To educate as the practice of freedom is a way of teaching that anyone can learn. That learning process comes easiest to those of us who teach who also believe that there is an aspect of our vocation that is sacred; who believe that our work is not merely to share information but to share in the intellectual and spiritual growth of our students.”- bell hooks
The following is an excerpt from my essay when I applied to the GMWP Summer Institute:
In February 2011, the protests started. The profession I just chose, the profession that is often discussed and dissected, came under direct attack. While standing strong and fighting the good fight, I realized through hushed conversations that some of the enemies to the system were insiders. Many teachers I know from across the district- teachers with 10, 20, 30 years experience- told me to hit the ground running and not look back. In many ways the system is broken. At a time when we want our food local and sustainable, we are being told that our public education must be standardized on a national scale.
This year I am working under a full-time temporary contract teaching third grade at Lake View. This week I subjected my students to a district-imposed writing test to be graded by people who don’t know my students. They will read a story written by a student new to Lake View this year. He didn’t exactly answer the writing prompt; instead writing about getting a new bike. He works harder than most kids in my class, knows the definition of ‘onomatopoeia,’ has jumped 14 reading levels since September and written stories about a close encounter on his bike with a Pepsi truck, swimming in Devil’s Lake and consoling a friend who lost a goldfish. He is currently working on a report about volcanoes. Nothing about the score of his writing sample will reflect these achievements. This troubles me. I have honestly considered giving up and joining the ranks of young teachers who leave the teaching profession, but I don’t want to. I want to work to reform the system from within; with all its flaws, I believe in its inherent goodness. When one of my students writes, actually shows me what it feels like to be on a water slide, I throw my arms up in the air in jubilation.
My style of teaching is in the formative stages and perhaps I haven’t exactly answered the writing prompts, but I naturally return to my roots. Write what you know. Write what you care about. And this is what I hope to teach my students.
This summer I have had the opportunity to learn from innovative, dedicated and thought-provoking educators from around the city of Madison. I have had the opportunity to reflect on my own teaching and realize that I need to return to the roots of my educational philosophy that I planted as student of education: I must strive to teach students to be critical thinkers. No more telling them what to write.