Friday, November 26, 2010

I Am A Teacher, Hear Me Roar?

Alternative title: Where My Balls At?

I know, somewhere Big Mama Mimi is reading that last line, shaking her head and wondering where it all went wrong. Sorry, mom! But hey, sometimes a girl's gotta say what a girl's gotta say.

Let me get to the point. You all know how I'm not afraid to say that there really are some plain old sucky teachers out there, right? I mean, it's true. (Granted, there are many of us out there who rock endlessly and yet the media loves to look the other way unless we are clad entirely in leather, essentially living in our classrooms and come with our hip hop soundtrack that magically follows us everywhere.). If you are a regular reader of the old Blog, you may also know that I often wonder whether these not-so-hot teachers blew when they first started their careers. Have they always sucked eggs or where they broken down by a system that constantly puts their needs and expertise at the bottom? Have their voices been silenced and their skills sabotaged by years of being told what to do, when to do it and how they will be punished if they do not follow through?

I don't know. Maybe it's a little bit of both. I know I spent nine years in a school where I learned a tremendous amount and was able to truly improve my practice. But there also came a time at this same school where I grew sick of the drama, the "speak when spoken to," the disregard of my knowledge. (And just like that, a snarky blog was born!)

Let me get to the point. I think education today is a dangerous business. It is easy to get wrapped up in the whole top-down hierarchy thing that seems to be our situation du jour. And it is even easier to lose your sense of self, what attracted you to the classroom in the first place, and your confidence in your own abilities and knowledge.

I know this is true for at least some of us, because it happened to me. Yes, Mrs. Mimi, she who is unafraid of saying pretty much anything, sometimes loses her mojo.

I have been a bit vague as to exactly what it is I do in classrooms these days. I am lucky enough to work for a visionary company that provides professional development to teachers. I am learning so much about the teaching of reading and writing, about how to work with adults (we can be difficult) and about myself as an educator.

Recently, I came to a sad realization about myself that made my super hero cape sag and shook my confidence. I had a particular plan for a school, knew it would work for teachers and believed in the process we were about to engage in together. But when that plan was questioned, I caved. Did what I was told. Lost my voice.

Nobody involved had bad intentions for teachers. The sad part isn't that my plan was questioned, or even that it was altered- the sad part was how quickly I lost confidence in my own knowledge, how I forgot to present my side, that I forgot about what I believe in if only for a moment.

Teaching can be brutal. I think that I am still recovering from some of my past experiences and still trying to find the voice that is so easily expressed here, but sometimes gets lost in the chaos.

So....I am now on a personal quest to build myself back up. To stop apologizing and to start trusting my teacher instincts again. Do I smell a New Year's Resolution in the making??

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Size Matters.

Ladies, am I right??

Okay, you dirty birds, Mrs. Mimi is talking about CLASS size not...well...sizes of other things.  Ahem.  Yes, class size.  We'll just go with that, shall we?

So word on the street is that Secretary I've-Never-Taught-Before-And-Therefore-Don't-Know-My-Class-Size-From-My-Elbow Duncan is suggesting that schools make some "hard choices" in these "difficult economic times."  I guess he's just realizing that tax dollars don't grow on trees and OF COURSE when you need to cut back on something, education is the first place you should look.  I mean, duh! It's only our future generation, right?

Basically, The Dunks thinks that rather than cut art and music or other things that "directly impact the classroom," schools should opt to make "targeted increases" in class size.  (You guys, he even said that he would be willing to send his hypothetical children to a class of 26 children if there was an excellent teacher in place...I mean, if that's not an endorsement...)  A few problems with his line of thinking:

(My soapbox, please!)

1.  Um, Mr. Duncan?  Mr. Secretary of EDUCATION?  When was the last time you were actually IN a classroom?  Because, guess what?  No, go ahead.  Guess.  No ideas?  Well, my friend, it's just that many schools ALREADY have class sizes of 25 and 26.  Are you imagining the jump to 30 students as being no big deal?  That means a teacher gets to spend less than 15 minutes with each child.

2.  What makes Duncan think that increasing class size is a decision that has no direct impact on the classroom?  I can't think of many other things that have a BIGGER impact on the classroom.  Um, logic much?

3.  Oh, and I guess being a Power That Be means possessing the magical ability to ignore massive amounts of data supporting small class size.  Are book burnings back in style?  Is data burning all the rage?

The Dunks also goes on to say that school districts should rethink pay scales that give teachers additional pay for advanced degrees.  Instead, he suggests that the most effective teachers should be paid between $80,000 and $125,000 a year.  Now.  Not that I don't agree that the Rock Stars of Education should be paid some serious Benjamins, HOWEVER, where is this imaginary money going to come from if we have to make "tough decisions" such as increasing class size because we are in tough economic times. Again, my friend, you are not making the sense.  But I guess when you are in charge, you don't have to.

Note: Due to lack of sleep and the reality that I can't put enormous amounts of bullsh*t out into the universe and just expect people to swallow it like some people I know, my fingers are crossed that this post is coherent.

