The Archive: A Museum, A Library, A Lighthouse

Posted on September 8, 2015

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Sorting and filing in The Archive

Sorting and filing in The Archive

The Archive is a collection of boxes, crates, and bookcases in my basement that house the artifacts of my career in education, from my first classes at Kellogg Community College to the essays and reflections from my most recent classes of Freshman, Junior, and Senior ELA students. While all teachers have collections of artifacts from their careers, my collection is different, because it is the archive of a teacher researcher. In this collection are not only the lessons I’ve taught since I was a pre-service teacher, but the lessons I’ve learned from scholars and practitioners–going all the way back to John Dewey–about good teaching and deep learning, about creating a safe and welcoming classroom community where students feel safe enough to embark on life-changing inquiry projects that give birth to new perspectives and new pathways, about the importance of student choice and student voice in reading and writing, about the possibilities for the unexpected and the excellent that open up when I say to students, “You can do it. I will help you. Nothing bad will happen to you.”

At this point in my career, The Archive functions as a library of resources that I’ve created: journals, lessons, presentations, publications, and documentation. Whenever I face questions about how to think or what to do  in the classroom, I do research. I read about the issue in professional publications; I visit the websites of scholars and teachers who have given presentations at NCTE, MCTE, and EMWP; I read books on the topic; and most importantly, I observe, write field notes, do surveys, collect artifacts, and conduct interviews to understand how students, parents, and colleagues behave, think, and feel about the issue at hand. Doing the deep digging of a teacher researcher within a community of like-minded professionals assures me that the ideas I pursue as a classroom are well-grounded in theory and are well-founded in practice. They aren’t “out in left field.” While I may be the only teacher who makes a particular assignment in my school, I know that I am a member of a community of teachers who also do that particular assignment in their schools, around the state or around the world, and I know the value of doing that assignment–how it can help a student grow as a reader, writer, and thinker. The Archive helps me stay true to my values as a teacher by rooting me in a tradition of excellent practice, in spite of being tempest tossed on the crashing waves of education reform: test and punish, test and punish, test, test, test, and punish, punish, punish.

When I look at the amazing FEATS of creative and critical thinking that appear in The Archive, the Literary Magazines, Poetry Collections, Drama Performances, Songwriting, Fiction Writing, and Multi-Genre compositions that have been produced by my students, in every one of my years as a teacher, I am proud; proud of myself and proud of my students. But it’s more than that. The Archive shows me that I have a body of work to be proud of, but it also shows me that I am right in making the decisions I do for my students because I am highly trained and tremendously experienced. I have taught in a multitude of settings, including: Summer Camp, Gifted and Talented Program, Women’s Groups, Families, Elementary, Middle, and High School, College Classrooms, Professional Conventions, Environmental Education Workshops, Educator Workshops, and Community Organizations. I have taught an amazing number of subjects, ranging from swimming, canoeing, and fire-building to drama, to dance, to hyper-linked annotated bibliographies. I have taught conflict resolution and meditation. I have taught peace and reconciliation. I have taught how to greet the day and how to grieve the dead. And though the venue, the audience, or the subject may change, one thing holds fast: the decisions I make as a teacher reflect the values of the teachers and mentors, my teachers and my students, that are represented in The Archive.

Organizing The Archive

Organizing The Archive

All too often I hear education reformers claiming that schools are failing, that students are not ready for college or career, and that the reformers have the cure for what ails us. But you know what? I’ve been teaching and researching since 1994, and my students have been succeeding in the high school ELA classroom, succeeding in the college classroom, and in several cases, returning to my school district as colleagues. While the curriculum I created was opening minds and doors for my students in college and careers, the reformers decided that what students really need is “reading” tests, grammar tests, and “writing” tests–that follow a prescribed pattern. I have done a lot of research into the claims of those who wrote the current reforms, and I have to disagree with their approach. Students don’t need reading and writing tests. Students need authentic literacy: reading and writing for the real reasons that people read and write outside of school: to be entertained, to locate information, to learn “how to,” to support a position, to be an informed citizen.

Testing is not teaching, and it certainly is not making students ready for “college and career.” I know what my students need to know and be able to do when they reach college, because, first of all, I continue taking college classes, and second of all, I maintain contact with many of my students while they’re in college and beyond, and I haven’t received a single report that college teachers have replaced papers, projects, and presentations with multiple-choice tests. NOT ONE.

The Archive is a museum, a treasure chest, a library, and a history, but more importantly, it is a lighthouse. By returning to the teachers and students who have taught me about good teaching and deep learning, I can find my way into port from a storm-tossed sea.

Lunch Buddies 2015: Ana, Lauren, me, Katie, Hannah, Christian

Lunch Buddies 2015: Ana, Lauren, me, Katie, Hannah, Christian

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