Wearing My Own Skin.

Guess what?

I was a teacher today!


My old self……

Actually, I’m going to be a teacher every day for the next 2 weeks, and maybe for a couple more after that.

It isn’t really teaching teaching, because there is no curriculum or academic work. I don’t need to test anyone or keep careful records or anything. But it still felt good.

No. It felt great.

It felt like I had put on my own skin again and walked right back into my world.

In the district where I taught for 22 years, there is a fabulous summer program for elementary aged kids. The teachers run classes that we think would be fun and the schools advertise them in the spring.

One friend of mine is teaching “Sculpey charms” so she is spending the week with a small group of girls who are making art out of clay.

I’ve seen classes in “Wizarding”, “The Science of Building”, “Baking with Books” and even “On Broadway.” Its pure fun.

This week I am teaching “Improv Theater” and next week will be “Cooking Around the World.”

See? No state tests!

But here’s the funny thing. When I walked into the school building this morning and entered the classroom, I was swept right in my old familiar role. I became my old teacher self.

Without any effort at all, without even thinkings, I welcomed my group of five young children, smiled, laughed, and put them all at ease. I created a circle, set some expectations and we took off. The kids, I’m sure, thought that we were all playing games. They most likely thought of it as silliness and fun. Certainly not real school.

I coaxed a bit, I set some limits, I adapted as we went.

It was so easy and familiar. I felt like I was wearing my own skin.

There was no testing. There were no standards. No one was observing me or the kids.

But guess what?

I was a teacher today!

And that means that tonight, as I sit here and look forward to tomorrow, I can tell you this about “my” kids, with whom I spent 3 hours.

Two are more visual than auditory. One has auditory memory and sequencing concerns. One misses social cues because of internal distraction and because he hyperfocuses on small details. One struggles with nuances of language, but is quick to ask for clarification.

As a group, they do best with a lot of clear, frequent positive feedback and very concrete expectations and goals.  As a group, they will get the most out of the week of “fun” if I can gently coax each of them to take a few steps outside of their comfort zone.

I could go on, but I need to do some quick planning for the week, based on what I learned by observing and assessing today.

In an age of data, data and more data, isn’t it refreshing to see that a teacher can step right back into her old skin and do a real evaluation of student learning even without a bubble sheet?


A Day in the Life


It’s pretty hard to be a public school teacher in the US right now.

We are in the middle of administering the annual state tests here in Massachusetts.  You know, the ones that are supposed to assess a fifth grader’s ability to read, but really assess his ability to read ninth grade level materials and then write a pithy, on point analysis in one sitting.

Yep.  Those awesome tests.

The ones that are beginning to count more and more toward our teacher evaluations. The ones that help to decide which schools are successful and which aren’t.

The tests that use words like “spectrometry” and “minutiae” and “chirring cicadas”.   For ten year olds to decipher.

I don’t feel very good about myself during these tests.   You know why?

Because I have to make kids sit still for 5 hours in a row.

Because I have to tell them that I can’t explain what the word means.

Because I have to hope that they will remember to “include evidence from the text” when they compare the article on scientific discoveries in a far distant part of the world to a poem about nature.

I don’t feel good about myself on test days.

This year, I don’t feel particularly good about myself as a teacher at all.  I am aware of my age.  I am acutely aware of my obsolescence.   My outdated pedagogy.   I feel a little bit useless.

I am sad.

At the end of these long, tiring days, when my back aches and my legs feel weak, I walk slowly to my car, wondering if I have done a decent job today.  I think about the kids, so young and fresh, so eager for the energy and life of youth.  I worry.  Am I failing them because I am too old to connect with their lives?  Am I failing them because I don’t know the latest research on reading comprehension?  Am I too cranky? Too worn down?  Is the constant struggle to meet the standards taking away the soul of my classroom?  Do they wake up in the early mornings wishing that they could stay home and avoid me and my lessons?

I don’t know.

I am sad.

Then I get to my classroom, in the early morning light.  I turn on the Smartboard, move the trash barrels into place. I gather yesterday’s worksheets from the “hand in” bin.  I boot up my computer, make a morning message that pokes fun at the testing. “MCAS”, I write. “Mango Chocolate Awesome Sauce”.  I put out the morning work, file corrected work, turn the compost.

I’m still sad.

