Are You Happy where You Are?

Maybe this is a wacky post. This part of August should be about encouragement. But this is another version of the eclipse post from a few days back. Sometimes we have to seize moments. Not everything can be done tomorrow.

Do you love your job? This post is not for you. But if you kind of like your job or are beginning to have serious doubts… or if you have even reached the point where you want to hand the current administration cursed objects to make them go into hiding in Omaha for no reason, then I want to reach you.

Any principal out there who has a position posted is desperate. I got my first job teaching in late August. I was hired to teach Spanish even though I had done my student teaching in high school mathematics. But I had the Spanish credits and I was able to conduct a conversation in Spanish with the head of the bilingual department, who did not need a math teacher, but had a scary hole in his Spanish schedule. Two temporary principals shook my hand and the deal was done. I did another August change years later, when I took a bilingual position in August. No committees, no lengthy interviews. One man determined I appeared sane, healthy and probably able to speak Spanish — even though he could not check this — and I was hired again with a handshake and a deep, relieved sigh.

The next few weeks are a great time to look for work. You never have to take a position you do not want. Why not see what is out there?

Carpe Diem!!


Getting Your Classroom to Manage Itself

Lately, I keep hearing about getting classrooms to manage themselves. Can it be done? Yes, and men have left their footprints on the moon as well. I would like to see a few women step on the lunar surface before my life’s over, but progress comes in steps. I’m still crossing my fingers.

Hi, new teacher! Semi-new teacher? Curious regular reader? Whoever you are, welcome. Love you guys. I recommend last August’s posts. I created posts for new teachers that I hope will be helpful to newbies and others.

I taught middle-school in a tough area, an area of high poverty and low test scores. I know classes can manage themselves. I created a few of those classes. I also know some classes will never manage themselves. So let’s start with the understanding that self-propelled classes will always be a work in progress. Even when you get there, that day may come when your self-directed Mercedes drives straight into the river while following it’s nav system. Life, software and the reality of teaching can fail to cooperate with the best of plans.

Eduhonesty: This is my first post for newbies for the year. I want to offer a little reassurance in advance. You have likely been told you should climb all sorts of mighty mountains. You may be expecting to create that classroom that manages itself through the use of routines, regularly enforced expectations, engrossing lessons, and teacherly wisdom. Heck, you may succeed.

But you may not. Some districts are tougher than others. Some rare, individual classes in the best of districts are tough enough to make experienced teachers quit midyear. My younger daughter was part of a gifted class that sent subs out in tears, one poor woman who had been hit in the head with a flying book. Every group of kids has its own dynamics and not all of those dynamics will be within your control.

That’s O.K.! Try to win them all, but be prepared to lose some days. Be prepared to make multiple seating charts. Even the perfect chart can unravel as strangers become friends we had not met yet. That self-managing class? It’s a great goal and a class that knows its routines and requires little assistance with transitions should be one of your goals. But if you reach October, November, or even April and your class still does not manage itself, don’t feel bad. The Principal kept visiting the gifted class that threw the book. He never managed to get control of that class.

Hmmm… I can see readers thinking, “I don’t want any more reassurance, thank-you.”

Let me quantify things a little. In my last ten years of formal teaching, I had two classes that tended to go left whenever I wanted them to go right. But that was out of a little less than sixty classes. I also had classes of twenty-some bilingual students who barely needed their seating chart. They listened. Procedures and classroom hours flowed. We got the work done and we had fun.

All the research says the first two years of teaching tend to be tough. Teachers learn an enormous amount on the job. Frankly, I am not sure that crowd control can be taught any other way than to control crowds. Education classes can give tips to future teachers, but every teacher must find his or her own way. What works for one person may not work for another. What works in one class may not work in another class, for that matter.

So don’t beat yourself up if that self-managing classroom remains elusive. Year by year, you will get better. Professional development can help. Colleagues can help. Books can help. But time will help you most of all. You will stumble on techniques and tricks that work as you go, and you will learn the routines and phrases you need to make your classroom work. Trust yourself.

