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Sarah's Notes


25 in the collection  

    Simple Truth

    June 1, 2007

    School is about over for the year.

    After a certain point it got harder and harder to write about teaching in my 1st grade because things got harder and harder personally in many ways hard to reconcile with what might be, should be, could be. In the daily realities.

    And too, I began to agree that nothing I had to say was up to the standard. Of someone.

    My intention was to try to put a human face on NCLB realities.
    Tonight it's a very exhausted disillusioned teacher before you.

    I hope others cared to know how absurd these things are and would look beyond my many obvious frailties and limits, but I know that some things I can't share that are features of teaching, some things are contextualized in complicated ways requiring vast writing skills to convey adequately and fairly and some things are just so darn hard to write. Can anything I know ever be understood in another's context? Within these limitations I've suffered greater amounts of angst, need, illness, sensitivity, anger, frustration, hopelessness and that gets in the way of writing something to another. It was suggested to me it is all just persuasion. (And if you have been reading I really appreciate that you are.)

    When you start to think in terms of this, I'm no longer in the 99% of anything. I'm a teacher in an under performing school who wasn't granted permission to think aloud. Nothing I write has the reflection and editing the task requires. Easily I'm called out on that. And it contains emotional furor. Again, guilty. I write on the fly because teaching, my momming and dealing with serious health issues doesn't give loads of time to cull together thoughts, the changes are going down in my education world in real time minutes, and it felt compelling to let others know, now. Before public school is redefined and it's accepted as "the way it is". Nothing is the poetic written construct the task required. I'm sorry for this.

    I was required in my school situation into silent compliance, but I still tried to describe the process in a few written pieces. It seemed a good idea at the time.

    At some point this year, as an example of trying to be a good teacher, I attended a staff meeting and aired my very real concerns about grouping our kids putting 1st graders into a now leveled ELD program. This was something which actually sounded like a good idea to our organization that cited the "audit" we paid (required) to have, after failing to get all our sub groups up to the scores required on the state test. Though it takes an hour daily to do this program (stolen time from things like science and in my case extended math and arts), levels were derived fairly poorly, children were not allowed to change levels due to more on the run poor program designing. That was awful as children couldn't advance as they often do at age 6, in bursts. Our language development probably was not done well anyway with children placed in workbook programs to ostensibly 'maximize oral language gains.' What we know about language acquisition done in context of literacy rich places shows up in my data to be true, canned content in workbooks appears to stifle children's learning vocabulary and skills in meaningful contexts. Anyway a peer asked me loudly at this meeting where I raised concerns to essentially shut up. So much for dialogs. Open hostility to a fellow worker was EMPLOYED by the system to get the job done. Fun days this year. I love shunning.

    And she followed this with "this is not the time, we don't need to listen to what you have to say. We are here to do what they tell us to do. It's inappropriate to bring up anything."

    She was so forceful and brutal I addressed her directly, very, very unusual for me. Stated that I'd rather be anywhere else doing anything else given any choice. To have to explain simple things to a system that should "get it" isn't fun. But I knew it was hopeless. She was the mouthpiece for 'the word'. I believe it is now okay to say 'shut up' in teacher meetings if said to someone who is raising critical, meaningful thoughts. Wow. And worse I think some felt with her, I was the problem. She now will not speak. Great.

    Okay, now a few months later it is a real time ELD mess that affects her too, this issue blossoming and my 25 years of looking at literacy and language acquisition stack up pretty well to her 7 it would seem. But who cares, I wasn't talking to win. For some people/teachers, I learned, what you have to say better sound like what you get "told" to do. My motivation was to try and help get the damn program they demanded into place with better chance of making a horribly poor canned thing actually friggin work, and I frankly detest talking in a teacher meeting. But I take even worse the imposition of something that didn't/doesn't/won't work while we breezily site the "successful implementation." This appears at present a national preoccupation. I do wonder what young people make of us. Liars at best. A game at worst.

