Before I talk about how I got here, let me try to describe where here is.
I stand for
- Student choice.
- Democratic education.
- Authentic project-based, service, and entrepreneurial learning and feedback.
- Schools that function as nodes for learning opportunities.
- Extending students unabridged rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness at school.
- Extending teachers unabridged rights to act in students’ best interests and to experiment with differentiation unfettered by bureaucracy.
I stand against
- Hurtful curricular, instructional, managerial, and assessment policies and practices that result in a wounded, artificially stratified citizenry.
- Standardized testing.
- The notion that we “have to” do school any certain way.
I got here recently. I spent most of my career trying to get better at school, just as I spent most of my schooling. I started teaching at the same school where I student taught. It was a cushy assignment. I was warmly supported by my sixth grade colleagues – my “moms” – as well as by my supervising teacher from the previous year. I was an uneven novice English teacher with some ideas about game-based learning, technology infusion, classroom rituals, and backwards design that got the attention of my supervisors – in part because I had the principal’s son my first year. I wanted to earn good marks with my leaders. I wanted to be “good” at teaching. I put my desks in groups and circles, but ran a fairly authoritarian classroom in a fairly authoritarian school culture with mostly compliant kids. I became a NBCT and NETS*T certified teacher way too early. I read a lot of language arts books by the likes of Allington, Beers, Langer, Robb, and Romano. I didn’t spend enough time with enough different teachers. I was cliqueish. I did committee work for the school. I started getting in to data. I became an assessment coach. I got a seat on the division-level strategic planning committee and stood up for eliminating the achievement gap.
As a result of that committee work, I met the next principal with whom I wanted to work. Eventually, we were at the same school at the same time. I got into assessment in a big way. I streamlined and aligned everything in class with SOL goals. I learned how to put together a passing VGLA portfolio. I devoted myself to the DuFours, Marzano, Popham, Schmoker, Stiggins, and Wormeli – and Antonetti, whose sense of presence I aspire to still. I backwards designed to benchmarks and for engagement, and I pre- and post-assessed and spread-sheeted my way to modest victories in raising student achievement. I learned how to use SBAR and how to run and debrief a pilot program. I considered it my mission to make test-prep “engaging” by a combination of academic routines and semi-novel projects. I got to be a decent writing teacher. I learned to listen better to colleagues after they rightly called me on some bull-headed mistakes.
I loved that school and love it still. While I no longer see it as my mission to make sure kids pass tests, I am still awed by the dedication, intelligence, responsiveness, and unity of that school’s staff and administration. In fact, both of my first two schools were perfect for me in that they helped bring me here today. I couldn’t imagine better, safer places to get to know myself as a teacher and to kick around the emerging pieces of the educator I am today.
It was all working pretty well for me until the ambition bug bit.
I enrolled in an alternative licensure program for K-12 administration and supervision. In 18 months I was off to be head teacher of a new arts-infused, literacy-focused charter school for non-traditional learners.
It was the best decision I’ve made in learning how to serve my students.
I think my activism began when I had to teach kids for whom school held little value – and when I had to manage, at the same time, adults for whom the role of “teacher” held tremendous value. Those two groups of stake-holders and I made for an charged mix. Talk about catalysts. While we had some incredible attendance, literacy, and disciplinary results, we didn’t make AYP. My leadership style didn’t help bring our stake-holders together or help our school establish its viability in the state’s eyes, so it’s since been sent to the garage – by me. (Because we work to apply Choice Theory in a middle school setting, I read a lot of Glasser last year.)
Now, again, I teach. In some mix of frustration, shame, guilt, and determination to make institutional and personal amends, I excused myself from any formal leadership of the school and returned to the classroom this year. I wrestled again, this time from the classroom teacher’s perspective, with my “needs” as a teacher and my students’ needs as people. Thanks to mentors who gave me the time and space to find my better self, thanks to my wife’s support of my work, and thanks to powerful personal and professional relationships like those formed on the Coöp, I’m finally here, at my activism, reading Illich, Olson, and Sullo, drawing some comics about what novice teachers should know – about what I hold myself accountable for not knowing.
I don’t yet have the belief, core strength, energy, expertise, fight, passion, or tenacity of my colleagues on the Coöp.
I have some resolve left over from last year and a little switch in my brain that occasionally resets itself and lets me lower my head and plow through a problem towards its solution. So now I’m plowing for change in as many directions as I can. There has to be a way of teaching and learning that is joyful and powerful for students and teachers alike in a shared and dignified space of happiness and discovery. I’m taking small steps in practice, but bigger ones in writing, and holding myself accountable for making more of a difference next year. I’m task-oriented; I’m looking for help in setting my goals.
So here we are. My teaching is a wiki; it’s under activist revision; I’m eager for your help.
When did we become convinced that we can’t surpass the state and its private sector partners in helping our students learn? That we can’t find allies to reinvent public education?
When did we resign ourselves to a culture of resignation? What’s the point of a school that doesn’t affirm the humanity of its students before worrying its test scores?