Sea of bubbles, forest of teeth

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The guy across the hall is impressively bright. I love the guy across the hall. He’s intelligent and dedicated to his craft. He’s witty, the source of funny moments that balance out crazy days.

Yesterday we discussed the resiliency issue that I raised in my last post. He agrees that all these impossible-to-understand tests are hurting students’ self-esteem. He knows that the tests are poor tools to use to test understanding since they contain material the students do not yet know. He’s on my page. Just about every teacher I know has joined me on this page, to one degree or another.

Yet we all keep handing out these tests. Because we fear for our jobs, we seldom protest. Tenure no longer provides much protection to someone who appears to disagree with the administration. We look at the latest test some outsider created, the latest test we are required to administer. We shudder. Then we start handing out Number 2 pencils and bubble sheets, or stapled sets of standards-based gobbledygook. If our students don’t understand what’s on the test, that material might as well be ancient Greek or purest gobbledygook.

Why are we letting this happen on a day-by-day basis? I believe part of the reason lies in the fact that we have become lost in the forest. The tests are trees, so many trees everywhere that we lose any sense of where we are actually standing. We just slog through the underbrush, passing more trees as we go, impediments to hack through and weave around that take up all of our time. We can’t see the landscape. We are blocked in by trees.

When we glimpse the landscape, we mostly just rush off to the next professional development meeting, or the next team meeting, or the next emergency sub assignment. We hunker down with the next set of emergency documentation that needs to be prepared for the administration. Teachers are too busy to fight the pernicious effects of testing.

This forest is dangerous for our kids, filled with with creatures with sharp teeth. We are ripping away at some psyches when we hand out those bubble sheets. We know this. But the next set of papers are always due, the next set of documentation has to be prepared. We try to ameliorate the damage while providing our mixed message: Do the best you can because this test is important, and may determine your future classes, or even affect your whole life, but don’t worry if you can’t answer the test questions. We just want you to do your best.

Unfortunately, some of America’s children hear frequent utterances from their teachers that make little or no sense. “Do your best” we say. Many students just let the words wash over them, as they drift through a sea of bubbles and a forest of teeth. “Whatever,” the kids say. “Whatever” may be the best defensive strategy many kids can come up with today.

I’d like to help my students, as I watch their apathy increase in tandem with irrational testing. But I spent the whole night getting ready for the next school day. I’m sick and about to cut sleep again. I have no time. I can’t think who would listen to me either.

On the plus side, the science final went surprisingly well.