Providing Opportunities or Closing Doors

“We are implementing a new Math (or Science or Vocabulary or Grammar) Program.”
My most feared words in education.

Blink and there’s a new Program. A Computer Program. A Reading Program. This year in my district, it’s a Writing Program and a Phonics Program.

And they’re not just Programs that provide resources to teachers. Oh no. These are scripted, “full-proof”, one-size-fits-all Programs mandated to be taught day-by-day, page-by-page from the first day of school to the last.
The Programs, and the administrators who put them into place, don’t care if you are the most amazing writing teacher in the world. They do not care that you have written articles about effects of independent reading or presented at conferences about word study. Been to the National Writing Project? National Board Certified? Doesn’t matter. Trained at TCRWP? Nope. It. Doesn’t. Matter.

Day-by-day, page-by-page, every. single. teacher. Because this Program is amazing. More amazing than the last one was. Remember that one? Guaranteed to raise test scores? Uh-huh.

Dear Frantic School District With Low Test Scores,

Effective teaching and learning has nothing to do with Programs.
It has to do with knowledgeable, passionate teachers who teach their students what their students need to know.
It has to do with teachers knowing their content and constantly refining their craft to grow their students.
Improving student achievement is about doing what is best for students.

Programs don’t know what students need. Great teachers do. Give your teachers what they need to make a difference:

Training. Time. Tools. TRUST.

Or, go  ahead and mandate that fantastic New Program.
Then watch the doors begin to close.
Because your best teachers, the ones who are going to grow your students, and really impact their confidence and success in school, those teachers won’t be teaching Programs. They will be teaching Students.
Passionate Teacher Who Teaches Students, Not Programs

Accept the Things I Cannot Change. Or Not.

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  

Reinhold Niebuhr

These were the words spoken to our staff this year at our first Back-to-School in-service. They were spoken to the staff, but directed at me. They were a result of my response to the newly mandated phonics program (that we quickly learned) was not a phonics program at all.

The belief of school administrators… if the district chose this then we must do it. We must accept it because we cannot change it. The assumption is that  the decision makers chose this with their deep understanding of word study. Sadly, the Decision Makers had no background in word study. The end result was a mandated phonics program that was actually a spelling program geared toward learners in grades 3-8!!!

The meeting went on. First I cried. I was angry and hurt. Completely defeated.

But I tried. I tried to implement the new developmentally INappropriate phonics program “with fidelity.” Although I had studied how words work for years. Although I KNEW this program  was not what my third graders needed. Although I knew what we did need to do to become better decoders and encoders. Although all those things, I tried.

This program, the thing I was told to accept because I could not change the mandate,   left no room for real vocabulary instruction or word observations. No time for word study at the single syllable level- the place where most third graders, mine included, needed to be. No time for hands-on learning and word exploration.

Despite my efforts, for nine weeks, with as much fidelity as I could muster, I really tried to accept the things I could not change. I tried to implement this program as I had been directed. I tried to keep it meaningful, engaging, and appropriate. And guess what…

It failed. Or rather, I failed. I failed my students. I failed to spend the time helping them grow as readers and writers. I failed to hold tight to my values and passions and commitment to my students.

I tried.

And now, it’s time to change what I was told I should just accept.

After stress, tears, internal conflict and nine weeks of soul searching, I have decided that my students’ needs are more important than following a mandated program recommended by individuals who lacked a knowledgeable background in word learning. Because as an educator committed to literacy and learning and doing what is best for my students, I cannot not do what I know is right and best for Rex,  Kammie,  Evie,  Mike and the rest of my sweet kiddos.


Quietly, I close my door. And teach.

Thinking about a poem

I imagined my very first blog post to be an amazing craft of wit and language that would wow my readers (thanks Mom and Auntie Laurie), launch me onto the road to stardom and notoriety in the world of literacy and education, and would forever change the course of my life.

Instead, you get this:

An entry that I discovered in my writer’s notebook that I thought might be a fun way to introduce our presentation at the  Arkansas Reading Association Reading Conference in Little Rock, AR this fall.  As I began looking for poems, lessons, and activities that have been successful with my students, I came across this little gem. (Perhaps not quite brilliant, but just a little fun).

A little background on this piece: Several years ago, I came across a poster called, “Unlucky Arithmetic: How to Raise a Non-Reader, ”by Dean Schneider and Robin Smith. The writers of the blog post at Choice Literacy put their own spin on this poster with “Unlucky Lists: How to Raise Non-Writers” and “How to Raise Non-Artists.” Finally, there was “How to Raise a Non-Speller.” I think you can see where I am going with this. Yes. It is true. I present to you,

“Unlucky Lines: How to Raise an Un-Poetic Person,”

by Jenifer Pastore.

1. Never let your students see you reading or enjoying a poem.
2. Get rid of all the poetry books that are silly and funny. In fact, don’t even get poetry books for your classroom!
3. Only read poems that are highly complex and require deep, deep analysis.
4. Don’t ever take time to visualize or illustrate poems. Put away those crayons, colored pencils and water colors.
5. Don’t read poems with silly voices or sound effects.
6. Read poems if and only if you plan to “cover” CCSS RL.4. There is no time in the curriculum for poetry slams or Poetry Friday.
7. Require every single student, regardless of need or ability, to reread their phonics-based poems for homework. Assign this instead of letting them choose a good book to read.
8. Skip the books about the lives of poets and what inspires them. (There won’t be any test questions about them).
9. Make sure your students find every last simile and metaphor, eight examples of alliteration, and fourteen other forms of figurative language.
10. Require students to identify and write a limerick, haiku, acrostic, quatrain and couplet. Those are the only ones with activities on TPT.
11. Do not, under any circumstances, use poems or books as scaffolds for writing poetry. Copying is forbidden.
12. Do not allow students to read poems with friends. Poems for Two Voices do not provide enough rigor.
13. Absolutely, positively, do not have fun with poetry.

Look out Literacy World! Here I come!