Saturday, June 25, 2011

School is out...

This year marks the 37th end-of-school ritual that I have personally participated in.  That includes 17 ends to my own years of formal education.  (It does not include the twelve years where I experienced the end of school as a stay-at-home mom.)
There is nothing like this ending in the "real" world.  Most adults' work never ends.  It only has occasional hiccups where there is some respite from the continual grind.
But not in school.  Eventually, long after the weather has gotten to the point where we'd rather be outside than in, all the grown-ups get together and call it quits.  "We're done.  Take a break. Go home and loaf all day if that's what you want to do because we've taught you all we can bear to tolerate."
The frustrating part for one with a considerable amount of schooling under their belt is that all the teachers are summarily dismissed as well.
Most of us will return to buildings in the fall where others have made decisions that we must then carry out--whether the new plans seem to be a good idea or not.
As for the summer months, some of us will loaf along with our students.  Others will take part-time jobs to supplement our salaries (if you can find one these days).  Some will continue to learn and prepare for the coming year.  All these choices are optional.
Each summer since 2005 I have worked with classroom teachers in the NWP Summer Institute.  It is a rich sharing of practice, theory, writing, discussion, and planning for the coming year that extends through the entire month of July.  For me, it has always been the model for the kind of enriching cross-curricular, cross-grade-level work that should be a part of every teacher's teaching life.
It is, however, optional.
It is also a huge commitment of time that many adults cannot afford to indulge in since they cannot give up paying positions in summer school, coaching, or construction. Nor can they afford to pay for the additional research and study by securing child care for their own children through the long summer months.  After all, teachers have to plan to put their own children through college or lay up savings for retirement too.
Still, the SI is the kind of work that all teachers should be able to do as a part of their professional practice because it provides the time for the deep reflection that results in identifying which practices go the furthest in realizing student growth.  Believe me, during the rush-to-testing schedule of the school year, there is little time for reflection and nearly zero time for collaboration.  But there are long weeks in a calendar year that could be used to enrich teaching and learning for all of us.
When we stop dismissing teachers from school, as if they are the oldest kids in the building, and compensate them accordingly, then we will go a long way to honoring the complexity of the work classroom teachers need to master in order to help more students experience success in our classrooms.  Teachers need to be part of the decision-making process that shapes school culture.  Their time and compensation should reflect the knowledge gained after years of delivering content to children.
After all, 37 dismissals ought to count for something.