Relaxing into testing

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This post may not reflect well on me, but I feel like it’s time to write this down.

Testing is a major stressor for students. Too much testing early in the day and I can end up herding cats on catnip at day’s close. Students end up feeling jangly, overamped, excitable and even angry. Whether tests go well or badly, student excitement levels notch up, as fight-or-flight reflexes kick in with no place to go except the next period. Evolution has prepared humans to meet threats; we are not good at recovering from the swift changes that prepare us for those threats.

But I can meet that challenge. I can prepare my lesson plan with the understanding that morning testing is best followed by afternoon movement, kinesthetic activities designed to be fun and expend energy. If I loosen the reins, I’m fine, although I may have to hope that one of the many peripatetic “coaches” does not choose to wander in at that time. If I’ve considered the politics of teaching, I’ll channel my movement into small groups to prepare for that observer.

I’ve gone off-topic here. What I intended to write about was the effect of testing on me. All considerations of students aside, I am finding testing easy. I used to do much less testing and much more teaching. Now, a Friday where I test all day is not uncommon. My teams prepare the tests I am required to give. I give the tests. I look at those days in my lesson plan and, while they are no Martin Luther King Day to go shopping with girlfriends and get my nails done, they are definitely a sort of day off. I put on music and we listen as the Titanic cruises to its doom. Often I play CDs made from songs they like. I wander around providing cheer, support and occasional hints, while cleaning the room and updating my files. I do the things I might do during prep time, if only meetings, subbing and random activities did not always eat up my prep time.

Testing days are light days. I have many more of them now than I used to have. In fact, I seem to have them all the time. That calculation from a couple of weeks ago when I spent over half my available teaching time giving tests over a nine-day period? That was a lot easier on me than teaching new material would have been. I read a script. They wrote answers. I read a script. They wrote answers. One portion of one test was boring — I wish they’d rewrite the speaking portion of that test some year soon — but nothing I did was particularly mentally taxing.

I do rely a little too much on the guy across the hall to tell me what I am doing on testing days but he’s obliging. He’s marvelous, in fact. He tells me what I’ve done, what I am doing that day and what I still need to do. I mostly know this stuff already, but it’s reassuring to listen to the plan. You can get in big trouble for messing up the standardized-test-of-the-moment.

Eduhonesty: This post meanders a bit. Here’s my observation/concern: I wonder if I am coming to like testing just because of its effect on my workload. I still object to the crazy test time stolen from learning for the sake of my students, but the truth is that I view that testing day in my lesson plan as a weak version of a day off. I am not teaching. They are only learning to the extent that writing answers down on a test can reinforce those answers in the educational long-run.

A teacher could learn to like all this testing. Maybe that’s why not all the classroom voices are rising up to protest testing’s infringement on learning. If I were coasting, endless testing might suit me just fine, especially if I did not even have to write the test. Some mostly-college-bound districts may be able to deliver scores without extensive teacher interventions. Even where interventions are necessary to success, that full-test Friday still becomes a day to relax for me. The morning test day requires a bit of planning, but may lead to a fun afternoon with the right planning.

I’m doing O.K. I am doing less planning and less teaching than ever before. I plan less because other people are writing my plans and even selecting my materials. I teach less simply because I cannot be teaching while I am testing and, as is evident from recent posts, I am testing a lot.

I am sure that my students would be doing better if I had more time to teach, but my schedule has slipped outside of my control. I fully intend to try not to get fired this year and if I refused to give the tests, I would lose my job. So I test. I teach to my tests.

And I relax into the testing. Since there’s nothing I can do to stop or slow the train, I am simply enjoying the ride.