Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Please, may I have some more?

I just spent the past half-hour composing a meticulously worded e-mail to my assistant principal, asking a question about something that came up at one of our (largely useless) professional development sessions today. Our literacy coach introduced something that sounded, to me, like a great idea that might really benefit my beginner ELLs. Unfortunately, this idea is to be implemented during Word Work (which I do not teach), and the reality is that no one really does it during Word Work because no one has time. But no one wants to admit that they don't have time to do it, because no one wants to get in trouble for not doing it, so no one said anything.

"Can I do this during Readers' Workshop?" I asked. "With my beginner ELLs who are A/B readers? Because it sounds a lot like our modified guided reading cycle for beginner ELLs, and I think this would really help them." (Plus -- I did not say this out loud -- but my A/B readers are not exactly reading during reading time, because they cannot read, so it's really not like pulling them for a small group a few extra times during the week is going to take away from their independent reading time.)

Several other teachers agreed with me. But our literacy coach told me that she could not answer my question, because it concerned questions of procedure, which had to be directed to my supervisor. So she told me to write it down and direct it to my AP so that it could be brought up and discussed at a cabinet meeting.

It was at that point that my nerves slowly began to fray, because -- grrr! -- how many people do I need to get permission from before I attempt to use a new strategy to teach my students? Why is it that every single teacher at my school has to teach in the exact same way? Why does every single teaching decision I make need to be brought before a committee, discussed, debated and agreed upon before I can go ahead and try it?

I met with my principal recently, and I was shocked -- shocked! -- when she asked me a question about which of two strategies I felt like was more effective, and when I answered her, she gave me permission to go ahead and do that more often in place of the other -- I was so tickled I practically went skipping off down the hall. And then I thought about it, and it kind of made me sad -- it was the first time since I've started teaching that an administrator asked my professional opinion and then took it into account. Normally, I either (a) do exactly as I'm told because I'm afraid I'll get into trouble or (b) do certain things sort of in secret so I won't get in trouble. Because nobody says, "Miss Brave, what do you think most benefits your kids?"; instead, they say, "We have decided that you will all be teaching this way. Hopefully it will benefit your kids!"

As a teacher at my school recently noted, our administrators may say they want to see differentiated instruction, but if they really did, we wouldn't all have to teach everything in exactly the same way. Like, I'm supposed to be provided academic intervention to struggling readers -- why group all the struggling readers together if I'm not making any modifications for them?

Lastly: There was a teeny debate in the comments of my post on paperwork about how teachers in time come to figure out which paperwork is actually looked at and which can be shafted aside. To clarify: I am sorry to say that at my school, each and every checklist, label and outline is actually scrutinized by administration. And I am even more sorry to say that it sometimes seems they're looking for quantity over quality -- because if you do a really quality lesson that happens to take a little longer so that you don't meet with a second group that day, you're not seeing enough kids during one period and it's curtains for you!

Sigh. On a happier note: I did not win the New York City marathon, but my students think I did :)

1 comment:

Angela Watson said...

Congrats on the marathon!!

Sorry to hear that (once again) NYC takes the cake when it comes to unnecessary paperwork. You all are dealing with a whole 'nother animal that is unfathomable even to those of us who have taught in the most disastrous of school districts. Ours pale in comparison! You win the greatest martyr award, seriously.

It's been my experience in 3 different districts that "they" bring on so many new initiatives that they forget to figure out which ones aren't working, and cut them. So over time, we just hear less and less about a mandate and slack off on it, until no one is doing it anymore.

Something that MUST be completed every day in the beginning of the year, becomes something we can get away with doing 3-4 times a week by the end. The following year, we can do it once a week, and the third year, we only have to give a general appearance on our walls/lesson plans/pacing guides that the mandate is actually occurring. By the fourth year, turnover has resulted in a whole new staff, and no one even remembers what the mandate was.

I am fascinated as to how your admin has time to scrutinize your every move, and that of all the other teachers in your school. When is this done, and at what expense? Where is the pressure ultimately coming from...is it school-based, from the regional supervisor, superintendent, or what?

Your suffering is our reading pleasure...thrill us, please! ;-)