We have a great need to share our thoughts and stories with the world. Through writing we make our truth's beautiful.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Creative Teaching in America

After 10 years of teaching, I reflect on the standards based education system I exist in. I say exist because I don't believe I truly have room to say that I teach in the system. I exist among a list of standards that must be taught. Data driven expectations that must be met. Non-negotiable texts that must be taught. Teaching strategies that must be implemented. Tests that must be given at both the state and district level. None of these is something that I can truly say I have the freedom to creatively implement.

Creativity is defined as the ability to transcend the traditional ideas, rules, pattens, relationships, or the like and to create meaninful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination: the need for creativity in modern industry; creativity in the performing arts.

The best teachers I ever had taught in a system that existed previous to standards based education. I learned. I enjoyed. I became and creative and critical thinker with a love of education and the desire to create creative learning experiences for future students just like I had.

As a teacher I miss the creativity of the language arts classroom. I miss watching and reenacting Shakespeare with my seniors. I miss trapsing through the jungle with Lord of the Flies. I miss challenging my honors students to look at the citizens of Brave New World and getting to see where we are terrifyingly headed as a nation. I miss reading, analyzing, and writing about poetry. I miss challenging my students to look a life through fiction. I miss instilling a love of SIMPLE READING. I'm hanging on with all my effort to bits and pieces of the cannon, however, it's becoming more and more clear that my students will only read bits and pieces of great literature but will be required to research the rest of the story and fill their minds with the ideas of what others thought the value (or not) of what the whole work really is rather than determining that for themselves.

While I realize this sounds very idealistic in a realistic society, I do strongly believe we need to take a step back and look at what we are offering our youth. Are we so focused on core classes that students are being prevented from applying those core skills in elective classes where they can see their value and then want to learn more? Or do we truly believe that core subject knowledge is of such importance that "elective" classes are worth minimizing/eliminating? Elective classes are where I decided what I wanted to do with myself. I learned through computer classes that I loved working with the Microsoft Office products (I use these daily both personally and professionally). I learned the math of fractions in woodshop class. In math class they just didn't make sense. I learned the importance of specific word choice in yearbook, not in English.

Some of the greatest minds and inventions of our time came not from the assembly line education structures of other nations, but rather from the creative experiences and opportunities of the pre-standards based education system of the United States of America.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

English and the Common Core

After ten years of teaching mostly the same curriculum at the same high school, I guess it's time to shake things up a bit.  My school district along with hundreds across the nation have decided to band together and implement of a set of standards known as Common Core.  While as an English/literature teacher, this makes my skin crawl, as we head forward into an increasingly more technological and internationally more competitive world, the need for individuals to lay aside the beauty of literature and focus on the significance of critical thinking skills and functional print has become imperative. 

While I have conceded to aligning my instruction with the Common Core Standards and giving up some of my "core" love of the English cannon, I can not in good conscious entirely put aside imagination, creativity, and my natural love of the English language and forego literature.  The standards say that my teaching should now have a 70/30 split between nonfiction and fiction text.  Does this really mean I have to give up Bradbury, Shakespeare, Plath, Austen, Poe, and Thoreau?  Sadly, it means I can't spend weeks simply exploring the cavities of the creativity that created their works, however, I can't simply run my students minds dry with constant inundation of nonfiction (they get enough of that in their other courses).  My new challenge as I head into my second decade of teaching becomes, how to mesh reason I chose to teach English (love of literature and composition) with the rigors of the mundane Common Core.

Next begins my exploration into new unit development as I decide how to best mesh the fictional and non fictional world into the seemingly limited world of rhetoric, inform, critique, and research and present. 

Care to join me on my journey?  Care to share resources?  Care to debate and inform about Common Core?  I look forward to either the collaboration or the personal journey into a new world of instruction.  Beyond all the politics of education, I love teaching and I love students.  I won't allow those who can't teach pigeon hole me into hating my career and resenting the path in life I chose to follow and will continue to wend for at least the next 20 years.