He said a lot of other things too. But it is that one line that has stuck with me as I picked up the thread of my everyday life. It resonates for me.
The thing is that I wasn’t like a lot of other folks who ended up going into the teaching profession. I wasn’t in love with school. There were things about school I loved, but often they were more the creative bits of any day. I didn’t hover around the teacher’s desk when I could have been out at recess. I didn’t ask to correct papers at lunch. I certainly had no interest in asking for the teacher’s left over dittos so that I could go home and play school with my friends and dolls. I was far too busy digging in the mud to sculpt vases and woodland animals like the ones we made in art class. I was busy writing imaginary stories explaining away the ghost I suspected lived at the top of the stairs. I was needed in the woods behind my house imagining that I was that extra member of the landing party (not in a red shirt) who went down to the planet’s surface with Kirk and Spock.
It’s really my mother’s fault I ended up in teaching at all. She taught a religion class at church once a week. She asked me to help out with something once...and then I sort of invited myself back. My senior year in high school I decided that physics wasn’t for me but you know...that whole working with kids thing...that had potential. Kids are loaded with imagination and have no trouble considering the possibilities if given the chance. I had the great fortune of working with a master teacher who believed that students should experience history as if they were there, and discuss books as if they meant something.
I began teaching before scripted programs stripped teachers of the ability to be creative and before high stakes testing made us less willing to stray from the script.
So as we enter this new era of the common core I hear a lot of interest in what is possible again. Teachers express intrigue with tech. They seem guardedly enthusiastic about interactive thematic units developed beyond a textbook. Books like Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess and Ditch that Textbook by Matt Miller call for us to embrace our passion for learning and bring that to our students. It’s a clarion call to the children inside us who wanted to do more than play school with the dittos they collected from the teacher. Perhaps I am impatient to see some movement but it often feels as if we are at a standstill. So then what cripples us? What prevents us from truly moving forward?
Perhaps the pendulum swing back towards integration and critical thinking was too sharp an arc, leaving us dazed and grasping for what we know. We have veteran teachers who have been in the classroom for ten years or more who have never taught anything but a scripted program. High stakes tests are now taken on a computer...forcing teachers to integrate technologies they had not considered just a couple years ago. That is a lot of change all at once if you have no prior experience with this type of teaching or were one to collect the leftover dittos as a youth.
So what prevents us from embracing the change once we do get our bearings? Could it be that we have no vision for what that looks like? That we struggle to envision a different model given our own life experiences as a student. John Hattie discussed this phenomenon in his book Visible Learning: that as one time consumers of the field in which we work; as adults we need to almost release all we experienced in order to create true change.
Could it be fear? Fear that we will disappoint admin? Fear that our scores won’t suggest we did our best job? Fear that we don’t know what that looks like? Fear that we can’t see Utah. For me it all seems to come together in that one statement. To that we have to ask ourselves. Are test scores and engaging instruction mutually exclusive? Do we have to see Utah in order to drive there?
How do you get to Utah? Practical experience tells me that I need to pick a road and start driving. Look at the road signs and change course as needed.
So...here’s a call to action for all those who have teetered intrigued by the changes in the field of education. Pick a course of action in your classroom and start driving. Collect anecdotal and formative assessments along the way. Modify your course accordingly. Stop and get some directions or consult some guide books. There are innumerable books, twitter chats, PLN opportunities, and even a coach or two along the way dying to be of help. Be passionate about what you do and your children will be too. We are the ones standing in their way...not vice versa.
Above all else keep driving.
You may find yourself in new territory...but if you keep going...you’ll make it to Utah.