Thursday, April 23, 2015

What Makes it Worth It All

There are certain days where I become incredibly frustrated with teaching and question why I am a teacher. On those days, I consider the possibility of leaving behind the profession and of pursuing another career. Yesterday was one of those day for me.

Yesterday, my students had to take the district's post-test Student Learning Objectives/Outcomes (SLO) assessment in Latin. If you are familiar with SLOs, in this age of data-driven, results-based education, you know that they are a part of the educational movement which says that actions of a student must be "observable, measurable, and demonstrated." As a result of Race to the Top, students in Georgia must now take a standardized pre-test in August and then again a post-test at the end of April in order to measure "progress". In order to prevent students from just "christmas-treeing" the post test, their score counts as 2% of their overall grade.

The SLO for Latin 1 consisted of 30 reading comprehension questions based on a passage, while Latin 2 and above had to read a number of passages. The problem, however, was that the passages were incredibly vocabulary-driven and in most of cases, they did not even reflect any of the vocabulary which students had acquired during the year or anything which I had done this year. My students were panicking and were completely demoralized as they took their SLOs. During the adminstration of the SLO, what else could I say but "Remember this is all about progress - do not focus on the grade or how many you get correct," but I felt like a fraud every time I said it.

By the end of yesterday, I was completely demoralized. I was:
  • angry, because I felt completely disrepected as a teacher. Am I not a professional who can be trusted to do my job and to teach students? Why is it necessary for students to take a standardized assessment to prove my efficacy? 
  • saddened, because if these SLOs were going to serve as one of the data measures of how effective I am as a teacher, then based on this faulty SLO, it looked like I have not been doing my job this whole year.
  • resentful, because even though the purpose of the post-test was to show progress from August, it was still being recorded as a grade. If a student were to score a 65% on the post-test (up from a 20% on the pre-test), that does indeed demonstrate tremendous progress, but it is still entered into the gradebook as a 65%. Granted it is only 2% of students' overall grade, how do I explain that to concerned parents?
  • guilty, because I had helped to create my district's SLOs for Latin. When our committee was writing the SLOs, these passages looked like they would be great measures to demonstrate progress. How had we missed it at the time? Now I will have to face my fellow Latin teachers in my district and explain to them that even though we had the best of intentions, we had gotten it wrong. An apology is necessary, but will it seem empty to them, since the damage has already been done? I also felt like I had to apologize to my students.
Yesterday, I was ready to leave it all behind. And then today happened. 

Since my classes were having a test tomorrow, we played a review game, and we had SO much fun. The game itself was nothing special, but for some reason, I felt totally "on" and was "in the zone" - my gregarious personality suddenly took over, which surprised me, considering how defeated I had felt the day before. As a result, students were totally engaged in what we were doing and with me. I felt such a strong connection with them; in fact, in one of my classes, a student said something truly funny, and I ended up laughing so hard that I cried in front of them and could not stop laughing, which in turn somehow created a bond with the class. As a student put it, "Wow, I have never seen you laugh so hard before - that's really cool. My other teachers would never do something like that."   

Is this not what teaching is all about? Not so much about the subject matter, but rather the relationships which we foster with students? The subject matter seems so incidental compared to this privilege: Yes, as their teacher, I am part of students' lives, but I forget so many times that they are a part of mine. 

In her blog, Martina Bex says it best:
“The ‘heart’ of CI is the teacher-student relationship. We strive to build this by making the students the center of instruction – both content and delivery…It is a time when the teacher asks questions that include the target structures to the students about their lives. For example, questions for the target structure “went” might be “Who went somewhere interesting last summer?” Then, their answers are discussed, and expanded PQA makes a lesson compelling, because students’ favorite topic of discussion is themselves!”
It saddens me that this overemphasis on standardized assessments and data/results is driving teachers away from the profession. Who knows - maybe it will one day drive me from the classroom. But for now, I need to hold onto days like today to remind me why I teach.

1 comment:

  1. Here are my three strategies to avoid burnout:

    On days when my students are irritating me (it happens), I delve into lesson planning. The mechanics of creating a great lesson often lifts me out of that funk.

    On days when my profession irritates me, I dedicate myself to exploring the cultures that originally got me into the profession. Not lesson planning, just reading and exploring as if I were still a student.

    On days when I am bored with exploring those cultures, I dedicate myself to getting to know my students better.

    One of these strategies has always helped me through tough moments to appreciate the opportunities of this great profession.