Tuesday, September 3, 2013

"You May Say I'm a Dreamer, But I'm Not the Only One"

I'm in the wrong place. 

I realized this on opening day for teachers in my school system which is moving hard and fast to programmed, scripted teaching. A presenter talked about how wonderful it will be when a child can transfer schools without missing a beat because we're all doing the exact same thing. He said it without irony and without any understanding that it can't ever work that way and never should. His lack of understanding of what teaching and learning are would have shocked me, but my school system has conditioned me to this soul sucking nonsense.

A colleague asked what the perfect opening day would look like. I couldn't come up with a good answer. All day, slogging through our wretched opening day, I tried to imagine an alternative. It's a really challenging problem. I now know what I want.

The perfect opening day wouldn't happen because teachers wouldn't ever really leave. The idea of opening day is to get all the teachers back together and have a pep rally. That makes sense seeing as how so many teachers, myself included, flee school in June and stay far away until opening day.

To make opening day worthwhile, it needs to disappear. To do this, teachers would need to want to stay engaged over the summer. Not every day, but several times and in different ways. And none of this can be managed with carrots and sticks.

What else is there?

The model is the National Writing Project, a great professional development organization of teachers teaching teachers through writing, collaboration, and research. The National Writing Project model would have saved me from what I called on Twitter today #FirstDayHell.

Here's the deal: for four weeks over three summers I got to work with the faculty I've always dreamed of. Challenging people who sometimes got in my face. Generous professionals who shared more than they received. Dedicated teachers focused on learning and knowing only that they would never know enough to stop learning.

Each morning we shared breakfast that one of us had made. We wrote together, talked and listened, researched topics important to us individually, and presented our teaching. We engaged professionally, creatively, and personally.

It always made me desperate to get back to my classroom, back to learning with my students. I didn't need an opening day, I was already raring to go. It reminded me that I work in a profession filled with creative, autonomous people who are more often than not meant to lead. We didn't want or need programmed scripts, we wanted to write our own, revise them, and share them with one another for advice and recommendations.

A school that fostered collegiality and professionalism on this level would never need an opening day other than to host a clam bake for teachers and families. That school wouldn't be able to institute massive, standardized programs, but small groups of teachers might choose to pilot something and good programs would naturally spread. All teachers would be encouraged to play to their strengths and help others with their weaknesses.

I've worked at schools that trusted teachers. My school system used to. When it stopped trusting teachers it had to put in place a terrible opening day and that's what I got today. Which is why I know I'm in the wrong place working for the wrong people. I'm not sure trusting schools exist, but I'm going looking for one. And if I can't find it, maybe a few of us need to get together and write it into existence.

And to all the teachers out there, struggling or not, I say, write on.