Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Teaching what?

I attended a St. Louis Writer's Guild open mic reading last evening. A retired elementary school teacher read a personal essay that spoke to my heart. I don't know your position on teacher performance based on standardized test scores. I know mine.

Children are so much more than test scores. When public schools only teach to the test, everyone fails: teachers, students, administrators. In my opinion, the only deserved "F" should be given to the adults, many with a string of titles and letters such as Ph D. after their names. Some of these specialists have high degrees and no temperature! Yes, I am upset.

Paula told how teachers were instructed not to interfere at all with students during standardized test taking. They were not to offer an encouraging word or pat on the shoulder, no interaction whatsoever, not even to the little third grade boy who was balled in the fetal position under his desk suffering from test anxiety. When handed a twenty page booklet and told to read, he had a melt down. He stayed down, and I can assure you that his DOWN was lower than the floor. Paula said she did the right thing ... for her. She retired. I am not judging her.

My right thing would have been wrong according to the officials, but I have always listened to my heart first and my administrators second. Good judgment should supersede good grades. When we received a memo that teachers were to only side hug a child, I understood why the rule was designed. But when a preschooler came to me with arms outstretched in distress, do you think I turned him or her to the side? I embraced that baby. Maybe it's time to implement and embrace new changes.

Our American public education system is broken, for a variety of reasons. Some people think parents are to blame; others blame teachers and their unions, some societal norms.

I believe it is some head honcho who has come up with a new model or method to raise test scores, thus masquerading the "improvement" of teachers' performance. I taught in a public school for 17 years and can tell you some stories. I can tell you about the good teachers who had poorly performing students and the bad teachers who appeared to have outstanding students.

We squelch creativity when we teach children what to think and not how to think. In classrooms across America, at every educational level, students are being "taught", but what are they learning?

Your take?


24 comments:

noexcuses said...

Having just spent the last several years working at a middle school, I concur with Paula. It broke my heart to see this happen, and to see the administrators back this form of teaching with wholehearted support!

I watched it begin in CA 20 years ago when my kids were just starting school. Out of four children, all four are average standardized test takers, yet they all had close to 4.0 gpas.

I had one of those little third grade boys. It brought me to my knees with grief to watch him suffer. Parenting is hard enough as it is; we don't need the added stress from our schools!

Thanks for the great post!

Donna Volkenannt said...

I agree that good judgment should supersede good grades.

I don't see anything wrong with a teacher giving a student an encouraging pat on the shoulder during a test, but I think the fear of being sued for inappropriate behavior has replaced compassion and common sense.

jabblog said...

I couldn't agree more. Common sense has fled to be replace by nonsensical rules and 'guide lines'. We do our children a huge disservice by 'teaching to the test'. Learning is never linear.

BECKY said...

I agree, Linda. The public school system has definitely gone south, and I don't mean to Tara!

Kathy's Klothesline said...

I remember my first grade teacher like it was yesterday. I had NEVER been away from my mother. It was tramatic to have to endure that seperation. Day one lasted about 5 minutes and my mother picked me up and took me home. Day two, my grandfather put me on the bus and I cried all the way to school, clinging to the seat right behind the bus driver, the refusing to exit the bus. Mrs. Lee came aboard the bus and gently gathered me into her arms. She carried me into the classroom and I spent the first few hours in her lap as she conducted roll call and then read to all of us. She loved her little charges and we loved her.

Kim said...

Classroom curriculum should be about learning and discovery about the world, not just teaching so that test scores are acceptable. When the lower performing kids (due to poverty, neglect, or disorder) have their scores factored in to the total, it makes that teacher's performance look bad - even if he/she is the most caring, compassionate person who teaches a love of learning and fosters good citizenship in the classroom.

Maybe since No Child Left Behind is being left behind (with most states taking waivers), the education system will change, and all the bean counter administrators will transition into jobs in business where they belong.

Susan said...

Linda, you are 1000% right. Our educational system is in serious trouble.

I would NEVER make it as a teacher because I would thwart all those stupid regulations. While I realize children must be kept safe and protected, if they are having a meltdown and need attention, I'd give it to them. Would probably get fired for not obeying the rules.

You keep doing what you are doing. We NEED teachers like you...thousands of them. Susan

Julia Gordon-Bramer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

As a teacher of older students, I can tell you that they have spent their elementary, junior high, and high school years avoiding the work and hassle of thinking. Their early school careers have completely bypassed any joy there is in learning and discovery, in this effort to "teach for the test." Now, they just want to get the degree and get out. It is very sad, but I think this is the truth for many, perhaps most, of college students of all classes today.

Bookie said...

You said it all very well, LInda. You don't have time or space for my comments. Have you ever heard what PhD stands for? Piled Higher and Deeper...:) I am sure it doesn't apply to all but many in ED. have this degree.

Joanne Noragon said...

I live in one of the highest rated school systems in the country. I pay the highest tax rate in my county, 53 mills go to the school.

My oldest granddaughter was in this school system ten years ago. She could have been the little boy under the desk.

