I don’t think it’s sinister or anything but often ‘education’ works against teachers putting their kids first. How many of us have come out of a ‘data unpacking’ meeting utterly deflated and ready to compromise all and everything we believe about teaching just so our wretched bar graphs and ratings look better? (And it never works!) How many of us have come back from an exciting professional development day ready to take on a new program that’s been presented to us as the magical ‘IT”? We jump in and get so wound up, that we forget the basics. Time to fit in this wonderful new program has eaten into everything good we were already doing and though we try to keep it all, that never works either and before you know it, it’s weeks before you’ve sat in front of your kids and read them a story.
The CLaSS (Children’s Literacy Success Strategy) program of the late ‘90s, early ‘00s was a prime example and probably the worst example because it was mandated – if you were a CLaSS school you did CLaSS and you did it to the letter. When CLaSS came in, it was two hours of prescribed literacy activities and NOTHING else. The formula was set and thou shalt not deviate. Every minute was scheduled, accounted for and 10 minute timers became a ‘thing’. The day was to start with a whole class focus and woe betides the class that ‘wasted’ time with a class gathering, sang happy birthday, welcomed a visitor or shared news.
Most good teachers did what they ought to – paid lip service to the program, used its benefits (and it did have benefits, but it was just sooo disempowering) and sneakily went on doing the things they knew were good for the kids in front of them. And ‘sneakily’ is the key word here. How wrong is it that teachers have to ‘sneak’ good teaching into their programs?
I’ve always seen it as a flaw in my teaching that I was never able to do all the programs that were expected of me, as they were expected of me. I always had to adapt, to make them my own, and to secretly feel bad when we talked as a staff about what we’re doing, ‘cause I was never doing it the way the purists did.
Now in my old age(!) I realize what I always thought of as a weakness is indeed a strength. I’m a wholistic teacher. I see the whole child, the whole class. I’m all about balance in the classroom and if that means certain ‘things’ get compromised I am absolutely fine with that. At the ripe old age of 50 I’m going to celebrate my sneaky rebellion and say the purists have it wrong – they’re out of balance.
No I don’t teach maths exactly the way the school mandates. I’m still going to include number fact drill and basic knowledge in with all these ‘investigations’. No I don’t use the Literacy Pro program exactly as it’s meant to be used, but my word, the kids are enjoying the way we use it, are chewing up books like wildfire. No I am not going to jump into focussed reading groups before I am ready and before I’ve set up proper procedures in the classroom so that the kids will continue to work while I am taking small groups.
Yes I am going to continue to take the kids out first thing for a game, a run. I’m going to keep inviting them to bring their pets in to show us, to play guitar for us, dance for us, even though we probably should’ve begun Literacy earlier than this!
I’m going to spend 3 days of my holidays fighting with this ‘Word Journeys’ book (that the school’s decided we should be using) to make it mine, to make the program work in my classroom with my kids.
No my assessment procedures are not perfect and neither is my collection of data. But I never have trouble knowing what each kid needs to learn next; I can always tell each one what they’re doing right and where to next. I never have a problem informing parents where their child is at.
And yes, yes, yes, I’m going to remember to read to these kids every day, even though it’s often the first thing that goes when time gets tight.
We all have to make our way each day. To get to the end – usually exhausted – but with a sense of satisfaction and purpose. That not only may kids in my grade have learnt a thing or two, they enjoyed being here. They felt themselves valued and they felt part of a group that values learning, sees both failure and success as a means to make the most of that learning, and values relationships where they both give and receive.