick or not, because we were being trained about the new testing I would be doing in a few weeks and because students needed to accomplish things that would not happen if I had been absent that day. I was catching a chest cold, but I went to school, careful not to touch anyone or lean too close. I'd made a lemon cake for a birthday and then didn't dare share it.

The next day, yesterday, I stayed home because most of what I needed to get done was done. I woke at my usual time, committed my daily offenses and went promptly back to sleep until eleven. 

When I woke and reopened my laptop, I found an email from a writer-friend I had not spoken to in a few years, another John, a generous and demanding writing teacher. He'd read a comment I'd made at Work Magazine on a piece called "Retirement" by Charles Raamelkamp. Work has published my work about work, so I faithfully read their weekly contributions, and sometimes I comment as I did on that piece. I wrote:

"At 62, I am nearing retirement, and I will probably welcome retirement. I am tired. I would prefer to keep working part time, but that may not be an option. We’ll see. But I am a teacher and my job is exhausting but soul-enriching. I fear what might happen to my soul without the daily challenge of teaching high school students. For my entire adult life I have worked with students. They insist I be my best, they insist I keep rethinking what I think I know, they give me a bigger world than I would have if I didn’t have to get out of bed by 6:30 in order to get to school and could keep right on writing all day."

John Rember responded with news of his own retirement, about having time for reading bigger books—and maybe writing them, too. He was encouraging in many ways, and suggested I should allow "an enthusiastic, naive, energetic young teacher the opportunity to life-save on her own, even if she’s going to get it all wrong." Let go and move on. "Anyway," he wrote, "you should be tired. Something would be wrong with you if you weren’t. Tiredness is, in its own way, an exalted state. Revel in it, is my advice, and see what new things it brings to your soul." 


This morning I opened my laptop and considered John's email message again. He warns: "It’s hard to look at the emotionally-intellectually-needy-but-terribly-flattering people in your classes and tell them that somebody else is going to have to save them, but if you’re too good at your job you start stunting your students." 

Perhaps John has never had students in his classes who were smarter than he was. I have. And I don't know about saving them or stunting them. John regards teaching as an act of aggression. He's probably right sometimes. I hope he isn't right most of the time. 

But his important advice seems to be that I should allow myself to rest, that I might find work to do if I gave it more space in my life to get it done. 

It's good advice, John, and I will take it, perhaps sooner than I planned. Because it's true. I am tired but undaunted. I am daunted but eager to accomplish something meaningful. I merely need to find the courage for something new.  

22 January 2015

MOST BEAUTIFUL TRAVEL

Recently I tracked down An Inland Voyage by Robert Louis Stevenson about canoeing through France and Belgium in 1876. I was familiar with only one line about quiet minds: "Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened, but go on in fortune and misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm."—which I have been writing on bathroom walls since 1978. 

Stevenson's novels were read by children when I was young and I still have a particular affection for Treasure Island, but I had never read his travel books—a bit of an innovation in their day. He speaks fondly of women and Gypsies, and thus earns my affection. He writes beautifully, and thus earns my admiration. 

When my grandmother, my step grandmother Genevieve, died in 1978, I was in Canada at a dog show. I had held her hand in the hospital a few days before, but I was not there to hold her hand at the moment she died. Someone called me at the motel where my girlfriend and I were staying the night with our dogs. I don't remember who called me, though it must have been Gary. I drove home to Seattle the next day and then we went together to Oregon. I don't remember anything about that either. Somewhere along the way, a cousin I barely knew told me I should inform her friends of her passing. 

Older than my mother at the time, she was not much older than the age I am now. I carried her address book back to Seattle and went to a stationary shop in the University District. Such shops don't much exist anymore, but there I asked the person at the counter who suggested I have them print a notice to be mailed or select one of their stock cards and handwrite a message. 

On a plain white card was printed Stevenson's line about quiet minds, which is also the source of my blog's name. 

This quote seemed to me to describe Genevieve Waples Smith, who had been an Army nurse, pilot, hospital administrator, college professor of nursing, weaver, and wife. Though she put a Korean orphan through nursing school, she'd birthed no children, and she outlived two husbands. She had no immediate relatives except a cousin in Scotland and another in Denver she didn't know well, her second husband's unmarried brother who also had no children and died a few years before, and her first husband's family. My family. Her second husband was fond enough of Gary to talk her into leaving her first husband's family's beach house to me. 

