It is here: Testing, Assessment, and Evaluation Season.
It comes around every year. No one loves it, but it is a harsh reality that will probably not go away any time soon.
Students must be tested. Learning must be assessed. Teaching must be evaluated. How else will accountability happen in education? Right?
Why do I hear crickets after asking the question?
Oh yeah, no one wants to talk about it. Okay, so I won’t either. I just want to remind you about something.
You and your students are way more than just an assessment or evaluation result. The learning and growing that happens in your classroom can’t be measured by a standardized test and/or rubric.
The true measurement of what happened in the classroom can only be experienced. You have to know where the students were when they came to you in the beginning of the year…not just academically and according to standards, but also socially, emotionally, and ownership of learning. These things are hard to standardize…no, they are impossible to standardize.
So…DON’T LOSE HEART ABOUT TESTING AND EVALUATIONS!
I know there is a lot tied to them…but breathe. Relax. Remember that the true worth in what happens in your classroom is in the results of the growth that is clear in the students that leave your classroom at the end of the year.
You can’t control the assessment process, but you can control how you react to it.
Don’t put all of your stock in the assessments and evaluations. Instead, take stock of what has happened and the change you have seen in your students…even if it is just a little bit of change in some students, you can celebrate it! A win is a win.
Reflect on what you have seen in each student. Write it down. Point it out to them. Let them see the growth as you take time to see it, too. Make sure they know that this is the true measurement of learning in your class. This will help you and your students find a bit of joy here in the stressful season at the end of the year.
What have you seen and can celebrate?
A student who asks questions more?
Someone who follows instructions more often?
Homework being done a little more often?
Effort being put in where it wasn’t before?
Finishing work and not giving up?
An increase in success for some students?
Waiting more often and taking turns?
Someone who has stopped being mean to others?
The list could go on and on, but I think you get it.
You are an excellent and amazing teacher. I have no doubt you know how to measure the learning and change in your classroom. This is just a little nudge to get back to what you know and to find joy at the end of what has been a trying and tough year.
You have done a great job this year! Your students are changing. They are different students than came to you at the beginning. You are the one to thank for that! You have stuck it out with them. You have put in the effort and tears. You have done whatever it takes to see that change. Celebrate it. You really are an awesome teacher!
Don’t let the testing and evaluations get you bogged down. You and your students are more than scores. You are learners and learning HAS happened this year . You are the reason that it has…and this means that you rock!
Thank you for all you do! Keep on teaching, Teacher!
I really wanted to write to you this morning. I know that this has been a difficult and trying time for you. This time of the year usually is. I have been thinking and trying to come up with some way to remind you how awesome you are and encourage you to keep going and keep fighting…and I did.
It is time for something I haven’t done in a while – a theme song post. If you have never read one of my theme song posts, all you have to do is click play on the video and read. If you can’t read with music on, listen to the song and then read. Got it? Good! Let’s go!
Teacher…no one really knows but us what it is like. Teaching is one of the roughest roads that someone can choose to go down. It has a bright destination, but it sure can be a dark path sometimes. There is no sugar-coating it. Teaching is tough.
As teachers, we are fighting for the lives and futures of our students. That is no small thing. With just that, we are battling some pretty scary and menacing enemies.
On top of that, add the fact that we have “friendly enemies.” Well meaning people who are trying to make education better are making it quite difficult to do what we need to do to reach those minds in our classrooms.
And then there is the standardize testing…and I will just leave that without comment. Too much to say…
It can feel like the job of teacher is an impossible task…and it is…it is for anyone besides you.
Listen, Teacher, you were and are cut out for this. You are amazing!
In everything mentioned above, you keep going. You keep trying. You keep fighting. Because in your heart of hearts you know that you were made for this.
You are a fighter and this is your battle.
It can be a long, grueling skirmish…the enemies surround you…you feel alone in the fight…
But something clicks in for you. You remember who you are fighting for…and it is not for you. It is for people, young people, who can’t fight for themselves. This sparks something deep inside of you and gives you the will and strength to forge ahead.
This is who you are. These are your true colors.
Not everyone can see them, but I do. They are shining through…and they are shining brightest in the lives of your students now and tomorrow.
Those true colors are beautiful. Like a rainbow.
You are making a difference, Teacher! The stands you make are worth it. The time, energy, and tears are planting seeds in the minds of your students. And those seeds are growing!
Don’t lose heart, Teacher. Don’t give up. You are fighting a good fight. Keep on fighting and keep on teaching! You rock!
