Wednesday, April 14, 2010

They Tried To Warn Me

While getting my M Ed, people told me that dealing with the requirements, standardization, etc. of teaching were going to be hard. They told me it would be harder than I could imagine, that it would make me want to stop teaching...and part of me tried to believe them, but the arrogant part thought that I could rise above any administrative bureaucratic stuff. That I would simply shut the door and create a haven of freedom in my classroom. But it turns out, they were right.

I am approaching the end of my third year of teaching, and have decided to start a PhD this fall in Curriculum, Instruction and Teacher Education. To be totally honest, I am not sure what I will be able to do there - I just knew that teaching was starting to suck the life force out of me, it was leaving me angry all the time, I kept approaching despair. The past few weeks are a good example of why.

Two weeks ago at our weekly Tuesday teacher meeting the reading specialist informed us of the new testing plans for next year. Not only will we continue our monthly testing of reading, math and comprehension levels that take the teacher out of the classroom for a full morning, but next year teachers will spend the first 4 weeks of school administering math tests individually to students. The rest of the class will be in the classroom with the teaching assistant. The school year is now just short of 10 months. That means from this test alone teachers will spend more than 10% of the year not teaching but testing. Evidently with our monthly testing we have done this year we have become an exemplary school. Many other schools in our region will have to do the same because of what we have done. Our requirements will become more strict in terms of timeliness of data entry etc. This is all happening in the context of a school where teachers do not get planning periods, where we are discouraged from taking our students outside except for PE classes that happen twice a week, where student behavior is individually monitored and documented every twenty minutes on a point sheet that determines a complicated set of priveleges and punishments. In short, where education has already slipped into the background.

And then there was this past week of standardized testing. The school I teach at is for students with learning disabilities. Most of my students do not read beyond a second or third grade level. There math skills are on a similar level. Yet they were all expected to take an 8th grade test this year. Most of the math concepts they had never seen. The decoding of the reading for many of my students was nearly impossible. In addition, the district has taken away the read-aloud accomodation meaning we can no longer read the test aloud to students who have dislexia of some sort. The tests leaves the students so demoralized and frustrated that we will spend the rest of the school year helping them feel competent again. Even though we spent the afternoons playing kickball and football and other fun activities we had around double the number of fighting incidents this week as we do in other weeks. The students were clearly frustrated and anxiety ridden even though we had explained to them over and over that their score on the test didn't matter, that it was not their fault that they didn't know things on the test because for a variety of reasons they had never been taught the material.

At somepoint in the middle of all of this a Henry Giroux article showed up on Truthout. Though I am not technically a public school teacher, it all rang so true for me it took me a few days to read it cause I had to swallow so much anger. In addition, the school I teach in is a part of the privitization movement that I am against in so many ways. As a result we are not unionized and we pay dearly for it. Many of the fundamental aspects of our school are passed down through the company that is based in New Jersey, the antithesis of a school that is meeting community based needs. Yes, the teachers and other staff in our school are well intentioned wonderful people, but I feel that the structure that the school is set in, both national, district, and privatized expectations, are making it increasingly difficult to do any good. As a teacher who is asked to teach several subjects, on several different levels without a planning period or lunch (I spend from 8:30 am to 3:15 pm with kids) I feel undervalued and exploited making it difficult maintain any sort of moral or positive attitude towards my work. Yes I love the kids, and yes, there are parts of teaching that I love. However, it is difficult to keep students engaged with lessons that are loosely developed becayse I have simply not had the time to work on them, it is difficult to maintain a learning environment when students are not adequately engaged, and in the end there are just huge amounts of frustration. My following blogs will go into more detail as I prepare to leave the school and need to both analyze and publicize my experience there. At this point, I ask you to read the Henry Giroux article and keep your eyes and ears on education in this country - look at the race to the top guidelines which will be the topic of another post soon - it is all frightening and needs to be acted on. More later.....