I bought one card, took it home, and created my own announcement. Genevieve valued family, though she had few relatives. Her address book was swollen with names. I can not recall how many cards I sent out, but I sent one to each address in her book. 

There have been many years since that I have thought about "quiet minds" and Genevieve. More misfortune, I thought at the time than fortune in her life, but then I think of all she did and how I loved her. 

She accomplished a good deal in her life, whether her mind was still or shouting. 

Before I drove south to her funeral all those years ago, I went to the second floor bathroom of the School of Art on the University of Washington campus. It's one of the dreadful pseudo-Gothic piles around the square of cherry trees. Until I'd graduated in 1976, I often visited this restroom because all the walls were covered in pencil illustrations and drawings by students, inside and outside the stalls themselves and curving up onto the ceilings. I planned to fit in Stevenson's text among all the nudes and forests and magical animals, tessellations and experiments in perspective. 

When I entered, I found the walls freshly pale and unadorned. Someone had decided to paint it. Gone all that glorious art! I might have cried, but instead I did what I'd come to do: I added Stevenson's line to the wall in the first stall. I like to think his creation was soon multiplied. 

His book itself is charming and dear. He writes lovingly of ordinary folks, of evidence of a happy marriage, of women and Travelers, green banks and fisherfolk and tiny collections of houses and shops that do not quite qualify as towns. And there is this, yet another great truth among many in Stevenson's slim volume: "You may paddle all day long; but it is when you come back at nightfall, and look in at the familiar room, that you find Love or Death awaiting you beside the stove; and the most beautiful adventures are not those we go to seek." 

We voyage out into the world; we voyage inward toward ourselves.

ABOVE: An illustration from the first edition from Wikipedia. You may read the entire book online here. The quiet minds passage is on page 62. The first edition runs at least a thousand dollars and has a blue cover. I will buy it when Gary wins the lottery. The map below is from the end sheets of a later edition.




19 January 2015

ACCEPT THE GIFT

In "Believing the Fairy Tale: Jobs After the MFA," poet Jeannine Hall Gailey points out the obvious: writers don't easily find jobs in their field. She also has serious and useful suggestions for where to look for work that actually uses the skills earned completing an MFA. 

Most writers stop writing after their MFA in writing. One of the writers in my program, one of the more prestigious teachers, revealed this in a craft talk. We students, sitting in the audience, were stunned. 

Even I was stunned. 

How could all this furious energy stop? How could we bear it? I hoped the MFA would help me become a better writer and I think that happened. I thought it would help me get published and that didn't happen. 

I never believed the fairy tale that my MFA would help me find work. I have work. I worked full time throughout acquiring my MFA, which I wouldn't recommend to anyone, but which worked for me. I have never regarded education as job training, but as a means of personal development. I completed the MFA purely for myself, not to gain or develop job skills. 

As a high school teacher I work with students for many more hours than I would teaching at a university, and for less pay than if I were in a college-level tenure track position. (And no one at my school cares whether I am published so I am spared that aspect of a college position.) But I earn substantially more than I would as an adjunct anywhere, and that's something I already knew before pursuing the MFA. At this point in my career, I would take a pay cut for pretty much any college job. 

Therefore, I didn't think the MFA would help me get work, and I didn't think it would make me a writer. I was already a published writer before entering the program. Setting aside my dreams of publication, I hoped I would get to know other writers in the MFA program, and that I would become a better writer. That much happened. 

A writer I know recommended that beginning writers "marry money." Historically, writers have generally been of two sorts—rich or otherwise employed. 

My choice? I have a day job. I write beginning at 5am every day. That habit predates Naomi Shihab Nye telling her workshop students at The Flight of the Mind back in 1996 about her personal writing schedule. I wasn't even in her workshop, but my poet-roommates abruptly changed their minds about my appalling pre-dawn writing habits and wanted to know how early could I wake them? So I wake early and write. The extraordinary poet Marilyn Chin once called me the most "driven writer" she knows. I write a lot. I write with some consistency. 

And even I stopped writing after my MFA. For a while. 

