Saturday, October 07, 2006

Is there ever a moment when we are actually doing enough?

My school district has fallen in love with this school. We had a day long in-service during one of our so-called "work days" just before classes started up again. From 8:30 am to 3:00, we listened to the principal/superintendent of Adlai E. Stevenson High School tell us how his school was fabulous, and had great test scores and how everyone went to college after attending his school.

It could have been inspiring, but instead, what could have been a two-hour revving up of our engines, ended up being a day that dragged on and on; one in which we couldn't leave, since we had to sign in and sign out for the day.

It could have been inspiring, a way for all of us to feel as if we were a part of the decision-making process, but instead it was something else the district was telling us to do.

Professional Learning Communities are a great idea, if they're implemented correctly. However, does the district think telling us we HAVE to buy in to this way of thinking, is going to be effective?

An example: our English department is being told that we have to have common lesson plans, common assessments, common homework, common plans for the year. I'm surprised they haven't suggested common dress and hairstyles.

I agree that we need to have curriculum in line with other teachers in our grade level, and vertical alignment as well. However, when I started at Unnamed Junior High School, I was handed a textbook, and a file cabinet full of former teachers' lessons and told to "go to it." We were on our own. We've all been on our own. We were expected to know how to develop lessons on our own, taking into account our different students' abilities. We were professionals, and we were up to the task.

So, moving from that to perfect alignment is going to take some time. It will definitely take some extra time. Add to that the difference between teaching a GATE class and an at-level or below General class, and there's quite a bit of work involved. I believe it's valid work, and that we should not all be teaching in isolation. However, we are being given no extra time, and no extra pay to work together to make this alignment happen. None.

This is where the frustration comes in. Our school has the highest AYP in our district. Every year we improve our score. Last year we jumped 16 points.

But it's not good enough.

Nope. We just had another presentation last week.

"It is no longer acceptable to let a student choose to fail. It is your responsibility as a teacher to make sure that student learns. Yes, there are lots of excuses about family, living situation, poor attitudes, and second language learning; but they are just that: excuses."

Then we were shown a video highlighting those kinds of teachers we see in Movies-of-the-Week. You know the kind, they come in early, stay late, give up their lunch breaks, go to the students' homes, work with the students one-on-one, in lovely spacious classrooms, and are always cheerful and full of hope. They have no meetings to attend, other than parent conferences, no papers to grade, no BTSA events for three hours in the afternoon, and of course, none share half a classroom with another teacher, due to lack of housing space.

Instead of inspiring us, it pissed us off. Where are we supposed to get more time? How are we to get to those kids who refuse to complete their work, or come in at lunch for help, or show up at the special tutorial class developed for them? How are we to take responsibility for parents who won't take the time to check a reading log or that homework has been done, or even check that students have written down the assignments?

We already do go the extra mile at our school. Teachers already are in their classrooms, without pay, in the mornings, at lunch and after school, helping students. And, most of our students do well. Very well.

Where did the idea come from that students shouldn't be held accountable for their academic actions? That if they don't do their homework, we should give them more time? That if they don't do their reading, we read aloud to them? That if they get a poor mark on a test, it doesn't mean they didn't study, it means the teacher didn't facilitate their learning skillfully enough?

Oh, and the approximately 8% COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) sent by the state to our district? They have offered 1.5% of it to us this year.

That is, if we agree to allow an increase in class size in our elementary schools.

But work more! Harder! Better! You can never do well enough!

If it wasn't for my wonderful students, I'd have made a beeline out of this profession long ago.