“Jane! Stop this crazy thing!” The Science Goddess laughed as Mamacita looked askance. “I’ve always wanted to say that…and since you’re driving this big yellow dawg across the countryside, don’t expect it to be the last time.”
“Yes, well I’m all for exploration. Too bad we don’t have Steve Spangler here to keep us entertained.”
“Not to worry. There will be plenty of entertainment on board. Are we ready to hit the open road?”
Nancy looked a bit nervous. “I’m not sure everyone’s going to fit on this bus. Maybe a cross-country road trip isn’t such a hot idea.”
“Nonsense,” said the Goddess. “Besides, we need a break. Let’s get started, shall we? Kiri---how about you get us organized using your strategy for having kids line up?”
Mathew jumped up to help. “I’ve learned that greeting students on the way into class each morning determines almost everything that happens thereafter. You get them lined up and I’ll make sure that they start things off with a smile.”
“And I can help things stay on a positive keel,” added Larry. “In fact, I have a list of 11 actions to take to maintain good management.”
“With this crew,” said the Goddess, “we’ll need all the help we can get.”
Once everyone was settled, Mamacita started down the road.
“Interesting that we’re starting off in Washington,” said Nancy. “Did you read about Carl Chew---the teacher who refused to give the state mandated test to students? We need to carefully consider what’s right for America’s schools.”
“I did. I'm not sure that he’s a hero,” J.M. Holland said. “That might differ from your opinion, but I do agree that we need to think about where we stand.”
Bill looked over. “I don’t think he’s a hero. I think teachers need to realize that they’re not the only ones at the table. They have to understand that the best decisions are those that are made when a variety of perspectives are considered and respected as plans are developed and implemented. After all, someone beyond us might just have something valuable to add to the conversation about our kids.
“You want controversy?” asked Darren. “How about teachers who put nude pictures or make questionable remarks on their Facebook pages? Maybe there should be more thinking about accountability.”
“I agree,” said Carol. “Seems like some teachers are making dumb choices with their social networking, in my opinion.”
“It’s not just teachers,” added Strausser. “I have students who have taken nude pictures of themselves or engaged in other risky behaviors---and they think nothing of it. It’s a scary cyber-world out there.”
The Elementary History Teacher joined the conversation. “Now, now---let’s not throw out any babies with the digital bathwater. I find that blogging is professional development at its best. I’m a much better teacher because of my personal learning network.”
“And imagine what such a network will be like as today’s youngsters grow up. I think that people would learn so much from just watching their own kids interact with a digital environment,” said Laureen.
"I've been learning a lot, too, about working in digital environments," said The Science Goddess. "I've had to step back and say 'Whoa.'"
Heather chimed in at this point. “Creative Commons Licensing will be more and more important in a world of eLearning. I have some tutorials to share, if you’re interested.”
Somewhere in the back of the bus, a group was singing “This is the song that never ends…”
“Oy.” IB a Math Teacher covered his ears. “Perhaps that group should have been on the short bus, if you catch my drift.”
“Even if they should,” said Daniel, “It’s quite the minefield to navigate when suggesting that a child might need to be tested for special services; but, I have some strategies and conversational protocols to share if you need them.”
IB shook his head. “It’s not identification we’re having a problem with, it’s the IEP meetings and their outcomes.”
“Are we there yet?” someone shouted at Mamacita.
“Don’t make me pull this bus over!” she yelled back. “You know that there’s going to be a test on all of this, right?” She sighed. “I sure miss the days where the lessons were more important than the test to those outside of the classroom as they were to those within. The daily experiences are what kids carry with them for a lifetime.”
Wendy spoke. “I’m still doing those sorts of lessons. You should see the problem-based learning students engaged with in order to learn about ponds. Their teachers had some very thoughtful reflections to share about the project.”
“I was thinking about the same sort of thing while visiting Biosphere II this week,” said the Loony Hiker. “What a great opportunity for student learning.”
“Maybe we just need to approach testing differently,” added Heather. “I really try to help my tweens have the confidence to realize that they are ready for the test---they’ve been working hard to learn all year in my class. Now, they just have to show it.”
Rob looked uncertain. “Times have changed, and I’m not sure it’s for the better. Teachers used to have a lot more authority in the classroom. I think I might agree more with Mamacita.”
“It’s true,” added Muse. “Sometimes, the tried and true ways of doing things---like teaching Hebrew---are better than the newer forms of instruction.”
