Miss Bennett in the Bay

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Mar 19 2008

Oops and Double Oops

As you may well know by now, I am teaching in an Open Court district. This means that for whatever reason, somebody down the street at the district office decided that OCR is the solution to all of education’s problems. Forget the fact that 90% of our students are English Learners and OCR’s ELD program is practically nonexistent. Ignore the idea that OCR does not allow for reteach time at all. Turn a blind eye when you realize that quite a few things in the curriculum aren’t even standards based.

No, folks, OCR is clearly going to solve our problems. Even though, after a number of years being implemented in Alum Rock, it hasn’t. This is not due to the shortcomings of the curriculum (which I don’t even think is all bad- it just needs supplement.) No, the reason that Alum Rock is still a PI district is because the teachers aren’t implementing OCR faithfully.

So, to solve this terrible problem, about once a semester somebody from the district office comes in and tells us all the reasons why we suck at teaching OCR. (Never mind actually supporting us and helping us get better. Nope, we have to figure it out on our own and then listen to them berate us when we have failed in their minds.) Today was one of those days.

OCR time (which we lovingly refer to as “sacred time”) goes from 9:00-12:05. These days, I haven’t been starting until 9:15 because I’ve been doing a much more rigorous morning math meeting, which is actually quite effective and my kids really love. So, when the OCR police (whom I wasn’t expecting until after recess) walked in at 9:12 and I was just finishing up my math meeting I about had a heart attack on the spot. I knew what this could mean in terms of my career and also in terms of how much they will bother me later. So, I rushed my kids through the end of the math meeting and got ready for blending (a.k.a. sounding out words). I opened up my TE as fast as I could and started the procedure. The kids were well-behaved and engaged in the lesson, so that was good. But, about halfway through the lesson, I noticed the OCR police in the back of the room flipping confusedly through their own copy of a TE. I couldn’t figure out what the problem was until I glanced back at my own book- and realized that I had opened to the wrong page. I was using the blending words for next week’s lesson, not this week’s. Well, after the alarm bells going off in my head subsided, I figured I was already screwed enough as it was, and I would look like an even bigger idiot if I tried to go back to the right board at that point. The OCR police left the room with very disappointed looks on their faces.

After they left, I closed and locked my door and had a very honest conversation with my students about what we’re learning in second grade and what had just happened. I told them that I probably was going to get into trouble because I had made a mistake and opened to the wrong page in my teacher book.

Them: But everybody makes mistakes!
Me: I know, but they expect teachers to be perfect all the time.
Them: But that’s silly! We make mistakes on our homework and stuff and it’s still ok!
Me: I know, but I was teaching you the wrong words for this lesson.
Them: What’s the big deal? They’re only words.

Their logic is so simple. It pleases me. I only wish that the OCR police could see it from their point of view. I am bracing myself for the wrath tomorrow.

23 instructional days until the CST. I am not quite sure we are going to make it.

4 Responses

  1. Good luck! Thankfully our school hates OCR as much as we do as teachers, so we get to be flexible. I don’t think I would be able to survive teaching strictly from the teacher’s edition…I don’t even come close to following it so if I ever had a meeting like yours I would so screwed. The thing I don’t understand is how every single child is expected to be able to read the exact same story. My students’ reading ability is so varied that 1/3 of the class is bored out of their minds and 1/3 is completely frusterated. Oh, and the green band can bite me.

  2. GNO Joe

    What’s OCR? And that districts sounds like heaps of fun. Pish-posh…

  3. chrisb

    OCR would be Open Court Reading, a really ginormous reading curriculum that obviously has lots of short comings.

    I don’t really teach out of the TE that much. The green section is pretty much the only thing I use it for. The stupid thing is that they expect us to teach from the TE. Never mind if I could plan a really killer lesson without it. If I do that, I’m not teaching the program faithfully. I’ve just learned to sneak around a lot, like the other TFAs at my school.

  4. Jennifer

    Well, Chris it’s not just the TFAs that are sneaking around. It’s every teacher using Open Court who is really a “teacher” understands that all children don’t don’t learn the same way at the same time. They didn’t all learn to walk or talk at the same time and it’s the same for reading, writing and math.
    I’m really sorry that you’re first teaching experience has been in this situation. It will change eventually but I’m afraid we are going to sacrifice a lot of kids before they admit that it doesn’t work. Many teachers in districts that are taking a hard line with Open Court have said the same thing you did . . . Open Court isn’t the problem, the implementation is. And, if they want it done a certain way, why not just video tape a teacher and we’ll all just play it for the kids! It’s pretty obvious that the OC police have not spent any time actually trying to teach Open Court they way they want it done!
    Just know that what you are doing when you are “sneaking around” is probably the right thing. You can see it in the kids eyes. You know when they are getting it. Hang in there and stop counting days to the CSTs. Your kids will do whatever they do on the tests. Enjoy them and enjoy the learning that you see happening. When they get older they are not going to remember their test scores but they are going to remember a caring teacher that taught them something memorable.

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