River Deep, Mountain High

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Dec 21 2011

I Apologize…

I know what you’re thinking: “he missed his regular Sunday post- something’s up. He must be writing an apology for that post about TFA’s Master Plan!” And you would be half write…I mean right ;-P

I am apologizing; however, this apology is for my students. Today, I did something perhaps slightly unprofessional and un-TFA. Today, my students completed their second quarter district exams: 25 questions (reduced from 50 last year) on everything from electromagnetism, Newton’s Laws of Motion, and global winds to analyzing weather maps, plate tectonics, and the hierarchy of the universe. Confused yet? Honestly, I am proud of my students for how they’ve performed this year and I think they were prepared for the test, in whatever form. That said, I also told them I was sorry that they grew up in an age where they were tested ALL THE TIME!

I hate standardized tests. Let’s get that straight. I know they are a necessary evil, but these things are overplayed and the people who make them are over paid. Continuing the trend of sabotaging my career prospects, I now bid adieu to Pearson. I always feel like I’m having to cut out material or stop student-generated conversations because “it’s not on the test!” The real kicker is when the topics you prioritize aren’t even emphasized, so then you feel like a fool.

I also owe my students a second apology for the revisionist history I’ve believed in my mind. It is true that I decided after 8th grade to no longer become a teacher. You can decide whether my current position is poetic justice, cruel and unusual punishment, or simple irony. Nonetheless, I based this decision only partially on the feeling that teachers deserved more respect. It was also based on a frustration with increasing “learning standards” and testing. I remember telling a favorite teacher and mentor that I wished we could have a “critical thinking class.” I had the opportunity to take a Gifted and Talented math class in 5th-8th grade that served this purpose for me. I LOVED solving tough problems and creating “new” solutions to scenarios! I’ve actually been working with a special education student on a challenging engineering problem I tackled when I was in middle school and he loves it!

“This [building things] is what I like doing, Mr. B!”

This is the love of learning I want to foster in my students. The ability, attitude, and motivation to solve any problem that is thrown their way utilizing only their minds and whatever resources are available. Now that, my friends, is an EDUCATION!

After testing in the morning, I felt free as a teacher, albeit for one day. My mentality was like: “one day, all teachers in this nation will have the opportunity to provide an excellent education.” I told my kids to act like we were covering the objective written on the board if our classroom had an official visitor. To be fair, we did review part of the test. However, I was focused on picking their brains and having them learn and reflect on ant rafts and a 1000-mph car courtesy of Scientific World Magazine. We also made use of Brain Pop as a hook for analyzing the structure of cars and impact of global warming. Was there differentiated instruction? Yes, you bet there was. Students who were failing or irritating me were assigned makeup work in our awful textbook. I also taught my 7th Period a brief Spanish lesson on the alternative to calling your friends “my N-!” My boys are much better at catching themselves when they slip, but I figured rather than harping on not using the N-word…again, I could give them some fun alternatives from my favorite Spanish language. Once they realized I wasn’t cursing at them, they got really invested in words such as “hombre, amigo, muchacho, and chico, etc.” Maybe I should give them a multiple-choice quiz tomorrow; or, not so much.

Tomorrow, we have our Christmas program and the final full day before breaking for the holiday. I’m reworking my lesson to allow the kids to do something meaningful and at the same time have some fun. I may have them design their own prototype for a fast, efficient car, which is similar to an entire unit/project when I was in 8th grade (we had to design a solar-powered car and then build a prototype). I’m saving a mini-project where the kids design their own cell phones for after our state science test in May. I think it’ll be fun. They may also design their own “perfect Christmas gift.” Any other ideas?

All in all, I understand the rationale for standardized tests, but I also understand the reason people drink beer. Everything in moderation. What has more bubbles, bud light or a 25-question, multiple-choice test?

One Response

  1. I Dress Up linked to this post.

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Remove Barriers, Raise the Bar

Mississippi Delta
Middle School

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