Tuesday, November 11, 2008

After Fall Break . . . and the beat goes on

After Fall Break things might get easier? Was I nuts???? Yesterday, I was working with a middle school faculty participating in a project that emphasizes interdisciplinary teaching. Faculty members are mostly high school teachers who are very content focused - merely held captive in the purgatory of middle school. Just ask any high school teacher what s/he teaches and the answer is almost always framed in terms of the courses taught -- 19th century British Literature, or Anatomy and Physiology, or US History to 1850. The inservice workshop was scheduled at the worst time - 3:30-5:30, after a full day of school and bus duty. I had driven 2.5 hours to deliver a 2 hour workshop - and I'm thinking as I watch them set up the library, "I came here for this??" Chairs were set up close together, like an auditorium - no tables, no place to write; the library had a large supporting column that obstructed the view of about 3-4 of the teachers [those fast enough to get to the venue early and sit where they could not be seen]. As they came in, teachers kept alluding to the "presentation" or the "lecture" -- and were quite surprised when I began by telling them they would be working and needed several sheets of paper and something to write with. But as we worked through the lesson in which I had embedded some useful strategies, then discussed adaptations for core content areas, I could feel them begin to loosen up a bit and at least ask questions about using some of the strategies: Paired Structured Brainstorming; Structured Notes / Response Heuristic; Forced Choice; Cinquain. I hope they will try at least one of the strategies, and that the grade level teachers will at least talk with each other about what they are doing - but I'm not holding my breath. I so hate to do a one-shot deal sort of workshop, but perhaps there will be sufficient follow-up that the teachers will have enough support to take the risk of doing something different in their classrooms. And it is a risk - for "old" teachers and for "new" teachers - because most of us were never taught as we are asking teachers to teach, and therein lies the rub. I look at international comparison data and fear that nothing we do will get us out of the quagmire we have put ourselves in - and coupled with the economic down turn I see a long slog against odds that have rarely been greater. We have more dropouts, apathy is rampant, and still we persist in "telling and spelling" our way through a curriculum that is a  mile wide and an inch deep when it should really be the other way round. 

Man, this is depressing - I've got to get my attitude corrected before I go to class -- YIKES! I'm late for setting up for class - stay tuned.

8 comments:

Dan Licata said...

Sadly, I agree with your depressing account of the state of the US Public School System. The "addiction to coverage" we have discussed in class which created a curriculum that is "a mile wide and an inch deep" is really putting the US behind the 8-ball. State academic standards hand-cuff student creativity as the focus is on rote memorization rather than on critical thinking. As you point out, with the current economic crisis the prospects for a solution look to be shrinking fast. After all, there is NO guarantee that the economy will bounce back. All good things come to an end and I would argue that the “American Century” is long over.
But I believe in America. I switched majors and schools (Sports Management at Seton Hall University to Secondary Education at Clemson) because I wanted to help other people. Why make money for some big corporation or sports team when you can have an impact on the next generation of politicians, mechanics, teachers, doctors, and policemen? What satisfaction is there in that other than you filling the pocket of some corporate big-wig? I would argue very little. In order to help America keep pace with the other countries of the world creative minds that can think outside of the box need to be bred in the schools. Minds that are taught to remember dates and memorize formulas are nothing more than a squawking parrot. We as educators need to sidestep these state standards and teach students to think critically. Critical and creative thinking is what brought America to be the dominant world superpower of the last seventy-ish years and it is the only thing that is going to save her from becoming a sideshow on the world’s stage.
If we as teachers can cultivate minds that think outside of the box (the box being state standards) we can help set America up for a brighter future. Even if the America Century is lost it can be found again. If a teacher does not think he or she can indirectly change the course of world history they should not be allowed to get up in front of a classroom. I bet George Bush and Barack Obama’s high school social studies teachers did not know they would have 180 days to positively influence a student that would one day become the most important figure of their time and we don’t either. By giving each student your best you are doing what is best for this country and the world.

Justin said...

