Monday, February 21, 2011

That Feeling

This is my eleventh year teaching in the public school system. I taught preschool for years before that and prayed somehow that God would place me on a softer, easier path than teaching... I kept wanting to be a counselor. I would really make an excellent counselor. I have empathy and compassion sprinkled with a little bit of airy-fairy wisdom. However, the harder I tried to run away from teaching, the harder God shoved me back in with both hands. So, here I am... A teacher.

Tonight I had the privilege of watching a play called "Freak" performed by the students at our local high school... The high school Sarah currently attends... The high school that supported Dan and my entire family during one of the hardest years of my life last year... The only high school in our small town that is fed in part by students from the elementary school in which I teach. So, tonight as I watched the play about bullying and teen suicide, I fought hard to maintain my composure. You see, as the kids were strolling through the school last week to practice, ex-students asked, "Ms. Maxwell, are you coming?"

"Of course I'm coming. I can't wait."

Still, I was stunned at what terrific performances the kids offered, and more than that, I was humbled to have been personally invited by the actors. Not all of the kids were "my" students... (Meaning- they didn't all have special learning needs). But, the kids had me in their classes as the inclusion teacher... Some of them I worked with individually while some just knew me as a quirky, friendly lady who worked at school. But, I was important to them at some level.

One of the brilliant young actors said during her monologue, "I don't mean to be invisible. I just want attention. I just want to be noticed."

And, as I listened to her performing, I thought about her as a sweet, shy little girl. I hope I noticed her enough. However, even more important than the role I played in her life as a child, I am so honored to see her growing into a bright, outgoing young woman. She is the reason I teach. The other young men and women who hug me as they visit the hallways of their old elementary school are the reason I keep doing it even in the face of incredible changes and crazy testing requirements.

The kids who are with me today are going to grow up and do so many things... I'm honored to be with each of them and even more blessed to watch them grow into wonderful, productive, creative students in our community. Maybe that is why I am able to stay optimistic about the future. I'm watching the proof... When I attend a band concert, parade, play or choral concert, I can see the type of young people our school district is producing. They are my friends and neighbors. We are in it together.

On a completely different topic... We got our second call for lungs last night. After scrambling around and sending Dave out to fill the car with gas at midnight, we received a call back saying only one lung was viable. I don't know when it became O.K. with me that this is the path. I didn't want this for my sweet Dan, but I know with a certainty that courses through every cell in my body that God is with us and all is well. Acceptance and surrender are very powerful tools. No need to apologize about the false alarm... If they aren't the lungs God wants Dan to have, we don't want them. The perfect yoga lungs are out there walking around in the world, and they belong to a selfless individual who has chosen to become an organ donor.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Common Core Standards

I'm not just a lone nut in the world... Read a blog from the Harvard Education Publishing Group... Thank you to Kara for sharing this with me.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Let Me Be the First to Say...

When I first moved back to Mississippi, I was very sure of myself, and to be honest, a little smug. I know some of you who know me will find that hard to believe... Anyway, I remember enrolling Sarah in one of the local church preschools in the Hurley-Wade area where we were living at the time. On the first afternoon when I picked her up, I was greeted by a very pretty, very blond, very young, very frowny preschool teacher.

"Mrs. Maxwell, we have some concerns about Sarah. She won't color in the lines on her pictures."

I'm not sure now, but I can imagine I cocked my head to the side like confused puppy and said, "Huh?"

Perky teacher-girl continued... Evidently, she didn't feel the condescending, arrogant vibes I was beginning to emit. "Yes, she is more or less scribbling... We worked on it today, but if you could practice at home..."

I stared at her in disbelief and responded, "It is perfectly O.K. for Sarah to color outside of the lines at three years of age. In fact, what you are expecting her to do is somewhat developmentally inappropriate. Plus, we are sort of a 'color outside of the lines' kind of family. I want my child to be an individual. I want her to explore her own strengths, weaknesses and creativity, and I want her picture to look like she wants it to look, and I will proudly display it on the refrigerator."

Sarah only stayed at that preschool for a short while until I began working for Head Start where she attended with me. At the time, Head Start was using the 'Creative Curriculum', which was what I had been using with my preschoolers in Virginia, so this met with my nod of approval.

