Thursday, December 26, 2013

Dispatch from Winter Break

I realized today that I had been doing a lot of writing in response to news articles, opinions, comments and other people's blogs but had been neglecting my own little corner.  It is exciting to write freely and passionately once more.  I've always liked the writing process, until I hit that big old thing called THESIS.  It was a learning experience, to be sure, and I learned that I much prefer to do theatre rather than write about it once it is over. 

As for writing, I've always been into self-publishing.  There was the notorious underground newspaper in high school, then The Dumpster Times zine in the DIY Punk era, and finally this blog that began as an examination of what I could do to live a more sustainable life in my hometown.

Now what I'm looking to sustain is my own life's work and career as a public school drama teacher.  There are precious few of us about who teach grades 4 - 8 exclusively.  There are very few public urban school students who get to take drama every day of the school year with a licensed drama teacher.  To further set us apart from the norm, our students audition to get into the school and must be selected on the basis of their talents, not their test scores or GPA. 

To be given the great gift of working with these incredibly talented and eager young students is one that very few teachers are given.  As a teacher, I am constantly looking for new ways to challenge not just their skills, but their creativity and their abilities to work collaboratively and individually.  They have taught me so much in multiple ways and of course the reverse is true as well.  It has been my dream job.

For the first eleven years of our school's existence under the founding principal, we all worked in a utopian educational real life dream come true world!  I kid you not!  Trained in consensus decision-making techniques from the beginning, we worked collaboratively as a staff to create unique lesson plans that engaged students by integrating arts and academics in every classroom.  Our staff received amazing riches from a wide palette of professional development in two extra (paid!) teacher weeks every school year.  We learned how to use Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences to allow all our students to engage with their learning strengths.   We were encouraged to collaborate throughout the building, working with an annual theme to inspire our creativity.  We would do big shows based on the theme with acts from all the art areas as well as from academic classes :  Broadway Revue,  Sci-Fi Spectacular, Under the Sea, etc.

In those early years, standardized testing was not a big deal, but when it finally became a set of tests given by the ODE every spring, our students were more than well prepared.  They were tops in our district and among the very few in the state to receive "Excellent with Distinction."  Even after No Child Left Behind kicked in and the rules got tighter and the tests got more onerous, our school continued to outperform other schools.  Some people said it was because we could take the cream of the crop, but we were not looking at academic scores at audition time.  In other words, the kind of cream we were looking for may or may not bring a high GPA with it.  It may also bring students with learning challenges and those on IEPs. We also have the challenge of taking students from a wide variety of prior learning experiences and cultural backgrounds from those living in poverty to those who live in affluence and everything in between.  Our students are the most diverse in the city. From urban to rural to public, private and charter -- our unique approach and success continues to attract students from across and beyond the district. 

Next post -- how CC and RttT is changing everything, and none of it is good!

1 comment:

Julie Horn said...

Well said, Wendy! I'm glad you are getting back to writing...what you have to say is well worth sharing! (I've determined that I must do the same thing...great minds, you know..) I'm so concerned with the whole charter thing, and the testing thing has been a target for me since my girls were in elementary school. At once point, as I was trying to "follow the money" regarding testing, I discovered that there is a serious overlap between those who publish the tests and those who publish the textbooks....oh gee, many times, they are the same! (One of the Bush boys was publisher for both for a while during Georgie's "NCLB" years...It's so frustrating to feel like just another fly on the flypaper after a while, and I have to admit, once the girls were out, so was I.... thank you for continuing to carry the mantle....