I am not a special education teacher, nor do I have any autistic students in my classroom. That letter, however, hit a nerve with me because it seems that more and more the things which students need the most are being pushed further and further from classrooms. They are being crowded out by the emphasis of standards and testing that has become over-important in public education today. My heart went out to the educators working with Jackson because I know how easy it is for educators to lose sight of the big picture. It seems that teachers are being bombarded with ever changing strategies at improving student achievement on standard x, y, and z. Every department meeting is filled with talk of student strengths and weaknesses, according to “data”. How are we going to assess student growth in applying the Pythagorean Theorem in a real-life situation? How can we get students to analyze data and display the results in a box and whisker plot? I recently asked my math department if we could all make a push for all of our students to learn their times tables by the end of the school year. It’s amazing how many of our students grades 6-8 do not know their times tables and have given up on ever learning them. My eager proposal was met with “I don’t have time to teach that.” Not all of my colleagues felt that way, but some did. The discussion quickly changed gears and there still hasn’t been much follow-up on my proposal.
Has the emphasis on test scores, standards, and grades reduced the quality of learning in our classrooms? Has it reduced the quality of teaching? Armed with an optimistic view, consider what our students could be doing in classrooms that were liberated of the demands that standards and testing place on teachers. Consider what skills you’d like to see your child learn that aren’t in the curriculum. What about empathy? Tolerance? Perseverance? Drive? How about the ability to teach themselves? To create? To explore? To pursue their own interests?
I’ve wrote before about how unprepared I am to prepare my 8th grade students for the world they will enter after high school. I’m unprepared because I can’t even begin to define the skills and tools that will be most necessary in the world of 2018. Here are a few of the breakthroughs in technology in the last 5 years:
- Android (2008)
- Tablets (2010)
- Next generation electric cars (2008)
- Motion Sensing game consoles (2010)
I believe the most important skills students can learn in school is undergoing a tremendous shift. To be competitive and successful in the world our children are entering they are going to need a skill set that few are learning in many public school classrooms. That doesn’t mean the standards and testing need to disappear completely. I do wonder, though, just what our students could do if their teachers were relieved of the demand to cover the entire curriculum by the end of the school year, often at the expense of the students. I wonder what our classrooms would look like if more emphasis was placed on the skills that are tougher to measure. Could students create portfolios, collaborate with their peers, and pursue their interests? These things can be done in classrooms today, but I fear that most educators are too ill prepared to lead students through a journey of schooling that isn’t based on time, or standards, or analyzing test scores.
I never intend for my writing to bash the very institution that I chose to make my career. I hope that doesn’t radiate from my posts. I love what I get to do and I work with amazing students. I can’t see myself doing anything else. I see the potential they hold if given the opportunity to release it. I consider myself one of those educators that are ill-prepared to lead students down a path that will best prepare them for what is ahead. It has taken some time, but little by little I feel myself letting go of the pressures of test scores and standards, and narrowing my focus to learning. Not everything in my classroom is easily measured, but I see it. I see students persevering, problem solving, and leveraging the power of technology to shrink big problems into small ones. But there is so much that my students are still missing out on and that’s why I engage other professionals in my spare time. Without the aid of my network of peers pushing their students in the same direction I’m pushing mine, I would be shooting at a blank target. I’m not alone, there are others.
What are your thoughts? My daughter is not quite 2 years old, so I can admit that my perspective of schooling is restricted to being a teacher. Leave a comment about what came to your mind while reading this post. Thank you.