Saturday, January 23, 2010

Creating a "more perfect" union - or at least classroom

Today I made it through the first nine hours of a 45 hour class on SEI training.  I am sitting through these classes, paying my own way through them, just in order to KEEP my job.  Not advance, not get paid more, not change careers or even try for a different position within the same comapny.  No, the way things are set up is that I am considered Highly Qualified to teach my students today, but as of April 3, if I do not finish this class, I will no longer be qualified to teach them and risk being pulled from the classroom.

As if this one series of classes, strewn with techniques and strategies that the instrucutor said point-blank are taken from SPECIAL EDCUATION teachings, will make me a better teacher on April 4th.

But I digress...  One of the topics that came up today is the need for us to create an environment within our schools and class rooms in which students who are learning english will feel safe enough to learn.  We discussed ways in which we can make that happen.  We discussed the notion of celebrating our similarities as well as embracing our differences.

It all sounded warm and fuzzy and you could feel the room collectively think "YES!!  We must find a way to make this happen!"

But there is a problem!  (Isn't there always a problem? If there were not a problem, what on earth would I have to spew about?)  As I pointed out today, in my classroom, as much as I curse it, I am really blessed to be able to do pretty much what I want to do in there with little to no interference.  My students are "the forgotten ones" and people are just so pleased they are not in THEIR rooms when they are with me, that they nearly don't care what I do with them. 

Perhaps I exagerate.  Maybe not..

But the point I made was this - while I have time and resources to do this in MY room, the vast majority of teachers in today's schools have NO TIME to create warm and fuzzy climates in their rooms.  There are standards, and performance objectives and standardized tests to worry about.  There are numbers and pages of data and meetings and threats to be sure your numbers stay up or go higher.  There are, in our 3rd grade math curriculum, for instance, 210 performance objectives that students are supposed to meet within a 180 day school year.  That is only MATH... add Language Arts, Science Social Studies, Art, Music, PE and the 12 school days wasted on TESTING all these objectives and you can quickly understand how students are not learning about the Famous People You Should Know, or understanding the differences or embracing similarities between and among them.  There is simply NO TIME.

So what is the answer?  Arizona ranks 45th out of 51 states (DC counts) in terms of education.  We in SUSD have adopted EveryDay Math as our Math program.  I think, personally, this is indicitive of the problem - EDM takes a "paint with a broad brush" approach to teaching math concepts.  Sure, my 1st grader was learning about permieter and area, and sure he was introduced to fractions and decimals, but what we should be asking is 'can he add?  does he know his math facts"?  The broad brush approach is fine if you want to produce "Jacks of all trades, masters of none" - but is that what we want?

  • Lower the performance objective count.
  • Reduce the number of benchmarks on which you measure failure (It should be success, but we know they are looking at failure, not success)
  • Ensure mastery of the POs you DO have before allowing the students to progress - in other words, make sure they know what they are doing first before you introduce something new.  Do NOT assume "They will get it eventually" because many of them DON"T!
  • Push all students to excel at their ability.
  • Assess students at their ability level.. do not assume a student who entered the states in September can take a high-stakes test in English in April, or, if you are functioning at a 2nd grade reading level in 6th grade because you have a learning disability, allow that child to test where he/she is functiong.  Putting a 6th grade reading test in front of them is like asking me to go back and re-read L'Etranger in French - I may recognize some words, but will miss the whole point of the novel.
  • And maybe, MAYBE, then you will have time to teach them how to be citizens of the world.

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