I have sunk to a new low as a teacher.
I should hang up my recess bell and just retire. Truly. I have gone where no self respecting child centered educator should ever go.
Before I begin to beat my breast and cry “Mea Culpa!”, let me explain.
This was a really bad winter. As we say in the Boston area, it was “wicked awful”. It snowed constantly. Really! We missed SIX DAYS of school because of the crappy weather. This is nearly unheard of, but it happened this year.
I find it very difficult to teach children when we are all at home, huddled by our respective fires, and I am not there to actually do the teaching.
It was also a very, very bad year for the flu and strep throat. I have kids who have missed more than 15 days of school! I find it really hard to drill math skills into kids who are home with a fever.
Oh, and the brainiacs who make the decisions about education reform are also in the middle of shifting us from teaching the “Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks” to the much heralded “Common Core Curriculum Standards”. Out with the old, in with the new. And there are some really serious changes to what we are teaching, believe me.
Here is the difficulty: they haven’t been able to tell us which set of standards will be tested this year.
Ahahaha!! So, just to get this straight, we are about to administer standardized tests to kids who have missed a week of school due to weather, and more due to illness. They are going to be tested on a bunch of math information and skills that they may or may not have ever seen in their entire 11 years of life.
Are you laughing yet? Me either. Because the education reformers also plan to hold me accountable for the scores of my students.
Even the ones who went on vacation for three weeks this month. Yep. I have to get them up to speed on everything that might (or might not!) be tested this year, even if they have spent the past month sick/snowed in/on vacation in the Carribean.
In recognition of the fact that the combined pressures of weather, vacation, and illness have put us way, way behind in covering what may (or may not) be the fifth grade curriculum, we are now finding ourselves desperate to cram math facts into the heads of our poor little students.
My class has spent nearly 3 of our 6 hours together every day this week trying to review the math material, learn new math material and practice the “skills” needed in test taking.
We are bored, we are frustrated, we are feeling overwhelmed and more than a little stupid. We’d like to take those “education reform” people and shake them by the neck until their eyeballs pop out and roll across our classroom floor.
But we persevere.
My poor fifth grade students have just experienced what I thought was a fairly well constructed, if fast paced, unit on multiplying and dividing fractions. Never mind the fact that NO ADULT on the face of the earth would ever be required to manually multiply or divide any mixed numbers (why do you think God invented calculators, anyway?). Our kids have to learn how to carry out these algorithms, and they practiced them over and over again until they begged for mercy.
I thought that they understood the lessons. I did!
Right up until today. When I gave them the Unit test.
I sat down to score the tests, and found that more than half of the kids couldn’t really remember when to find common denominators (when you add? or when you multiply?) They forgot to simplify. They forgot how to convert mixed numbers into improper fractions.
I know, right?! You could probably do this in your sleep!
Anyway, I had taught it, and they were damned well supposed to “get it”!!!!
Only they didn’t.
And here is where I have failed as a teacher. Here is where I descended into the lowest of educational lows.
I scored those tests, and I got really, REALLY mad at my kids. I was snippy, I was short, I was wicked crabby.
I know, in my heart, that you simply cannot “speed teach” the idea of fractions. I know this!!!
I know that, no matter what the math book says, kids need some time to play with and experiment with fractions. I understand that people need time to process and to make sense of what they are learning.
In the face of the stupid, irrelevant, pointless, totally-lacking-in-validity or reliability standardized state tests, I panicked and pushed and tried to force feed these children. And when they failed to metabolize all of the nonsense, I reacted with anger and frustration.
Is this really the best we can do as educators? Is this really the best way to create those “Twenty first century thinkers”?
I am feeling truly ashamed of myself tonight.
Watch this video, and see what you think.