You are beat up and beat down. You are worn out. You are worn down. This has been one of the toughest and roughest years of your career.
You don’t know if you can do this anymore.
Somewhere in and through the stress of students, parents, administration, and the system, you have lost sight of why you are doing this. You don’t see the difference you intended to make. You can’t see the forest. You can’t see the trees. You only see dwindling patience, one more student that doesn’t have a pencil, and another email about lesson plans that you haven’t turned in yet.
You are at the end of your rope and it is becoming more and more tempting to just let go.
You are losing your grip.
While you contemplate how much the fall will hurt, can I just tell you something…well, a few somethings?
First thing that you need to know is that you are absolutely, one hundred and fifty percent not alone. More teachers feel this way this year than don’t, I think. It is a common thought and feeling.
Even if it doesn’t fee like it, other teachers are going through exactly what you are right now. Probably other teachers in your school…most likely the teacher in the room next door.
I know it is kind of messed up that a lot of teachers are in the same boat…but at least you don’t have to be alone in this.
And that is great, but what do we do about it?
We need to remember that the education system is not why we got into this business…we went through the trouble of becoming a teacher because we actually care about students and their future. The system is what is wearing us out, but the students are who are keep us in.
Unfortunately, we are bound by the system. How do we work within it to make the biggest difference in the lives of those learners in our classrooms?
I think it all comes down to spending a bit of time before each school day remembering why we teach. It means thinking about each student (or some of them each day, if you teach multiple classes). We have to remember that each of those souls are people and that we actually care about them and where they are going in life.
If we do that, it will lead us to think more carefully about our decisions in the classroom. We will be driven to take stands for what is best for students. We will fight for what is right. We will truly differentiate for each child and what they need from us.
As that happens, our teacher heart will start to beat again. We will find our passion again for teaching. We will be ready to change the world all over again.
I know this is all easier said than done, but I think it is time we start doing what we know needs to be done. I think it is time to be brave and bold…for our students good and for ours.
You are a TEACHER! You actually do know what you are doing most of the time. You know your students and care about their lives. You know how to make classroom decisions. You are courageous! You are strong! You are intelligent! You matter to the future of your students and you are making a difference!
Remember why you do what you do and that you are not alone in this. Be brave and do what needs to be done. You will be happier in the long-run because you are doing what are made for!
You are amazing! You are awesome! Thank you for all that you do! Remember that you can do anything for a year, and this year is almost done. You’ve got this! Don’t give up! Keep on persevering and keep on teaching, Teacher! You rock!
It is early in the year, but if you have been teaching for at least a year I bet you already know something about your class(es).
We all know that there is always “that one student” in your class that, well…you know who I’m talking about.
Have you found him/her yet? Have you identified that student that is going to make the year more, um, interesting?
I am not saying all of this to mean that there is always going to be a defiant student that you just can’t reach. I am just admitting the reality that there usually seems to be at least one student (or more than one) whom it will be more off a challenge to connect (and operate class with him/her in the room some days).
I am sure that we have all seen the meme, or some form of it, that tells us something that is probably true about this student.
I guess it may be kind of a cliched thought at this point, but it is nonetheless true. These students are probably fighting battles that we have no way of knowing. They are acting out in response to the reality that they know or as a way to gain control of their lives in some way. I think we all know this and may even know some of the child’s story.
How in the [choose your own word to go here] are we supposed to teach when that student is “looking for love in all the wrong places” and you have a classroom of other students who aren’t?
What is worse is that sometimes these students learn that if they do this often enough, they are in complete control and this feels good against the chaos backdrop of their lives . Things that feel good are often repeated. This repetition causes a different kind of chaos for you and your other students. Not to mention you have an ongoing problem that makes other teachers and administration question your classroom management skills.
Gee, thanks for reminding me what to look forward to…
Do not fret, I have something for you to try!
Okay, I am going to be honest, this idea is not my own, but I have stumbled upon pieces of it by accident almost every year that I have taught (this year will be number ten). The basis of it is simple, and I think it is something we all know intrinsically (however, it is so hard to practice sometimes).
The key to working with difficult students is what you do when there is no crisis.
If the only attention that these students get from you is when there is a classroom disruption or some kind of drama and these students are acting out as way to get the attention they crave…one plus one equals two…they are going to show out in your class. I can say that with as much certainty as I can say that the Sun shines during the day more than at night. It is not rocket surgery (yes, I know what I did there).
