I have always marveled at the kindness and optimism of veteran Chicago teacher, Michelle Gunderson. I cannot imagine how she is able to maintain this attitude given the struggles they’ve had in Chicago. It’s certainly a part of who Gunderson is as a person. Perhaps it is also that, even though Chicago is going through hell right now, they have a cast of thousands ready and willing to fight. That gives someone hope.

Gunderson has a post up about goodwill and compassion in teaching, things that are sorely lacking right now. Her situation sounds very much like mine in terms of teaching and reaching children in poverty. I too see students walking in without an adult. I have students who walk home with first and second grade siblings. My students follow the philosophy that if you are subject to injustice, then you are unjust in return.

My students rarely highlight the positive with each other and alternatively are quick to share what act of unfairness has been perpetrated against them. Our Kindergarten classroom is across the hall from children with significant emotional needs. Rather than giving these students what they need in terms of mental health counseling, staff in this classroom is told to lock them in and keep them there all day, for lunch and for recess. No matter how much furniture is thrown, KEEP THEM LOCKED IN.

In DC, we do not have a powerful union. Legally, we cannot strike. The WTU President seems more interested in a good relationship with the Chancellor than actual advocacy for teachers. Additionally, the strict evaluation system and merit pay structure–IMPACT–breeds competition, jealousy, and resentment between teachers. IMPACT is not a development tool. It is a sledgehammer.

I received a crap evaluation from my own principal that I know down to my core that I did not deserve and that I also know was more about my refusal to follow a scripted phonics program than about my ability as a teacher. There was a very short lived moment during my reading of the report that I actually RESENTED my students. Yes, I resented my five year olds.

Why couldn’t you just do what I asked? Why couldn’t you stop talking and see that the principal was in the room taking notes? Why couldn’t you just take the doggone magnetic letters and make those words?

As I sat alone in my classroom, reflecting on the negative report, my mind initially reached for someone to blame other than myself. But after some time to reconsider, I don’t blame myself at all, and not even my students. No. Something else is at fault.

I feel all of the things that Gunderson feels, but I cannot so readily express them. Teaching in DC, which I do not plan to do long term, has poisoned the well. I can do everything that I can do every day to filter out this poison, but then the system in which we teach punishes us for that goodwill until we end up teaching, not with compassion, but with resentment.

 

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Talk to teachers. For this piece on the common core, I don’t think you did. A principal, sure.

Speaking of which, here’s an interesting tidbit from one of the principals:

Jayne Ellspermann, the principal at West Port High School in Ocala, Fla., said teachers in her school are already seeing an improvement in the writing and analysis abilities of students who have been learning under the standards for about five years. Her own grandson benefited as a first grader, she said, when he wrote a Thanksgiving report about why he wouldn’t want to sail on the Mayflower. He built his argument on stories the class read that described rotten food and abysmal sanitary facilities. Before Common Core, she said, he likely would have just memorized the date the ship sailed and made a hat.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2015/10/common-core-education-schools-214632#ixzz3oNHCB5RT

This might be too “in the weeds,” but this anecdote is not about the standards. It’s reflective of an improvement in the teaching of social studies, a subject that is marginalized by standardized testing. How we teach the Pilgrims has been the subject of a longstanding debate for years. I remember talking about how we teach historical myths in social studies methods courses as a graduate instructor in 2005. Lies my Teacher Told Me was first published in 1996.

Common core proponents did a great job selling the standards. In the above case, the principal confuses improvements in teaching with the standards. Memorizing facts and promoting historical myths are signs of bad teaching that can improve with, or without, the standards. Teaching this subject has improved, and was improving, well before the standards. If we choose 2010 as a target date for the standards, and for argument’s sake use the publication of Loewen’s book as another benchmark, that’s a span of roughly 15 years. It’s simply incorrect that the standards had anything to do with shifting a conversation that had already been happening for over decade, at minimum.

Actually, I don’t consider a persuasive essay about the conditions on the Mayflower a dramatic improvement in teaching. What kid in their right mind today would sign up for a two-month trip covered in vomit? Doesn’t sound like a very challenging rhetorical exercise. It might be more interesting to consider reading a text like Encounter. Although not about the Pilgrims specifically, it would be more evocative to get students to consider the perspectives of Indigenous peoples rather than focusing on their own discomfort with long ocean voyages.

… tell me that the Center for American Progress is not implying that you hate military families if you don’t support the Common Core. This is highly disappointing coming from a so-called progressive organization. Actually, it’s not disappointing at all, just predictable and hilarious. It proves that progressives are terrible on issues dealing with education […]