Most people know I am a fan of the Common Core Standards. I like that children build on what they learn. I appreciate that in our mobile society children can move frequently without worrying about gaps in knowledge. I love that national standards have created a nation of teachers working together to share best practices, made possible because they have the same goals and objectives. I could go on and on. But, this post is about testing and my concerns with it. I think it is great to have hard data to see how children progress and as one part of how teachers are assessed. I think testing helps to identify holes in learning and ensure that schools are doing their jobs. But, I strongly believe that is it one small part of what makes a teacher effective. When I taught there was great emphasis on test scores and I was proud of the progress my team made. Our kids did great on the tests and it made us feel wonderful. But, with a few years between my last public school teaching job and my current situation, I realize that my proudest moments had nothing to do with test scores. This is a list of my proudest moments and I have a feeling most teachers have similar (better) lists.
- “Summer” was one of my favorite seventh graders but he often got in horrible fights. One day the principal asked me to step into the hall for a quick discussion. When I went back in, “Summer” was punching another kid in the face. The principal hauled him off for some serious disciplinary action. When I talked to him later he said he was mad because the kid, like many others, called him “Summer” to describe his teeth. “Sum ‘er here and sum ‘er there.” His teeth were in horrible shape. I worked long and hard with the nurse to find a dentist who would give him braces for free. He was thrilled and his behavior completely changed.
- One sixth grader was living in the back of her van with her pot-smoking mother. She had significant behavior problems but always kept her grades up. As her teacher, I tried to be her advocate and I took her out to dinner regularly and then attended her family counseling sessions to make sure the family and the school had similar goals for her. She’s now in medical school. That isn’t thanks to me, but because of years of teachers who loved her and helped her and I’m proud to be one of them.
- “A” started crying during our American History unit on the Holocaust. “Why,” she asked me, “do you never mention the horrors that happened in Ukraine.” She was Ukrainian and her family had lost many family members during the war. We dropped everything and spent two days on collectivization and the Ukrainian holocaust despite their market absence from the standards (and tests).
- When I had middle school children with disciplinary issues in the mid morning, I gave them granola bars and apples. Some children don’t get breakfast in the morning.
- Some of my middle school children had disciplinary problems. I would take the class outside for a five minute racing break. Then, anyone who wanted to race me could. Kids would lose a bit of the energy and return to the classroom with more energy.
- One girl panicked with every change. One rainy day the gym teacher decided to hold class in the gym instead of playing softball outside as promised. She melted down and beat her head against the wall. I pushed to have her diagnosed so she would have an IEP and interventions to help her learn to navigate transitions. On Valentine’s Day she gave me a card she had specially picked out from the box. It had a picture of a duck and said, “Without you, I would have quacked up.” I still have that card.
- I worked with incredible teachers to create awesome and interactive lesson plans. Then, we shared those plans with other teachers.
- When “W” sobbed because her science teacher told her it wasn’t going to snow this year, we stopped class, pulled out white paper, and cut out our own snowflakes! We covered the window then sat on the floor and read books about snow. At the end of the year she gave me a gift certificate for two snow cones.
- I walked “L” home from school on the last day because her parents didn’t show up to get her. Halfway there she asked me how she could finish an art project that had been sent home without supplies. I realized her home didn’t have so much as a crayon and I marched her back to my classroom. I filled a bag with all my leftover supplies from a beginning of the year trip to the “Back to School” sales and gave them to her. My main regret is that I hadn’t given every child a bag of goodies for the summer.
- I did away with homework punishments. If a child didn’t finish their homework they could come to my classroom during lunch for treats and help finishing it. I didn’t have to punish kids anymore for not finishing their work when it was usually because they didn’t have support from parents. Those lunch homework sessions were often the best part of my day.
I have lots more things I could list but I think it is remarkable that my proudest moments are about connecting with kids, helping kids, listening to kids. I am proud of being a community member and a mentor. I’m proud of some of the lessons I taught and some of the scores my kids received. I worked really hard to teach concepts and skills and I thought that was my main goal at the time. I wasn’t perfect, there are many things I wish I had done better, of course. There are kids I wish I had helped a bit more. There are questions I wish I had asked. But, I did try hard and I did love teaching and I did love those kids. And, I think those kids remember the connections we made, but they probably don’t remember all the major events of World War II or how to diagram a sentence. What is most important and how do we assess that?