FRANK TALK ABOUT WHAT WE DO WITH OUR LIVES

Entry #14 (2013)

“Bring us into your world. What is something about your work (past or present) that outsiders typically don’t understand? It can be something required by the job, something that happens on the job, something you feel about the job—but whatever it is, do not exceed 800 words.

A Teacher’s Frustration 

As I rushed my students out the door one spring afternoon, after completing yet another round of testing to prepare for upcoming parent conferences, I barely heard a student say, “Mrs. Adams, I have something to tell you.” Trying to get out the door on time so as not to hold up the pick-up line, I quickly asked him what it was, to which he replied, “I can tie my shoes now.” In the flurry of backpacks, kids scuttling off to their various pick-up locations, and my general worry about getting everybody else up to the front of the school on time, I gave a quick, “That’s great” and hurried everyone on their way. It wasn’t until we were halfway up the hallway that I realized what a big deal this was for this particular first grade student. This six-year-old boy who had been working so very hard for so very long to tie his shoes. He had, in fact, been working on it since the first day of school. Too late; the moment was gone. A moment that I can never get back again, a moment for which I should have made a much bigger deal than my pitiful cursory response, a moment I felt bad about for a very long time.

In the days leading up to conferences there is simply too much going on. Testing, grading, getting the grades in the computer on time for the school district to do who knows what with; all of these things were weighing heavily on my mind on this particular afternoon as I hurried everyone out the door. Oh, how I wish I had that moment back. How I wish I could have gathered the class for a quick cheer of acknowledgement for our classmate’s wonderful new accomplishment. Unfortunately, this was not the only moment during that fateful spring that I wish I could have back.

I wish to have back the moment when I noticed a student with tears streaming down his face because he was afraid he was giving me the wrong answer on yet another test. I wish for the moment back when I gazed out at 24 sets of eyes looking at me like they couldn’t take another moment with a pencil in their hands answering yet another question that, let’s be honest, has no real bearing on what they have learned. I wish to have back the moment when a student put her head on her desk and said, “This is too hard.” (I also wish for the time back that it takes to grade all these tests, put them into a computer system that will cause no end of frustration because there will be so many glitches that conferences are over and done with by the time they are all figured out, and then meet with my grade level to discuss these invalid results and ask ourselves once again, “What are we doing to these kids?”)

I go back and forth between being angry at the system that places accountability above all else, sad for the kids who are being so over tested that it borders on the absurd, and completely dumbfounded that this continues year after year. But mostly, I am frustrated. Frustrated that we continue to let this happen, frustrated with the people who have come up with this ridiculous system of testing, frustrated because these so-called experts are so far removed from working with actual children in actual classrooms that they have completely lost sight of what really matters when educating a child, and frustrated with myself for sitting back and letting it happen. I don’t know what the answer is; I wish I did, but truly I don’t. I realize that some amount of testing is necessary, of course it is, but the system we have now is just wrong. It’s wrong for kids, it’s wrong for teachers, it’s just plain wrong. What is right though, is for me to begin each and every day anew, with a vow to listen closely when a child says, “I have something to tell you”, and a vow to try and figure out a way to change the status quo. I owe at least that much to my students. In fact, we all owe at least that much to every child in our lives.

***

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  1. In the aftermath of politically-motivated policies like ‘No Child Left Behind’, those responsible for implementation have been left behind holding the bag – and it’s getting heavy. Similar to the politically-motivated ‘War On Drugs’ which has had dubious results, NCLB spawned unbelievable burdens for schools, teachers and students to bear.
    Our writer is rightfully frustrated. Her empathy, however, will triumph in the end as she finds some way to cope. Those eyes looking back from all those desks count on that.

  2. As a parent with two kids in school, I see this each and every day. It’s frustrating and I’m not even in your position………here’s a “virtual” pat on the back. Thank you for continuing to care.

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