A Love Letter to Teaching
Note: This was also written in early November.
I haven’t been to work since July. It is a very odd, maddening and freeing. I didn’t spend my August preparing my classroom and first months’ worth of lesson plans. The first day of school came and went and I barely noticed. The structure, if you can even call it that, to my days is much different since I’ve not been in the classroom.
Since the school year I will be adjusting to runs an actual calendar year I have been fortunate enough to take an unprecedented amount of time off. I suppose this whole moving to Costa Rica thing has been a big deal and a big change. I miss a lot but I look forward to a lot, too.
Although I’ve had time off, a teacher’s work is never truly done. I finally sent off the photos of the 1000 paper cranes on the Sadako statue in Seattle, to my former students. I’ve been loosely planning a school garden and am in contact with a non-profit about solar panels for the school. In a week I head to Haiti to build schools for 3 weeks.
To say my life has become adventurous seems to be putting it mildly!
The owners of the school recently gave me the opportunity to go to the capital city, San Jose with them as they conducted meetings for the school. School uniforms, the approval of a new addition to the school and visiting a school that has implemented curriculum we hope to implement.
One of the main reasons I wanted a mid-stream career change was the harsh reality of NCLB, standardized testing and its effect on curriculum, kids and teachers. In the four short years I worked in U.S. schools I fought to bring inquiry-based lessons into my classroom. Not to mention some semblance of fun.
The school I will be working at is relatively new and uses an international curriculum known to be constructivist (oohhhh dirty word!) and god forbid, fun. Last (U.S.) school year I reviewed some of the curriculum for the school to give feedback about struggles and successes a new teacher might have with said curriculum.
I read the unit and was almost in tears I was so excited. Sad to say that aside from the units I’d taught and created in graduate school, I’d scarcely felt such excitement to teach when I read the curriculum I was meant to implement in a NCLB climate. I think I actually jumped up from my chair that Saturday morning and did a fist pump of happy.
The curriculum that the school is looking to implement is the International Primary Curriculum (http://www.internationalprimarycurriculum.com/) . The units are thematic inquiry-based and integrate may different subjects together. This all sounded like my Evergreen State College alum’s dream come true!
But of course with many things in life and teaching, things in theory and in practice are much different. Two teachers from my school joined us at the meeting—the two committed to the IPC curriculum. Over the course of two hours I began to see the picture a bit more clearly. Like most curriculum on paper, IPC seems like a god send. But our hosting school shared with us some invaluable insights into how to implement it and road blocks they came up against.
The spoke of fits and starts, frustration and plain confusion when they first tried the curriculum. They spoke of having a hard time getting staff used to teaching from textbooks, curriculum guides and the like, on board. Before I knew it, it was as if the tropical breeze blowing in the windows, the sound of rolling thunder signaling a late afternoon shower and the cup of tea in front of me melted away. Was I really in another country!? Aren’t these the struggles we forward thinking educators around the States face, too? Didn’t I come here to not face this malarkey all over again?!
But then it hit me, this IS why I came here. To learn another way, to feel I could put some creativity into my teaching without the curriculum cops breathing down my neck at every turn. To scare the hell outta my teacher self and to let out all the little fissures of inquiry based fun I’d managed to weave in throughout the years. Did I really become that married to curriculum and pacing guides? Apparently I did. Did my graduate program teach me like that? No. Another example of theory versus practice.
To hear of the universal struggle to get teachers on board to an inquiry-based approach brought some comfort. Later it was explained to me that Costa Rican teaching training is very much based on pacing guides, using textbooks, workbooks and the like, essentially maybe not unlike teacher training programs in the States. To hear of this very struggle in my soon-to-be own school was also, in a weird way, comforting too.
But what I believe will be the main difference is that I have administration that supports an inquiry based approach and is realistic about it. They want to implement IPC but they know it is not the be-all, end-all answer. Like inquiry-based learning, they understand that it is a process. Refining, bettering, starting over and learning. Basically, they trust me as a professional.
I find it extremely hard to align myself with this trust. To sit in this freedom. This discomfort signals to me the very essence of what I believe learning to be all about. It is to look out onto the abyss and plunge forward anyways, making my own hand holds, because I never followed a pacing guide anyways.