It is summer and I love the fact that I have time to live at my own pace. I can enjoy cooking, socialize more, read more, and worry less. Summer also provides much needed time for reflection on the past year and developing for the coming one. Now that I’m much more relaxed and in touch with my inner spirit, so to speak, I’m finding that some new emotions are creeping in, where during the year there was little room to explore them. One, in particular, is not really new but it’s one I rarely entertain: anger.
When I look at the landscape of education right now, I see the standardized testing and punitive responses of NCLB (and its local spawn) steadily dominating conversations in schools about student learning. Government money is spent developing standardized tests and test prep programs, while art, music and drama are practically nonexistent at most city public schools. Class sizes remain unreasonably high, and many children don’t receive the individualized support they need. Teachers are beginning careers in the most under-resourced public schools with little preparation or guidance, and by the time they feel somewhat competent, they are ready to move out of the classroom. We are encouraged to teach in ways that are outdated in relation to the global economy, out of touch with the developmental needs of students, and stifling to creativity. When I step back and consider how these factors affect my work life and teachers and students all over the country, I get, well, mad.
An important part of being an adult is the ability to recognize emotions as they arise and allow ourselves to feel them for a time—but then, I believe, we are wise to figure out what the feelings indicate to us about our situation and to learn from that realization. Anger should be like a traffic signal along the way to another destination, not a place to dwell. This, of course, is easier said than done.
I’m struggling with the overwhelming scope of the problem. I’m frustrated with the fact that any of the issues I mentioned above could warrant a lifetime of work. Yet my students await me in September. My first priority is to become the best teacher I can be—and I’m not there yet. As I design and redesign my curriculum, study methods of differentiation, learn more about the community where I work, and collaborate with colleagues, I think about how my practice fits in to the bigger picture of education. But I fear that even if I become a master 21st century teacher, I still will not make a significant dent in the problems that bar so many students from a quality education.
In my quest to move beyond the offerings of anger and frustration, I turn to the giants (for whom I named this blog) in whose work I find inspiration. There are many of them; they are the members of the Teacher Leaders Network, the writers of books and articles that changed my thinking; the mentors who guided me as I learned to teach and encouraged me to write. These people do not dwell in anger or fear though they see the same problems I do. They act thoughtfully and courageously no matter the size of the obstacle. They communicate what they know, and they learn from others. They are teacher leaders, and if I want to be one, I really can’t waste time envisioning all of the things I might fail to do. In the words of Winston Churchill, “Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.” Also, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”
[quotes found at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/w/winston_churchill.html
image found at http://www.ci.san-ramon.ca.us/police/images/4way.gif]