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A Terrible Place to Teach

Too many students, too little time and too many tests are ruining schools today.

It seemed funny at the time. I was in junior high school, seventh-grade Spanish class, to be exact. It was raining outside, so I brought my squirt gun to class. I held it in my lap, hidden from the teacher's view, and strategically squirted the ceiling when she wasn't looking.

I then dutifully raised my hand and pointed out to the teacher that water was dripping from the ceiling. She studied it momentarily and then called the office to report that the roof was leaking. I wish I hadn't done it, but at the time it seemed like a great experiment.

"That's a great one!" one friend told me as three of us traded such stories during a recent lunch. Then we got talking about teaching. It was fun reminiscing about catching students who tried our old tricks, but my focus quickly turned to how much I loved teaching. My mind's instant replay kept calling up experiences with specific students and classes, and the mixture of successes and challenges that make teaching so rewarding.

As I enthusiastically told story after story to my friends, one of them finally asked, "So, how come you left?"

My immediate, almost involuntary response was, "Because school is a terrible place to teach."

As soon as I said it, I knew I had the topic for this column. These aren't just empty words. After 20 years of reform in earnest, little has changed. Sure, we've moved from a junior high school model to a middle school model, but has there been any significant increase in middle-grade student achievement? We've tinkered with block scheduling, but let's face it: school is still mostly what it was; 25 little desks and one big desk. The bell still waits for no one-forget teachable moments, just keep moving because you've only got four minutes to get to your next class. We talk about interdisciplinary curriculum, but content is still divided into discreet subjects and the day into fixed periods. That's just the way we do it.