Day 5: This Must End! How WE can move education forward. #AprilBlogADay Challenge
Prompt 5 : What practice, tradition, instructional strategy or anything else "must die". What needs to stop in order for Education to move forward.
There are many things that I like, love even. I like the workshop model and UbD, I like many of the methods Dr. Janet Allen and Kaylene Beers have shared with the world. Nancie Atwell and my mentor while at NYU Maureen Barbieri laid a solid foundation of practices that have served me well. I ambushed Tom Romano (read THIS then THIS) at NCTE a few years ago and introduced myself and gushed about how much his writing and ideas have influenced and inspired. I have learned to modify and make their work my own and I have developed my own methods that have served my students well over the years.
In talking with Chris (@the_explicator) today I was struggling with the prompt. My mind went to broad things like the divide between public and charter schools here in NY, but as we quickly refined I came to this: the thing that has to end for EDUCATION to move forward is for educators- teachers and administrators alike to stop thinking of students as "these kids" and start thinking of them as "our kids".
When I began teaching, I worked in what some would say is the toughest neighborhood in NYC. We had 150 kids that first year and a teaching staff of 9. Our kids came to us from a range of backgrounds and experiences that had led them to alternative high school: teen parents, gang members, illegal immigrants, drug dealers, kids who were homeless and living in shelters with their family, kids who got lost in giant NYC schools and slipped through the cracks in the system, kids who were super smart and bored and stopped working because were lost in their school, kids who were bullied because of their sexuality or how they looked...
I wanted to work in alternative schools because I believed, and still do, that all children deserve great teaching and educators who will work hard for them. It had seemed to me that programs that push inexperienced and undertrained teachers into the highest need schools were doing students a disservice (I'll qualify- there are some amazing teachers that come out of TFA and NYC TF, but it takes time and many drop out..and there are crap teachers that come out of fancy programs like NYU, Teacher's College at Columbia and Bank Street that are also crap teachers.) There were colleagues over the 5 years I was at that school who would talk about our populations as "these kids" with distain and sometimes resentment. "These kids can't be taught." "These kids can't learn, that is why they are here." "These kids are a waste of my time." I heard it all, from adults who for many kids were a first line of defense and they had no interest in defending, teaching, caring for our students. Over time I became very vocal when I heard "these kids" uttered in staff meetings. "Not these, OUR kids." I am sure some of my coworkers didn't like it but I didn't care.
It was hard to leave alternative schools to go to a more mainstream "traditional" school. 9-12th grades (though I came in year two- only a freshman and sophomore class). We are a limited-unscreened (no test required to get in) school even though we are specialized- all students who come can learn to code and many will be able to earn a CTE certification upon graduation in addition to a diploma. They don't have to take a test to get in and we don't look at test scores. Our students who live in public housing learn along side affluent kids from families on the Upper East Side. They all have equal access to education and training that has historically been limited to the brightest (and the best test takers!). Occasionally I hear those dreaded words "these kids" and "those kids" and I have the same reaction even though the context may be different. At this school I try to model the language that I think is the best way for teachers to talk about students rather than being bossy. :-) Always: our kids.
In order for education to move forward we must stop thinking of children as a product, number or percentage. School should not be thought of as a business (and be privatized). They are all our children and it is our responsibility as educators to be authentic and real with them, to support them through ups and downs and to be their greatest advocates once they step inside our school. These are OUR kids and should be thought of as such.