In the Classroom: What She Said

Ms. Rief worries that a new generation of teachers has been raised on standardized testing and thinks that is the norm. Ms. Rief fears that public schools where teachers are trusted to make learning fun are on the way out. Ms. Rief understands that packaged curriculums and standardized assessments offer schools an economy of scale that she and her kind cannot compete with.

I’ve been a huge admirer of 8th grade New Hampshire English teacher Linda Reif forever. In her books and articles and talks she describes wonderful creative and thoughtful teaching.  But I’ve always admired her most of all for staying in the classroom — teaching 8th grade English steadily all these years.  So many others of her caliber have left — going for professional development, writing, higher ed, and so forth. Linda, is one of the few (Nancy Atwell is another who comes to mine) who has stayed in the classroom and her writing makes it clear that she loves it.  As someone who has also stayed in the classroom she is my guiding light for this and I just hope she keeps going even with the latest trials she is facing. Trials described in this New York Times article, “In a Standardized Era, a Creative School is Forced to Be More So which caused Peggy Orenstein’s rightly sad response, “What We Learn (or Don’t) From Test Scores“.  The articles made me glad because featuring Linda will help readers hopefully see what this awful legislation is doing. Sad because what she said above is something I’ve been noticing and thinking for a while.

This has been going on so long that I’m now working with young teachers who were taught themselves under these testing situations and learned to teach under them as well.   With all the attention paid to standards and tests it is really hard for a young teacher, even in a school like mine, to feel he or she is on the right path.  I can help (as I’m sure Linda and others of our generation do too), but eventually we won’t be there and then what?

Like Peggy Orenstein I’m a public school kid and only ended up a private school teacher because I began teaching when there were no public school teaching jobs.  Now I feel incredibly lucky to be able to teach creatively in this time of tests and standards and so forth and so on.  A couple of years ago at NCTE I sat in on a conversation that Linda was having with a group of middle school teachers and it was incredibly disturbing.  As in the article, these teachers were attempting to continue to teach creatively in an environment where it was harder and harder to do so.

Kudos to Linda and all the teachers who are still managing somehow to teach creatively in this time of extraordinary limitations for educators.

3 Comments

Filed under In the Classroom

3 responses to “In the Classroom: What She Said

  1. Thanks for this post. I couldn’t agree more. In my 34 years of teaching the changes have been monumental; usually not for what is best for our children. I was educated in public schools by teachers like Linda Reif. I have taught in public schools with the exception of two years in a private school. But I have to say that teaching has changed so much due to legislation as well as a different work ethic by newer teachers that when I retire this year I hope to find work in the private sector. I am not ready to stop doing what I love to do.

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  2. Susan Fine

    I taught for a number of years at what is considered a very good independent school. Many things that happened at this school were excellent; some were good; some were average; some were below average if not downright bad. On the whole, the students did well, though, and they left the school and mostly went on to thrive in college. I am now doing several projects in the education world, mostly for charter schools, which have enabled me to learn a lot about the Common Core State Standards. I am highly impressed by this project and see excellent opportunities for teachers to use these standards to create wonderful curricula and to teach in inspired and thoughtful ways — and in ways that would lead them to prepare students well to read, write, and think critically and carefully. Some of the independence and autonomy so valued in independent schools and among teachers perhaps more generally can lead to a kind of free agent teacher who isn’t interested in building a program and working collaboratively with colleagues to best serve and meet students’ needs. I also believe that even wonderful teachers, who operate independently can limit the potential of their students: an analogy might be that each teacher lives on his/her own island, where students spend some time, yet there are no bridges that connect the various islands and so critical connections that might be made for students aren’t. I am in favor of some sort of system where teachers work collaboratively to determine what students need to learn both across a grade level and vertically as students move from one grade to the next, how they will measure whether students have learned what they have taught (in each part of the program), and what they will do when/if they discover the students haven’t learned the intended lessons or materials or developed the targeted skills. Lots of schools and teachers do pursue this kind of work; many don’t. I don’t have complete solutions for this complex situation, but I think standards and testing are only part of the problem.

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    • Susan Fine

      or perhaps what I should have said was that perhaps something such as the Common Core State Standards might be part of the solution rather than regarded as the problem. I would LOVE to develop a curriculum based on the CCSS, which insist on having students read wonderful literature and creative nonfiction.

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