Today I re-posted 2 pieces on Facebook; one had to do with letting go of the pressures of testing and “being” a teacher and the other focused on why teachers were leaving the classroom. They both were focused on the pressures of testing and the desire to relate to kids, and I started to wonder why teachers all across America are having the same thoughts?
These blogs show up in every state, union states and will to work states. States where teachers are paid well and state where the teachers are struggling. They all say the same thing: The joy of teaching and connecting with kids is being replaced with the need to have higher test scores. And the blame is landing on the Common Core.
I have a problem with where we are laying the blame. I see positives and negatives with the Common Core. As a high school teacher, I see so many positives with this document. To know that you are going to a university with other students of the same caliber who have learned the same skills is empowering. I went to college after having a sub-par science background and floundered and changed my major after the first semester. The Common Core would have, or should have, ensured that wasn’t the case. I wish there had been a national standard when I was in high school. I would have been better prepared for college.
On the other hand, I can see issues in the elementary level. These kids are learning FANTASTIC methods for understanding math…my 4th grader showed me a way to do multiplication that she understood and I thought was fabulous! BRAVO! Mrs. Jackson and the math curriculum! On the other hand, how do you tell a kid to draw a thousand circles to show how they do a problem and then ask them to do speed multiplication and expect an average kid to get that transition. Then you throw in some perimeter and area, oh by the way you have to figure it out backwards using that speed multiplication while drawing circles…and you can see how these kids are completely lost. There are issues with the Common Core, but there are also positives.
What I take issue with is the testing. This year the State provided every core class with final exams in high school. So this was the year that as a veteran, experienced teacher I had to remove the fluff and focus on the REAL stuff. Every activity has a purpose. Can you imagine how difficult that is with a group of 16-17 year olds? Everything has a purpose; there is no time to just shoot the sh%t because it develops relationships or the kids like it. Then think about working with first year teachers who have these fun, exciting ideas, and, as a team lead, I have to challenge every one with “how does it connect to the curriculum and the Common Core standards?” I know my administration loves hearing us go back to the standards, but can you imagine the way it makes that new teacher feel?
Then there is the stress on the kids; my kids, the overachieving, I have to be the best, can I do extra credit even though I have a 95 in your class students. We gave state finals in classes that were outside of our curriculum to ensure “Ethics Codes” were in place. I almost cried when a kid in a Math II Honors class asked if he got extra time past the 2 hours, and my response was “no”. That child had worked steadily throughout the 2 hours and was faced with a mere 15 minutes to do the 2 Constructed Response Questions. All I could think was, “I teach in one of the best schools in the area, I am giving a test to honors kids, and 5 of them have asked for more time. What must this test look like somewhere else in this state? Have the kids given up? Are they sick from the stress? Are they crying because they know there is no use in going on?” This test is 25% of their grade. I feel for these kids; I have been there. I cried during a Chemistry test at Rice University when I realized that after 75 hours of 1:1 tutoring by the professor’s TA that I was going to fail this test; I just didn’t have the understanding of the subject that I needed to be successful…I probably stressed myself out and could have done it, but I didn’t. I know that stress. I felt so bad for those kids. A friend of mine at another school was talking about how her student threw up on his shirt and kept on testing because he was afraid to raise his hand and leave the room. Why do we need to place that much stress on a 15 year old?
I know we all want to know how much these kids have learned, especially if we are all suppose to be teaching the same standards across America. And, we all have opinions about how this can be accomplished. Taxpayers have opinions, elected officials have opinions, and teachers have opinions…all about the importance of how to tell if these kids are learning. But, does having a National standard mean we have to test our kids and our teachers to the point where the kids are sick from stress and the teachers leave the profession?
I am a teacher and a mom. I see the importance of the education system and the importance of keeping good teachers in the classroom…I won’t be going anywhere. I cry over the teachers who are contemplating leaving the classroom, because, although these evaluation measures are in place, it is usually not the bad teachers who leave peacefully. I simply wonder, if these issues are in every school across the country, why aren’t our politicians looking at what’s going on? We aren’t asking you to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We are asking you to look at the process, look at the system, look at the evaluation tools, and make some adjustments to fit the needs of all kids.
At the end of every semester I do a course evaluation for my kids and ask them, through specific questions, what they liked, didn’t like, and the whys. I would ask for the Department of Education to do the same…and then self-eval, it is cathartic!