I hit a moment this weekend where I wanted out of the urban public school environment. It wasn’t the kids. It wasn’t the teachers. It wasn’t the principal. It was the policies.
"This is what you signed up for," a teacher told.
But that’s not entirely true. Teaching was different a decade ago. It’s not the same profession anymore. Not really. We do our best to hack the system. We try our hardest to be quietly subversive. Still, the system has changed. Teaching isn’t the same right now as it was ten years ago.
Here are some examples from my district:
- Less Teacher Autonomy: When I began, we had to turn lesson plans, stick to a loose curriculum map and follow a general set of best practices. Now, we have to use the same gradebook format with a set number of grades inputted. We have a lesson plan format. I’ve been through “tights” that included a rigid system for organizing our blackboard, setting up word walls and grammar walls and, more recently, anchor charts and data charts.
- Death of Inquiry: Lesson plans now have to fit into a rigid “gradual release of responsibility,” meaning each lesson begins with direct instruction, followed by guided practice and then independent practice. Students aren’t beginning with their own questions. Nor are they constructing their own knowledge.
- Rigid Curriculum: It’s difficult to do project-based learning or thematic units in a newer system where students do one “power standard” per week with a test every Thursday. Does it seem like linear equations, graphing and solving for x fit together? Too bad. We’re teaching each one separately.
- More Segregation: There was time when ELL students got language help and then had a chance to learn with their non-ELL peers. That’s gone. Now, they have a rigid 4 hour language block and many of them remain in ELL from kindergarten through eighth grade.
- More Basic-Level Intervention: I’m watching students spend more time than ever in isolation on Success Maker and Jamestown Intervention. I understand the need for early intervention. I’m just not sure that a leveled kill-and-drill computer program will help them attain skills and understand concepts.
- Death of Social Studies: Social studies is now becoming nothing more than an informational reading class. For example, the number of social studies teachers specifically teaching the closed reading strategy not in order to increase learning, but as the learning target itself. Gone are the days of debates, mock trials and Socratic Seminars in social studies.
- Death of Science: Now that science is tested, students spend more time reading about science rather than observing it. They’re not conducting experiments as often. And, like social studies, they’re spending more time “supporting reading” (i.e. learning to read rather than reading to learn) than ever before.
- Death of Electives: Meanwhile, I’ve watched as students went from two electives to one, often losing the elective to go to a math or reading intervention class. Just watch, it won’t be long before I’m asked to do Success Maker with computers and journalism students.
- Death of Critical Thinking: Students aren’t asked to think divergently. They’re not asked to solve problems creatively. For all the push of “math discourse” and “problem-solving” the teach-to-the-test mindset has meant that many teachers are doing sample test questions in every lesson. We can’t claim to support a pedagogy of critical thinking while staking teacher evaluations and student placement on a pedagogy of standardization.
- Increased Testing: Students in my school district now spend six weeks a year testing. Add to this the weekly testing (in the name of Common Assessments and the bastardized version of PLC) and they’re spending more time than ever taking tests.