I am no longer a teacher. I am an implementer.
My deepest source of angst right now is NCLB (No Child Left Behind). It sucks the heart and soul out of learning for both students and teachers. I'm so agitated by NCLB changes my principal put in place last Monday that I dread going to school tomorrow.
The second grade team of three teachers were told we would be in a matriculation meeting all Monday morning to determine which children were neediest and how we could meet their needs. I saw this as an opportunity to contribute in problem solving. Instead, first thing, we were informed top down of some changes that would be happening in our classrooms and were subsequently handed an English Language Arts (ELA) lesson plan schedule showing us exactly what we would be teaching from the adopted ELA curriculum, on which day, which page, at what time, and for what duration of time. Fully implementing the adopted curriculum, they said, would guarantee that our students' needs to learn to read would be met. Any deviation from the schedule was verboden.
Having such a regimented structure in place would allow administrators and NCLB observers to walk into any of our classrooms at anytime and see the students being taught the same scientifically researched-based reading program, providing empirical evidence that the teachers are doing what must be done to get our school out of PI (Program Improvement) status. In other words, lockstep learning. In one fell swoop, creativity, innovation, teachable moments, spontaneity, and autonomy were banished from our classrooms. Any stellar lessons that a teacher has designed that are more effective than the ones in the manual will not be allowed. Nothing is to be taught during ELA time unless I can point to the lesson in my manual. I am no longer a teacher. I am an implementer.
For what are we doing this? The students' authentic needs are NOT being met. They do NOT have an authentic need to read well for the purpose of scoring proficient on standardized state tests, thus providing job security next year for the principal and literacy coaches. Teachers cannot be fired over NCLB, administrators can. A literacy coach who doesn't get her school's AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) up sufficiently stands to lose her job too. An administrator or untenured coach who rightly objects to the tenets of NCLB will find herself duly unemployed or given a position she finds untenable.
The panel comprising my principal and the two NCLB funded Literacy Coaches stipulated that my students may not read for pleasure during ELA time unless the books tie in with the current theme of the unit. Beloved "I Can Read" books and Dr. Seuss books are to be removed as inappropriate reading material. Our literacy coaches are brilliant, beautiful, dynamic young women who have unquestionably embraced the philosophy of NCLB ostensibly in order to be employed. I've labeled them the Lockstepford Wives until I come up with a better term.
Toward the end of the meeting, I mentioned that the additional daily schedule we received provided no time to teach visual art for which I must give a grade on the report card. One coach brightly suggested I assess my students' artistic abilities by having them draw the main character of a story they read. It was not suggested that I bank some time and actually teach them art. Banking time is not allowed. It would mean I was not devoting the proper number of instructional minutes to ELA. If I finished teaching a unit a day early, any extra time must be spent teaching the ELA curriculum, not enrichment.
There are California visual and performing arts standards but being a PI school, our second grade students don't have access to being taught them. I stand to produce some profoundly ignorant students who read, but don't want to, and who can score well on tests. NCLB is producing millions of over-tested and undereducated American school children and calling it "meeting their needs." Awash in testing, PI schools are "assess pools" and I, the one to relentlessly mine them for their statistics, to the extent they feel used and abused, am a data-rapist.
My students, for a variety of reasons, have parents who do not advocate for them. They are being left far, far behind in spite of my best efforts. Nobody will argue that learning to read is an important educational need. But it is folly to teach reading at the expense of providing a stimulating well-rounded education that builds on a student’s strengths and interests. Studies show that children's love of learning is dying at about age 8. Gee. What could be causing that? NCLB has ruined education. I know changes are going to be made at the federal level soon but I don't trust that the new changes will meet the needs of our students to have an educational experience that will both teach them the standards and enhance their experience of being alive. We shall see.