Posts Tagged ‘Badass Teachers Association’

So you think we’re exaggerating?


Dear Standardized Testing supporters,

I am writing this post after having spent the past two days administering the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System- Math, Grade 5.

I have a few little anecdotes and insights for you folks, given that you believe all this testing is actually useful.

Let me give you a very brief description of the absurdities of the educational testing world.  If you still believe that High Stakes testing is good for anyone who spends his/her day in a school, then you are either delusion of on the Pearson Payroll.

Scene 1.   As a public school teacher in my state, I had to participate in an “MCAS Security Training Session.”  I had to watch a Powerpoint presentation, and then sign my name on a document swearing that I had watched the presentation.

Scene 2.  On Day 1 of the testing, every teacher who was giving the test was required to come to the school office to pick up our materials.  Materials were available for pickup from 8:45 to 9:00 AM.   All 18 of us showed up in the office right on time.

Scene 3: Before we were allowed to take our Boxes of Test Materials, every teacher had to count every test booklet, answer booklet, MCAS Approved Reference Sheet and “any additional materials”.  We then had to sign a document where we recorded our counts. Then an office staff member had to repeat the process and write the same numbers, and sign.    This took a long time. To say the least.

Scene 4: We read the directions.  We are instructed to tell the children that the test session is scheduled to last for two hours, but that they will be given as much time as they need, up until the end of the school day.

Scene 5: We tell the children, our sweet, trusting eleven year old kids, that “cheating in any form is forbidden”.  We tell them that they are not allowed to use cell phones, game consoles, music players (?) or any other electronic devices.  We tell them that they can’t use scrap paper, but they can scribble all over their test booklets.

Scene 6: The test has begun.  A very bright, hardworking student raises her hand.  I signal for her to come to my desk.  She does not recognize one of the many words that mathematicians use for “number”.   I am forced to give the scripted and MCAS approved answer.  “I’m sorry. I can’t tell you what it means.  Use your best judgement.”

Scene 7: My wonderful, smart, exceptional Chinese student, who started the year with exactly one phrase of English is working very hard at her desk.  Uh, oh.  I notice that she is using her everyday Chinese-English dictionary, given to her by our ELE teacher.  She is supposed to be using the MCAS Chinese-English dictionary, given to her by our ELE teacher!  This could be a violation!  I hurry to her desk and crouch beside her.  Her beautiful dark eyes rise to meet mine. I can see by the flush in her cheeks that she is anxious.

“Honey,” I say, “I’m sorry, but you can’t use this dictionary.  You have to use THIS one.”   She frowned a bit.  “But this book doesn’t has the math words.  THIS book has.”                                                       “Yes, I know.” I say, “But you have to use this one.” I hold up the everyday dictionary.  The one with no academic vocabulary.

My student frowns harder.  She is a very diligent student.    She holds up the forbidden dictionary, given to her on the first day of school by her English Language teacher.

“This book has math words.  THIS book,” she holds up the official MCAS Approved dictionary, “THIS book no has this important words.”

My heart sinks.  “I know,” I say, as I take the forbidden dictionary away from her.

Scene 8: The room is silent.  22 kids have completed the test.   One is still working.  I have to keep the 22 silently in their seats, reading books.  No talking.  No walking around the room. No pulling out your unfinished work.  No writing in your journal. No drawing or sketching or painting.  Why not? No one can tell me.  This goes on for nearly an hour.

Scene 9:  My colleague and close friend texts me in the middle of the test.  Her husband has been taken to the hospital with chest pain!  She isn’t sure what to do!  The MCAS Security training has told her that she can’t leave the room while the kids are working.  But she wants to go to see her husband!! Luckily, our fifth grade assistant is in my room!  She has worked for this school for almost 25 years. She has subbed for us all, she has taught small groups, she has come on a hundred field trips.  She offers to stay in the classroom while the kids finish the test.  “Sorry”, she is told. “You haven’t taken the Security Training.  You haven’t signed the papers.”  She cannot monitor the test.  My friend and her husband must both wait.

Stay tuned for tomorrows set of “Scenes from an Insane Asylum”.  They are even crazier.

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Lemme get this straight……


Ok.  Let me just get this straight.

If I want to be a classroom teacher in the United States today, I have do do a few things, and I have to accept a few realities.

If I want to spend my life teaching children to read, to write, to understand math, to become educated voters, I have to go to college.  OK.  Then I have to get a Master’s Degree. Oh..Kay….(lots more cost, lots more debt, but I get it.  They want me to be well educated.)

After I finally get my Master’s Degree, I have to take and pass several exams that theoretically qualify me for the job.  I have to pay for these exams myself.

