Look at Education Issues from an Outsider

I have been “out” of the teaching field now for 10 years.  I am very aware that is a serious strike against me in the job search process.  I also have done a total of 3 interviews in my entire life (a few weeks ago, that number was only one), and although I love to bring lessons alive for children, being put on the spot in front of strangers,  to answer detailed questions about my teaching, is not my strong suit.  That is not to say I have given up trying to improve, and I believe I am improving.  But I realize the area where I have struggled to make myself “heard” is the area of modern educational challenges, core curriculum, differentiation,  RTI and educational Technology in education.  One thing that has made that a particular challenge is that it can be difficult to know ahead of time which schools are up to their neck in which current education initiatives. 
 My personal strengths lie certainly in my ability to work with all kinds of children in a friendly, supportive way, my experience is grounded in in depth study of reading and writing instruction as 1:1, small group, and classroom teacher who has worked successfully as part of a team who made learning  to read and write possible for children who may otherwise have struggled.  I  also have a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction , the level of which Common Core and other current research in education seems to call for.  I am experienced in aligning and designing curriculum to standards that were in place at that time.  I am also practical, I know I don't have all the answers, that colleagues have a wealth of knowledge in the changes over the last 10 years and I will have some learning still to do to make this happen.  I am motivated to do so.

I am a lifelong learner who has continued to pursue education issues even as a stay at home parent.  As a SAHM I have participated in parent trainings and self study around diverse learners (those with ADHD, ASD, Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, social skills deficits, and executive function challenges)  I have been very interested in Positive Discipline Strategies and am intrigued by the combination of Responsive Classroom methods with PBIS.  The methods are surely compatible and an important step to making the classroom environment accessible to diverse learners.

So then it comes down to the fact that I just haven’t been in the schools in a role other than parent or volunteer,  for quite some time now.   Instead I have been reading about innovative schools who are having success.  I wonder about the wide range of schooling going on in our county.  Are the stresses and challenges put forth by MCAS and the need to make Adequate Yearly Progress motivating schools to teach progressively or are they digging into the “practice, practice, practice” mode?  My thinking is it should be a healthy, well thought out combination of both.  Certainly the kids who need practice should get it, but the others well they should be doing something else.  But that is not just my thinking really.  One method of dealing with this dichotomy in the classroom at a school I read about last year was to look at the data.  Have a time on a certain day of the week specifically to engage in practice or reteaching for kids who don’t understand the weeks material, and provide enrichment activities for those that do.  

I have read the common core standards and I actually like what they have to say.  Not just the standards themselves, which are quite comprehensive, but also the support materials and reasonings.  I like the changes that have been made and I believe they are valid and necessary to preparing our children for life in the 21st century.   There are calls to integrate curriculum, and use overarching themes and concepts to organize curriculum over the span of a year and across grade levels.   I also believe they serve as a guideline for reforming, and revamping the practice of teaching children in engaging ways that meet the needs of our children who we hope to become lifelong learners, able to solve problems and work collaboratively in an ever changing technological world.

 In the same light I believe RTI (Response to Intervention) may be a necessary evil.  I know the school where I worked already was screening children to identify ‘at risk’ students in reading and writing before they began to struggle.  The biggest plus from RTI as a parent is that the goal is to avoid the “wait for the child to fail” approach.  I have a child of my own who has been a struggling writer since first grade (but wasn’t enough below grade level to get help).  He now just finished 3rd grade and is finally identified as needing help.   Now, when the pace is triple that of three years ago.  I can see why something needs to change, at least in this system where we are.  But I have only seen this from the parent perspective, will I think differently as a teacher?

I gained in depth understanding of how children learn to read through a yearlong, intensive, and hands on practical study of teaching reading using the methods of Fountas and Pinell.  I am skilled at teaching reading and writing skills to new learners of all levels, and am experienced at identifying and meeting the learning needs of at risk readers and writers on my own and as part of a teaching team.  With response to intervention  the first tier is a high level of classroom instruction.  I believe my experience teaching children to read as  Reading Recovery teacher(1:1), Title I teacher (small group and teacher collaboration), and classroom teacher (managing differentiated reading groups for readers of all levels) qualifies me to provide a high level of classroom instruction at this level.