    It might be interpreted that I was or must be if holding another view of school, lazy, intellectually shallow, marginal, disinclined to change, uncooperative, old school, impulsive, flawed, old, unskilled, de-skilled, eccentric, less than factual, even I am now second guessing everything I ever thought or held to be true, but it might be I had a fairly good critical point. I don't know. It was all mandated into life. And looks like a hydra. I'm at a point I can barely speak. What I feel, think , know is so undervalued as to be annoyingly marked down to just functions of my personal pathology. It's not easy to work and live in such a state. What I have to give is seen as just totally useless.

    Frankly I am living up to the prophesies. I feel like I'm just stupid. The kids I teach are the poor and we seem to be at the place in America the Pope predicted to Clinton....the rich have so much they need nothing and the poor have nothing left to give. Quoted from here.

    The same spirit of creative generosity will help you to meet the needs of your own poor and disadvantaged. They too have a role to play in building a society truly worthy of the human person -- a society in which none are so poor that they have nothing to give and none are so rich that they have nothing to receive. The poor have needs which are not only material and economic, but also involve liberating their potential to work out their own destiny and to provide for the well-being of their families and communities. America will continue to be a land of promise as long as it remains a land of freedom and justice for all.

    The arts are marginalized because the voice offered by the arts for poor children means what, asking for opportunity and fairness? It is to what end? What I offer has lost it's value as surely as the potentials we are contemplating shipping back to down to Mexico. And my kids are citizens damn it. Ones I see as necessary for our survival.

    My daughter sent me this tonight to further focus my ever kudzu creeping writing. I hope she will allow me to use it. She titled her E-mail, One of the Maddest Things I've Ever Heard.

    Wow, just read this on my google reader; I have to share. Bill O'Reilly was doing an interview with John McCain:

    Bill O'Reilly: But do you understand what the New York Times wants, and the far-left want? They want to break down the white, Christian, male power structure, which you're a part, and so am I, and they want to bring in millions of foreign nationals to basically break down the structure that we have. In that regard, Pat Buchanan is right. So I say you've got to cap with a number.

    John McCain: In America today we've got a very strong economy and low unemployment, so we need additional farm workers, including by the way agriculture, but there may come a time where we have an economic downturn, and we don't need so many.

    O'Reilly: But in this bill, you guys have got to cap it. Because estimation is 12 million, there may be 20 [million]. You don't know, I don't know. We've got to cap it.

    McCain: We do, we do. I agree with you.

    (Source: Crooks and Liars)

    Bill O'Reilly is 90% ridiculous for the sake of being ridiculous, but really. The number of people who watch his show leaves me dumbstruck, as do the guests he can reliably get on there to talk with him. I mean, this is a serious presidential candidate agreeing with a man who, not three seconds before, essentially said that his platform is for a theocratic, racist patriarchy. I dunno. I think if I were running for president--I might interrupt, right there.

    Again I never felt more unwanted or abandoned than this year.

    Just tape scapegoat on my tail. Nor have I seen something just suck like this has, a word that has no place in any teacher piece.

    I used some really awful mandated materials this year. As a teacher, this was reflective of many shifts in teaching universes. Hailed as "same page", "standards based", "directed". There was no personal way to pull through and feel the creative, love based happiness I used to feel teaching. Here is a pricelist of my reading materials. Each child had 5 anthologies a piece. I had most of this list, ( just not the lower part of the list- the literature) another Avenues program, new Social Studies, math... look at these prices.

    What I had to say this year was viewed sytematically through a lens of distrust and intimating poor intention on my part. But I asked myself to 'step up to the plate' this year, at least speak to teaching very aware that my flaws outweighed my truth for a great many. Me too. Wanted to try to be someone who expanded horizons, reached out. Tried to be there. Was "transparent" in mind and heart. Did my actions speak louder than the words? Neither was apparently worthy enough that I could be seen through this smokescreen going on. When pseudo-science created a notion/rule that by 2014 all children will be proficient or advanced, or else, it was believed and adopted in my world as " a way". What utter nonsense. On it's face.

