Today is the perfect day to take a drive down to San Francisco: the sky is blue, the air is crisp, and a tiny bit of snow (the first in 30 years) dusted the City this morning. But while my friends and colleagues rally today in San Francisco (and across the country) for our fellow workers in Wisconsin, I am at home, working. I would rather be in San Francisco — I am an activist and protestor at heart — but my work, as it so often does, has crept into my weekend. And so this is what I will be doing today as I rally from my kitchen table:
1. Grading papers. No, I don’t mean the “right/wrong,” “true/false,” “noun/verb” kind of grading. Instead of “grading papers,” I really should say “responding to papers,” but most people wouldn’t know what that means. I teach English, which translates to reading and writing. And although the state assesses my students’ reading and writing with multiple choice tests, I know that the best work and assessments I can have my students do is read, read, read (a lot), write about what they read (a lot), and then write, write, write (a lot). And my role? To read their writing and give them thoughtful, constructive, questioning, prodding feedback. And that takes time. While I might attempt to do some of this work during the school week, my best responding calls for a clear head and alert mind, which I rarely have after a day of working with 8th graders.
2. Working on my master’s degree. I am in the fourth semester of a master’s degree program in Education (Curriculum, Teaching and Learning), which means that most of my weekends are spent reading research and writing papers. There are some who think teachers with master’s degrees should no longer receive a bonus (they question whether or not a master’s degree has any impact on the teacher’s students), so why am I spending all this extra time and money going back to school?
- It’s not the money, that’s for sure. My school district offers teachers a small stipend ($1100./year) for a master’s degree. While the recognition (tiny that it is) is nice, it won’t make a change in our lifestyle, nor come close to paying back what it cost me to earn the degree.
- It’s the kids. Effectively teaching writing and literature to 150 8th graders each year, adolescents who represent a wide range of cultures, abilities, gifts, struggles and dreams, is a challenge of magnificent proportion. This challenge has taken me on a career-long journey to identify, adopt and hone the strategies, methods and curriculum that will bring the most success to my students. This ongoing professional endeavor has led to certification from the California Association for the Gifted, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, the Bay Area Writing Project, plus nearly 20 years of reading books and participating in conferences and workshops, and now working towards a master’s degree. While “data” may not confirm the value of this degree, I can certainly speak to the significant impact this work has already had on my classroom and my students.
- It’s the teaching. My degree emphasis is Educational Technology, which means I have been reading research on the tremendous impact that new technologies are having on today’s youth, as well as the profound effect they can have in our classrooms. Integrating blogging into my 8th graders’ curriculum has already opened my eyes to the powerful potential that new technologies can bring to my students, and since then e-mail and Google docs (and soon digital storytelling) have revolutionized my classroom, my teaching and the potential for my students to learn 21st century media and new technology skills in schools that too often look like the 20th century. Without the research and work associated with my master’s program, I am sure that my students would still be writing with pencil and paper, wondering when their tech-savvy lives would be reflected in their classrooms.
So while my heart is with those across the country who are standing tall and proud for our embattled colleagues in Wisconsin, the rest of my body is here in my kitchen, working to provide my students with the best education I can possibly give them.