 The curriculum calls for an interdisciplinary approach, actually screams for it, how else could we possibly cover all that information within a year. . .and ensure children become lifelong learners prepared for the 21st century?  My Masters in Ed is in Curriculum and Instruction: Integrating the Arts in Education, from Lesley College.   This statement is not to be read as “Fluff Degree”.   This is a Curriculum major that prepared me with tools and lots of practice for designing interdisciplinary curriculum that engage children.  It focused on content areas and carefully planned  integration of the arts in order  to engage higher level thinking skills and enable or increase learning in students at all levels of ability.  I am highly capable of creating and teaching a curriculum that is solidly grounded in the learning goals of the Core Standards.   I recently attended an assessment course which among many possible assessment tools both formative and performance type, focused on inside out lesson planning.  I was refreshed that we were encouraged to begin with what we want and need to teach and design a learning experience to achieve the learning goals, and that method very much fits with my experience and what I know about designing curriculum.

Oy.  That question. “ What did you do in your classroom to incorporate technology?”  I thought, wow, it doesn’t seem like there was any technology available to use compared to today.  What was available, I used.  Internet access made a lot possible, we used the computer as an information resource mainly.    Just one or two classroom computers with no computer lab available was somewhat limiting.   Children could use certain programs to practice math or literacy skills or to research a topic of interest.   I used a digital camera to document student work, provide students with a prompt for writing about their learning, and in multiple other ways throughout the classroom.   One big change was the use of email to communicate with parents who chose that option.  It really streamlined information sharing. I also had just learned how to create a powerpoint as an instructional tool in the classroom.  Currently I use the computer to research information, keep in contact with others, and to communicate in a blog, but I also have experience with my own website and online newsletter, which I used to share literacy ideas to other parents.

 Now, there is just Soooo much more out there for teaching.  I am actually excited, not intimidated by that, because I believe if used to my advantage technology will make my life as a teacher easier, and learning for my students more engaging.  There are tools for teachers to design curriculum and create lessons with links to materials and online resources and core standards.  Tools for organizing class information, and keeping track of who has learned what.  There are sites out there and coming along with activities designed for children to help them learn and practice common core skills and  sites where teachers can find resources and lessons aligned to the common core.  There are sights that help children organize their writing, or express their ideas as comic strips, videos, and flip books. There are ipads, and laptops, and smartboards which put creating lessons and providing engaging, goal directed learning at the teacher’s fingertips and there are resources for newbies like me to access smart board lessons and ipad apps that can be readily used to teach core skills.  I have been collecting resources to use for all these purposes in and out of the classroom.  I hope to include them here in this blog soon.

I see the advances of technology as tools that I am already learning to use to build learning in my class, much as a builder uses a nail gun, a cordless drill, or a  level to create a house.  Like the builder, it is not merely how to operate a nail gun  or drill that is important, but also understanding how to use those tools best to create an operable, safe, well designed house.  I have a firm concept of how to construct learning experiences that are built on a foundation of imperative skills, and I know how to do that in a way that will engage the 21st century learner as an active and willing participant.  I do not look at technology or the arts as add-ons in education, but as integral to the creation of meaningful, thought provoking curriculum design.

If you are reading this as a parent or even just a community member, I hope you take a minute to investigate some of the core curriculum (which is a state led initiative-states working together, not led by NCLB or other Fed influence) as well as the parent page for the site for 21st CenturyLearners  and parent resource for RTI.  There is a lot of really good stuff that should be going on in schools these days and if your school doesn’t seem to be participating or perhaps they are just not being transparent in their efforts and including parents, you should want to know why, you should let them know you are interested in the changes going on in education today and that you want to know how they are meeting those needs and how you can support them and your children.  Strangely, and sadly, some teachers and schools are taking a somewhat backwards approach, bombarding all the students in a tidal wave of practice sheets, whether they need them or not.  They are taking a bottom up approach, and claiming there is no time to teach “extra” to students who already grasp the basic skills.  I don't write this to badmouth other professionals, only to make everyone aware that strong leadership and strong community support are crucial to helping our children succeed.  The core curriculum is clear, it is a minimum, and it should not be used to limit what is taught in schools.


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