thoughts on going back to school

Did you hear that?  It was the biggest sigh ever.

Someone annoyingly reminded me that this is the month I go back to work

I’ve been home since 4:00pm on March 9.  Not that I have been keeping track or anything.

And on Tuesday, August 28, I go back to being a teacher full-time.  Students will be back on Tuesday, September 4.  It will be almost six months exactly that I have been home with my boys.

I haven’t talked much here on the blog about all the changes going on with my job, but stuff is going to be way different this year.

Our district, when I started 10 years ago, had about 8-10 elementary schools, 2 middle schools, 4 high schools (2 “regular”, one alternative, and one alternative/charter).  As of March when I went on maternity leave, we were down to 5 elementary schools, 1 middle school, and 2 high schools.

This summer we have done a complete re-branding/consolidation of our district. Due to decrease in enrollment and the fabulous (that is sarcasm) funding from the state/federal governments, we are now at 5 elementary buildings (k-4), an intermediate building (5-6), a junior high building (7-9), and a high school building (10-12).

What does all this mean for me?  It means that I packed up my classroom in June and had it all moved to a new building.  I am still at the high school level and I am still teaching Spanish and English, but things will look a lot different.

We are still committed to literacy and improving the education of our students.

But I have to admit, as we push to serve our students better, it’s hard not to become frustrated with the system.  It’s a sad story that to make our students better–to prepare them for whatever is in their post-secondary future–we often have to swim upstream.

The systems that are put in place to decide our “success” are some of the worst measurements possible, and the government wants to control and dictate every single thing that teachers do to hold them “accountable”.  But all this holding me accountable?  Is making me a worse teacher.

I get depressed a little earlier every year.

August used to bring a ping of excitement…a new school year!  New school supplies!  New lesson plan books and possibilities!

Now, within a couple of days, something has punched my excitement in the face. New standards, new testing, new rules, new regulations.  Do this test prep and that.  Grammar those kids up until none of their particles ever dangle again.

But make sure you make meaningful experiences!  Make sure they are doing high-level thinking! Of course do all that!

But really, make sure we make AYP (Annual Yearly Progress).

There are so many mixed messages, and it seems like the idea is quantity = quality. Cram it all in and watch the kids know all the things.

Only any good teacher knows that is not the case.

I think the new Common Core Standards will make it better.  When I look at the Common Core for English, for example, I could fit them all in with one novel and a few supplementary readings.  I could technically teach ONE thing REALLY REALLY thoroughly and teach students everything they need rather than doing 1o novels and having them just be confused with everything that is coming at them.

I think what our students really  need is quality teachers. It’s one of the main points I agree with in the book Mission Possible: How the Secrets of the Success Academies Can Work in Any School (by Eva Moskowitz and Arin Lavinia).

My favorite point in the entire book is this:

Stop obsessing over teacher accountability, and focus instead on efficacy.  We’re all for accountability.  Great teachers make a difference. But we should be more concerned about the efficacy of teaching and leading and what teachers need to be successful. It is not necessarily smaller classes or better evaluation tools. What they need is rigorous training and school leaders who have been trained to lead and manage at an exceptionally high level.

What I wouldn’t give for less “turn this in to prove you’re doing this technique” and more “here, go to this fabulous professional development and we will bring people in to work WITH you IN your own classroom.”

I don’t think charter schools or vouchers are the answer.  I don’t think merit pay or reducing funding for “failing” schools is the answer.

I think lifting up our teachers and training them…and treating them…like the professionals they are is the answer.

The public thinks teachers should do it all because they love it.  I agree.

But we would love it a whole lot more if we were supported and constantly being given the resources and training we need to keep up with the changing clientele in our districts.

I’m trying to be positive about going back to school.

I look forward to this new adventure our district is beginning.

And I hope with all of my being that it includes loads of teacher support and focus.

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Find out more about the book Mission Possible and the Success Academy Charter Schools.

If you want to know more about my views on this subject, I write fairly extensively about education over at Borderless News and Views.

 I was compensated for this post, but the {passionate} opinions are all mine.

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One lucky commenter will be receiving a copy of the book, Mission Possible: How the secrets of the Success Academies can work in any school.  To win you only have to leave a comment…and fill in a real email address to the comment form.

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Comments

  1. I was wondering what you would be doing. As much as I agree with your viewpoint, I have been wondering, for a LONG time (like, even back when I was in high school) why the district had so many different schools, given it’s size. Not only that, there are several districts within the same city. To me, it just seemed logical that things would be consolidated at some point. Not that that doesn’t suck.

    Which building will you be teaching in?

    • I forgot to add…good luck!

    • well the thing was to keep the schools small. It kept classes small and was better for the kids. Plus it kept the schools “neighborhood oriented”. With the decreasing enrollment, it’s not benefiting the students anymore. And it’s not financially responsible.

