What should desperate early career teachers do when they realize they have agreed to a job where they are not allowed to do what they know is best for children, young people, families, and learning?
Here’s an open letter to a teacher who wrote in to a blog about Reggio Emilia practices.
Dear (any teacher who is already desperate and angry and frustrated because you are forced to do inhuman things to kids in your classroom),
You are definitely not alone, and while I agree that I see very creative spaces opening up outside of public schools, I don’t see the end of these “data-driven” practices any time soon. Testing companies are making billions of dollars, and legislators have literally bought into a dehumanizing corporate model of teacher/school/child accountability that will destroy everything in its path. Public education is one of the last “markets” to be exploited and there are trillions of dollars to be made in the accountability movement – and when that much money is at stake, what is best for children is not likely to carry a lot of weight.
However – you are not trapped, and you can make a difference, and millions of teachers all over the country feel exactly the way you feel. Thousands of them are speaking out.
From my vantage point, it seems that you can:
1) Run like hell. You might have landed in a worse-than-typical data-driven school where you literally don’t have any elbow room at all. If you see teachers getting punished, humiliated, “written up”, etc. you may just need to find another school.
2) Find colleagues in your school who have found some “elbow room” for doing things differently in their classrooms. Ask your colleagues how they make space to give their young students opportunities for painting, exploring, playing, creating. You might be surprised – there might be some revolutionaries behind closed doors.
3) I don’t know what region of the country you are in, but find local people outside your school that are doing creative things for kids. Hang out with them, inspire one another, and organize yourselves to let your friends, families, neighbors, and legislators know what’s happening and why it’s wrong.
4) Connect yourself with the larger national movements. SOS (Save Our Schools) is one that is definitely gaining momentum: saveourschoolsmarch.org
5) Be smart. In these times teachers don’t only need to understand the learning/teaching process deeply, but you/we also need to understand the political movements against public education. Follow Deborah Meier’s blog, Diane Ravitch’s blog, Paul Thomas on the Daily Kos http://www.dailykos.com/user/plthomasEdD, etc.
6. Steal the moments in-between for now. Put those water colors on the tables and use them! Force yourself to make room for exploration and play and creativity every single day – before you know it, you might have a really different classroom and others may be pointing to you as the model for how to do things that are right for kids in the middle of the national educational “deform” we are living through right now.
Good luck, take a breath, and find your center. What matters most is what you do with/for/to that child who is looking at you right now.