Fast forward only twelve short years... We have completely lost our minds in education. Is it politicians? Is it ex-teachers sitting and developing curriculum who are completely out of touch with students? Is it administrators who have been too long out of the classroom and have become mired in the legalities of it all? I don't know. But, what I do know is that part of the reason education is failing miserably is because the curriculum is completely developmentally inappropriate.

Teachers get together in small clusters in hallways and whisper about it because no one wants to be the trouble-making teacher. Plus, if teachers speak the truth about it in Mississippi, we are looked upon as if we expect less of our students than those across the nation. Well, let me just say that in Mississippi our expectations for students are just as unreasonable as those for other students across the nation. The Common Core Standards proves this fact. At first, I was excited that Mississippi had signed on for Race to the Top funding to join the rest of the country in academic expectations for our students. Then I read them. Oh [expletive]! We are in deep trouble.

Do you remember the sweet little story that rose in popularity in the 80's? "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" by Robert Fulgum. Click the link and remind yourself of what Kindergarten held for children in the past. Remind yourself of the type of foundation we previously established for our students prior to setting them on the academic race course. Then, click the link and meander through the Common Core Standards for Kindergarten. Now review the work of Jean Piaget and his four stages of development: Sensory Motor (Birth-2); Pre-Operational (2-7); Concrete Operations (7-11); Formal Operations (11-Adult). Put it all together and what do you get? Developmentally inappropriate curriculum. Mind you, the curriculum is not developmentally inappropriate for every child. There are some who can and will master it, but there are countless others who will not. They won't master it not because their teachers are terrible, or the curriculum needs to be realigned vertically or horizontally, or their parents aren't supporting them, or they come from low-socio economic areas- or whatever other academic explanations we want to throw at the problem... In some cases even the fact that a student has a learning disability will not be the reason a child doesn't master the curriculum. The simple reason will be that THE CHILD ISN'T READY TO LEARN IT YET!

But, if you come out and say this in today's public school system, you are shunned. Get out the big scarlet A and hang it around my neck. We are failing because we have become stupid. With all our education, we have forgotten the basic lessons we learned about developmental stages, brain development and creating well-rounded children through a variety of lessons and experiences.

Understand this too... I don't necessarily have a problem with introducing any concepts (as long as they are ethically and morally sound) at any age. But, I have a HUGE problem with expecting mastery of the skills. I have a huge problem with expecting every Kindergarten student to "Isolate and pronounce the initial, medial vowel, and final sounds (phonemes)
in three-phoneme (consonent-vowel-consonent, or CVC) words.* (This does not include CVCs ending with /l/, /r/, or /x/.)"- (Take from the Common Core Standards- Expectations for Kindergarten Reading) when Jean Piaget tells me that Pre-Operational Stage ends loosely at the age of 7. And, I have an even greater problem insuring every Kindergartener can:

a. Capitalize appropriate words in titles.
b. Use commas in addresses.
c. Use commas and quotation marks in dialogue.
d. Form and use possessives.
e. Use conventional spelling for high-frequency
and other studied words and for adding
suffixes to base words (e.g., sitting, smiled,
cries, happiness).
(Taken from the Common Core Standards- Expectations for Kindergarten English)

We are expecting our children to master skills that we, ourselves, were not expected to master in school until we were much older and much more ready to learn those skills. It isn't fair. And, more than just being unfair and, I believe, harmful to children, it is socially irresponsible. We are on the brink of producing children without a foundation for learning. I'm outraged. I'm sad. And, I'm sick to death of the hypocrisy.

Education is failing partly because teachers are scared to stand up and say, "Wait a minute... This is wrong. I can't take a Kindergarten child who isn't potty trained, doesn't know the difference between and number and a letter, and can't write his name and teach him to "Use commas and quotations in dialogue". Well, I take that back. I can teach it, but don't you dare get angry at my student when he doesn't master it. And, don't you dare imply that my teaching is somehow inferior because my student doesn't master that skill when he is very obviously not ready for it. And, further, stop looking at my student who scored "Minimal" on your ridiculous testing instrument as somehow inferior or less than. God placed each of us here with innate value and goodness. Come out of your offices and sit down with my students, and you might just learn a lesson from them... Maybe a lesson about compassion and kindness... Maybe you will learn some of the things that Robert Fulgum asserted he learned in Kindergarten.