Do I model learning passion for parents that I hope I live for my students? It also got me thinking about what I do to seek solutions to disappointments with my son's teachers. Do I complain or do I get involved?I want to take a minute to jot down my thoughts as a teacher and my thoughts as a parent. I've got to warn you though, my thinking feels messy, so this writing will in part be me processing my ideas.
As a teacher, I feel an incredible obligation to parents. Parents entrust me with their children. The children I teach are between the ages of 14 and 18, but they are parents' sons and daughters. Children are remarkable, incredible--the future being created before our eyes. I want to treat them that way in my classroom. I want to see them today as successful, accomplished, learned, thoughtful citizens-- as the best future I can imagine for them.
Do I have rules? Certainly: respect yourself, respect others, respect our school/community. Do I have procedures? Too many to name, but here's a short list: what to do when you're absent, where to turn in papers, where to find lesson plans, where to find extra handouts, how to ask for a bathroom pass, how to question a grade, etc. Sometimes I even make help movies about our procedures. Procedures in class help us maximize instructional time. What I'd love to do though, is have the students make movies that will help each other learn--how engaging would that be? Like Lee Kolbert, I might not always be who you think I am. Janet Allen used to clarify those stages of learning and knowing-ness. Actually, I think the stages are of skill development and they go like this:
- unconsciously incompetent (you don't know what you don't know),
- consciously incompetent (you know you're missing something),
- unconsciously competent (you can do it, but you can explain it, can't think metacognitively or reflect well), consciously competent (you've mastered the task, you can explain, you can reflect on it--you're there).
As a teacher I am constantly learning and questioning my own practice. I believe I am consciously competent, but that means that I know when I'm not doing what I could be doing. I learn by questioning what I do. Do I always model best practice? Hardly. A classroom is a practical place. Students differ. In fact, I think it was Richard Allington who once said at an NCTE conference that "100 years of educational research has taught us one thing: kids are different." What I do each day or each month or each school year depends on the students sitting in front of me. What and how I teach depends on what those students need.
The students I currently serve are very different from students in schools where I've worked before. This year I am using a very traditional Sadlier Oxford vocabulary book. The students I have speak many languages, but they need vocabulary practice. They need more structured practice than they are getting from their independent reading. So we're using vocabulary books for a time. We'll see what happens. Does that mean that I am decontextualizing all of our word study? Certainly not. But the books are definitely a compromise with my teacher-self that knows what the research says. I like the audio support Sadlier Oxford posts online, but I think my students could create better vocabulary podcasts. They are on the horizon.
As a teacher I am passionate in my beliefs about literacy instruction. I believe I was made to be a public school teacher to help students find their way as readers, writers and thinkers. If our children are to succeed in this ever expanding global marketplace they must read critically and by choice. Reading and writing are priorities in my classroom. We might not get our 10,000 hours in one year's worth of instruction. If Gladwell is correct about the making of expertise, then we have a lot of practice to do.
As a parent? I want my child to be treated fairly,with care and respect. I do not want teachers to use writing as punishment, as one of my child's primary teachers did. When my son came home and described having to write sentences about not talking or not paying attention, I was furious. When I found myself scanning the page to blog about it I stopped short. I made an appointment with the principal and brought NCTE's resolution on writing as punishment with me to the meeting. The principal assured me that a belief in Writing Project ideals was paramount, that the teacher would be spoken to. The principal copied my son's paper. Perhaps I shouldn't have allowed that. Perhaps I should have talked to the teacher first. The next week my son pulled 3 discipline cards. He was on the cloud much of the week--his classroom discipline system went from rainbow to sun to cloud (if the student was not following rules or talking out of turn he had to move his numbered card from one spot to another on the chart). Public embarrassment as discipline. Do we just not know better sometimes as teachers. Sure, there's that. Was that retaliation on the teacher's part? Or did an eagle eye suddenly spot prey? Who knows, but Collin hadn't pulled one card in more than a year, so three in a week was quite unusual.
As a parent, I want my child to have a teacher who continues to learn, who reads professional literature, who sets goals for him or herself and strives to reach them. Like Will Richardson mentioned on Ed Tech Talk, I want passion in a teacher. As a parent, I'm finding passion in short supply. I connect with passionate educators online, in virtual communities, through consulting work or with that rare colleague--I would say only 1 in 4 of my son's teachers has been passionate. The odds aren't good. How can I kindled that flame, that passion for learning and teaching?
As a parent I want my child to be engaged and I want him to have many opportunities or many paths he can take to learning. I want him to learn and develop a love for learning. I want him to be curious. I want his teachers to be able to set up scenarios that lead him to curiosity.I want him to have choices. He often does. Not many of the choices are technologically savvy, but the infrastructure for going high-tech with learning tools is being built at his school. That's encouraging. I want him to discover a curriculum that is not always worksheet bound. I want him to develop an ability to think and create for himself. Will he be able to do that if he is always filling in blanks on rip-out pages? Or are those rip-out pages part of that practice he needs? Why is he only allowed to read AR books at school?
As a parent I have more questions than answers. There are things that don't sit well with me as a teacher-parent. So what do I do?
I become visible. I participate. I offer to volunteer. Some years I've managed to be in his classroom once a week. Other years, I'm lucky if it's once a quarter. I listen. I learn. I talk to the teacher after I've thought about things a long time. In parent conferences, I question. I ask for teachers' rationales, their assessments. If they don't have them, I build a bridge with conversation.
This year I volunteered to work with the middle grades teachers on writing. We're going to have a monthly study group. We are going to learn together. We met last week for the first time. We talked about the traits of writing and then we wrote. We shared our writing and then talked about what it looks like to teach it. It was a good conversation, a good beginning to a shared learning journey. Next month we're going to talk about assessment (but the teachers don't know that yet). One of Collin's teachers was using a checklist (with points) and an FCAT style rubric to score narratives. If the students' didn't score a 6 on the FCAT rubric, the teacher took off points and dropped the grade; students also lost points on the checklist. Double whammy. So we're going to sort through the different ways you can assess student writing. I'm going to read a segment from Mark Overmeyer's book What Student Writing Teaches Us. We'll see how it goes. I'm engaged. We talking. The teachers are asking interesting questions. They are participating.
As a parent, I appreciate that. As a teacher, I'm excited. We're learning.
Image credit: This is a picture from my 1st period class. Students are sorting words/concepts by writing trait.