    Because I'm not so well physically and I like to do more positive things than actually writing about canned workbooks and losing teacher control, I also shared regularly about books I like to use in teaching this year as an escape, on daily life things, kept a blog and my usual field notes teaching, and wrote to things from my roles as mom, teacher, friend and person very much adrift being a human being.

    But I just don't have any magic left. I have to turn to face some things.

    It's the end of the year, my head is pounding. What happened today is I let myself feel/see, I'm harried and worn. My end of the year papers on the kids aren't finished yet and their portfolios not quite done. I tried to enrich their 1st grade year, it always felt like I was cheating or might get caught instructing around my own sensibilities, caught with a pumpkin in my hand or a paint set. My energy is about to shift so that I can illustrate a book this summer with a friend who I've worked with 24 years, teach Migrant summer school, write and I'm going to try and forgive my own chaotic stupidity. Because if what I did as a teacher this year resembled integrity....that might have just been my resistance to this overwhelming mess of contradiction that took over my world. But still I cling to my truth, shutting down the arts, narrowing, looking at education through these lenses was compelling me to try to name it. Appealing to someone to care with me, care for me. But I think I struck out and may agree with a few folks that maybe we're going to lose this game, go down with the ship.

    And it's symbolized by something rather trite. I have a Follow Your Dreams Key chain. It's old and worn a gift from a student years ago. It now reads Follow You after an accident with my book bag one awful morning in December.

    But I don't need that much memory to crawl you back to December yet, because I've been in the moment trying really hard to resist too much reflection for a good while. Running fast away from looking even at just one day in my life. But I will return to December in my next post later tonight. There is a nagging truth there I have avoided facing.

    If I got reflective and if I considered too much, the keychain and I would be exactly the same, broken dreams that can hold keys to future roads to be taken, once I'm told who to follow. It was a year my job was redefined to me as needing to serve it their way.

    So this said, today was a very strange Friday. My change at Jersey Mikes (and I've left school for lunch probably 30 times in my 25 years doing this job), was $200, 117. Really, except they didn't give it to me. I did get to keep the receipt.

    On the surface fortuitous my friend said.

    I left the school in the afternoon to see the most awful car wrecking "situation" with a careening speeding maniac that sounded hell bent to kill or die racing down the street directly in front of my school. Really bad. A group of furious guys I thought would kill this maniac that wrecked into them crowded in to bodily pull him from his truck. I know closed in fails to define the gravity of this for you and in a moment it was clearly going to get way worse. Things like this are "moments of clarity" for me. At year's start with the police chase and lock-down, and later the next week or so my severe fall at Open House I had clarity moments about this year, how it felt to be teaching now in a poverty school, just on a gut level.

    He drove so fast in the front part of the school I thought a child was going to die. Really.

    The sound of the screeching and crashing was incredible. It was so long. But I was disoriented anyway from writing today, reading something so sharp it seemed a razor, and submitting my evaluation and teaching, relating. I waited watching awful things evolve out of a neighborhood activated and on fire. And finally in impotence just drove to get my own kids to get away from it all. A symbol of how it felt trying to effect the train wreck of issues in my kids this year. It was bad in the hood this afternoon. It's actually the human edge I know, walk on, and just deny everyday. And I'm afraid I'm not the only one with a healthy set of blinders, nationally we seem to excel in the ability to look away and call it reality anyway.

    I read a very good article this week The Gift of Bleak Research By Mike Schmoker & Richard Allington on Susan Ohanian's Site about actually looking at teaching to talk about teaching. It pointed this out, italics are mine:

    The researchers in this study concluded that the most effective teachers largely ignored their districts' improvement plans, which still allowed (or even required) the use of the worst kinds of deadening, commercially developed programs, materials, and workbooks. Had they followed those plans, the teachers in this study would have been far less effective"and more like the other teachers in their schools.

