Sunday, January 27, 2013

"T" is for Testing

I'm back. What brings me back? Task avoidance. I'm avoiding grading yet another set of practice tests. I don't want to do it. I'm dragging my feet, procrastinating, finding anything else to do than spend my Sunday grading these practice tests. They don't help my kids. I don't need them to inform my instruction. I am very aware of what my kids need. Just like our children and students, I am avoiding an unpleasant task.  A task I truly believe I shouldn't have to do.  I

It's been about a year since I've posted here. A good question would be why? Maybe I was too busy, or too happy, I felt I didn't have anything to offer the conversation. The other groups and bloggers do such an exceptional job keeping the conversation rolling. Nope, I was happy. I was in a insulated bubble where the world was a good place and all the nastiness wasn't touching me, so I took a time out to enjoy my good fortune. How stupid I was.

You may recall that I was transfered to a new building at the start of the 2011-2012 school year. A better building where there is a positive atmosphere, where I'm not micromanaged, where the threat of being closed down or fired isn't an issue. I did a good job my first year at this new building. Maybe I did too good a job. My new principal kept me in my comfort zone, I presume to see what I was made of. I stayed in second grade inclusion. Even though I was the general education teacher this time, I was still doing the work that I was accustomed to doing, and I had a great co-teacher who loved my approach. We did a great job together. My new principal took notice.

It felt absolutely wonderful to be told I was good at my job. I felt so unappreciated at my last building where I spent six years working with the absolute most difficult students, and the job before that my contract wasn't renewed. I was starting to wonder if I really was a good teacher. My students said I was. Most of their parents said I was. My friends said I was. However, it is nice to hear your boss tell you. I was willing to go the extra mile for that praise. Again, my principal took notice.

To hurry up and get to the point, I was told one week before the new school year that I was moving to fourth grade, THE TESTING GRADE!! I was told via conference call with my building administration, that I was "an exceptional teacher", and they needed "my talents upstairs." I was expected to be a "team player" and come in and do the job. Needless to say, my heart stopped. I went into panic mode. I hadn't taught fourth grade in ten years, and to be frank, I wasn't very good at it. (My contract wasn't renewed.) Yes, almost all of my students passed the inaugural year of NJASK, with the exception of three basic skills students who still managed to score between 180-199. I still say they passed despite of me, not because of me. I really didn't want to do the job. I especially didn't want to do the job with a "canned curriculum" in a "test obsessed" environment. I knew they were teaching to the test upstairs, and I really wanted no part of it. Now teaching to the test is MY job.

I wondered if I could do this without teaching to the test. I didn't last time. Why should I this time? I so strongly believe that our kids can be successful without all the focus on the test. They can pass because they've been taught to think and reason. They have mastered the skills they need. I so strongly believe that. What I wouldn't give to have the opportunity to prove it. Alas, I must follow the protocol set up my building administration. Right now we have the best scores in the district, and we have since this particular principal took over. No way he is going to let that change and no way is he going to move away from a winning formula: weekly writing prompts, month practice tests, test prep classes after school, and every meeting we have, every third word is test (I've actually tracked it once, how sad am I?)

However, I love my students. I really do. I fell in love with this class the very first day. I didn't expect that. I've been working in the primary grades for so long, I forgot what it was like to speak to a student and actually be able to have an interesting conversation. They are really GOOD kids. I just adore them. I don't have any real behavior problems. One young lady is a bit of a "mean girl" or bully, but administration is on top of it, and she behaves herself in class mostly. (I must say though that I did not expect this level of drama from nine-year-olds though.) If someone else has to cover my class for whatever reason, they even say how wonderful my class is. Although my students are struggling learners, they are not special needs, but they need special attention.  My grade level is basically tracked. My class is the class just above the inclusion class, where all the hard to teach children and children with behavioral problems are shoved. I am expected to work the same miracles alone that I used to perform with the help of another full-time teacher in the room.

So I am torn. I love the kids, I like the material I am teaching, I HATE TESTING MANIA!!! I was forced into a situation where I must conduct myself in a way that does not correspond with my personal teaching philosophy. It is abhorrent to me to force myself and my students to endure "teaching to the test." I am drowning in a sea of paperwork.  My workload is effecting my home-life as well. For the last three weekends I have sacrificed my family time and household duties to do this God-for-saking paperwork that has very little baring on my students learning, my ability to teach them, or effect the people my students will one day become. All it is is proving to somebody else that I am doing my job, when in reality to takes time away from me being able to do my job effectively. I have no time to plan effective lessons, or evaluate how those lessons are going. I have to sacrifice instructional time almost daily so that I can have my kids complete test practice. I spend more time "assessing", if you want to call it that, than I do teaching. When do I get to teach new material. They want us to teach, assess, reteach, reassess. When do they learn something new, or have the opportunity to practice and master the skill? When do they get to get down to the deeper levels of meaning or explore a topic that is interesting to them? When do I get to teach, and see the glory of understanding on my students' faces?

So here I sit still avoiding the task I must do because my scores are do ASAP so we can track the "data". I think I'll go grocery shopping.