And if your classroom drives itself into the river, just haul it out, dry it off, make a few modifications to the nav system — and get back on the road.

As the artist Alex Noble once said, “Success is not a place at which one arrives but rather the spirit with which one undertakes and continues the journey.”



Total Eclipse of the Sun

The date is August 21st of this year. A path of totality will cut from South Carolina to Oregon. Southern Illinois will go dark in the afternoon. I’m sure many readers are aware of this fact, but with so many schools starting so early nowadays, I thought I’d push the eclipse today.

Can you arrange to be in the path? You would need special glasses and all those protective warnings accompanied by close supervision. But what an opportunity for those in the right locations! This could be the field trip of all field trips. You’d have to act now to make arrangements, I’m sure, if your district would even allow for the possibility. If the field trip is impossible, this is a great week to brainstorm the lesson plan.

I am posting this today because the eclipse could easily get lost in getting ready to start school. The sun and moon picked an awkward day with that August 21st.

Watching as Fun is Buried and our Testing Tombstone Rises

I went to a relatively poor high school in South Tacoma, Washington long ago. I had my choice of Spanish, French, Latin and I think German. But my high school was intent on delivering a solid Classical education. What are we delivering today? If the answer is college and career readiness, I’ll submit I was far more college and career ready than the vast majority of students from the test-factories of today. I could easily write an essay and calculate a mortgage. I also graduated high school able to speak Spanish and a fair amount of French. That senior year in Latin classes proved surprisingly useful too. I’m a top-notch word guesser.

Most importantly, as I look back, I can say that my high school experience was both FUN and educational. My teachers often seemed inspired by their lessons and materials, materials they themselves had created to match ideas they wanted us to learn. Not all my classes were fun, but I loved languages and people left me alone to learn them at the end of my high school career. No one worried that my test scores might suffer. I’m sure my scores suffered, especially that year when I skipped a section to hang out with friends in the park. But I have two master’s degrees and an absurd number of college credits, especially when extra teaching and endorsement classes are added.

I strongly believe that if we teach love of learning, learning will take care of itself.

I also believe those teachers were lucky. They got to teach in a time when they were expected to write whole portions of the script instead of reading someone else’s sometimes unfortunate — at times even incoherent — lines. Does incoherent sound too strong? When our parents need special tutoring classes so they can help their children with elementary school, Common Core math, incoherent seems to me to be the word of choice.

Marcus Hardly Gets to Go to the Forum Any More

According to Education Week, only 20% of U.S. students are currently learning a foreign language, according to an article at Education Week adds that, in at least two dubious states, “fewer than 10 percent of students are studying a language other than English.” The census now has nearly 1 in 5 Americans speaking a language other than English in the home, but you’d never know that from looking at the American foreign language curricula.

That one fact taps into an educational crisis that has been flying below the radar, eclipsed by our focus on English and math scores we attempt to close — or at least narrow — the achievement gap. Foreign language teaching ought to be thoroughly integrated into our curricula. It’s not. Many elementary schools have no language studies or only the most rudimentary Spanish. In middle school especially, often today it’s “Would you like to take Spanish, Spanish or Spanish?” Spanish is now the sole language taught in the high school in the district from which I retired.

Um… Real world, anyone? Spanish is handy and I love it, don’t get me wrong, but we can say the same about potatoes. Potatoes are marvelous, but who would serve an endless diet of nothing but potatoes? Who is planning the foreign language menu?

Eduhonesty: America needs to cultivate speakers of Middle Eastern languages. Languages like Arabic are rarely taught, despite the fact that these languages have become critical to national security. In the real world, as of 2014, Arabic has become our nation’s fastest growing language, seizing that spot from Spanish. We still have more Spanish, Chinese, French and Vietnamese speakers, but Arabic has been gaining fast. Arabic trails behind Spanish as a source of English-language learners in our schools; we have over 110,000 students in the U.S. who call Arabic their home language.

