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Advice to New and Student Teachers: Hold Fast to Dreams

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There were really no wrong answers: just answers. I guess that's why I became an elementary school teacher: to look at the day's offerings with brand new eyes. How about you? Don't you long for those days, too? I hope you remember what it's like to be a kid because I think that's just what we need to "make a difference."

(remember you said that?)

Human Curiosity

Sometimes my three-year-old son, Max, complains about going to school. And I so passionately preach about how he needs to enjoy it while he can, while the scent of magic still lingers in the air. He creates without boundaries, he discovers without opinion, and he intrinsically cooperates. Most three-year-olds want to be in school. Damien Cooper, formative assessment guru, puts it like this: "Human beings come into this world innately wired to learn. We're curious. We are not innately wired to compete." But when kids advance through the grades something happens. Their natural curiosity about the world slowly shrinks and shrivels and is replaced with---


Budget and Shifting Priorities

Why? There are many reasons. But one big one -- a huge one in fact -- is the cutting and slashing of music and art. But it's going deeper now. The edge of the knife is on a direct course to core curriculum subjects like reading and writing. Math and science is all the rage nowadays. I'm sure you've heard. It seems like President Obama's pressure to improve science and math skills are outweighing language arts. Some states like New Jersey are going to extreme measures to make sure that math and science are top priority. Governor Chris Christie said he wants to prohibit seniority or graduate degree attainment in fields other than math and science from influencing salary increases for teachers. A Master's degree in English or perhaps becoming a reading specialist will mean nothing. I hope you are shaking your head -- it doesn't seem logical to me either. Can you have one without the other? I do believe Albert Einstein (I think he was a scientist or something) said: "Imagination is more important than knowledge."

Where Does This Lead Us?

Here's a quick look at the science plan: Obama will work with governors and educators to ensure that state assessments measure test inquiry and higher-order thinking skills including inference, logic, data analysis and interpretation, forming questions, and communication. Improvements to assessments will also include developing tests that call for students to design and conduct investigations, analyze and present data, and write up and defend results.

I'm sure you figured out why I bolded most of those areas of improvement. Yes, you're catching on here. They are all constantly practiced and honed while reading and writing and imagining. Right?

Think about it. Do you think the President really wants our youth to think critically, analyze, and interpret or does he want to graduate more engineers than China? The latter will only promote the "How do I get the most points with doing the least amount of work" attitude. Is that how we're going to change the world? Is that going to keep kids in school? Will the true thinkers, the real reformers, value what school has to offer? Better yet, will anyone even have a chance to think? As for the magic I mentioned earlier--

(you might have to do what we all do--close the door and make some of your own.)

The New World

This is where it gets hairy. This is what you probably didn't learn in college. I'm not your boss, your teacher, or your mom so this is going to be sugarless. I want to stir your brains a bit. I don't mean to come at you at time of blissful joy. You are about to teach. But this burden you just inherited needs to be on your plate. Your dream of teaching will now be realized in a different world. The President means well. He wants the kids of America to succeed (I really do believe this). But maybe his idea of success is different from theirs

(personal betterment.)

and maybe his plan is one-sided. I don't know. This may seem like a cry for the creative soul, but then again looks are deceiving. What I'm really talking about is beyond creativity. What I'm talking about is divergent thinking. You see there's more than one way to play a note, paint a picture, and write a story. Max thinks (creatively) divergently in pre-school every day.

(does it have to stop?)

By the time a child is in third grade we've just about bashed divergent thinking out of their psyche. And now with music, art, reading, and creative writing waiting in the gallows, it will happen sooner. Yes, math and science makes the world go round, but art makes us human.


And if the President believes that divergent thinking will emerge in math and science without art . . . well, then I'm not sure about the future of our country. Author, Donald Murray, states that we look to art for a meaning. Not THE MEANING, but a meaning. Real learning needs time to simmer. I'm not talking about lowering our standards. We need solid standards and we do have them, but maybe too many? We need time to find meaning within the standards and use the one that works for us. But what we're really doing is cramming years of information into months, which only leads to one-answer-one-way-fill-in-the-bubble-educational-reform. It's mediocre at best. Testing pushes teachers into sprint-and-cover mode, which does exactly that: It sprints over the deeper understandings to cover what's on the test. Teacher and Author, Kelly Gallagher warns of the this poisonous mode in his article, "Why I Will Not Teach to the Test."

Reality Check

And here's the biggest kicker of them all. If all of the politicians, celebrities, and movie makers are so concerned about the United States being number one in the world of education, then why is the current reform movement speeding in the opposite direction of number one: Finland. Check this out. This slide is directly from the Finland Ministry of Education.

