Taking On, Not Giving Up

So today begins Lent, for those who follow a liturgical calendar. In simplest of explanations, children are often taught that during Lent, those forty days before Easter, one should “give up something” so that, when Easter arrives, and that missed item is returned, it is more valued.

I think about this time of giving up something and am reminded of a blog post I saw some time ago from a teacher in North Carolina who gave up his job, resigned. Quit. He was completely fed up with a system that — in his district — was only about teaching kids to pass a test. He gave up something he dearly loved, and was very good at, to make a point.

And I think about the teachers at a 5-12 school in New York City Bob Probst and I worked with two weeks ago who told us they had to give up teaching anything new for the next month as the school was going into “lock down” and would only be reviewing for the upcoming mandated tests. For one month, students would only do test-prep.

And I think about a teacher in Arkansas I visited with a few weeks ago who was giving up a part of her salary each week to help buy clothes for some kids in her classroom who didn’t have homes, much less winter coats, that would keep them warm.

I think about the college seniors I Skyped with yesterday at Carlton college who wondered what we were giving up in our ELA classrooms when we all agreed (and why did we do this, they asked) to set aside any sort of questions that encouraged a personal response to instead embrace only “text-dependent” questions. “What have we given up?” they asked.

Giving up can mean so many different things.

And then I think a bit more about Lent. Only for children is it really only about giving up. Actually, it’s about reflecting. It’s about searching and wondering and being still and listening, but most certainly it is not only about giving up; it’s also about taking on.

This Lent — and it doesn’t matter if you call this time Lent or simply the quiet days before spring blooms in all its brilliance — this Lent, I plan to do more taking on than giving up. I plan to take on the naysayers of education, reminding them of all the good that our nation’s teachers do each day. Dear teachers, don’t you lose sight of the opportunity you have each day to make a difference in each child’s life.

I plan to take on the assumption that text-dependent questions create the self-reliant, lifetime readers we want more than any other type of question might do. Where is the research that supports this? I plan to take on the assumed authority of the Publishers’ Criteria and ask upon what research it is based.

I want to take on reminding policy makers that a test score is simply that: a test score. I want to take on reminding them that the goal of education is bigger than making someone college or career ready. Education is about teaching children so that they can become all they can be. It’s about teaching children so that they will someday become the active successful participants this democracy desperately needs them to be; so that they might become the creative, compassionate, caring contributors this society hopes they will be.

This Lent, I want to give up pessimism and take on optimism; I want to give up fear and take on hope. I want to look at each child in each class I teach as that kid who wants to be his best but just might be too hungry or too scared or too beaten by life to know how to get there and see not a sullen face, but one that if I can teach him to take on, rather than give up, will find that spring is full of hope, indeed.

10 thoughts on “Taking On, Not Giving Up

  1. I’ve been through my skills reviews and we just completed the benchmarks. It is February…and I am giving up STAAR. I won a $5,000 grant for 4 laptops–we have zero classroom computers. My students will be in multicultural bookclubs, researching, and multigenre writing. Yes, I am giving up the worksheets for Lent. We have better things to do such as apply those skills we learned. Find information relevant to our learning and integrate it into authentic writing woven into the fabric of our own voice. We need to discover who our characters are and how they are like us and different than us…and what does that say about us as human beings? Where do we stand on some of the most important issues concerning human rights? We need to think, conspire, and create. We need time to reflect and reinvent ourselves. The test is going to happen, but will we?

  2. I am giving up things that add to the stress and load, like TV and noise that make me tense. I am giving up ownership of the state’s restrictive burdens and allowing them to be stupid without my having to go along with them. I am giving up negative people who drag me down. I am giving up clutter in my home. I am giving up as much paperwork as I can and moving into the cloud. I am giving up daily chores that do not rank as most important for that day. I am giving up on trying to get along with a few certain people who just don’t want to be part of a team. I am giving up those things that rob me of energy, sap my strength, bum me out and drag me down. I am taking on peace, joy, laughs, pleasure reading that is not related to work, music, puzzles, simplicity, nurturing, and letting things to that I cannot control. I am not going to be trodden on by people who think I must work more instead of smarter. I am taking on family first, friends and relationships next, job is still important but has to become less so as to not entirely consume me. I am taking on wisdom from folks I never heard before. I am taking on responsibility only for things I can actually control. I am giving up things to accumulate serenity. I will not give up on advocating for my kids and the library.

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  4. Thank you, Kylene! This call for optimism is just what I need right now. With final exams and ACTs looming in the next two weeks, I appreciate the reminder that there are more positive voices out than the often-too-loud and curmudgeonly naysayers.

  5. Thank you Kylene for reminding us of our ultimate mission, educated future citizens. We must take the time to reflect on our practice and how we stucture the implemention. We must provide an environment that encourages all our student to pursue theIr passion. Reading complex text with comprehension is the key.

  6. This is non-related to this blog. I am a a soon-to-be teacher who has the opportunity to read your book “When Kids Can’t Read” for one of my classes.

    My heart is so full of grief and compassion as I can relate to ‘George”. I was also a struggling reader and many had given up on me. The letter on page 244 sounds very similar to an interaction I had with one of my educators. I thank you so much for being so open and for putting so much efforts in “spreading the word” about this need!!!

    I’m curious though, did you ever find George and make amends with him?

    Thank you again for your dedication.

    Liamar Young

  7. I have a question about your Note and Notice signpost strategy. I love the ideas in your book. I teach on-level seniors. I want to use this method with my students, but I also want to make sure that I’m challenging them. Do you think this strategy might be too elementary for this level of student?

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  9. a. I am so inspired by this blog post. It is interesting that so many people feel the same way I do about these high stakes assessments that we force our students to take and pass. We force our teachers to be “graded” on how well their student performs on these high stakes assessments. When teachers feel the pressures from upper administration that they need to have all students pass these exams, it is no wonder they “teach to the test”. That to me seems like a logical survival skill. If my job or future career depends on these silly test scores, I would make sure that my students are beyond prepared to take on these assessments head first. The sad reality is, even though this blog is well written, it won’t take hold because of the demands placed on the teachers to have all students pass. This blog post in itself is a sad reality because no matter how prolifically it is written; teachers will not be able to follow its guiding principles because they are so constrained by the assessments. I know that most all teachers care deeply for their students, but the harsh reality is that they need the job and the paycheck that comes with high test scores. Its turned into a catch 22 for most all educators.

  10. I love your thoughts! Thanks for remaining optimistic in this test-centered world. I’ll be meeting with a curriculum leader from OCPS this week to share my thoughts on what I feel is the abandonment of best practices and personal, inspirational instruction I n exchange for daily data-driven computer-based skill drill. I’m looking to your publications for inspiration and assurance. Thanks for never quitting on is and the students who so desperately need advocates. 🙂

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