Where are the courses in Arabic then? Many more students in this country are taking Latin than are taking Arabic. (Not that we are teaching much Latin.) Still, we are teaching students how to write translations of “Marcus Tullius Cicero goes to the forum” in a dead language that nobody’s sure how to pronounce, when instead we need to teach

Less than 1/4 of one percent of America’s students are learning Arabic. That’s shortsighted and foolish. Perhaps the POTUS has contributed to this crisis with his anti-Muslim sentiment, but the problem of our paltry foreign-language offerings existed long before the POTUS. In August 2015, Houston residents protested against a planned Arabic Immersion School funded by the Qatar Foundation International. The very word “Qatar” scares many Americans, at least those who follow the news, and understandably. But NOT learning about Qatar and its language will NOT help the United States.

We are more peaceful with the idea of learning Mandarin Chinese, admittedly a small bright light in today’s language offerings. The US-China Strong Foundation aims to have 1 million Americans studying Mandarin by 2020, and the study of the world’s most commonly spoken language is rising. Nationwide, we now have over 200 Mandarin dual-language programs in K-12 schools, a reassuring increase over 2009, when only about 10 such programs could be found.

I have recently alluded to the opportunity costs created by our test- and data-oriented discussions. While we debate tests and data, foreign language offerings fall off the table. Music takes a plunge. Pottery shatters and even the American Revolution gets shortened into some brief skirmish with soggy tea.

What are we sacrificing as we focus on the numbers?

P.S. The issue that never got off up the floor and onto this particular table — lucky students in wealthy districts may have five or more languages to choose as electives. America’s less-financially-fortunate students too often have to hope that the funds for languages number two or three have not been diverted into extra benchmark tests or new software programs designed to provide more standardized test practice.


Buzzwords — Faster than a Snowball Melting in Hell, More Powerful than Acronyms Ought to Be

Education has been awash, indeed swamped, in buzzwords for years now. Educational pundits demand rigor and accountability, backed by data-driven and test-driven instruction. Teachers work on student “grit,” helping students grapple with and fix “fixed mindsets.” They provide “bell-to-bell” instruction emphasizing mathematics, English, STEM, STEM, STEM, not to mention HST, an acronym for Health, Sciences, and Technology, not Harry S. Truman or the Hubble Space Telescope.

We are told we must provide the technological education necessary to prepare students for innovative new “jobs that don’t exist yet” — whatever the heck those are. Personally, I want to make my students “college and career ready” for jobs as suicide hotline counselors to the first Martian colonists. Within a few months of hitting the red sands of Mars, I am certain a number of our plucky astronauts will need moral support. Mars may sound great while sitting in a bar in Naples, Florida, but once the margaritas and pats on the back wear off, a sympathetic ear will be essential. Maybe I will make my students ready to open pod bay doors. If I say, “Open the pod bay doors, Hal?” how many of America’s students will know what to do? Aside from calling the administration and running to get the nurse for me, that is.

Buried in buzzwords, we get busy trying to learn to talk the talk and walk the walk. That growth mindset bulletin board? I’ve seen some beauties while subbing this year. Change your words, change your mindset, the mantra goes. I don’t disagree with that mantra.

But the sheer number of buzzwords has begun to mess up my mindset and have unfortunate effects on educational effectiveness in my view. Educators’ focus can become scattered, and not all these buzzwords mesh seamlessly. Scaffolding and differentiation in particular deserve more scrutiny than they receive. Scaffolding refers to instructional supports that help facilitate learning, especially when students first encounter new subject material. We often scaffold without even thinking about scaffolding itself. Teachers intuitively understand the importance of modeling an activity before letting students loose with the scissors and glue. We display appropriate graphics, share useful related websites, KWL our way to activating prior knowledge — nonteachers, that stands for “know, want to know, learn,” not the airport code for Guilin, China or the waterworks in Leipzig, Germany. We employ other motivational techniques to get students involved. I’ve always like games myself.

