When I was pursuing my Masters degree in Literacy Studies at Hofstra University, I remember the day that Professor Jane Flurkey told us, "You need to know what you believe and why, or else you will use whatever they hand you." I carried that with me for years, the notion that the teacher needs to understand how kids learn, what engages them, what best practices are, and use that knowledge to construct lessons and learning activities.
I'm not sure anymore if my professor was right. What does it matter what I know and believe when no one cares or respects it? When I am a cog in a machine and everyone above me knows better about how kids learn and the materials I should be using? When the curriculum I am given is dreadfully dull and is not how I think you engage children in learning, but we are told that "we are using it" no matter what the people on the ground and in the field say about it?
It makes me unbearably sad.
Yesterday I attended a literacy conference. I was very excited to attend because I always get a jolt of inspiration from being around other teachers who love literacy and teaching too. The organizers worked hard, I know this, and the nice girl in me feels bad to complain, because I never want to hurt anyone's feelings. The truth, though, is I was really disappointed. Out of 16 workshops offered, only 5 seemed to be from teachers currently in the classroom. Many of the other workshops were from "literacy consultants" being paid by companies to hock their products. Pearson, the publisher of the New York State tests which will be used to fire many of us if Governor Cuomo has his way, had a lovely booth in the exhibition hall. Really? Pearson, the company advertising on Craig's List for people to score my students tests from the comfort of their home for something like $12 an hour. The company that brought you that ridiculous story of the Tortoise and the Pineapple and swears educators to secrecy about the material on their tests? The company that doesn't think 420 minutes is enough time for 8 year-olds to sit for tests when they could be doing field tests for them, too. What place do they have in a literacy conference when they are part of the bigger problem of high-stakes inappropriate testing killing public education, labeling kids and teachers and whole schools as failures?
So, no, I wasn't interested in buying any more of their rigorous, complex test prep material that is murdering the love of learning in my classroom. But as I walked past their booth, the other educational publishing companies looked at me hungrily, calling to mind the perfume ladies in the cosmetics department who just beg you to make eye contact so they can spray you with their latest scent. Where were the teachers, exhibiting student work and books they love and recommend? Why did everyone there want to sell me something?
At lunch, I spoke with a teacher, now promoted to a curriculum specialist, at a nearby district. She described how her district mandated the teachers to use the Engage NY modules as a script last year. A SCRIPT. So, then, what does it matter what any of those teachers know in their heart and believe from their years of study? They are now reading a script, that non-educators created. And anything you know and believe about tailoring your instruction to meet your learners' needs and interests is irrelevant. Anything you know about engagement and immersion and Brian Cambourne and Abraham Maslow and Piaget, well nobody thinks they count anymore. Nobody thinks YOU count anymore. Just read the script we give you because we know better and we don't have to face the children you do each day, seeing their frustration and boredom. A teacher friend of mine likens it being "dumb bunnies." They think we are nice and sweet and stupid and don't know how to teach and need scripts.
Professor Flurkey, I have a feeling my life would be a lot easier if I could make peace with reading scripts and following orders and doing the mind-numbing inappropriate lesson plans others provide. But you told me I should know what I believe and why and now my heart just can't rest.