I, too, have a dream…

First week of school down. Exhausting and invigorating all at once. This year, my department chair announces her 2012-2013 theme for our department : Dream BIG!

Within the week, three of us (English teachers) decide to write a proposal to attend this year’s NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) Conference in Las Vegas. Las Vegas??!! Yes, please. So, I google the link and see this year’s theme: Dream.Connect. Ignite!

I don’t believe in coincidences; everything is kismet.

In the midst of all of this political bullshit surrounding education, today, I have a dream. I’ve discovered it isn’t dead. It isn’t even dying (though I can admit it went through a dormant period). I BELIEVE in education. I BELIEVE that teachers who really care will persevere and rise above the political “pundits” who want to use educators as scapegoats for their own failings. They claim to know what is right for education without having educated or even consulted educators when the bottom line is that it isn’t about education or tenure or unions or common this and common that. It’s about the money.

I never went into education to make a lucrative career for myself. I didn’t have a choice but to BE an educator, because it isn’t something one becomes– it’s who I am!

But this piece isn’t about the political bullshit or the calling. It’s about the dream. The one I REFUSE to let die.

I dream of a day when the education of our youth is esteemed as one of the great professions/goals of our time in word and deed. I dream of a day when our schools are fully equipped with state-of-the-art technology and resources to make all things possible for students. I dream of day when authentic learning means having the ability to take students out into the world to explore and experience. I dream of a day when support systems are put in place to make it possible for at-risk youth to achieve their full potential as individuals and learners. I dream of a day when time is spent on the quality of education. I dream of a day when students are held accountable, even when the lessons of life (and school) are hard ones. I dream of a day when the policies of school are based on what is best for the children and not the path of least resistance or the almighty dollar. I dream of a day when we could choose how to instruct our students based on the changing times but not without taking into consideration what has continued to work. I dream of day when pendulum of political agendas that determines educational initiatives are not swinging to the far right or left, but find it’s place somewhere in the middle. I dream of a day  when educators are promoting individuality, inquiry and creativity over sameness and streamlining. I dream of a day when people measure the success of student achievement and teacher effectiveness instead of data collection. I dream of a day when students are encouraged to become well-rounded individuals by providing multi-faceted educational opportunities for them. I dream of a day when the word common is taken out of education and replaced with complex or extraordinary or sophisticated.

I’ve thought about my Atwellian teaching utopia. Reading Nancy Atwell’s In the Middle changed my philosophy as an educator. While I recognized the whole of it as utopian for most schools, especially public schools, when I read it about twelve years ago, I’ve adopted as many of her practices as I could while never forgetting the essence of an Atwell philosophy of education.

I can’t really even envision a school (YET) as much as I can my classroom. It would be large and bright with windows that have retracting blinds. The walls would be lined with student work and visuals images that inspire; they’d change constantly to reflect my philosophy on changing one’s perspective, often. There would be a comfortable reading space with chairs students could curl up in to become lost in reading. An extensive library of classic literature, high-interest contemporary works, and references would act as a patrician to seclude the reading area to make it a quiet place. There would be round tables for discussion and rectangular ones fully equipped with laptops, Ipads, and video technology for 21st century collaborative, connective learning.

A smart board would be a necessity, as well as a white board and teacher’s desk, but I imagine myself mulling around most often, probing and questioning, making recommendations or playing devil’s advocate, acting as a sounding board or facilitator.

The classroom would be lively, one where students are free to roam. Schedules aren’t so stringent, but subject to change. I can spend a lot of quality time with my students because I’m a trusted, esteemed instructor who doesn’t have to jump through a million loops just the one that promises to educate her community of readers and writers and critical thinkers (thank you, SueEllen, for that!).

Students would be working at their own pace, on a variety of instructional materials. If it’s a British Literature course, they’d be preparing for a four week tour of England where they’d be choosing the literature we’d be reading there, definitely those that compliment the sights we will see. For instance, we could study the court of King Henry VIII by visiting the places he traveled, researching documents of the time period and historical figures while reading Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl. Or we could take the journey of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales beginning at Westminster Abby at the Poet’s Corner, seeing an authentic copy of the tales at the British Library, then taking a pilgrimage to Canterbury while studying the various roles portrayed in the collection. Students would choose what they want to study and where they want to go, and, while it would begin with a plan, their journey would be sure to take them in unexpected directions which would foster a sense of discovery. The course would be called Literature Alive! or perhaps… Literary Journeys. The world would be our classroom: the possibilities, endless.

This is the year to dream, but not only to dream… to take steps (perhaps baby ones) that cement ideas into foundations. It always begins with just a spark… to Dream Big! Dream. Connect. Ignite!

DREAM BIG

If there were ever a time to dare,

to make a difference,

To embark on something worth doing, it is Now.

Not for any grand cause, necessarily-

but for something that tugs at your heart,

something that’s your aspiration,

something that’s your dream.

You owe it to yourself

to make your days here count.

Have fun.  Dig deep.  Stretch.

Know though, that things worth doing

seldom come easy.  There will be good days.

And there will be bad days.

There will be times when you want to turn around,

pack it up, and call it quits.

Those times tell you that you are pushing yourself,

that you are not afraid to learn by trying.

Persist.

Because with an idea, determination, and the right tools,

you can do great things.

Let your instincts, your intellect, and your heart

guide you.  Trust.

Believe in the incredible power of the human mind.

Of doing something that makes a difference.

Of working hard.  Of laughing and hoping.  Of lazy afternoons.

Of lasting friends.

Of all the things that will cross your path this year.

The start of something new,

brings the hope of something great.

Anything is possible.  There is only one you.

And you will pass this way only once.

Do it right!

-Author Unknown