"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Scripted Teaching

After 30 years of teaching I have watched a lot of teachers teach. I've seen good teachers and bad...exciting teachers and dull...quiet teachers and loud...dedicated teachers and indifferent.

But one thing that is true about every single person into whose classroom I've stepped...each teacher I've observed has brought something unique to his or her students...something of themselves which no one else could possibly bring.

And it's not just the uniqueness of his or her personality, though that's important...it's also the uniqueness of each teacher's teaching style. For example:

I've never seen anyone with the creativity of Mr. X. He created magic with his children as they explored the world through fascinated eyes. He used words designed to excite his students and they responded with excited vocabulary of their own.

There are very few teachers who have the quiet manner and kind demeanor of Mrs. Y. She has tamed the wildest child, eased hurts, calmed angers, and reached through frustrations to help each child achieve her highest potential. Her words were soothing, gentle, and encouraging. In her class children responded to nurturing by helping each other. They learned to use her calming words with their friends.

Mrs. Z. had more enthusiasm than anyone I've ever seen. She carried her primary students through singing, dancing, clapping, laughing, and running to the enjoyment of literacy and the thrill of learning. Her words captivated her students...and the children absorbed her excitement as she taught them to express themselves with feeling.

Every teacher brings their own gifts to their students. Each of us has something to offer our students as we talk and work with them day after day. Scripted teaching, saying what is written on a page that someone else has written because they claim it's the only way to get children to learn, takes away that uniqueness, even if only for a short time. It deadens the energy in the classroom and reduces the teacher to an emotionless robot.

Plato and Socrates were dynamic teachers not solely because of what they taught, but because of how they taught. How teachers teach exposes children to the myriad of personalities which people our world. How teachers teach has the potential to reach the most unteachable student and the most unwilling learner. Scripted instruction does none of that. It smothers a teacher's personality in someone else's words.

If we all approached teaching the same way, used the same techniques and the same words, we would lose the essence of why we use people to teach instead of computers. Isaac Asimov's short story "The Fun They Had" describes a society in which children learn from a computer called a teacher. Everyone learns the same thing in the same way. The point of the story is that there is something important in the natural interaction between adult and child. Scripted teaching removes that and demeans the humanity of teachers and learners.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

State standardized test time

It's testing time again. It's time for us to stop teaching and devote way too many hours to testing our kids. The high school graduation exam, especially, is a painful thing to administer - and to take.

Note to students taking the high school graduation exam:
If you don't pass...you don't graduate. It doesn't matter what you have done during your time in high school...you must pass this ONE test to graduate. Classroom work is not as important...the work that you have done for 180 days a year...for 4 years...is not as important as how you do on this one test. Your entire future hangs in the balance...

...but no pressure.

Teachers in our school system have been told that we cannot give A's or B's to students who have not passed the state standardized tests. What an incredibly stupid idea.

Is it possible that you might have a student who works hard, does all of his or her assignments, completes homework, passes classroom assessments, yet fails the standardized test for whatever reason? It doesn't matter. Everyone has to pass the test...and if they don't, no amount of make up work, or daily achievement will matter. Everyone has to be the same.

The new slogan in American education...One size fits all. Everyone is - or has to be - identical. There's no room for an Edison, an Einstein, or a Mozart. Pass the test...pass the test...don't worry about anything else...

Thursday, September 14, 2006

On beyond thirty...

When you look at my teaching contract for this year it says "Years Experience: 30."

Things have changed since I started teaching in 1976. The curriculum has exploded, the kids are socially older, and the world is smaller.

In 1976-77, my first class of third graders had no clue what a personal computer was, and had never heard of an iPod, an SUV or a hybrid car. They listened to music on records made of vinyl, or on cassette tapes, watched movies on film projectors in theaters or on TV broadcast, didn't have cable TV, and would have thought that "internet" had something to do with moving fish from the end of the hook to the boat.

I was 28 when I started teaching. I had tried life in "the real world" and discovered, with the help of my 4 year old daughter, that child development and the science of learning was much more fascinating.

I've taught Kindergarten through 6th grade (somehow missing 5th, but hitting all the others) and have never stopped learning. I have studied reading extensively and now, modestly refer to myself as a "reading specialist." I've got a reading endorsement and a computer endorsement along with my Masters degree in elementary education and was a Reading Recovery teacher for 6 years. I've been on both sides of the "reading wars" and have learned that most children will learn to read despite what we do...

So here I am, now a part time pull-out reading specialist in a suburban/rural school in the midwest, still trying to figure out a better way to teach even after 30 years. I still find learning fascinating. It's still hard for some children...easy for others...and I still want to know why.

I'm going to explore that here...as well as why I think No Child Left Behind and the obscene obsessive focus on standardized testing is destroying public schools in the United States.

I'll also talk about my students and what I'm doing with them...how I hope to help them and why they have the problems they have. Feel free to make suggestions. The truth is, I need help to help them.

I want to look closely at what's happening in our schools and try to determine why it's the politicians who are determining the curriculum and teaching methods. I want to figure out why teachers have become the enemy to so many Americans and what I can do to rectify that misconception. I want to help re-make the public schools in the US into places where children learn and teachers teach and discover the joy of that interaction. I want to figure out ways to make readers and thinkers out of my students...and I want to find ways to help them let go of the pain of failure and learn to enjoy learning.