I sent it to about a half-dozen other educators to see their take, because I really wrestled with the message.
On one hand, I really relate to the message that 17-year-old Suli Breaks passionately delivers, refusing to be reduced to a number on a test. I’ve written in both prose and poetic forms that students are “more than a score”. The insanity over standardized testing was even featured on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. (You should really watch if you didn’t catch it, and if you’re not offended by some salty language.)
Anyway, back to Mr. Suli Breaks. I found much of what he said to be powerful, relatable, and certainly fair.
There seemed to be a hint of devaluing academics in general; a playing down of the importance of one’s education, which made me uncomfortable. Several of the teachers I sent it to felt the same.
I posed this question: How does he show he values education, if he understandably does not value the testing, and that’s all he’s known education to be? How do we expect him to separate the two?
The conversation that ensued had me thinking deeper about this and how it relates to educators. I think it is similar to the crux of the problem those of us opposing the current state of standardized testing face:
How do we demonstrate our willingness for accountability when it has become synonymous with standardized testing?
Not enough copies
Not enough books
Teachers spending their own thin dime
It’s a crime.
Not enough time
Not enough technology
There is simply not enough me…
to go around
to these 42 students in this one class
Because class size limits…are gone.
Education is a pawn
in their reelection game.
But the more they talk of change,
the more things stay the same.
Instead of the blame, they should find the funding instead.
But their friends get deep tax cuts so it puts our schools in the red.
They vilify those that they should empower.
But those making the choices refuse to hear the experienced voices.
I have always tried to operate under this theory: The harder a child is on you as the teacher, the more s/he needs you to be good at your job.
Like little Julie*? Who you could throw the textbook into the room and leave, and 180 days later, she’d have completed all the work? Yeah. She doesn’t need you. I mean, you love her in spite of this fact. After all, she’s wonderful! And hopefully, she will learn more with your guidance that she would have without it. But, still… You are not a crucial adult in the journey to success in her life.
That one (ten? thirty?) who drives you crazy? Who doesn’t know social cues? Who doesn’t appropriately respond to authority figures? Who won’t pick up a pencil, let alone complete assignments, without your constant prodding?
He needs you. In fact, he has little chance without you.
And there lies an interesting paradox: The harder they make your job, the more important your job is for them. The more crucial you are as the teacher.
The harder a child is to teach, the more he or she needs you.
I sometimes chant this little mantra when I am so frustrated with those most difficult students.
What core beliefs to you remind yourself of as you teach that help you?
*Julie is used here as the name of that sweet little (usually female) student whom teaching is an effortless joy. This is not based on any specific, actual Julie.
I learned last week that communicating data via an infographic is a power not to be wielded lightly. The ongoing feedback in the comments had me repeatedly changing and re-editing numbers and phrasing. For example, at the bottom teachers work “more than others” became “more than full-time” because so many commenters seemed to be taking it as a personal judgement on how much they did or did not work in their own jobs.
I thought about how NCAE almost always supports the democratic candidate, and I found those who “stood out” like Alaska and New Mexico very interesting. Also, I wondered how much of the “average salary” was higher from retention of experienced teachers (particularly abysmal in my own state of North Carolina) or other factors outside of education specifically, such as the general cost-of-living. For example, even though Hawaii is in the top half of the states for a teacher’s average salary, according to at least one source the “comfort index” on that salary is actually the lowest in the nation due to how expensive it is to live there.
What do you infer from this data?
It was September 2000. My first year teaching. Greenville County, South Carolina.
A math teacher on my hall, whose name escapes me now, left on maternity leave. The woman they got to sub for her was a parent of one of the seventh-graders at the school. She had been a fairly prominent and successful businesswoman, running a major division of IBM up until she’d had her son. After staying home with him for the first 12 years of his life, she thought substitute teaching would be a great slow start back into the workforce.
Exactly. I hear you all laughing right now and I share in your chuckle.
What I remember so clearly about this woman was her way of explaining how overwhelmingly demanding teaching is as compared to a job in the business world:
When I worked for IBM, my job was to make phone calls, process paperwork, make contacts, and have meetings. Now as a teacher, I still have to do all of these things. I need to plan lessons. I need to call parents. I need to process paperwork. I need to grade stacks of papers. I need to meet with other teachers, with parents, and with administrators. However, very little time during my day is available for me to actually do any of the that large part of my job. Teachers have a 9-to-5 job’s worth of work to do, and they can’t get any of it done from 7:30 to 3:00.
Coming from the business world, this seemed to really shock her. If you’re a teacher reading this, you’re nodding and smiling (or rolling your eyes) as you already know what she was just learning: Teachers are almost always “on” for their audience. They rarely sit at a desk and work. They are constantly meeting students’ needs: moving and teaching and coaching and intervening and quite often forgoing sitting for lunch or taking restroom breaks. Their own tasks and goals must wait.
However, this concept of a teacher’s time during the day seems to elude the public at large, with common comments like: “It must be so nice to be done by 3 o’clock.” and “I emailed you this morning, but I haven’t gotten a response from you yet.”
I can’t help but wonder: Why doesn’t George Clooney have to deal with this crap? Is anyone under theimpression that he spent the exact 116 minutes it takes to view Ocean’s Eleven to actually make it? No. The American public understands that a movie takes months or even years to make those two hours. However, they fail to understand that the teacher – who’s paid dirt compared to Hollywood – is also working under a misleading ratio of time-in and quality product-out.
