Carol Burris posts a letter from a young teacher in DC who graduated from Burris’ school in Long Island. She is not happy with the high-stakes testing, test-based accountability, and Common Core. Want to know why so many teachers are leaving? Corporate, punitive, gotcha reform.
Katherine Sokolowski has written a post you will enjoy, about her teaching and her students.
It begins like this:
I opened up Word to write a blog post about Pearson, CCSS, and PARCC. After two days of learning about the test administration, I typed around three hundred words of frustration about these bleeping mandates that are taking away teaching time from me.
And then, I hit delete.
Because, truly, everyone can likely guess how I feel about them anyway. And while it irritates me to no end that I have to give five tests to my students in March – and three in May – they haven’t changed what happens in the four walls of my classroom on a daily basis. Because in my classroom…
I still work hard to teach children to treasure books.
I work to make my students understand that their writing is a gift.
I try to impress upon my kids that being a good person is vital.
I pour love into every child who comes in my room.
And I pray that every child will see their value by the time they leave.
PARCC, Pearson, CCSS, and any other crazy acronym or corporation that comes along can’t change that,
And they really haven’t changed my teaching.
I know what is important.
I see it in seventy-seven beautiful faces
Anna Jacopetti recently retired after a career in education of 50 years. She taught every grade from 1-14, she was an administrator, and she taught teachers. In this article, she shows the contrast between today’s emphasis on high-stakes testing and deep learning.
She reflects on a different approach to education, one that is definitely discouraged now by federal policy. What is in favor now is data-driven decision-making, scripted lessons, and Common Core-aligned readings.
I found a job teaching reading in a school that still encouraged teacher initiative. I chose to use the Junior Great Books, a series that employs rich and varied language to tell age appropriate stories. Second Grade children are word sponges, full of curiosity and pleasure as they gain understanding of the world around them through expanding vocabularies This is not a rote learning process. These children enjoyed the fairy tales and legends that they could vividly imagine through the rich language, but they were most excited about learning new words that they could use in their own stories and in their conversations. We wrote their favorite new words on the board . Soon the children were bringing in other words that they had heard (but not understood) from their reading or from conversations overheard at home. We added these to our Words of Power and the list grew, with words like soporific, synchronicity, catastrophe, and surreptitious to remember only a few. The whole class was now engaged and there were no discipline problems. Reading fluency improved by leaps and bounds.
After Easter break, we had exhausted our Jr. Great Books and I turned to an Open Court textbook series that the school had purchased. I was pleased that it presented classic stories and myths, but after a few days the children balked. They told me that they didn’t like the new book. When I asked them why, they quickly consensed that all the Words of Power had been taken out of the stories. Open Court had carefully limited the language to words that were prescribed for Second Graders and these words were declared “boring” by the class. So I asked them to tell me what made a word “powerful” and they were quiet for a few minutes. Then Esme raised her hand and said ,“When you look up a word of power in the dictionary and you read all the definitions, you still don’t know everything it means.” I have never forgotten this moment. Moments such as these kept me going through decades of teaching. In such moments learning is palpable and children’s eyes light up with understanding and pride. These moments can’t be scripted or measured, but they are exemplary of an emergent, radiant process of learning that education should nurture, respect and protect at all costs.
I am highlighting here what it means to nurture capacities rather than “teach to standards”. Had I introduced vocabulary lists, assigned all the children to look up words in the dictionary as homework and then tested them to see if they had “learned” the words, I would have had a very different result. Children have a capacity for language acquisition in early childhood that is quite remarkable. They master complex syntax and the basic grammatical constructions of English before they go to school. They have learned subject verb agreement, verb tenses and proper use of adjectives and adverbs by kindergarten. They learn through conversation and by listening. The richer and more omnipresent language is in their surroundings, the more stories they hear, the stronger their language skills and their imaginative faculties become. Many first and second graders will know the lines to a play or a story “by heart” after hearing them only a few times – faster than older children and much faster than adults. Nurturing and building on this innate capacity is a key for language instruction in the early grades. Reciting and retelling come before writing. Dictating and then finally writing their own stories is a very engaging and empowering process for children that ideally precedes reading.