    The urgent question is this: Why do we create strategic plans that interfere with effective teaching, make no arrangements for teachers to work in teams to improve their lessons, and fail to ensure that instruction is at least occasionally monitored, so that we can celebrate progress and identify areas for further improvement?

    In this era when using scientific evidence to inform decisions about instruction is emphasized, many federal, state, and local educational leaders have largely ignored the obvious: Students need lots of opportunities to read and write, and to talk about what they read. These actions are pivotal to college and life success. But such engaging, life-changing activities aren't what Robert Pianta and his colleagues observed. These activities, if we truly care about them, must be monitored and talked about and reinforced at every faculty and central-office meeting.

    I thought about my evaluation project due today. It was something I could barely summarize for the forms. So I wrote the following. I was in an Alternative Evaluation year in which we do a "project".

    While I have past experiences teaching 1st grade students in a variety of contexts, this year I was assigned a sheltered immersion class that included a wide range of students including an enormously wide range of ELD students as measured on the CELDT and also English only students. Based on this organizational assignment, I chose to explore a project that examined how different assessments would inform my adjustments and supplements to the mandated curriculum such that the wide range of student need and reading levels would foster the maximum growth and development for all children. This project intended to examine the crosstalk between CELDT scores, kindergarten assessment data from the previous year, mandated literature program assessments as well as teacher developed assessment tools in order to inform adjustments, pacing, and supplements to the mandated curriculum.

    D.) Material and resource needs: Time for extended data analysis.

    Final Assessment of Activity

    Analysis of the data collected from student achievement results on multiple measures as well as teacher field notes related to student effort and classroom integration suggest that extended time spent on correlating the results from the various assessments resulted in a deeper understanding of the need to re-teach, adjust pacing and supplement mandated curriculum with enhanced vocabulary development, kinesthetic and musical integration of English language development standards as well as phonics based skills development. With the exception of two students in the classroom, significant progress was made towards and achieved in terms of essential reading skills including phonics, sight word acquisition, automaticity and fluency. In addition, teacher observation noted a correlation between progress on reading assessment results and motivation and interest in reading.

    Work on this assessment-based evaluation project reinforced my intuitively developed understanding that students arranged in classroom configurations such as was assembled in my room this year, with their diversity of needs and starting levels in terms of English and reading skills, require a great deal of teacher adjustments and supplements to the mandated curriculum in order for maximum growth and development to occur. Analysis of the test results suggest that immersion in a language rich and literature based environment outside the mandated curriculum produced more rapid reading gains later in the school year once these available funds of knowledge and motivation were ultimately appropriated and utilized by the classroom as a whole.

    I don't know if I'll pass, I think it will. It was as honest a summary as I could write.

    But on three different mandated language assessments to "place" my students in a very canned ELD program next year AS AN EXAMPLE of this project, (some of the pieces I work on understanding till 2 every night), I had vastly different scores on kids such that they could simultaneously be Advanced, Beginner and Intermediate Levels. The scores that far apart in our 5 leveled system in where to instruct the student. Just using their "required" data.

    How does one use this. It requires "thinking".

    So just on one child (reflected like this on all my kids) allow me to restate, data measures I was mandated to use as scientifically based state o art gave me not a range, but essentially contradictory information. And every time this happened, in every instructional area, I was personally compelled to do some analysis about why. Also looking at what to do with this to help our kids. Does it help? I'll share one of those pieces in a conversational way. It felt ridiculous, but this is the kind of thing I do.

    I actually think I know why it happens there are so many levels on a child with such vast differences in their levels- at least as it affects our figuring out language development on our kids so that we can group them at levels to instruct them in a program of seemingly workbook-y scripted dubious merit. That portends great things. A practice we are required by law or politics to do. One I think is written in a kind of stupid zone for 1st graders anyway, but hey, no one pays me to look at language acquisition.

