Friday, March 12, 2010

Three Strikes...Am I Out?

So for the last three years, my New Year's Resolution has been to Be More Positive in (insert year here). And for the last three years, I have failed. (As is evidenced in previous years by this post in 2008, and this one in 2009.) I had high hopes for this year. I thought to myself, "Self, you can do this!" Yes, this year I am out of the classroom (which means I'm away from my little friends who were often the only positive ray of light in my day) BUT I am also away from all the shenanigans of public school these days - which includes but is not limited to administrative ridiculousness, test preparation mania and long periods of time without being able to pee. In addition, no more commute (suck it commuter train!), no more trudging across town in all sorts of weather like I took the postal oath or something and no more scoliosis-inducing bags filled with To Dos to last a lifetime (or just enough to ruin a good weekend).

However, with a big middle finger extended toward the current decisions made by our government, I think I need to accept defeat yet again in 2010. I guess I made it until March, which is something. Yesterday, I even tried to remain positive about this whole national standards find some good in it. And while there may be some good hidden in there, I have a bad feeling (enter my failure to stay positive) that this is headed toward overwhelming displays of testing! Punishment! Standardization of everything...and I mean EVERYTHING! (Imagine receiving and memo with an accompanying checklist detailing studies which have found that teachers are most successful if they only allow one child to go to the bathroom every hour. Preferably a male child...and now you suddenly have a rubric for the bathroom routine and you're going to be held accountable Gosh Darn It! You laugh, because it is ridiculous and also because it has a a grain of truth to it, yes?) (And if I am to fail my attempts to Stay Positive In the Current Year yet again, at least I am still able to cling on to bathroom references.)

So that I don't walk away from my computer and a)poke myself in the eye, b) give up on education and just apply for that job at Papyrus already or c) go back to bed and cry for days, let's just stick to the idea (and impending doom) of testing, shall we? I fear that my heart, my poor poor shriveled-after-so-many-disappointments heart can't take any more.

If I may, I'd like to begin with a story.

PART I (Yeah, there are multiple parts...get comfortable...and a drink.)
Setting: A dingy bar my fellow Super Colleagues and I frequented on Fridays for "sodas." Four young teachers sit at an oh-so-sticky table in wobbly chairs, beers sodas sloshing freely in time with the liberal hand gestures used to punctuate their spirited dialogue.
Super Colleague: You know, it's freaking March and I'm just starting to have time to teach science and social studies! (slosh, slosh)
Me: WTF?
Super Colleague: Dude, third grade is no joke! (slosh) We (slosh) spend all of our time (slosh slosh) that isn't reading, writing or math doing test prep crap. (guzzle)
Me: (slosh)

Setting: An empty classroom after the children have been dismissed. Eight teachers from two different grades sit around a table. Strategery is being discussed.
Third Grade Super Colleague: So, the amount of test prep we have to do is overwhelming. We were thinking some of it could start in second grade.
Me: *mouth gaping open* Um, okay. Although that's a little horrifying to think about, I guess I understand.
Third Grade Super Colleague: Look, I know it's insane, but we need help so that maybe we can spend more time actually teaching and less time actually prepping.
Me: I think I might be crying. Am I crying?
Third Grade Super Colleague: A little.

And so we worked out a plan to help our Third Grade Super Colleagues out because being in a testing grade sounds like a terrible cross to bear as a teacher. Our plan was actually livable (or as livable as it can get in this era of Obsessive Testing)

Enter The Weave who had caught wind of our strategery and had decided to "pitch in." And no, she didn't tell us to just "imagine the tests" this time. THIS TIME she wielded her power and unrestricted photo copier access in ways that still have the rain forest crying. She dug up pre-made test prep materials, which the third grade teachers are mandated to use...and therefore are on a third grade reading level, photocopied the packets and added them to our second grade homework routine.

I shit you not.

Granted, she did not require us to spend our time photocopying, correcting and check listing the packets (which was a pleasant surprise and implied some sort of acknowledgement of how hard we were already working), but OH! Were they checklisted! And were we shocked! Appalled! Second graders were not ready! Can you imagine - second graders had a difficult time performing well on reading passages that were almost a full year above their current reading level and distributed for them to complete in isolation at home!!! How could our second graders possibly be bombing on materials intended for children a year older and wiser?

I mean, shut the front door!

Yet, in the grand tradition of Dog and Pony Shows everywhere, we were able to "boast" that our school began it's test preparation (and by "test preparation" I don't mean deep and meaningful instruction, I mean bubbling, work-sheeting and drilling - oh my!) in second grade. So boo-yah to all you other schools that allowed second graders to revel in the magic and wonder that is imaginative learning - suckers!

