Wednesday, June 6, 2001

Teacher Rant


On Wed, 6 Jun 2001, Jeff Amdur wrote:

To my dear friends, colleagues, associates, supervisors past and present, and fellow members of the FLTeach and MdK-12 mailing lists, please pardon my indulgence. Some of you may have received something similar about two months ago.

It is the whole gamut of feelings that I am going through right now as I ponder my retirement from the Anne Arundel County Public Schools after 30 years, a retirement that will take effect in two days. I still enjoy teaching itself, foreign languages, my school, my students and colleagues, the other language teachers I have met and worked with, and the Arundel High School community (Gambrills-Odenton-Crofton) that I have taught in for the past 24 years. Up until about three or so years ago, I never thought I would be one to retire after the thirty years. I thought I'd go until age 65 or 70; but recent events (events having very little to do with the above mentioned school, students, colleagues, principals and supervisors) have told me that it's time to go.

The educational bureaucracy headed by Nancy Grasmick (whose main qualification seems to be that she is the wife of a political ally of ex-governor Schaefer) and the Maryland State Board of Education have taken a "throw out the whole machine, even if many of the parts are still in perfect working order" approach to reforming what is being taught in the public schools. The changes they have wrought, and how the county has implemented these changes have had the effect of re-inventing the wheel, making it a wheel that will no longer fit on my car/psyche. Although I know I have been teaching the "new approach" successfully, I know in my own mind that I am uncomfortable with it because it is become increasingly harder for me to be "selling" something that I wouldn't "buy" myself.

Let me explain:

(1) I do not buy the basic assumptions behind the "critical thinking" approach. I do not believe that every student is potentially college material. Algebra and geometry as requirements for graduation in Maryland public schools, regardless of intellectual level? I don't think so. Furthermore, I don't believe that every student can be taught to "critically think" at high levels. Sorry, but some kids just don't have it up there in the cerebrum‹they may have it in their hands, feet, or whatever, but some folks will never be able to "critically think at a high level". If the potential is there, we must certainly develop it; but I am not convinced that the potential is there in every case. There is such a focus on this nebulous process of "critical thinking" that many of the basics are being neglected and that we're not feeding the students enough information to process and think about. Subject matter is now a prisoner to "process".

(2) The emphasis on group work in the MSPAP tests means that the less-able students will be able to pass the tests by riding on the coattails of the more-able, perhaps giving a false impression of an individual's ability.

(3) These one-size-fits-all assessments (MSPAP and High School Assessment) do not encourage homogeneous grouping of students by ability in individual subjects. MSPAP tests hold schools and teachers accountable while not putting any accountability on the shoulders of the students, hardly a preparation for the future HSA's which they will need to pass to graduate.

(4) Curricula for every subject are being gutted and rebuilt so that every activity and objective can be indexed to one of the Official State Outcomes, or "program indicators".

(5) I am not a textbook writer, nor am I being paid to be. In my specialties, French and Spanish, the re-writes of the curricula have made uses of coherent textbooks virtually impossible. I have never been one to use a textbook lock-step (if I did, I'd never have to spend hours upon hours writing worksheets and creating activities); but when a truly great textbook such as what I am using for French 3 is reduced to only the cultural readings between chapters to support the new "thematic units" rather than > the excellent vocabulary/structure themes provided in the book, it depresses me. One of the thematic units (4-6 weeks of discussion of environmental problems) seemed so uninteresting to me that I went back to my textbook-based way of doing things for the last 6-8 weeks of the school year so I could hold the students' interest. I'm not saying it is a bad curriculum; it's just not for me. I can't tackle it intellectually and be the best teacher I think I can be. It's time to turn over room F-115 to someone more attuned to the new curriculum; I owe it not only to myself, but to the future students at Arundel High.

God, I'm tired of this new terminology. "Multiple choice" becomes "selective response". "Short answer" becomes "brief constructed response". "Essay" becomes "extended constructed response".

I'm tired of euphemisms; you can call it "bathroom tissue" all you want, but it's still toilet paper.

Next year I will be teaching part time (two classes of ninth-grade Spanish) at Beth Tfiloh Community School, a Jewish parochial K-12 school in Pikesville. It is a recent winner of a Blue Ribbon School award, and education director Zipora Schorr holds students and faculty to high standards. I look upon it as a challenge to revitalize myself as well as teach in a manner that I feel more at home with, teaching with an emphasis on communication as well as the ages-old Talmudic tradition of respect for learning. I hope I can be as successful there as I have been for the last 27 years of my public-school teaching career (the first three years I’d like to forget). I am also looking forward to becoming involved in all facets of the BTCS community; I have already talked to the athletic director about becoming the announcer/timekeeper for winter sports events. Plus, I will continue to serve in that timekeeping capacity back at Arundel whenever the BT schedule allows me. With the money I’ll be making next year (salary plus pension), I’ll be taking a pay cut of about $23000; but I feel I will be in a less stressful yet more challenging situation. It will be a chance to continue what I enjoy doing.

In conclusion, I’d like to thank all those people who have helped me become successful in my teaching career. Some teachers are born teachers; I wasn’t. I made myself one, and it took several years of hard work to do so.

Thank you all. It’s been a pleasure. I wish you all continued success and good health.

No comments: