Saturday, April 12, 2014

When JOY Is Sucked Out the Door

Just this morning I was thinking about all the great projects I could do with my students and technology. Powerpoints, green screen videos, digital story writing.....these are great tools for promoting student engagement. I used to have my students write and produce a weather report that we videotaped using all their own creative backgrounds. Boy, they were really into learning about weather.....we used to write and animate scripts for giving information about topics we were learning and just plain fiction writing (check out the website), made presentations using VoiceThread, we even set up a talk show stage and made videotaped exit interviews about their year in review ...and that was just the tip of the iceberg...all in first grade. The kids were always so excited to learn more so they could create more!
Now, our use of technology is limited to using the computers and ipad to take benchmark tests repeatedly as well as regular quizzes on math and reading as mandated by our district. We are constantly being told that we need to "increase our numbers". Meaning get the kids taking more quizzes!
Every Sunday night I sit and plan for the upcoming week and am determined to "reclaim" education in my classroom. I make plans for technology projects, art projects (all that support learning) and learning games that support our standards. By mid day Monday I begin to feel defeated as I realize there just isn't time to get to these plans. Reform model education has every minute planned out for teachers and students and most of it is based on passing a test! I am so discouraged and weary.
I have always LOVED school, which is why I became a teacher. I never complained about getting up and going to work every morning and was frequently heard saying how much I love my job - even though I have always worked in a high poverty, urban setting. I planned to teach until at least age 65. Teaching, although hard work, was so much fun I couldn't imagine my life without it.
Now, I have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning and can barely stand the thought of going in to school. Although I try to make learning fun for my kids, there is so much standing in our way that my students are apathetic at best and at worst are starting to hate school. They are 6 and 7 years old! The school reform movement is all they have ever experienced in their lives. Most of them could care less about learning to read and are never actively engaged in these scripted lessons (when there is an opportunity for engagement, that is.)
Here is just one example: Every morning from the first day of school, like most teachers, I write a morning agenda on the whiteboard that includes a little story writing prompt. These are fun “imagine if” scenarios that the students are supposed to write about. Of course it is all written in first grade friendly writing so that as their reading skills increase they are more able to read the board independently or with a partner. I do not read it to the class initially and wait to pull struggling students aside AFTER they have given it their best shot. Later I go over it with the class to make sure everyone has understood. By this time of year, in the past, students came into the room and went directly to the board to read it, even before they took care of their backpack or ate breakfast. They were so excited to be able to read that it trumped everything else! There was always a crowd around the board and I had to chide them about going to their seats to read it so that everyone could see.
This year no one reads the board - NO ONE- not even the best readers. Every morning they eat breakfast and then sit there with blank stares or get busy with their friends. When I remind them about their bell work they always ask – ASK- what are they supposed to do. Every morning I have to say “read the board” and then remind them that they are readers now. Inside I’m crying. Just this simple act of walking in the room and getting started has become such drudgery that my little kids don’t even care that they are able to read. Can you imagine?!
This is education reform. I witness it daily and if you and your children haven’t yet, then good for you, you must be in a district that is not experiencing a great deal of poverty. But make no mistake, what happens in my district, happens to yours eventually. They just do it to us first because the parents don’t have as much political capital as in yours. But it will come, trust me. UNLESS we all start to scream and shout! Don’t wait; there isn’t a moment left to lose.
If you stand outside my school in the morning, when the first bell rings and listen very carefully as the doors open wide, you’ll hear it. In case you don’t recognize the sound, let me tell you – it is the sound of all the JOY being sucked out the doors.

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