Friday, January 17, 2014

Undernews: What the test tyrants have done to one teacher

What the test tyrants have done to one teacher

Lynnie Vessels, Virginia Journal of Education - I used to be a great teacher. Then I became a good teacher. Last year I wondered who I was as a teacher.

I used to create the most wonderful lesson plans that allowed me to teach my students developmentally, and by the end of the year they were synthesizing everything they learned. One parent told me if her daughter had lousy English teachers for the rest of her schooling, it wouldn't matter because her love for English was ignited.

Another parent, who was also a teacher, told me, "You understand the mind of a middle-schooler." I do. My own middle school years were painful, and I do everything I can to shake it up for my students, getting them laughing and loving the written word. I had an English teacher in middle school that did that and I learned from him a hundred tricks I've used my whole life.

I used to be a star in my classroom, more exciting than television, a comedian, and I made every kid a star. I created an atmosphere where students learned volumes without ever knowing it. I acted silly, even foolish, and taught them to do the same. I role modeled someone in her element. By the end of the year, the shyest child was able to perform like a pro on the stage with his peers.

I used to stand up every back-to-school night and say, "I love my job, I love the kids, I love my classroom, I love this school. I wake up every day happy and can't wait to get here."

Last year I could still say that, but just barely.

I still love my students but this multiple-choice testing feels like little bombs going off throughout my year. I prepare the kids. They take the tests. Then it feels like I spend weeks cleaning up the debris, collecting data I don't really need because I already know what they know and don't know.

I get that there are slacker teachers, but I've only met three in my 26 years of teaching. While standard multiple-choice tests are meant to lift "up" bad teachers, what about those of us that were soaring all along? We are forced to dumb ourselves and the students down.

The students I released from my care five years ago were far more knowledgeable and better prepared than the students I released this June. If I were a parent, I'd be livid that my children were being prepared for multiple-choice tests and a dumbed-down curriculum.

... This year my school is starting an IB Middle Years Program that is meant to create knowledgeable, principled, global, critical thinkers, but we are still expected to test students constantly, until the point of test exhaustion. Frankly, the two are diametrically opposed and it impossible to do both well. Most educators know this, but we have to "go along" with what we do not believe in. This is why good teachers are leaving in droves.

Do you know how long it takes to prepare a seventh-grader to pass material he'll likely never use? It wastes valuable teaching time when we could be reading, writing and discussing big ideas. I feel like a bird with rubber bands put around her wings, being placed on a moving sidewalk headed to the robotic-teacher factory. I'm flapping, but no one is hearing me. Or worse, I'm seen as a renegade. I cannot compromise my integrity in order to do what I know is wrong for the children in my charge.

I see teachers regularly on YouTube reading letters of resignation. They have given up and left. I haven't given up. I am writing this. I want to stay. But I want to go back to creating my own lessons and tests with my own brain. I want to be the teacher I used to be. I love my colleagues dearly, but none of us wants to be a clone of the other. I respect them enough to see how incredibly talented they are. And I see the young, bright teachers coming in wanting to fly.

... For many of us, teaching is a calling. We are motivated by our love for children. Teaching has been the greatest spiritual journey of my life. I could not have chosen a better profession for my talent, creativity and intelligence. It is what I was put on earth to do, yet I feel like I am being asked to change something as fundamental as a religion is to some. I cannot help my sadness. I miss being excited for another school year.

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