I did it. Okay, wait.....I did it – AGAIN. I stood up, I spoke out.....happily dragged in by two amazing teachers.
I first helped an awesome friend bring her vision to life to create a video promoting the March on Albany back in June. It was a state wide, NYSUT led initiative to rally for public education and against high stakes testing. It was so darn cool! Neither of us will profess to be Carly Rae Jepsen, but her popular tune sure was a catchy way for Awesome Colleague to express her thoughts about the nonsense and government corruption in education. It was tremendously empowering and was the first time during this whole mess that I’ve felt I had a voice – hers was much larger in this project, and it was inspiring. The best part of this rally was that only 10,000 teachers, students, and families were expected, but it was estimated that about 20,000 showed up! We were honored, and humbled that we were asked by NYSUT to allow them to show the video during the rally. Here’s the link, but I warn you, I no longer sing Jepsen’s lyrics the way she wrote them! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6Z486Cv7Nw
Came down from "Never Land" two weeks ago and when I got cell service (yes, I’m serious, there are still places in North America where there is no coverage) my phone was exploding about a new opportunity to speak out....and yes, I took it. Last week I did an interview, with a super colleague from a neighboring district, at a local NBC television station about high stakes testing. The intention was to talk about the impact on teachers and teaching. We talked about the lowest morale I’ve seen in 17 years, the fact that phenomenal teachers are seriously looking into other career options, many who, out of fear of a low HEDI score, are turning to packets, workbooks, and constant test prep for the sake of a high score, and the fact that the atmosphere is incredibly morbid leading up to and especially during the assessments. We also talked about how little there is to gain, educationally (of course there’s plenty of scandal to gain!), from the test score that is just that, a number, with NO OPPORTUNITY for diagnostic information from them nor item analysis since the tests are never seen again, we are forbidden (by the state) to talk about or share information about them, and there is never a chance to have a clear explanation of how the scores were arrived at. But, our largest portion of the interview was about the kids......
Ah, the kids...we quickly turned the conversation to them, after all they're the reason we’re here. Interviewer asked us about how these tests impact our relationships with the kids...this hit a nerve, so I unloaded. Strong relationships are built on trust...trust that my kids can take a risk and know that they are safe to make a mistake because that is an opportunity to learn, trust that no matter the depth or complexity of a learning path they take that I will be there to swoop down and help them to develop strategies to recover and move forward, trust that there is NO dumb question and we can always find an answer, trust that I am on their team and their side NO MATTER WHAT, trust that they can take a chance and believe that they won’t fail because everything they do is another opportunity to learn.
As a professor once told me, “Trust is like a house of cards. It takes patience, hard work, and perseverance to build, but it can be easily destroyed, in a short time, if not cared for”. I spent hours, days, WEEKS building trust with my kids and with one felled swoop, the assessments shattered that house of cards that took weeks more to try to rebuild. When interviewer looked at me curiously I told her to imagine being just 8 and telling your teacher that for every question that had four answers you KNEW three were wrong, you were likely to choose one of those, and you couldn't get any help for success – yep, direct quote from one of my kiddos. In that moment, I let him down because I felt I was bound and gagged against my best judgment. Imagine being 8, under immense pressure, struggling to make sense of something that is developmentally inappropriate and that same person who promised that you could trust her can no longer help, can no longer give you strategies, can no longer encourage you to look at a certain thing a bit more closely, can no longer promise you that you won't fail. It’s gone. I let them down, the trust was shattered....and I had no choice.
When do we put our foot down and decide that we will NOT do test prep, but will instead do “life prep” and provide rigor every day? When do we decide that WE are the trained professionals who know what’s best for kids? When do we stand up against government that is trying to convince the public that all schools are failing?
When do we, teachers AND parents, stand up? When do we, teachers AND parents, question and push back at the state level? When do we begin to demand answers about these tests?
And when......do we decide that enough is enough and realize that what we do every day, day in and day out, each hour, each minute, impacts young lives and self-confidence – FOREVER.