As we move deeper into the era of test-based accountability, teachers like Ms. Jacopetti will retire, and what she knows will disappear. Will teachers still know how to think for themselves? Will it be permitted by the state or the federal government? Will they still exercise their judgment? Or will they act as robots, programmed for compliance?
At a conference in Néw York Coty, Wendy Kopp praised the alumni of Teach for America, saying that most of them remained in education and were fighting for social justice in new leadership roles. Perhaps she was thinking of John White, state superintendent in Louisiana, who led the fight for vouchers and Common Core, or Kevin Huffman, the former state superintendent of Tennessee, who pressed to strip teachers of any job rights, plus charters and vouchers, or Michelle Rhee, who supported pro-voucher, anti-union candidates.
Some might think that the fight for privatization and union-busting is not the same as battling social injustice. One might study the history of the Néw Deal to understand how unions built a middle class in the U.S., lifting people from poverty into decent jobs whose hours were limited, jobs that paid a living wage. TFA has received $60 million or more from the Walton Family Foundation, which is vehemently anti-union and pro-privatization.
Kopp’s claims were contested by Andrew Hargreaves of Boston College, this year’s winner of the prestigious Grawemeyer Award.
“Dr Andy Hargreaves of Boston College compared teachers on the programme to Macauley Culkin’s character in the 1990 film Home Alone.
“Teach for America was, he said, symptomatic of the way education systems mistakenly prioritised confident individuals over teamwork.
“It’s the image of the 9-year-old boy in Home Alone,” he said. “Somebody with incredible competence and supreme over-self-confidence [who] believes he can fight off crime and intruders by dropping strange contraptions on their heads and propelling them back out into the snow just with his own individual gifts, abilities, grit and guts. A bit like Teach for America.”
“Such teachers might be “great” for schools lacking support, he said, but they only stayed for two or three years. Finding ways for teachers to work together was more important than supporting “heroic, overgrown 9-year-old individuals who want to save the system for us.”
A reader contacted me and told me that Nancy Carlsson-Paige, professor emeritus at Lesley University and early childhood education expert, gave a wonderful graduation speech at Temple University. I reached out to Nancy and post it here with her permission.
TEMPLE GRADUATION SPEECH
May 8, 2015
Good Evening, Everyone!
I am truly honored to have this opportunity to speak to you today. This is a big day for you, graduates, and for your families. It’s a celebration of your accomplishments, all your hard work—I know it wasn’t always easy getting here. And this is a day also to appreciate those many people who have helped you, supported you, and loved you on your path to this graduation.
I’m so glad that education is the field you have chosen! It is a rewarding and meaningful profession. It is through education that our minds expand, we get wiser, and better able to improve the human condition. Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
This moment in time that you have chosen to enter education is a rocky and uncertain one. In recent years, the meaning and purpose of education has narrowed. In the eyes of many today, education is seen as a delivery system to transmit units of knowledge and specific skills to our young people that are then tested to ensure they’ve been learned. It’s a one-dimensional, restrictive view of education that has led increasingly to the disappearance of engaging, holistic curriculum, the arts, recess, teacher innovation, teacher collaboration, and education for citizenship.
Classrooms for our young children have seen a dramatic disappearance of play. But we know play is the way young kids learn. And it is also how they build inner security and resilience. I learned this lesson when my own two sons, who are now grown, were very young.
It was a winter day, after my teaching and the boys’ day at school. The three of us were together in the living room of our rented apartment. An accidental fire started from the fireplace—accidental in the sense that I wasn’t trying to burn down the house, but tired after work, I’d made a sloppy fire. I do wonder as I look back now how overwhelmed I might have been as a young, single working mom. So the flames were leaping out of the fireplace, lapping the wooden mantle. I began trying to suffocate them with a heavy blanket. My older son Kyle was trying to help. But my younger son Matt, who was then five years old, ran out of the room.
