Monday, September 16, 2013

Classrooom Changes

The school year is in full swing now in Kent, and we're heartily enjoying life with a second grader.  Specifically, we're enjoying this second grader and his second grade class.  This year, our school is trying out a mixed 1st and 2nd grade classroom.  Two teachers, two student teachers, and two grades in an extra large room (really two rooms with a collapsible wall between them that's not used very often now).  Kenny's been thrilled about it so far, and seems to be doing well with this new set-up, in part because the first grade teacher was his teacher last year, and he really enjoyed working with her.  We're glad that he has another year in a safe place where he enjoys learning, and his official teacher for this year has a similar pedagogy and manner to his first grade teacher.  His daily pattern is familiar, he's making progress on school work, and meeting new friends.

I may not work with young kids, but I do teach, and I take my profession seriously.  So much in education is bad news- rising tuition, rising student loan amounts, another assessment added to the schedule, and test prep taking more and more time away from teaching.  With all of that, it's great seeing innovation and child-centered learning still making its way into some areas.  Classrooms being treated like research, following evidenced-based practices and contributing to that evidence, trusting teachers to take leadership of their own classrooms, those are the things that I like to hear happening. 

In my own classrooms, I'm trying some new things, as well, like virtual presentations and some new lab activities.  It's surprising how different things feel with just a little bit of a difference; those little changes make such a big deal in overall outlook.  For me, seeing changes in my syllabus come together, and seeing how other people shape their classrooms for the students (with supportive administrators, even!) brings a renewed feeling of excitement about my profession. 

Over the weekend, Dwight and I saw Dark Side of the Moon, a Pink Floyd tribute band in our area, and went with two of our friends who also work in education.  We reflected a bit on the irony of four teachers enjoying "The Wall," but honestly, the world has changed so much since then that it's not a fair comparison.  Pink Floyd rails against the almost demonic image of a stern class headmaster, who was the final say in his classroom.  He was an authority figure, and Pink Floyd tends to have a very anti-authoritarian bent.  Today, most teachers are not authoritarian, but instead nearly as powerless as students in the classroom.  Legislation about standards, exams, meetings, IEPs; administrators with their list of demands; helicopter parents who will question any decision about their child from the teacher, and in some cases complain to the principal about every decision concerning their child. 

I can't sympathize with the teacher in "The Wall," and I don't think the current situation strikes the correct balance in the classroom, either.  And it is a balance between a teacher's autonomy in the classroom and meeting the need to ensure that children are getting a high quality education.  We haven't found that balance yet, but I'm hopeful that the pendulum will swing back towards teacher autonomy soon.