Most of the time I tend to live in the real world, not some make-believe fantastic place where everything goes the way that I believe it should.
Through the web I have been exposed to wonderful people and many ideas on education that I never would have thought of on my own. But sometimes there is a danger to being exposed to too many ideas and not taking the time to properly research the applicability of those ideas to your personal situation. The danger of expectations of what could be if you did X, Y or Z and then believing that you can change things overnight by yourself. Sorry folks that isn’t reality.
The reality is that I have to focus on what I can do and will be allowed to do in my classroom by the administration of my school and District. If they decide that we are going to use Common Core Standards, Standardized Assessments, Aggressive filtering of the internet, assigning and posting grades, and all the other things that some progressive educators speak so negatively about – I will.
The bottom line is that my school district is a rather poor rural district, that is 95% or more Caucasian, rather conservative and has a higher than average percentage of special education students. While I might personally agree with many of the progressive educational ideas the Alfie Kohns, Chris Lehman, Joe Bowers and the multitude of other progressive educators that I follow and read their Tweets or Blogs online and in their books. What is the reality in my classroom?
Homework: I don’t routinely assign homework, unless there is a specific purpose for it – so I guess that fits into the progressive framework.
Grades: No choice here, I will grade students and their grades will be posted to Infinite Campus, so that parents are aware of how their students are doing in my class. Not open for discussion or negotiation. Actually while the idea of not having grades per se is an intriguing way to do things, I personally am not quite ready for it-argue all you want about how great it is and everything, I just am not ready for that yet as a teacher – castigate me all you want, I have broad shoulders. What I do want to do is an actual Standards Based Grading system (if we are going that direction, let’s go all in), not the grade averaging that happens within Infinite Campus now. This will be an ongoing project on my part.
Technology in the classroom. Big believer here, I strongly believe that we need to teach students how to establish a positive online identity and show them how to transfer their knowledge to use other software or applications. I am lucky to teach in a 1:1 school/state for middle school students. Blocking is very conservative, but is becoming less and less of an issue as we move forward. There is a good balance between blocking for CYA and blocking appropriately and we are heading towards that balance. I have been asked to facilitate a 3 hour session on blogging, so there is interest.
Standardized Testing: We do a lot of it and will continue to do a lot of it. That is how the “game” is played under NCLB. In order to remain in the good graces of those that fund us, we need to reach certain scores on our assessments. As much as I may have different beliefs about standardized testing, I need to make it as least intrusive as possible and incorporate teaching strategies for our students to be as successful as they can.
Common Core Standards: When it is approved, we will incorporate it into our curriculum, in fact we already are planning to include it in the English Curriculum that is being developed this summer. This is just the way it is and I will be prepared to incorporate it into the classroom, so that I am not behind the eight-ball when the time comes.
Student-Centered: My classroom is student-centered and admin has allowed this to the maximum extent that I have asked for. I came there with a reputation of being a student-centered teacher and was upfront that that is who I am and how I teach when I went through the interview process. As long as I stay within the parameters of the school’s policies and procedures no one bothers me.
Actually from what I saw last year I am lucky where I work (no it is not a progressive teacher’s paradise) but I actually believe that I we are given a pretty reasonable amount of leeway (within certain boundaries) at our school to be progressive in our classrooms.
Working at my school, just like many other teachers in their’s, means that means that I have to compromise on some of my beliefs and teach in ways that I might not agree with 100% as a condition of my remaining an employee of my school district.
Although I might not agree with some of the policies or procedures in place, it means that I will support them when I am in front of the students or to the public. This is something that I learned from my time in the military, you must publicly agree with you superior, but behind closed doors you can talk freely and I feel that I have that where I work. It might not be what many advocate or want to do, but it is how I do things. I do plan to ask to be part of different school committees that interest me and try to work from within the system on things that I might not agree with to see if I can affect small changes.
If you are vocal in your disagreements with others on policies or procedures be careful of how you voice your opinion. Do not be insulting or close-minded to others because they disagree with your position, even if you know you are correct (but who knows maybe you are not?). All that does is alienate others even further and cause even wider gaps between educators than exist today.
There is enough negativity towards educators today, we need collegial disagreement, not in your face insinuation or accusations with other educators that disagree with our positions.
Am I being co-opted by taking a middle ground or not be out there to advance progressive educational ideas? According to some in the progressive camp I might be, but in my experience it is the right way for me. While I may not be very subversive or in your face in my attempts to get change accomplished quickly, I believe in the long run if enough of us do it, change will happen and will be done correctly.
I will continue to write about my progressive educational beliefs on my blog and learn as much as I can my PLN so that when the opportunity presents itself to advocate for more student-centered or progressive initiative/policy, I will be able to give viable alternatives to more conservative ideas.
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