Hitting the wall? No thanks, I’m busy (tearing it down)

Last time I blogged, I talked about how ticked off I was          about the impossibilities of teaching in the increasingly restrictive environment of NCLB. A couple of people responded with comments that had the tone of yeah, we feel that way too. But what can we do?

They sounded resigned. Powerless. On the way to curling into a fetal position and staying under the covers. Which is how I was starting to feel, too.

Wow, did that feel lousy.

So I started to wonder, what if I– we– acted as if we believed we had the power to change things. What could we do?

I started brainstorming. Now, remember– the point of brainstorming is to get as many ideas out as possible, without judgment or debate. The idea is that without the pressures of evaluation, more creative ideas emerge, and with those, increased chances for real solutions. Here are some of the things I came up with:

  1. Lobby against NCLB? And teach too? <snort> Oh, sure. (Wait, isn’t that a judgment?)
  2. Go on strike? Too much. (More judgment.)
  3. There’s always the smart mob approach. I love the story of how high school students in Chile used social media to create the “penguin revolution,” a smart mob protest against underfunded public education.  See Howard Rheingold’s interview with Chilean journalists who covered the events.
  4. What would happen if, during peak times of test prep, teachers across the nation just stopped, sat down at the same time of day, for five minutes,  and test prep stopped.
  5. What if teachers just…didn’t do drills for a whole period. Told kids they could choose between test drills or reading, or writing, or…. Ha– the personal choice approach to inspiring sustained silent reading.

These are the kinds of actions that respected tenured teachers could initiate. It sounds drastic, but we may be coming to that.

Here’s what inspired my thought.

Recently, colleagues who support teachers in professional development described the required classroom management tool in an elementary school just across town. If a kid does or says anything against the rules, the teacher is supposed to snap her/his fingers loud and hard, right in the kid’s face. The kid is supposed to freeze. In that frozen state, I guess the kid is supposed to recognize the error of his ways? Anyway, apparently a new teacher in the school was reprimanded for not snapping loud enough, hard enough, fast enough, close enough to the kid’s face.

“I’d like to get a job there just so I could refuse to do that,” said one colleague.

“Yeah. How fast do you think we could get fired?” said the other.

Ah, yes– outright civil disobedience, accompanied, I would hope, by articulate protestation and some good media coverage.

Then it hit me.  One of the ideas I’ve derived from Christensen, Horn, and Johnson’s book,  Disrupting Class, is that by shifting a very small, seemingly inconsequential aspect of an organization’s operation, an entire paradigm can shift. How might that apply to a school schedule?

Usually, academic subjects meet for five periods a week. Right now, when schools are in test prep lock down, every class every day does some kind of drill. But why should every class stop instruction for five days a week to do this? What if, instead, every academic subject teacher gave up one period a week and that slot would be when test prep occurs. During the other four periods of that academic class,  the kids would read, write, think– the best test prep there is.

Experienced teachers (i.e., tenured and respected) could adapt this basic idea to the scheduling vagaries of their own school and bring the idea to their principals. Maybe a couple of teachers could volunteer to try it.

Could we come up with endless reasons this wouldn’t work? OF COURSE. But those objections are exactly what keep us from trying something, anything, to break the hold test prep has on our classes, our hearts.

What have we got to lose?

Image credit: vizzzual.com/2008/01/24/free-desktop-wallpaper-of-a-red-b…

7 responses to “Hitting the wall? No thanks, I’m busy (tearing it down)”

  1. Jennifer Ansbach says:

    This year, we are targeting reading scores for our state graduation test, and of course, I teach junior English, and they are the ones to take the test.

    My solution? We’re not going to do more test prep. If our reading scores are weak, we will read more books. I’ve added in two of my favorites, Frankenstein and Great Expectations.

    My basic skills classes will also be reading a book (I only have them alternating marking periods). We’ll be reading Killing Mr. Griffith instead of drill work.

    Let’s raise our books in protest, shall we?

    • Karen says:

      @Jennifer Ansbach “Raising our books in protest”– I love this! Aren’t you worried about what the Powers That Be will think when they stride by your room?

      • Jennifer Ansbach says:

        @Karen, Nah. I told ’em I’d be reading more books. I have a pretty good track record. It’s a risk, but one I’m willing to take.

        • Karen says:

          @Jennifer Ansbach, You go, girl! How can we clone you!?

          • Jennifer Ansbach says:

            @Karen, that sounds dangerous. I think one of me is more than enough. 🙂 (That said, if the clone could do the packing and stuff around the house, not a bad idea…)

  2. Teresa Bunner says:

    I’m sitting here singing “You say you want a revolution, well, you know, we all want to change the world!”

    Really and truly, if things are going to change, we have to do something. I think if we honestly do what is best for kids in the classroom, we will see the results. I believe in teaching as a subversive activity:) My last district, my coteacher and I were renegades in the eyes of the district office because we refused to use the canned, rote, demeaning intervention program adopted for our high school kids. Instead, we combined our 40+ years of teaching experience to teach the ways we learned were best. Guess what? Our test scores improved. In spite of it:) We had administrators who trusted us, but I know had we not gotten results, they would have been hard pressed to defend our position and might have pressured us to give in. Luckily our kids kept learning. They were our best evidence:)

    It will take those of us who have tenure and experience doing what we know is right, in spite of the pressures we face. folks thought Noah was a wacko, the Wright Brothers kept a lot of what they did a secret because they knew the reaction, people thought the internet would be a fad, who knew Google would be a household word? Many before us have stood up in the face of what others said couldn’t happen and made it happen. What if we all participated in the subversive act of teaching kids? Will it make a difference???

    Always love your posts, Karen. You make me think!

    • Karen says:

      @Teresa Bunner,

      “The subversive act of teaching kids…” This brings tears to my eyes, Teresa.

      I wonder what preservice teachers would make of Postman & Weingartner? Maybe I should require it next semester….

      I wish you would blog your story of teaching kids as an alternative to canned, rote instructional programs.

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