Thursday, April 14, 2011

on education, tenure, reform...

today begins TCAP
it's been in the news
word has spread through the community
it's on all the school signs
everyone knows...this is TCAP time
for us:  Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program

achievement tests
hours and hours of reading and testing for the kids
pure torture
not developmentally appropriate
but yet, it's what we are expected to do every year
it will soon be a part of how i'm evaluated
it will soon be a part of each student's year end grade

for third grade...8 and 9 year olds we give
yes, that is nearly 7.5 HOURS of bubbling in little tiny circles
in Tennessee we test grades 3-8 each year
third grade is the longest test of all
who came up with that brilliant formula?

you want to know the other excellent plan?
we give both of the longest tests (Reading) on the same day
and this year we started smack dab in the middle of the week
so not only are the kids already tired
after they have read the first 2 or 3 stories they have already started random marking for the other 20 reading passages and questions left

teachers used to have some control over what we tested and how we tested it
so in a perfect world, i may have started with an "easier" and shorter test just to get them started
and them paired it with one long test per day
who wants to take a reading test for 2.25 hours when you are 8 and 9 years old??????
they have just started to master all parts of reading (phonemic awareness, comprehension, fluency, etc.) and put it together successfully this year

tomorrow we will give all of math in the same day
it's not as long, but what i find hilarious about this testing week are these requirements...
i have to take down or cover up every single thing in my classroom that may give a "clue" to an answer
mind you, things have been on my walls all year and the kids rarely reference them
never the less, down it will come or i climb on desks and chairs to cover it all up
alphabets, posters, charts, calendars, etc.
BUT, students are allowed to use calcultors and multiplication charts????????

kind of defeats the purpose, don't you think?
what are we really testing if students can simply calculate a problem?
if i tell my students multiplication facts are so important you have to memorize them and know them without hesitation all year long
and then on the one big test i give them a mulitplication chart
we haven't used one since last semester
can you imagine giving a third grader a calculator during a two hour test???
what do you think they will be doing...playing not calculating!
i find both calculators and a mulitplication chart a huge distraction for my kids, so i don't give them out.
maybe for the higher grades, but for us, no.

during this week we stress for kids to...go to bed early, eat a good breakfast, get to school on time
but what about the other 35 weeks of the school year?
are they any less important?
during this week we send any students with behavior problems, attention problems, etc. to small groups to test.
but what about the other 35 weeks of the school year?
i have to deal with them in a large groups setting, teach, discipline, contact parents, etc. all on my own.
during this week, we do not have homework.
but what about the other 35 weeks of the school year?  should i not give homework then either?
during this week we get a sack full of healthy snacks each day for the kids to eat.
but what about the rest of the year?  should a snack break not be equally important when we are oh...say...'just teaching'?
during this week we get a packet of neatly sharpened pencils.
but, what about the rest of the year?  yep, you guessed pencils!
during this week we can have another adult/proctor in the classroom to help "administer" the test
but for the rest of the year i'm juggling it all alone!
during this one week students are expected to sit still at their desk and not get up for over an hour at a time.
but what about the rest of the year? 
i mean, if i'm "supposed" to be teaching in small groups, doing learning circles, centers, small groups, project based learning, tiered lessons, differentiated instruction, etc, etc. etc...
why are we then tested and measuring student growth in a way that doesn't compare?

what i'm saying is this...
if we (students, teachers, parents, community leaders, the media, district officials, state officials) put the same level of importance on the 35 weeks of the school year when we aren't testing
the one week we are testing would be a breeze! right?

kid's get confused
they don't understand the level of importance of these sorts of tests.
they don't understand why everyone is talking about it, making posters, having pep rallies, talking it up.
there are even local churches holding prayer walks in the schools
and i think that is great, but we need prayer walks all year long!

teacher tenure has been in the news a lot lately
education reform is all over the place
i'll be the first to say, public schools need improvement because we do
but, teachers can't be the only ones to take the blame of the big fat failure we've seen in recent decades.
it's interesting that magnet schools, private schools, and many charter schools have not experienced the decline that we have.  what's the correlation?

