“Every child needs a caring, thoughtful, purposeful adult in their lives.”

After 4 years, I’m returning to Boston during my Spring Break!  I thought it might be nice to see if I could meet up with some of my old professors, and while emailing Kay Merseth, I came across this video that she had linked to her signature.

Around the 2:00 mark, she states, “Every child needs a caring, thoughtful, purposeful adult in their lives.”  It got me thinking, and I ended up writing this huge email that definitely ran too long.  Rather than sending it to her, I’m posting it here.

Dear reader, do you have any ideas?

If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to check out Teach To One  (TTO) from New Classrooms (http://www.newclassrooms.org/reimagine.html) because although it allows students to learn within their ZPD and get daily feedback on their learning goals, that whole piece of teacher-student relationships is not there.  The founder of TTO has been super receptive to our issues (especially since we’re piloting its first pilot in California), but I also realized this year that a lot of the structures that make this program hard weren’t necessarily TTO-mandated but were choices made by our administration.

I wonder if in urban schools, I should just get used to the idea that my position as “teacher” is changing into that of “coach” and “manager”.  I like that we can use technology to differentiate in ways that students weren’t able to go in before, and I like that as a school, we train students to take charge of their learning, but at the same time, the reason why I became a middle school teacher in particular wasn’t because of my love of for the subject, but because I wanted to work with kids at this prickly age.  I didn’t want to simply teach them academics; I wanted to teach them self-regulation, build in them intrinsic motivation, and work on helping them pose questions to each other.  Our kids are making fantastic progress on the MAP tests — is it wrong of me not to care that much about it?

At the end of the day, I’ve never felt so small — and my school is huge on teacher voice and leadership.  I understand that the nature of a pilot means that things are going to be very uncomfortable for a while, but I’m having a hard time seeing this direction as “best” for my students.  Some days, I get it.  I’m wowed. But there are just so many days, where life is hard simply because this structure is really hard.  Even if I get materials provided for me, I still need to take time to edit them.  Even if kids are learning at their ZPD, it doesn’t help that I don’t have much of a relationship with them so that some kids come in and refuse to even try because they don’t like me.  It’s also hard because I’ve never been a teacher that was hated just for being unfamiliar — I’m used to power struggles within the classroom that never exists outside of the classroom just because we have relationships.  With 300 kids, it just doesn’t work.  Will it work when I just have 150?

Is it just that at the end of the day, for urban schools, because we can’t always ensure that there will be quality math teachers year to year, we need to control for that by replacing teachers with a program where students will make satisfactory growth?  Is that why in Fruitvale Oakland, we’re piloting this  effective but joyless program while across the bridge in Palo Alto, kids aren’t taught by computers but by people?



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