I don't think I need to explain this slide, do I? Yes, you will face resistance and feel the shackles of the standardization of American Education. There will be bouts of compromise, tears, and loads of questions. But when you finally chew through the crunchy, bitter crust, you'll find the magical stuff in the middle. That's the good stuff. Your students will always be waiting for you in the middle. You'll also find your dream: The one you might have had in Kindergarten where you proudly shouted, "I want to be a teacher!"

Now what? I've listed some resources that give me energy and inspiration to teach and suggestions on how to create change. There is hope. Well . . . it's you, really.



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Dustin Beseler's picture

I have also noticed the way schools are pushing reading and math and forgetting about other subjects. During my reading and math classes I have people in my room observing all the time and analyzing my every move. However, I do not think I have ever seen anyone in my room during writing and science times. The administration makes it very clear that reading and math are at the top of the list because we are tested in those areas.

Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.

Hopefully the teachers who responded to this blog will return. If you did, you are reading my post right now. I have a question: Were you surprised at government control/teaching to the test/ Your dream lost type of stuff or did your college training warn you?


Beth Verse's picture
Beth Verse
Parent of a high school student

I truly enjoyed your comments. I agree whole heartedly about the arts suffering, in races to be the best in science and technology. The arts have been cut from American education for many years now, and I am afraid the trend will not change, if the presidents plans go through. What a shame I believe it is the arts that ties everything together, that one can not properly have an education without the arts. Because with them, the Divergent learner is reached. I know I am not alone in this thinking, I have investigated many schools programs that endorsed the arts within the education right on this website. I believe that the arts should be incorporated within education and should not be separated through marginal programs that just end up being cut from the budget. I for one would have loved school if it was a bit more artsy. It is through the arts like you say that we gain our creativity.

Dennis Pack's picture

Kathryn B: Follow your heart ... and your kids will do just fine on tests.
Hard part is finding a place where you can do that without being chastised ... or fired!
But, if you do what's right, and your kids are successful ...

Teachers have to learn to take risks, too.

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Debra Nign's picture

This is a very interesting blog as it tells me not to be afraid to be me as I teach. I love to jump and play; to crawl around on the floor; and to look out the windows at the squirrels and birds. I believe actually seeing 1 dozen birds and counting them out and adding another dozen is math at it's best. I am not yet a teacher, but I do want to be able to follow my dreams to help a child in the way that child learns best.

gillettsd's picture

So much so that I felt immoral! I was lying to my kids, my parents and myself. I was following the pacing and the testing..... and my kids weren't learning. They weren't happy. I wasn't happy. I gave up and taught like I was teaching individual human beings and not FCAT test takers. We finished our time together as a well rounded community that loved to learn and loved to be with each other. Sadly though, I have quit teaching. I found I was either forced to lie to kids or lie to my county and I never found a way to straddle that line.

Candice's picture

I enjoyed all your comments and how you look at education. I am a first grade teacher and I also believe that in order to teach to the elementary student, you must have that midset as a child and how they view the world. To inspire, motivate, and capture their minds, we must first find what will get these young children motivate, this in turn my require us to act like a child; and that's okay as long as they learn.

To your comments on how the goverment and our president view education and how they strive for America to be first in eduation, I have to agree in saying what's next? For so long, reading was alway a top priority and all other subjects were pushed aside, now math and science are at the fore front. At my school alone, our entire year had to be math focused. All bullentin boards and classwork for displays, had to pertain to math, thus pushing all other subjects aside. This leaving no time for other subjects, and especially no time for the arts. I agree math is crucial, but so are all subjects in order to create well-rounded and productive members of society. I'd like to add, if America is so determined on being first in education, you'd think education would be the last thing in this economy cut!

Garreth Heidt's picture
Garreth Heidt
High School Liberal Studies teacher, Design-minded educator, Forensics Coach

One of the quotations I encountered as a beginning teacher (while studying creative thinking on my own time) was from Neil Postman, firebrand against all that was staid and "true" in education and numerous other social endeavors. Postman said, "Students enter school as question marks and leave as periods." Axioms like this drive me to question myself and my school everyday I teach. The little revolutions I can lead in my classroom may be just that, "little", but they are driven by the same things that drive all children... all people(!)--wonder, curiosity, and the desire to understand ourselves, our world, and the interconnectedness of all things.

Garreth Heidt
Humanities Teacher
Perkiomen Valley Middle School East
Collegeville, PA 19446

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