Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Teaching: Clown at the Party or Daycare Provider?

With all of the media attention on our nation's problem :"education" and how it has become a problem of "bad teachers" I feel compelled to shout from the rooftops once again as I have begun doing every time I need to speak of injustice, or just plain stupidity. Wait! That's right, teachers are supposed to be "not so bright" right, incapable of the critical thinking that can facilitate even forming the questions and opinions to be shouting about? Well, not this teacher.
 Like many of the teachers I know, I am  highly educated yet I never stop looking for opportunities to learn.  I have a master's degree and decided to teach not because I couldn't do anything else but because my heart called me to use my intelligence, compassion and passionate creative drive to help children find their sparks, their lights and their will to do something meaningful in life.  Yet what do I do each day, armed with my passion for teaching kids to read, write, and learn about life's amazing opportunities for math, science and learning and sharing about other people?  I run a part-time daycare while simultaneously trying to provide an engaging, challenging, developmentally appropriate learning experience for my other students.
Yes, folks, that's what I said. I am, more than anything, a surrogate parent to many of the children who enter my room every morning. And I am not setting out to bash parents. It might sound like I am angry, and yes, that is true. I am angry at the parents who decided to send their 4 year-olds to school, fully knowing that their kids weren't ready and just planning on the idea that they might need to "do kindergarten twice." Neither of these children follows classroom expectations a good portion of the day: just yesterday, both wandered around the classroom every chance they could get, stuffing my belongings in their pockets, sneaking into the opposite sex bathroom down the hallway, chopping crayons in half and then bringing them to the rainbow carpet to throw them at friends. And when they are not absorbed in such non-learning-engaged types of disruptive behaviors, they are scribbling frenetically across their work, cutting anything and everything in to hundreds of tiny pieces of paper and tossing them to the ground, and the final kicker: tattling at every opportunity, proclaiming the injustice that someone pushed them when I just observed that they tripped over their own shoe and fell down.
Please don't think that I don't understand children. I understand that they tattle to make themselves feel more important, and that they need to feel wanted to engage in class, and that we must make class so entertaining and wonderful that they will want to participate. I am part entertainer, part story-teller, coach and provider of endless encouragement when the demands of the system force me to require much more of kids than is appropriate for their age.
Perhaps my point has gotten lost in this rant, and luckily not too many people will wander across it. I am frustrated by a lack of shared responsibility for giving kids what they need. I have some wonderful parents of children in my classroom who read to their kids, do their best to get them to bed early, talk to them and give them skills to work out their problems and who generally act like parents. I have others who simply wander along and either "don't know" what it takes to raise a healthy, emotionally stable child or can't be bothered to have the self-discipline to be a consistent parent who doesn't let a child's tantrum sway each decision.  And for the record: I am not talking about parents who are working 3 jobs, trying to make ends meet, and struggling to provide the resources their child needs. Most of those parents actually give their children the most valuable gift of all: consistency. Being a firm, loving parent requires no money at all. Just time and dedication and self-discipline.  Whose job is it anyway?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

When Values Collide: The Dilemma of Switching Schools

I hadn't actively set out to find another option for next year, though I wasn't completely surprised by my eager reaction to the news that a kindergarten position would be open in a private school I had learned about through my tutoring students. At the beginning of the school year, just days before school started, I had quickly turned down an opportunity at this school, as I had already committed to having a teaching intern this year. I also suffered from other fears: leaving and beginning anew so close to school starting, changing grade levels, and abandoning my teaching team.
So, here I am, after a wonderful first interview at this place that felt more like a peaceful retreat center than any school I had ever visited, gleeful thoughts racing, fears raging and guilt over leaving my school all intertwined in my mind. I know in my heart that I must push myself through the guilt, consider my own happiness first and foremost, and understand that I can help others best when I am peaceful and in a place congruent with my values of integrity, authenticity and a love for learning.
I know what some will say  I am bailing out of public education, abandoning the kids who need me most, running to an "easy" territory where I don't have to work as hard. Here is what I conclude: I am considering working in a place where I can truly teach, address the needs of all learners, and work harder because I am renewed by an environment where the whole child is valued.
This school has 8 basic standards that drive their instruction: Think, Read, Write, Learn Languages, Reason Mathematically, Know the Past, Think Scientifically, and Know Yourself.  The students go to Art, Music, P.E., Science, Spanish and Garden every week.  They offer scholarships to families who can't afford the tuition and are committed to including a diverse population at their school.
As I walked around the campus this week, I saw kids engaged in active learning, using technology to connect with others around the world, researching topics of interest, and kids attending a variety of special classes as I mentioned above.
This week I will return to teach a lesson and talk more with the staff about how I can contribute to the learning community there. I am excited, apprehensive, and grateful for this opportunity. Wish me luck!