      The three districts in one city thing is not abnormal. I live in Holland and we have two school districts here: Holland and West Ottawa. That is not anything that will change.

      And I will be in what used to be the Rogers High School building. Park is the new Junior High, and Jackson Park is the Intermediate School. Newhall is being closed.

  2. Hey KT.

    You know I’ve moaned about this before.

    I’m older than you. I’ve seen educational trends come & go. Whole Language anyone?

    This was my 20th year in the classroom. And this fall, I’m taking a break. Because even at the college level, things are changing. Things don’t feel collegiate. Kids have been rewarded for just showing up. We have a paradigm of education in this country that is utterly rigid. Kids are grouped by birthdate. The goal? Get them out with their cohorts by a certain date 12 years later, being competent in every core subject.

    I, for one, don’t think people are built that way.

    And I don’t understand why we keep trying to make kids learn the way they did 200 years ago. It makes no sense to me.

    I have read a zillion books and watched my favorite materials go out of print in favor of shorter, simpler materials. I had to take a break this year because I am not feeling it. I haven’t even announced this on my own blog yet as I just told the folks in my department. All the budget cuts are demoralizing. I pay so much out if pocket, it’s ridiculous.

    So I’m looking for a new thing.

    A thing where I’m respected and appreciated, where I don’t have to work 5 extra hours each night. A thing where I can balance family and work and exercise. Because, as you know, that is not an easy feat at school.

    I’ll always be devoted to education, but I have to fill up my tank.

    I hope 2012 is your best year yet.

    Don’t let the standardized tests get you down. Just keep asking yourself: Is this really helping my students? How? Which skills is this task reinforcing? And for the love of Pete, don’t give homework just because they tell you that you are supposed to.

    • I will say our district is doing things that many are not in ways that are pretty cool and advanced. I would just like to see an overall shift in mentality about how teachers are treated. It’s no wonder talented, valuable teachers like yourself need a break. It’s heartbreaking, but it’s understandable. Teachers are professionals. Why can’t they be treated that way. Dumb society.

  3. It has to be so hard to go back after such a long break. We’re getting geared up for back to school here – my oldest is heading into middle school, and my middle girl is going into third grade. I swear the more I learn about the education system, the more interested I become and the more I want to do what I can to help make sure it’s as good as it can be. I got more involved through the PTA last year and will be even more involved this next school year – it gives me more insight into what really goes on behind the scenes at school. And I’m very fortunate that my kids go to great public schools.

    Good luck with the return to school!

    • Sigh. The adjustment to actually going back to work is a whole post in itself that needs to be written, but the words haven’t surfaced yet.

      I think there are more “great public schools” than the media and politicians let on. At least great teachers. And what I wouldn’t give for parents like you who get involved!

  4. I agree with you 100%. I start school on Friday, and students start on the 15th. I love teaching! I can’t imagine being more fulfilled in any other profession, but we need to be treated like professionals, or teaching will be a distant memory for me. I don’t know what it will take to change the mindset of public education, but it needs to happen soon, or the master teachers will slowly find other places to use their talents.

    • I just don’t understand why teachers are not seen as the valuable asset to society that they are. I truly fail to see it. I hate to think of ever leaving teaching, but oh. some days…

  5. First, good luck heading back to school . . . I can only imagine half of what’s going through your head at the moment, and of the half that I think I can imagine, I’m dead certain that I can’t accurately state what I think you must be feeling . . . just know that you’re thought of as you get ready for a new school year.

    About teaching standards and testing and all of that, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my own schooling as I grew up. See, I kind of turned out ok – I can put together a sentence, I can calculate tip, I can create a budget, I can keep stuff I cook from growing too moldy. I think if more people were like me, the world would be a half-decent place (though library books would be returned late, habitually). Thinking back on the teachers that worked well for me (Mr. Glahn – calculus, Mrs. Trimble – English, Mr. Carroll – physics, Mrs. MacBurney – English), they didn’t accept excuses, at all, but also never felt like they were teaching toward something. I’m sure they were, I’m sure they had specific agendas and dates and stuff they had to get in, but it all felt organic. When we spent extra time on a subject, it felt that we did so because we needed it, even if the teacher might have just been really good at scheduling, and knew that an extra few days on an equation would likely be called for. When we went from discussing one book to the next, there was a clear “this is why we’re picking up this next book.” My English teachers, when I wrote, expected grammatical perfection, but urged us to develop our voices. I stood the same risk of losing points over a run-on sentence as I did sounding like an encyclopedia.

    I don’t know where I’m going with this . . . aside from that it seems like you’d be a teacher who longs to hear their students’ voices and, probably, at the end of the day, your greatest joy in teaching is knowing that you’re influencing your students’ voices. It sucks that you have to deal with all of the administrative bullshit that, at best, gets in the way of your doing a good job (and, at worst, directly hinders) . . . but, well, I’ve been reading you for awhile now, and while I’ve never seen you in the classroom, I get the sense that there aren’t a few students who will think back & say “I’m glad I had Mrs. Sluiter.”

