Monday, June 29, 2015

Why I Teach (Part 1)

Let's start at the beginning...

When I started kindergarten I was an artist, an explorer, an actress, a singer, a creator...but by 2 grade I learned that those things didn't make me "smart".  I was never the first one to finish a timed test or in the top reading group, eventually I just stopped trying on those pesky timed tests, it was better not to try than to be one of the last ones finished.

In third grade the "smart" kids got to go to the "Gifted and Talented" program.  I remember thinking "What? I'm gifted and very talented...there must have been some mistake" didn't know then (and I'm not sure I know now) that talent and giftedness were measured by a test.  I was the daydreamer, the always drawing on the back of my paper, and doodling girl.  I was the kid waiting for that rare occasion when we would have a creative writing assignment...because those were the days I could shine!

Don't get me wrong I enjoyed elementary school.  I was in honor choir, had best friends, talked a little too much...and was even sent to the principal office once. I learned many things, I learned that I loved music, art, creative writing, social studies projects and science experiments (when we got to do them). I learned that worksheets were boring, and in my stubbornness I learned how to get away without doing them...I learned to just get by. I also learned that I was terrible at Math..I learned that I would never understand it...NEVER!

Those first years in elementary school set the stage for Jr High...where I discovered band, choir, and drama! Oh the joy!  Finally things I was good at!! I also came to Jr high with the knowledge that I was no good at math.  I had an amazing 7th grade teacher who tried to convince me otherwise, but I had already made up my mind. I wish I had listened to him...he was the last Math teacher who would try to convince me that I could do it.  I got by in my other classes, never trying too hard, because in my Jr high mind trying and failing would be the worst.

I was among the Drama and Choir elite in High School...scoring leads in musicals holding office in Drama Club. I knew what I was good at and worked to be the best! I liked my English classes...reading books, writing reports...these were things I could do. Math...No...Not good...Why Try!

During my Jr High and High School years I also spent a lot of time working with kids at church and day care jobs.  I loved kids, and I was good with them.  I was always the one who could come up with fun ways to keeps the kids busy and having fun.  I  knew I wanted to be a teacher so I started college as a music major.  In my first education class, we talked about why we wanted to be teachers, what teaching meant, how to make it meaningful, how to reach the unreachable kids, how to make all students feel like they were learners.  This professor was talking about students like me.  In that class I realized that I wasn't dumb, I wasn't stupid...I really was "gifted and talented" (all kids are).  I could have and should have learned and accomplished more.  

After taking that class I changed my major to "Early Childhood Education", because I knew that I could make a difference for students like myself.  Later I had a professor who said "most teachers become teachers because they love kids, and they loved school". I became a teacher because I love kids and because I didn't love the learning part of fact I hated work sheets and answering questions at the end of the capters.  I became a teacher because I wanted to be a different kind of teacher!

There have been times when I've told my story to people and they've said "I'm sorry you had that experience"...but I'm not sorry...I'm happy!! If I hadn't had those experiences I wouldn't be as sensitive as I am to my students, and  I wouldn't truly understand their frustrations.  I still remember hating when the teacher called me to the board to do a math problem, I still remember filling random numbers in on my timed tests, I still remember wishing for a writing assignment... 
I became a teacher so that I could teach all learners, and help them to realize the amazing potential within!!

(P.S.  I don't have a problem with gifted programs.  My own children have been in them...I know that they have a place in our schools...but I want all children to know that they are gifted...we're all gifted in different ways. Gifted programs tend to be more project based and engaging...I want to bring that to my own classroom!!)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Letter To My Community

