September 11, 2013
I am sitting in my classroom, at my beloved teacher desk, with tear-stained cheeks. At every school I have ever had the privilege to teach, my teacher desk was (is) a symbol of the person in my life I am most proud, Teacher Vickie. Today however, I am saddened and a little bit ashamed of Ms. Kunzmann. Let me explain.
It is nearing the end of the first quarter at school, and as such, it is time to assess our students to see if they have reached a benchmark. In layman’s terms, the students take tests to see how much they’ve learned. Already this quarter, my students have taken 7, mandatory, curriculum based, district assessments to graph their progress in my class. For those of you keeping track, that’s one test every week. Now, at the end of the quarter, the assessment is a culmination of all of the previous district assessments, at least that is what we, along with my students, have been led to believe.
My first class arrived at the computer lab, ready to test, ready to be compliant. As my students began to read the first questions of the test, I heard grumblings. “Typical,” I thought. “They always have to let off a little steam before getting serious about a test.”
“Miss!” one of the more vocal of my students shouted. “We didn’t learn this! What’s passive voice?”
I stopped short. “Did I just hear her correctly? Did she say ‘Passive voice?'” You see, dear Readers, not only does the District mandate and secure for us the tests we must administer to our students, they dictate the curriculum. In fact, they dictate the what and the when of all of the Language Arts curriculum.
Dear Readers, I see the road that education in this country is traveling. I am aware that teachers are standing at a precipice. And I know that I could never affect change if I am on the outside. So, I choose to stay a teacher so that I may fight the good fight. “They can tell me what to teach and when to teach it, as long as I get to decide how I’m going to teach it. I believe that leaving me free to decide the how of teaching, leaves me free to interject creativity and free thought into an otherwise Big Brother-esque curriculum. Look at me, still fighting the man, sheesh!
“Did I miss something?” I panic as I peer at the questions on my student’s computer screen. You see dear Readers, nowhere on my District mandated, curriculum map for the past 7 weeks is there even so much as a hint that I must teach passive voice. Ok, don’t panic, tests always throw students a curve ball. And as I casually and nonchalantly eye the questions on the District mandated benchmark assessment, I realize that not one of the questions has anything whatsoever to do with what my District has mandated me to teach these past seven weeks!
I’m looking at questions on sentence revision and organization pattern. Meanwhile, I’ve been instructed to teach inference and author’s purpose. Whereas the test asks students to combine sentences and support claims, I’ve been teaching main idea and summary. While the students answer questions about persuasive essays and refuting evidence, I’ve been happily turning my students on to informational essays and citing sources.
My students are crushed and I am livid. I prepared my students for this test by first, informing them that they would be tested only on what I had taught them, because that is what I had been told. “As long as you have stuck to the curriculum map we provided you, your students will do just fine on this assessment.” Big, fat liars.
My students trusted me. And it is with no exaggeration that I admit to you that it has taken a fair amount of time to earn that trust. And in one fell swoop, poof! The trust is gone. The look of betrayal on my face must have been exacerbated, because it was reflecting into my students’ eyes and it was almost too painful to endure.
So now, I am sitting at my beloved teacher desk with tear stained cheeks, cursing the day I ever thought I could trust ‘the man’. I don’t care how my students’ scores reflect on me as their teacher. I don’t even care that my evaluation and my job are tied to my students’ test scores. I care that I let my students down. Oh sure, I could have a heart-to-heart with them tomorrow and tell them, no show them, that it is the District who is to blame; that it is the District that dictates what I teach and when I teach it. Sure, I could do that. But, to what end?
No. The buck stops here. I am their teacher. I am the one who they believe betrayed them. I am the one they trusted. So I am the one who will fall on her sword. This is not false bravado, dear Readers. I sincerely take full responsibility for my students’ learning. I won’t try and assess blame, I know where it lies. I won’t try and shirk responsibility, I know who is responsible. I will simply wipe off my tears, throw back my shoulders and face my students with a renewed vigor, a renewed sense of purpose. They will come to trust me again. They will open themselves up to learn from me again. This, I know.
But whatever happens dear Readers, one thing is for certain. My students will never forget one of the most important lessons I have been trying to teach them since day one: Question Authority. Ouch! Peace, ~v.