    I told my Principal today the reasons why I think our most recent testing, a thing called Adept, appears to drop every kid right down to the floor level wise as a speaker of "English." Even if the student has only spoken English and score Proficient or Advanced on our state exams in reading, and on other measures, No matter, they were all Adept tested and placed in ELD (English Language Development). Anyway. That's something vaguely spoken to as a function of the language needs in poverty. After all Adept now shows them lacking. Okay. I find that rather patronizing, but okay. Science is, after all, science. Data, data, data, data.... There it is in black and white. Give them all this test, place them all in ELD levels to give Systematic ELD so they can score Proficient, even if they are already scoring Proficient or Advanced and speak no second languages. That just makes a ton of sense.

    I looked at the tests. I see how they function. I know how to more effectively do this ELD placement. I know my principal is aware I know data inside out, (maybe even teaching). But almost every child we have will be put somewhere they don't fit next year no matter what I do unless I really do my work with some magic. And mine died today, with many other things, just too tired at years' end to be able to explain another damn thing. I will try to forward this truth so that those above me can consider it, but relating back to the first quotation. My God what a mess. We are whirling in a stew of stupidity. Does nothing matter?

    In brief we have a CELDT score, not a perfect test (written, oral) but the State requires it yearly until you are FEP. To assess the state of affairs in getting a child into English and by the time you see a student it's 6 months old, hard to level a child's oral language from this and be aware of recent language growth highly significant in 6 year olds as their language blooms rather expansively.

    So now we have Adept. Hailed to give us precise information to use in daily Systematic ELD instruction. (Did your child learn to speak English in a Systematic English program? Mine learned in a sloppy life-based exposure to parents, books, people, places, themes, human living.) And indeed this is a grammar test. Not really about application into content. But as language is driven through content that begins to get hazy especially in 1st, but no one is allowed those thoughts. That's not systematic and focused thought. We are narrowed on believing these tests MEAN SOMETHING BIG. And their uses DO SOMETHING.

    My issue with ADEPT is it is the same test K to 6. And same scoring rubric for any age. Imagine if you assessed your 6 year old and your 12 year old for language usage grammar abilities with a test with 5 levels Beginner to Advanced.
    Same scoring. Have you talked to kids at 6 and 12 lately and expected their language to be matched up? I thought there was a paradigm in our Standards and work implying deepening, growth through time, developmental issues and something called maturation of the brain, acquiring of oral language reflective of a multitude of growth processes. So that what a 1st grader does looks and sounds very different from 6th. It did to me teaching the two grades. Well not now. Not in our school.

    Young kids by and large can't demonstrate the tenses and complexities of the language consistent with EO peers on this ADEPT test due to age. No matter .....at 6 future tenses, verb forms, Subject / verb agreement, and other pieces of grammar are yet to be learned/used in regular communication. I taught simple verb agreement months after the testing when the introduction of the construct fell in the curriculum. This test demands this be the way they speak. . Fine. So all kids go in lower levels in 1st. Everyone. This means all my at level speakers, many EO kids never coming from a 2nd language and not running around in Ebonics or vernacular English nothing hampering them, now all are level 2 or 3. Early Intermediate speakers. So after our ELD program and implementing the canned Avenues program an hour daily sacrificing art, science and social studies, their level dropped two or three from the Avenues test or CELDT we used originally to assign kids to teachers to trade classes so they could have their mandated leveled ELD. No one is saying anything now. It's all Babel.

    In 1st grade because we are looking at skills tested on Adept that are contained in much later years, oral language standards not a part of the first grade taught "discreetly" for years. So of course they will not score high enough to land a level that may well represent what an EO peer would be doing age appropriately elsewhere in a place not doing this. Again we made our EO kids also do this test so that all students were put in an ELD group, no matter what. The test vehicle assured this by nature of asking 1st graders to do what 6th graders were also asked to do. Insane. Sorry. That alone I still find mind boggling. Great. No one gets it and it's fundamental.