To whom is may concern (& it concerns all of us),
   These are just a few of the things I would like you to understand about what current legislation is doing to public education.  First of all I want to be clear, I’m not posting about education because I want to make more money, I’m not posting about education because I don’t want to be accountable for what I teach, I’m posting about education because I care about kids and their education and well being. If you don’t have children or your students attend private school, charter schools, are homeschooled, or are all grown up…this is important for all of us. The quality of public education impacts us all as a community and society.
   I was like most of you, I realized there were problems in education and maybe there was a little too much testing…”but expecting a 3rd grader to read isn’t that big of a deal is it?”…and then 2 years ago I went back to teaching. I took a job teaching 3rd grade at Sky Ranch a wonderful school in Moore. My school is a title 1 school (many of our students come from families with a low income). I’m thankful that God placed me at Sky Ranch and in 3rd grade because I’ve learned a lot about what is wrong with testing and have made it a point to learn more about educational policies.
   For those of you that may not know, 3rd graders who do not pass the state test repeat 3rd grade unless they meet one of the “good cause exemptions”. My son Luke took the 3rd grade test this year and I assured him he would pass. I talked with him at length (while he rolled his eye) about the fact that he is more than one test score and I’m proud of everything he has accomplished so far…I love him no matter what! Luke is like most of your kids he comes from a family where we read, go to the zoo, or museums…and he’s fortunate to not have a learning disability. While I don’t think testing is the best thing for him and others like him…I handle it…but he’s not every kid. I had students in my class write letters to me telling how they felt about taking the test…some of those letters broke my heart. I had students cry while taking the test because they knew they wouldn’t be able to pass it. One student who was retained last year because of failing the test, took it again this year and failed again…just what everyone needs to boost their self-esteem…you weren’t unsatisfactory once but twice. Uuuug!! I could say more about this aspect of testing, but I’m going to stop myself. (Don’t get me wrong I believe students should learn to read, and sometimes retention is needed…but there are better ways to handle these situations)
   Teachers spend a lot of time preparing students for the test. Yes the state test is aligned with our state standards and it is important for all teachers to teach the state standards; however preparing for a test and teaching a rich curriculum that includes the state standards is not the same. Many of our students start Kindergarten behind and do not have the advantage of parents who are actively involved and invested in their education. It is the job of K-3 teachers to close the educational gap so that these kiddos can be successful on the 3rd grade test…this doesn’t allow much wiggle room for engaging projects, science experiments…activities that encourage higher level thinking skills and creative problem solving. The testing problem doesn’t stop in third grade; it’s a continual battle to prepare these kids.
   Not only do we spend hours preparing for the test we spend hours giving it, 2nd grade on up take some sort of test, but 3rd grade just happens to be the year that can have the most detrimental effect on students. When the test is given the entire school goes on lock down, all grade levels must stay quiet in their classrooms, halls are closed off, schedules are changed, the cafeteria must remain silent, in some schools students are not allowed to leave their classroom for lunch they just have a sack lunch in their classrooms. Maybe you’re thinking so what; it’s just a couple of days. That’s where you would be wrong…this process can take more than 3 weeks, by the time all grades are tested, students who require special testing environments are tested, and make up tests are given. That’s valuable teaching time! To make matters worse once testing is over students feel like school is over…why should they have to learn anything else they took the test? 
   Moore has always been committed to high standards in education and was one of the last districts to remove the class size cap. Gone are the days of 20-22 kids per class, funds are just not available to the smaller class size. My class hovered between 24 and 25 students (that’s a lot of third graders), lower grade teachers had similar numbers, and upper grades had even more. I cannot give the same individualize attention to 25 students as I can to 20, and the more students you add to a classroom the more discipline problems you encounter. If education is actually a priority we need to fund it adequately.
   I could go on about all of this, but I won’t. I encourage you to read articles (Oklahome Education Watch is a good place to start), I encourage you to find out what’s going on in education…and if there are issues that don’t set well with you please contact your state house and senate reps. 
(P.S. The third grade reading test isn’t actually a reading test. Yes, reading is part of the test but we also cover things like Dictionary, Encyclopedia, Almanac, and Atlas skills. When’s the last time you used one of those?)

(This letter was previously posted on my Facebook page.  We have to share our stories...without them we will not see change!)