But, she was given a facilitator, who read everything to her aloud to be sure she understood what she read. It wasn't warm and fuzzy help, it was regimented and to the point of keeping the test scores up.

I don't know yet how I feel about this. It could only happen in a very well to do school system. It didn't help my granddaughter learn, it only got her on through.

Tammy said...

I always think of the Harry Potter book where they are required to take their O.W.L.s. Anyway, more people need to say it out loud. Thank you for doing so.

Sarah L. Webb said...

I taught in a public school for two years in Louisiana. Our state is going through a similar struggle. They evaluate teachers based solely on student test scores, but as you said, some good teacher have students who perform poorly on tests, and some bad teachers have students who excel on tests.

Great post. We definitely need to keep championing the right solutions to our educational problems.

K9friend said...

Although it makes me sound like a dinosaur to say it, things have changed dramatically since my school days. Some of the changes are good. Some, not so much....

Pat
Critter Alley

Sioux said...

Yes, Linda. Teaching is definitely tough these days. But I also consider it the best job in the world.

Perhaps if they put you and me in charge of making drastic changes to the educational system, things would improve?

Linda O'Connell said...

Thank you all so much for your supportive comments. They mean so much to me.

Val said...

Times have definitely changed since my first year of teaching. Let us teach.

Jamie Krakover said...

I 100% agree! Real life does not happen in the course of an hour or two. You are able to seek help and consult references for every problem you encounter and testing should not define a student.

Testing is a huge source of anxiety for students. It's a shame the few bad things that have happened in schools ruin all the good that could be present in terms of showing compassion for students.

Sadly come college, the weight on testing only increases. But it's not an accurate representation of how the world works. Life doesn't happen in snippets of 1-2 hour blocks, it's on going. Some days you do well and others you don't and an exam is usually not an accurate representation of a persons full potential because its brings on stress and other outside factors.

In addition, a person isn't made by their encounter with one person their entire life. So everyone should stop pointing fingers and placing blame and vow to do something about it. I'm a firm believer that positivity and compassion is infectious and there can never be too much of it. Change starts with one person and breeds like wildfire. Hopefully people will choose to be the bearer of positive change and make a difference in schools, in children's lives and in the world.

Faye Adams said...

We had a much-published author, and a publisher himself, attend our writer's group last Saturday. He told us that the organized "Dumbing Down" system which we now have in our public schools began in the early 1900's. Teachers are made responsible for pushing information at the students which have nothing to do with education. We have many in our family who are teachers, and they say it gets worse every year. Our children are not robots, they are human beings. Our responsibility to them involves much more than determining how well they score on a standardized test. Why do we wonder at all the school shootings? The bullying problem in schools is perpetuated by our system as well. We cannot ignore the fact that these children are people. A child, from day one, is not simply a body and a mind. He/she is a spirit as well. Crush the spirit, destroy the child. Thanks, Linda for addressing this problem. It is no small matter.

Karen Lange said...

I agree with you. Children are more than tests and statistics. Sadly, to educate the masses, testing, etc. is seen as the solution. I am not sure what the total answer is, but am hoping that teachers like you can make a difference.

I'm also with you on the thinking thing. The system has created too many followers and not enough thinkers. But this is a parental issue too - not just the fault of the school system. I remember when I was about 12, my Mom told me how she and Dad wanted my sisters and me to learn to think and have common sense. She and Dad were both teachers, and I guess they could see first hand the flaws in the system and society's thinking.
That influenced how we raised our children; we actually ended up teaching them at home. As adults, they have sharp critical thinking skills, and I believe that they will pass that on to their children as well.

Good post, Linda!

Debora said...

I work in special ed. Most of the kids are required to take the standardized test, in spite of their disabilities. Often I am permitted to read the test to them...that's it, just read it. I see their faces drop as they realize that they could not possibly know the right answer. They call themselves stupid and loser. We'd never make an amputee run a marathon...so why must a child with mental challenges take tests that are impossible for them?
And don't even get me started on the ESL kids; who are very bright, but may not know what the word 'compost' means; so the will blow the entire section because I cannot tell them. Infuriating!!!

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

Omigosh, Linda, don't get me started. Standardized testing is ridiculous. Teachers aren't allowed to teach and students aren't encouraged to think. It is a "teachers feed it" and "students regurgitate it" mentality. This is through no fault of the teachers---they are forced to "teach to the test" or risk losing their jobs. It is a huge source of stress for teachers here. It seems as though every new batch of school board officials feels the need to "make his mark" and we end up with yet another "new method" that fails. If I had it to do over again with my kids I would home school them. There is too much emphasis put on the testing. I assume you're familiar with the mess in Atlanta Public Schools, the cheating scandal.

Lynn said...

I'm glad there are teachers like you out there.

Mevely317 said...

Yours is a real eye-opener, Linda! Society is so quick to point fingers or subscribe to a "one size fits all" philosophy. I'm heartsick by the image of that little boy under his desk.
Thank God for those of you who still care to color outside the lines!