Sunday, October 11, 2009

Pulling down other teachers to get ahead?

There's a facet of Australian society called the Tall Poppy Syndrome, in which successful and/or popular people must be pulled down to be like other people. Bill Clinton calls our Prime Minister one of the smartest leaders in the world? Better make a joke about Kevin Rudd's big head. A scientist helps to find a vaccine which prevents cervical cancer? Report each and every adverse reaction to the vaccine. It's supposed to be related to Australia's equality . . .

The same syndrome seems to be ever present in teaching. Over the last two or three years I've read books by popular teacher-authors such as Nancie Atwell, Rafe Esquith and Ron Clark. I haven't always agreed with everything they've written, but there is a lot there I like. I've tried a lot of their techniques in my classroom - some have been a huge, raging success (Reader's workshop, levels of behaviour), some which have needed to be modified for my students/classroom/state requirements/country, and some have had to be put aside for further reflection/rethought. Most of all I have liked the way that these teachers have made me think, and have made me feel that it's ok to be passionate about teaching (or in Nancie's case in particular, teaching reading).

But I've noticed, whenever I've turned to the internet to learn more, that forums and blogs seem to want to tear down these teachers personally. They complain that they have specialised circumstances which would never work for the rest of us. They complain that these teachers are setting unrealistic or insane expectations which is just unfair. They nitpick every little detail, using the one or two things that don't work for them to dismiss the whole concept altogether. They call them 'super-teachers' (not in a nice way) whose ideas are instantly dismissable by mere mortal teachers 'just wanting to collect their paycheque'

The critics always leave me with a bad taste in my mouth, because at the root of Nancie and Rafe and Ron's work I see an absolute passion for teaching and a belief that education is a pathway worth following. And I can't, for a moment, understand what it so wrong with that. If you don't like part of what they do then adapt it, or exchange it for something that will work for you. Stop blaming them for thing that aren't working for you.

I, personally, see this too(on a different scale :) ). I am blessed, after three terms of work, with a class which lines up neatly, works hard, are considerate and seem to enjoy most learning situations. I get told that this is because they're gifted and therefore well behaved, or because they're not a real class, that I don't have to work hard to get this kind of behaviour, enthusiasm or results. Unsurprisingly, I find these comments difficult. I spent a good 3 or 4 weeks constantly drilling in my expectations of behaviour at the beginning of the year. I expect them to be lined up in two straight lines facing the front, and we will practice if it's not good enough (and we have practiced). I have very high expectations of behaviour, down to requesting students walk quietly up the stairs into our classroom (visitors are always noisier than we are now). And classroom work is aimed at the level of the students, often hands on, and surrounded in the expectation that the students can do well at it (and celebration when they do well).

Don't get me wrong, things definately go pear-shaped from time to time, but because we've built up a good classroom environment, things generally run smoothly. So to be told I've had no part in that, or it can never be recreated with another group, is frankly a little offensive.

Where am I heading with this? Well, the best teachers, as far as I can see, learn from each other, not by pulling other people down. I'd like to be one of those best teachers, so I'm going to keep reading books by Nancie, Rafe, Ron and others like them, because they've given the time to try to offer something to me. The considerate thing would be to take what they offer with an open mind.

Monday, October 5, 2009

New Term = New Books!

Back to school today for the last 10 weeks. I'm looking forward to seeing my students and teaching them again, not so much to the increasingly dictatorial commands coming down from the government/department.

Once again, I've spent entirely too much money on buying books for the classroom (I get to read them first though!). New books for this term include:

Graphic Novels: Amulet 2; Kat and Mouse 1 and Agent Boo

-Mac Slater: Cool Hunter - The Rules of Cool by Tristan Bancks
-Story Time - Edward Bloor
-Books 2,3 and 4 in the Samurai Kids series by Sandy Fussell (I already have the first one in the classroom and it's popular, so I grabbed these three when I found them)
-Ida B and her plans to Maximise Fun, Avoid Disaster and (possibly) Save the World by Katherine Hannigan
-Someday Angeline by Louis Sachar
-Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

I've also got the sequel to Peter and the Starcatchers, but the kids can't have it until I've finished it. And I'm keeping Operation Yes by Sara Lewis Holmes (which I LOVED) to read to the class together.

Well that's enough to get me excited to go back!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

One Term To Go

After a lovely two week break (hello sleep and relaxation and lots of reading) I'm geared up for our last term of the year. Term 4 is an interesting one, report cards, lead up to Christmas and all the awards etc that come with that, and then the joy of finding new classes and classrooms for 2010. So within all that madness, I should plan a nice calm term without a lot of excitement, right?


November is NaNoWriMo. For those of you who don't know about NaNoWriMo, it's National (actually international) Novel Writing Month, where a whole bunch of crazy people try to write 50 000 words in 30 days. I did it way back in 2003 and 2004, but real life kept getting in the way in November and I've been unable to do it since. That part of real life is no longer, and I am back. But this time I'm draging my students along with me. The Young Writers Program, associated with NaNoWriMo allows me to set this up in my classroom. Students set their own word count goals (they recommend between 5000 and 10 000 for Year 5 and between 6000 and 12 000 for Yr 6) and then set out to write their own novel in 30 days.

The website has some good ideas for teaching NaNoWriMo (though sometimes you have to look for it a little) and I'm pretty excited, because my students love nothing more than a challenge. I'm intending to have a kick off and finishing celebration, and we may also have some special events throughout the month (breakfast writing, come on down). Throughout October we'll do a series of lessons leading up to it, and then come November - writing time.

Along with continuing Reader's Workshop and going on with our unit it should be a fun term :)