look at society, where are our morals, family values, ethics, and common sense?
when you don't find those things among the people you encounter everyday
then you won't find it among the student populations of public schools either

the behavior of some we see and hear on a daily basis is so absurd, so wrong, and so inappropriate it's crazy
we've all been desensitized to it now
and everything is accepted in the name of "you have a right to a free education with free transportation, and many times free breakfast, lunch, school supplies, and field trips"

and, i'm not talking about people who really need those things
i'm talking about people who abuse the system and then send their children to school with the same mindset
the sense of entitlement
the knowledge that we can't really do anything to them for their outrageous behavior
we have to take it all
because we are public schools

if you really want education reform
we need to begin to see this "free education" for what it really is
a gift
13 years of access to teachers, specialists, books, technology, tutoring, opportunity, etc.
and for those few who do not want to recieve the gift
they shouldn't be forced to make the rest of us miserable
they should be able to experience another gift
the gift of hard work

the 'hard to reach, hard to teach' students should understand on some level if i don't have an education
what will i be able to do in life
besides live off of the government?
what are we really teaching them when we allow some students to destroy the very system others have so fiercly fought to protect?

these days if you can't make it in your zoned public school, you get transferred to another school, if you can't make it there you go to an alternative school, if you can't make it there, tax payers have to pay for individual teachers to teach you at home.

you see how twisted the system is?
but what is the alternative?
if they drop out, they are surely to end up in juvenile or prison one day.

so when you see teachers out picketing about tenure, benefits, or education reform
please know that it's not about us trying to just disagree
it's about us standing together with a united voice and saying you have no idea what we go through on a daily basis
mr. president, arne duncan, congress, state legislature, state deptartment of educaiton, school board
all of "those people" who make the decisions about who is a master teacher or highly qualified or tenured or whatever
all of "those people" are not in schools each day
most of them have never even been a teacher
they only enter a school for a photo op, a ribbon cutting, or an awards ceremony
the precious few who have been teachers
got out of the classroom so fast it would make your head spin!

doctors are reviewed by a board of doctors
lawyers are reviewed by a board of lawyers
accountants are reviewed by accountants
teachers are told what to do, how to do it, and measured as effective by everyone except a teacher!

those of us fortunate enough to be working under good administrators are blessed
and i have it so good
most of the students at my school and in my room are wonderful
most of the families are great
but, it's that small percentage of "others" that really take away your feeling of accomplishment on a dailyy basis
your feeling of success, pride, and can do attitude

and that is the hardest part for me
feeling like i'm giving my best to the majority
when the minority are using up the majority of my time and energy.

enough said
moving on...


Anonymous said...

My husband and I both work in education (he's a middle school teacher, I'm a substitute) here in California. I couldn't have written this post any better- your words come straight from my heart!! I think you should send this to some kind of higher-up...not that it would make a difference, but it might get them thinking. Public education is a sad scene these days- even in the best of schools. My oldest will be starting kindergarten in the fall and it breaks my heart to know what he will have to endure. School is no longer a fun place to be- it's all about the testing! And don't even get me started on the behaviorial issues (stemming DIRECTLY from parents...A teacher can't be blamed for that one!!). So thank you for being a teacher and educating and loving our future education. You are making a positive impact on Many!

Suzanne said...

Amy, I know I haven't been in the classroom for almost 12 years but I do know that you're right. It's overwhelming to me when I think about returning and it's overwhelming thinking about my Cate entering Kindergarten this fall. But God. I know that He has a plan higher than TCAP, higher than legislative stupidity, higher than the grind. I hope and pray I am blessed to work alongside teachers like you and I hope and pray that Cate has someone...many you.
I say AMEN to everything you've said. And, I will continue to pray about everything you've said. So thankful that there is a class of 3rd Graders who are blessed to spend their day...the trying parts and the wonderful parts... with Miss Maze. They need you and you are a gift to each one.


Shauna and MacLean said...

Well said Amy. I Ferlinghetti your pain and totally agree we have our testing coming up and it is a farce! We don't accommodate any of our special needs kids and even if they are years behind we have to give them the test it makes no sense. Even here in Canada w struggle with many of the same issues!

Stephanie said...

Well said!

amy :) said...

Well said!
We completely feel your pain here in New York for sure!

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