Thursday, April 24, 2008

Teacher Voice

Today I had the opportunity to stand in the regalia that is the office of the Governor of North Carolina and watch folks who love education as much as I do gather for the final celebration of the Teacher Working Conditions Survey. Since 2002, North Carolina teachers have had the opportunity to answer questions about their teaching environments relative to trust and respect in their buildings, resources that are available, and ideas about professional development. This year 103,934 teachers (86.46%) responded to the survey.

Each school that had 100% participation had the opportunity to win prizes for the school as well as for individual teachers from those schools. I watched today as members of the North Carolina Association of Educators, LEARN NC, the North Carolina Teacher Academy, the State Board of Education, and three business partners, AT&T, BB&T, and NCBCE gathered to draw names from a huge blue and green barrel built by local middle school students.

I couldn't help but watch the little slips of paper, over 50,000 of them, that held teachers' names (mine was in there, believe me!) And I was thinking about what those slips represented. Each was a teacher's voice, a teacher's opinions, a teacher's concerns. As the barrel rolled over, I watched that paper and thought about the enpowerment of educators, no longer quiet and speaking only to our students behind closed doors and closed minds. It is apparent that what we think matters, and for that I am extremely thankful.

See for more information.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

There's Hope...

I had the pleasure today to present to a group of prospective teachers. My presentation was entitled "Why Teach?" but I was preaching to the choir. These guys have already made their decisions. Student teachers, you ask? Education majors?

No...the group of young people I worked with today are high school juniors! It was an absolutely amazing experience. I think back on my junior year...I made a 3 on an Algebra test (out of 100), I broke my nose on the school bus, I "forgot" about my history report because I had to cheer at a basketball game (with a "mask" on my nose,) I went to the prom with my sister's future husband, and he barely said three words (okay, so he talks now), but mostly I remember that college, not to mention my career, were light years away. (Did I know what light years were then?)

Most of the aspiring educators attending the Teaching Career Day at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro are members of one of two groups: the Future Teachers of America (FTA) or the Teacher Cadet program. According to the National Education Association, "FTA clubs assist middle and high school students in exploring teaching as a career choice, provide a realistic understanding of teaching, and encourage students from diverse backgrounds to think seriously about the teaching profession. FTA academies integrate a structured curriculum with classroom-based activities to prepare high school students for college teacher preparation programs." The North Carolina Association of Educators has a similar statement relative to the Teacher Cadet program in our state: "The Teacher Cadet Program is considered an introduction or orientation to the teaching profession. Its main purpose is to encourage students who possess a high level of academic achievement and the personality traits found in good teachers to consider teaching as a career. An important secondary goal of the program is to provide these talented future community leaders with insights about schools."

While these descriptions are official, what I saw today was inspiring. The gleaming eyes of my future colleagues were infectious as the students asked questions about classroom management and instruction as if they already had an education course or two under their belts. I could envision them in classrooms all over our state, and using this "grow your own" model of recruitment, I expect I will someday.

The title of the Career Day was "Exploring Your Future as a 21st Century Teacher." The truth is that these 17 year olds are much more competent in technology than I am. And I'm sure they have three times the energy. I think about our schools of the future...I think back to those faces today...and I feel a great amount of hope for this profession that I love.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Can We Just Go to the Gym?!

For the past two days we have been administering Mock Standardized Tests at our school. These assessments look just like the ones our students will take in May - same number of questions, same testing-ese (phrases like "tone of the passage" and "mood of the selection".)

I have been chosen to administer the read-aloud versions of these tests to small groups of students. Today was especially pleasurable - have you ever read a math test aloud?

Anyway, today the entire school was finished with testing when I was still reading, "What is the slope of x+ 4 = 2?" or something like that. Soon all of the students in the school were switching classes with the exception of the students who were listening to me. My own remedial reading students, who would have been on their way to my classroom, were diverted. They were told to go to the gym for a period of basketball. I pictured them running with glee when they heard that news.

I was done "reading math" (oxymoron) by the time my second class was on the way. Unfortunately, they passed my first class in the hallway. They all felt compelled to say, "WE WENT TO THE GYM!!!" So my next class came in, and like a rehearsed chorus they asked, "Can WE go to the gym? The other class got to go. That's not fairrrrrrrr!"

"Guys," I said. "I'm not testing anymore. Let's get some work done." One look at those faces, and they had me. I started thinking...I teach remedial reading. These are the kids who are pulled out of everything fun for tutoring. So I grabbed the nearest adult body, the counselor, and asked her to ask the PE teacher if I could bring my kids to the gym. I told her "my kids never get a break. We're always talking about 'the test.'"

She walked down the hall and soon turned around to give me the "thumbs up." My students looked like it was Christmas! I wouldn't let them run, but their hearts were racing. And they were grinning like the tests they had taken an hour before were only distant memories and not the horrible experience they had just lived through.

Later today, my sixth graders were typing letters to their elementary school penpals in the media center. Jonathan's letter ended like this: "I wish the state tests were over. That's all we talk about."

Immediately I felt bad. I've caught myself doing it: "You need to know this because it'll be on the test." Students these days feel like they go to school for one reason - to take a test. So let's say that someone of high authority realizes what Barack Obama has said, "No Child Left Behind? They've left the money behind. They've left the common sense behind" and they do away with it. Or let's say they at least revise it to make sense. Will our students ever know school as it was meant to be? Will they enjoy art, music, and gym classes without guilt? Will I ever be able to give assignments that are just fun and are not meant to help students bubble in correctly?

I recently heard a quote on television: "They're just children. They should be carefree."

I wish I had taken Jonathan's class to the gym. I think he needs a break.