I started having success suppressing the flames but then I was wondering: Where is Matt? And then after some moments, he ran into the room. He was dressed in his red corduroy bathrobe, his fire fighter’s hat, his black galoshes and a sea divers mask. He had a little piece of rubber tubing in his hand, it wasn’t connected to anything, but he was spraying it in the direction of the fireplace.
The outfit Matt had on was the one he wore for his rescue hero play.
–He had it on now because wearing it was what he could do to put out the fire.
A young child in a rescue hero outfit IS a hero in that moment—and he can fully believe that by wearing firefighter clothes and with his rubber tube, he can put out a fire.
When kids pretend to be Superheroes and other Rescue fantasy characters, it helps them feel safe and in control. Life presents so many challenges to young children, this kind of play helps them develop a sense of security and inner resilience.
Studies are now showing that play is rapidly disappearing from classrooms for young children, increasingly replaced by more teacher-directed instruction.
This test-driven education climate we have today, reinforced with accountability measures and high stakes, has made teachers fearful and discouraged. Currently 40 to 50 percent of teachers leave the profession within their first five years. I don’t want you to be included in that percentage of educators who become too demoralized to continue.
It is ironic that at this very moment in history when we need an expanded vision of education, the blinders come on. We are teaching as if we think that what our youth will need to know in the future is already known.
Our young people are going to have to exceed our limitations. They’ll need to develop wide-ranging competencies to be able to live well in the world they are inheriting. They’ll need to think in new ways, initiate, create, explore and solve problems, collaborate with others, make ethical decisions. They will have to grapple with all the problems we are handing them–climate change, income inequality, mass incarceration, nuclear weapons, war and terrorism.
These critical competencies that our young people will need are not quantifiable. How could you test for creativity on a computer-based exam? Or measure original thinking on a fill in the bubbles standardized test? (Let’s hope no one tries.) What passes for education today—all the facts and skills that can be defined, pinned down and tested– is a very small part of what education truly is and should be.
When I was a new teacher about forty years ago, I came across a letter that a principal had written to the teachers in his school. The words had a profound impact on me, and they have stayed with me all these years—as a reminder of the true purpose of education.
This is the letter:
I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no man should witness:
Gas chambers built by learned engineers.
Children poisoned by educated physicians.
Infants killed by trained nurses.
Women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates.
So I am suspicious of education.
My request is: Help your students become human.
This letter was written in 1971. And it is so relevant for us now.
It calls on us to understand education as a human and moral endeavor. In school we learn knowledge and skills and the moral and ethical awareness to choose how we use them. We educate whole people—their minds and hearts—so they will become citizens who can think for themselves and make choices for the good of others as well as themselves.
John Dewey believed that the aim of education was democracy and citizenship.
And that each generation had to learn citizenship anew– learn it by living it. Ideally from their first days in school.
I was in a kindergarten classroom one day early in the school year when the teacher was sitting with the children in a circle. She was asking them, “How do we want to be with each other in this class?” The children were raising their hands and saying things like: “We should share! No hitting! If you hurt someone, say you’re sorry.” The teacher was writing down the children’s words on chart paper. She told me that each morning she reads this list with the children. As the children have more experience with each other, they add more ideas to their list. Soon they start coming into the classroom and reading the list by themselves. The words are their words and the children want to learn how to read them.
In another kindergarten I visited more recently– during this era of high stakes testing—all of the children were sitting silently at tables. The teacher was testing one little boy at a computer. The other children were copying words from the chalk board. The words were: “No talking. Sit in your seat. Hands to Yourself.” These were the teacher’s rules.
Most of the children looked scared or disengaged, and one little boy was crying. For them, learning to write was something required; someone else’s words–disconnected from their ideas and passions.