If I pass, I get to apply for teaching jobs.  Fun!

And once I get a job, I have to submit to a CORI check (just to make sure that I am not a pedophile or anything.)  AND I have to be fingerprinted.  In case I passed my CORI check but somewhere in my past I committed a crime.  I have to get in line, pay out of my own pocket, and go through the very same process that purse snatchers, rapists, drug runners and murderers go through.  I have to swallow my embarrassment,  push down my discomfort and submit my fingerprints to the local police.

Even if I’ve been teaching for 25 years already and this is coming far too late to do anyone any good.

After all that, when I have finally achieved my dream and gotten a teaching job, I have to accept the fact that people who have never, ever , ever taught one single child one single skill will be the ones who pass laws that define my job.

I will have to come to terms with the fact that giant corporations intend to make millions of dollars off of my students, my classroom and my school.

Once I have become an actual, real life elementary school teacher, I will have to find a way to work 22 hours a day, 7 days a week in order to score every rubric, plan every lesson, follow every teaching guide, gather every bit of data and make sure that every student meets every standard.

I will have to accept the fact that if I actually follow the “Teacher’s College” reading and writing program, I will be losing all of my language impaired, learning disabled, hearing impaired, emotionally impaired students.

And I will have to grin and bear it when my administrators follow the state guidelines on teacher evaluation and pop into my classroom for ten minutes at the very end of a Friday afternoon and then write up a scathing report on how our students are “failing to work toward a uniform goal.”

All of this for the chance to earn an average salary with average benefits.  All of this so that you can check the news every day and see some airheaded politician referring to “our failing schools.”

So I have to ask:

How stupid do you have to be to want to be a teacher today?

Kids today


I’ve been a teacher for about 25 years now.

That’s long enough for my first round of students to have become the parents of my latest round of students.

And the funny thing is, for all of those twenty five years, I have heard adults bemoaning the terrible shortcomings of “kids today”.

I have heard adults insisting that “kids today” are selfish.  They are undisciplined. They are demanding and whiny and defiant.

I’ve heard it all.

But the funny thing is, as a teacher who has actually spent the last twenty plus years in the company of real flesh-and-blood kids, I completely disagree.  For the past twenty five years, I have found children to be funny, sweet, unrepentantly honest, thoughtful and vulnerable.

And they really haven’t changed in all these years.

Let me give you a great example.

I am teaching two half day, weeklong summer camp classes this week. I have two groups of children, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  Each is a collection of kids between that ages of 8 and 14.  None of them know each other. The kids have signed up for a summer camp called ‘Drama, Start to Finish’.  We have created, written, produced and will perform a short play.  All in five half days.

In case you think this is an easy task, try to imagine yourself guiding children along a story line that includes Darth Vader, Barbie, Miley Cyrus and Harry Potter.  And then imagine yourself helping kids to write and act out a logical but funny story that includes all of them.

Right.

So we are now halfway through our week, and both my morning and afternoon plays are beginning to take shape. Neither one is completely lucid (Darth Vader bakes a pie and Barbie and Harry Potter steal it away? The children of Goldilocks, Snow White & Dopey, Sleeping Beauty & the Prince and Red Riding Hood have to fight of the child of Hades to save the world?).   There are costumes, props and very rudimentary sets.

All of this is pretty cool, and fairly impressive.  But none of it is the part that has me feeling so hopeful.

Here is what makes me feel so proud and so humble.

My morning class consists of 9 children, aged 8 through 14.  None of them knew each other on Monday.  Two have significant learning disabilities, and one has a cognitive delay.  They came together knowing nothing about each other, but willing to take on the risk of performing together.   My afternoon class consists of one anxious and slightly awkward Caucasian boy and four Chinese children who are either acquaintances or siblings.  None of them has any experience with theater, and all were signed up by eager parents.

Both classes could easily have been disasters.

Neither one is.

What I have seen for the past three days are groups of kids who are open, kind, welcoming and warm.  I have seen socially savvy teenaged girls working calmly with hyperactive eight year old boys. I have seen older kids talking earnestly with younger ones about books, movies, games and music.  I have seen distracted little ones being gently refocused by older, more settled friends.

I have worked with thirteen children who don’t know me at all, who don’t go to my school and have to reason to think that they might ever be in my class.  They didn’t have to be nice to me.  But they were.

Now I don’t think that every child today is a perfect child.  I teach in a public school. I know better.

All I’m saying is that over the course of twenty five years, I can say with certainty that kids have not gotten worse. They are not crazier, angrier, more out of control, more inattentive or less intelligent.  They are kids.

And over the course of twenty five years, I haven’t found parents to be more demanding, less respectful, more overbearing or crazier than they were before.