This isn’t why I became a teacher.  To make children fill in bubble sheets.  To make them “restate the prompt” and “find evidence from the text.”   I am not here because I love data or because I think its a good idea to measure each child’s ability to copy the writing style of a so called “educational expert”.

Still.  I am a professional.  I do what is expected of me.  I greet the kids, make sure that each has a freshly sharpened number 2 pencil.  I remind them to bring in snack, to have a book on hand.  I chat with the nervous ones, hug the tearful ones.  Two are clearly sick; I hand them tissues, remind them that they can get water when they need it.  I run a short, quiet “morning meeting”, then get them all into their seats.  I remind them that I believe in them.  I remind them that we will have some “math fun” when all of this is over.

I hand out the answer booklets.  And the test booklets.  And the erasers and highlighters.  I read the directions. “Cheating in any form is forbidden.  You may not use dictionaries.  Or cell phones.”  I take a breath.  I remind them to “Make a dark mark” and to “erase completely any mark that you wish you change”.

I am sad.

As the kids settle in to take the test, lollipops or Jolly Ranchers arranged in neat rows on their desks, I click on my email.

And I read this, coming from a colleague whose son was in my class a couple of years ago:

Hi there,
I tried to find you this morning to let you know that you will be reviewed by the MCAS scorers this summer.
The 7th grade long comp prompt was:
write about a teacher/coach who has made an impact on your life…..my son wrote about you:)
He was bragging that he wrote 10 paragraphs…..
Thought this would make your day.
This didn’t make my day, my friend. This made my week. My month.
This made me stand up taller as I walked around my classroom.
This reminded me that sometimes it is enough to love the kids and love my job. That sometimes I am doing a really good job just because I am able to make a connection to a struggling learner who isn’t sure that he has what it takes.
I am no longer sad.
I am so incredibly happy that this wonderful young man remembers me as someone who helped him to grow.
This is why I teach.
Thank you, my friend! You’ve given me the courage to keep it up for a little bit longer!



When I was a kid, I loved playing the game Monopoly.  At first, I just thought of the game as a way to move the cute little doggy around the board.  After a while though,  I started to understand that the purpose of the game was to buy as much stuff as possible and then charge other people so much money for using my stuff that they’d eventually have to just give up and give me everything.

It was a strange mix of euphoria and shame when I beat my siblings and parents and became the biggest capitalist in the family.

Now that I understand how monopolies work in the real world, my feelings are less complex.  I think it is just plain shameful to manipulate the market in order to make as much profit as possible, no matter the outcome for others.   I dislike capitalism.  I despise monopolies.

So just imagine how hard it is for me to deal with our current educational system.

“But wait,” I bet you’re saying. “Public education is a not-for-profit enterprise!”    Hahahahaha, oh, silly silly you!

You need to grab your Google and learn all you can about Pearson Corporation. Then you’ll understand how a monopoly is destroying public education.

Let me give you just a few little introductory facts, though, just to get you started off.  I promise that I am not making any of this up.  Ready?

A few years ago it was clear to everyone in the world of education that “No Child Left Behind” was a complete and total failure.  So the education reformers in the government decided that it would be a good idea to create a set of national standards for all children from grades k-12, but they needed some funding to get the job done.  Guess who ponied up a whole bunch of money?  Yup. Pearson Corporation. (Along with the Gates Foundation, but I digress.)

Once the standards were created (The Common Core State Standards, or CCSS), it was obvious that schools would need new curriculum materials in order to teach the standards.  OK…… So who do you think markets the largest numbers of CCSS curriculum materials, in all academic subjects? You got it. Pearson Corporation again.

And when it was time to create and market a test that would decide whether or not students were meeting the Common Core Standards, Pearson was awarded a contract to manage the tests (called PARCC tests, coming this spring).

But wait, it gets better!  Pearson as also been awarded the contract to for assessing whether or not schools have the appropriate infrastructure and technology for the administration of the PARCC.  And of course, if the schools need to buy new technology upgrades, who do you think will sell it to them?   Right again!

And Pearson is now marketing the Teacher Evaluation Tool which will be tied to student scores on Pearson’s tests.

So let’s think about this for a minute, with the game Monopoly in mind.

A school district pours tens of thousands of dollars into CCSS aligned curriculum, sold by Pearson.  Then the kids take the test (managed and marketed by Pearson) and they maybe don’t do so well.  The district then uses a Pearson assessment to see if they need  to buy more or better teaching tools.  Told that they do, Pearson is happy to oblige by selling the school lots of new stuff. Meanwhile, the state is paying Pearson for the teacher evaluations.

