I’ve been doing this job for 16 years. I’ll start round 17 in the next week. I’ve had a lot of time to practice my craft. Some things work great, sometimes you fall flat on your face. Through all of those years, you develop your style, learn about what works well for kids, how to motivate them, and in general, how to be an effective teacher. I tend to do a fair amount of self-reflection and actively try to learn from my colleagues. I don’t think I’m off-base, or full-of-myself when I say I’m a pretty good teacher and I am good at my job. I know what I’m doing. I know how to relate to kids. I care about their success and always try to help them learn and become the young adults that are beginning to emerge.
We’re at the end of the first semester. Tuesday is a grading day. I’ve already done a lot of grading so I can see how they’ll turn out. Not so hot.
So what’s different about the last quarter? I’ve been doing what the district wants me to do. We have these “data teams” and we meet each day. Part of our charge is to do these pre and post tests and measure the growth in student progress. We’re supposed to focus on the high priority benchmarks of the standards. Well, we did. We spent two weeks on Linear Programming, with a pre and post test. Most of the rest of the quarter was spent on the chapter about quadratics (parabolas).
We did our pre test on linear programming and found out what we already knew… They didn’t have a clue about it. We taught all of our stuff, dragging it out for a few weeks and then tested them. What happened? The kids that pay attention and do their work, did just fine and learned a fair amount. The kids that screw around and generally don’t care, bombed it. Not exactly shockingly surprising data…
For the chapter on quadratics we decided to do our pre test after we had taught the basics. We thought that would help us figure out how to proceed. We were so depressed with the results, all we could do was jokingly talk about playing pin the vertex on the parabola – without a blindfold. The most basic information that we had been teaching for a few weeks, seemed to have gone in one ear and out the other. To top it off, this “test” frustrated my students. The format was different from the problems that we had been doing and they had trouble adjusting. Granted, they should be able to transfer their knowledge and go between formats. But they weren’t ready for that yet and it just made them dig in their heels.
After that, I took it upon myself to teach the vertex form of a parabola and solving quadratics by completing the square, and testing them on that small amount of material. This is similar to what I’ve done in the past. Guess what? They did quite well and felt good about what they had done. They now had a test score that helped their grade. We moved onto the quadratic formula and more complex factoring. My choice would have been to give them a test on those two topics. But we were coming to the end of the quarter and we had to do our post test for our data team.
The test covered everything that I had taught them about quadratics. Granted, some of it had been before Winter break. But we had gone over multiple forms of quadratics and how to solve them and how all of the parts we learned related to one another. The test was made up of some of the exact same problems on the pre-test. Can you guess what happened? The kids that pay attention and do their work, did just fine and learned a fair amount. The kids that screw around and generally don’t care, bombed it. Shocker, huh? And yes, I did just copy and paste from 3 paragraphs up…
So now I’m sitting in the situation of way more kids failing than normally would, had I been able to do it my way. The kids that care are going to pass, no matter how you create your class and present the material. But the knuckleheads that don’t give a shit? They have different needs and there are a fair amount of them. I can get them to succeed when I give them manageable amounts of material and present it in a way where they can feel successful and want to do well. What we did with the data team process did not serve them. And now they’ll have to make up a credit through summer school or some alternative learning program.
Why is it that the higher-ups in education think that you can treat every kid as if they are the same? Every kid is different and has unique experiences, talents and challenges. As the teacher, I get to know them as individuals and learn about them and how to best meet their needs. I would love it if I was allowed to do what I’ve been trained to do and have excelled at for years. But now, it’s just a frustrating mess.