Tuesday, April 25, 2006

So I'm Done. Now What?

It's done. Testing is over and the Sainted One stopped me in the hall today.

"How are you, Ms E? You look better, less stressed."

"I am, Sainted One.
It's sweet of you to notice that."

"You haven't looked like yourself and
I know testing is hard. I love you and I'm glad you're back."

I swear to God, this is really what she said. My self esteem is too low to make up an interaction like this. She is that. Freaking. Precious!!!

The Saint has figured it out. It's hard. If I've talked about one thing these last few weeks, it's how hard this is. But some of you have listened to me (in real life) and have added your ideas and so I have words for it now. I want your thoughts here, teacher or not.

So here it is; teaching and testing are hard because we have expectations of our schools that we aren't willing to match in our society.

My mission is to create literate, reflective, citizens who will participate in our society by (at least) earning a living and voting.

Do you have any idea how hard this is? Do you have any idea how few of my students have dictionaries at home? Do you realize how many of my kids only hear English at school? Do you know how many of my kids only eat school breakfast and lunch every day and nothing at home? Do you know how many of my students work 40+ hours a week? Do you know how that wars against my mission? And do you know that my school isn't one of the truly unfortunate ones? That we're quite lucky and that there is far, far worse?

You know this. You know this because you've clicked on this blog and so you have some interest and appreciation for what I say. In fact, you can read what I am saying which means you "get it" to some extent.

The theory behind No Child Left Behind is reasonable--in a vacuum. America, however, doesn't happen in one.

So we work toward this impossible dream. We reach more kids because we work harder than ever to support literacy and problem solving. But we won't get them all. Not with all those warring external forces.

That said, here's the question playing about in my head: what should we expect? Is it time for us to finally realize that our schools cannot fix all of these problems and lower our standards or is it time to require our society to step up to the expectations we have placed in our schools? I don't like either of these answers. I don't want to expect less than those literate, participating citizens and I don't want to legislate the home lives of our society. So what's the answer?

Let's talk about it. Give me your thoughts.


Chilihead2 said...

I think you raise an interesting discussion topic. This is a huge issue involving teachers’ abilities, unions, teaching to the test/lowest common denominator, not challenging our gifted students, parenting, how education is valued at home, how our tax dollars are being spent, etc. Some of these things may not appear to be important on the surface, but I think they all have a domino effect. My main complaint is parenting and I think it has the biggest impact on the school environment.

My opinion is that parenting has gone downhill for many years. Obviously, that is a sweeping statement and most parents reading your blog won’t fall into that category. However, I have noticed in my area that parents are using school as daycare instead of a learning place, they are more apt to believe their child’s version than the teacher’s version of an incident, and they are not respectful of the child or the teacher. The child has no role model and, consequently, models what he does have: disrespect.

educat said...

You're right, chilihead (with the possible exception of unions, but that's another conversation). So what happens? We can't and shouldn't mandate Government inspections in every home for Dictionaries and four to five age appropriate pleasure reading books.

How do you change the culture? How do you make people want to be good parents?

Barry said...

"How do you make people want to be good parents?"

You can't make someone be a good parent, just as you can't make a herion addict quit the habit. They have to want it for themselves, and you have to let them go through hell and hit rock bottom before that will happen. The strong will see what a mess they've let themselves become and change. The weak will OD (in this case, on ignorance).

People used to get by without education, working on the farm, in the factory or whatever. That's all changing, and it's going to take a while for people to realize that. There is no magic push button solution, our society needs to adapt and unfortunately, that usually takes 50-60 years.

educat said...

Barry, I wonder when we declare the beginning of this new era. How close are we to those 50-60 years and how low will it go before something gives?

Unfortunately, we do everything faster now. We comunicate faster and therefore see the ill effects of our system but worst of all, we legislate faster and have passed legislation that will do away with schools that don't meet these standards set for a society that we don't have.

I'd like to discuss what this new society is and what it will take to educate there. Hell, I have about 30 more years to teach, I'd like to teach in this new society. But our new paradigm isn't driven by those new factors. It's driven by testing.

Strausser said...

Wow...so many thougths running through my head.

