Teenagers are interesting creatures. Beez has this lovely come back for many of my comments, “And you wonder why people are afraid of you?” It has become a well-known family joke, but I think about this often.
I come from a long line of strong women and I won’t apologize; truthfully, I’m proud to carry on their legacy. I want my girls to someday realize that they had a strong Momma who fought for justice and equality. But, I guess the thing that is most concerning is NOT that I “scare” people, but that people generally don’t like a strong woman with an opinion or one that questions. I’m not easily led, with a hook in my mouth, to “jump on the latest bandwagon”, but I’m afraid that’s where I’m being forced to go. As a teacher I'm angry, as a mom I'm outraged.
It’s clear that education is under attack like never before. We’re under attack from the wealthy, the politicians, the profiteers, and sadly some within our own, local districts and it is our responsibility to speak up for justice, for what’s developmentally appropriate for children. I recently met with parents who are “well aware” that their child is struggling. When the mom told me, “It’s really clear <child> is struggling. That’s all we hear.” I was disheartened. She went on to tell me that she was grateful to talk about the progress the child was making, no matter how slow and below grade level they are. A dad recently told me, “I sell cars. I read spreadsheets and numbers every day. THAT’S where numbers should matter, NOT with my kid’s education.” Wow, incredible, honest insight from people who love their children more than anything.
But it left me with the nagging question, “What are we doing?”
I am someone who has always questioned, for information and to better myself and my practice, and I have come to realize, with a new school year under way, that even “closer to home” it is no longer okay to ask questions, to bring up an opposing view – no matter how grounded in research, no matter how level headed those questions may be. I used to be in a situation where I could have dialogue about research and ideas and wrestle through questions WITH leadership rather than be marked for it. For most of my career, I've been in situations where I didn’t have to be afraid to try a new approach in my classroom, to think differently, to take a unique stance on a topic, to take risks so that my students could think, learn, and challenge each other. I was respected for finding several ways around a problem instead of avoiding it and doing almost everything I could to help a child learn, no matter how odd it seemed from the outside looking in.
Now, I find myself criticized, scrutinized, and talked about for moving off the script, for using my professional judgment, for meeting standards differently than others, and for having autonomy in teaching. I won’t hide my opinions or the differences in the way I approach education and for that I have paid the price of becoming a “person of interest”. I am told that the choice administration has made is “non-negotiable and that will not be sabotaged”. I’m not a lock step girl, but believe firmly in the practice of differentiating lessons and learning because it’s grounded in research & best for children and I believe firmly in fostering the love of learning to allow children to make progress and grow that intrinsic desire to learn rather than be locked in that same marching order step as everyone else – what I affectionately call the “minionization of education”. The “culture of learning” in so many classrooms has been stripped away and become an oxymoron; there are no longer “clear demonstrations of intellectual achievement regarded collectively” – many classrooms have become places of regurgitation; scripted sit and listen lessons, and answer the same exact questions for several different stories. Many of us have been minimized to teaching data, not children and children are paying the ultimate price - they're losing out on a strong education and the gifts of excellent teachers. And I'm not just speaking for "those children", I'm speaking for MY children.
Although I’m being held in a box, not by my choosing, I’ll continue to march to my own band and make lots of noise from my box. I’ll continue on my path, no matter how grown over it is, no matter the obstacles that are placed in my way. I won't let the box fall in on me.
I’ll continue to read the books that the script says I have to read, and I’ll meet the standards that the script says I have to meet so as to not be “disciplined for not doing what I’m told”. But you better believe that inside this box there’ll be some serious learning going on.
We’ll meet standards that “aren’t supposed to be taught” until later in the year and we’ll take on challenges that push my kids’ minds to the very limits; ones that a script couldn’t dream of. But I’ll still be in the box.
I’ll do art projects and use iPad apps that promote deep understanding and honor learning differences. I will link each to standards to “prove I’m teaching”, our classroom will foster risk and respect mistakes, I’ll continue to push my kids to think critically and question themselves & others, and most of all we’ll work to build each other up, continually encouraging our teammates. But we’ll be inside that box.
I will continue to set aside everything each Friday afternoon to do team challenges to build strength within our team, to learn to value each other’s abilities, and successfully use differences as strength in our team. Because no matter what the “work force” will be for my current eight year olds, working with others will NEVER change as the climate in education will.
The box is waiting .... and it’s about to get noisy!