Tuesday, March 1, 2011

An interesting intersection...

Three things happened today that gave me pause. Three things that are disparate in nature, yet somehow linked in my mind. Three things I have not been able to let go of...

The first moment happened in my classroom (twice) earlier in the day. In the midst of trying a whole lot of new ideas and methods of teaching for my juniors (which they are actually excited about), my senior classes tanked. I stopped mid-class to ask the class "Do you care about this topic?" Both times, the honest answer was "no." I stopped the lesson and tried to move to something of more interest (something I would not have considered two weeks ago).

We had our monthly faculty meeting this afternoon. Our senior building rep asked for a few minutes at the start of the meeting to address the membership on two points: unions are under attack, and we all need to get involved. Now. The second most-senior rep stood and addressed the younger teachers with a heart-felt plea: get involved in the conversation or get left behind. As a building rep, I was pleased to hear these words spoken to all, as we do not have enough unity in our building.

Moving on, we had a quick video presentation by our Professional Development Team (PDT), and we then broke into small groups for discussion. Our PDT team is an effort for teachers, by teachers. An effort to share our knowledge with our colleagues in the hopes of rising the bar for all. In this age of budget cuts, we turn to our own for help. We turn to our own to get by and to get better.

In these small groups (about 10-15 teachers), the question was posed: how can we utilize differentiated instruction in our classrooms, and does it seem to be a valuable technique? (I paraphrase here.) And the teachers were not impressed. Their reactions sank to the negative:

  • Why should we try to change?
  • I just don't see how this can work
  • How does admin expect us to do something they want while making our jobs more difficult?
  • I can barely cover the curriculum now...how can they expect more from me?
  • They talked about this 10 years ago...where did it get us then.

Now, the climate in our building is not an overly positive one, and many teachers just "shut the door and teach." Dare I say, the climate in America right now is not favorable to public education in general. Their reactions were understandable. But not, I feel, justifiable.

This is not an admin manifest: differentiate or feel the wrath of the system! The PDT (started by teachers, run by teachers...NOT admin) chose the topic of differentiation based on teacher feedback (a quick, online survey). This is teachers helping teachers. An attempt, grass-roots style, at unity. A few brave teachers willing to stand up and say, "Yes, I can help."

I brought up these ideas to my group (I was trying to further the cause of PDT, not undermine it). My colleague, Pete Rodrigues, has taken me under his wing on my quest to develop my own PLN, and the links between what I have discovered in the last two weeks and the negative reactions I observed today are crystal clear.

If teaching has taught me anything, it is that stasis equals death. The stagnant teacher is not an effective one. The cloudy mirror of habit does not improve our lot (speaking as one who is, uh, trying to "polish" the glass...). I have made it a personal and professional goal to be reflective in all that I do. I have attempted to squash the ego. I am comfortable making mistakes, for that is where learning happens (a philosophy I hope to develop in my students).

Sure, there is a ton wrong with education today. But what is each one of us doing about it? I can't think ten years ago...I can only think tomorrow. What can I do tomorrow to improve? Can I change a thought? A reaction? A belief? A student? A future?

Be the change you wish to see. Get involved. Stay connected. We must be unified in the conversation that is about to occur, or we will all be left mute and hand-tied in the darkness.