Why write a book?

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So why am I writing a book? Books are big. Books are work. But I think it’s time.

At first, the Common Core seemed like just another round of damage in the bureaucratic barrage that has been undermining education since No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Testing and standardized curricula have thrummed as an undercurrent in my teaching for most of the last decade, and I have watched as demands and expectations related to testing exploded. Initially, I underestimated the salvo coming from the Common Core. PARCC results are still not in, but I have watched the faces of students taking this test. I sit in the testing room under explicit orders to do nothing else except proctor, with nothing to do except watch the faces of students taking their tests.

The following words come to mind as I watch expressions flitting across my students’ faces: Detached, stolid, hopeless, helpless, despairing, miserable, fragile, fatigued. Sometimes they tear up briefly, eyes glistening, a drop or two falling down a cheek. A dull-edged melancholy permeates the room now and again, although that mood seldom lasts. Middle-school students don’t do melancholy for long. They lapse into goofy or combative instead. A number of these kids seem angry at the end, ready to fight even if they are not sure who or what they want to attack. A few feel guilty.

“I’m sorry, Ms. Q. I tried,” they say to me.

Others attach blame.

“I didn’t know a lot of the questions. Nobody ever showed me that stuff.” The tone may be distrustful and accusatory.

I have seen students in the past who appeared crushed by the testing ordeal, broken and limp. One year, a student ended up in the hospital for a week when he carved a message in his arm at the end of testing. This year, though, my students appeared less distressed. Some students get used to living in the testing foxhole. They disconnect. Unfortunately, the disconnected don’t put much effort into their test choices. Sometimes I have to make them start over; nobody can answer 40 questions in 4 minutes, especially when English is not their first language.

Eduhonesty: I’m drifting here. I have too many issues in that last paragraph. But that’s why I’ll be trying to document this mess in some written form. My students need help desperately.