Sunday, February 13, 2011

2007: Testing, Testing

I had a blog before this one, where I posted anonymously about my experiences as a grade school teacher. I'm going to have to take it down, since it's been infected with robot spam, and it's no longer anonymous. But a few of the posts have some linky goodness and larger relevance, as, for instance, to the looming rewrite/renewal of NCLB.

So then, with the bizarre music of Hermeto Pascoal tinkling in the background, let me try to get you caught up, with an emphasis on recent events my quintagenarian brain can still recall. (Or would that be quintogenarian? Logophiles?) Last week, I can still remember. The week before, and the week before that, might as well have been last year. I believe that was the point of keeping a journal: to help me remember and reflect upon my teaching experiences. If I can remember and reflect upon the correct email address, I may be able to do that more often.

Last week was a roller coaster ride, with the kids rambunctious coming out of a three-day weekend, and rowdy at the end of it, careening off a Thursday with a substitute. In the middle, some teaching got done, and possibly some learning.

On the fourteenth, wifey went in for some minor surgery which may or may not be related to recent health anomalies. So on the fifteenth I stayed home to help her out while she recovered. Mostly I schlepped our own little angels to their respective scholastic institutions and back. I used the available time away from my own workplace to get caught up - again - on my paperwork. So then, on the sixteenth, after clocking in with four hours of sleep under my belt, I could turn in the mid- quarter progress reports that had been due on the fourteenth. Meanwhile, on the fifteenth, my students were doing what students always do with substitutes.

Upon my return, I was not operating at an optimum level of patience, nor were my clients operating at an optimum level of decorum. We actually had a pretty good day under the circumstances, with a lot of laughs, and a reasonable amount of instruction. But in the middle of it I lost my temper at RL, which may have been more disturbing to me than it was to him. I ended up going to the school counselor during lunch to unburden myself and refocus on more appropriate responses to eight-year-olds' indiscretions, and after that I felt much better.

At the end of the day I sat in the teacher's lounge with a kindergarten teacher named MM who was at the end of her wits. Her week had followed a similar trajectory, even without the substitute, but what really had her upset was NCLB (or as we professionals pronounce this Dickensian regime, "Nickleby"). MM is a thirteen-year veteran, but Nickleby has her so dismayed, she muses of packing it in. Told I was in my rookie year, she grimaced, "I can't even imagine what it would be like starting out under this law." Of course, I don't have anything to compare it to, other than my own elementary school experiences, seemingly as distant in memory as my last blog post.

MM's curriculum is strictly controlled. Where once she taught like a free-form FM deejay of the seventies, her programming is now as tightly proscribed as a Clear Channel playlist. Worse, her children - kindergartners, mind you - no longer get any recess. With their five minute attention spans, they're expected to focus on academics from eight a.m. to noon. She once led them outside for a break, and received an admonishing email in response. Of course, our school is under the gun, trying to run uphill on a slippery slope, in order to escape moving from an "underperforming" label to a "failing" one. Each year the target percentage of students expected to be assessed as meeting grade level standards goes up, until it reaches 100% in 2014. Like Xeno's Paradox, that goal will never be met, and eventually this law will be rewritten to better reflect reality. But if things won't always be like they are now, they sure are today.

As I mentioned to MM, most rich schools don't have to deal with the punitive nature of Nickleby, at least not yet (if and when they do, that would be the point where the impetus for an extensive rewrite becomes more imperative). And many states simply deal with this problem by modifying (or dumbing down, in lay terms) their standardized tests. But the great irony of No Child Left Behind, a slogan Karl Rove stole from Marian Wright Edelman, is that I am in fact under considerable pressure to leave some kids behind.

 That is, I am informed that when the standardized test is administered in the spring of '08, the school needs 14 of my 23 students to pass the math portion, and 16 of them to pass the reading portion. As a practical matter, there are about eight kids I don't have to worry about - they'll do fine on the tests, even if I show them Soupy Sales videos all day. Meanwhile, AA wouldn't pass if I drilled her all day every day. The poor dear is only a few IQ points above retarded, but given that her number is this instead of that, the state requires her presence in my classroom instead of in a specialist's.

But as a practical matter, the pressure exerted down the educational heirarchy from the District of Columbia right down to my home district incentivizes me to leave behind those kids who have no hope of passing the tests, and devote the bulk of my attention to those in the middle, in hopes of pushing them over the finish line. As a moral matter, I'm not leaving any student behind, nor does my (local) administration want me to. But the logic of Nickleby demands I make damn sure that LC, BG, PD, IOF, JGC, JS and especially AK get their act together. Some of them have some fairly serious impediments to progress, but more on those little angels in future posts, hopefully before the Equinox.

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