Sunday, November 3, 2013

Take your mark!

I have made a decision to become chairman of the American Athletic Olympic Committee. Changes will be enacted right away to bring more integrity and leadership to the athletes that represent us.  Athletes will be required to meet more rigorous standards and far surpass their past scores and times since they’re falling behind other international scores.  The same training schedules will be scripted and formally prescribed for all athletes, at all levels, in every sport. Coaches will need to update all certifications and take on even more demanding classes to prove their value and their merit will be based heavily on their athletes’ ability to perform on that one day of their event.

I was able to gain this position because after all I watch every Olympic games, winter and summer, from opening to closing and have some sports that are my favorites.  Another qualification worthy of mention is because after all one of our former kiddos, and classmate of Dear Boy, will be competing for a position on the 2016 hammer throw team and well, I knew the kid and then I’ve also been at speed skating qualifiers to watch a friend of Beez’.  And finally, well I consider myself a four year, Varsity member of my Alma Mater’s track and field team – I never missed a meet, indoor or outdoor, and trained really hard to be the best, most outstanding spectator for every race, each hurdle, and every high jump event my brother was in.

If you’ve dragged yourself off the floor from howling at the prospect of me having ANYTHING to do with athletics, you can read on.    If you’re just not sure what I’m talking about, go back a few posts and it will become clear – I don’t run!  As “dear friend” reminded me just this morning, my kind of triathlon is eating a pizza, a doughnut, and hot fudge sundae! As absurd as my “announcement” is, it’s comparable to the ludicrousness I find in politicians weighing in on education and what’s best for kids while removing millions of dollars in funding from budgets, and instead pouring it hand over fist to “for profit” companies.  Insanity abounds as billionaires lead everyone to believe our kids are falling miserably behind other nations and they know the exact quick fix and furthering the absurdity is commissioners who lay heavy burdens & mandates on schools, shovel insults at parents and teachers in public forums; all while having no experience, as a parent or teacher, in a public school classroom.   

What commissioners, politicians, and billionaires don’t see are REAL classrooms....the places we all live each day where there are NO cameras, no media frenzy, no photo opportunities.  I live in a place where we see hunger and stress, poverty and wealth, sameness and differences, success and struggle.  I don’t need insults slung constantly at a profession that I’ve worked my tail off at with the passion, drive, and frankly love I have for the children and the remarkable minds they bring to my room each day.  If for one minute these people believe that beating us down is the way to produce quality in education, they sure have a lesson or three to learn!  My cousin, a retired Super of a very large, prominent school district, once told me he could get anyone to try anything as long as they knew he believed in them. 

I don’t need a module, a scripted, “minion-ized” lesson, to tell me how to teach. I won’t stand for producing superficial, robotic learners.  Every day I teach standards and most importantly I know how to produce developmentally appropriate challenges that make kids think, ponder, question, evaluate, and discuss.  My kids are challenged every day with questions I pose or ideas and challenges I throw out at them that are standards based however what I do “looks” different and is often perceived as “odd” or “wrong” according to traditional classroom standards. 

Perhaps if you walked by my room you’d think I was clearly out of my mind.  I have a “living room” full of books, cozy chairs, and yes a bathtub.  Many of my kids work on the floor or work in another area kneeling at the coffee table.  Environment is critical to me, but what it looks like is only one part of what goes on in my room.  Kids who don’t like school learn to love it, kids who think little of themselves as learners see themselves as brilliant, and kids who aren't motivated begin moving mountains.  During recent research about owls a student, who struggles to focus and produce work, but is a VERY bright boy, jumped up (almost knocking things clear off the table) and yelled, “Yes!  I finally found it!”...and then realized that e-v-e-r-y single person in the room knew he found something!  This boy was adamant that he WAS going to find out everything he could on the anatomy of an owl and we celebrated his success and he shared it with others – his perseverance and resolve to find answers was inspiring.  When we recently introduced the Word of the Week, my teammates and I wore masks the first day and dressed “incognito” as characters from “Mr. Lemoncello’s Library” on another.  The excitement was palpable.  But, there’s not one student who at any given time couldn't thoroughly explain what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and what they've learned.  The challenges provided can always link back to the standards, but I would feel slighted as a professional and delinquent in stretching my kids’ thinking and evaluating if I simply read from a module/script.  Unfortunately, out of fear and being continually torn down, we've been minimized to believing that the only way to cover new standards is to follow a prescribed script.  We believe that it is our “fault” that other nations perform better on testing, that our students are failing simply based on a number, so we best follow one prescription.

Each morning as I go step by step from lamp to lamp I sike myself up for another great day where I can’t imagine what will be uncovered, where kids will have themselves excited about learning.  There’s nothing spectacular about’s a takes time.  Are there bad days?  I’d be a liar if I said “no”.  But each day I find that strong resolve to fight on.

I urge you to rethink and reflect on your room.  Just as there is NO WAY the Olympic Committee would ever let me change what they do without a fight (let’s be honest....or let me NEAR an athlete!), there is NO WAY that I’m going to let politicians or billionaires completely take over my classroom or my kids’ education without a fight. With the pressures we’re under and the mud that is slung, we have to refocus on what we know is best for kids within our classrooms and within the standards, whether we agree with them or not.  We need to resolve to believe in ourselves and our abilities to guide and challenge students, to push and pull their minds, to require and refine.  We need to reach out to people we trust and challenge and hold each other up along this journey.

On our way home from speed skating qualifiers this afternoon, Beez and her friend Min, a kid I adore, were chatting about their teachers - teenagers are SO interesting to listen to!  Of course I’d weigh in here & there and play devil’s advocate.  They brought up an interesting debate they had had after a teacher asked about “cheating”.  I gave my very strong opinion against what their teacher had said and what I firmly believe about what happened.  At that point Min said, “Mrs. W, you’re right about kids being resourceful and persevering. It's how you teach kids. I mean have you ever really looked at the kids who walk out of your room at the end of every year???”

If you’ll excuse me, I hear a triathlon calling my name.

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