Teachers are not compensated for most if not all of the time they put in preparing innovative lessons. Sure, a teacher could just “phone it in” and not spend as much extra time on lesson planning. A teacher that just gives textbook work and worksheets? That’s what that looks like. Few educators, however, want to be a C-list or D-list teacher. Many educators strive to be A-list, putting their hearts into a quality product well after the school bell has rung.
And while I am sure teachers put in time outside the scheduled day the world over, the United States compensates its teachers particularly poorly for our time demands compared to other countries:
So our society either needs to:
recognize innovation, collaboration, and all things that make professional education great by valuing how much time and effort outside the classroom is required,
– or –
acknowledge that we have set up a system that is okay with exhausting teachers to the point of mediocrity.
With the current climate, I may be asking too much just with verbs like ‘recognize’ and ‘acknowledge’, but I intend to aim high…
Several years ago, an ELA colleague and I were presenting writing strategies to another middle school’s PLTs. The IRT’s office was in the PLT meeting room, and during a break between our sessions she remarked how she always had math teachers coming in to scan the results of their County required standardized test benchmarks immediately. However, she always had to chase down the language arts teachers to “make” them scan the bubble cards for the data. They’d given the test as required, just not scanned the cards for the results. She asked us what to do about it, and we sheepishly admitted we were often the same. Amazed, she asked… “Why?”
“Well, that data doesn’t really tell us anything we don’t already know.
Standardized data from the math benchmark practice tests tells our math teammates if students are struggling with decimals, or fractions, or two-step equations. In short, if students need more help…and if so, with which with specific skills.
The truth is…the data on these reading benchmarks tells us that since our AIG students score higher gifted readers must be better readers and our ESL students who are learning English don’t score as well on a test for…reading English.”
None of that is new information to any literacy teacher, and even if it were it doesn’t speak to how to shape his or her instruction. We are Data Rich, Information Poor. (D.R.I.P.) Analysis of that data does not help us see the path forward clearly for our students. Perhaps worse, it doesn’t necessarily even reflect the quality of instruction they’ve been given.
And while greater educational titans like Alfie Kohn have already explainedthe many problems of relying on standardized data for, well, anything, it is my contention that using it to measure English Language Arts, both for measuring teachers and students, is an exceptionally erroneous practice.
Standardized testing by definition is supposed to be an “objective” assessment. However, subjective factors such as beliefs and values aren’t shouldn’t be separable from measuring literacy. While math is cut and dry (thereisa right answer) interpretation of a literary work it not black and white. The students who can argue support for more than one of the four cookie-cutter answers – and do so in their heads during the test thereby often choosing the “wrong” one – are likely in reality the best readers. Disagreement on what an author meant by effective figurative language use or dissention in supporting different possible intended themes are not to be transcended in analysis and assessment of literature but embraced.
Am I missing some insight in interpreting formative standardized benchmark data? Is there some value here that I am overlooking? Please let me know in the comments!
I’ve taken the last few weeks off from blogging to reflect on teaching, the state of education, and my role in it. I wish I’d reflected more “publicly” in the way of more posts, but I doubt it to have made for good reading. I’ve been feeling all muddled up with the departure of colleagues and things feeling so grim.
My reflection came down to this simple question: Why do I teach?
I’ve decided to stop being so lost in my own thoughts and let this reflection be a public one as the subject of today’s post. It’s time.
That, and the band director at my school has vowed to not read any more of my posts until I have something positive to report…but I digress.
Five years ago, our staff completed Six-Word Memoirs on our experience as teachers. They were complied by the incomparable Paul Cancellieri who pens Scripted Spontaneity. I couldn’t think of a more succinct yet powerful way to remember and summarize why we teach. Why we stay dedicated in the face of increasing adversity. Therefore, I revisited it recently and share it here in hopes it also resonates with you:
One of them (a colleague’s, not my own) inspired me to write the following, another window into my five-year-ago teacher-self:
And then I realized something: one of the reasons I am so hurt is that it’s this dedication on which they are counting. Using. These people in power, whether simply clueless as to the damage they are doing or with insidious intentions, who are undermining our profession at every turn. Defunding it. Devaluing it. The ones forever saying “do more with less.” Who are essentially challenging: “What’ya gonna do…leave? Well, then you weren’t a dedicated teacher to start with, were you?”
The dedication is what they counted on to get away with it.
Let me be clear: They are unequivocally wrong. Yes, they will chase some amazingly talented educators out of the classroom. They already have. However, please don’t let them mistake our kindness for weakness, nor our dedication to teaching as acceptance of their poor treatment.
We must be as dedicated to teaching as a profession as we are to teaching as an act.
A new school year is budding: I teach in a multi-track year round school, and our students’ first day of school is tomorrow. Weboth have wonderful staff members returning and are welcoming a large number of new staff members to our building. The faculty kick-off last week was truly exciting.
We have a very large staff, and we learned from a clicker session by our media specialist that we are almost exactly divided into thirds between Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y.
We viewed some funny & informative clips from speakers on generations in the workplace like Jason Dorsey and Cam Marlston like this and this, as well as looked at other information. Teachers were asked to reflect and discuss which parts pertained to them and which did not. It all led to a really rich discussion of our staff, the strengths of each generation, and led to what it means in terms of technology and instruction.
We then shifted focus from who we are …to who we teach.
However, sometimes an opportunity for material simply presents itself.
My post last week about the NC Senate budget went viral. Well, by my standards, anyway. I am typically excited to get four or five hundred visits per post on TSV. However, when last I checked, “The Blame Game” had received 62,869 visitors and counting. Discussion in the 60+ comments has given me several topics I look to writing about in upcoming posts.