My mother died a week after my graduation and I haven't written much fiction since. I lost my sense of humor and my appreciation, or at least my skill, at invention. I came back to writing after more than a year of silence because another writer-friend from my MFA program urged me to start a blog, get myself listed on Poets & Writers, and keep writing whatever I could because it would make me feel better. Because I am a writer whether I'm doing it or not. She was so right!

Today that same writer is discouraged because of a series of personal and financial setbacks. I can only give back what I have received and the evidence that her good advice to me has worked. Take whatever job keeps the bills paid and write. Write because you need to write. Write because not writing is a disrobing and an impoverishment, a starving nakedness in the world. Write because you can and need to write, because you have something to say only you can tell. 

That's what I've been doing. I submit only occasionally. I thought by my age I would have three books and that hasn't happened, but I still write and I am undiscouraged about publication. I can't say that publication doesn't matter, but it matters less than the writing matters, at least to me. 

18 January 2015

PROVING IT: TEXTBOOK, too

There are Standards—the level of knowledge and skill we expect our students to have when they graduate from high school. There is the curriculum that ensures this knowledge and these skills are taught. And there are the tests, which are intended to evaluate that knowledge and those skills. 

Let's set aside the content of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) because the major quarrel I have with them is that they don't go far enough. There's nothing new here. 


Set aside for the moment the high stakes testing, which may or may not be a reliable indication of achievement. 


And let's ignore the fantasy that we actually have the will to allow students who fail to meet these standards to fail


Let's look at textbooks. Let's consider how a textbook can aid or inhibit curriculum. 


When my brother began teaching Chemistry more than thirty years ago, he didn't have a good textbook, so he wrote his own lessons and curriculum. Rather than use what wasn't working, he made something better. 


The New York Times has essays every day that are worth investigation in a Social Studies classroom. So do many other publications available online. No textbook in print directly addresses Charlie Hebdo, though there are books, none of which are on State-approved list, that track the history and impact of political cartoons. 


With access to the internet and relative flexibility for "fair use" as an educator, a library bookroom full of novels and essays and poetry and plays, and commitment to continual improvement, teachers create curriculum. What and how we teach is continually evolving. 


My department, the English department, has always done that. We have never used a textbook with static and predigested lesson plans, bulleted points, bolded and glossed vocabulary, and sample questions. Real life doesn't come bolded and glossed and with helpful sidebars and study questions. 


English teachers are generally passionate readers and writers. Working with teenagers about to go forth into the world as adults, we believe that our students should be reading the sort of work that adults read and wrestling with ideas that adults face every day. Not YA books and children's dumbed-down exercises, not the same book used year after year, but the newspapers and novels and ideas of thinking minds, of future voting citizens. 


In years past, the State of Oregon required that we "adopt" a textbook for each grade level 9-12 to teach our subject and purchase at least a classroom set (enough books for one classroom) for every class. These books cost schools a lot of money because textbooks are not cheap, but the English department would buy the required minimum number of copies and store them on a high shelf of the bookroom in the library. 


For the English department at my high school, this was wasted money because we never teach from a textbook. We teach essays and stories and novels. We teach newspaper articles and poems. A textbook, then, is something that went into storage and never came out. Just because we "had to have them" to satisfy Oregon Department of Education (ODE) requirements, we invested a sizable chunk of our book budget in textbooks, just because we had to. 


Those required texts of years past are probably on their way to a third world country by now. 


The library was short on space so I was asked to find books we "never used" that could be disposed of. I chose several shelves worth of thick "adopted textbooks" to make room for novels and plays and essay collections and poetry. Such a textbook might be useful to a new teacher who has no idea what he or she is doing, who has no one to ask or to provide sample materials. We might keep one copy for that purpose. I remember being in that position as a first-year English teacher. But after the first couple of years, the expectation in my department is that we each develop curriculum. We design what we're doing through use of stories, novels, essays, scripts, and poems. We don't merely teach out of a book or the lessons we enjoyed ourselves, but to the needs and interests of the students seated before us. No one has looked at those canned curriculums found in adopted texts for many years. 


