Worth more than a Continental…

Please note…the first three quotes in this post are adaptations of the originals.  Click on person’s name to see the original.  This post was inspired by a recent trip to Washington, D.C.  A trip that brought a newfound appreciation for the “freedoms” that  we experience in the United States.  A newfound appreciation for the people who did not follow the “rules” in order to gain these “freedoms” for people.  In order for the title of this post and final line to make sense, you have to know what the phrase “not worth a Continental” means (give me a break, I am a social studies teacher).  Click here to learn what it means—> “…not worth a continental.”  Got it?  Now start the post…

I am worried.  I try to stay rooted in the present, but I worry about teaching in the future.  I think I have finally hit the point when if someone asks me “Would you recommended for me to become a teacher?”  I would say no.

As I teach, highly civilized human beings are making rules, trying to control me.
George Orwell

I have been teaching for 21 years.  I am an exponentially a more powerful teacher now than I was just five years ago.  In those 21 years I have tried just about everything from in-row worksheet based classrooms, to no-rules projects, from lists and lists of rules on the walls, to no rules ever mentioned, from detentions that would last for 16 days, to no coercive actions to alter behaviors, to treating the kids like inmates, to treating them like my own kids.  I have seen and done almost everything.  My wisdom is great, and I am proud to finally be able to say that publicly.  While my wisdom might be great, it is currently “not worth a continental.”  There are so many new “rules” coming into school that are trying to control me, trying to make me do what everyone else is doing.  At a time when innovation is held high as a business standard, it is looked down upon in schools.  The new rules are trying to create a common experience for all, to create a common knowledge, to create a common standard to which all students must adhere and abide by in order to be considered successful.  These rules made by a few flow down from the highest places to regiment me and my students in the classroom.

The inscription on a wall at the Franklin Deleno Roosevelt memorial:
“They [who] seek to establish a system of education based on the regimentation of all students by a handful of administrators call this a new order.  It is not new and it is not order.”

This new order scares me.  There seems to be a march towards telling me what to teach, when to teach it, how to teach it, and how to assess it.  Many deny this is the path we are marching towards.  They say it will never happen.  I know teachers that have been chastised for mentioning it.  But I am worried.  My own school’s mission statement mentions getting students to “pursue their personal best.”  The problem is, I will only be able to get them to pursue their “personal best” on topics, skills, using techniques, and on a time table that the system will choose for them…and me.  Not what they are personally best in, but only to be the best under someone else’s rules, in someone else’s game.

The inscription on the southeast wall of the Jefferson Memorial reads:
I am not an advocate for frequent changes in education. But changes in school must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, schools must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a student to use only a paper and pen which fitted his teacher when a boy, as civilized school to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.

The more we try to establish a single experience for all students, and a single expectation for all students, the more heavily laden our system will become with rules and regulations that are made by highly civilized and highly “educated” people at the top.   The more years I teach, the more those highly civilized and educated people have less and less experience in the classroom (X).  The rules that are made at the top are hard to change.  They stay with us for years.  It is like a company developing a new product and committing  to produce it for 20 years despite changes in the marketplace.  Our system’s vision statement, like those of many other school systems, states that it “will distinguish itself with innovative teaching.”  Going back to the latin root, innovatus, meaning  “to renew or change,” schools seem to think to innovate is something you do once every twenty years.  Innovate is something I want to do daily.  Innovate is something I want to do hourly.  Innovate is something I cannot do when held back by rules that don’t want innovation, but standardization.  Innovate is not something I can do in a system that germinates followers, and does not tolerate leaders.

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”
Steve Jobs

This is not a “o woe is me” post, it is not a cry for help, or a white flag.  It is more of a subtle battle cry to myself.  My wisdom is worth “more than a Continental.”  There are many teachers whose ideas and innovations are worth “more than a Continental.”  I hoped that this post would spark an idea, force me to come up with some kind of action…and so after snacking while staring at the previous sentence I think I have something.  I have attended and spoken at the progressive conferences like Educon, and hip unconferences like Edcamps and Podcamps, and have done the same at traditional conferences like NELMS and CCSS.  These attract one or two people per school.  They gather together innovative voices from a state or larger region, but what do they do to unify voices in a single school district?  In many cases these conferences are intimidating for most people to attend.  I can only think of one colleague who has attended a conference outside of mandatory PD in my district.   So my thought is this, what if an Edcamp/Educon style conference was set-up just for my district?  Set-up full of friendly faces.  Set-up to establish links between like-minded people who are not Twitterers, Linkedins, and bloggers.  Set-up to encourage first timers to step-up and share, to step-up and have conversations.

Arlo Guthrie once sang about how people think one person with an idea is just sick.  No one listens to two people. If three people have an idea, well now you have a movement.  But if 50 people, yes 50 people get together with the same idea, well then you have an organization.  The current set-up in our schools separates innovative thoughts.  Each individual who has the inkling of a creative thought often feels sick and left alone.  This in-system conference would in no way be a rebellion, it would be an organization of teachers who seek to remain, or “become” innovative despite the harsh realities of our job and the rules that we work under.  I hope that I can frame it in a way that comes across as supportive of our own school administrators and system administrators.   So in one year, on April 28, 2012, I hope to have a “conference” with teachers and administrators in my system where we can come together not to be spoken to like we don’t know anything, but to share and hopefully walk away feeling empowered to innovate.  Again, “conferencing” not in a rebellious sense, but in a supportive way.  And in that sharing become a group of people who all believe that our knowledge, our experience, our wisdom, our ideas, are worth “more than a Continental.”

Step one…find out who is the chair of the PD committee…

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