I'm reading this article in the teaching magazine that is, for some reason, sent to me. It's a fascinating read and really helps me to try to put things in context as the vast anger that I feel for the semi-governmental, semi-aristocratic business that I work for tries to get us inspired to test kids boils over. (Geez, did that sentence make sense?) What I mean to say is: it's testing time again! This year I've decided to make a conscious effort not to make any of the self-deprecating teacher-jokes that I felt myself slipping into last year. (Sample: "I know this is your favorite time of the year!" with a heavy emphasis on the sarcastic tone.) I guess I just figured, why fake-joke with them when I have a relationship that is authentic enough that I feel I can be honest? So I sat down with my students today and told them that yes, testing was coming up. Yes, it's boring. Yes, it can be a drag. But, especially now that this test is linked with Driver's Licenses in our state (a fantastic ruling, if you care for the two cents), they have to take the test, they want to do well on the test, so they might as well try their hardest. I don't know (and won't for a long time, maybe ever) if my words this year made a better difference than they have in the past, but I felt more authentic saying them, and I felt that I could live with myself a little bit easier.
Regardless, back to the article. The main things that I'm impressed by in this piece is the idea that this has all happened before. It's an idea that, certainly, I hear echoed by some of the older teachers in the school often enough, but it's reassuring to see that idea backed up by some kind of evidence. (Some of the quotes in the piece pull from writing done in the 1890s!) I think a lot of the times, in insular communities, such as the teaching profession, passion can get in the way, because people allow their feelings to reign free over their logic. Thus, my words to my students today served twofold: not only to try to be more honest with them, but also to practice what I preach; it does no good to stress out and let these processes completely ruin my educational experience. There were tests I had to take when I was in school, there will be tests when my students' children are in school. Instead of being so frustrated by them that we (as educators) allow them to completely derail our day, our teaching, our plans, etc. it's a simple (and surprisingly easy, in my experience today) adjustment to try to follow my Mom's advice to me as a child: Don't sweat the small stuff.*
*Meanwhile, I do feel the need to add as a post-script that there are several huge things happening in the educational field right now. Just as much as it's not worth sweating the small stuff, I feel that we have an essentially moral obligation to try to make the big things better. And certainly, I don't want my cheery outlook (for now) on the subject of testing to make it seems as though I think everything is coming up roses.
There are problems that need fixing.
But before we rush in with guns blazing claiming that we have the one, true, right answer to educational reform (revolution!) it's worth the time we take to seriously and slowly examine why we are making such bold claims and what is truly wrong with the system as it's composed today.