This teacher was required to complete mandated testing of each child in her class—one by one at the computer– 3 times a year. She had no classroom aid. The program’s funding depended on the test scores. It would have been hard for any teacher in this situation to give children engaging, play-based curriculum, and community building experiences.
In the narrowed education climate of today, some people think of teachers as technicians. But good teaching can’t be pinned down to a recipe. Good teaching is a form of art.
Of course our work is grounded in science. But it isn’t enough to know only the science. In education, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Being a good teacher means knowing how to apply what we know, when and how to use it, and how to innovate upon it—and that takes talent.
There was an incident that happened in a high school in East Harlem, that taught me a lot about the art of good teaching. It was at a time when there’d been two incidents in NY City—within a couple of weeks, two teens had been shot and their coats stolen. In this school in East Harlem, there was a conflict resolution program, and the teacher had been talking with her students about these shooting incidents, and the kids were practicing ways to deescalate conflict.
Raymond went to this high school and he had recently bought a new coat.
On this day, Raymond arrived at school without his coat and profoundly upset. At the subway stop near school, he’d been surrounded by three guys who demanded he give up his new jacket.
The teacher called a class meeting immediately, with Raymond’s permission, so he could share his story and express his rage.
Teacher: Raymond I know you are very upset. Could you tell us what happened?
Raymond: I was getting off the subway stop right here in East Harlem and all of a sudden I was surrounded by three guys who told me that I better give them my coat. One of the guys had his hand in his pocket and I thought maybe he had a knife.
Teacher: Go on Raymond. We’re right here listening to you and all of us care a lot about you and what happened.
Raymond: Well, before I could even think, I started to unzip my coat, and I said to the guy who I thought had the knife, “This is incredible. I was just getting ready to give you my coat.” I said, “Who should I give it to?” One of the guys snatched the coat and all of them started to run off as fast as they could. Then, of course, I wanted to pick up some rocks and throw them at them, but I didn’t.
Maria said: I can’t believe you did that, Raymond. I think you saved your life. How come you didn’t try to say “no” or fight back? I think that’s what I would have done.
Raymond: I don’t know. It just came to me, but now I feel so angry and humiliated and I can’t believe I don’t have my coat. It’s 20 degrees out there today and I walked three blocks without a coat.
Teacher: Raymond, how do you think you were able to respond in this way and–I would agree with Maria–probably save your life? Remember just last week this same thing happened in Queens and the young man didn’t give up his coat and was shot to death.
Raymond: Well, I was actually thinking of what we were talking about last week of what makes violence even worse and that’s more violence. I also remember when we were talking about what happened to the kid in Queens, you said, “Remember, you are not your coat”. So I guess I decided to do something that would de-escalate the conflict and not give back more violence, and that’s what I did.
Manuel: Raymond, I think it was more courageous to not fight back and use your skills, but I don’t know if I would have been able to do that.
Teacher: So Raymond, it looks as though you really put your skills to use in a horrible situation. And when you asked who you should give the jacket to you were also de-escalating the conflict by staying neutral.
Anthony: How much was that jacket?
Raymond: Well, it was $119.00.
Tanya: There are 92 seniors in this school—that is a little over a dollar each.
Teacher: What are you thinking here, Tanya?
Tanya: I’m thinking that if I had help I would be willing to collect this money for Raymond to buy another jacket.
James: I would be willing to help. I can’t believe you were able to do what you did Raymond.
Teacher: Well, this sounds like a wonderful plan. Do we need to do anything else to make it happen? How do you feel about that Raymond?
Raymond: Wow. I can’t believe you would all do that. But I know my mother wouldn’t be able to buy another coat. Maybe don’t ask everybody or say, “Only if you can afford the dollar.” That would make me feel better.
This high school teacher had the skill, compassion, and the artful ability to respond to her students in the moment and to build community from their experiences and ideas. And she had enough autonomy as a teacher to be able to create a teaching moment from what happened to Raymond.
