Friday, September 30, 2011

Lock-stepped in California's central valley, and looking for change

Sometimes when I repeat what teachers tell us to people who only hear about school reform in the media, the response is incredulity. Last night’s screening in Lemoore CA, put on by the Tulare/King's County Reading Council drew an audience of teachers, student-teachers and at least one school board member. Listening to the stories that seeing our film evoked, it is impossible to ignore how devastating the effects of NCLB continue to be. Most of the elementary level teachers present must spend 2 1/2 hours a day on disjointed language arts activities that are prescribed for them with little or no room for variance. Content--the stuff of curiosity that builds both knowledge and enjoyment, is almost non-existent except as little snippets attached to writing or reading paragraphs. Testing (and discussion of test results) is continual. They search for moments when they can add creativity and joy to their classrooms. It often must be done clandestinely.

The older teachers present remember working with many of the ideas they saw in our film. Schools in this area embraced the Tribes curriculum. Class council, creating classroom agreements and cross age learning were familiar to them. But NCLB erased social-emotional and project-based curricula from their classrooms. Some spoke of being demoralized. Several were considering leaving the profession, and others had retired early because what had once been their passion became unbearable to witness. What a price we are paying for this disastrous policy!

Taking a stand in these economic hard times is not easy. The risk of being fired may be real. But people at a distance from classrooms need to hear how schools have changed. I invite teachers to write (anonymously if that feels safer), to let others read concrete examples of how your students and you have been affected by the regimen placed on your classrooms. Post them here, or on our Facebook page. If you have found strategies for how to fit meaningful learning into top-down structured days, share those as well! While we work for change children are growing up, and any ways you have found to combat the tedium are welcome.

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