Here is what I think:

Kids are all growing at different rates.  They all mean well, but they are as insecure as the rest of us. They do their best to please us, but they can sometimes get upset or frustrated or scared.  They are kids.  They are not perfect.

And parents all over really truly love their kids, in a way that no teacher ever can.  They want to protect those kids and do right by them, and be the best parents that they can manage to be.  They all mean well, but they are as insecure as the rest of us. They do their best to please us, but they can sometimes get upset or frustrated or scared.  They are young moms and dads. They are not perfect.

I think that anyone who thinks that “kids today” are worse than kids twenty or forty or ninety years ago is someone who doesn’t spend time in the company of real live kids.

 

 

A brief time out


I know that I recently committed to writing positive, uplifting stories from my classroom.  I continue to believe that we need those stories to carry us forward.

The very best part of writing about those moments, when I know that I have changed the life of a child, is the realization that I am nothing special.

ALL teachers have the same impact. We all change lives. Every single day.

But today I need to take a side trip, back to the frustrations and anger that come from the current push toward the Common Core and the PARCC tests.

This morning I watched Fareed Zakaria on CNN.  I generally avoid all of CNN’s programming, given that I don’t want to watch wall to wall coverage of bad weather, ignorant celebrities and missing planes.

But I have always found Mr. Zakaria to be thoughtful, knowledgeable and interesting.   I turned on his show this morning expecting to see a good discussion of the impending civil war in Ukraine.  Instead, I was shocked and saddened to hear Mr. Z talking about the problem with American education.

To be fair, I did agree with him when he said that the key issue in the US is the increasing income disparity and the large number of children being raised in poverty. But then he started to talk about those damned test scores; the ones that attempt to compare “The US” to other countries.  The ones that fail to take into account the fact that it is the poorest states that drag down our national scores. The one that fails to report that states which adequately support funds for public education (Mass, NY, Conn) score well above the world average.

He went on to talk about the “misguided” push back against the Common Core, which he called “a tragedy”.

You can find Mr. Z’s comments on the Washington Post, dated May 1st.

When I heard his comments, I put aside the giant stack of essays that I was planning to correct and I grabbed my laptop to reply.  This is the email that I sent.  I would love it if others would join me!

Dear Mr. Zakaria,

I am a long time viewer and have always been impressed with your thoughtfulness and your careful research.  I am in general agreement with most of your views, and will continue to read and watch your work.

However,I have been left  feeling angry, hurt and enormously demoralized  by your comments this morning on CNN, and your recent article in the Washington Post .

I teach fifth grade in an upper middle class public school in Massachusetts.  I have been teaching for more than 20 years, and have been ranked as a “Highly Qualified” educator.

I oppose the Common Core State Standards and the upcoming PARCC tests for several reasons, none of which you have considered in your opinion.

First: The standards no doubt are an attempt to create a uniform set of expectations for all students in the United States.   While I applaud the idea of setting standards for our children, I disagree strongly with the idea that all students in all places MUST reach them on a given day. The current system punishes schools and teachers for each child who fails to reach the standards, disregarding issues of ability/disability, native language and (most crucially) poverty.  The standards are being used as a bludgeon, rather than a goal.

Second: The CCSS were created without the input of a single elementary school teacher. Not ONE. Instead, representatives of major corporations (Pearson, Microsoft, Apple, to name a few) were part of the original consortium.  

Third: The CCSS and PARCC are funneling hundreds of millions of dollars to the above named corporations.  Dollars that could have been spent on decreasing class sizes, training teachers, building safer, cleaner, new schools or providing services to children who live in poverty.

The pushback against the Common Core is hardly a “tragedy”.  It is, in fact, a reasoned, thoughtful, powerful reaction to the corporate takeover of our public schools and the government’s failure to address the true needs of our students.

I would encourage you to research ACHIEVE, Pearson Corporation, FairTest.org, Diane Ravitch and the true story of the Common Core State Standards

 

Back to school


April vacation is over.

The kids have rested, gone to Disney, travelled to Europe, slept late.

The teachers have planned the rest of the math lessons, read and scored the essays, created the next writing prompt, chosen the book groups, made the class lists for next year, ordered the new book bins and science materials, set up the end-of-year conferences and commented on the kids’ stories.

And now its time to go back to school.  This is the last push, the final segment.  This is the time of year when we will take our state tests and will move on to the true curriculum.

This is the time of year when I will let the children create, write, produce and perform a play.  They will have to learn how to work to to consensus. They will need to compromise if they want to do the play. They will negotiate with each other, solve problems together, work as a team.

It will be REALLY hard for them.  There will be tears, and hurt feelings and anger.

