If your classroom is like most, you probably use every square inch of available space. I love to step into learning spaces that feel like museums of living history. Ceilings, walls, and tables are covered with artifacts showing evidence of student understanding. Many teachers put up exhibits to reinforce everything from the big ideas of a discipline to classroom-management strategies. But how often do you step back and take a thoughtful look at what's on display?
Like many of you, I grew up with a one-size-fits-all approach to school. I remember clearly the few teachers that allowed me to explore things on my own terms -- and, interestingly enough, these were the school experiences that had the greatest impact on me.
This is the second part of a two-part entry. Read part one.
In many of our schools, we have stopped giving our students real creative challenges because there is not enough time for anything open ended. Open-ended projects, by their very design, allow students to explore a wide variety of interests, concepts, and skills. That means we can't easily assess these projects with a multiple-choice test; therefore, schools suffer when they pursue them.
Both in school and after school, teachers, administrators, and staff feel as if they are working harder and harder without seeing proportional results. Frustration is mounting, especially in low-performing districts, over fleeting academic gains despite the ever-increasing efforts teachers make to improve test scores.
The requirements for highly qualified teachers that are part of the No Child Left Behind Act, as well as more stringent prerequisites surrounding teacher accreditation, have underscored discussions about teacher quality over the last several years. The Educational Testing Service has released a report about marked improvement in teacher quality over the past decade.
I'm assistant superintendent of a small school district located just thirty miles south of San Antonio, Texas, with a total school population of 1,100 students. Even though people consider it a rural district, our existence is anything but bucolic.