And then the ODE decided we didn't need them. For a while we were off the hook with these expensive textbooks. The last time we were require to adopt textbooks, we bought novels and essay collections, an anthology of political poetry, and some graphic novels such as the Pulitzer-winning Maus. The state allowed us to teach using whatever materials were useful. 

But now I'm told we need new textbooks that address the CCSS, as if the skills addressed in the CCSS were somehow new to us or to anyone. I assumed this requirement is some deal worked out between the state and the for-profit companies such as Pearson that have a lot of money riding on this particular educational reform. (And I would also bet money that such textbooks are not being used at all in the private schools the "reformers" attended and the schools where they send their own children. I attended a great public school and taught at a great private 6-12 school and textbooks were not part of the curriculum except in Math and Science. Not even History used a standard textbook.) 


Do we need to buy textbooks from the State's list of "Adopted Instructional Materials" for English? Maybe not. 


Anyone may access the ODE pages regarding "Instructional Materials" and read about adopted texts and alternative texts. That last, called "independent adoption", is what my department has used during all the years I've taught in this district. Sometimes we had to buy the textbooks anyway, sometimes we didn't. We never used them. 


According to the ODE website: "School districts may adopt and use textbooks or other instructional materials in place of or in addition to those adopted by the State Board of Education provided they meet the guidelines and criteria established by the State Board of Education. Independent adoptions are good for six years. As of 2011, Oregon school districts are no longer required to notify the state in the case of independent adoption." [bold is not mine] 


So . . . it seems we can use whatever we like, so long as the alternative meets the State guidelines, and we do not have to prove that they meet the state guidelines. That's what I call wiggle room. 


While I was on the mostly-incoherent ODE website, I looked at what else was on offer. There are guidelines for textbooks in other subjects that have never used textbooks at any school I have attended or taught. "The Arts"? "Physical Education"? "Visual Performing Arts"? Maybe the basics of design or Health in a book, but ask a P.E. teacher to waste class time with book work and you will get the stink eye. 


But it doesn't matter, because it seems I can use whatever texts I have been using and I don't actually have to prove to anyone but my students that they address the skills my students need to learn.


So maybe we don't have to waste money on textbooks we won't use. 


But here's where it gets messy. Meeting the guidelines, while we need not prove this, is complicated. It includes the requirement that the text: "Provides in-depth treatment of topics and concepts as outlined in the Common Curriculum Goals and the Essential Learning Skills and that are necessary to achieve the grade 10 English Language Arts Grade Level Standards and to prepare grade 11/12 students to access post-secondary learning opportunities." Textbook companies stand to gain huge profits selling the CCSS-aligned books. There is money at stake, profit to be made. 


Of course many of the approved texts on the list predate the CCSS. These are the same old books that have been around forever, but now they have a little addendum that shows how lesson B in Chapter 14 addresses CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.11-12.1.A and so forth. 


People were paid to make the explicit connection, line by line, to the CCSS. There's money at stake here. 

Let the profit be made, but not at the expense of my students. 


Strangely, I've been teaching students to "Introduce precise, knowledgeable claim(s), establish the significance of the claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that logically sequences claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence" without a textbook of any kind for twenty-five years. 


Must prove I am teaching to the textbook? Apparently not to the ODE. 


At least . . . not until the 2015 test results come out to prove I have been been failing as a teacher all these years. Stay tuned. 


17 January 2015

ADOPTED TEXTS

One of the aspects of teaching that I enjoy the most is my freedom to incorporate what I have come across into my curriculum. I used a poem I found the other day. I incorporate recent events into what we read and discuss. I tell about an author's life to get my students to look at a map and consider how an idea is transformed by time and distance. I continually make up new assignments and adjust what I do to accommodate to student needs. 

Creativity. 

Not every teacher is willing or even able to create curriculum, but I have been doing it since I began teaching. Like most teachers, in my first job as an art teacher I rehashed assignments I had completed in school and college. But for the 25 years I have taught English, I have grabbed whatever was handy, then built on that base. Creating curriculum is my second greatest pleasure after teaching it to real live students. 