At this point, I feel I should apologize to the choir. Teachers know their buzzwords, but parents and persons outside education may be hazier on our many terms and acronyms. I am about to define differentiation — and only some version of H.G. Well’s time machine would allow me to find a U.S. teacher unfamiliar with this term.

Differentiation stands for adapting instruction and materials to meet the needs of all the children in a classroom. In these times of inclusive classrooms, when the most challenged and the most gifted students may be placed in identical classes, differentiation demands care. Differentiating instruction has the potential to help special education students participate, while also allowing general education students and the gifted to meet curricular targets. Differentiate well and everybody may win. A teacher can differentiate by task, outcome or amount of support.

Educators regularly argue over exactly how to define and describe differentiation. Or they used to anyway before they started endlessly discussing testing, test prep, data requirements and the proliferation of meetings. I’d like to note that differentiation is hardly ever a slam-dunk. For example, I am not sure that any classroom exists with a range of academic levels of eight years where “everybody wins.” The only question becomes the number of losers in the room. Better teachers make sure that all students are engaged and learning. Better teachers minimize losses.

Losses occur especially in financially- and academically-challenged districts when data-driven, test-driven districts demand rigor without considering student background learning levels. Teachers can work on “grit,” and “growth mindsets” all they want, providing nonstop “bell-to-bell” instruction emphasizing mathematics, English, technology, and other STEM categories. If the material they are required to teach has been pitched too many years above their students background knowledge, teachers and students are likely to fail. I may be able to haul a student testing at a fourth-grade level up to a seventh-grade level — it’s unlikely but not impossible — but I will not manage to get a student who is testing at a second-grade level up to a seventh-grade level.

My odds of being the first suicide prevention counselor on Mars are probably about the same as my odds of closing that five-year gap. If the student was my own child and I could spend every hour of every day bonding and working with him or her, maybe we could make the leap. But I have seven hours, 180 days and 27 other students. The necessary time simply does not exist. And when “rigor” and “data” requirements force me to teach fundamentally inappropriate material, I am in far worse shape than I would be without any guidance at all.

Eduhonesty: We have so many buzzwords now that our buzzwords run into each other. I can’t give identical tests and quizzes and differentiate effectively. Yet that was the demand my administration made during my last year, even as my students failed matching multiple-choice test after matching multiple-choice test. Data-driven instruction and accountability nuked differentiation, even as I worked frantically on grit while everyone in the room kept failing around me, as they encountered material they did not understand on mandatory, undifferentiated tests they could not even read.

Ummm… STEM was in deep trouble. Those failed tests did not bode well for STEM. Rigor was killing STEM. Test-driven instruction was knee-capping grit, and not doing much for growth-mindsets. When a student always fails the tests, “mistakes help me improve” sounds suspicious and “I’m on the track” just sounds silly. The always-fail-all-the-time-track? Oh, yeah. That’s a winner for sure.

Eduhonesty: You can’t “raise the bar” without providing substantial supports to those students who are failing to jump the lower bar. Grit won’t solve that problem and rigor will likely make it worse. You can’t give and gather identical multiple choice tests designed to provide valid and reliable data while also differentiating instruction — at least, you can’t do it very often. When you insist those tests be used to determine student grades, you strangle differentiation and take regular whacks at all the mindsets of all the students who don’t know what bubbles to pick.

How about instead of trying to cram all sorts of disparate concepts together into one incoherent mishmash of an educational policy or philosophy, we simply try to teach students instead? I recommend we start by finding out what standards students do not know and teaching them whatever comes next.