    • John, this entire comment made my day.

      It makes me happy to think that I will be remembered by my students someday.

  6. I WANT THIS BOOK! I WANT THIS BOOK! I WANT THIS BOOK! GIVE IT TO ME NOW! GIVE IT TO ME NOW! Seriously though, I want it. Also, this summer I read, Letters to a Teacher by Sam Pickering. He is the author but was the teacher who was the inspiration for Dead Poets Society. I was feeling the same smack in the face instead of the usual excitement. This book helped with that. He’s such a great teacher and the vibe of the book was what we really deal with.

    • If you don’t win, you can borrow my copy 🙂

      And I need the book you read. Do you own it? Otherwise I will see if I can get it from the library. I need something to jazz me up this year. Maybe it’s the 6 months off, maybe it’s all the changes, I don’t know, but I have the blahs this year.

  7. Take some breaths. The changes have got to be hard to deal with, and I KNOW it’s hard to imagine not being with the boys. But inside your classroom, I hope you find the changes less startling. I hope you are able to teach as well as you can and receive support from the administration and parents. What irks the hell out of me is the accountability crap. Yes, I expect my child to have a modest understanding of the Spanish language in your classroom BUT I do not expect that you should be held accountable if my child test’s poorly. If at home my child is not studying or not eating or witnessing abuse or is not supported, or watches tv all damn night and not sleeping well, how is that to be combatted in the classroom? Everything under the realm of education cannot be done by teachers; it’s impossible. Some things start (and end) at home.

    AYP is a bitch. Here in DC there is supposed to be a 4% gain across the board each year. For schools that are underenrolled or underperforming, this is hard of course. Unfortunately, our neighborhood school hasn’t passed AYP in years. We LOVE the school, the teachers, the principal. We decided to stay, not bail for the charter or “better” school out of boundary. Our kids are learning, they are thriving. It’s just a crappy evaluation of it.

  8. This was an awesome post about the things that are going on in our education system… It’s great to read a teacher’s point of view. I loved my kids teachers at their old public school… but the political aspects and all that went with it in regards to my children was just too much to bear and we put them in private school. When your kids come home from school crying for various reasons and I as a parent keep running into road blocks and walls and get no support from the supposed leaders of the school the choices are limited. I only wish there were more teachers like you, because they do make a difference. Good luck to you!

    • Aw, thanks, friend. It makes me so sad and angry when I hear about politics getting in the way of education instead of working for and helping education. SO SAD and SO ANGRY.

      Sigh.

  9. As you may or may not recall, both of my parents were educators so I have a very tender place in my heart for teachers of all grades and subjects. Sometimes change is good. Good luck with all of yours this school year.

    Sounds like a great book.

    • Of course I recall 😉

      I am excited about some of the changes. And I do have great hopes and dreams for what this may all bring. I just hope I can keep my focus on the kids and not get brought down by the politics, ya know?

  10. Oh I hear you and can give you a big AMEN!!!

    I am headed down to first. I know some of the above won’t go away, even though I move down….but some will. I miss the excitement, I miss the desire to be there.

    I still love the teaching, and love the kids.

    My kids come Wednesday, and holding onto faith, it is going to be a great year!

    Best wishes to you, and the boys. How are you doing with the saying goodbye to them?

    • Sigh…I haven’t really let myself think about not being with my boys all day every day. It’s strange because while I look forward to getting out and going back to work, my heart aches thinking about not seeing the boys all day.

      It’s a whole other post, I suppose.

      I have high hopes for this year. But my decade of experience has told me to also be cautious with my optimism. Unfortunately.

  11. This is exactly why after 30 years of teaching and ten years as a superintendent, my dad threw in the towel and retired as soon as he possibly could. As much as he loved his career and kids, he had just had it with the red tape/standards/testing, etc..

    That said, I’m sure I have a whole bunch of prepositional phrases, terrible sentence structure, and grammatical errors whenever I comment here (and don’t get me started on my blog – you would cringe!). Please overlook it; my English teacher wasn’t awesome.

  12. I love you for writing this. I will likely never teach again, in part because of my experience when I did. 20 novels for a sixth grade classroom. 50 minute classes. Teach using literature circles. Don’t let them take the books out of the classroom. Teach writing. Teach grammar. Ignore that they are reading at a third grade level. Rinse and repeat.

    I wish you luck, and I continue to hope that the system will see some changes.

  13. Ain’t that the continuous, vicious cycle of a teacher? Teach our kids what they need to know with the passion and zest that they (and we) love while still trying to adhere to new guidelines, new stipulations, new this, new that. Do this, do that. Test, test, test. It’s hard out here for a pimp… I mean teacher, yo.

  14. I sigh right along side you. Thank you for caring. Thank you for taking the time to write this out for even one person to understand. Our education system needs help.