Two potentially discouraging conversations from my first year teaching English still ring in my ears— 
  1. I asked my Department Chair what my students should know when they left my room. "When you figure that out, let me know," she said. So I figured it out, and I've been figuring it out ever since. I've given presentations to my peers through my professional organization many times.
  2. When I suggested to another new teacher that we needed to teach the five-paragraph essay, "That old thing! It's such a cliché," she said. Yes, it is old and formulaic and inadequate, but our students hadn't been taught how to write this basic structure in grade school or middle school or anywhere else—not in English or Social Studies classes. We needed to start somewhere.  

Writing is an essential skill. Everyone, sooner or later, needs to express an opinion effectively—in a letter to the editor, to fight an unfair parking ticket, or to convince a spouse not to buy that couch. 

My district is currently reviewing writing textbooks for adoption at each grade level. If I hadn't already developed a pretty good idea of what my students should know about writing and why they need to know it, I might welcome this package deal.

Presently, a cardboard box of writing texts designed for high school students sits in my classroom, waiting for me to review and consider the books' relative helpfulness. Each is large, heavy, and unlikely to gain my affection. Having avoided such "textbooks" for 25 years, I feel a pang every time I look in their direction. Thousands of wasted dollars—that's what I see.

Textbooks with canned curriculum are at least an easy way to decide what to do each day. I am not entirely opposed to textbooks. I have been using a small volume, They Say/I Say by Gerald Graf, in my college classes for years. It was recommended to me by the then-director of the writing program at OSU where it was the text for WR 121.

Each year prior to this one, Winter Term WR 121 students have commented that it would have been extremely helpful to them in writing their SRP. Last year, a student in my class had already read it because her aunt, a professional editor, had assigned it to her. We were both delighted. The book is not cheap—it is, after all, a textbook with or without optional readings, costing $25-60 without a discount—but it is succinct, and frequently recommended as a Common Core State Standards (CCSS) text, and it is probably cheaper than the alternatives in that cardboard box.

While we are at it, there are enough of the older writing texts adopted a dozen years ago in the my school library for anyone to use while teaching an entire grade level—over a hundred copies that are a little out of date with MLA but otherwise good. Most of what we know about good writing doesn't change in seven years. We might already have what we think we want sitting on a shelf and without spending a dime on the next bright thing.

Before we ask our students to lug around a book weighing several pounds, or even search for several empty shelf-space to house a classroom set, before we adopt what Texas has on offer, I hope my district has a look at this text. I have several copies I am willing to loan. (I have made no secret of the usefulness of this book; I would have suggested it for adoption sooner if anyone had thought to ask me. In fact, I believe I did suggest it, several times, even though no one asked.)

And finally, I would remind us all that Social Studies departments also should be teaching research and persuasive writing. They need to have a look at They Say/I Say as well. 

Google " 'They Say/I Say' CCSS" to gain an idea of how it can be used. I wish I'd done that sooner than this morning! There are thousands of articles on using the book to address CCSS. Here's one: http://www.teachingthecore.com/they-say-i-say-template-part-2/

There are other promising texts that weigh something less than five pounds and don't cost a fortune. It might be that one of them is in that cardboard box I am avoiding. Next week I promise I will look. The spread I've pasted below would be worthwhile all by itself, it seems to me. It's that "implications" piece I want my students to consider. 

Finally, this year my school moved WR 121 from Winter to Fall term, and students and I both failed to use the The Say/I Say as effectively as we should have. 

I blame myself for this, but I will do better next year. 

I'm still learning.

ABOVE: That's Mark Twain on a bench. In bronze. If you never appreciated Twain in school, you missed something. But if you aren't laboring under the delusion that your tastes haven't changed since you were a teenager and you enjoy The Daily Show or SNL or political cartoons these days, you might take another look at the man who gave Americans a unique voice and made a particular kind of social satire a uniquely American art form  BELOW: a dps from a writing textbook I will be examining soon.


15 January 2015

THE TEST

Next week I will be trained to administer Oregon's new high stakes test, the SBAC, to my juniors in high school. 

As teachers and teacher-professionals experience first hand what the new tests are like, they are talking.


I was asked what I thought about the questions in one of the new tests described in a letter to President Obama.


"Just as you do, President Obama, I want America’s children to learn and succeed. I want every classroom in the United States to have great teaching and a rigorous, challenging, engaging curriculum. I believe the Common 
Core State Standards could help make this happen.