Too many external requirements stifle a teacher’s ability to practice her craft.
Teaching is so much more than transmissin of information, test prep, and data collection. It’s why you can’t be replaced by a computer. Or by someone who had a 5-week summer program in how to teach.
But teaching like the teacher in East Harlem is a lot harder today. Many teachers say there isn’t room anymore for conflict resolution programs, community building, and student-centered projects when so many mandates fill the day. But teachers also know what good education looks like–and they hear its beating heart. They keep on finding creative ways to teach even in this climate.
The singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen wrote: “There is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
You are holding that light now. You, with all of your energy, your fresh ideas, your idealism (I hope you have it and hold onto it), your knowledge and talent. You’ll shine that light where you can—in whatever situations you find yourselves.
We have to keep our eyes on an expansive vision of education. So wherever we are, we find ways to move toward it. When I look around I see so many teachers, parents, administrators, and students—even a couple of politicians– taking steps toward a more holistic and human vision of education. And I feel sure that we—individually and together—are going to move that big needle.
Margaret Mead’s words, uttered decades ago, are timeless and history has proven them over and over to be true: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
A teacher left this comment on the blog:
G. K. Chesterton said, ““The Madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.” Those that champion ed-reform are basically those that have lost everything but their reason, they reduce education, as they reduce most everything else, to what can be benchmarked and quantified, in a data driven environment everything is “rational” and “reasonable” but little else. There is no room for whimsy, there is no room for beauty, there is no room for sanity.
But as long as the classroom teacher is sane, does see the importance of whimsy, beauty, the individual and the discovery of the individual that lives beneath the surface of every student, real education will ultimately triumph. The real subversive work of the teacher is what happens in the classroom. That is why I think it is important that we, as classroom teachers do not lose sight of what we are really called to do. I think sometimes we become so strident in our opposition to what is happening in the larger world that we lose sight of what we can accomplish in the world of the classroom. In our stridency we are in danger of losing everything but or reason and in the process become like those we oppose.
Our students have one crack at an education. Each student I teach in 9th, 11th, or 12th grade (the grades I teach) will only have one chance at 9th, 11th, and 12th grade and they deserve a meaningful and “sane” 9th, 11th, and 12th grade. It is important to fight as best we can the battles going on outside our classroom, but w also need to do the best we can to see to it that our students in our classrooms today get the best and most meaningful education we can give them.
Sometimes I believe I am being asked to teach with both hands tied behind my back, but as long as I have a voice to speak with I can leave the gesticulating to others. If we reach the students we teach they will become the future and the best way to change the insanity of the present is to prepare those that will inherit the future. If our students are able to keep their sanity as they go into the world there is a real possibility that they will make the world they help to shape a more sane one.
Two more words for the “The Educational Devil’s Dictionary:
Leader – First follower.
Leadership – The ability to get others to do what they are told by do doing what they, the leaders, are told better than anybody else.
J. D. Wilson, Jr.
This comment was posted on the blog. Please forward to Governor Andrew Cuomo. “firstname.lastname@example.org”
Though I have loved teaching and have always felt it was what I was destined to do, I no longer wake up motivated, excited, and eager to start a
new day. I cannot begin to tell you how the “Race to the Top”
and “No Child Left Behind” has undermined our profession
and has taken away our professional autonomy. I am sick and tired of
educational elitists like Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, John King, and
our own elected officials, pointing their fingers at the teachers for
what is wrong in education. We are not what is wrong. Yes, there are
exceptions in any profession, even in politics, but most of us are
hard-working, dedicated, intelligent professionals.
Here I am, yet again, unable to sleep because I know I have today’s
responsibilities on my mind. I’m at the tail end of my career, but I
still care enough to be up at 2 am. to prepare for my teaching day.
One only needs to look at Finland to find out how to better improve
education. They have it right. High stakes testing and targeting
teachers is not what they do. They value and respect their teachers.
