I passed a field today where several horses grazed, each with a bird perched on its back. The horses were quite unperturbed by their friends. I immediately suspected a special relationship, not unlike that of teacher and student. The horse is the strong base that supports the bird both from the standpoint of safety (you can see a lot from atop a horse) and from the delicious morsels available in its coat. In a type of symbiotic relationship, the bird helps rid the horse of annoying insects.
Teachers and students enjoy a similar relationship. Teachers are the strong base that supports students. We hold them up so they can see more of the good in the world, we try to protect them from the evils that threaten their stability, and we provide knowledge to nourish their brains. Sometimes we provide food to nourish their bodies.
What of the symbiotic relationship? That holds true as well. Real teachers, the ones who hold their students close to their hearts, come away from the encounter enriched as well. Frankly, a paycheck may put food on the table and a roof over our heads, but the real pay comes in the form of hugs and smiles, of an understanding twinkle of the eye, of a thirst for more knowledge. It may arrive after weeks of explaining fractions or years later when a student returns to reminisce. The truth is real teachers thrive on teaching and learning. And most importantly, we never give up. We never try to shake the bird off our back, because when they are ready, they will fly.
I just finished reading Anne of Avonlea in which Anne (of Green Gables fame) becomes a teacher. At the age of 16. Teaching students she went to school with. She has been to school for teacher preparation. Before the year begins, she and two other first year teachers discuss their planned approaches to discipline and disagree on which method will be most effective. Anne’s plan works in general, but she has to deviate for a student who just doesn’t fit the mold.
As her second year of teaching begins, the author, L.M. Montgomery, says “School opened and Anne returned to her work, with fewer theories but considerably more experience.” As soon as I read that line, I knew that L.M. Montgomery must have had teaching experience. She had. Her statement reflects the importance of opportunities to explore and try out new things in the classroom. Certainly for the first year, but also for every year after that. Every class of students is different. Even if you take the same class and loop grade levels with them, there will be differences. And not just because there will be a few students who are new, but because life has happened to these students during the year, they are a year older, and the curriculum and expectations have changed. Every class is different. Every teacher needs the professional and academic freedom to try out new variations every year. Is this experimentation going to happen with CCSS and excessive testing? Is this experimentation going to happen with the evaluation of teachers based on test scores, teachers marching lockstep with their grade level colleagues, or with administrators scripting manically on iPads while missing the important things that are happening in the classroom?
Another issue that arises from “fewer theories but considerably more experience” is that our policy makers have lots of theories but little or no teaching experience. Current teachers should be included in the decision-making process. Instead they are disrespectfully treated as incompetents. Teachers and children are being set up for failure. We must fight back for academic freedom accompanied by a healthy dose of creativity.
One of the strongest arguments seems to be that if fewer than 95% of the students take the test, then the school’s grade will be low. For example, according to the Zannesville Times Recorder, “The consequences, however, mean the district and child’s teacher will not be given credit for progress that is made, affecting the school’s department of education report card and educators’ individual evaluations.”
So, it’s always good to ask yourself, “what is the worst thing that could happen?” In this case if fewer than 95% of the students take the test, across the board, then the affected districts and state departments of education would have to admit defeat and develop a new plan. And that sounds like a great plan to me!
Who seriously thinks a state is going to give a rating of “F” to all of its schools?
High school students, teachers, and parents are being told that instead of civil disobedience, they should take their concerns to school administrators, school boards, state legislators, the governor, and the Department of Education. That advice sounds really good except for the fact that people have already written letters and made phone calls to the appropriate people and their concerns have been ignored. School districts publish official statements provided by state departments of education that attempt to explain why they are wasting so much instructional time on testing and contributing so much to Pearson’s coffers. Pearson constructed the PARCC tests and the test preparation materials that support the test. They are also the ones that mandate a blackout on test discussions. The people who need to make changes, from the district level all the way up to the political powers in each state, are ignoring the real problems in the name of better education for our children and are lining their pockets at student expense.
Opting-out is not an easy decision. Parents receive a lot pressure from school districts to “do the right thing.” Students are putting themselves at risk for a variety of unspecified punishments. Since the decision makers obviously underestimated the anger of the people, they have not yet decided what the consequences of this civil disobedience will be. Threats have included not being allowed to graduate and suspension. Teachers are caught in the middle between a system that financially supports their families and a career that focuses on doing the right thing for students.
Opting-out has certainly gotten the attention of policy makers at all levels. Now what will they do about it?