"A mind once stretched by a new idea can never regain its original dimensions." ~Oliver Wendall Holmes

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

It goes by so fast...

We have only three weeks of school left after this week. One of those weeks will be finals week, therefore, we have two weeks of instruction time left. It really just boggles my mind that it goes by so fast. There is still so much to do. It seems as though no matter how much time there is, we can never get everything done within a school year. I have worked so hard every year to revise and refine my curriculum, but no matter what I do there is just not enough time.

It's frustrating to know that there is no amount of hard work or long hours that will accomplish all that the state has said is required. I could cut out some crucial topics, but that would leave huge gaps in their knowledge. I could step up my pacing and just blaze through topics, but the kids wouldnt learn anything.

Sometimes it is frustrating to know that no matter how good/great/amazing of a teacher I am, I'll never be good enough to get through all of the content. It's frustrating that even though I'm doing everything right and doing all of the things that great teachers do and working hard to make sure my students succeed, it is not enough.

Next year, I will refine the curriculum of my class even more and I will get through even more of the content, but in the attempt to cover the content that means that other important things get pushed to the side. At some point, there will be a realization that our society asks for too much in a 7 hour day/180 day school year.

I think that Public school advocate Jamie Vollmer states it well on his website...

There has been an increasing and unrealistic burden placed upon our public schools over the last hundred years.

America’s public schools can be traced back to the year 1640. The Massachusetts Puritans established schools to:

  • Teach basic reading, writing, and arithmetic skills, and
  • Cultivate values that serve a democratic society (some history and civics implied).

The creators of these first schools assumed that families and churches bore the major responsibility for raising a child. The responsibility of the school was limited and focused for 260 years.

At the beginning of the 20th century, society began to assign additional responsibilities to the schools. Politicians, business leaders, and policy makers began to see the schools as a logical site for the assimilation of newly arrived immigrants and the social engineering of the first generation of the “Industrial Age”. The trend of increasing the responsibilities of the public schools began then and has accelerated ever since.

  • From 1900 to 1910, we added
  • nutrition
  • immunization, and
  • health to the list of school responsibilities.
  • From 1920 to 1940, we added
  • vocational education
  • the practical arts
  • business education
  • speech and drama
  • half day kindergarten
  • Phys. Ed. including organized athletics, and
  • school lunch programs (We take this for granted today. It was, however, a significant step to shift to the schools the job of feeding America's children 1/3 of their daily meals.)
  • In the 1950's, we added
  • safety education
  • driver's education
  • expanded music and art education
  • foreign language requirements are strengthened, and
  • sex education introduced (topics escalate through 1990's)
  • In the 1960's, we added
  • Advanced Placement programs
  • consumer education
  • career education
  • peace education
  • leisure education, and
  • recreation education
  • In the 1970's, the breakup of the American family accelerated, and we added
  • special education (mandated by federal government)
  • Title IX programs (greatly expanded athletic program for girls)
  • drug and alcohol abuse education
  • Head Start
  • parent education
  • behavior adjustment classes
  • character education
  • environmental education, and
  • school breakfast programs appear (Now, some schools are feeding America's children 2/3 of their daily meals. Sadly, these are the only decent meals some children receive.)
  • In the 1980's the flood gates open, and we add
  • keyboarding and computer education
  • global education
  • ethnic education
  • multicultural/non-sexist education
  • English-as-a-second-language, and bilingual education
  • early childhood education
  • Jump Start, Early Start, Even Start, and Prime Start
  • full day kindergarten
  • pre-school programs for children at risk
  • afer school programs for children of working parents
  • alternative education in all its forms
  • stranger/danger education
  • anti-smoking education
  • sexual abuse prevention education
  • health and psychological services are expanded, and
  • child abuse monitoring becomes a legal requirement for all teachers
  • In the 1990's we added
  • HIV/ AIDS education
  • death education
  • expanded computer and Internet education
  • inclusion
  • Tech Prep and School to work programs
  • gang education (in urban centers)
  • bus safety education
  • bicycle safety education, and
  • gun safety education

And in most states we have not added a single minute to the school calendar in five decades!

All of the items added to the list have merit, and all have their ardent supporters. They cannot, however, all be assigned to the schools.

The people of each community must come together to answer two essential questions: What do they want their children to know and be able to do when they graduate, and how can the entire community be organized to ensure that all children reach the stated goals.

The bottom line: schools cannot do it all.
Schools cannot raise America's children.

What is the solution to this? I'm not sure, but I do know that at some point somethings gotta give. I also know that I LOVE EVERY MINUTE OF IT. I absolutely love being a teacher and making a difference in the lives of kids. I also know that there are amazing things happening in schools and that far too often people focus on the few negatives rather than the multiple positives. Basically, if a person is looking for the bad things, then that person will find them. I also know that I'm doing my best to help make school a better place for my students and, for now, that's all I can do.


KuskoMama said...

Interesting post. Yes, lots of people want schools to be all things to all people, and "fix" all the "problems" that oftentimes begin at home or in the community.

I don't know that students could sustain a longer schoolday (how effective would that be? There's a point of diminishing marginal utility with additional instruction in a given day). At the elementary level, at least K-2, there's lots of "filler time" (less so the further you get), because the schools have been forced to "meet the demand" of full day kindergarten. Then there's after school.

I agree something has to give, but I don't think it should be in the direction of additional school time. Kids need time to have a social life, engage in extracurriculars, etc. Everybody has a pet "project" or theme they think should receive more attention.

And yes, viewing the positives is great. Ignoring the downsides doesn't help a situation improve, however.