This means that they have to have attention from you unrelated to their behavior. Oh, and just praising the “good stuff” is not enough. That is still based on behavior. If they want attention and are used to getting it for negative things, the negative is easier for them to attain. If “being good” is a stretch from what is comfortable and they want the attention without working for it, get ready for negative behaviors that disrupt your class. It may be less often, but it will still happen.
No, you can’t base your connection with them on behavior (but praising the positive is still very, very important).
You have got to build a relationship with these students (and arguably all students) based on them being human people that deserve respect for who they are more than what they’ve done.
Let me be clear, I am not saying that we ignore behavior! No. Consequences for negative behaviors and praise for positive is also a needed aspect of humanity that will help children grow into better adults. Behavior is important! However, there is something that these students need that they aren’t getting much of…connection with adults based on who they are and not what they do. This type of attention will help them slowly learn to think through choices and pay attention, eventually, more to their behavior.
Connection in the most important attention that these students need.
All students need this type of attention. Most students get this type of attention at home, school, or elsewhere. A lot of times our most difficult students do not. They need it and don’t know it, and they are not getting it. They get attention (and control) the only way they know how…and sometimes this is unfortunately at the expense of your class time.
You know the need, so now how about a strategy for trying to meet it?
We have so much on our plates as teachers, how are we going to find time for individual students (that probably drive us up a wall most days)?
Little of the time should come during class time.
We all know those moments in the day we can use. Elementary teachers can build a minute or two into transition time (have the other students transition while you take a moment to talk to the one student). Middle School and High School teachers can use hallway transition times (or other times that can be built into class time…like the small transitions in class). Also, giving these students class jobs go a long way, too, and gives you time to talk.
How do you build the relationships during these little moments?
That is where the strategy I mentioned that is not my idea comes in…
The 2 x 10 Strategy
No, I am not suggesting that you use a large piece of lumber to help the student behave better! It is a strategy of using little moments with difficult students to help connect with them and give them that connection they need.
The 2 x 10 Strategy is something that was discussed by several teachers in the Encouraging Teachers Facebook group (this group only excepts new members a couple of times of year, but there are other groups like this on Facebook, as well). It was further explained by Angela Watson through a blog post that I highly recommend that you read for more details and discussion on this.
Simply put, the idea is that you talk to the student for two minutes a day for at least ten consecutive days in a row and let them talk about whatever they want for the whole time (with little input back from you…it is their time).
Too easy to be true?
Maybe…but think about it. It is likely that these students almost never get this kind of attention and conversation from adult in their lives (or anyone else). We crave this. This is why we have friends. This is why we spend time with family. This is a part of the reason we need a planning period…to connect with other people. It makes sense to think that students crave this, too, even if they don’t know it or how to vocalize it….so they get attention they way they know how…and we have already discussed that cycle!
This conversations are a way to cut the attention-seeking behavior short and help you build a lasting connection and rapport with students who may be wrecking class time from time-to-time, and instead they become one of your greatest allies in class.
I say it is worth a shot.
It is early in the year and there probably haven’t been major disruptions from these students yet. Why not give this strategy a try? What do you have to lose? This is your chance to try something different by teaching smaller to help all of your students succeed in your class. That is what you signed up to do, isn’t? This is your year to do it better than ever!
You really do make a difference and are an amazing teacher! I do believe that this will be the best year ever for you. Be awesome…and you are because you can’t help it! Keep going and keep on teaching, Teacher!
I don’t know how your summer is going, but I have had quite a week. I have had great family time, presented at a conference, and got a good jump on something I am planning for next year. Overall, it has been a pretty exceptional week…but there is a heavy cloud hanging over me that I don’t know if I will shake for a while.
I found out how my students did on the state tests at the end of the year.
Needless to say, the scores were less than stellar.
Even though I thought that last year, by far, was my best as a teacher, the scores were lower than I think they have been for me. Their are A LOT of factors in play here…more than there have ever been in a year of teaching for me…but I can’t help but feel like I failed my students a bit.
Something tells me I am not the only one in this boat. Even if you don’t have your results back yet, I know you might be bracing yourself for the worse.
For this reason, I think it is time for a theme-song post.
I love these types of posts, and they always help me to gain perspective, and I hope it is the same for you. For those new to this blog, click play, get past any ads that might be there, and then read on while the music plays. You may want to go back and listen to the song and watch the video again after reading…I think I found the perfect song for today.
Let’s just start where it probably hurts the most…STOP DOUBTING YOURSELF!