I feel that if we want an education to mean something, we have to make it worth something. A diploma cannot simply be an entitlement for sticking it out for 13 years. That is why I refuse to lower my standards. There is no doubt in my mind that if a student makes an "A" in my class, their work reflected excelling effort. And I think that all boils down to holding people accountable.

Here is something that I know will piss off a lot of educators (brace yourself educat) - I am actually in favor of standardized testing in order for a student to get a high school diploma. In Arizona this is the first year that seniors have to pass all three parts to the state test (reading, writing and math). They took this test back as sophomores and then they 5 additional tries at the parts that they did not pass. The way I look at, if somebody cannot pass the basic 10th grade level work after 6 tries AND free state-paid tutoring, they really have no business carrying around a diploma. [Note that I would put ELL and SpEd kids in a seperate category]. True we need to make dang sure that the test is credible but to me it hard to argue the logics behind it.

And while I am giving educators a heartattack everywhere, I think that teachers should (SOMEHOW) be held accountable just like the students. Lets face it, there are some downright HORRIBLE teachers out there and it is a HUGE redtape process to do anything about it. That is not right. If you are not doing your job in any other industry, you would be fired on the spot. Now I would not tie teacher effectiveness to testing but like I said, it is not hard to figure out who is not pulling their weight. Maybe it should be done on the possitive approach and have (gasp), merrit-based pay - the better teachers should be paid more, plain and simple and that money can be taken out of the WAY overly padded district office coffers.

Here is what it comes down to: if the kids do not want to do well and the parents do not do anything to help their kids do well, there is NOTHING we as teacher can do about it. PERIOD. We cannot "save" them all but I will do everything in my power to help those that do want it.

Ok, I will stop my rambling now and let you all catch your breath. Please do not throw hard, pointy things at me, I bruise easily.


elementaryhistoryteacher said...

Just like you I firmly believe that we have expectations of our schools that we aren't willing to match in society. Like Strausser I do see the value in testing but just like anything else it isn't the be all and end all of school improvement. I've been concerned for sometime with the student who has been or is one step away from juvy, but I am beginning to notice a huge difference in my average, middle-of-the-road students. They have no work ethic, they say inappropriate things to me directly and during class discussions, and cannot follow simple classroom procedures such as staying in their chair and keep their mouths closed. Every year it seems to get worse and I teach nine and ten year olds. Just this week during a "waiting on the late bus encampment" we had students of all ages sitting on the floor. One young man of five was hitting the boy next to him with his fist. I walked over asked him to stop. He called me a "shit", reached down and yanked my skirt up. Then he proceeded to turn his head and look up my skirt. When I leaned down to pull his hands off my skirt he reached up and grabbed my necklace and yanked down on it. The AP removed him from the hall but I was told, "Well, he's autistic." No excuse, I mean do we want him to do things like that when he's 16 and too strong to control? Well, I've gotten a little off subject but here's the thing...we can't legislate society. They won't stand for it----I mean we're in "anything goes land" now and we are going to have to reap what we sow. I hope before it's too late the rest of society will "get it" like those of us on the front lines, but I fear for the future.

educat said...

1. Hi. I'm home. More on that later.

2. I sense a few assumptions, Stausser.

I am not 100% anti testing. It's perhaps an easy assumption to make about me given that I hate the way that (at least this time around) I have spent more time teaching how to test than teaching my content. But I think for this to work, we have to make the assumtion that teachers are teaching the standards.

The next step is to make the kids accountable for the test. Yes, I support a form of graduation testing. (another shock! and go ahead and throw things at me...just remember that I throw back) If this is what we are coming to, then we must all have an investment in it.

Then AND ONLY THEN would I even entertain a merit pay proposal. However, I would want to see such a plan based at least first on progress, then on reaching standards. When we can assume that the students have a vested interests in their success and then that conditions for that success are equal in all public schools, you go ahead and pay me by my scores.

But does that do enough to change the culture?

I read Frank McCourt's Teacher Man and the new issue of Newsweek (with the top American High Schools) on my trip. Both of these had stuff to say on these issues, perhaps I will write about them (later, when my overflowing email inbox is empty).