Monday, June 22, 2015

Vow of Silence Nullified

After one and one half years of retirement from the Pittsburgh Public School District, I'm calling an end to my self-imposed (possibly district-imposed) vow of silence. There are some truths that need to be told. Perhaps administrators and law makers will take heed, and the children just may benefit.

I wrote my article, "Future Champions" in 2007. What I didn't disclose to my readers was after that amazing breakthrough and connection with my students, I was forbidden, yes forbidden, to do anything like that ever again.Why? Because it was not part of the curriculum. Had I been allowed to continue motivating and challenging the students in my own way, I would not have had the discipline issues and low test scores that were so prevalent. I was told by Principal X that the coloring portion of the lesson was totally pointless. However, I knew in my heart that this would keep my students calm while meditating on the passage they had just heard. My thinking was validated only yesterday when I read the article, "For Adults, Coloring Invites Creativity and Brings Comfort" by Barbara J. King. In the article, Ms King quotes clinical psychologist Kimberly Wulfert for

 In coloring, you've got this physical sensation of the tool you're using touching on the paper. You also have the feeling in your hands and fingers holding this tool, and moving in different rhythms as you fill in the space. You're being mindful, and when you move in a rhythmic fashion for an extended period of time, that becomes a meditation. 

Instead, I was put on the dreaded Improvement Plan because my students acted out and didn't care about tests. I was supposed to take control and motivate within a very structured curriculum. Principals and Assistant Principals literally observed with stopwatch in hand. I once spent more than the allotted 10 minutes on a Vocabulary segment of the reading lesson because the students lacked understanding. Since I was being observed at the time, I was given a low rating for Fidelity to the Curriculum! Reading lessons followed a weekly pattern from which we were not supposed to deviate. Pacing Guides were Biblical in nature. Thou shalt be on Unit 2 Lesson 3 when every other reading teacher in the district is also on the same lesson. Weekly Tests and Unit Tests were dispensed from on high at exactly the same time, ready or not. The pattern became boring to me as well as the students.

Another curriculum faux pas on my part was again the unpardonable sin of deviating from said curriculum. The reading lesson was on "The Intelligence of Animals." I read a true story about Koko, the gorilla. He communicated in sign language with his trainer. The students were fascinated by this story. Again, I was caught sharing something outside the curriculum, and criticized harshly for this. Is it any wonder that teachers, this one included, often suffer some form of PTSD? I still have nightmares reliving the classroom fights (to be continued in another article) in addition to battles with administrators over my teaching methods.  I don't know whether my physical injuries from students or mental ones from principals hurt me more.

 I believe the most outrageous thing a school principal ever did to me was to send my end of year evaluation via School Police. The officer arrived at my home in a marked police car, dressed in full uniform. (My heart rate and anger are accelerating as I write this.) All other teachers had their evaluations placed in their school mailboxes. I might add that I lived an hour away from this school. The officer had to travel 2 hours round trip to deliver a "Satisfactory" rating! He didn't even understand why he was at my door. I did offer him refreshments, but he was in a hurry to drive another hour back to Pittsburgh to perhaps fight crime! This principal was just outright vindictive, possibly angry about not being able to give me an Unsatisfactory rating. Who knows? And my neighbors all knew that I was the only person around who worked for Pittsburgh Public. How embarrassing! How to explain Officer Dave's presence?

I began teaching covertly at times. The principal is out of the building. This would be a good time to demonstrate character development in a non-curriculum approved novel to my older readers by showing the length and depth author, Lee Child, went to bring to life his protaganist, Jack Reacher. If I could find these students today, I would be willing to bet they could still name at least 10 characteristics of Jack Reacher. They would also be able to develop a character of their own in Writers' Workshop, which I also taught. This happened 8 years ago. Isn't lifelong retention one of the goals of teaching?

The message I would like to impart to the powers that be is: Let every teacher teach his/her way. We are as unique as our students. We are trained professionals. Trust us to do our job to the best of our ability. Don't try to micro-manage every lesson. Don't send the school police out of their jurisdiction to deliver a letter. (I would love to know how that was even possible to accomplish.)

Just writing this article made my blood pressure increase enough to heat the metal watch band against my wrist. Just imagine the stress when I was an active member of the teaching profession. Writing this article also made me miss those wonderful teaching moments where teaching was pure joy. I miss those moments and my students.

Just sayin' ...

Sandra Warholic Seeley is the creator and author of Kanela's Korner and The Sandra Seeley Column. She is a lifelong educator whose teaching experience ranges from suburban Bethel Park, PA to Hawaii to urban Pittsburgh Public's Homewood, Hill District and Squirrel Hill communities. She has taught in every grade level from Kindergarten through Grade 5. She has a Master's Degree in Education from The University of Pittsburgh with a minor in English. Her passion has always been the teaching of Communications: Reading and Writer's Workshop. She is now a freelance writer. To contact the author, click the following link.

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