Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I went to hear a speaker (Alfie Kohn) tonight for a graduate class at KSU. This man is known as a pretty controversial speaker among the education world. He doesn’t believe in grades or standards or test scores. He believes that education should be more organic and natural and “take your time and let the kids create the answers”, no competition, no smiley faces or frowny faces, etc.

I figured since Brad got all PO’d for his profession, or his finances at least, I would go ahead and let loose a bit about tonight. Now of course, for any of you educators out there this will not surprise you, but I have to “reflect” on this experience for a grade. But you, my dear bloggites, receive the ungraded (dare I say “unedited”?) version.

In many ways, I totally agree with Mr. Kohn. In fact, I think he has great ideas. I hate testing. I hate preparing for MONTHS (LITERALLY) for the GCRCT that stresses the kids out and is really only meant to judge our SCHOOL -not the child. I agree- testing is crappy. Grades aren’t always the best reflection of what a kid knows. It would be a much better learning experience if the children fully decorated the room, if my lesson plans were only driven by what my children specifically wanted to learn, and if they got to pick their own spelling words. I want nothing more than my children to fully grasp content and leave my classroom full of concrete ideas and abstract concepts that they discovered on their own, with my gentle prodding and nodding. I want my classroom to be student-led not teacher-focused. All that good stuff.

In the same vain, I am also a fan of unicorns, pots of gold at the end of rainbows, and I’ll be darned if I don’t give every golden toned container a little rub hoping a genie comes out and gives me three wishes.

I listened to this man for 2 hours and left deflated. Please don’t stand in front of me for two hours and tell me that I am not doing my job in a way that makes a difference in the long run to these children. Don’t tell me because I give them 20 spelling words each week that I am not giving them the education they deserve. You’re telling me the only way to do my job well is to do it COMPLETELY against what I am told to do by the people who hired me.

Where is the line between “here is what I want to do because I know it would be the very best for the children” and “here is what I have to do because this is what my boss and the state of Georgia tells me to do”? I work daily to try to dance between the two, float back and forth, make their educations meaningful and yet still have something to put on the report card.

And in the end, sometimes I have to pass out a worksheet because I’m just so tired. Sue me.

What people don’t factor in is the emails from parents that we have to answer, the children who are sick and need a note to the clinic, the committees, the lack of restroom breaks or really any personal time to think, the paperwork, the data we have to collect, the field trip forms we have to send home for the third time, lesson plans, 14 minute lunches, the parents who won’t call us back, the amount of questions I answer daily, gradebooks, websites, the meetings, the kids themselves. Oh, yeah, and did I mention that every kid in every subgroup has to get all the standards in their little brains before April?

And these aren’t your typical PBS kids who love learning all the time. (Where do those kids go to school, by the way?) My kids have REAL problems and sometimes when they come to school, school doesn’t matter. Grandfather in the hospital. Lice. No dinner. Unclean. Pregnant unwed moms. A bad sunburn (poor kid- red as a clown’s nose). Parents who can’t read. Friendship issues. Organizational disasters. No money to go on a field trip. Hurt in any and every 9 year old form walks in my room every day. (So does joy in any and every 9 year old form, don’t you worry about that. We’re a hilarious bunch.) It’s just that their lives are bigger than my classroom and at some point, that has to be factored in to the equation of learning. That’s part of my job now too, in 2007. Don’t just teach them, Downs. Raise them. Heal them. Hug them. Protect them. Rejoice with them. Cry with them. And make sure they can pass the test.

This is NOT me complaining. I chose this job and God chose me for it. (Probably not in that order, I understand.) I’m just saying that I want to hear a speaker that challenges me to be a better teacher- not someone who tells me how flawed and wrong our system is.

As I’ve mulled things over tonight, I’ve come to this: I love my students. I just do. And I think that counts for a lot. I don’t work ridiculously long hours- it’s my job. It is NOT my life. But I put in enough time that I do right by Cherokee County, my school, my principal, and I do right by my kids. I could always improve. I WANT to improve. There are things from tonight that I will try to implement. I am NOT against change or trying to better our educational system. In fact, I’m so for it. I just believe there is a bigger picture here.

You want a cause to fight for? You want to go against the system for the betterment of our children? You want to rally the educational troops to make changes that have far-reaching effects?

Let me
talk openly about Jesus in my classroom.