When you teach in an elementary school you can have bad days because you've been thrown up on or peed on, or you had to clean up some horrid bathroom accident. You can have a bad day because your kids' behavior was out of control, or you had one kiddo who threw a tantrum to beat all tantrums. You can have a bad day because a parent is upset with you, or an administrator corrects you.
But those bad days at least have an incident to point to. Something you can say, "wow, that sucked, but tomorrow- tomorrow will be better".
Today was not one of those bad days.
Today was the type of bad day where you can't put your finger on what's wrong, but you know something isn't right. The type of bad day where something sits uncomfortably in your stomach, dread for something you don't yet know exists.
We're in the throws of testing- SOL testing, DRA testing, MRA testing,- testing, testing testing. Every moment of the day is spent either administering some sort of assessment to a child, or desperately teaching trying to get every last morsel of learning in before another assessment. It's not going well.
Is there anything worse than watching the children you've worked so hard with for so long- children you've spent months carefully teaching, planning, analyzing, re-teaching, reflecting, and supporting, bomb their end of year assessment? All that careful, dedicated work comes down to one moment, where suddenly, it feels like you might as well have played movies all day.
There is nothing more demoralizing than watching a child fail an assessment you'd been determined you'd get him to pass. You wonder some productive questions- what could I have changed in my instruction? What could be better next year? What didn't work? and then you wonder the not so good questions- why did I work so hard? Why did I even bother? Should I have changed my instruction to meet the test? How can I get around particular score traps on the test next year?
And the kids sense our frustration. Our tightened breath, our fists, our grinding teeth- without meaning to we're giving our stress to them and it's playing out in their behavior, their academic work, and how they interact with one another. None of it's good.
Outside our school walls the world seems to be screaming at teachers- saying we're not trying hard enough- we're lazy, we need to be punished or threatened or fired or tested some more to make us work harder. It feels like the world is against us. Inside our walls- where we've silenced those screaming voice, put our heads down and taught our hearts out- but we're not feeling much better.
I look at my readers- the ones I was so determined to get to grade level- and I feel I've let them down. Them, their parents, the school, my co-teachers. What happened?
But then I think back to my post a few weeks ago about how I could feel myself switching from teaching the reader toward teaching to the test- and- although I wrote about how I wouldn't change, I still did.
I let the test consume me, and I stopped supporting them as readers. In the last few weeks I haven't given them the tools they need to keep developing as readers over the summer. I wasn't focused on making life-long readers. I was focused on getting them to pass a certain level book in two weeks. Instead of being happy with where they were as readers and working on helping them obtain the next step, I tried too hard to bridge too many gaps at once. I pushed, without giving them support. I only thought about the score on the test- not the skills they'd practice over the summer, or the skills they would take with them to 2nd grade. Their score on the test, at this point in their life, means nothing compared to what it means to be a strong, life-long reader. How did I forget that?
But how, with the testing culture, do we remind ourselves to look at the growth they made, the skills they have, and their learning potential that exists because of the foundation we built? How do we silence the voice that screams we are suppose to have high expectations (expectations that are measured by a one-time assessment?)
While I administered a reading assessment this afternoon I watched one child glare at me over her book box. She tracked me with her eyes, her anger clear from across the room. She wants a reading group- and she's wanted one for a week. But- she's a high reader. We're not worried about her passing the test. She doesn't need last minute practice. So she hasn't had a turn in a week. HOW TERRIBLE IS THAT? I've taken a kid who loves, LOVES reading and used it against her. All because of the test. I never thought I'd be that teacher.
I'm ready for this testing season to be over. I'm ready to see children as children and not as testing subjects. I'm ready to see teachable moments and not test failures. I'm ready to laugh with children instead of grinding my teeth as they struggle through an easy task.
I'm ready to love my job again.