And despite my best efforts to stay positive in 2010 - the year I shall (hopefully) finish my dissertation and have a baby - I am wary about the Testing To Come. Because with all this talk of National Standards, talk of a National Test in Every Freaking Grade can't be far behind.

Wait, am I still crying?
A little?
That's about right.


Stu said...

There's a difference between negativity and anger...I might add, righteous anger.

Being positive does not mean that you can never be angry about stupid things that people who know nothing are foisting upon teachers and students.

I think, instead of just accepting failure at not having been "positive" this year, think of your new year's resolution as a wish to be "more positive."

There are still lots of days to the year...and each one can be filled with as much "positive" as you can muster. I'm thinking of having a finished dissertation in your hand, for example...or a finished baby :) Lots of room for positiveness there.

So be angry now and then (and then some) at the fools who are making schools into test-prep factories...and be positive the rest of the time.

Coach J said...

My heart is breaking just a little bit. Okay, more than just a little bit. While I lost faith in our educational system loooong ago, I'm also starting to lose faith that good teachers can continue to fight it, both overtly and covertly (I usually fall on the covert side, rebel that I am).

But... Someone has to fight the good fight. Someone has to stay positive. And it sounds like there's enough you/us out there to keep the fight going for at least another school year.

ASchaps said...

First, right on, Stu. (I think I've said that before.)

Second, my heart weeps, too. I have 35 years of experience, am retired but still work part-time in an elementary school, and tutor 4 days a week. I received an e-mail today:

"I have been asked to get [my child] some additional tutoring for the [state mandated] reading test coming up in April. She is doing well in school but is not doing well on the practice tests for a myriad of reasons. She is in tutoring at the school with 10 other 3rd graders for practice but it is not helping, she needs one on one and strategies to see patterns/themes in the questions and what it is asking. I was hoping and you or you could refer me to someone who can help her master the game and type of questions and test taking strategies for the reading section."

A plea from a parent for a child who is doing well in school and needs of "master the game."

hnasky said...

Sometimes, I swear you teach at my campus. Our third grade teachers are doing test practice every single day for one hour since January. The test is the end of April. Therefore, they have spent about 1/3 of the year working for a test that happens on two days of the 180. That is utterly ridiculous. The kids hate school. Parents tell us that their children hate Fridays because its all assessments all day, and they don't feel successful because they started doing them before the children had the fluency and vocabulary to analyze a 1000 word passage.

We were doing some wonderful book studies and training on writing workshop and comprehension. I heard, "We don't have time to teach them to think." Also, "We only do what is essential." Therefore, writing never enters the equation. Seriously???

This is why bilingual children don't transition to English in fourth grade. They were never taught to think and write in their native language. Those skills are dropped for an entire year.

I'll never forget the second day of my fourth grade class when I was starting reading workshop. My kids asked me when we were going to get passages and do real reading. OMG... They thought that reading was passages and multiple-choice questions. I cried right there on the spot.

I leave work every day with a headache and a need for a change. I don't want to take the paycut required for private school, but it does get tempting more and more.

Unknown said...

Okay, this does not relate to this post at all, just have to tell you that "You Rock!" Your words resonate with me - thank you for being a voice for all of us in the trenches!

luckeyfrog said...

I agree with Stu. There's a difference between "being positive" and being "more positive." I think you are making an effort to look for the positives even in things like national standards, and that is a good thing.

jwg said...

Don't you find it more than a little ironic that there is an ad for charter school staff on your page? I take it you have no control.

Mimi said...

jwg - THAT IS INSANE! (And you are so observant to notice that by the way.) Sadly I have no control over what google puts up there. I would take it down, but I have a nursery to fund...

Thanks for reading!

Rachel said...

I just found your blog and needless to say, even though you teach elementary school in an urban area and I teach high school in the South Pacific, there are so many similarities that it makes me smile and scream simultaneously. I see how our freshmen and sophomore Eng. teachers are constantly trying to teach the kids what will be on the test because we don't want our school to "fall behind" other schools. I totally feel for you guys.

C. A. T. said...

You might want to read this if you have not done so already.

Unknown said...

Hope this does not make your head explode. Here are some links re testing in the schools and teaching quality.
(I am not a teacher so may not have picked up the nuances, but seems to say that teachers are the best indicator of learning?)
"Good teachers are important, but we just don't know how to make them. "
THe discussion is related to this book.

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