It is more important now, than ever, for teachers to speak up about what is going on in public education. Attempts to bully us into silence will ultimately fail. Public teachers are smart, tough, and well informed.
Information on Freedom of Speech for Teachers:
“Teachers do not forfeit the right to comment publicly on matters of public importance simply because they accept a public school teaching position. Teachers cannot be fired or disciplined for statements about matters of public importance unless it can be demonstrated that the teachers speech created a substantial adverse impact on school functioning.” – ACLU
I wrote the piece below out of frustration from what I have been experiencing in the classroom since returning from teaching abroad in Moldova. I was unsettled from making an increasing number of parallels between what I was experiencing in the classroom here in the United States and had experienced abroad as a Peace Corps Volunteer teaching in the Former USSR. After writing this, I started searching for answers as to why I had been making an increasing number of parallels. This is when my true education began.
My Late Night Musings on How to Deal With High-Stakes Testing and
Ways for School Districts and Teachers to Increase Test Scores
My suggestions below might be a little snarky, but humor is the only way that I can deal with what has become of my teaching career. From 1999-2001, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer teaching in the Former USSR where I was told by an employee of our federal government that it was very important to help teachers build critical thinking skills into lessons because it wasn’t something that was done during Soviet times; students could memorize information for a test, but were given few opportunities to question or create. Now I am told by that same federal government that standardized test scores matter more than anything else. In fact, my career depends on how students score.
My musings on the current state of public education in many places across America and how teachers and school districts can increase test scores.
Ways for school systems and teachers to increase test scores:
1. Replicate how it’s done in some developing countries; put your students with learning disabilities in a special school and don’t test them, they don’t count. The answer to the question of what to do with those pesky twice-exceptional kids is go ahead, put them in there too – you can’t afford that kind of crapshoot with your test scores, and let’s face it, they’re kind of high maintenance anyway.
2. Redistrict. Get some other school district to take those darn kids whose parents have a hard time making ends meet and have little time to be involved their child’s education. Get rid of them! Your school’s scores will go up, I promise. It’s OK, don’t worry! Johnny doesn’t need that nutritious snack you provide him with ( purchased with the funds from your whopper of a paycheck ) every day of the week. He’ll be fine in that overcrowded school that accepts him because they desperately need the meager funds attached to any new student they take to hire that 22 year old Teach For America Super Star who aced her two-week teacher training program.
3.Give me your tired, your poor, blah, blah, blah. Send the immigrants back where they came from. Who cares if they enrich your classroom discussions in a multitude of ways and Little Sue’s mother is the only pharmacist in town who remembers that you are allergic to the generic Prozac? Some of your students have only been here for two years, they’re good thinkers, but let’s face it, their grammar isn’t going to cut it on that argumentative writing part of the test. Plus, we speak English, so the rest of the world should too. Just send them back already! (Note to you sensitive types, it’s OK to send Amy back to the civil war she came here to escape from, the shooting has slowed down. When you get sad, go grab a book from the library to escape. You’ve got time! Scripted lessons don’t require a whole lot of prep. ) An added benefit to the above is that the district will have to let that crunchy ELL teacher go. Nobody’s really sure what she does all day or how she does it, and these are certainly not the days for ambiguity! Uniformity is the key to success!
4. If a teacher needs to “show growth” through test scores during the academic year, the teacher should be encouraged to have a party or pull the fire alarm during the taking of the initial test (low scores are imperative) and then, at the end of the year, for the final test, when scores need to go up, teachers should find a way to test individually. The other kids can play games or text when it’s not their turn (Of course you can use Snapchat kids!). It’s about testing , not teaching, everybody knows that so it’s not really important what they do while you are busy. Sit with each individual student and make sure that he reads and answers each and every individual question. We all know that all students always take their time to answer every question and try their hardest, but you know, just in case.
