Sunday, May 31, 2015
My New Job
This summer, I will receive my Endorsement in Gifted Education from UVA's Curry School of Education. In the fall, I will leave my position teaching third grade in the Advanced Academic Program (AAP) to teach fifth grade in a general education classroom.
Wait, what? Why would I want to leave the gifted program when I am officially certified to teach in it? Why would I want to leave a curriculum I know and a team I love? This is my third year teaching in the AAP at my school. Over the past few semesters, as I took the graduate classes and learned the gifted strategies, I kept thinking, "These aren't strategies to teach just gifted kids--these are good teaching strategies for all kids." Although many teachers I know share this belief, not all do.
I remember one particular Back-To-School night. I am sitting in a junior high classroom trying to listen as Jack's teacher shares how he uses guided notes in class. "Every unit I give them a new packet," he explains. "The kids read the text and then fill in the key ideas. It's basically like a fill in the blank." My attention wanders to the back of the room where the desks are turned on their sides and piled up across the tile in a line. Curiosity gets the best of me so I raise my hand.
"What are all those desks for?" I ask.
"Oh, that's from my honors section," the teacher replies. "They are doing a simulation activity building World War 1 trenches."
So my son, who loves to be social and hates to sit still, is in the general education program. He gets to sit at a desk and fill out a packet while the gifted kids act out trench warfare? That didn't seem fair.
Luckily, not all of Jack's teachers are like this. In grades 3-6, Jack was enrolled in the general education program and every single teacher he had was amazing. They made learning meaningful and fun and he loved Ms. Butler, Mrs. Kight, Mr. D and Ms. Tang! More important than the curriculum, each of these teachers was able to see in Jack a smart kid with a good sense of humor and a kind heart. Each of these teachers believed in him, and in turn, Jack believed in himself. The thought that a student’s reality can be positively or negatively influenced by the expectation of his teacher is supported by research. The Rosenthal-Jacobson study showed that if teachers expected enhanced performance from children, then the children’s performance rose—it’s sort of the Pygmalion effect in the classroom. “When we expect certain behaviors of others, we are likely to act in ways that make the expected behavior more likely to occur,” (Rosenthal and Babad, 1985).
Unfortunately, for some, the general education program has a stigma attached to it and the expected behaviors are not ideal. As an example, another memory I have is high school information night. An English and History teacher are talking about a combined class they teach. I was enthralled as they spoke about how they work together to integrate the time period they are studying with the literature they are reading. What a great idea! "We offer this class for our Honors sections," one teacher told us.
"This sounds fascinating," I told the teacher. "Would you ever consider offering this class in the general education program?"
"No, those kids are too disruptive," she responded. (Those kids? Why does she think I am asking? Does it even occur to her that I have one of those kids?)
In some classrooms, a real disparity exists in the quality of education for “honors” and "gen ed" students. Maybe that's why I think I belong in a general education classroom. I want the chance to offer the students a quality education and for my students to know that I expect that they will succeed. Maybe that's why I'm willing to leave my comfort zone of a great team and known curriculum to make this switch. It might sound crazy, but I feel a strong pull in my heart that this is where I'm supposed to be.
So, in September, 5GE, here I come. We'll be learning a new curriculum together. We'll have adventures at Camp Highroad together. We'll take risks and make mistakes and learn and grow as a community together. We're going to have an amazing year and I believe in you!