"But the standards won’t succeed if the tests used to assess them are confusing, developmentally inappropriate, and so hard that even good students can’t do well on them. Setting high standards and effectively teaching them is a fine route to success; setting children up to fail because of ineffective tests is not."—Valerie Strauss


I have less confidence in the CCSS than Strauss does because I see this and all recent "educational reform" coming down to a test. (An expensive test.) That seems to be part of her concern too.

As a high school English teacher, I was first exposed to the test we will be using last August. (Oregon will be using the SBAC.) I was discouraged by an administrator from actually reading and responding to the questions on the sample SBAC. One reason might be that the very first question had no correct answer. (I have a master's degree in my subject not education.) Another might be that in one of the next few questions, the correct answer I was supposed to be able to select from the given text was not a sentence I was allowed to choose. This made me a little crazy as an adult where the test didn't matter—imagine how one of my students will react to such questions! (The idea is that this is not simply a "multiple choice test", though of course that's exactly what it is.) And then, of course, we have people at all levels of involvement in public education reform who did not themselves attend public schools and would not send their children to a public school (Duncan does, but he lives in one of the wealthiest school districts in the country, so . . .) Finally, if it was possible to create a standardized test that was more reliable that teachers' grades to indicate the accomplishment and predict future academic success of students, don't we think The College Board would have figured it out by now? They've been trying to do that with the SAT for over a hundred years. (And failed.)

Next week I will be trained to administer the SBAC. Maybe it won't be as bad as I fear, and no one is terribly worried here about it yet, even though a passing score is required for graduation. That's because by state law, students have to be given notice before such a change in graduation requirement. This means it will be a few years before the old system, which allows for SAT scores and other evidence to stand in for test scores, has completely disappeared. 


But this spring I will have to actively participate in the testing, because some of the testing requires me to teach specific materials to my students before they complete portions of the exam. That's what the training is about. The total SBAC exam was originally estimated to require 8.5 hours to administer. I am the only teacher training for the English portion. There will not be any extra time in Spring Term, and so far no special scheduling to allow for this process. In other words, I have to find time in my class to ensure it happens.  


It is possible that the test will be an improvement over the old one, the Oaks used before. It is possible that it will be no worse. 


Whatever the "accuracy" of this new test, I'm probably not going to happy with it. As and educator and a great test-taker myself, I can say that some others are not great test takers. Some people who know less still test very well; other people who really do know material just can't wrap their heads around multiple choice questions. 


And that isn't even the problem. 


The real danger is that we will all find ourselves as teachers focused on a test instead of on education. It is most likely that like other recent attempts to reform education, this test and the entire CCSS will miss critical skills and sometimes focus on the wrong things entirely. 


So that's the problem, as I see it. I even have suggestions. 


If you want a better public education system that addresses the needs of all children, look at the "better" systems that work that way and see what they do differently. 

  • recognize that children do not come to school on a level playing field and that as the gulf widens between rich and the rest of us, this will only get worse
  • eliminate private schools so that we are all "in the same boat" 
  • address child poverty (over 50% of students in public schools nationwide are living in poverty) by providing essential services to all children
  • more recess, less grilling 
  • less class time, more respect
  • smaller classes, more collaboration between teachers
  • higher standards for educators that actually draw in better teachers because teaching is treated as a profession 
  • accept that children are not all wired the same way
  • accept that appropriate standards are not one-size-fits-all
  • accept that every child cannot "race to the top" but deserves to learn what she or he can do 

It would be nice if we respected that few teachers enter teaching for the money (I can name one), that we are already doing the best we can (and even that one is trying hard), and that threats and bribery are not particularly effective because they imply teachers are somehow holding back our best (we're already facing as fast as we can). 

Instead of blaming teachers for failures, we must address the reality that almost 50% of teachers leave the profession because in other jobs they are better respected and the hours and pay are better. And the teachers who are actually not very good at their jobs but stay anyway? One reason they stay is because no one in authority steps in to help them do a better job or move them out of the profession. The other reason? There aren't a whole lot of great teachers waiting to take their place. 

Think about that for a minute. If you are a brilliant, energetic, committed person with five or more years of university education and graduation among the top of your university class, would you choose a career in education? Would you choose to teach? 


In Finland they do.

I love my job, but I am delusional.


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