Remember Me?

Annnnnnnnd  I'm back.  For now.

My peeps, I apologize for my absence.  Basically, Mrs. Mimi is drowning with a capital Not Enough Sleep.  I have been dissertation station every spare second of every day and, you know, working in classrooms, taking care of my Mini Mimi, writing articles for various other websites, holiday shopping and generally pulling my hair out the rest of the time. 

Um, balance much?

So, no.  I'm not so good with the whole keeping my responsibilities down to a minimum thing.  I think it's the Teacher Gene.   We love to pile things on that plate.  But hey, at least I'M in control of my own plate...because we all know that there are plenty of OTHER PEOPLE (Powers That Be, we're looking at YOU) who LOVE to get their pile on. 

I'm thinking about doing NaBloPoMo for December.  Which, for you non-blog-geeks, means posting every day in the month of December.

Shut the front door! I KNOW!  It's like all or nothing with me, but I figure if I don't go balls out, I may never post at all.


Thursday, November 4, 2010


So, all of you out there who are sick of hearing phrases such as the following:

"Teachers are resistant to change."
"Teachers are refusing to change because they don't want to have to work any harder."
"We're trying to change the schools, but the teachers don't want to change."

please put your hands up in the air.

Now wave them like you just don't care.

Except, contrary to this popular belief, we do care. 

Change is hard.  For everyone.  Last week I was on the phone with Mini Mimi's pediatrician and the nurse who answered was clearly having a hard time adapting to the change in their phone system.  When I stopped by one of my favorite restaurants to pick up a falafel (I HEART me some chickpeas), the person ringing me up complained about the change in registers.  And when I was at the hospital five months ago having Mini Mimi?  Guess what?  You got it!  The nurses were complaining about the change in diapers.

Did you see these individuals on the news being blamed for the failure of their respective businesses?  Probably not.  I'm sure the nurse was given adequate time to figure out the phones, the lady at the falafel place was given adequate support from her co-workers as she mastered the new register and the nurses?  Well, I bet someone actually listened to them because I hear they are now using different diapers.

Do you see where I'm going with this, friends?

Personally, I don't think teachers are resistant to change because we are hell bent on making sure schools fail, because, hey, who cares, we get summers off and oh by the way we need to walk out the door at 3.  I think some teachers are resistant to change because they know that in twenty minutes or two weeks or two months or two years it's all going to CHANGE AGAIN.  And again.  And again.  And one more time just for ha has and/or to possibly mess with our heads.  The Powers That Be can be crazy like that.

An example.

In my first year of teaching we used a scripted reading program, a games based math program, no particular writing curriculum and kind of made up science and social studies as we pleased.  (I know, it's probably OUR FAULT that no writing curriculum was purchased at the district or school level and that science and social studies were basically an after thought.  THAT'S why we spent so much time after school trying desperately to fill those gaps...) 

In my second year of teaching, we used a balanced literacy approach to reading and writing, began a brand new word study program and implemented a totally new math curriculum. Oh, and then the standards changed and we had to re-write all our science and social studies lessons. 

In my third year of teaching, we actually kept the same reading, writing and math curricula but, don't you worry!  No stability here, folks!  We totally changed word study programs and (you know it!) the science and social studies scope and sequence went through another overhaul which meant more time writing new units. 

In my fourth year of teaching, we adopted yet another word study program (third times a charm?), instituted a battery of new tests and began to work in committees.

In my fifth year of teaching, things stayed the same.  I got a taste of what it felt like to reflect upon the previous year and to thoughtfully improve my instruction.  I began to experience what it was like to push myself professionally, to feel confident which in turn pushed me to work even harder.  I started to....

Oh wait.  Then I was asked to switch grade levels.  Sorry professional upswing, time to start over!

On some level, because I am a sick and twisted individual who thrives on things moving at warp speed, I felt like I learned a lot by being exposed to so many different curricula, programs and philosophies.  But my teaching?  Well, that kept getting the rug pulled out from under it.  I was left to feel like I was constantly treading water, waiting to drown at any moment.  Let me just say that feeling like you are drowning does not do wonders for your professional confidence.

I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking, "Does this woman ever stop complaining? Doesn't she ever speak up and advocate for herself or her students?"

In fact, yes.  Yes I did.  Yes I DO.  But, with very few people other than my fellow Super Colleagues listening and supporting me, speaking up was a bit like pissing into the wind. 
(Yes, I went there.)

Maybe if I had been listened to.  Maybe if I had been given the chance to achieve some sort of balance.  Maybe if I had been asked what I think, what I need, what is working.  Maybe if someone realized that constant change isn't always a good thing and that perhaps by following every single trend that comes along, we've in fact crippled teachers, made them unable to adapt or see the value in changes that are made to their practice without their consideration. 

Maybe sometimes change IS bad.  And maybe, just maybe, sometimes it's NOT the teacher's fault.

Who's Peeking?