Can We Just Stop?

straight talk about students and learning

Starting This Blog Is Not Really a Choice

This is my first post.  You will have to suffer through the background material!

I was raised in a mid-western American community, with lots of people who looked, believed, talked, and consumed pretty much just like I did.  Some people made more money, others less, but it wasn’t a noticeable difference.   We learned in a self-contained classroom through grade 8, with many of the same students year after year.  What became apparent as time went on, was that even within that basically homogeneous community, differences began to emerge, and students who all started out pretty much scrubbed and rosy-cheeked as a kindergartener, started to move  automatically to their placement on the familiar Bell Curve.  After all, that was the way students and grades are supposed to be divided, wasn’t it?  MY FIRST CLUE THAT SOMETHING WAS WRONG

As I moved on to high school and college, I was most fortunate to continue in that same small world that I started out in.  If you haven’t guessed yet, that is white, middle class, and faith-based, in a 1960’s-70’s style of family life.  I wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl and my friends and I played “school” after school, in the basement.  “School” was about order, having someone in charge who made sure everyone was working and turning in their homework.  Teachers dressed nicely, sometimes lost their tempers, but for the most part, smiled and guided us through familiar routines day after day.  If we got into trouble at school, we were in more trouble at home.  Our families were part of the PTA, scouting, church activities, sports, and other community activities.  I had no idea I was really, really lucky. MY SECOND CLUE THAT SOMETHING WAS WRONG

I completed college with relative ease, and made it out the other end with just a little debt, and started teaching.  Things were pretty much just like they were when I was in school, although it became apparent that some students were much better students than others, and that some families were more involved and had higher expectations for their students than others.  For the most part, teaching was great, and I felt like I was really doing a great job!  I was energetic, creative, funny, and dedicated.   Like many young female teachers, I left the profession to have children, and returned a few years later to what was becoming a much different world. Looking back, I’m not so  sure the world changed that much, or if the reality of it just came a little closer to my door, but a series of events led me to completing a graduate degree in Guidance and Counseling, and I got a job as a Guidance Counselor in prison, where not many students had been as fortunate as I had been in my educational journey, and where it was pretty clear that a number of factors played into the need to construct this new prison so near my community. OK, SO THIS IS REALLY WRONG

Working in a large state-run organization like the Department of Corrections means that whatever the political climate of the day is determines what educational programming is provided. In the 12 years I worked in that system, the pendulum swung back and forth a couple of times from a “lock-em up” mentality to a focus on “treatment and pre-release planning”.  I knew the needs of the population we were serving didn’t go away just because the political will was “3 hots and a cot”, and offenders would be released one day whether we provided them with more tools or not, and don’t we somewhat owe them the education that they missed the first time around?  THIS IS ALL SO VERY, VERY WRONG

My next educational stop was in the innovative (at that time) world of online learning, provided in partnership with school districts, for fully virtual schools, either charter schools or “regular public” schools.  I saw the needs that could be met, I was excited about the opportunities we could provide, I worked very hard at really developing the policies, tools, professional development, and training that was needed to truly make education accessible to students from any area of a state, any school district, who wanted an option that was different from their local school.  It was always done, at least by me, because students needed options.  Students were not as homogeneous in their backgrounds, in the way they learned, in their family composition or level of support as was the case just a few decades earlier. Add to all of this the fact that schools have become some of the most dangerous places to be, and not just in large urban areas.  More and more students are failing and being failed every year. What seemed so easy to me when I first became a teacher – presenting the curriculum and expecting students to learn the material is not easy at all.  When I was in college we focused on pedagogy, developing lesson plans, classroom discipline, academic subject matter, and “practice teaching”.  I can’t speak to the specific instructional methods that are covered in teacher education programs today, but I do know that recent teacher education graduates that I have interviewed for positions are not prepared for what they are facing now in schools, let along what will be coming 10 years down the road. We continue to fail to educate students every day of the year, while we  talk and argue about what makes good schools, what the rights of teachers are, whether we should use this math series or that math series, how changes in policy are communicated in large organizations, school consolidations, teacher lay-offs, revenue shortages, test scores, cuts, and on and on.

WHO IS TALKING ABOUT THE STUDENTS?  When are we going to JUST STOP the nonsense and have some straight conversation about what is really happening in society and in schools today…stop patting ourselves on the back for the “A” students long enough to see that the beloved “Bell” is starting to look more like a tumor, and the cancerous cells are multiplying as we speak.  The old beliefs do not hold true any more.  We need to actually stop talking about the adults long enough to focus on making sure students are learning.  Politics has no place in education, or in the treatment of people.  Some things are right, and others are just plain wrong, and choosing to focus only on what a small percentage of students are really feeling any success from (more of the same) is accepting that a greater and greater percentage of students are destined to continue to feel the kind of failure that only gives them one way out of school.

I intend to speak my mind here, and it is a mind that has been inside the system and outside of the system.  I can leave the classroom, but I can’t leave passion for students behind, so I am going to do what I can to share my ideas and identify strategies  to get past the reality that there are more practices within the current educational system that block student access to success than there are to promote it.  It truly is a miracle that any student learns anything at all, and that has got to start to change today.

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June 19, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment