When I was in my mid 20’s I made the decision to become a teacher. I had already worked hard to earn my degree in Speech Pathology and Audiology but once I had that diploma in my hand I just felt like I needed to take a different path. So, back to school I went for two more years… and when my Masters courses in education were finally completed I was extremely excited! I couldn’t wait to have my own classroom full of kids and to create my own lesson plans.
My first teaching position was in the West Palm Beach area in a Title One school (which means that almost all of the kids were on free or reduced lunch), in other words, this was a struggling school in every way imaginable… school building surrounded by projects, guns, drugs, violence, you name it, but the kids were precious! I taught at Lincoln Elementary for 6 years and even in those 6 short years I could see the writing on the wall… the standardized testing monster had been birthed, hence the stress and the underlying fear right along with it.
My husband and I were planning to make a move to the Tampa Bay area and as life’s magic would have it, I was offered an interview opportunity for a training/coaching/consulting position with a non-profit foundation connected to Johns Hopkins University. I flew up to Baltimore and spent the day interviewing and speaking with multiple people. I was shown around the home office, taken to lunch and in the end, offered the job as a school improvement consultant!
So for the next 18 years I traveled the country… everywhere from the hollers of southeastern Kentucky, to the Parish schools of New Orleans, to the four boroughs of NYC to the Big Sky country of northern Montana. Just to name a few… And while I’ve always felt like I’ve been able to make a difference, I eventually began to feel like I was becoming part of the problem rather than the solution…
Over the course of my career I’ve seen the education pendulum swing dysfunctionally far to the assessment side. We all can agree that assessments are good in that they do well to measure progress so that we know where to support and how to give helpful feedback to students but the assessments themselves are not the problem. A major ethical dilemma of classroom assessments is the distinction between standards-based assessments and growth-based assessments. Most districts require standards-based assessments in which all students are assessed on their ability to achieve specific learning benchmarks. However, teachers often believe that students should instead be assessed based on their growth from the beginning of a lesson to the end, regardless of whether the student achieved the specific benchmark or not. Because all students begin at different levels of ability, some scholars believe it is not equitable to require all students to achieve the same level of skill at the end of the year. I feel the same way.
But what I’ve seen and see now is teachers, kids and parents basically running scared. The system has gone political and become power hungry and it’s all under-girded by FEAR.
This moral dilemma created in me the absolute worst emotional pain I’ve ever experienced. What was I going to do? I knew I didn’t want to go back into the classroom, it would be worse than what I was doing as a consultant. I thought about going into sales and marketing but couldn’t find the right niche. I absolutely LOVE kids and I was born to be a teacher, and I’m an expert in the area of reading so I decided to do my own thing and work as a reading tutor/specialist. The best of all worlds because I’m OUT of the politics of education…the MACHINE so to speak, but I still get to work with kids and teach what I love the most.
I will NEVER say there’s nothing that can be done. If we all believed this to be true then nothing would ever be done. So it starts with you and it starts with me and if each of us does our own small part we WILL affect some change.
*Update: I’ve recently been hired (as of January 2015) to help rewrite the curriculum for a small private school in the Orlando area. This little school has a vision for creating a magical place that will allow for experiential, hands-on, meaningful and purposeful learning. A place that understands each and every one of it’s individual students and while integrating academic basics as well as the arts, will strive to meet all students’ individual needs as precious human beings. A place that encourages kids to love learning and themselves enough so that they never fear following their heart and pursuing their dreams…