The title of your reflective post says it best, “and the beat goes on.” No matter how bad things appear or how depressing the day seems, time continues on. America’s education system is in need of some desperate improvements in order to compete globally in this century. America’s education system has lost the vision that brought it to glory in the 20th century. The vision of teaching students to think critical beyond the walls of the school building to now having a vision that teaches students what is expected in order to past the exam. As a current student I am part of that new vision. The vision of always asking my teacher what is on the exam because I do not want to study more than I have to in order to get an A. As students we have become content in our country’s position in the world and we do not want to do more than we have too.
That was a bit of a side track as to what I wanted to write about originally. I wanted to share my thought as to why it is so important to keep the beat going on. I think regardless of all the negative facts that have developed in America’s education system, there is one fact that will always keep us together and that is the commitment by individuals to not give up hope but to keep teaching students what they need to do and be in order to change America. Without the commitment of those individuals keeping the beat going, then of course that beat would die. We cannot get discouraged when only one student out of twenty understands a lesson we have just taught but we must be optimistic for the rest of the students because we know we are going to change the lesson in order for all twenty to understand. If it means for us to start using two column notes and thinks writes then so be it. We just have to realize that all twenty students deserve to know as much knowledge as one student knows. We have to believe that even though we are going against the norm, that when we develop a lesson plan we develop it for all students to understand and not just a few. Every day in teaching is not going to be great, but we have that hope that if we keep the beat going in the long run, it will be worth it.

Lauren Coppotelli said...

I too am often depressed by the current state of the public education system, especially since I have come to South Carolina. I am one of the fortunate ones who came from a nationally ranked inter-city public school in Philadelphia, PA (I know hard to image). But, as I have entered the schools in South Carolina I see the increasing disparity between old and new teachers and techniques. Also, I fear with the economic downturn that this lines will increase; new teachers will probably keep their jobs because they will be paid less!!

BUT, I do think that there is hope. First because the darkest hour is often before change. I hope that people's poor faith in the public school system will help promote change. Secondly, its time that teachers stand up and take charge of their careers!! There is no need for legislators and college professors to create our certification tests and the standards for education. Many of these people have never stepped into a k-12 classroom as teachers. As educators we need create the standards and the test to ensure that they are appropriate. Because WE are the experts!! WE have been trained, and shouls be able to make the standards that affect our jobs! Docotors and lawyers make their standards, why should teaching be any different!

Emily Pendergraft said...

I agree that the public education system is not appreciated and teachers are not given the credit they deserve. However, I also think that Lauren makes an excellent point, that the darkest hour is usually before change.

While the focus domestically is certainly on the economy, the new administration has plans that I think will greatly aid the school system. Hopefully, the economy will not completely overshadow these initiatives.

Most importantly, as mentioned in the blog, is the contrast between "new" and "old" methods of teaching. I think that the best way to teach children lies in encompassing the two methods, the "mondernist" and "postmondernist" perspectives. By blending varying methods, we as teachers entering the workforce at the time when there is little retirement, will be able to relate to teachers new and old while preparing our students for success.

Chose to be optimistic, and karma will assist.

Raleigh Sumner said...

I think that perhaps you should not judge so harshly on the fact that it was a one shot deal to teach these teachers how to use varying instructional strategies. I would rather state that it is an opportunity and an honor above all others to have someone look upon your skills as an educator to be superb enough to educate another adult. I would also like to point out that Fraud, Robespierre, and Vygotsky, as well as multiple other social analysts and psychologists believe that it is precisley the chance meeting between individuals that has the most impact. Because we are capable of pouring more emotion, and charisma into a one time meeting, we leave a deeper and more eventful impact. Perhaps one of those teachers will go on to use your instructional material and it will greatly benefit a number of his or her students. You must always look at your profession as being the only one that can change a persons thinking with a few moments of time.

Raleigh Brooks Sumner

Tim said...

Just because I feel like freaking someone out: Lauren Coppotelli, you didn't go to an inter-city public school in Philly, it was Bucks county :). Sorry, just ran into this and if you know who this is you'll understand.

Lauren said...

and since u 'know' me so well... i DID start at an inner city school....

Anonymous said...

I think that you have a very bias opinion and know many people who have had your class and they agree that you seem not to like it in pickens so you should just leave