Thursday, May 26, 2011

Loving Other People's Children

"How did I make such massive gains at Booker T. Washington? I loved my children. I hired people who would love my children. And then I did my job." Principal Alisha Coleman-Kiner

This is a must read. In Allentown our Zuperintendent, the former PA Secretary of Education Dr. Gerald Zahorchak (Dr. Z) claims that the essence of great teaching is "alignment." And he believes that all great teachers know this. I think he speaks a different language than real teachers who interact with real children on a daily basis. As a parent and a teacher I have had enough of this standards aligned nonsense and testing mania. It's time to speak out against corporate driven education policies that dehumanize public education. A school is not a business, it's a learning environment where children grow and develop. It's not an input/output factory. I hope President Obama listens and learns from Coleman-Kiner, instead of Bill Gates and the corporate deformers.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Philosophy of Teaching-Will it Matter?

student work, middle school, Edward Munch study
 I was recently asked by my employer to submit my philosophy of teaching. I had to work on revising it a bit, since I have gained much teaching experience and life experience since I wrote it. This exercise got me thinking: will a teacher's philosophy even matter since teachers are now being told what and how to teach?

It looks like the Department of Education is working on a national standardized school curriculum. The Gate$ Foundation has partnered with text book publisher Pear$on to write and publish teaching materials aligned to the common standards. And in order to receive federal Race to the Top funding, states will have to adopt the national curriculum. Standardization is BIG business. New teaching materials will be needed so everyone can be on the same page, all uniform, aligned, and tidy. And the new Bill Gates curriculum will include software and games to engage the kiddies so they can spend even more time staring at a plastic box instead of relating to other humans.These new materials will dictate what and how teachers should teach.Teacher style will not be important anymore. A teacher's philosophy, professional experience, and values will not matter in corporate ed America. I believe an educator's values and beliefs should never be sacrificed for corporate profiteering or to promote political agendas. Also, a school is part of a local community with its own unique attributes. Connecting school and community is important. But will that even matter? I stand by my teaching philosophy, it's tried and true:

I focus on creating a comfortable and happy learning environment where all students can explore their ideas and connect with the creative process in a personal way. I believe that art helps children develop a better understanding of themselves and the world they live in. Art teaches children to appreciate different points of view. Art reinforces concepts students learn in science, math, social studies, and other subject areas. When students create art in response to art history, they gain an appreciation for art movements and artists of the past as well as the present, and learn that art reflects human experience. Studying art history helps children to make connections between their own ideas, and the ideas, themes, and issues that established artists address. This kind of artistic experience helps students create meaning in their own lives. 

I believe in a whole child approach to education: this approach addresses the cognitive, physical, emotional, social, and creative needs of all students. I adapt my lessons so my teaching is developmentally appropriate in order to meet the needs and learning styles of all students. I challenge students to take their ideas to the next level. I believe that a quality art education program is essential to learning, and should not be viewed as an educational frill. I am also a professional musician/songwriter and believe that different forms of art can be interconnected. 

The Zuperintendent of our school district,  former PA Secretary of Education Dr.Gerald Zahorchak writes in his "Z Letter":  "Alignment is the essence of great teaching. Understanding and practicing alignment can be learned by anyone who wants to succeed with students."  Really?  Anyone can teach? Is there evidence that your method works? Show me the data! My teaching aligns with my values and professional experience working with children. And it is aligned with meeting the needs of the students. I succeed with students. Experienced teachers know what works so how can you dictate to them how they should teach?
Dr. Zahorchak is very fond of the word "alignment" and other frightening corp ed jargon which attempts to justify extending Bush's failed NCLB Act ( with more testing, but value added) and to show that the current data driven reform policies are really improving test scores. The reformers think that if it can't be measured, then it doesn't matter. So they focus on crafting data that supports their political agenda. I've always thought that the essence of great teaching was to inspire children to love learning? A great teacher focuses on improving a child's critical thinking skills by allowing the child to experiment, grow, explore and ask questions. A great teacher demonstrates to students, challenges students and connects learning to real life. And real life is not always "aligned" with our expectations. Stuff happens, and we adapt. Teachers adapt. And a teacher's philosophy is guided by her values, beliefs, and knowledge of teaching and students, not by standards written by administrators who don't interact with students. A teacher's philosophy grows, develops and changes with experience. Just like children grow and develop. It scares me when there is too much focus on expectations, outcomes, college readiness, and clear pathways to the future, when the focus should be on the growth and development of children, and meeting their needs.

Teachers have always taught the "standards" and "resiliency" and "rigor" and so much more. They have always conducted formative assessments of their students (now called value added). Administrators get paid the big bucks just to re-package what teachers know they have been doing all along. This is so the administrators can take credit for student improvement.  They sell the public on the idea that the "status quo" isn't working and drastic changes are necessary. Isn't it curious that this policy of dictating standards and teaching methods, overhauling curricula and eliminating arts programs, is happening mainly in districts with high poverty?  POVERTY is the cause of low student achievement. Drilling, narrowing curricula, and scripted lessons may help improve test scores, but those scores do not reflect real learning. The bureaucrats don't want to address poverty, because then they would have to admit that it was their failed political policies that caused the poverty. Instead, they blame the teachers and unions for failing schools. It's the poverty, stupid! 

What will really improve learning and keep kids in school? (See my post on Child Poverty in Allentown).  1. Legislation that immediately helps families living in poverty. 2. Teaching the whole child through the arts. 3. Elected leaders who understand education and child poverty. 4. mandatory pre-school, full day kindergarten, after school programs, less bureaucracy, less testing, less administrators, smaller class size, more teachers.
But it does not look like this will be happening in Allentown now that the state has approved Dr. Zahorchak's "Pathways to Success" which is a plan that eliminates 247 teaching positions, cuts arts programs, eliminates Pre-K, and will further narrow the curriculum while increasing class size. Vote out all school board members.