Sunday, March 27, 2011

Reform is in the air!

One of the reasons I think teachers have been so reluctant to embrace "reform" is because we were afraid it was going to look like...well, what it's looking like now.  Things in the mid-west are getting ugly fast.  Dianne Ravitch speaks to the AASA of demoralized teachers all over the country.  School districts can't count on the states to continue funding operations at a sustainable level; states can't trust the federal government to step in and fill the breach; parents can't trust that students are getting the education the students deserve (and the parents are pretty sure they're paying for.)  In the face of this, the reforms have largely come in the form of draconian budget cuts, calls on school districts to do less with more, and unrealistic demands on teachers.  We are expected to do less with more, to make concessions in pay and benefits that "the state just can't afford anymore," to meet ever-increasing standards, and not to complain about it because we're lucky we still have jobs.

This causes real problems for actual, genuine, honest-to-goodness school reformers.  At the end of the two thousandsies, I think we were really making progress towards figuring out what would make our schools massively better.  A number of excellent organizations had developed effective teacher-ed programs that would improve student achievement.  Research was pointing the way towards what works: consistently high standards for students and teachers, coupled with effective support programs for those who need them; greater collaborative decision-making at the school level; effective teacher training and on-going professional development.  Research had also begun to show that some common themes of reform were ineffective--competition through increased charter schools; merit pay; firing "bad" teachers en masse.

I fear now that this moment of opportunity has been lost.  In Wisconsin, the biggest attention-getter in the news, the national focus has landed on the union-busting measures.  In Indiana, these union-busting measures passed months ago, and people are just now realizing their implications.  In Ohio, the governor's proposed budget would slightly increase funding on paper, while in fact meaning significant budget cuts in action.  Because of this, the conversation circles around what we can afford, not what is right.  We're talking about teachers' compensation packages, not what works.

Because of this, teachers don't trust anything that comes down the pike, and they're unlikely to do so any time soon.  State policy makers have never trusted union teacher members to be legitimate partners in reform.  (I suspect this is why all of the recent reform efforts have included some element of union-busting.)  This lack of trust means that genuine partnerships to improve the American education system are in jeopardy, perhaps for years to come.

Some of the articles I was reading that led to this post:

5 myths about teachers that are distracting policymakers by Barnett Berry, guest posting on The Answer Sheet at the Washington Post.  H/T Larry Ferlazzo.

Gov. Rick Snyder says public school cuts will be 'difficult,' but denies he's trying to break unions by Julie Mack, in my hometown rag.

And a little political cartoon, just for good measure.

(I've obviously referred to a lot of information I haven't cited.  If anyone asks me about it, I'll try to pull the reference list together.) 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

True story!

So I'm grading quizzes, the kind I can basically turn my brain off and let the pen do the work (so long as nothing egregious happens).  I get to one quiz, not far from the end, and I'm rolling right along.  As soon as I finish the first section, I think, "Man, this student is getting everything right, but their handwriting is terrible."

It was my answer key.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Taking it for granted

I've been working really hard on developing an English IV and Honors English curriculum this semester.  I've also been trying to push Spanish II forward, and have been looking ahead to the possibility of Spanish III and IV.  I've been coasting through my Spanish I, trying to catch up with everything else.  On Thursday, it bit me in the temporal adverb.

I've been through this lesson a dozen times before, so I came in a little underprepared.  I hadn't looked over my notes or the handout that I'd be giving--this presentation had worked every other year; why not today?  Well, it didn't.  It was kind of a disaster.  I still don't know what happened; I wish I'd been video taping.  The practical upshot is that I had to re-teach the entire lesson on Friday.

This experience got me thinking about taking things for granted.  For the first time in my professional career, I haven't had to fight tooth and nail for every inch of learning my students achieve.  Some of them study Spanish outside of class; many of them use my throw-away utterances in their own Spanish conversations.  Most of them know better than to ask for translations or to shout out the English once they've figured something out.  I have yet to send a student to the principal's office, or indeed to use any punitive measure other than a reminder of rules and procedures, maybe an explanation of why they're important, and to hold some "extreme" cases after class for a minute.

It's March now, and because of all the amazing achievements my students are making, I've been thinking that I'm doing a great job of teaching them.  Also, they mostly behave really well, so I sort of thought my classroom community program was working effectively.  It turns out I'm the guy born on third who thinks he hit a triple.  I've gotten lazy with re-teaching expectations, positively reinforcing behaviors, reviewing content, and re-designing lessons to meet students' needs.  In fact, I've almost forgotten that the students have needs.  I've been teaching Spanish 1 for long enough that most of my weekly plans play on several different intelligence types, and most contain some level of differentiation of instruction.  So I really have just been pulling out old weekly plans and photocopying old handouts, and calling it a day.

Thursday really was a wake-up call for me: I can't make it through the week just planning my "new" classes.  My Spanish I students deserve the same level of prep that my English students do.  I apologized to them on Friday as I re-taught the lesson, hopefully better.  (It felt better.)  If there are any students reading this now, I apologize again.