Or we could continue forcing utterly mysterious ideas on students because some bureaucrat has decided all 14-year-olds must learn “X” in September. Personally, I like my idea better. When Joey finishes the fourth-grade math curriculum, why don’t we cut him a break and give him fifth grade material instead of expecting him to leap three years in a single bound?

P.S. Don’t get me wrong. I favor working on growth mindsets and I am impressed by the work in the picture above. But a prerequisite for growth mindsets is a curriculum that can be accomplished without extraordinary grit or parents who can afford outside tutors.


More Dangerous than Any Ring of Power

By CopySix at Imgur:

Just for fun. Made me laugh.

The Fidget Spinner: Marketed by Mordor, I’m sure of it.

If only teachers could dematerialize our ubiquitous spinners and beam them straight into the fires of Mt. Doom. Or the depths of the Marianas trench. Or maybe just the Oval Office? Maybe we should fill the Department of Education with these things. Something must be done.

Breaks and Trips to Far-Off Places

Breaks? What breaks? Perhaps the saddest pages in the 1992 North Chicago High School student life section show the Senior Class Trip to Cozumel. I guarantee no senior trips to Cozumel happened in the last ten or maybe twenty years. Electives are even mostly gone. French went this year. Woodworking and radio/television broadcasting went a few years ago. What’s left? This last year, art, Spanish, music, a few business courses and ROTC.

Unfortunately, those senior trips did not improve test scores. Woodworking did not improve test scores. Colleges want to see a language and/or fine art, so one language had to stay behind as well as art and music. Still, test scores are killing the fun in many of our lower-scoring, toughest districts. The non-test-related academic drought has become extreme.

Electives represent breaks in the day for students, a chance to associate school with fun. Fun matters. If I have fun in high school, I am far more likely to go on for further education.

Can I “prove” this? I will ask, should I even have to prove this? Can we just use a little (uncommon) common sense? My proof drips from every word spoken by my alternative high school student some years ago:

“No way am I going to college. No way will I do four more years of social studies.”

I explained how college worked, including the fact that social studies could almost entirely be avoided with the right choices, but I was fighting an uphill battle. That boy had been hating school for awhile, part of the reason he landed in an alternative high school. He could not visualize a fun school experience.

Recess matters. Field trips matter. Class parties matter. Stimulating electives matter. Admittedly, festive gatherings take class time and should be minimized. But before taking off for a two-week winter break, taking an hour to celebrate the first half-year’s achievements with popcorn, cupcakes and Capri Suns makes all the sense in the world. I want my students to go home remembering how much fun they had on the last day before vacation. I don’t want them to go home and think, “I am so glad vacation finally got here and I don’t have to go to school.”

Stand up for recess. Please. Stand up for fun. Stand up for electives that don’t merely fulfill college application requirements, electives that inspire, refresh and challenge students. If parents, teachers and administrators in our most challenged districts don’t stand up for fun, America will never even make a nick in that achievement gap. I am certain of that.

One last observation: I have been subbing in wealthier districts for the last few years. They take trips, field trips and longer journeys to outdoor education, state and national capitols. Groups even take school-sponsored trips to foreign countries. They have parties throughout the year. They also have so many electives that my heart hurts a little. How can seventeen miles — the distance between where I live and where I worked — make such a difference? Want to learn French, Hebrew, Chinese, Russian or Spanish? You can do this where I live. The list of other available electives runs pages and pages.

Let’s just look at the sciences and social studies electives:

