Thursday, March 7, 2013

Ready, Aim, Fire

When I was in 6th grade, I met the love of my life. His name was Mr. Eltiste and he was my math teacher. As luck would have it, math was my worst subject, but I endured it because Mr. Eltiste was my teacher. Not only was I weak in math, but I was also weak in the organization department. I lost my math book one day and was therefore unable to do my homework. In class, I told Mr. E (as we all liked to call him) that I had left my book at home and my homework was in my book. Because he loved me (at least, that's what I told myself in my mind), he told me to turn it in tomorrow. He believed my lie. Lucky me. Or not. Because later that day, someone found my math book and turned it in to Mr. E, thus exposing my lie. He tracked me down in the library and threw the book at me and yelled at me to never lie to him again. I was terrified. I had just avoided being hit with a flying book, I was yelled at in the library, and Mr. E probably didn't love me anymore. I went home that night and told my mother that Mr. E had thrown a book at me. When she asked why he would do such a thing, I told her about my little lie. She asked if the book actually hit me; I told her no. Her response: "Too bad."

First, a couple caveats. One, was he right to throw a book at me? Of course not. Two, should he have yelled at me in the library in front of other students? Pretty sure that's also a no. But it was the 1970's and education was different back then. I can also tell you that as a result of that incident, I never lied to Mr. Eltiste again and I worked my rear end off to get him to respect me again (okay, love me again). I was most scared of disappointing him again in the future. Had he not been so upset with me, I probably would have calculated it out in my mind that if I got away with a lie once, I could do it again. Instead, I learned a valuable lesson. I also learned that I wasn't getting any sympathy at home. Apparently, I did wrong first so Mr. E's anger was justified.

Flash forward to 2013. What the heck, you don't have to flash forward that far. You can even flash forward to the late 1990's, I suppose, but definitely flash forward to the past 5 years or so. I am sure had the same incident taken place, it would be newsworthy and the teacher would be fired and in the middle of a lawsuit. I'm not going to debate whether that is right, wrong, or other. Instead, I want to look at the reaction of my mother. Her first inclination was to take the side of the teacher, not her child. At least that's what I could see. If she thought he was a horrible teacher because of that incident, she sure never let on to me that she felt that way. She also didn't let me feel like my wrong doing could be excused somehow by what he did. She subtly let me know that I screwed up and deserved to be punished. My mother held me responsible for my actions. She also knew Mr. Eltiste well enough to know that he was a partner with her in my education. When did that change in education? When did some parents (yes, some, because many are so wonderful and some are....not) decide that teachers were no longer partners with them, wanting what's best for the child, and instead decide that teachers were the enemy? When did it become acceptable and preferable to be out to get a teacher for showing one ounce of human behavior? Yes, human behavior. Mr. Eltiste was mad he had been lied to. he lost his temper. Human beings have been known to do that. When did teachers have to start to candy coat everything they say and do? Why can't I tell a student that he is being rude when he talks back to me? Why can't I tell a student she is being lazy when she drops a wadded up piece of paper on the floor and refuses to throw it in the garbage, and that she's being arrogant when she tells me that's the janitor's job? Why can't I tell a student that it is disgusting to eat a Kleenex? (Yes, these are real stories here, folks.) Teachers DO get in trouble with parents and principals for saying these things to students. Parents think a teacher is lying when he calls home to talk about an issue with the child. Do parents really believe that teachers are pathological liars who have nothing better to do than sit around and make up stories about children? We teachers care about the kids we teach. We teachers want to be an assistant to the parents, and we want the parents to be assistants to us. After all, don't we all want what's best for the child's education? When did open season on teachers start? And why? I wish someone could explain it to me.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

More Common Core

Anymore, I live, eat, breathe, and sleep Common Core. It pervades every moment of my life -- even when I am not at work. I know it's impacting me when I am not at work because I feel the residual stress in the form of headaches and upset stomachs. Why does something like this cause me so much angst? I have no clue. I'd like to think it's because I take my job that seriously, but maybe it's not me, it's them (meaning: the standards).

In theory, I love what the CCSS say and what they aim to do (for the record: I am speaking of the ELA standards because that is my subject area; I cannot speak knowledgeably about any other subject area standards). In practice, the CCSS seem impossible to implement with the integrity they need to be implemented with. They are so ambitious that I am not sure how I can thoroughly cover them to the extent that the learners in my classroom will meet them solidly. What's more scary and frustrating is knowing that there will be a "lag" in seeing true results from implementing the CCSS. That is because we only will have our curriculum fully aligned at the end of this year and start teaching in earnest to those standards next school year (fall 2013). That means that the expectations and requirements for all students will be "stepped up" next year but the only students who will get the full impact of the CCSS will be next year's kindergarteners because they start at the ground floor. That means for me, as a 7th grade ELA teacher, I will be plugging "holes" in learning until those kindergarteners get to me in 8 years. If that isn't daunting, I don't know what is! (As a side note, I believe this could be even more problematic for math teachers, based on what little I understand about the math standards.) To make matters worse, it will be just a couple short years until students are assessed on these standards and my evaluation of effectiveness will be impacted by the scores of those tests. Kids will be expected to score well on a test that they haven't been fully prepared for over the course of their education, and I will be judged based on those scores. It smacks of stress and unfairness. And it's demoralizing.

I believe in providing a challenging curriculum for my learners. I believe in holding students to higher standards and expectations. I believe in pushing myself professionally. But I am not convinced that the CCSS are going to challenge my students or hold them to higher standards and expectations. And it would probably be my fault if that happens because I feel like my ability as a teacher is pushed beyond what I can reasonably do to effectively put those standards into practice. And when I fail to do that, I fail so much more than myself; I fail those kids who come into my classroom every day and look to me to guide them on their educational journey.