Random thoughts. Teachers as Carnac.

If you are old enough to remember the old Johnny Carson show you will remember the bit when Carson would come out as the fortune teller Carnac.

Carson as Carnac would be handed an envelope by his side kick Ed McMahon and he would predict the answer to a question that was sealed the envelope.

“Peter Pan,” Carnac would say.

“What do you use to fry a Peter.”

I still laugh at this joke, evidence that I have a still have little boy’s sense of humor.

I posted a terrific article on Facebook this morning from Valerie Strauss’ Washington Post column by  Nancy Carlsson-Paige. Carlsson-Paige is an authority on early childhood development, professor emerita of education at Lesley University in Cambridge, Ma., where she taught teachers for more than 30 years and was a founder of the university’s Center for Peaceable Schools.

Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that we would have to defend children’s right to play.

Play is the primary engine of human growth; it’s universal – as much as walking and talking. Play is the way children build ideas and how they make sense of their experience and feel safe. Just look at all the math concepts at work in the intricate buildings of kindergartners. Or watch a 4-year-old put on a cape and pretend to be a superhero after witnessing some scary event.

A Facebook friend responded.

I’ve been teaching Kindergarten for 18 years and have been fighting to keep play in my classroom the whole time. It’s maddening to have to defend children’s true work. I continuously have to justify having a water table, costumes, or Lego. At one point a few years ago I hung signs around my classroom at each center titled ‘What Children Learn From Dramatic Play’ and ‘What Children Learn From Puppets’ listing five or six things kids are learning through that particular type of play. Still, I am subjected to sweeping walkthroughs where admins offhandedly glance at the water table and wave it away saying “Oh no, get rid of that. Less social, more academic.”

Predicting what our students learn is teaching as Carnac.

As an Art teacher I never invited students into my room without a sense of where I would like us to go, what was worth knowing and experiencing, what activities would take us there, how I should organize those activities and how I would know if it all worked.

Yet, students learn all the time. They learn in ways that are unexpected and unplanned. They might take a path of their own. Sometimes to a place I wasn’t aware of ahead of time.

The third grade teacher walked into my room and looked down at my planning book that the district had provided. It was open to all the little one inch squares that represented each class. In each square I had written a word: Mask, self-portrait, landscape and so on.

“What the hell is that?” she asked.

“My plans,” I said. “Five classes a day. This reminds me of what is next.”

“But where are your lesson plans?”

“If someone needs to see one, I will write it later,” I said.

In our district we were on evaluation every other year after we received tenure. It just so happened that I was to be evaluated my final year of teaching. The irony of that did not escape me. Irony nearly always totally escaped my principal and this situation was no exception.

Prior to her coming into my room to observe my teaching for the 45 minutes that were required she asked me to fill out a form which included a space to explain what the students would learn.

“Why don’t you just come and watch and then tell me,” I said.


5 Replies to “Random thoughts. Teachers as Carnac.”

  1. The recurring nightmare of former (esp. college) students (even those who are 65+!) is that we have to take a test for which we have not only not studied, but have not attended class (again, college).
    Anyway, for myself & former colleagues I see, this nightmare involves the lesson plan book–blank–& the meeting w/the principal, resulting in waking up in sweat.
    I taught Early Childhood/Special Ed. (to go w/your last post), & at least 1/2 hour of the half-day programs (we had AM & PM classes) were devoted to play & teacher observation–that is, we teachers we not standing around, having coffee & talking (which we had been accused of many times throughout the years)–but where we were watching the kids play, helping/intervening when/if needed & writing in journals which were sent home to parents daily. Worked beautifully, & never had trouble with any principals–or interference of “testing” play skills!!

  2. Washington School in D64 had managed to avoid snack time for decades. Until 2015-2016. Washington now has snack time due to the whim of the newer principal. Oh, and she cancelled recess unless every teacher in every grade level went out with their students, claiming teachers couldn’t assign their classes to another teacher when they were supposed to be supervising them. Supposedly no official time was scheduled for recess and would take away from a core subject. For decades again, two or three teachers at a grade level would go outside for supervision, and the other teachers would remain inside to supervise students who had work to complete, or even just to use the washroom. Heaven forbid! Yes, that makes sense. Let them consume more calories but take away recess. The research says students need more movement built into the day, and that kids today don’t need the extra calories. Of course, research is only valid if it serves the purpose of the administration.

    1. I assume you have checked with PREA. Both recess time and teacher/student supervision ratios are district policies, not determined by individual principals. I also believe at least one recess a week serves as meeting state physical education requirements. All of this is distant memories for me, so you should definitely fact check me. But your union leadership is good and you can and should pursue it.

      1. Being retired 9 yrs., I still get a stomach turn being reminded of the inane goings on in schools by administration and I still have the not prepared for class dream and the being back at work nightmare!

  3. Thanks, Fred! I know I didn’t personally check with PREA but I will do so before classes resume in August. This administrator threatened to support any legal action that might come about if a child was injured during recess and his/her teacher wasn’t outside. Since it is likely that we won’t have a new contract when we return to work, it will be more important than ever to stick to the provisions of the contract.

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