Courses Sophomore Junior Senior
Anatomy & Physiology|

161 & 162

Offered Offered
Astronomy & Space Sciences 163 & 173 Offered Offered Offered
Brain Studies 161 Offered Offered Offered
Earth Science 163 Offered Offered Offered
Forensic Science 161 Offered Offered
Plant Science 161 & 162 Offered Offered Offered
Materials Science 163 & 173 Offered Offered
Meteorology 161 Offered Offered
Principles of Applied Science and Technology 163 Offered Offered Offered
Anthropology 161 Offered Offered Offered
Civics  161 Offered Offered Offered
Comparative Global Issues 171 Offered Offered Offered
Debate 163 Offered Offered
Debate Seminar 183, 193 Offered Offered Offered
European History 161 Offered Offered Offered
AP European History 183 Offered Offered
AP Government & Politics: Comparative 181 Offered
AP Government & Politics: United States Offered
Independent Study 161 Offered Offered Offered
International Relations 161 Offered Offered Offered
AP Macroeconomics 181 Offered Offered Offered
Psychology 161 Offered Offered
AP Psychology 183 Offered
Social Studies Simulation 161 Offered Offered Offered
Sociology 161 Offered Offered Offered
Urban Studies 161 Offered Offered Offered
World Geography 161 Offered Offered Offered
AP World History 183 Offered Offered
World Religions 161 Offered Offered Offered

Educators talk about life-long learning frequently. Most of us are life-long learners. We chose teaching precisely because we love learning. My love of learning did not come from endless math and English drills. It came from family trips to national parks, weekly trips to the library, school field trips to museums, and classes like journalism, radio broadcasting, and Honors English. I probably owe my Spanish certification to the two months I spent as an exchange student in Mexico City during my senior year of high school. I certainly owe the fact that I am reading Guerra Mundial Z (World War Z in Spanish) right now to that long-ago trip.

That trip would be considered a disaster for school test scores today. Students who went with me were channeled into a special curriculum to allow them to miss two months of school. In fact, looking back, I assume we all missed The Test altogether. Maybe we took a special early or late administration of The Test. I don’t remember. But that trip became a pivotal part of who I am, and the bilingual teacher I became.

That trip gave me a language I never lost. That trip gave me the confidence to travel. I drank my coffee out of a Starbucks mug from Sevilla, Spain, this morning. Mugs here include Mexico City, Seoul, Northern Ireland, Germany, Edinburgh, Dublin, Vienna, and others. I got too lost driving through Portugal to manage to stop for a Starbucks mug there — I was just happy to find my way out of the country eventually — but I was not afraid to be lost in Portugal. My daughters, a friend of theirs and I were having fun circling the Iberian peninsula.

Eduhonesty: This post rambles a bit. To pull it together I offer the following for thought: Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted. ~ Albert Einstein.

The ugliest part of what I just wrote rests between the lines. Who is getting most hurt by our push for higher test score numbers and improving data? I can answer that from personal experience: The poor kids, the lower-scoring kids, who attend districts with administrators who believe they can’t afford to sacrifice points, and so sacrifice recess and trips instead, administrators who are sinking all the funds they have available into mathematics and English tied to the Common Core curriculum. During my last formal year teaching, no field trips or “nonacademic” activities were allowed until after the conclusion of PARCC testing. That strategy may have added a few points to test scores — or may not have — but I guarantee the push, push, push of often-incomprehensible math and English decreased enthusiasm for education and learning.





Risk, Reward, Opportunity Costs, and Time

A data-related post:

I know a principal who is currently working about 100 hours a week. Her teachers have crazy workloads, too. She knows those teachers are squandering time on data and google docs that do not produce nearly enough educational benefit for the time they demand. She knows those google docs form a large part of the reason for her crippling, staff turnover. But administrators above her are demanding the documentation and they react suspiciously when she suggests all that documentation may not be a good idea. The mantra seems to be that anyone who “cares about the kids” will not hesitate to work, work, work in pursuit of the greater good. But what is the greater good?

When do we stop to think?

I offer this cross-post because I believe it addresses one of the many invisible elephants impacting education today. We do, do, do. We far too seldom get to ask, “What’s the good of this?” Teachers will never have a forty-hour workweek, something the public frequently does not grasp. Whether we have a fifty- sixty- or one-hundred-hour, work week, though, I believe it’s time to shove opportunity costs into the spotlight. What could teachers be doing instead of making all those useless or semi-useless spreadsheets that sometimes no one even looks at?

