Sunday, September 21, 2014

Rolling With the Punches in an Age of Educational Deformity

For those teachers who think that there once was a golden past of teaching before the era education deformity, let me assure you, you are right.  I had the privilege to teach for a full ten years before the deformity struck.  While things still seemed good, we tightened our belts and I took five years off to raise some kids.  When I returned to work the landscape had turned barely recognizable.  My colleagues warned me, but they could not have prepared me.

The amazing thing about it all is that many of the people in the building were the same or similar to those whom I had left, students, teachers and administrators.  Good people.  

Yet, everything else was different.  Let me explain.

When I returned, I confronted Smart Boards and learned they had some advantages.  My students showed me how to use them.  They help visual learners and make learning multidimensional by adding pictures, films and audio clips.  Moreover, there's no nasty chalk dust to cough up. 

But, even the kids tell you the Boards are far from flawless.  The technology fails, projectors overheat and shut down, computers "glitch."   Students will also tell you that all too often the teacher talks while they copy board notes and so much is lost as the ears and eyes fall out of sync.  They neither hear well or understand the notes they write.  The best schools abroad seem to use minimal technology.

Another notable change I faced when I returned was a new obsession with data and "credit-recovery."  Faculty meetings turned into explanations of school report cards and the necessity of meeting guideposts, lest the school be closed.  In the Bloomberg era, graduation rates had to be made to climb, one way or another.  The fears were very real.  Academic discussions took a backseat to survival skills.  We were and still are confronted with the data generated and the very real sense that this data can make or break us.  Data is king, not teaching.

I also witnessed a tremendous decline in the amount of teacher-choice money.  Whereas now, we're supposed to be rocking with some more dollars in our wallets, we used to get two hundred.  I used to buy scholarly books, references, and read them, now my money goes toward board markers which are far more expensive than chalk, seemingly noxious to breathe, and in terribly short supply in our school.  

Then, there's the new testing craze.  We are asked to punctuate our teaching on a regular basis with uniform quizzes to ensure we're prepping at the same rate towards that Regents.  But, we don't all teach at the same pace or in the same topical order.  I feel no longer trusted as a professional to get my students to their destination by Regents day.  With so much emphasis on meeting the baseline of the Regents, we also hold back our highest-achieving students by only holding them accountable to the same uniform standard.  

Now, we are subject by law to repeated and often practically unnecessary observations, adding stress wasting the limited time of APs.  Their time could much better be spent in other pursuits, including helping teachers who need help and checking on any of those about whom revolve repeated complaints.  And what about more time to help students with questions?  Teachers are demoralized.  Since I have returned to work, perhaps, the biggest change I have witnessed is a sense that we must roll with the punches. It's a shame to be the punching bag of "reformers."  But I comfort myself with the thought that every action has an equal an opposite reaction.
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