Sunday, October 4, 2009

I Want a Teacher

Yesterday I met up with my A.P. Language & Composition friends. We spent a few hours at Barnes & Noble talking about lesson plans and what students need to learn. We read "I Want a Wife" by Judy Brady and got to thinking about having students write their own satirical definition essays. We thought about writing our own version too. I would write about teaching. I might start my essay just as Brady did:

I belong to that classification of people known as teachers. I am A Teacher. And not altogether incidentally, I am an English teacher.

Recently, a friend fresh from a two-week vacation met me for lunch. Bemoaning Monday's approach, she marveled at my luck. She wished she had summers off. She wished she didn't have to work on the weekends. Oh, to be a teacher, she'd love to have my schedule.

I'm still thinking about writing the essay this morning. Especially after reading Lee Kolbert's post. Kolbert's frustrated.

Back in the classroom fresh from a technology specialist position, she sees that not much has changed. The change we've all been preaching about or reading about or watching unfold online hasn't arrived in most classrooms. She wonders, why couldn't we create our own school? A school made up of our personal learning networks. What would a PLN school look like?

My literacy friends and I used to dream of our own school too. If Nancie Atwell can found a school based on her workshop principals, couldn't we? What would it look like? How could we fund it? Who would teach with us? Stop by Lee Kolbert's blog. Think about your PLN school and leave her a comment. Then take that conversation to your lunch table--what's stopping us? What's stopping us from doing as Ghandi says? From being "the change we wish to see" in our world?

Those A.P. teachers I met with? We were gathering essays for students to read and annotate. We were planning common lessons and coordinating the copies we would need to make. Kolbert notes, "Every day I pass the same teachers making oodles of copies of worksheets at the copiers. (They haven't even planned their lessons yet, but they've got tons of pages copied from their resource books.)" Nancie Atwell used to deem these types of people creationists; if the teachers are the creationists or the workers in a class then it is the teachers who are learning, not the students. Atwell started as a creationist herself:
I confess, I started out as a creationist. The first days of every school year I created, and for the next thirtysix weeks, I maintained the creation: my curriculum. From behind my big desk I set it in motion; then Imanaged and maintained it until June. I wanted to be a great teacher—systematic, purposeful, in control. I wanted great results from my great practices. And I wanted to convince other teachers that this creationwas superior stuff. So I studied my curriculum, conducting research designed to show its wonders. I didn’t learn in my classroom. I tended my creation. Today, I learn in my classroom. What happens there has changed, and it continues to change. I’ve become an evolutionist. (1998)

We need resources. I would love to give my students their reading assignments online. I would love to create a portal or a web page or a wiki of course readings to which they could responsd. I would love students to use Diigo to annotate or Delicious to note connections as they read. All of that would get me away from the copier. All of that I can and could do. If only my students had access to the Internet. If only my students could have reliable access to a computer 24/7. But they don't. So what do I do?

I do both. I show students how to build knowledge online with digital tools. I maintain a virtual classroom, a wiki, the occasional portal-o-links. I create help videos, screen-casts, to support their digital learning outside of the classroom. I use my LCD project and ELMO and digital camera and tool-box of web 2.0 tools everyday. But do the students? I am the digital creationist in my room. I do it more than students. At my school we get 2 days a quarter in a working computer lab. That is 8 days a year not to be scheduled consecutively. There is one C.O.W. for the reading teachers (a wonderful thing!). I have computers in my classroom but they are not reliable. Would you wait 5 minutes for a page to load? How much would you accomplish if Google Docs froze each time you tried to create a presentation? What if you couldn't access email?

We work around issues as much as possible. I maintain a can-do spirit. Sure, I can do it. But can kids?

How do I become an evolutionist? How can I do it without equpiment? Without a change in the zero-tolerance policies? How can I tap into resources we already have? Cell phones, unused desktops? How can I do it tomorrow? Because I haven't found the time to manage writing a grant that would either buy equipment or an alarm system to secure my portable classroom. I haven't figured out how to tap into untapped or unused district or community resources. Surely they are out there and boy do we want to use them! Couldn't we allow students to break the computers out of their pockets and get going? How can I become an evolutionists so that students are the ones creating?

If you've got ideas, I'm listening.


Atwell, Nancie. In the Middle: New Understandings About Writing, Reading and Learning. 2. Portsmouth: Boyton Cook, 1998. Print.

image: The Hunger Games summer reading collage created by Lee Ann Spillane