I hate testing, especially when it screws up an already loathsome schedule.
On Wednesday I spent 2 1/2 hours with a math class full of students I’ve never taught before. “We” chose to test all math classes in one day, and all social studies on Thursday. So for nearly three hours I entertained 28 13-year olds who I have never seen in my life. This meant that my Civics students were scattered among other 8th grade teachers, and some of them were with the other Civics teacher.
During our last class, it was brought to my attention that he gave them a copy of the midterm study guide that he used with his class. How nice. The only problem is that it’s a copy of the actual midterm. He typed out the answers to a district-level test and gave that to all of his classes as a study guide. All they have to do is memorize that piece of paper and bubble in the correct responses and they’ll get a high score.
Meanwhile, I’ve been busting my ass to create engaging, unique, cognitively appropriate, and standards-based lessons for my classes. We simulated, organized, matched, classified, researched, wrote, and presented material in exciting ways. I challenged them to do more than memorize a list of answers – I actually wanted them to think about what they were learning.
Now, two days before their midterm, I am realizing that when my test scores are compared to those of my counterpart, we’re not really comparing the same amount of effort. We’re comparing his students’ ability to memorize a set of answers with my students’ ability to think. And it pisses me off.
During 3rd core, one of my students brought all of this to my attention. “He gave us a study guide, and let us buy candy, and then he let us play games.”
“Good for him,” I thought. And as I busted up another pair of students who were cheating, I realized that sometimes it’s not the kids who are to blame for such poor habits.
When I got home that evening I shared my frustrations with my husband and my dog. We agreed that this incident is an example of cheating, that it’s not fair to my students or to me, but that my options for action are limited. I am entrenched in an environment of numbers, and it has been made clear to me more than any other year of my short teaching career that we are all accountable to someone else for our students’ test scores. With all of this information weighing on my mind, I still had no solution at 3:45 AM.
As I made my way down what now seemed like the darkest hallway in America this morning, I put my things in my classroom and stepped into the neighboring math teacher’s room. She is a true veteran – nearly 30 years of classroom experience, and she returned to school a week after having a stroke while teaching in November. I wrote about her in this post.
“I need to tell you about something, because you’ll know what to do,” I began.
“Spit it out girl. Whatever it is, get it out of your system.”
I explained the situation. She shook her head and smiled, knowingly. Here’s what she told me:
“You need to conduct yourself so that you can go home every day and still be able to look yourself in the mirror. If you have to take shortcuts like that in the classroom, then you haven’t done your job as a teacher. I tell my students every day when they come in here that I can lead ’em to the water, but I can’t make ’em drink the water. We do everything in our power to help these kids, but we can only work with what they give us. Hell, even Jesus had two loaves to work with, I’ve got nothin’ when they walk through my door. God made man from dirt – at least he had dirt. You hold your head up and keep doing what you’re doing. It’s not fair because it makes you look bad when the scores come out. If you feel like you should tell someone, then go tell, but there aren’t many people here who will care. You’re at the beginning of your career, and this is where you start to get your feet wet.”
You have no idea how encouraging it was to hear someone tell me, “you’re right, they’re wrong.” I hardly even cared what came after that. She was right about everything – no one at that school will care, I do excellent things in my classroom, and none of it is fair.
As I left this afternoon, I passed my administrator. She was on her way into a meeting, but stopped long enough to offer these words:
“Are we gonna score big tomorrow on that midterm?”