Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Harry Opens His Mouth

Monday is staff meeting day. This past Monday, we had grade-level meetings. The fourth and fifth grade teachers met at one of the elementary schools to discuss curriculum; what's working and what's not working. It was a chance to sound off on the lameness of Everyday Math, and to discuss how the rudiments of this year's latest and greatest reading program, Lucy Calkin's Reading Workshop is going. Since most of us have only been trained on one minor portion of it, and others were awaiting more training, there wasn't much to discuss. But we did get to talk about the carpets each class received in order to help implement this new, latest and greatest reading method.

I usually don't say much because I hate meetings. I want to go home. And we've been through these discussions before, both formally and informally. Sometimes we meet by grade level as we did on Monday. Sometimes we meet by school. And sometimes we meet with all of the elementary schools in the whole district. One meeting, a few years ago, we were even encouraged to engage in "courageous conversations". They didn't go too far. Get too courageous and people get insulted. You know how that goes. But the subject came up as to how things could be improved in language arts, you know, reading, writing, spelling. Our students have been seriously lacking these skills for years. And things are only getting worse.

So in the spirit of - I'll offer the same suggestion that I've offered and had ignored for years - I brought up Riggs, the phonetic language arts method I teach. I wasn't alone this time though. There were three other teachers in the meeting who had also taught it and had gotten fabulous results. Two of them used it in first grade but weren't using it any more. The third is a special ed teacher. She's got cognitively impaired fourth and fifth grade students and she's been teaching them to read, you know, kind of one of the alleged reasons schools are exist in this country.

The teachers leading the meeting didn't know anything, so I had to explain the rationale, the process and the results. I told them of my class, my tutoring, and the fact that what I'm teaching my students should have been taught in kindergarten and first grade. This brought up the question, "how does that help us in fourth and fifth grade."

Speaking slowly, I explained that if students come to us with the knowledge base they need, and the skills that they are expected to have, we can teach what we're supposed to teach instead of year after year of remediation. And then, as I also pointed out, we can put an end to these meetings that we've been having regularly for the 20 years that I've been in the district where we get together to try and figure out how to increase student achievement, but only end up complaining about how deficient our students are and how difficult it is to push them forward. As an added bonus, we don't have to bring in a trainer. I'm right here.

There are teachers who want to be trained. We could get this started next school year after I train who ever wants to be trained over the summer. And while I wouldn't make as much as I usually make for a training (you bet I'm a capitalist!) there would be advantages to leading the training.

My colleagues who had used Riggs, backed me on all of claims. I was no longer the lone voice crying out in the wilderness. I now had companions. Now I'm only the semi-lone voice. I've also planted the idea in other minds in the district. These people are the lead teachers, the ones who get trained every few years in the new LATEST AND GREATEST teaching methods that are terrific and can't fail until the next LATEST AND GREATEST. Then they come back and try and shove it all down our throats. And yes I've gotten crabby about it even though I've been pushed into that position over the years in Social Studies, Science, and Math.

Do you know what else I've gotten crabby over? Chart paper. I hate meetings where we're divided into groups and placed at tables with other random teachers and each table is given a piece of chart paper. We are then expected it to fill it with ideas, suggestions, concepts, or any other stupid thing to be stuck on the walls so that the leader (or leaders) of the meeting can call up a volunteer from each table to read off all of the garbage on that table's chart paper for hours of useless blather.

At a Riggs workshop, no chart paper is allowed in the room. We have no use for it. The object of a Riggs workshop is to teach teachers to teach Riggs. There is an important body of knowledge for teachers to learn in order to pass on to their students. There are also the methods for passing on this knowledge. And it doesn't depend on busy work with chart paper.

But like I was saying, this could be a small step in the right direction.

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At 5:53 AM, Blogger Mrs. C said...

I hope they listen, Harry!! God bless you for being so brave. And the other teachers, too.

At 9:50 AM, Blogger KPOni said...

What... how dare you! How dare you attempt to start a program that has not been approved by the all-knowing, all-powerful (yet still loving and caring) school board. You blaspheme!

and on a non-satiric note, good job, i hope things continue this way.

At 2:56 PM, Blogger Subvet said...

Evidently perseverance is paying off if you now have supporters. Keep up the good work.

At 9:07 PM, Blogger Harry said...

Mrs. C.,
Thanks, now I just have to keep working them. They're pretty invested in the same old stuff.

Well, after all, I am the change I've been waiting for. I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together. But thanks.

Persistence, patience, and frustration. They all seem to go together. And thanks.

At 11:54 PM, Blogger MightyMom said...

oooh boy!
jump into that fray!!!

At 6:38 PM, Blogger Harry said...

Jump into it? I'm creating it.


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