"Nor do I admire their belief that schools will get dramatically better if they compete, just like businesses do. Maybe people in business win by competing, maybe competition produces better mousetraps, but that is not the way that schools function. Schools work best when teachers collaborate with one another to identify students who need extra attention or a different program or to mentor weak teachers; schools work best when they collaborate around common goals. Schools are not trying to build a better mousetrap. They are trying to educate our citizenry. Schools are not businesses, and we will continue to flounder so long as we put politicians and business leaders in the driver's seat on education policy." — Diane Ravitch, Ed Week blog, Dec. 1, 2009
What did I want to accomplish that I didn't get done?
When I started teaching the goal that was foremost in my mind was to help students who, like me, had difficulty learning. I wanted to spend time with children whose ability was average or above average, but whose achievement was lagging. I wasn't able to fully verbalize that goal until years after I started teaching. When I look at how I organized and ran my classrooms, though, it was always with the idea of helping the low achievers along.
When I divided my students into groups for instruction - whether it was 17 first graders, or 38 third graders - the groups with the fewest students were always the ones who required more attention and support.
When I scheduled times to work with my groups, I always made sure I worked with the students who needed more help daily.
When I analyzed what I taught, I focused on the students who didn't achieve what I had set out to teach and tried to figure out how I could reteach it so they could learn...or how I could reinforce it so they could remember.
There were days when I neglected other students...the average and above average achievers. I didn't intend to do this...it just happened because I was spending more time trying to figure out how to reach the students who were struggling [Was that the best way to run a classroom? No, definitely not. If I had it to do again, I would spend more time at the beginning of the year developing ways to better use the time I had available so I wouldn't neglect students simply because they were making progress].
For the last sixteen years, almost half of my 34 year career, I have worked with struggling students almost exclusively. I worked with small groups of students...and individuals. I was able to focus on specific problems. I talked to classroom teachers about the students...what were the students doing in their classroom? What were their weaknesses? What were their strengths? What should I focus on to most support what was going on in the classroom? As part of the team focused specifically on one child at a time, I hope that I was able to achieve the goal of helping low achievers grow a little more than they would have without my help.
So, why have I put this under the "what I wanted to accomplish but didn't" title? I helped some kids, but not all of them who I worked with. I was successful with some, but there were others who failed to thrive in school, despite what I tried to do. Was it my fault if they didn't succeed? Yes...and no. I'm not all powerful. I'm a normal human with strengths and weaknesses of my own. I couldn't work miracles even though I wanted to. But I could have done better than I did...
The country is moving...has moved...in the wrong direction. We have, as a nation, lost our commitment to public education. The over reliance on testing - teaching to the test, focusing only on the "standards" which are covered on the test - has damaged public education and the teaching profession. We've stood by and let it happen. We've been sucked into the myth that "higher standards" means better education when we should know better...harder does not always mean better.
We've allowed ourselves, as educators, to be locked out of the conversation. We've counted on our professional organizations, honor societies, and unions to speak for us and they have let us and our students down. The situation is now intolerable. Are there teachers who thought No Child Left Behind was good for children or who think that Race to the Top will help public education in the United States? I'm sure there are some...but most of us witnessed first hand the damage that has been done to our profession and our students. No Child Left Behind opened people's eyes to the great inequities that exist in public education...and that was good, but instead of easing the inequities, it increased them. The weakest of our students were saddled with the lowest form of learning simply to pass the test. Their frustrated teachers were forced to teach in ways many of them knew were inadequate, simply to keep their schools from being punished. Race to the Top is continuing the damage to the weakest students by labeling them as failures and punishing their school administrators and teachers.
As individuals teachers have very little power to make changes on a large scale. However, we can work to change the conditions for our students and our colleagues.
This blog has been an attempt to change people's minds...and increase their understanding. In some ways, it has succeeded.
So, have those goals been accomplished? No...no matter how much I did, there was always something more to be done. I'm not blaming myself for that...I did what I could at the time, but now, at the end, I see that I could have done more.
I can't go back and change the past...and I have very few regrets about what I did with and for students and their teachers, but there is always more to be done.
We need to work together...to collaborate to improve public education, as Diane Ravitch wrote in the quote I included at the beginning of this post. We need to collaborate with each other to improve our instruction...and we also need to collaborate to improve public education in general. We have to work together to change what's being done in the name of education. We have to support politicians who support public schools. We have to speak out against those who would use faulty logic to privatize public education.
Maybe in the next phase of my career I can accomplish more...