Eduhonesty: Teachers today often lament the fact that their administrations do not seem to be listening to them. I’d like to suggest a possible reason for that lack of attention. Could it be those administrators know their teachers are right, know the pursuit of excessive data has become injurious to education, but are too afraid for their own jobs to show the courage of their convictions?

The scariest part of the current educational climate for me is the fact that I believe we are smart enough to see the flaws in rampant, excessive efforts toward “data-driven instruction.” I am afraid that teachers and school administrators have become too scared for their jobs to speak out about this time-sucking diversion. Just because gathering copious quantities of data is the harder path, that in no way makes that data-gathering the better path.

This Nepalese Proverb is Absolutely Wrong


Data Monstrosities

My God! That’s like if you tried to make scrambled eggs and instead you caught syphilis! ~ Todd in the Shadows

A few days back, I paused to offer praise for the idea of using objective measurements to capture academic falls. I am not against “data.” But I do join many, many other teachers in finding data a threatening force in today’s academic environment.

I wish to start by observing that schools have always had data. What were all those grades and comments on report cards? We kept the report cards in cumulative folders — and still do — so that teachers could get snapshots of past performance. Our data might not have been exhaustive or perfect, but grade point average usually revealed a great deal, and a review of teacher comments and past state tests added to the picture.

That lack of perfection in the data may not have been a flaw, either. Children should not be boxed in by past academic efforts. If “Isidro” had a weak year in math before he entered my class, I want to find out what has been going wrong for him, but I am not going to assume that Isidro can’t now have a great year in my classroom. Today, I worry that the many tests we are making Isidro take throughout the year. combined with the past data we are saving, will influence teachers more heavily than those past report cards. If Isidro bombed six math benchmark tests, corporately-designed evaluative unit tests, and his state test, will teachers conclude that Isidro is mathematically challenged? Expectations can become self-fulfilling prophecies.

More importantly, even if Isidro’s teachers can manage to keep open minds, can Isidro? We tend to ignore the effect of data on children. Why? Do we think children don’t care? Do we think children are not drawing conclusions about their abilities? You don’t have to be a mathematical mastermind to grasp the idea that if your state test scores put you at the 22 percentile in your state, you surely blew the math portion of your test. Younger children often see the world in black and white. They still  play cops and robbers (although probably not in all neighborhoods), and young kids see their cops as “good” and their robbers as “bad.” They also tend to classify themselves and others as “smart” and “dumb.” Educators try to control for this unfortunate desire to categorize people, but we don’t always win this fight.

“I’m just dumb,” multiple, middle-school students have now explained to me when I asked where tests and quizzes went wrong.

I leapt in to combat those ugly images, but I am not sure how much progress I made. Once a kid concludes he or she is dumb, they may also conclude that their protesting teacher is just being kind. Kids have trouble distinguishing lack of knowledge from lack of ability.

Test-related classroom placements can contribute to a demoralizing self-view. While subbing last year, I asked a bilingual student about his math skills.

“What do you think?” He answered. “I am in this class. Of course I am not good at math.”

I have more to explore here, but I am going to stop. Teacher views of data should be my next stop, but I don’t want to take away from this one question above, as we give test after test in our quest for data: Do we think children are not drawing conclusions about their abilities? Of course they are. And the further that test is positioned away from what our students know, the more badly that test goes, the more likely our students will say to yet another, future teacher, when explaining their struggles:

“I’m just dumb, Miss.”

Eduhonesty: Our children are not data. They are children.

We can make our children feel like data, though, and in the process we make many of them feel lost and stupid. Those sources of data, otherwise known as children? Sometimes our tests or “measuring instruments” make them cry. Some of them are skipping school to avoid tests. Some have absolutely given up. They are not even bothering to read the question on the test before they pick an answer.  The research suggests more students are cheating, too.

Keeping it real out here.