The Truth of Who I Am

"Only the truth of who you are, if realized, will set you free." -Eckhart Tolle

Raising Kids or Raising Test Scores?

I was reminded just last night by a friend that I hadn’t posted a blog for a while. Well, as I sat down to write today, I came to the realization that it has been five months since I last posted something! This means it’s been that long since I wrote about truths in my life. It doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel right to have set aside what I dream of for so long. My friend is a dreamkeeper.  Dreamkeepers are those special people who listen intently and eagerly to our dreams when we share them and store our dreams in their hearts and bring us closer to them every chance they get. I’m lucky to have a few of those in my life. We all need them, don’t we?

A wise woman described good teachers who work with students whose dreams are often overlooked or ignored by society as dreamkeepers. The good teachers of these students never once forget their students’ dreams, though, and at the center of their work is keeping those dreams safe and helping to fulfill them. The wise woman’s name is Gloria Ladson-Billings and she wrote a book about it. I highly recommend it for all teachers.

So much has been happening in the world in the last five months and, frankly, I’ve been feeling a little drained by the great space I am in as a teacher of teachers and the even greater space of the context of education. This is a scary time for education. So much is influencing education and education can influence so much. While I don’t want to step into the politics of education on my personal blog, I believe that all politics stem from what is personal to each of us. The question I keep asking myself is, “Are we raising children or raising test scores?” My sense, increasingly, is that we are losing sight of the true purpose of education.

Recently, I was in a clearly well-run classroom with a pleasant atmosphere  – the teacher was calm and respectful, the children seemed content and engaged and there was a sense of efficiency as everyone went about their business. Throughout the lesson I heard certain phrases that seemed foreign to my days as a teacher years (and years) ago. I heard things like “learning targets” and “objectives” and “goals” throughout the lesson. This was not merely the language of a lesson plan, but that of the teacher AND the students. It turns out all the kids knew their group and individual learning targets for every lesson and activity.

For a moment I thought, “Huh. How efficient.” I mean, each child knew what they were supposed to be learning. The teacher and each child could focus on this target and know at the end of the 30-45 minute segment of time whether or not and how well they had achieved their learning target. I could certainly see how all this efficiency would contribute to higher test scores. After all, the learning targets were the ones that would be assessed during the standardized test. For a moment, I questioned how I could have ever thought that I was an effective teacher in my past when this had never been part of my practice. I doubted my ability to even support the student teacher I had come to visit. What did I have to offer that could complement or improve what was happening in the room?

And then I heard a resounding scream in my gut and a WTH just inside my mouth.  I also felt overcome by an immense sadness at the thought of what we’re doing to our children on a larger scale. Again I heard the question in my mind, ‘Are we raising kids or raising test scores?” Have we forgotten that schools are filled with children? Children are new to the world and are learning about the world and how to be in it well. School for them is just a part of their human experience. They are simply having a human experience. That’s sacred. We have to preserve the sacredness of their human experiences! I wondered what happened to the kind of school experience in which a few kids might have a good idea and in the moment the teacher could help them run with the good idea? How could that be possible when there was a learning target specific to a content area for each minute of the day? What if a child came in from having greeted his new baby brother during the night? Was there room in that case for reading some books about being a big brother and for everyone to write notes of advice and congrats to the new big brother? Or would the teacher have to quickly check to see if there was a learning target for such an activity? And how about if two new Syrian students entered a classroom having just arrived in the neighborhood two days earlier. Could the teacher then take some time to help the students learn how to welcome and care for and understand what it might feel like to be in the shoes of the new classmates? Or is knowledge about the Syrian crisis a learning target for later in the school year, or most likely, NOT a learning target?

I’m worried about the state of schools and what surrounds schooling in this country. I teach teachers and I believe and uphold the value of good teachers. I consider it an honor to work alongside teachers on their journey into teaching. And I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to hear about the daily little and big wins that my former students experience as teachers. But I have to admit a hard truth that, these days, when I tell my students they can be amazing, wonderful teachers, I feel a knot in my gut as I wonder about whether or not they really can become amazing and wonderful within a system that does not support their potential. And not only does it seem like the system does not support good teachers, it seems more and more, that the system is actually attacking and depleting good teachers. This is not an academic blog so I will spare you the details, but teacher burnout is real and the teacher shortage has arrived.

I used to insert humor so effortlessly into my blogging, but it’s not coming to me right now. I feel worried and a little defeated. In the next few weeks my darling, creative, imaginative, little and mighty girl will be sitting through two sets of days-long tests and I will feel the same knot in my gut each day I send her to school. I will feel helpless and worried about the human experience she will have. And I will count on her teacher to keep her dreams while she takes her tests. I will hope for and count on the dreamkeepers at her school to smile and notice and consider her human experience on a daily basis. I have no happy or funny ending to this post today. What I cling to and am grateful to have are the dreamkeepers that wake up early each morning, get their armor on and insert the dreams of our children in their pockets and walk into their classrooms to teach. Tonight, I send out a wholehearted THANK YOU to the dreamkeepers who teach our precious young humans.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

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