You are a great teacher…nay, an amazing teacher.
Do not let the test scores make you think anything else.
You are bold and brave, and you care for your students like few others do.
You and I took risks this year.
We banked on what we know about our students, what we have learned about the learning process, and tried some outside of the box strategies. Our kids were engaged.They were learning.They were becoming better students and better people.
We were courageous in one thing more than others. We had the audacity to do something that seemed crazy in the high-stakes testing era…we didn’t focus on the test…we focused on each student.
We got to know each child in our classroom. We tried to find their strengths and weaknesses. We tried to accommodate every child and their needs, with or without a piece of paper that requires us to. We differentiated. We helped students to learn how to process content on their own. We slowly gave the reigns of their learning over to them so that they could be responsible for learning.
We laughed with them.
We cried with them.
We helped them grow.
We watched them change throughout the year.
We know more about them than a test will ever show. We saw students go from not wanting to try to begging for a chance to prove themselves. We saw students who hated school become students who couldn’t wait for Monday to come when Friday was over. We saw children become students and members of our school communities. We saw growth on almost every level. We saw magic.
We also saw the hurt that our students experience in and out of school. We saw the difficulties that they face at home. We saw pain. We saw hunger. We saw low self-esteem. We saw challenges for children that we could not even imagine. And we helped our students succeed despite all of this and helped them start to see how they can rise above it. Yes, I need to say it again…we saw magic.
There is not a test made that can prove how our students went from kids barely ready for the grade that we teach to being ahead of the game for the grade they are going into next year. There is not a test that takes into account the students that may have had to sleep at a friend’s house the night before the test or in a motel room because of something going on at home. There is not a test that can show how students finally came alive at the end of the year after you working with them for 3 1/2 quarters before you saw any growth.
There is not a test that proves the magic that we saw.
So, we did not focus on a test that does not show students overcoming obstacles in their lives. We focused on the child. We believed in them. We helped them strive in situations where everything was stacked against them. We made magic happen…and that is hard to do while teaching to a test.
We made a conscientious decision to think about our students as more than numbers. We decided that we want the students to know how to learn on their own and not need us there to help them after they leave our room. We decided to take into account what they may me going through in life. We decided to dig in and not give up on students that gave up on themselves. We decided to believe in something bigger than ourselves and trust in the magic that can happen in our classrooms.
Is that wrong?
Are we wrong?
Am I wrong?
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that I can think of living in a world, especially educational world, where this is wrong. I chose to believe in my students and believe in educational magic.
So the test scores were not great. Is that what really matters? What can you look to that proves that there was more going on in your classroom than can be judged by the test?
Here is a test for you…with results to change your mood after learning about your state results:
Who is that student that was your your class that could not do anything on grade level and refused to try that ended the year trying their hardest just because you asked them to and they know you care?
Who is that student that you know had a rough go of it at home, but looked to your classroom as a sanctuary?
How did the atmosphere of the student interactions in your room change from being kids in your class to a classroom family?
How did each student you teach change from day 1 to day 180?
How did you grow as a teacher from day 1 to day 180?
Take some time and think through these questions. Write down your answers if you journal. I think that, if you do, you will start thinking less about your state scores (good or bad) and know how well you taught based on your students. After all, aren’t they the reason that you are there?
You are not wrong, Teacher, and you are awesome! Keep on believing your students matter more than scores. I believe in you as you keep believing in them! Keep on teaching, Teacher, and keep on making that magic happen!
I am sorry that I have had little to no time to write to you this school year. Like you, I have been pulled in a thousand different directions today, and it has taken everything inside of me to keep focused on the one thing that matters: my students. It has beat me up to do this, but I think that, most days, I have kept that focus.
And, also like you, I am tired.
I do not always have the energy to be the awesome, dynamic teacher that I can be. I have kept to my commitment to pursuing the goal of my students learning and learning how to learn on their own, but I have lost a little bit of the spark that makes me a good teacher some days. The exhaustion of keeping up with all of the spinning plates that we are given makes that hard…if not impossible from time-to-time.
Spinning Plates Image: Wikipedia Commons
We lose some of what makes us great. It happens to us all. It is inevitable. It is real life.
So what do we do about it?
I do not think that we can avoid losing some of our teacher “fire.” It is an unavoidable reality.
No, I do not think that keeping all of our teacher flames burning is the key here. No. If we try to do that. We burn out and we are not much good for anyone.
No, keeping a large bonfire of teaching enthusiasm is not what you or I need to strive for…not at all.
