It is teacher appreciation week here across the United States. We celebrated last week at our school, because this week we are testing. The irony is obvious enough that even my freshmen English students could point it out.
“We want to show our appreciation, but we first must make sure that the state tests that most of you abhor are not interrupted by any means.”
I don’t blame the PTSA, or my principal, or anyone I come into contact with on a daily basis. These people are doing exactly what I am doing, navigating the situation that has been handed down to us the best we know how.
I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, I appreciate the appreciation. I am very grateful to have a PTSA that collects the money, gives us free lunch, tells us thank you. At many of the schools I have worked at, Teacher Appreciation Week started with an email asking for donations from the teachers so we could celebrate it.
But we need more than appreciation, we need your trust. We need you to hear us when we tell you that testing has taken over, and your kids, who we call our kids are worse off for it.
We need you to trust us. Yesterday, the computers we were testing on stopped connecting to the internet. Because I was in the very safe testing environment, I couldn’t be sure if it was just my students computers, if we had a school wide, district wide, or even state wide problem. I just knew my computers were not connecting. But I don’t have any power to do anything. All decisions must be made by the testing coordinator who needs to clear everything with the state administrator. High stakes testing means high stakes for everyone including the teachers. I couldn’t be trusted with the decision because it wasn’t my decision to make, and spent literally hours just waiting with students on the off chance the system would come back up in time to test.
We no longer trust teachers to make decisions, about what is taught or sometimes even how. We don’t trust them to know what is best for the kids, when an exception should be made, or even what to do when all the computers go down. While we say, especially during this week that teachers are the force that makes a huge difference, the laws are currently written so that we aren’t trusted to do that in the ways we know are best.
We need you to hear us. Are you listening? Teachers have been saying for years that the tests are getting in the way of learning, rather than in facilitating it.We have been voicing concerns over the state of the state testing. We have been trying to warn someone that the ways state testing is being employed is damaging to our kids. This year I have more students with anxiety problems than I have ever had before. The pressure of this week has extended to the whole year and our students, the ones we do this job for, feel it.
Every single time teachers get told to employ another test, another program, another late night we are told we need to do it for the kids. And every single time we get thanked for what we do, we get told thank you for the kids.
We are grateful for the appreciation. We are doing it for the kids. But we need more than appreciation, we need a voice in what is happening in our own classrooms. We need you to trust us enough to hear that what is happening right now is not okay. We need you to include us at the decision making level so that real teaching and learning can happen every day in school.
If you really appreciate the work that we do, please, let us do it.
Our state allows for students to opt out of standardized testing for any reason with parental consent. My daughter, who is very gifted academically, opted out. She wanted to make a stand for her amazing teachers and against a system that is becoming more and more about feeding the beast instead of what’s in the best interests of the students. There was a lot of pressure to not opt out due to the whole funding tied to tests ridiculousness, but she stuck to her convictions. I’m proud and relieved that my daughter refuses to be another cog in the machine.
I would say that not only does the system not trust the teachers, but it also does not trust the students as well. Students want to learn, they want to succeed. It’s in human nature to be curious about the world around us. The question we should be asking ourselves is why at least 50% of the students have had that natural curiosity beat out of them before graduation and who does it really benefit to have that many people graduating year after year who have given up. I applaud those of you who teach with essentially one hand tied behind your back.