How about taking a look at how all of the externals affect students’
performance, like the poverty level and students’ behaviors? How
about improving discipline in school? How about making the students
accountable for their learning? Students are more than aware
that if they don’t do well, the teacher will be held accountable for
their lack of progress. The teacher will have to get more
training, not them. How about encouraging more parental involvement
outside of school? I am the teacher from 8-3. The parents are the
teachers the rest of the time. I cannot do it all. My parents spent a
great deal of time with me after school hours helping me learn what I
might have not learned well enough in school and felt it was their
responsibility to do so. I am lucky enough to work in a district
where there is a high level of parental involvement, but I have heard
story after story from colleagues in other districts who do not have
that level support and are treated very disrespectfully.
I just finished my formal observation lesson plan whose format was the
equivalent of a college term paper, as I tried to make sure I linked,
and cross-referenced, the NYS Core Curriculum Standards and the
Danielson rubrics to each part of it. It took me seven hours to
write one lesson plan. Is this really necessary? I have letter after
letter from parents appreciating my teaching abilities. Yet I have
to prove day after day to others that I am good at what I do.
I have a partial solution to the observation expectations. Do you want
to see if I’m doing a good job? Just put a camera in my classroom,
and watch me all day long. Watch me as I differentiate instruction
for the multiple levels of academic needs in my inclusion classroom.
Watch me as I dance, sing, smile, and try to inject humor into my
lessons so the children are not leaving school as defeated and
demoralized as we teachers are. Watch me as I hug the children who
are on the verge of tears because they are overwhelmed, tired, and
frustrated because what we are teaching is not developmentally
appropriate for most of our seven and eight year olds. Watch me as I
try to hold it together, mentally and physically, when I am
functioning on interrupted sleep, often waking up at two and three
am. thinking about how my day can unfold seamlessly, and perfectly,
in case I have an unannounced, evaluated walk-through.
In what other profession does one have to be perfectly “ON” all
day long? We are not automatons. We are human beings. But then, I
remind myself that these evaluations make no difference, really.
After all, our own governor has told us that we have far too many
effective and highly effective teachers, and we just cannot have that
happen again this year. Can you imagine that? Yes. Governor Cuomo
has made it abundantly clear to us that this CANNOT and WILL NOT
happen this year. So, I remind myself not to worry. After all, I’m
just one of the bunch. I’m ORDINARY or, perhaps worse, developing or even inept. Imagine if I started my school year telling my students that? “Boys and girls, we had too many top students last year.” “That doesn’t make sense.”
“There shouldn’t be so many high scoring students.” “So, just
know that there cannot be as many this year.” “Do you
understand, boys and girls?” What’s the message here? Where’s the
motivation to excel?
I have two years left to go. I don’t know if I’ll make it intact. It’s
a shame that I have to leave my profession feeling this frustrated
and disappointed. Yet, I try to go in everyday with a smile. We do
because we know these 6, 7, and 8 year old youngsters deserve to have
us at our best. Speaking of deserving, I’d have to say I deserve the
teacher’s version of the Academy Award for best classroom actress. We
teachers are all actors and actresses everyday when we go in feeling
tired, defeated, and miserable while making every effort to infuse
our classrooms with the joy of learning.
Then there is the standardized testing component. Students are being
tested on material that has not been taught because what is being tested is not in our curriculum. And, if they are unable to answer those questions, we teachers may be deemed “developing” or even worse, “ineffective”. Understanding that thousands, and perhaps even millions of dollars, has been spent on purchasing these tests and the companion on-line test prep
programs, I doubt if school districts, nor the state, will be willing
to listen to the public and end this lunacy. Imagine the money that
has been wasted when it would’ve been better spent positively and
proactively on inspirational, motivational professional
development workshops, teaching materials and supplies, improving the
physical workspace, and building self-esteem. By the way, self-esteem comes from being successful. It certainly does not evolve in a punitive atmosphere in which highly experienced, hard-working teachers’ actions, decisions, lessons, and motivations are continuously questioned and dissected. Where is the trust? Do I feel valued, appreciated and protected? No, I do not.
