Saturday, September 20, 2014

My beacon

It feels cathartic to write today.

I’ve been on a self-imposed exile from all things education.  It was a rough end to the school year and unfortunately a rough start – amazing to me that in education, the “issues” are never the kids.  Loved them last year, love them already this year.
This summer has been one filled with emotion and the next few blogs will be connected to those times and moments that smacked me into the reality that what I do STILL isn’t a’s a passion, a gift, my calling in this life.

After many trials and tribulations, Dear Boy has moved to Portland, Oregon to earn his Bachelor’s degree – more on him in the weeks to come.  As we flew out I was amazed by the landscape of our beautiful country - at 40 something, I’ve done the first trips of my life west the Mississippi this summer, just a sheltered East Coast girl I guess!  We flew over beautiful cities, plains and vast farms that were just amazing in their squareness and breadth.  As we went farther and farther on our journey I realized that even though I kind of knew where I was, I really didn’t have any idea at all.  I’m the kind of girl that needs to know where I am and where I’m going, but I was baffled by where we were.  As we flew further west, I was amazed at the jaggedness of mountains and how brown everything was.  But, I was in desperate search for a beacon to guide me, to make sense of where we were.   Thankfully for Southwest wifi I’d occasionally I’d see something I thought I’d recognize from the map – lights of Chicago, the plains over Minnesota and the Dakotas, jagged, brown mountains and ruddy, deep crevices.  Finally, as I was about to lose my mind, the landmark that told me there was hope – the unexpected, magnificent beauty, providing optimism - rising out of nowhere, Mt. Hood.

We spent several days touring Portland and southern Washington, while Dear Boy, settled in to his new life as a “west coaster”, we saw Multnomah Falls (breathtaking!), drove along the edge of the Columbia River gorge, crossed the Bridge of the Gods (I’m guessing the name is because you pray so hard when crossing!), and down the scenic coast of Washington.  It was just a spectacular trip and can’t wait to get back out there – new, exciting, and amazing.

After a few tearful nights, we said our farewells to our first born, knowing we were about to give him those well-earned wings and let him fly like never before.  Perhaps it was the exhaustion from not sleeping, the emotion of knowing that my boy had fought and clawed his way through school to earn this wonderful new world, the reality that 3,000 miles is farther than any Momma should have to get used to, but on our flight home, in complete darkness out our plane window, it struck me. 

Trying to make sense of the landscape out the window was just like trying to make sense of the current landscape in education.  We’re being pushed around by high stakes testing, high powered executives and millionaires believing they know more about children than we do, for profit companies are more willing than ever to do what they can to buy education, some of us are being forced into using scripted “education”, teachers are being pit against one another, numbers and data have taken over whole child education and developmentally appropriate learning.  The vision of the barren, harsh, jagged landscape of the west keeps playing over and over in my mind.  Yes, it’s beautiful and breathtaking when you fly over and you could be easily convinced by those “over us” of how wonderfully, awesome, and amazing it is.  But being dropped into the middle of that landscape, surviving on your own, responsible for 20 or 30 children’s well-being and education in that setting is detrimental, to say the least.  It starves creativity, it’s dangerous for developmentally appropriate learning, and it wears down one’s ability to see clearly.  So, yes, this has been heavy on my mind.  I’m living it now and hate every minute of the political posturing, of the top down mandates, of the insanity over testing.

At Open House the other night, I assured parents that through this insanity - locally, statewide, and federally - I would do everything in my power to do what was educationally and developmentally sound to protect and progress their children.  That high stakes data doesn’t reflect who their child is and I will work my hardest so each child makes their own progress – not what is “expected” by people who don’t know them.   I reassured them that I would do everything in my power to protect their child from the unsound education practices that are being forced on children and educators today.   

And then, just like Mt. Hood rising up out of nowhere, I found my beacon – my center, my hope. 

Following the presentation, I had parents thank me for what I do – that my comfortable, non-traditional classroom and my philosophy reflect my passion for education.  I had another parent tell me her disgust that we have moved to adopting the NYS modules for “education”, while another was rather vocal about the standards - both assuring me they too are fighting for education.  Another parent noticed my comment that my students use my own personal iPad to update our classroom Twitter page and offered to try and get iPads donated to my classroom.  It was such a moving, amazing, emotional night and it was then that I knew I had found my beacons.  The next day, exhausted, but honored by the support I have, I received two emails from parents – one thanking me over and over for using sensory integration in my classroom, and thanking me for honoring, accepting, and acknowledging the importance of educating the whole child and not just being focused on the mandates and the heavy handed, unsound, pressures in education. 

The other parent apologized for not being able to think of enough items to fill the section of the “getting to know your child” student sheet that asked about things to celebrate about their child.  Very humbly I share, she went on to say that she and her husband had thought about it later that night and it hit them that I was one of the things they were celebrating – they were thrilled that I was willing to get to know him and not just curriculum, they were thrilled that my focus is on building the kids up so they know they are an expert on themselves and own their learning, they were thrilled when I told them that my focus was not on high stakes data, but on their child making progress and moving each child forward from where they are now.   

I promised the parents that night, and I mean it with every fiber of my being, that above anything else, I would do everything in my power to protect their children, to move them forward, to help them understand that they are in charge of their own learning and are smart and capable in their own way.  I promised to continue to read accurate, competent, reliable research, not manipulated information, and to do what I would for my own children. 

I found my beacon in this insane world of education. 
We must make sure we are centered on our children and what is truly best for them. 

Mt. Hood has never had more meaning in my life.

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