Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Time for Change

It’s been that day. You know the one. The day that you trek two bags of grading into school and three bags back out at the end of the day. The day that students hover over your desk asking about grades while you’re also trying to respond to thirty-five different parent, administrator, and teacher emails. The day you have two meetings after school, a student club meeting to sponsor, and two parent phone calls to respond to. The day you have to send the failure letters home to parents. The day that you’ve come to school with the third incarnation of the stomach virus that the students have been passing around your classroom for the last month and a half.

I am overwhelmed.

I have spread myself so thin, I am transparent. Between the administrative paperwork, grading, trainings, committee meetings, district testing, I’ve little time left to spend doing what I love – talking and working with students. It is unfortunate that the one area that should have priority – being in the classroom working with students – does not always seem to be a priority in the traditional educational system. I’m pulled out my classroom for fire drills and trainings. Classes are shortened for extended homerooms and district testing (check out Barry Bachenheimer’s video on this very theme below). I’m feeling the frustration that many other bloggers have recently expressed more eloquently than I.

Clay Burell’s recent post ”On Leaving Teaching to become a Teacher” has sparked a number of comments and reactions in the edublogosphere. Will Richardson’s response to Clay’s original post reflects on how modern technologies are changing our students, but in some respects, we have yet to change our classrooms and curriculums. I was particular struck by some of the ideas presented in Mr. Richardson’s post. He dreams of a school:
“…where long term collaborations and research and learning can happen over extended periods, all of it real work for real audiences, published and reviewed by engaged readers participants acting as mentors from global audiences. The adults in the room are co-learners with the students but also educators who can model and navigate the skills and competencies, the ‘network literacies’…”

However, there has been some debate over such educational reforms. Local Philadelphia educator and blogger Chris Lehmann’s response to Clay Burell’s and Will Richardson’s post offers up a note of caution. He writes, “There are some things that we have to deal with, and they can be difficult, especially if we hold onto an idealistic vision of what we want our schools to be for every child.” In some respects, I agree with Mr. Lehmann’s arguments. I believe that compulsory education is necessary and beneficial. However, I think most of his response to Burell’s and Richardson’s posts is off the mark. Change is necessary. Record numbers of teachers are leaving the profession as a result of the very frustrations I expressed earlier. Additionally, we have a growing number of students that are being tested-out of our education system, falling through the cracks created by district, state, and national mandates stemming from NCLB. I disagree with Mr. Lehmann’s suggestion that we need to “temper our idealism with a healthy dose of pragmatism…” True change does not come from working within the system but in finding a new way outside of it. In order to change the limitations of our current system, we must be willing to push those limits to discover what is beyond, what is possible.


CB said...

I love the style of the first paragraphs, and the reasoning of the last ones.

I also tried to respond to Chris Lehmann's take on my post and Will's, as I wasn't sure he had read the entire conversations in the threads, nor convinced by some of his logic.

That being said, I respect him for caring enough to write about it.

The system does seem to be crumbling. If Chris succeeded at building an oasis that's an exception, what would it take to make it more of a rule?

Hang in there. Some of those days in the classroom are still magic, we both know. I hope you have one soon. And that that damn virus goes away! :)

Barry Bachenheimer said...

Glad you liked the video. I feel your frustrations-- I think all teachers have days like that. Luckily, you'll be feeling better soon and doing the stuff that inspires and pushes kids.

In regards to you thoughts about change, change can be a subtle thing. All too often, I think schools think a complete reinvention is needed to cause change when it only might be a small change in direction.

We could nuke the educational system and start over, but in essence we would almost have to change out entire government to do that. (i.e China's "cultural revolution" under Mao) Do we want that?

Instead, I believe we need to work within the system and that means bottom up will be the revolution. When kids demand changes (not wholesale change) of their teachers, when teacher demand changes from administration, administrations from Boards, Boards to state governments, and so on, the ground level revolution will change the system.

Short of systemic change, the best a teacher can do in the immediate is the make whatever corrections they need to do to reach the students they have that year.

Good luck!


Jennifer Ward said...

Thanks for both of your comments!

Clay, I find your thinking and writing about how education might be quite inspirational.

Barry, I agree, change can be subtle. I think the part that I was most troubled by in Lehmann's post was the repeated call to temper idealism. I'm not saying that we throw the baby out with the bath water, but certainly we need to spend some time reflecting on our current educational paradigms.

The foundation of our current system seems to rest on high-stakes achievement tests - whether it is our course final exams, state tests, or SATs. Students must have a particular set of knowledge before passing onto the next step, before being labeled proficient. I don't see this as the best way to challenge and guide our students. And although I agree that the first step is to begin by making changes within our individual classrooms, I think it is only the first step.

My comment about the need to think outside the box or outside the system stems from my belief that if we continue to work within it, aren't we in danger of recapitulating it? If we don't make connections outside of our classroom, if we don't consider more systematic changes an option, aren't we just doomed to repeat the same mistakes?

I believe in public schools. I love working in a public school. But I think we have need to let ourselves imagine a different sort of classroom, a different sort of school that might better address the needs and challenges of a more technology driven, interconnected world.

I'm not quite sure what that looks like, but I'm having a wonderful time thinking about the possibilities by reading blogs like Clay's, Will's, Chris', and yours! Keep it up! You've got me thinking!

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