Does What You Believe Matter Anymore? #sol15 Day 7


     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.  

Comments

  1. I still think Professor Flurkey is right. My advice? Get through the mandated stuff quickly each morning, then do the things you know are best for your students.

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  2. I still think Professor Flurkey is right. My advice? Get through the mandated stuff quickly each morning, then do the things you know are best for your students.

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    1. I try my best, but the frustration is with many areas of the curriculum I am given and an overall view that teachers don't know how to teach and don't have much of a voice in the curriculum conversation. If what I believe doesn't match what I am being expected to teach, then what?

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  3. Oh, that's so sad! I'm sorry you wasted your conference time. I admit, I have played along; teaching from the new textbook, follow the "test prep" plans, though I've never done a script. I also have secretly allowed students to read books in the classroom and taught them to get to know characters, to watch out for twists and turns in the plot, and to pay attention to the setting of the story as a part of the overall important picture. I have taught students to write for real purposes, although I am still struggling with publishing opportunities. I show my excitement about reading and writing every day, and hopefully, somewhere along the line, my students will succeed in life...forget the "test." Smiles to you! Enjoy your weekend, and read something good! Jennifer Sniadecki

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  4. Thank you for this, Kathleen. Your words truly matter. I'm so glad you're in the classroom AND speaking on behalf of classroom teachers.

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  5. Your professor is spot on and this post makes my heart hurt. So often, the people making decisions for our students are the farthest removed from our students. It is endlessly frustrating. I know it doesn't feel like it, but you make a difference to those students of yours everyday. No matter the material you are forced to use- you can light a spark in them somehow, someday by infusing your day with the things you know to be best for them. Stay the course with what you believe.

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  6. Don't give up hope or give in to the insanity. When you close the door in your room, use the materials you are given as a guide but do what you know is right. If you don't, you and your students will suffer. I know it is hard, but this is our battle as educators. You are not alone.

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  7. Kathleen,
    I am so sorry to hear your sad "voice" in this piece. You are taking all this so hard because you have such deep passions about how to be a good teacher. You are being asked to swallow poison each day and act like it's for the good of the students! This is a horrible moment in education that you re being forced to experience every day. Try to compartmentalize and not make yourself sick about it.

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  8. I know your professor was right, but it is so hard to remember that sometimes. Your piece made me sad because I know how passionate you are about learning. Regie Routman is another one who challenges us to know our belief system and be true to it - not an easy task I know. But I think if we are clear on our beliefs, somehow we will find a way. Stay strong.

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  9. I know your professor was right, but it is so hard to remember that sometimes. Your piece made me sad because I know how passionate you are about learning. Regie Routman is another one who challenges us to know our belief system and be true to it - not an easy task I know. But I think if we are clear on our beliefs, somehow we will find a way. Stay strong.

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  10. Important thoughts! I hear your discouragement! The pendulum will swing again soon. Good luck in the mean time.

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  11. Man, that was wise, wise advice your teacher gave you. You may be complaining a bit today, but I can tell you still hold those words in your heart. Stay true to what you believe. This, too, shall pass...

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  12. This is so painful to read. What can you do to work against this? Who can you write to? Who can you talk to in your building about creating space in your classroom for what you believe in? Who in your building might join you? Have you seen this? http://dianeravitch.net/2015/02/25/a-letter-from-the-teachers-at-ps-321-in-brooklyn/

    There are a little rays of hope in NYC right now. Teachers and administrators educating parents about standardized testing, speaking out, writing to the media, writing to the state, parents banding together to support teachers... I hope you can become a ray of hope in your building!

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  13. This post hits too close to home. I presented at NYSCATE today, and this is the same story I heard from many there. Sad. Sad. Sad.

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  14. This post hits too close to home. I presented at NYSCATE today, and this is the same story I heard from many there. Sad. Sad. Sad.

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  15. Very powerful writing. Your frustration comes through loud and clear, particularly because I share your frustration. It doesn't help that there are some teachers out there who prefer the scripted programs and district-mandated curriculum because it requires less effort. They also provide less inspiration, motivation, and satisfaction. I have been so happy this year not having an adopted language arts curriculum to follow. Frightened to see what's coming.

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  16. Your voice is so clearly heard, and I know it is shared by others. Hang in there. Keep fighting the good fight!!!

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