My senior year of college, I had my mind made up about what I was going to do, but no idea how I was going to do it. I was going to move to New York and become a journalist, somehow. I had spent some time working at The Nation Magazine the summer before, and i wondered if maybe they would rehire me to do some kind menial task (after all, I'd been a diligent fact-checker, and I wore such quirky outfits to the office). So there I was, perched on the edge of the vast unknown of a freckly job market, determined to succeed at find a profession in a dying industry, when I got an e-mail from Teach for America.
Of the hundreds of professional development sessions I've been to in the past six years, I could count on my fingers the ones that didn't utilize the phrase, "Now, we don't want to reinvent the wheel here." When you hear someone say that, you know they're about to launch into a diatribe about a method someone else has come up with, and they're going to give you the tools to commandeer the method for yourself. This is obviously a godsend for teachers: using resources and ideas dreamed up by other teachers saves valuable planning time, and ensures that you're incorporating a method that has worked for someone else along the way.
I am terrible at science. I know that lots of people say they are terrible at subjects and are just being modest, but lots of people did not accidentally spill titration mixtures all over their lab partner's faces. You know how in chemistry classrooms there are those eye-flushing faucets that you're supposed to use in case of emergencies, but you've never seen anyone actually use? Yeah. I am the reason those are there.
When I look through the folder of photos on my computer from the past five years, there's this one that is especially sad. At the time it was taken, the picture made me happy. I even had a big print made of it, and I hung it up in my classroom. It was a picture of "100 percent compliance" -- a Doug Lemov teaching strategy that had been reiterated to me throughout multiple professional development sessions to the point that it had basically become part of my personal dogma. ("I believe in peace, love, equal rights for all, that salted caramel is the best flavor of ice cream, and that children should always demonstrate 100 percent compliance.")
If you are a teacher in Louisiana, this is a big week for you. All week, you will have just two words on your mind; you will wake up every morning with two words on your lips; you will hear two words echoing throughout the hallways at whichever school you happen to work: LEAP Test.
Five years ago, I sat in an old, falling-apart high school, not teaching two 19-year-old boys about reading. I was supposed to be teaching them about reading, but the other six kids in the class had failed to show up that day, and morale was low. It was incurably hot, and the room we were in didn't have air conditioning. After going through the motions of phonics exercises, we had stretched out in front of a jangly plastic box fan and were talking about the rapper Juvenile.
Last night I ran an activity table at Family Math and Literacy Night at one of the schools where I work. I set up my go-to project -- collage making with tissue paper (it never looks bad, but simultaneously, no one is ever really all that good at it) -- and sat down at my station with a New Yorker. I didn't really think anyone was going to come to my station. Most of the kids who go to this school don't know who I am, and "art station" sounds like it has about as much to do with math and literacy as "whale station" or "popcorn station" might. (Although, I would absolutely go to a "whale station" if such a station existed.)