Monday, August 15, 2011

Beating Bliss

I love the title of this post because it is so ambiguous.


Teaching is a gift that fills me with immense gratitude but there are aspects of it that make me want to scream. And as my summer days drift away I've realized how long it takes to heal from those occasional beatings.

The 2010-2011 school year was probably the toughest in my 15 years because the pressures of teaching to the test instead of teaching to learn have seeped into even our school, formally a bastion of authentic exploration and child centered learning.

We are all feeling the pressure of the American educational system which creates an environment wherein passing standardized tests is considered the Holy Grail.  We are stepping away from trusting that teachers are capable, experienced and knowledgeable enough to tailor lessons to meet the individual needs of each child.  Instead scripted text books and programs are becoming de rigueur.

Stripping educators of the right to be creative artists and forcing us to become homogenized, one size fits all automatons devoid of intelligence is insulting and infuriating.  All the while the test makers, who also create the text books needed to pass said tests, are happily counting their money.  It's all about making a buck - not education.

And the situation does not seem as though it is going to improve any time soon.  Our students thrived academically this past year.  They really did. But I mourn the fact that we did not have time to engage in deeper explorations as we have in the past with our investigations into the hot dog stand, the library, the bakery, hotels or teeth.

In the 2011-2012 school year I am committed to find a better balance between the hearts and minds of our students.  It is not an easy challenge but I am determined to fight for the rights of children who are paying the price of losing their childhoods stressing over achievement instead of taking in the small wonders all around them.


Betsy said...

I do hope you find that balance! You certainly don't want to loose the heart of it! The photo above is hilarious! :) Happy new school year!

Pat Hatt said...

Yes half the bull they make one learn
Is useless as life continues to turn
But it's become all about the grade
I doubt it's going to fade
I can reguratate word for word from a book
And get a nice big A at my nook
But then I let that slip away
AS i go about and play
So what is really the point
A balance should be found in every school joint

patti said...

Thank you for this post & for being the teacher you are. Even with 9 years between my girls, there is truly a differnt way the schools are teaching. Anna had more "fun time" activity during school, and Calli has more learning & review for all subjects. I believe that music & arts need to be allowed more but my school district doesn't. (big sigh) We find things after school to make up what I feel they should be having in school.
It's great to be a kid. Let them be kids. Life is too short.
Enjoy the rest of your summer. And thank you again for all you do.

Steve Reed said...

Ugh! Standardized tests are a nightmare! Because children, after all, are not "standardized" themselves. They all respond differently to learning and the teacher's challenge is to help awaken their nascent abilities and interests -- at least, that's how it seems to me.

Balance must be found!

By the way, you should totally make that your Facebook profile pic. (If it isn't already.) I love it!

Pauline said...

Working in the system as I do, I know what you mean about scripted teaching. There is little room for creativity or helping a child learn to think on his/her own. There needs to be a massive change in the thinking of those who control education before schools themselves will improve. Meanwhile, the kids and the teachers pay the price of a faulty educational system based on profit. The rallying cry of "what's best for the children" is no more than words in the wind.

Gary said...

Thanks Betsy. I start the school year refreshed and exhilarated with hopes of being perfect but slowly exhaustion sets in and my Superman intentions become less lofty and more realistic. I do think we do a good job but I suppose it's only natural to want to strive for more. The photo was taken at Grounds for Sculpture near my home. An incredible sculpture park - if you are ever in the area it's worth a visit.

Pat - I always feel that it is such a privilege when you drop a rhyme based on one of my posts. Will I ever get over that feeling? Education is moving into some worrisome places. Check out this link - - real live teachers will one day be replaced by computers!

Patti - Teachers and schools are always getting beat up for not helping children achieve in a competitive world market while at the same time funds for programs like music and art are slashed and class size continues to rise. Teachers with large class sizes are basically doing crowd control. Forgot about individualized instruction or getting to know each child. Yet, dedicated teachers continue to put their best foot forward. But I guess it doesn't matter when computers will be taking over anyway. Won't that be brilliant?

Steve - Standardized tests really do not capture what is happening in the classroom. There is so much more happening than they can ever assess. Assessement is supposed to be used to drive instruciton and I am not sure how these tests do that. And it is so frustrating to see teachers spending so much time teaching kids how to take these tests. I certainly understand why they do it but when those teachers become deluded into thinking they are actually TEACHING I want to scream. Call BS, BS - do what you need to do but let's not fool ourselves. AHHHHHH! ...About the picture, it is my facebook pic indeed. Cracks me up.

Pauline - As a second grade teacher I am sure you are dealing with more of these pressures than I am in K/1. But I hear that even we are going to have to start weekly testing. Can you imagine?! Poor kids.

Barbara said...

It's really very sad for both teachers and children that education has become so rigorous at such a young age. Whoever heard of standardized testing in kindergarten in the days when I grew up? We concentrated on learning how to play and how to socialize, skills that are lacking in many of today's adults. I hope your school will wisely let you strike a balance so as to retain much of the curriculum that has made your class so special for so many children.

Gary said...

Barbara - I don't know why I am stressing out because I have seen this before. New programs come and go with a whimper and I always find a way to do what I believe is best for the children regardless. I will again. Hmmm, perhaps it is because I stress out that I find a way to do that? Thanks for the kind words of support - I can always count of you!

Hilary said...

Love the photo.

I suspect that any child would be quite blessed to find that they have you as their teacher. The system is tough to beat, but no matter the circumstances, every child has that one teacher that made a difference. I'm willing to bet that you're that teacher who will be remembered by many... despite the restrictions.

Gary said...

Thanks Hilary, I would love to be that guy and hope I have been for my students.

Tess Kincaid said...

I adore this photo, Gary! Best wishes for a great new year. x

Lynda said...

I agree that too much emphasis is placed on testing in schools. I believe as you that we need to place trust in our educators.

Loved spending time with you at Grounds for Sculpture!

Gary said...

Thanks Tess. It won't be long now.


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