Thursday, April 18, 2013

What Is Right

Let me begin by saying I am a proponent of standardized assessments, if they are well-constructed and used for a well-defined educational benefit.  I am also a policy follower and have always looked to the written rules to determine outcomes.  I am also an advocate. 
During the past few days I have placed our students through the rigors of the NYS ELA Assessment, with every security measure in place to ensure test integrity.  I have watched in amazement as many of our children have worked to the very last minute of the required time period.  I am proud of them.  Children with diagnosed reading disabilities, having the right to extended time, sitting for two or almost three hours per day working diligently to produce the desired results.  They want to succeed.  They want to please.  They want to do their best.  They feel defeated, berated, and embarrassed.  Through tears, an 8th grader questioned, “Why does New York State want us to fail?” 
In my professional practice, I encourage reflection.  The question from this 8th grader caused me a great deal of pain as I ruminated.  I have no reply for this child. 
Many of my teacher’s reflect through writing.  I would like to share the reflections of a professional who works in my building.
We were told to prepare ourselves to fall in love. We did immediately, with his remarkable embracement of the privilege to receive an education, his unrelenting passion for learning, his intelligence, his profound integrity, his gentle and generous soul. This is the experience one receives being in his presence each day at school.
This is his experience at home. Both parents are in prison; his step-father is on house arrest and wears an ankle monitor. He awakes each morning at 4 a.m. in order to board the bus on time, no one seeing him off, traveling two hours to school each morning. His medication for severe anxiety leaves him sleepless most nights, arriving at school a bit tired, although happy, grateful and ready to grasp the day.
In addition to a grade level team that would love to clone him, he relies on a teaching assistant to be his teacher, counselor, surrogate mother, confidante and cheerleader. Through everyone’s efforts, his self-esteem has been built up to a point where one can now get a glimmer of what he indeed believes to be true: that he is good, he is worthy and he is intelligent. That was yesterday.
This is today. His self-worth plummeted. His previous feelings of self-doubt surfaced and turned quickly to self-loathing, resulting in rapid self-destruction. He sat at his desk, angry tears streaming down his face, fists clenching and unclenching his pencil and eraser, unable to go on. He was unsure of what to do, but sure he was a failure. School, the very environment he has come to love and trust, duped him. He no longer trusts. We told him how smart he is…you told him he is stupid. You entered his life for a mere three days, and in that short time had the ability to diminish him to the shell of a child he once was. That is what you did today.
This is what is going to happen tomorrow. We will take his defeated spirit, his tormented soul, and begin, once again, to build him back up. We will attend to his fragile mind and his broken spirit. We will give him the education that he longs for. We will give him the loving attention he deserves. We will tell him he is smart and capable. We will once again hold up the mirror of goodness and greatness so he can see, once again in himself, all we have been telling him to be true…he is good, he is worthy and he is intelligent.
We cannot begin today though; we will begin rebuilding tomorrow, as we will have to wait for today to be a distant memory for him, so he can love and trust us once more.
This reflection expresses the personal struggles of our students as well as our professionals.  My educators want to do what is required, but they also know what is educationally and pedagogically right.  We need to listen to these highly trained professional educators.  This week, I have been a witness to situations where the teacher has felt completely helpless as they watch a child distance themselves from school.  There is no joy or love of learning today.  Intrinsic motivation?  Gone.  Interestingly, there have been no questions from teachers about APPR or evaluations this week; it’s not about that.  It’s about our children and the teachers are crying, too. 
The current era of test-obsession has brought about another damaging dynamic which is played out between home and school.   Test refusals and parents “opting out” of the exam has placed our collaboration at odds.  Our families who are encouraging their children to refuse the exams are not wing-nuts, but rather highly educated professionals.  They don’t want to be arguing with the school, but system has left them no choice.  We need to listen to the concerns of our families.
The conflicting feelings are felt by all.  We want to follow the rules – and we will.  We want to encourage our children – and we have.  We want something better – and we must.  
I will complete my thoughts for today with a (non-fiction) story about a teacher who journal writes with her students.  Among the many wonderful student reflections gathered after the state assessments there was one particularly insightful child whose words were a simple quote from Albert Einstein, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” 
I hope your weekend brings much rest and restoration.