    Next test to think about in Oral Language Development is in a workbook called Avenues. It's written. Chunky workbook test. How a 1st grader tests that is 6 years old in a workbook test must not really be a greatly reliable idea, even our state says it's too unreliable to State Star test them at this age. Yet we did this to "level" their oral language. Written test in 1st for oral demonstration of language and comprehension. This was truly chicken/egg stuff. 130 of them sitting in a cafeteria with bubble tests. Teachers asked to leave. Yes, I did get a test written this time specifically for 1st graders, good. Very good over the rest. Was there an oral part to this test that was to judge their oral language? No. That's worrisome.
    So that kind of invalidates it. Maybe you get this, maybe not.

    The best way to level the children probably is to average these three tests (CELDT, ADEPT, AVENUES)and add in the most significant piece , instructor judgment. We were told this was a "bad" idea as teachers give kids too much "credit" for language ability. not understanding real academic language.

    I'd like to see some "data" on that.

    I suspect giving a first grader a test given K to 8 on grammar with the same set of expectations to get assigned levels, not looking at language development in English for a Native speaker related to age appropriateâ€Â¦it might be teachers give a lot of credit for conversational ability. . . but placing all your children, even EO children with outstanding scores, into Beginning or Early Intermediate 2nd language learning ELD groups smacks of the asinine.

    So there you have but a piece of my data analysis work. I'm sure you are bored right out of the post. Scientifically researched based is on the ground detonating. I'll have excellent students in groups next year spending an hour a day learning the nouns in the rooms in their house that are presently writing paragraphs based on literature they read like Ramona the Brave. with me hiding undercover my temerity in still doing things like this. Makes sense. Sure.

    I have on my computer enough material now to talk more fully about what canned instruction does. To speak to what embedding children in literature and within literacy contexts with teacher judgment operating does.

    This year I spent 37 hours of instructional time in Mandated Skills Themed tests. Ten tests in a fat workbook on the themes. Houghton Mifflin. That amounts to about a little over a month of the teaching time in reading. (a ten month year) Would you like your child to spend that much time on workbook tests that are mandated? During their reading instructional block?

    Next year our District has "decided" to mandate doing only two of the ten tests. Had they listened in the first place to info from instructors the rigid pacing might have pointed out another foul up, no re-teach time. And the very shaky basis for so many pieces I am not wasting time with it here. In short, looking at data, working with what I saw the one thing I needed was trust in my work, ability to make decisions, support in this and way less canned mandating.

    I do in fact ultimately blame the structure on NCLB failure. And after listening to the interview with Margaret Spellings, the most unqualified education Secretary I can imagine. (See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here. here) I am not advocating teaching to "other stuff" over reading. Hello, I want to actually read and to teach reading, Margaret. Reading your credentials alone I'd like every parent in my room to do the same. I think a PHD is the least you can do for your country. Go get in a night program like 90% of the teaching workforce did and earn some education while working "very hard".

    Call it the pursuit of higher expectations and begin inside your self.

    Canned programmatic nonsense surely is bogging down a teacher who certainly knows the value of reading. And who has, and this kills me, more degrees than the Secretary of Education, and in and out of the subject area.

    I'm now stepping off my teacher soapbox, even stepping off my personal soapbox, pulling off some blinders that keep me from talking these things much of the year and going back to Dec 19th. The day I had so many blinders in place I almost missed something that has come to be my nickname here in family and with my partner teacher. The White Christmas.

    Poetries is nots for all the peoples, it is for the ones that listens."

    —Gabriela, first grader in Sarah's classroom

    A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
    Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
    Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
    Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
    The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame,
    "Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
    With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

    Emma Lazarus, New York City, 1883

    2007-06-13 06:25:03


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