I will be absolutely resolute in my  determination to Make. Them. Solve. The. Problems.

I will listen, guide, facilitate.

I will NOT make the decisions.

Every year, at this time of year, when the damn tests are finished, I watch my students learn how to be creative and cooperative and sensitive and caring.  Every year, when I can finally stop feeding them answers, I am allowed to watch them as they find those answers for themselves.

I am excited.

I love this time of year, because this is what true teaching is all about.  This is the time of year when I will be amazed as I see which quiet, awkward child emerges as the director of our play.  This is the time of year when I will see the athletic superstar stepping back to the let the nerd come forward as the star of the show.  The sensitive math brain might become our technology expert, creating the backgrounds and soundtrack for our play.  The silly goof-off might become the primary writer of a show that is based on fifth grade humor. The silent observer just may end up with the funniest ten seconds of acting in the entire production.

This is the time of year when my hardest job is to stay out of the way, to let the kids take the reins.  This is the time of year when I believe, with my whole heart, that the best and most meaningful learning will take place.

Without me.

Which is exactly as it should be.

Schools for Sale!!!


Oh, my flippin’ God.

This is beyond disgusting.

I just found this website on a post from the Badass Teacher’s Association.

Before you click on the link, please think about this.  My 30 years of teaching experience and my Master’s Degree and my 56 hours of graduate credit beyond that degree will be of no importance to me at all once we go to the proposed teacher evaluation system where my salary and my standing will be almost entirely dependent upon the scores that my students earn on the latest standardized tests.

Please understand that my daughter’s financial stability and job security as a teacher will depend upon the students’ scores on these tests.

And before you check this link, try to grasp the fact that students who don’t speak English, students who are autistic, students who are deaf, students who are oppositional/defiant and students who are homeless and hungry will all be tested on the same Pearson Corporation standardized test.

Now that you know all that, click on this link. Read for yourself about exactly how the damn tests are going to be scored.

To quote my students, “Seriously, dude?”  Any recent college grad with a degree in philosophy or biology or comparative religions can earn 12 bucks an hour scoring the essays that will be used to decide my fate?

Are. You. Fucking. Serious.

Read it.  Then weep.

https://austin.craigslist.org/etc/4368426307.html

Process or Product


We used to have a saying here in our school, “Learning is a process, not a product.” It was based on a quote about art, actually.

“Art is a process, not a product.”

We used to display student art as it was being created, not only when it was complete.  We displayed all of it; not only the best ones.  We didn’t let children throw away art and start over; we encouraged them to talk about the parts that didn’t go as planned, and to problem solve ways to make them better.

Back in the days of yore, we used to consider writing to be a process, too. We didn’t believe that the purpose of writing a story in the second grade was to generate a polished piece of work; we thought that the goal of writing was to learn how to write and to fall in love with the power of self expression.

I recently had two conversations that have left me yearning for those innocent days.

Both were discussions with young, talented, dedicated teachers who have a burning desire to do this job to the best of their ability. They are the products of current practices in teacher education.

One conversation was about a math unit.  We are moving very quickly through some very complex math concepts.  The state tests are looming and so we fly by the ideas, pushing the kids to master everything on the first or second go round.  My colleague had completed a unit on multiplying fractions, and had been working with her students for several days.  When she felt that they were ready, she gave them the unit test.

They did terribly, and she was really distressed. She was almost angry at them.  “What do I do?”, she asked me.  “What does it mean? Do you think they just didn’t take it seriously?  Should I make them retake it?”

“Why?” was my response.

“Well, because I KNOW that they can do this!”

“So what’s the point of testing again? Isn’t the point of testing supposed to be to show who still needs work and who has mastered it?”

We’ve lost our focus on the process, and are all about the product.

The second conversation was about reader’s notebooks.  I have used these notebooks for years, as a way for kids to jot down their reactions to books, to share thoughts, to start little stories themselves.  Kids used to draw in them to help them visualize and remember the characters.

My young colleague was upset that her students were producing journal entries that were not organized, long enough, grammatical enough or as polished as she expected.  She was planning to attach a writing rubric to the journals, with specific expectations about the number of lines required in each entry.

Her intentions were great!  We want to be teaching children to write well.

But here’s the question that I asked her: “What is the purpose of the reader’s notebooks?”

She wasn’t sure how to answer that, which was pretty telling.

“See, to me,” I began, “The purpose of the notebook is not to produce a notebook.  The purpose is to learn how to think deeply about books.  The purpose is to learn how to share your interesting questions and ideas and predictions about those books.”

She nodded her head.  “I get that.”

I smiled at her.  “You know what they say, right?  Education is a process, not a product.”

 

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