I have spent two decades in California public schools, so I can definitely identify with the situation that Linda Darling-Hammond details in her books. As I continued reading, she further outlined the steep decline in the educational system, and echoed my experience to the last detail. Money for supplies and resources was dwindling, and instructors were using personal funds in order to continue teaching. Schools were crumbling as a result of outdated infrastructure, and no repairs seemed to be forthcoming. The only professional development was in Explicit Direct Instruction/See -Say-Do. We had little technology that worked effectively, and the downward spiral continued as wave of pink slips and layoffs followed even deeper budget cuts.
Instead of talking about our lessons, engaging students, and making good use of technology, many mid-level teachers opted for endless discussions of leaving the field, how our profession is not recognized, and how little value is placed on education. In truth, many teachers found themselves running on empty, and trying to have an impact in clearly overcrowded classrooms. On two occasions I had up to 43 middle school students in one classroom. Students were wedged in like sardines, sharing limited desk space with barely enough room to move around. It was hardly an effective learning environment, to put it mildly.
We moved to Sonoma about a year and half ago to be closer to my husband’s family, and I decided to see what was going on at the high school level. Even in a non-Title 1 school in Rhonert Park, teachers were joining forces with their union to plead with the district for a raise. Teachers had not had a pay increase in eight years, and I was hearing still more discussion about leaving the profession. There was only one computer lab for the entire high school to use.
Even though experts like Linda Darling-Hammond have recently produced detailed research that ought to prompt states and policy makers to rethink the educational system, it was apparent that not much has changed. I was given ten-year-old textbooks that were not aligned to the common core, and expected to teach it anyway. I did not have a functioning laptop for the first six weeks, and felt left out of the technological loop. I did not have an LCD projector, computer, or document reader. I had a whiteboard that someone had washed incorrectly, and which would not come clean without serious scrubbing, and a whole pack of dry erase markers. With these incomplete materials, I was expected to teach geometry, which is a very visual subject.
Adequate materials and resources are so vital, and adequate teacher training is highly essential. Higher, more rigorous standards are important, but it is difficult to teach without the basics and further teacher development. Linda Darling-Hammond reiterates this point repeatedly in her book, as well as reinforcing what is working, and offering solutions to the challenges presented by the current educational climate.
After multiple frustrations like the ones I mentioned above, I was ready to give up teaching. My husband's family lives in Hidden Valley, and they said they had heard good things about Napa. With that in mind, I decided to give it one more year. Thankfully, I was hired at an amazing school. I walked into a nice clean classroom with nine Chromebooks, and I was surrounded by teachers excited about their lessons and speaking a new lingo - including Prbl, PBL, PBIS, ECHO, CA MATH, etc. As far as I was concerned, though, they might as well been speaking Greek. We had all new textbooks. I had a LCD and laptop that worked, and a beautiful whiteboard. I loved it! The only problem was that I didn’t have any training in the technologies I was supposed to be using. The district did provide me with quite a bit to get started, but I needed more. I finally had what every teacher dreamed of - all the technology I needed, but inadequate training!
As Linda Darling-Hammond points out, it's important to spend money on resources and teacher development, or the outcome will not be successful. As a professional, I am now asking myself what I can do in my classroom to engender 21st century technological skills. Coincidentally, I received the email for this program just as I was having doubts about my ability to be an effective teacher. I needed (and wanted) the opportunity to learn EVERYTHING! Most importantly, how will I fill my own professional learning gap? I am here in the Master’s Degree program to demonstrate my commitment to professional growth, so that I can activate learning and achievement at a higher level for my students.
At this point in my career development, I feel like a first-year teacher: everything is fresh and exciting. I have not been this enthusiastic about teaching in years, and I can’t wait to try new and innovative things. We collaborate and share at my school, which is wonderful, but I have found that this new style of teaching has led to some new classroom management situations I am not accustomed to, and which are in need of some better procedures. In this district, they finally seem to be paying attention what my past colleagues have been saying for years, and are really listening to people like Linda Darling-Hammond. They seem to be making the changes necessary to create truly equitable classrooms, and I hope every district in the nation adopts similar updates.
Darling-Hammond gives examples of effective educational policies in Finland, Korea, and Singapore, and how they benefit those nations. Even though we may not structure things politically or financially in the same way that these countries do, if we simply focus on providing teachers with adequate resources in the classroom (using policies supported by both local and federal administration), we can make significant gains in closing the achievement gap for students and teachers here in the United States. The benefits would be enormous for the nation as a whole, both now and in the future.
This book really resonated with me, because it read like the history of my life. It echoed the many reasons why this program needs to be available, and why I want to take advantage of it. It is one thing to read about these issues, but it is very emotional to have lived them. The section about California actually brought tears to my eyes, as I recalled my fellow colleagues and the hardships we endured together, all while trying to give our students the best we could under the circumstances in which we found ourselves.
Darling-Hammond speaks with a great deal of truth, clarity,and fact-based evidence, so with research like this available, it is hard to believe that California is still lagging behind in the area of technological development in the classroom. But change is happening, and I am thrilled to be a part of it!