5. Ritalin and Adderall. Get this from an online pharmacy and give it to your students. Recess wastes valuable test prep time and you’ll get better results with the meds . ( Note of caution, if your students refuse to take it, you might be tempted to crush the pills up, put them into those chocolate donut holes you used to buy for your students, BUT remember, you must sneak those donut holes in through the back door so Michelle Obama’s nutritional spies don’t see you. ) And no, this doesn’t require a call home to the parents, they don’t need to know, it’s called, ” in loco parentis.”
6. Come up with your own standardized test language and share it with your students. For example, “Go get a tissue and blow your nose instead of wiping it on your sleeve” = The answer is B.
7. Teachers- Get a summer job at Pearson writing test questions to learn what the questions will be. You’ll probably make more money than you do teaching, plus who cares if Pearson is an unethical corporation that has been sued for bid-rigging and and having its non-profit arm create tests that could be used by its for profit corporation to make money? Money is money, and you’ll finally be able to replace that baby gold 1979 Kenmore refrigerator you inherited from your Great Aunt Harriet when she died in’99.
8. Teachers- Give up and give in. Teach to that test! You really don’t need to worry about giving your students your best. Nobody cares what experience or skills you have, or that you created those amazing lesson plans that really got your students excited and interested in learning. Forget about your passion for teaching. (Are you really still clinging to that??) Just read that script (like the robot Arne Duncan wants you to be) and teach to the test. Stop caring so much! Plus, they don’t have a rich curriculum that fosters independent thinking, creativity and curiosity in other countries (like North Korea) so it’s OK! We need workers anyway, not thinkers. The extra bonus to this is that your district will think you are passive, and you know that they are looking for door mats right now. This, plus the increased test scores, you get to keep that step 17, $39,842 annual salary (20 years – 3 just because = step 17).
9. Impostors. Make the high-strung gifted kids take the test for everybody else. Who cares if it makes those high-strung kids even more anxious? Your scores will go up and you’ll get away with it too. Even with the Race to the Top funds your district gets from drinking the “Test and Punish” flavored Kool-Aid, it can afford that $150,000 data mining software, but it can’t afford to retina scan to verify the identity of test-takers just yet.
10. Tell your students to use the method below.
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, catch a tiger ( you know the rest). Using this method is just as effective as trying to get a logical answer to such well thought out questions as, ” Joey makes $5 per hour mowing lawns. On Saturday he mows lawns for 2 hours, on Sunday, he mows for 3 hours. How much money does David make on both Thursday and Friday?”
I have been a teacher for well over a decade and this spring, I will turn in my resignation because of Common Core and its associated data collection through SBAC and other means.
Common Core is substandard and the required data collection highly UNETHICAL. It is causing stress amongst students, teachers, and parents alike and has taken much joy out of teaching and learning.
I have witnessed extreme anxiety and tears from both teachers and students because of the pressure, confusion and uncertainty surrounding Common Core and SBAC Testing.
When I taught in the Soviet Union as a Peace Corps Volunteer from 1999-2001, I was told by our federal government to help teachers design lessons that included opportunities for creativity and innovation as this was not done under Soviet Rule. Under Soviet Rule testing was everything and you were labeled. Labels work for bottles of poison, BUT NOT FOR CHILDREN OR DEMOCRATIC SOCIETIES. Our ability to nurture individual dreams and encourage innovation is one of the things that makes the United States BETTER than socialized countries in many ways.
The Common Core is not what it was sold as.
It encourages uniformity through one-size-fits-all standards at the cost of individuality, individual thinking and individual differences.
The Derryfield School has referred to it as INFERIOR.
It is not used at Thomas Hassan’s school, Philips Exeter.
The way this is going, public school children will be trained as workers while those who can afford it will get a true education.
New Hampshire children, families and teachers deserve better than Common Core.
A Sampling of Common Core Articles, Government Testimony, Policy Drafts, Opinion Pieces and More:
Recent Concerns From a Medical Doctor
Special Education Issues and Concerns
Instruction Under Common Core
The Dead Poets’ Society and The Trojan Horse
A Burgeoning Market
Promoting Grit and Tenacity
Where Does the Information Go?
