Saturday, March 19, 2016

Nancie Atwell Busts Some Pencils

If you are not familiar with BustEd Pencils and their "fully leaded education talk," you should be. The program/website is run by Tim Slekar and Jed Hopkins of Edgewood College's education department in Madison, WI. They have a sass-heavy style that readers of this blog can appreciate, and their podcasts include interviews with a variety of education champions and commentary on the issues of the day. Plus, regular segments with Matt Damon's mom. (And yes, the bumpers sound as if they were recorded by Pawnee's The Douche ).

The most recent episode features an interview with Nancie Atwell (in the interests of full transparency, I'll note that it also includes an interview with me, and that's about as close as I'm ever going to get to being in Atwell's league) coming a year after her crowning as Best Teacher on the Planet. Atwell is a personal hero of mine, both for her work as a teacher of reading and writing and for her connection to Maine, a state with a special place in my heart because my gandfather built a cabin on a lake that has been a gathering spot for family my whole life. Anyway-- the interview.

Atwell shares some stories from the ceremony in Dubai; the secrecy surrounding the winner was such that all ten nominees had to prepare acceptance speeches and rehearse holding the twenty pound trophy. And she talks about what the year has brought since then, including a great number of obligations and opportunities. I was particularly struck by her tale of being Grand Marshall of Bath's 4th of July parade and how people really cheered--for a teacher. Atwell said, "People do, despite all the PR, love teachers and appreciate them."

Slekar asks Atwell to reflect on her infamous poat-award suggestion that young people should not go into public school teaching right now. "I wish I'd been more thoughtful about how that answer was going to play," Atwell says. But her intent was to diss the current climate, not teachers. There are schools where teachers still have autonomy, but other places where what teachers are being asked to do with children is not what they entered the profession to do.

Atwell is blunt about reform. Common Core is a disaster-- unrealistic, developmentally inappropriate, created behind closed doors by people with no knowledge of the field who had no basis in research for their work. She calls it a "reckless intrusion into public schools" and notes that "public education has been taken hostage" by a variety of corporate interests.

It is a dynamite interview, and I've left out some of the best stuff. Who gave Atwell the most blowback on her "don't go into teaching" quote? What would it take for her to advise students to become teachers? That and more are in there.

But mostly you want to hear this interview because it's encouraging to hear someone with such stature, someone who has won awards for something other than regurgitating a corporate talking point, explain in clear, simple language just how wrong the path we're on is. Listen to this interview, and then browse the BustEd Pencils library for some interviews with some other great voices of the pro-public ed movement. 

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