Monday, August 11, 2014

Rudderless Teachers?



I read an article recently in EdWeek by an Oklahoma teacher, "Without The Common Core in Oklahoma". Obviously, as someone who fought to repeal the standards, I feel sad that without Common Core, this teacher feels "rudderless". 

The teacher explains:
The thought of moving backward to PASS (or worse) fills me and thousands of other Oklahoma teachers and administrators with mind-numbing angst. The state has invested countless hours and a great deal of professional-development money so that educators, curriculum specialists, and districts would be in a strong position to put the standards in place. To this end, my own district implemented new standards-aligned academic vocabulary, which mandates a grade-level list of words for K-5 students. We purchased many standards-aligned professional materials for teachers to help them in the implementation of instructional units. While those materials and new word lists can be tweaked to reflect whatever might replace the common core, many of my colleagues are shaking their heads in disbelief at the complete waste of time and resources that has resulted from this turn in state politics.

Mind-numbing angst?  I find this peculiar, I really do.  I truly cannot understand why any teacher would be filled with “mind-numbing angst” by the removal of a set of standards – especially when the testing portion of the standards will be more general knowledge in nature and not truly ‘high stakes’ for this next two years (and hopefully long term).

In my opinion, really great teachers are those that simply need to know the developmental age of their children.  Once they are very familiar with that, they can pull information from across the World Wide Web, the library, older text books – it matters not.  Information to impart to children of all ages is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week anymore. 

When I taught - and it’s not much different today, according to my discussions with teacher friends - Professional Development was/is something you did/do to keep your teacher’s certification.  In the 6 years I taught public school, never one time did I learn something I felt I would feel comfortable using, or desire to use, in my classroom from teacher ‘training’.  One teacher friend I have known for years, just told me about a teacher training event she went to that so upset her conservative views she felt robbed of the time she had to travel to and from and stay.  That simply isn’t right in my view.

Maybe I’m just way too independent (and conservative) for my own good – I’m happy to acknowledge that – but I’m concerned that this ‘angst’ has to do with the way teachers are taught today, from the classroom through teacher training.

I achieved a Master’s Degree in Biology and became Alternatively Certified.  I must say, the three classes I had to take in order to become certified to teach in Oklahoma made me shake my head.  The course on testing frustrated me so badly I felt it necessary to argue (respectfully) with my instructor frequently about her very liberal philosophy which she would insert into class discussions dealing with everything from teaching to breathing. 

While studying for both my Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees, everyone in the College of Math and Science receiving science degrees knew the students who were getting teaching degrees.  They took a very small fraction of the coursework we took, but yet, were expected to teach others science.  That frustrated me.  Why would those teaching others about science need to have so many fewer hours LEARNING science than I as a scientist?  It’s still a conundrum to me.

I have many wonderful teacher friends and I know many wonderful teachers.  I KNOW these teachers can succeed teaching anything to anyone no matter what their administrations – or the state – throws at them.  It’s more than just a job – it’s a VOCATION – a way of life.

Is it possible that teachers who find themselves ‘rudderless’ following this last in a long line of changes created by the state meddling in local education*, might want to find a profession less frustrating?  I wonder.

In closing, here is a thought I added to our ROPE Facebook page a few days ago about teaching.  You may not agree, and I can appreciate that, but I would hope it’s always good to see another’s perspective:

Once upon a time, when I was a teacher, in the days before high stakes testing, I managed my own classroom. That meant, I looked at the PASS standards, aligned my lesson plans to what the kids were expected to know, and I taught them the best way I knew how. I had a ton of animals in my classroom, I did as many labs as I could with limited resources, used videos, computer programs and simple note taking to impart the information I felt it was important for them to know as individuals living in the world. I didn't teach because it would be on the test, I taught because I thought it was important for them to know - the information would help them make sense of the world around them. Why we've turned the process of educating children into a game of who's spending money more accountably, instead of who's teaching kids what they need to know to be well rounded individuals who can be anything they want, I don't know, but it's frustrating to both students and teachers and is leading to education that is anything but educating. We must make high stakes testing stop. We have no choice.

*Does anyone realize that if the money for public education was provided locally for schools and not by the state, local control would take on a greater meaning and schools would finally be accountable to the community they serve – not the larger entity of the state?  Think about it; schools managed by the communities they serve under the guidelines of rules provided by parents via the school board, executed by the administration (not the state).  It sounds like a 'charter' school - with the accountability to taxpayers they don't have. THAT sounds like real school choice. Don't you think that sound like the way it was supposed to be in the first place?  I do!