Teachers are tired and stressed! And it stresses me that there’s nothing I can do about it. Isn’t there something that can be done?
For the most part I really like and support the Common Core mathematics standards. But how can teachers provide the new rigorous curriculum in ways that are most effective when they are having to stop every 4 or 5 days to give some kind of test? No, I’m not talking about a ‘test’ on the unit they may be teaching. I’m talking about the benchmark tests, the Writing test, the mock Writing test, the CRCTs, the mock CRCTs, pre tests, post tests, screening and monitoring tests, STAR tests, etc. These are just the ones I know of and it makes me tense just typing them. I’ve been told by numerous teachers that they give some form of mandatory testing about 40 days in the school year! If students go to school 180 days then they spend almost 25% of their ‘learning’ time testing.
Why are students being tested so much? Because someone somewhere decided that all students should score at a certain level on a certain test on a certain day, regardless of anything else that may influence their results. Are you kidding me? What if her parents got into a fight that morning? What if he had to stay up late to take care of his little sister because his mom was working until midnight? What if she freezes up on tests simply because that’s all she’s heard about since the first day of school? What if his mother is fighting breast cancer? What if she has attention problems and needs to regroup every 20 minutes but must remain still and quiet for an hour straight? What if he was born at 24 weeks instead of 39 weeks? What if she was already 3 years behind before she got to this class? What if he didn’t have anything to eat for dinner last night and got to school too late to eat breakfast? My niece almost chewed a hole in her mouth the week of testing her last year in public school – all because of one test that someone thought should be the be all and end all of education!!
Some of you may be cheering while others of you may be thinking “Doesn’t she believe that all children can learn mathematics?” Duh, of course I believe ALL students can learn mathematics – but not the exact same amount at the exact same time of every other child their age. How many adults can do that? What made someone who ‘can’t teach’ powerful enough to ‘pass laws about teaching’? We’re creating students who hate school as early as 6 years old simply because they feel and suffer the stress that the teachers feel and suffer. Five year-olds are not even taking naps in kindergarten any more. Did you all know that? When I was five kindergarten was an option. Now if a child doesn’t go to preschool for at least one year, they are considered behind when they enter kindergarten. How can a child – a kid – be behind academically at five years old?! Something is wrong with our priorities in this country. Why not let children climb trees, ride their bicycles, play imaginary things like baby dolls or cops and robbers, play on swing sets in the backyard, play football with the neighbor kids? Instead they’re spending 8 hours a day from the time they are 3 in most cases in some form of organized learning.
So, how does all of this affect teachers? Teachers are being judged on their performance based on how their students do on the one test on that one special day. I know what the ‘guidelines’ say. Student performance is only a portion of a teacher’s performance report. Yet teachers are being treated as if these scores are the only thing that matters. They are given pacing guides (often written by someone who doesn’t understand the content) that they must stay within at least a day or two. This truly doesn’t make any sense. Many schools group students based on their levels of performance – low (special ed, EIP, etc); high (gifted, over achievers); and regular (the leftovers) – regardless of what the research says about grouping. But that’s the topic of another blog later. How can a teacher with all of the ‘lower performing’ students in one classroom possibly stay at the same place on the same pacing guide with the other classrooms? They can’t. But they’re still expected to.
And all of that is just the pressure of testing. Teachers are also expected to CYA. If you don’t know what the acronym stands for ask a teacher. If their students don’t score well on a benchmark test (again often written by someone who doesn’t understand the content), they have to complete documents justifying why and a plan for what the teacher is going to do to get that student(s) caught up. In most instances they have to do their own scoring of all of these tests I mentioned earlier. They have to fill out paperwork for all of their students with an IEP or a 504 plan (my number may be wrong). They have to make accommodations for all students who legally require one.
Teachers have to be at work 8.5 hours a day 5 days a week. I know what non teachers think – “yeah but they only have to do it for 190 days.” Bull! Actually for the last couple of years they had to do the same amount of everything in even less days because they were furloughed. Furlough to a teacher just means “work without pay”. Rarely are teachers ONLY at school for 8.5 hours a day. Many come to school an hour early because that’s the only time they can get things accomplished. Even more stay late – for tutoring (without extra pay), for IEP meetings, for RTI meetings, for faculty meetings, for parent teacher conferences. And then on some of these days they are expected to come back to school at 6 for a PTO meeting, or open house, or academic night, or math bowl, or fall festival, or some club or sport that they have been bullied into leading. Then what used to be called “work days” when I was a student are now called “professional development” days. This means that teachers are supposed to be in some kind of class in which they are learning ways become a better teacher – when all they really want is time to change a bulletin board or type up those standards they are required to post, or clean the student desks because many schools don’t even have someone who keeps students’ desks or the board clean. AND most of them work during those 11 weeks of summer ‘vacation’, fall ‘vacation’, Christmas ‘vacation’, Spring ‘vacation’ getting their rooms ready for fall, grading papers, writing lessons, etc.
Now because of the wonderful world of technology they get emails all day long from their administrators, system leaders, grade level chairs, subject lead teachers, content coaches, or parents. Probably only 5% of those emails are positive and thanking the teachers for what they are doing or have done. Most of them include reminders of something that they must do, or complete, or turn in, or go to. Parents complain about what the teacher is not doing for their child, or because they got a note home that was worded in a way that they found offensive.
In order for any teacher to successfully do ALL that is expected of them they would no more than 12 children in their classroom. Yet, due to financial constraints their classroom sizes are becoming unbelievably large.
Are you tired and stressed yet? I am. I can guarantee you that my blood pressure is higher now than when I first started this blog. Have you noticed that nowhere have I mentioned that these teachers are parents of their own, have aging parents they are taking care of, do volunteer work, go to graduate school, have health problems (mostly caused by stress), are single parents who are working a second job because they aren’t getting enough child support and make too much to get government assistance, are active church members, or Lord forbid – have a hobby?
I guess this all explains why I have seen 6 teachers cry in the past week. Most teachers have not even been able to finish reading this post because they simply don’t have enough time. So that means that those of you who had the time to stick with it needs to figure out what we can do as a nation to change things.
Yet, as an individual there is something you can do. Love and appreciate teachers. Tell them thank you. Show them kindness. Send them cards. Consider what their day may have been like before you criticize something that they have written or said. Pray for them.
(Disclaimer: I realize that everything I have written will not be considered politically correct by some. Sorry.)