Our cultural, governmental, economic, academic, and educational
institutions each need a miraculous rebirth and reincarnation. Who is
courageous enough to take a stand and lead us to a morally and ethically
higher ground? Oh, and before our politicians started pointing their fingers at us, they might have better served themselves by fixing their own profession. Imagine if they held themselves to the same level of rigor and performance outcomes?
A Very Frustrated, Highly Experienced NYS Teacher
Nancy Flanagan understands the power of joining forces for a common cause. She attended the second annual conference of the Network for Public Education and discovered a movement that is robust, alive, and growing to support high-quality public education.
“I don’t have the resources, as a retired teacher, to gather with like-minded compadres across the country on a regular basis. I have more time now, and more energy, and most definitely a clearer picture of what’s happening to America’s best (now endangered) idea: a completely free, high-quality, fully public education for every child. Assembling an umbrella gathering of voices and faces unified to the cause of reclaiming public education is a major challenge. I know this, in my bones, from lived experience.
“So it was gratifying and heartwarming (using those phrases in the deepest possible sense) to have seen firsthand that the movement is robustly alive, at the Network for Public Education (NPE) conference in Chicago, last weekend.
“And when I say “movement,” what I mean is this: People, like me, who have no particular resources or organizational funding/backing, who got on a plane to be in a room with those like-minded compadres–because they’re terrified that America might lose public education. People who think it’s not too late. People willing to stake their professional energy on doing right by all kids, keeping democratic equality as critical and central goal of the education system. People, in other words, who can’t be bought off–the go-to strategy of the corporatizers, privatizers, business-over-community leaders, self-aggrandizing ed-entrepreneurs and feckless policy-makers….,
“This “we have bigger fish to fry” perspective is so important–and I think that’s what drew so many parents, students and folks from non-union areas to Chicago. It’s no longer solely about testing, or teacher evaluation, or tenure, or the Common Core. It’s about the survival of a cherished public good.”
That’s the key takeaway. We stand together to defend what belongs to us all.
Peter Smagorinsky of the University of Georgia has been writing a series of articles about Great Georgia Teachers. They are posted in Maureen Downey’s blog in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. This article celebrates Cameron Brooks, a third grade teacher at the Chase Street Elementary School in Athen, Georgia.
It is hard to believe that a teacher like Mr. Brooks still exists in this era of data-driven, test-based, lockstep compliance.
He has been teaching for eight years. His classroom is devoted to activities that are inspiring and joyful. Professor Smagorinsky asked a parent to describe what he does:
Another Chase Street parent wrote when I asked her about Cameron:
*He plays on the playground with his third grade students every day. One day recently, he was sighted swinging with a couple of girls and simultaneously playing ball with another group of students! He PLAYS with them and I have seen no other teacher do that.
*I know that in the mornings after the announcements, Cameron and his students do Qigong.
*His classroom is calm, safe, and obviously a community of caring individuals.
*He dedicates a lot of time and thought to his preparation — long after the expected school hours.
*He makes the day fun, productive and meaningful for all of his students.
Cameron’s colleague Krista Dean reinforces this perspective, saying, “One of the many awesome things about Mr. Brooks is that he plays with his students every day at recess. He teaches them skills and new games, enjoys their games, and models cooperative play. He can often be found on the soccer field with students after school on Fridays. He serves as a positive role model all throughout the day — practicing character qualities that we want in our students….
Cameron stresses the value of kindness to his students, a concept that seems out of place in schools that focus on competition between teachers and students for the highest individual scores. He models for his students his belief in committing “acts of kindness, exploration, inquiry, engagement,” each difficult to strive toward when learning is competitive….