“But unless we focus on changing instruction,” said Dave, “we can’t eliminate that from our discussions of why the achievement gap remains. We have to know that we’ve tried all we can that is within our control before being able to say that the students’ home environment is the cause. We have to change ourselves---not kids.”
Corey nodded. “I could agree with that, I think. While it’s easy to wonder if America’s entire education system is failing, we really have to focus on fixing what we can. We don’t need to start over.”
“It’s also important to not look at America’s high achievers as being so different from those in other countries,” said Matthew. “We might like to think that successful students in China and India are entirely focused on their studies, but if you take a closer look---as I have---you’ll see that they’re not so one-dimensional.”
“Still,” started the Eduwonkette, “we can’t ignore context when examining problems found within the school. I was taking a closer look at the recent outbreak of violence in Chicago, and I think that community level factors are very important in our discussions about what’s happening inside of classrooms.”
Jo said, “Speaking of violence, I’ve been thinking about the martial overtones present in ed reform. I’m not sure I like the words we’re choosing to describe what is happening in classrooms.”
“Are you including ‘A Nation at Risk’?” asked Sarah.
“I was thinking about that, too.”
“You know, it’s the 25th anniversary of that publication. I think that educators are continuing to be called to argue and work toward social justice as a result of that document. Maybe it is a call to arms, after all.”
Dan moved into the next seat. “That could be, but I think it’s causing some schools to play a game in order to save themselves from AYP. All it takes is reclassifying a few students here or there to change the subgroups and make it look like you’re closing the achievement gap.”
“There could be all sorts of reasons,” added the Goddess. “Hey, Mamacita, any chance of pulling into a rest stop in the near future?”
Mamacita nodded. “I’m sure we could. It’s about time for a snack, too.”
“In the meantime,” said Scott, “maybe we should consider some of those other reasons. For example, perhaps we have strayed too far from the basic mission of schools to provide a strong curriculum, discipline, and values for students.”
“I’m not so sure. I think there’s a struggle between experienced and new teachers because new teachers have the tools and know-how to make change happen---and this threatens the old guard,” said The Chancellor’s New Clothes.
“Perhaps we just need a different power structure,” said Matt. “I think a teacher led school (one which resembles a law firm model) would be very successful."
The Right Wing Prof nodded. “Or maybe schools need to take student evaluations of teachers more seriously. I don’t think that what students say is unsurprising---or at least it shouldn’t be to veterans of the classroom.
“Looking at how teachers are paid wouldn’t hurt, either,” added the Education Wonks. “Good teachers would welcome accountability.”
“Exactly,” said the Prof.
“At least you all are working,” said Old Andrew. “We’ve been on strike in the UK, trying to figure out all of this while ‘scabs’ were covering for us in the classroom.”
Mamacita pulled the bus to the side of the road, just in time for a picnic lunch by the world’s largest ball of twine. Educators piled out of the bus to stretch their legs in the sunshine. Three math teachers pondered the volume of the twine.
Ed said, “These real world examples of using math aren’t as good as abstract symbols.”
“Maybe so,” said Denise, “but they’re a lot more interesting to look at.” She smiled. “I just used some real examples to help students work with combinatorics.”
“But I’ve been starting with abstract rules in order to teach students about bases,” said Jose.
Linda overheard the conversation from the other side of the ball of twine. “I wish I had more time,” she said. “There’s no way I’m going to finish teaching all the topics I’m supposed to before the end of the year. I’m furiously downsizing my lesson plans.”
“I wonder what would happen if you let them listen to music while they worked?” said Jim. “It’s made a difference in my classroom with student progress in reading.”
“Teaching is quite the experience,” Mister Teacher said. “I’ve been thinking that there should be a game show which would give people a realistic chance to experience the life of an elementary school educator.”
“Would that be the prize…or the ‘lovely parting gift’?” asked Mrs. Bluebird. “Sometimes,” she said, “even students find that they reap what they sow and get their comeuppance.”
There was a commotion at the picnic area. Edna was dancing around, swatting at some bugs. “I’m afraid,” she said, “that my true colors about insects have been revealed to my students, too.”
Hube watched the scene with amusement. “That’s almost as crazy as what I was reading about.”
“And what was that?” asked Robin.
“Well,” he continued, “in Arizona, there’s a bill in the legislature which would keep public schools from teaching anything that is anti-Democratic or counter to Western Civilization. It’s a case of dumb meeting dumb.”
“I was thinking the same thing about banned books,” she said.
“All right,” said the Goddess, “it’s time to move on. Let’s get back on the bus. We gotta head down the road to get to next week's Carnival!”