Does this seem just a little bit shady to you?   I could go on; Pearson is now the owner of the only company with approval to market an “objective” assessment for ADHD. They are involved in administering the GED, the GMATs and several other tests.  Every time the CCSS is “tweaked” by its makers (including Pearson), school districts need to fork over more money for the “newly aligned” curriculum materials.

All of a sudden I can clearly remember just how wrong it felt when I watched my little brother land on Boardwalk and burst into tears. I felt like a bully.

Squeezing as much money as possible out of our “not-for-profit” schools is just plain wrong.

Please check out these sites for more detailed and articulate arguments about this topic. Please support our kids and our schools by taking the corporate piracy out of our classrooms.

United Opt Out

Fair Test 

Huffington Post Article on Pearson

An angry teacher


I am home from school today, trying desperately to beat back my annual cold/laryngitis.  Not an unusual teacher malady; after all, we do talk for a living! We also prompt, encourage, nudge, praise, clarify, remind, control, consult, collaborate, plan, and confer.  Our voices feel the strain.

But you know what? It isn’t the vocal strain that is making teaching impossible.

It is the emotional strain.  It is the never ending insanity around testing, retesting, scoring, rubrics and so called “accountability”.  It is the ongoing realization that what we are being forced to do to our students in unethical, immoral and damaging.  It is the knowledge, every waking moment, that we are being forced (even in a progressive, supportive, well funded district like the one in which I teach) to violate our own beliefs in order to check off all the boxes.

I want to share a link to a very good blog written by a young colleague. A smart, activist young woman who isn’t afraid to teach with her heart.

Please read it. Please share it.  If you are a parent, please consider keeping your child out of the standardized tests in your district.

An Angry Teacher Speaks

Also, please consider spending some time on these sites:


Opt Out National

To my teaching friends.

SONY DSCI am dedicating this post to all of my friends who teach, who reach out to kids, who understand that everyone learns at a different pace and in a different style. I dedicate it to all of my talented, smart, commited teaching friends who lie awake at night worrying about other people’s children.  I don’t want to be depressing or negative, but I feel this post sort of simmering in my heart, and I need to get it out before it does me harm.

Teachers understand that it is essential to use every  modality and every approach in order to reach every child.  We know instinctively that we have to adjust our expectations to draw in the children who are struggling to learn English, who are trying to overcome violent pasts, who are working so hard to learn in spite of serious disabilities.  We know that we need to reach them, to love them, to make them feel safe. We need to convince them that they CAN do this.  They CAN read/write/do math.  We understand the need to constantly adjust, adapt, modify and change.

Ask any teacher.  We will all tell you, with absolute certainty, that no two learners are alike.

This is why we stay up until midnight trying to adapt the science lesson so that the Chinese speakers can read the information. This is why we spend our lunch times changing the math homework so that the learning disabled child can feel successful.  It’s why we choose five books at different reading levels as we try to challenge every reader.

We get it.

And this is why, when every child is forced to take the same test on the same day, we can only shake our heads and swallow hard and repeat the mantra, “I’m sorry, honey. I can’t answer that question.”

This is why, when the test results come out, and everyone in the state can see how successful our students were on this one test on this one day, we feel as if one more brick has been added to the crushing weight of the expectations that have been placed on our shoulders.

This why we cry quietly in the night when we look at least year’s scores. We see  the failing score of the child who missed a month of school because of mental illness, and who came to us five weeks before the tests. We understand that there was nothing more we could have done to have gotten this child over this particular test. The fact that she began to come willingly to school for the first time in six months should have been seen as a victory, but the state only looks at her score on this one test, on this one day.

This is why we feel so helpless when we look at the failing score of the boy who came to us from a third world country, still unsettled by the bombings he saw there.  We understand that this child was diagnosed with ADD and put on medications in the middle of last year. We know that he is smart, creative and kind.  We recognize that the test scores can’t show all of this.

This is why we feel that it is just so incredibly unfair that we are held responsible for the scores of the kids in our classrooms.  As if we can erase the anxiety, the depression, the birth in a third world country, the primary language, the family dynamics…..

As if a few hours a day, a few months a year, can really force a child to understand all of the little nuances that are measured on this one test on this one day.

