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Index Cards, Schmimdex Cards

October 31, 2012
A student using notecards for writing

I like to think of teaching as professional manipulation, trickery, if you will. From topic sentences to notecards to multi-paragraph essays, we used creative methods to build a writing portfolio. This student would’t write on a journal page, but he loved index cards.

I took a walk down memory lane today, also known as the index card aisle at my local office supplies store.

I am studying for the GRE, and I need to make flash cards for vocabulary words.

My classroom was filled with notecards last year. I probably went through more than 4,000 index cards last year and even more Post-its. We used neon colored index cards to differentiate body paragraphs versus the intro and conclusion for multi-paragraph essays. We used cards to scribble down memories of Hurricane Katrina. We used them to fly commonly confused words in the air for review games played and to write positive notes to students in class who needed a little pick-me-up during test time. We used notecards and Post-its for daily exit tickets to evaluate whether they got the day’s lesson or not. I always had a stack of notecards on my desk. It’s amazing how many kids who refuse to write anything change their minds with markers and notecards. It takes off the pressure of a blank piece of paper.

Just fill the lined side on 1 note card. Easy, right?

I wish all battles were that easy to win. The latest certification news is that my value added metrics were validated by the DOE in Louisiana, and the recommendation for certification still denied, despite my — and my principal’s– pleas for acknowledgement that there may be a flaw in their formula for schools like ours. I have appealed to the Louisiana Department of Education and The New Teacher Project, my old administrators, and daily to my deepest self for calm. TNTP says they’ll defer my extension plan to next year as long as I return to New Orleans and teach. Why put my certification back in the hands of the organization that seems hell bent on a rule being a rule, despite variables that are obvious to everyone involved? The joy of jumping through hoops.

I can only imagine what would happen to teachers if we operated the same way as TNTP in this case. My entire teaching philosophy was shaped on the belief that every student’s growth is based on a starting point specific to that student. Eighteen year old G., who read at a 2nd grade level, wrote a paragraph rather than an essay on a class assignment. It pushed him and tested his skill level. He grew so much from that exercise. If I told him to write a multi-paragraph essay he would put his head on his desk and do nothing, or throw his papers on the floor. L. wrote a 5 paragraph essay, and then read an article on crime in New Orleans and did a follow-up letter to the editor when she finished her essay early. Not all students are the same. Both G. and L. passed their 8th grade LEAP tests, G. taking a LAA2 exam that acknowledged his current level and special education classification. No child left behind means most of them are.

Negatives: I can’t even substitute here without certification. I’m frustrated. (And it won’t stop raining!) Positives: This situation has helped me see a bigger picture, pushed me to think beyond standardized tests, to start to study research regarding what makes students successful not on a test, but in life. At this point, who cares if J. (who never passed the 4th grade LEAP) passed his 8th grade LEAP test when he’s already 18 and has to get a job to support his family? What can I do for him to help further past this stupid standardized test?

If notecards are used as creative stepping stones to a stronger final project, I better get back to mine.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. laurel birdsong permalink
    November 1, 2012 7:30 am

    Sunny, during the time in KC when we were all hanging out, I was travelling from district to district in KS, helping them create alternative learning plans and training teachers and admin about how to implement plans within the NCLB beauracracy and their districts. One thing we all held on to was that students matter. NCLB is so short sighted because under the guise that the legislation is about students, they hog-tied the most needy, the most vulnerable and those that care most about them in the school system.
    Your last question about Jerome: this is what led me to work in alternative education in the first place. I worked with high school drop outs to get actual diplomas. While I’m not advocating this instead of teaching in a regular HS situation, I do want to encourage you to look at alt. ed. You were duped out of certification- this I feel very sure of. It makes me really, really mad because you should be teaching those vulnerable kids. I’d love it if you could find it inside yourself to persevere, get your master’s degree and certification and end up in charge of them. Teachers that take the time and get higher degrees end up in administration- and this is perfectly correct. Keep your eyes on the final prize- SPED director or alternative learning director or principal for goodness sake. You can do it and you have all the tools you need. Stick it out, get certified and you will be able to get back to Jerome et al. (P.S. Kansas is fucked up in many ways. But we have some of the best standards, best alt ed administrators and curriculum/ standard writers in the whole country working here. Our state BOE is brilliant, with a few obvious exceptions, and you would fit in really well.)
    I’m pulling for you-
    Laurel

    • November 1, 2012 11:46 am

      Laurel, you make many great points. I’m sure there is a future for me in education. Where and how and what are clearly up in the air at this point. I’m reading Paul Tough right now (including research from James Heckman, and on the ground work by Paul Vallas and many others who have been hell bent on figuring out the whys behind our screwed up education system). Focusing on standardized testing as a way to progress through school is just a small piece of it– so much more goes into making a successful student. Studying GED recipients shows just that.
      The students I am most passionate about are the Jeromes that get screwed by the system. The poor kid had no options. You simply can’t catch up that many years of being behind in one year. No matter what the interventions, Jerome was left behind too many times. Now he’s 18. I want to work on the NOW WHAT part of the equation. We can’t just cut these kids loose and say we did they best we could.
      I do plan to get a higher degree. I also plan to return to NOLA and return to the education system there. It’s a place that was left behind, including most of the students in public school. I want to figure out a way I can impact more students in a broader, life altering sort of way, not just prep them for an 8th grade LEAP test that means so much to so many bureaucrats, but so little to their success.
      I appreciate your kind words and encouragement. SDS

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