Monday, January 9, 2017

New Year’s Resolution: Do Not Be a Curmudgeon

Lately I’ve begun to feel like one of those dreadful curmudgeons, crossed arms, curled lip, jaded eye, slouched in the back of required meetings. I’m trying to be positive. I love teaching. I love the students. I love the challenge that each day brings. I love puzzling at the end of the day over the children, thinking about how I can engage Janie in the story we are reading or support Andrew in fractions or work with Sandra and Linda to solve the burbling dispute between them. I love designing next step lessons, building on what captured students’ imaginations, adding more steps where they were confused, creating multiple pathways when needed to meet diverse needs and places where we’ll converge again as a community. It’s challenging. It’s stimulating. It’s joyful. It’s exhausting.

I can’t help wishing, though, that someone finally would say, good heavens, let us help teachers. They spend the whole day in one small room with thirty children! They try so hard to teach each of those children beautifully every day! How can we help? What do they need?

Instead, we are always bombarded by more that we need to do. This year, we have a new curriculum, modernized, we’re told, to respond to the new world of constant change. There are new core competencies – communication, thinking, and personal and social competencies – as well as new curricular competencies, big ideas and learning standards for each of the content areas. I am supposed to make sure that what I do matches these new ideas. Connected to this is an experimentation in new reporting procedures. The ultimate goal,” the Minister of Education tells us, “is to develop a student reporting process that gives families a deeper understanding of their child’s progress at school through timely and comprehensive information.” In my district, this means that I need to share with parents “authentic evidence of learning” with “explicit reference to learning standards,” including “descriptive feedback” of how students are doing and “student voice” – their reflection or their description of “where they are in the learning process” – a minimum of 8 times this year as part of “ongoing communication.” In addition, I must write two report cards with comments and, rather than letter grades, include a sliding scale on levels of competency from “beginning” to “extending.”

None of these changes are bad, particularly. Somewhere out there people have worked very hard in meeting rooms around long tables with chart paper and coloured pens, coffee and muffins on the side table to sustain them and assorted sandwiches at lunch. They’ve consulted experts, reviewed the research, and created comprehensive documents complete with coloured charts and appendices.

Yet as I scramble to figure out these new changes, attend meetings, try new programs (we have, as well, a new attendance program, a new online portfolio program, an upcoming requirement to add coding lessons), my attention to the children is necessarily fractured. My time is not infinite. I try not to be angry. I try not to think about the millions of dollars spent on these changes.

Still, I can’t help but imagine, sometimes, what it would be like if even a fraction of that funding were spent on what teachers need, if instead of creating documents to tell us what they need us to do differently (whoever they are, these people who sit comfortably somewhere and have ideas), they came to us to find out what we need instead. Imagine, oh, imagine, a team coming to our school, setting up a space with coffee and muffins, offering us assorted sandwiches at lunch (oh, the luxury!) and time (time!) to sit and ponder with them about the challenges and progress, the obstacles and advantages, the small things that would make a big difference, the resources that would help us move forward. Imagine how it would feel to go back into the classroom (as much as I love teaching, it is hard, hard work and there are days when it all seems impossible). Imagine, then, the bounce in our step, the feeling that we are not alone, that we are appreciated (muffins!) and listened to as though our opinion counted, and supported as though our work mattered.

Instead, the changes roll on. From somewhere. I try to stay positive.