Wednesday, November 21

Middle School Muddle: Here's why I'm thankful for choice

Middle school tours can be tough on kids and parents, in part because change is hard. Visiting schools feels like an abrupt and painful reminder that elementary school – and childhood – isn’t forever. We don’t always know how to make informed judgments.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how much tours ask of educators – and how much I appreciate the chance to watch them in action.

Teachers are always on. In the District Two classrooms we’ve been visiting, they’re attempting to keep as many as 30 or more students engaged as tours march in and out. Parents peer intently, hoping for a teachable moment or a clarifying detail about the lesson before shuffling out. Kids wave at their friends from elementary schools.

In those brief moments, it’s difficult to capture much about the quality of teaching.

In the talks that follow, principals are measured by their ability to articulate a vision for their middle school. They patiently field what might seem like endless questions. Parents take and compare snapshot notes.

The New York City Department of Education talks a lot about accountability these days, pushing new letter grades as an example.

I don’t find those grades realistic or telling, so I’d like to make the argument that tours — and choice — force a different kind of accountability. It’s one that as a parent, I am especially grateful for.

In the three very different but equally impressive middle schools we’ve toured so far – Clinton, MAT, and School of the Future – teachers have willingly opened their classrooms, even as they are pressured constantly to raise test scores, prepare better lesson plans and get ready for 100 or more parent teacher conferences. Many have taken the time to explain what they are teaching and why. Principals are on display as well, taking time from the unrelenting demands of their day.

If we didn’t have choice in our district, my children would simply move on to their zoned middle school or junior high, like I did during my suburban childhood. My parents weren’t probing into classrooms and weighing schools like Salk that emphasize science vs. schools that stress art or “habits of mind,'' a concept I learned about while visiting the intriguing School of the Future. At the age of 10, I most certainly was not asking myself what kind of a school environment I might thrive in, as my sons have had to.

Those of us lucky enough to be zoned for districts that offer choice have an opportunity to question authority and think deeply about education.

We wouldn’t have this chance if the educators weren’t willing to educate us.

Read all of Liz Willen's Middle School Muddle

1 comment:

Morgan said...

good luck finding your school