I published this a few days ago without the edits I wanted. Sorry. This is the better version
It’s graduation week at the Ampersand School. Truth be told I can’t honestly say that all of the seniors are graduating. I don’t have all the grades done yet. They’ll be walking, and will all be completing their time. Some of them may need to study for a GED. I have no problem saying that.
I had thought about not going back to my little private school. One of those end-of-the-year crises that tells me that all the things that went wrong happened “to me.” After some reflection and some honest personal inventory work, it’s more true that all of those things happened with me.
End of the year blues are certainly not unique. Not to me, and it crosses the age and occupation barrier in any school. It’s doesn’t have to. But it does.
I had gotten the blues, in part, because I hadn’t fulfilled my wish to present the complete Florida history curriculum. We started with the pre-colonial and Paleo Indian tribes of Florida. We visited shell middens on both coasts. We visited Regional History museums in Central Florida and Tampa Bay. We studied and re-created physical projects that represented native Florida Indian culture. We dabbled in the conquistadors. If you never read A Land Remembered, do that. We did that.
I felt I had hogged the spotlight with my curriculum. So I backed off for nine weeks. That didn’t work. An extremely talented, and brilliant young biologist took the lead with his Blue Economy and environmentalist (that is a loaded term, and doesn’t do his curriculum justice) unit. It was a brilliant unit designed to generate interest in making an impact in our immediate environment. The epitome of acting locally.
I didn’t help this other teacher promote his curriculum. I felt idle. I saw the children acting apathetically, or inefficiently, because it was lecture driven course. There was a lot more time devoted to the environmental curriculum than I was devoting to my language arts curriculum or history curriculum. At least that was my perception. I felt derailed. I felt so much of the day was lost. This other gentlemen as zero experience in classroom management and in teaching in general. I am loathe to say that either of those are a deficiency.
Similarly, I was splitting my time between the classroom and the outside lawn and garden center of a nearby hardware superstore. Both of those represent passions of mine. But the split time and was wearing me thin.
I had come back the next marking period with a curriculum based on Zora Neal Hurston. Keep in mind that all the time we had certainly been reading. We never didn’t read. In fact in retrospect we did a lot of close reading and comprehension mini lessons and drills. I believe firmly in close reading and in whole language education. Simply put, language and grammar skills are taught in context and in unison with content. Not as separate entities. We don’t use them in everyday speech and writing separately, we use them in our expression – in our content if you will.
The “I Made That” thematic unit in third-quarter was excellent. It was extremely challenging and may have produced very little at times. That lack of production was as educational, or more, then the seemingly productive times. That unit was a design thinking unit. On a weekly basis students had to go from ideation to prototype to redesign to product in five days. They were free to use the preceding or following weekends as well. You can see that there was probably a lot of failure involved in this Quick-draw process. That’s the point. Failure isn’t wrong. We like to use the term, “failure is sexy” but the term, “sexy” isn’t always appropriate.
I was then asked to facilitate a government and economics curriculum. The four students who needed that credits, would come to me twice a week to hash out a basic knowledge of the foundations of the Constitution, a handshake familiarity with the Constitution and parts of government, and then I basically indoctrinated them with why economics shouldn’t be included in the same class as government roles. They were free to disagree. Their final project was to research and either argue for or against a local penny tax in Seminole County. I got a couple of wishy-washy non-stance arguments, one argument that was almost as vehemently against it as I was – am. The last one stated bluntly that they didn’t care much, wanted to do it because I told them to, and spoke directly to me in the text, “I’m not sure what you want from me.” I had gotten that answer more than once, in more than one subject – which were increasingly coming my way as facilitator.
The final quarter I was facilitating an online math instruction, a Dave Ramsey Foundations of Personal-Finance curriculum with a fill in the blanks workbook, the government and economics curriculum, and just for good measure: subjects I’m actually qualified to teach: books based on our theme – prisons – and a really neat history project called The Back Power Mix Tape
. Each of these topics would start with formal presentation and some mandatory work. They would then extend to optional work based on student interest. I like the natural flow of that. Here’s some important data take what you can, or what you’re interested in and go with that. I applied to all of the curriculums I was facilitating.
We had lost our math teacher earlier in the year to a better offer in California. Our biology and life sciences teacher was splitting his time amongst all grades and the nonprofit international effort of which he had become the head. I chose to feel put upon. Certainly there was some pressure and high expectations, but the emotional bit I had to choose to feel. I can’t make anybody else responsible for that.
I was nonplussed with most of the output that nine weeks, not to mention that I hadn’t incorporated a prepared speaking component both me and the parents had wanted to implement. There was some extra that I was putting upon myself. In retrospect I’m grateful I didn’t attempt it. I had felt spread thin as it was.
I believe I was less than satisfied with the student output for a few reasons. The main reason is because I hadn’t modeled a single project all year. I could probably give some reasons, and some excuses for it. The fact was that the previous year I had always done the projects that I assigned. The children felt both challenged by my level of production, and enjoyed sharing presentation and creative space. That’s all I can say for sure. If they had other motivations, you have to ask them. But it was all positive.
I also felt a bit apathetic towards their work because some of the work was apathetic. As I stated above some of it was simply being down for completion, not because it sparked interest. Hey, sometimes lessons are bit droll. But that’s no excuse, for me I mean. The beginning and middle of the year were chock-full of field trips, and that had died down towards the end as well. So there was definitely a lack of motion and momentum – in favor of inertia.
When the teachers will – the things they want to introduce, teach, create an outstanding life experience around – meets with a student’s honest interest, or dishonest disinterest, or any combination of honesty and interest – that interest will win every time. This victory can take shape of simply neglecting the task, doing it poorly, or only doing it for completion to appease the educator.
This is the danger of a prescribed curriculum. This happens on a grander scale with the educator in the student choose. When we’re simply and robotically carrying out the next task series of benchmarks whether we have an interest in that instruction or not, it will show justice. More likely and more often a class from teacher will just complete the task to get the check-mark on the curriculum and move on. This disinterest will then transfer down the chain to their relationship between themselves and the student. This is where the teacher will have to willfully stress the importance of activity or assignment or curriculum check-mark that they weren’t interested in the first place.
I teach because it is a natural extension of my personal interests, and affords me the greatest opportunity to keep learning. I said so at the end-of-year gala. I told parents and friends that I am not responsible for shaping your kids’ futures. I do nothing so grandiose or egotistical. I did win Teacher of the Year.