I’ve been thinking for a while that I wanted to start a series of blog posts about the classroom and my ten years spent in teaching. Of course, it’s not all glamourous, as so many of you might believe it to be! There are so many wonderful things about educating, however, and don’t worry, I’ll be getting to those elements as we progress through the Head of The Class sessions, however today I want to share some of the things I likely won’t miss now that I’ve chosen to move on from formal education.
Coming in on the top of my list of things I won’t miss about the classroom is (drum roll please….): LICE!
I can’t tell you how often I’d walk by a child, look down as they were working and see bugs crawling around their hair like they were setting up their own colony. I remember the first time it happened. I was sitting with a group of students at a kidney bean-shaped table and the child sitting across from me had jet black hair. I saw something move quickly, and wasn’t sure if my eyes were playing tricks on me, or if I saw the dreaded bug in its full form. I swear the thing was taunting me with its little wings and crawly little ickiness. I immediately called the nurse and sent that sweet little child straight down to have her head checked. That night I had my mom check my head for the little buggers, for fear that they jumped from her to me! I still get the heebie jeebies thinking about it! It wasn’t the only time it happened, and there were many more cases after that, but from then on I was on full lice patrol, catching many offenders, and some repeat offenders.
Next on the list is a very common one: MCAS
Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. The standardized tests we give in Massachusetts to see how well our students are or aren’t doing. Let me first say that from a political standpoint, I understand the underpinnings of why people feel there needs to be some assessment by which we measure growth, however, as an educator, I don’t agree for one second with how it’s truly being used. As teachers, we learn very early on in our training that students have multiple intelligences by which they learn and thrive. It is our job, as teachers, to then recognize each child’s strengths and differentiate each lesson (and often times differentiate within each lesson) so that it meets the needs of each student so they can learn to the best of their ability. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, it would be if every school ran like Hampshire College and allowed students the freedom to prove their growth within the structure of their proven abilities. Instead, we shove information down their throats, attempting to align their thoughts with how we think the test scorers would likely rate their responses. We make them choose A, B, C, or D and we take away their creative freedom when asking them what they think the passage is about. And often times, the test content and questions are above the developmental level of the grade in which it is presented that it takes months of training just to comprehend what is being asked! By giving these standardized tests, we are essentially going against EVERY belief I, and every other educator, have about how children should and do learn. Beyond that, there is talk about using test scores to rate teachers, and this is downright wrong. You can’t run schools like you run a business for the simple reason that you can’t fire your students if they aren’t performing. Trust me, I’ve tried… They come back the next day and do exactly what you tell them not to do. So right now, I’m just heated about how the tests are being used, and I don’t think it’s fair to anyone in public education. What can I do about it? Not sure, but the federal government will likely receive some sort of backlash for their ignorance.
Next item on the list piggybacks on the last one: CRAMMING A YEAR’S WORTH OF INFORMATION INTO 180 DAYS
Every year I’d start the year thinking that I was going to pace myself through the year and make sure the students got the attention they needed in order to make a year’s growth by the time they left me. That was the goal anyways. And it was a great strategy that worked great through the fall, but by the end of November, I’d find myself scrambling to get the kids and myself on pace with the curriculum on top of thinking about and planning for how to incorporate MCAS practice before March. Many years ago, my third grade team and I did a great job at aligning our literacy and math MCAS practices into our daily routine so it was seamless that the kids were expecting a practice test throughout the year (we really did rock it, girls!). Then the curriculum changed, and changed again, and again, and again. We found that with each change we were cramming more and more into our day, to the point where we couldn’t fit any more into the 6.5 hours we were in the classroom. We had to work “smarter not harder”, proclaimed one of our administrators. Sure, but working smarter meant working a LOT harder, and really manipulating the way we instructed so that we still followed the pacing guides and got in all of the extras that were being thrown at us for us to learn as we went. As I write this, I’m barely breathing thinking of how suffocating it must be for the kids if this is how suffocating is was for us. I don’t know if more time is what is needed in the classrooms, but the lack of understanding of the day-to-day in the classroom that comes from the top down isn’t helping either.
Next on my list (and it isn’t politically charged, don’t worry) is: LACK OF CREATIVE FREEDOM
I’m a creative person, and obviously love to write, and like most teachers, I got into the profession believing that I was going to design fun projects and write books with the kids, and do all sorts of interactive, cross-curricular units that would blow the socks off of anyone who participated. And my first year teaching did incorporate some of those ideals, however as the years went on and more was added to the curriculum, the less creative I felt I could be. Sometimes, after MCAS was over and done with, I’d shut my door and not tell the authorities that I’d created projects for the kids that allowed them explore learning. I’d follow all of the typical learning standards and had built-in assessments throughout the projects, but it was student-directed and group-centered. I was there as a resource, but they did all of the work. I miss that, and I haven’t found yet, a place where more learning like that exists daily.
Finally, and this one is oddly superficial, but last on my list is: BEING BLOCKED FROM WEBSITES, EVEN IF IT’S AN EDUCATIONAL SITE
I know this is dumb, but have you ever tried researching learning activities and can’t because you are blocked by Barracuda? I have, and it’s insanely frustrating. Sometimes I’d yell at the computer, “BUT IT’S AN EDUCATION SITE!!” The kids would look at me funny, and I’d have to explain that I’m trying to get more information about this, that, or the other thing, and have to wait until I got home to find out what I needed. I get that the powers that be don’t want us surfing the web, or looking at Facebook during school hours, but when I can’t even find a teacher-related site because I’m blocked from the information, then you know Big Brother is a little too strict.
Are there other things on my list? Yes, but in today’s society, my list matches a lot of other complaints about the working world. I can’t say that what I’m feeling is necessarily related to education, but I can assure you that not too many companies out there are doing head checks for lice! At least I hope they’re not…