Who Will Teach Your Children?
A Multicultural Perspective
An Important Common Core/SBAC Ruling
The Schools That Won’t Use Common Core
Congressional Record from 1998
“International Implications Of School-ToWork Programs”
The Growing Movement To Refuse and Opt Out
A Sampling of Opt Out and Related Groups
Stop Common Core New Hampshire
Opt Out of State Standardized Tests, New Hampshire
Opt Out of the State Test, The National Movement (aprox. 17,00 members)
Teaching is hard. Teaching under current conditions is next to impossible. I started this blog as a way of sharing information and to help me process through what has happened to our public schools; our children, our country.
After teaching for two years in the former Soviet Republic of Moldova, I came back to America, eyes wide open; grateful for my experiences and even more grateful for the opportunities provided to me as an American. Presented with a scholarship and the opportunity to further my education as a teacher, I jumped at my first teaching job in the city of Randolph, Massachusetts. For most teachers, their first year is their most difficult. For me, that first year was, by far, one of the best. It was a great environment for a young teacher, the support provided to through my mentors, both formal and informal was far better than what more recent new teachers can imagine; teachers with that kind of know how are a dying breed. The little tricks of the trade they taught me were invaluable, but what really blew me away was their wit and sense of humor. I wanted to be like them, at the end of my career, teaching with energy and rolling my eyes with a smile on my face. Sadly, I don’t think that that will be me.
After taking some time off to be with my newborn, I eventually found myself teaching in my husband’s hometown of San Antonio, TX. That was a learning experience for me. Lacking southern charm and unfamiliar with the school culture, I fell into a state of shock. It was all about the test. Teachers were told that they’d lose their teaching license for failing to comply with test security measures and were offered rewards for high test scores. There was a lot of pressure and teaching wasn’t a whole lot of fun. Failing in more ways than one to acclimate to the culture, I returned to New England.
I landed a teaching job in a small town just outside of Manchester, New Hampshire. Some of my coworkers were a bit prickly in the beginning, but I acclimated and things were mostly fine for a while. But, as things go for teachers nowadays, things slowly changed. It was if a vice was tightening around me. There was more testing, more looking at scores, more pressure. Teaching wasn’t as fun anymore. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I was very uneasy about the way things were going.
One blustery day, finding a rare moment to myself, I decided to swing by the mall. Not being a big shopper, but having a weakness for sweaters, I decided it couldn’t hurt to try the store that I had earlier decided I was too old for. That seemingly simple decision was a game changer.
Focusing on a rack of sardine-packed sweaters, I was a bit startled to hear my name. “Mrs. Sekula!”, called a former student of mine. Sometimes they drive me nuts, but at the end of the day, I loved teaching and loved my students; especially ones like this. Not only was she a very intelligent young girl, but she was respectful, hardworking and helpful; the type of kid you just knew would do well.
Now a high school student, she went on to tell me that she wanted to go to college to be a teacher. I was thrilled! Who better could you get? She would be a great teacher.
My honeymoon teacher moment lasted all of about fifteen minutes. Thoughts racing in my mind, I got back to my car, turned it on, and that’s when reality hit me. I did not want my student going into teaching the way things were. She’s too smart to be teaching to a test. She’s so much more than that as a teacher. That’s when I started searching for answers. Why was it that there was ever increasing pressure to teach to a test? To label students? To hook them up to computers? To label schools and teachers as failures?
Unable to sleep that night, I started writing. As a way of venting, I wrote something satirical about the notion of, “test and punish”. I felt better, but my questions were still unanswered. That’s when I started joining online education groups and sending questions to think tanks.
This blog contains some of my own writing, but also a lot of information that I’ve found or have been given by other very dedicated teachers, parents and researchers. Strength in numbers; if you have anything that you would like to contribute, by all means please send it to me.