As he tells his kids, “Kindness comes in all shapes and sizes. Helping a turtle across a busy street, sharing a simple ‘Hello,’ or giving directions to a new student makes life a little better.” He then builds this value into his instruction: “I challenge the class to 100 acts of kindness. When you do something kind, compose a personal narrative, then place it in the Box of Kindness. Once revised and edited, post it here for the world to see.” Kindness then is not simply a virtue, but a means through which his students generate materials for narrative writing.
Cameron’s teaching emphasizes education’s affective dimension. He has written, “The start of the school year is the ideal time to proactively bring attention to, and nurture qualities that promote a classroom culture of respect, openness, introspection, and empathy.” These human values are often lost in the current policy world in which 8-year-olds are measured according to their test score productivity and told they must compete with others and win at all costs.
There are still teachers like Cameron Brooks. They teach what matters most. They will always be remembered by the students lucky enough to have been in their classroom.
Kudos to Peter Smagorinsky for paying attention to the Great Teachers of Georgia. Great teachers can be found in every state and in every community. They don’t shine because of bonuses and merit pay. They shine because they love children and they love to teach. They make a difference.
Peter Greene was not happy with Nicholas Kristof’s column saying that–after twelve years of trying–school reform hasn’t worked out and it was time to pay attention to the youngest children, where research was clear and there was bipartisan agreement.
Here is a snippet of Greene’s outrage:
“Look, I believe there are a handful of reformsters who know better, and I’m sure plenty of them mean well. But this is just too much. I’m pretty sure that I read Kristof more often than he reads me. But I have a message for him anyway.
“Dear Mr. Kristof:
“Does a decade seem like a long time to work at education? Does working at education seem hard? While we’re at it, have you noticed that water is wet?
“This– this “well this has been difficult, it’s time to move on”– THIS is why from the first moment reformsters showed up on the scene, teachers across America rolled our eyes, squared our shoulders, and turned away. Because we knew that the day would come when the tourists decided they wanted to pack up and leave. Because you were not in it to get the job done.
“Reformsters were never the white knights or the saviors of education. The vast majority of reformsters were the people who swept into a home, pulled all the furniture out from the wall, burned the drapes (because you don’t want these old things) and started to tear the floor up. Then somewhere around day three, you declare, “Man this is hard, and this couch doesn’t fit against that wall (which we had told you all along)” and so you pack up, drive away, and leave the residents to put things back together.
“You think twelve years was a long time? I’ve been at this for thirty-six, and I have plenty more to go because there’s still work to do, and as long as I can do it, I will. Plenty of my colleagues have done and will do the same. You think educating in the face of poverty and lack of resources and systemic inequity is difficult? Many of my colleagues have been doing it for decades. But reformsters have been so sure that they didn’t need to listen to the locals. They and their giant balls knew better than any stupid teachers.
“Doing the education thing takes a lifetime. In fact, it takes more than a lifetime– that’s why we’ve constructed an institution that provides continuity above and beyond what we could get from any single human being.
“You think that the education thing is hard, “a slog,” after just a decade! You amateur. You dabbler! You tourist! Has the education reform movement “peaked”? Well, guess what! Education has not. We are still working at it, still striving, still doing our damnedest. When reformsters have moved on because it’s hard and challenging and a slog and not just as fun as it was a whole ten years ago, we will still be here, doing the job, educating students and doing it all in the midst of the mess created by a bunch of wealthy well-connected hubristic tourists with gigantic balls.
“You think education is hard? What the hell do you think dedicated teachers across this country are doing with their entire adult lives?!!
“So get out. Go. Move on to the next big opportunity and screw around with that until you’re all distracted by the next shiny object. Education is not the better for your passing through.
“Education needs people who will commit, people who are in it for the marathon, not the sprint, people who are willing to dedicate their whole lives to teaching because that’s the minimum that it takes. Students and communities need schools that are permanent stable fixtures, not temporary structures built to long as a reformster’s attention span.”