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Learning at its Best

“My Heart Hurts”

This post was begun in February, revised somewhat in June and I’ve decided to post it in September…it’s been a rough one to decide whether to share or not, but I’ve decided to throw it out there.

February 2011: The past few weeks have been extremely hard ones for a number of reasons. A friend and I are at odds over something that recently happened, and we simply have been unable to have a face to face discussion about it, so she keeps getting really mad DMs from me on Twitter. That lack of talking it out is wearing on me emotionally. I’ve another friend who is struggling with the fact people around her are incredibly unethical. The kids in my school are verbalizing feelings about being disrespected, and I’m concerned that it’s not only the kids who feel this way. In the past two weeks, I’ve had a number of gifted kids reach their saturation point with “packets” (of worksheets) and I’m just waiting for an explosion of some kind. I’ve been really worrying about the vision and direction our school is embracing and the lack of time to really discuss KIDS (not scores or tests, but actual kids and their needs) and I am feeling the need to have some substantive discussions about our direction. And then, last night, I read this blog post: Aargh. ((fraud, accountability, rant, Schnettler)) which is where I got the title of this post, and which is also where I am right now. My heart hurts, too.

There is so much wrong with education today, and there is so much that gets overlooked in the day to day movement through the not-so-simple chore of getting through the curriculum at each grade level. I am lucky to work in a school where teachers work hard to do their job. I am lucky to work with a principal who cares about doing her job well. I am not so lucky in that we, as a staff, have little time to explore what the work is, and what the work means in the long run.

You see, I work to empower people. In being the facilitator of the tech committee in our building, for example, I open the meetings to all, not just the committee. When I open my classroom for lunch, so that kids can escape the cafeteria, anyone may come in–not just kids I work with or teach. As I create agendas or build websites, I open them so others may edit, add to them, or discuss and question the issues within. My kids know they can question anything, anytime. The other day in math I got the question, “Is this one of those things we just have to learn or is it going to make sense and actually be useful some day?”  I think that’s a pretty powerful question coming out of the mouth of an eleven year old. (And, I was able to immediately give several examples of real life application!) I believe all people in a community should have a voice that is heard, respected and honored for the diversity of thought that it brings to the conversation. It’s that diversity that helps us look at our circumstances through a different lens and that helps us grow.

I’ve got a couple of kids who are feeling disconnected and somewhat friendless–and struggling to be their advocate in a system that emphasizes schedules, testing, getting through the pacing guide and overloaded curriculum is hard! But, keeping that big picture of their need to connect simply has to be in the forefront of my thoughts.  After all, part of my job is to advocate for the needs of the gifted kids in my school.

One of my fourth graders wrote, very eloquently, I felt , about the lunchroom here. She even had the presence of mind to send me a wikimail and let me know she had done it. I sent the link to the grade level teachers (and the principal) and felt like it would be addressed the next day.  The response was to have the kids earn “Friday Free Day” where they actually get to sit with any friend in that grade level. Of course, that is dependent upon the lunchroom monitor saying they have earned it, and according to the kids, that never happens, so they STILL never get to sit with their friends. I don’t go to the cafeteria, so I can’t speak to the noise level there–but other teachers say the expectations are unreasonable–that this is one of TWO times a day (the other is recess) that kids have the opportunity to see friends in other classes and they should be able to sit with their friends.  (I don’t go to the cafeteria because I open my classroom to kids who want to escape the cafeteria, so I have a room full of kids eating in my room throughout the lunch periods.)  In the kids’ eyes, though, they feel they brought up an issue and nothing changed.

But mostly, my heart hurts, not because of the difficulty of the job we do as educators, but because of the crap put in our way. There’s little room for exploration, for trying new things, for really teaching conceptually in meaningful ways, or for meeting the needs of individual teachers or kids in ways that matter. I sat in the kitchen one day and listened to my grandson and niece talk about the work they had to do in 6th and 11th grades, respectfully. They decided the ONLY difference was in the size of the worksheet packets they get! Neither had regular access to technology, nor were they allowed to use it in writing tasks in their classwork.

We simply have to have conversations about how kids need to learn today. We simply have to have conversations about how to support each other to help them do that safely, ethically and with quality work.

Becky Fisher recently asked a question on twitter I think is incredibly powerful:  Can one be a digital teacher without being a digital learner?  We need to have people in leadership positions who empower rather than control, who understand digital learning, who understand crowdsourcing and collaboration online, who get the power of talking to and learning with people OUTSIDE of the physical school to learn, question and lead, and who understand that our students do not appreciate learning from worksheets alone when there are so many other ways to learn.

This blog post was originally written on February 12, 2011. I can’t even begin to recount the rest of this painful year with my kids. It was just hard–I felt some kids’ needs were not being met and it was a crazy busy year for me–way too busy. I was certainly glad to see it be over.

My next post will be about the beginning of this school year and how it is different–or not.

 

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About Paula White

grandma, teacher, Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE), DEN STAR, Google Certified Teacher, camper, Gifted Resource Tchr, NETS*T certified, lover of learning

Discussion

5 thoughts on ““My Heart Hurts”

  1. As your student said, “…if it makes no sense it should not be done.”

    I think we pigeonhole ourselves and one another way too much; it creates a kind of learned helplessness when it comes to change or trying something new or daring to innovate. I certainly get myopic from time to time; I certainly feel that helplessness from time to time. How do we help more people understand change as an attitude, hunger, or need before it’s detailed plan? How do we make time for finding what we should be before asking for what we need to do to get it over with as an initiative?

    With empathy,
    C

    Posted by Chad Sansing | September 13, 2011, 12:55 pm
  2. Paula:

    My head also hurts, and I felt compelled to make something of a statement about my pain at: http://brentsnavely.wordpress.com/2011/09/16/an-open-letter-to-%e2%80%9cteachers%e2%80%9d-everywhere/

    Posted by Brent Snavely | September 16, 2011, 7:20 am
  3. Paula, dear friend,

    I am sorry that your heart hurts, and you feel overwhelmed. I think part of the function of this blog is to recognize the visionary work that you have done with children and adults for decades, and to say that it matters.

    Even in times when it seems like everything is too noisy and doesn’t make sense.

    With respect and love,

    Kirsten

    Posted by Kirsten Olson | September 20, 2011, 9:43 am

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: An Open Letter to “Teachers” Everywhere « brentsnavely - September 16, 2011

  2. Pingback: An Open Letter to “Teachers” Everywhere (from a ‘non-teacher’) « Cooperative Catalyst - September 16, 2011

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