BRHS has an asset to have a teacher that is so dedicated and concerned over whether the students are being exposed to and understanding material.

alisha said...

Did I give the impression that I was suggesting a longer school day? That was definitely NOT my intent.

In NO WAY at all was I trying to say that the school day/year should be longer.

I'm not sure what you mean by "filler time", but I know some K-2 teachers who are just as strapped for time to get through their curriculum as I am. They are working just as hard as me and also being asked to achieve an unrealistic amount of material. There is no time for "fillers"...everything we teach (K-12) is guided by national, state, and district guidelines.

Most of the teachers that I know are just as dedicated and concerned about their students and the material that they cover as I am. Of course, there are some teachers (just like in any profession) that are less than spectacular, but they are few and far between. By only focusing on the bad, a person runs the risk of devaluing the great things that are happening and teaching children to do the same.

I can say from my experience as a parent that if I only focus on the negative things that my child does and never praise him for the good, then eventually all I will do is teach him to be bad. All people respond much better to praise...so why is it that we are so slow to praise and so quick to point out flaws? We would never want teachers to treat our kids that way, so why do we treat our teachers/schools that way?

The Diceman said...

For the record, I am in constant admiration of your energy and effort and J and I believe (Audrey too!) that you are a great teacher!

Just remember, often the bar in which one is measured against is set so high by the person being measured. Take your cross-subject teaching about nuclear technology. Who else is doing that? Obviously, the simple route would've been to just teach fusion, fission, etc but you applied that next level of knowledge for them that will have long-term effect for the students!

Thanks for the list of public school changes...I enjoyed it on the wall in your classroom and am happy to have a digital copy of it now! And thanks for all you do!


Also, thanks for the grapefruit marmalade...it's fantastic on my potato wheat bread! I'll make you a loaf soon!

Oh my...my word verification for posting this is "tivaryhk"...I think that's Yup'ik for something!

alisha said...

That's EXACTLY what I'm talking about though....In order to spend the two weeks to do that cross curriculum unit on nuclear energy, I had to forgo some of the state mandated curriculum. In order to teach all of the curriculum that I am supposed to teach, those kinds of lessons are exactly the ones that will get cut to make room for the things I'm not getting to now because I dont have enough time. Is cutting a cross curricular lesson on nuclear energy that integrates research, history, politics, speech, debate, outline writing, science, ethics, and world governments (that will impact the students well into the future) worth the trade off that will come by replacing it with more content? I think not, but those are exactly the types of things that get cut first when there is so much to teach in so little time.

alisha said...

And thanks very much for the compliment. It's nice to know when the good things are being noticed.

KuskoMama said...

filler time = my kids bring home beaded necklaces on a regular basis. They color coloring pages. This is in Yup'ik class for the first 3 grades (K, 1, 2). I think it's great when they do things like pluck ptarmigan... but I don't need another beaded necklace or coloring page of a family doing some activity or other. There's 30 minutes a couple times a week right there that could be "found" if the administration wanted to. I love the cultural activities - I just wish there was more variety and rigor to the curriculum. We aren't given a choice, and hence there's no opportunity for change or improvement.

Another parent whose child is in the same (regular, not Yupik) class as one of my kids remarked that many of the activities were similar to a daycare vs. academic instruction. However, I think you are aware we've had 'issues' with one of our kid's classrooms this year. It truly is not a matter of "finding negative" things - 3 kids have been transferred out and we stuck with it in hopes that it would work - it didn't turn out as we'd hoped. But that's neither here nor there.

I wasn't speaking specifically to you about increased school time - but frequently when this comes up, there's a push right behind it for more time or more days in the schoolyear because 'we can't fit everything required/important in the existing schedule'.

Do teachers get any input on creation of state standards or is that more something of administrator creation? Sometimes it seems far removed from the "on the ground" situation at a school - especially in bush schools.

KuskoMama said...

Another thing about "filler time" - I'm only familiar w/the lower grades. Look at 1/2 day vs. full day kindergarten. They must do something with the extra half-day, but I'm not convinced the kids really benefit from it aside from being on the same schedule as the older kids and the parents paying less for daycare, if applicable. However, we don't even have the choice here to NOT have a full-day kindergarten enrollment (unless we choose not to send our kids at all).

The Diceman said...

I'm rooting for the 5th too, although I didn't get tickets! I can't think of a better break up than Cinco de Mayo!

alisha said...

There is ALWAYS choice and opportunity for change. If I felt that my child couldnt get a good education here, I would leave. There is always a choice, just because it's not an easy choice doesnt mean it doesnt exist.

Also, there is always opportunity for teachers and parents to contribute to the curriculum at the national, state, and local levels. The development of curriculum is a process that involves many people. All of the people have good ideas, but every idea doesnt end up in the final product. Working with a committee of people who all have equal input, we cant be offended or feel put off by the process if our ideas are the ones that get rejected. A person cant always get there way.

Also, just because full day kindergarten does not benefit your children does not mean that there arent plenty of students out there the benefit greatly from the extra instruction. Once again, by focusing on the negative, it negates all of the positive that is happening.

KuskoMama said...

Food for thought. I've said the "if someone doesn't like it here, they should leave" line in various forms when people have issues with Bethel. Some stay, some go. Some of my kids have had great experiences, others haven't. I can't bust the whole deal because one year we don't get what we were hoping for.

I think we just disagree on the point or merit of various issues, and that's fine. Not trying to convince you :) It's great if kids benefit from it. I imagine many do. On the other hand, I can't peg my life on it. We all just do the best we can. Have a nice weekend.