Now, six years later, the pendulum appears to be swinging in the other direction again.
Tighter curriculum, stricter schedules, and increased testing seem to be the current trend.
And they don't like it.
That's hyperbole, of course, but it gets your attention, doesn't it? Let me explain.
For the past several years, administrators have expected classroom teachers to teach the same content at the same time with the same materials and the same methods. It was headed to the point that every classroom would look the same and feel the same. Every teacher would countenance the same expression on his/her face.
I saw it coming. Any perfunctory glance at America's education system reveals it. Certain people's idea about equity and fairness is socialist at best. They expect the more prolific schools to be brought down to average because it's not fair that they are scoring higher and getting more positive publicity.
That's hyperbolic only because it makes a point.
Teachers across the nation have been treated like pawns in a malicious game set on turning kids into numbers and lines on graph paper. The science of teaching overrode every artistic aspect of the process, and teachers were/are turned into cookie cutter, robots, and algorithms.
It's now possible, however, that changes are in the works. From the inside of the system, there is a fresh feel to the air.
But some people don't understand it...and that's not an exaggeration.
I've noticed some teachers that need to be weaned from the system we were in. While they went into it kicking and screaming, it's almost scary how fully they were sucked in. They were "spoiled" by the control others had over them. And now they don't know what to do.
It's not their fault; as educators, we seek to please. As professionals, we put on positive faces and we make our schools look like they are chock-full of positive teams. We park straight in the parking lot. We walk into our buildings 15 minutes before we have to. And many of us take tons of work home with us every night. On weekends and holidays, we even take extra (just to keep ourselves busy - hey, it just might save us some of that drama that comes from conversing with our extended families!). We spend our summer vacations thinking, at every turn, "Hey, that would look good in the corner of my classroom," or "Hey, I bet I could work a unit around this experience." We dole out personal monies to pay for things that the school district won't provide. As the ad says, It's what we do."
In short, for the most part, we walk the line. We want to do our best. We want to do things right and in accordance with the research we're being fed.
So when something is handed to us, and words like curriculum and non-negotiable are used, be panic only briefly before picking it up and muddling through it. We have to do it, so we do it.
And with that tight expectation to do everything to the letter, some of us have lost our creative focus.
And with the loss of creativity and creative presentation, some of our students have lost their joy of learning.
Dear educator, please don't be that teacher. Don't lose focus that it is still your classroom, that you are the professional in that classroom. How many times do we express that we want to be treated like professionals, that we want to be paid like professionals? How many times do we feel spat upon by our leaders in the legislature or some distant department of education? How often do we yearn for more autonomy.
That's where we're trying to go in Joplin Schools. It's apparent in the way we see students taking responsibility for their learning, freeing teachers to present lessons in more creative ways and foster critical thinking. It's also apparent in the ways our curriculum is being presented to us - as a guideline and not as a "script".
And that's why some are flailing. While students are required to become more responsible for their learning, teachers are now required to be more responsible for the ways in which curriculum is presented. It's not a totally new way to think about things.
I've recognized for many years now that my classroom is different. It doesn't matter who is enrolled into my class, simply by being Hoggatteers, my class is different. You won't look through our window and find a cookie cutter or a robot; you look in there to find, hopefully, a teacher who does everything he can to make lessons unique. You'll find, hopefully, students who are having a good time in spite of their struggles and mistakes.
In other words, this is my classroom. That doesn't mean I don't answer to supervision and expected standards. If you think about it, doesn't it make more sense than following a fixed script, a mass-marketed textbook, or whatever Bill Gates throws his money at. It means this is my classroom! These are my kids! Who knows my kids the best (besides their own families)? Not Bill Gates. Nay, I shall not wait for someone to hand me my cues.
Teachers, let's not deny any opportunity that comes our way. As professionals, we must seize those opportunities and regain authority in our classes. We can only shine when we creatively think beyond the pattern that has been set before us. If we allow ourselves to be the same as everyone else, we have given up our humanity. It may be time to break away from the Bill-Gates-Common-Core-universal education system that has attempted to seize our careers and our children.