A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Good, bad, and ugly - I've got the real story about education

Recently, there was a reporter reportedly snooping around a school where I was subbing. In all likelihood, the reporter was brought into functioning classrooms, probably taught by master teachers, very unlike the Kindergarten class for which I happened to accept a half day job. I got the real story. My first clue that something was very wrong was the lack of sub-plans, the work table completely covered with clutter, and signs of disorder on nearly every surface. My next clue came when the teacher who I was covering for straggled in 16 minutes late for a meeting, and when somebody came to get her, she replied, "oh, were we supposed to meet?" Soon, I picked up the phone, where someone else, likely the Principal, was looking for her. Clear signs of disciplinary actions were everywhere.

As I searched in vain for sub-plans, none were written, I noticed handwritten notes referring to observations of weak transitions. I went next door to check with her team, and saw a room that was spotless, where the teacher was giving clear instructions to her Instructional Assistant (IA). The other teacher had not gotten a set of plans via email, which is often the custom in close-knit teams, and was kind enough to help me look. She noticed the teacher's weekly literacy plans amid the clutter of the table, along with the book -- they lacked sufficient detail, but I knew the IA would be in. There was no schedule, so I knew that I would be relying heavily on the IA. The teacher delayed going to her next meeting, and spent a few minutes explaining her plans, which sounded reasonable enough, in general, but it was evident that the teacher had not thought out all of the details. She jotted down the day's schedule on a whiteboard.

When the IA eventually showed up, I learned that the IA was actually a licensed teacher, who had recently completed her student teaching, and had only recently accepted the IA position. Reading did not follow a Daily 5 model or a Reading Workshop model (Fountas and Pinnell) which are common, Writing Workshop did not follow Lucy Caulkins, and there was little apparent structure to the math program. I saw no reading specialist, no math specialist, no LD specialist, and here was a group of students who did no reading during reading, and little math during math. Little wonder, students did not even have the basics of left-to-right directionality! The math center activities did not seem to follow any standard of learning. I wish I could publicly thank the school where I launched a Kindergarten class earlier this year, because I got all the support that this teacher obviously lacked, but I can't.

Oddly, a volunteer kept commenting about what a great teacher I was, probably because I held students to the expectation that when I said, "freeze and squeeze," the children would "freeze and squeeze," or maybe because I handled a book with no words, Tommie De Paola's Pancakes for breakfast, which I pulled off with grace, using turn-and-whisper procedures! (Disaster avoided, as the Principal slipped into the classroom, and paused to observe). While the purpose why the book was used was to do an author study, the books had not been charted, and the common features and differences had not been identified, so the students had no model to which they could refer in independent centers.

What bothered me the most about this Kindergarten classroom was the clear lack of modeling of everything from behavior to vital academic habits of mind, and at such a vital transitional period. The children and the IA did not know what to do because the classroom lacked procedures, although the IA's student teaching experience was clearly evident. For students just entering school, my only hope is that the damage caused by this teacher is not permanent.
Pancakes for Breakfast Cover

A day previously, I had subbed in a self-contained Learning Disabled (LD) class, where I found another work space completely filled with clutter. That teacher was obviously overwhelmed, despite working past 10pm every night, and had student work mixed in with VGLA evidence, cluttered with IAP information. Again, another weak set of plans with little detail. I sorted the pile of paperwork, because it bothered me so much! The young teacher desperately needs a filing system. On a far more hopeful note, the young lady is being mentored currently by a Nationally Board certified teacher, who recently accepted a position as the school's Reading Specialist. The Master Teacher pushed in and provided a summarizing lesson that provided guidance, while engaging learners.

I recently picked up a job for a 2nd grade class where the original teacher had given the school one week's notice in October. Here, the new teacher was doing everything right. The Literacy Center Rotations where changed by rotating a wheel, anchored in the center with a thumbtack, which had the center choices, with literacy groups arranged around the wheel. Specialists and IA's were coming in and out of the room constantly. The center choices had clear procedures, and the students worked independently. The class was using Daily 5 structures, including read to self, listen to reading, writing about reading, and word work. The math games we played were based on Math Investigations, and the children had played them before, so most knew what to do. Math was happening in that classroom. What I saw in that classroom was collaborative teaching at its best!

More recently, I accepted another job in a different 2nd grade classroom where the teacher is a recent Teacher of the Year award winner. Her classroom library had a dot color-coded system. Her second graders were some of the most independent 2nd graders that I have ever encountered, because classroom procedures were so well understood and the room and every activity was so well organized! Her centers were set up either as portable kits, with materials and instructions in thin plastic tubs, or in more traditional station setups.

My goal in attending a Master of Education program is to develop a teacher in a box model, similar to what I've observed in the best classrooms.