I dedicate this post to all of my teaching friends.  I’m not sure how much longer I can keep up this good fight, but I want to thank all of you for keeping your eyes on those values that you know define a good education.

You support your students; you encourage them; you love them. You tell them that they are worthy of your respect.

That one stupid test on that one day can’t erase all that.

“I took a chance.”

Well, my class has finished the fifth grade math state test.  Huzzah!

Instead of actually learning anything for the past two days, the kids had the pleasure of taking the Massachusetts Comprehensive Achievement System.  Also known as MCAS.  Also known among the kids as the Massachusetts Child Abuse System.  Also known, on my morning message board as “Maybe Chinchillas Are Slimy”.  Who knows?

Having spent the past three weeks cramming and drilling for this thing, there was quite a sense of excitement yesterday and today as the kids arrived at school.  I put on a fabulous (if outdated) playlist of inspirational songs, and the kids got themselves all psyched up and ready to go.

And here are some of the events that really, truly, I-swear-to-God-I-am-not-making-these-up honestly happened in my room.

1. A child who was out sick yesterday and missed “Session One of the MCAS fifth grade math test” came in this morning.  I greeted her with a big smile and the obvious question, “Are you feeling better?”

Her answer? “Not really.”  A shrug, a smile and she sat down to take the test.  And she got up and got a drink. And she got up again, holding a tissue to her mouth.   I went to her, of course, and asked her what was wrong.

“My tooth is coming out.”, she said calmly, and went back to her desk to work on her math calculations while wiggling her tooth.  Ten minutes later, she came to me with her tooth in her hand, her cheek streaked with blood, and fear in her eyes. “I got blood on my answer booklet!”, she whispered desperately. “Do you think they will make my answers invalid?”  I reassured her and told her that her answers would most certainly be counted. She had been working so hard!

What I thought, in my head, was, “Honey, if they fail you on this test, you have the perfect answer!  It wasn’t me, it was my blood on the test!”

2.  Four different students came up to my desk to ask the meaning of a word on the test.  The word was “integer”.  It means “number”.  It didn’t appear in any of the chapters of our math book this year.  The kids all knew how to solve the math problem, they just didn’t know the word “integer”.  I bit my tongue, swallowed hard and said (four times), “I’m sorry, honey. I can’t tell you that.”

3. I looked up to see one of my most struggling, learning disabled kids whispering to a classmate, five minutes after the testing had begun.  I was so shocked when I saw them that I called the culprit up to my desk in my loudest public inquiry voice.  Now, you should know that I never, ever, ever shame or embarrass a kid in front of his peers. Never, never, never!!! Until the pressures of this stupid, mindless, idiotic test forced me to lose my mind at the thought of cheating.

“What are you DOING?”, I hissed at this little boy. “What did I JUST say about talking during the test?!?”

He hung his head, and whispered, “I took a chance.”

My blood pressure rose, “You did WHAT? You knew that talking during the test was wrong and you did it anyway?”  I was absolutely aghast.

“Yes”, he said simply.  He wouldn’t look me in the eye.

“What in the world were you talking about?”, I demanded.

And so he told me.

“I saw that he was putting his answers in the wrong place. I know he isn’t from Massachusetts, so I thought he didn’t know what to do.” He raised his tear filled eyes to mine.  “I couldn’t let him get them all wrong.”

We stood for a moment, face to face.  My little student was resolute, nervous, red faced, but determined.  I was filled with guilt and shame and a sense of awe.   I took in a breath.

“So…”, I began slowly, making sure that everyone in the class could hear me, “You knew that it was against the rules to talk, but you took a chance of being caught, of getting in trouble, so that your friend would not fail?”

He shrugged, then nodded his head, never looking directly at me.

I thought my heart would break.

I put a hand on his shoulder, urging him to look me in the eye.

“Honey”, I said, through the lump in my throat, “You are a hero. You risked getting punished so that you could do the right thing. I am incredibly proud of you.”

He smiled and went back to his desk to finish the test.


And I am left with a whole pile of questions.

Why on earth would we design a system that makes it wrong to help a friend?

Why in the world would we create a testing system that is so complicated that kids might put their answers on the wrong page?

What are we really testing when we refuse to define the words on the test?

What are we doing to our teachers when we make them so nervous about “cheating” that they feel compelled to publicly embarrass a student this way?

I don’t have the answers, but I certainly have the questions.

So….we’re gonna test ya…..


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!

Or not.

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.

And yet.

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.