Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Stop the Insanity!

Tonight little hearts are breaking across the state of Louisiana.... Why? Because these 10 year-olds learned that they did not "pass" the (subjective) high stakes test. Three of my 23 students did not pass and my heart breaks for them; at the same time, I fear for my reputation as a teacher.

I am disgusted at the state of education in our country. I find it extremely disturbing that we punish children for not passing an invalid test! True, these children may struggle academically. Is the solution really to fail them and/or make them attend summer school? These children probably hate school anyway and this test-and-punish system is going to make sure that they associate learning with pain.

As a teacher, I struggle year-round about how to teach my students. I know the tests are insane and measure very little. The questions are usually lower level thinking questions and many are very subjective. In my heart, I know that the LEAP is just another educational fad created by politicians so I don't really care how my students score.

However, I also know that if I don't adequately prepare them, they will suffer in the short term. So, all year I question if I am preparing my students too little or too much. In other words, real learning has nothing to do with LEAP preparation. Real learning occurs when we read great novels and have authentic discussions.... real learning takes place when I take my kids out to the garden and we get our hands dirty.... real learning is many times spontaneous, unplanned, and not assessed on the LEAP.

So, when we are discussing character motivation or writing a class book, I know my kids are learning and having fun (so am I!). I love teaching like this and I know my kids love learning when I teach in such a manner.... But the LEAP always creeps back into my mind and I worry about "covering" everything and making sure that we look over previously released test items. I stop our real lessons and begin to "Buckle Down" and get ready for the test. The excitement is sucked out of my classroom for awhile, but at least we are preparing for the test.

After so much skill-and-drill (or drill-and-kill), I falter again. I am bored, the kids are bored, and I can't keep up the facade that learning is occurring. So, back to real teaching and learning we go. I continue in this cycle year round, wondering how long I can keep this up.

Today, I felt   feel  like a crappy teacher. Some teachers had no "failures" while I had three. I feel like I let my kids and parents down and that I now have a black mark on my name.

I just wish everyone could see how one of my students came to me as a struggling reader (who hated reading) now likes reading! Success in my opinion!! I wish everyone could see how my struggling learners (with low self-esteem) now understand that they are smart.... they might be people smart, music smart, or picture smart, but they are smart. And, they understand that they aren't "bad" at math, they just need concepts to be explained (and shown) in a different way. I wish everyone could see how my kids (on their own) raised money for kids in the class who don't have much money, so that every student can participate in everything. None of that is on the test...

Tonight I can go to bed knowing that I did my best to spark curiosity and higher order thinking in my students. I tried to show them  how to view things from a different perspective and back up their answers (to everything) with reasons and facts. But I also will go to bed worrying about the students who failed the LEAP and what it has done to their psyche. I will think about how I teach and wonder if I need to change things . I will also pray to God that someday this insanity will come to an end and we can get back to real learning.

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