I think what we need to do is keep the right embers burning. If we maintain intensity on the right aspects of teaching, we will avoid flaming out and be able to rekindle our fires once the smoke clears.
(Am I overusing the analogy? Probably. But I press on.)
So what do we make sure that we do not lose in the battle of every day teaching life?
Some of it will be different from teacher to teacher, grade to grade, state to state, and person to person, but there is definitely one thing that makes all of the difference in the world for our students that I do not think any of us can afford to lose. It hit me this year as I had to reflect after some very difficult weeks.
And what is that “one thing,” Teacher?
It is very simple, difficult, easy, and impossible…all at once.
You need to keep the magic.
The magic of teaching is what will keep bringing your students (and most definitely you) back for more over and over again, no matter how hard the going gets.
“What do you mean by magic?”
Magic is the mystical side of teaching. It is the not-so-quantifiable relationship between wonder, teaching, and learning. It is the “Aha-moment,” curiosity, and awe that students can have when they are truly engaged in learning about language, math, science, and history. It is the amazement factor of teaching. Those moments when the students are wide-eyed and hanging on every moment in your classroom and every word that you say. It is when sighs of frustration ring through your room when the students hear the bell.
This is the magic of teaching.
It is never every minute in your class, nor should it be. These are the crescendos to the momentum that you build with every experience that you give your students. They are what you build up to as you plan and teach. It is the moment when you can almost physical see the students make the mental connection to what they are learning.
It is the moment that every teacher lives for…it is magic for the students, but it is also magic for the teacher.
It is this magic that you have to protect, against all odds.
This magic is why you teach. This magic is what makes students want to learn. This magic is what makes school…well…magical.
How can you be sure to keep this magic alive?
That is up to you. Magic in my classroom is different from magic in your classroom. You have to figure out where the magic is for you. I have to know where the magic is for me. And we both need to make sure that the noise of education does not drown out the magic of teaching and learning for us or our students.
I teach science. For me, the magic is tied up in letting the students explore a concept. I dress it up in a problem of some sort. I let the students tackle the problem from their current understanding. I keep some of the things they need to learn hidden…like in a magic trick. When they think they have things sorted out, I introduce something that most students did not know…which usually makes their solution not work the way that they thought it should. I then give them the big picture of the concept. That is when students start to make the connections and see the real solution(s). This is the “aha” that I live for as a teacher. This is where students learn on their own (helped along by the the Teacher-Magician). This is teaching and learning, in my eyes.
This is the magic.
This is what I can’t afford to lose. No matter what.
What is the magic for you?
How will you keep it in spite of everything?
How will you make it key to what happens in your classroom?
Teacher, I know that it is hard. It is less hard when you remember what makes you special as a teacher and you hold on to it for dear life! I know you know what makes you special. I know that you know what makes your class magic. You have what it takes to make that central, and you have what it takes to hold on to that. You have what it takes to be a great teacher. Be that great teacher! You are awesome! You are amazing! You are making a difference! Keep on teaching, Teacher!
Happy New Year! And so a new one begins, huh? I am not sure what this school year has been like for you so far, but you have a fresh start to the second half. What are you going to do with it?
I can’t help but think of a new year as a seed. It is something that is up to you on how it will grow. Like I teach my students whenever I teach my unit on plants, seeds stay dormant until they have the right conditions to grow.
I moved into my current classroom and curriculum three years ago. In one of the drawers, I have many as a science teacher, I found a bag of beans. I had no idea how old they were and decided not to use them….until this year.
This year, I went a little “grow crazy” during the plant unit and tried to plant as much as I can using the big grow light set-up we have. I remembered those seeds. I did the germination in a damp paper towel thing, and despite the age of the seeds, they still germinated!
I planted them, watered them, and let time and nature do the rest. As I said, I grew several things all at the same time. I was disappointed that, though many things flowered, nothing came to fruit…or so I thought.
Another teacher came to observe in my room and we got talking about my plants and how the plants flowered by nothing else. He knows a lot more about growing than I do, and he started looking through them. And he found something…on the bean plants. He found little bean pods. Not only did they grow, they produced more seeds! I was disappointed in the size until some students and I started looking through the plants and we found large bean pods! It was a cool moment for this science teacher who is bad at growing stuff!
Though the beans were who-knows-how-old, they were still dormant and waiting for the right conditions to grow.
Why did I share this story?
Teacher, you may have had a rough school year. Not much may seem to have happened for you or your students. You may have seen nothing but seedlings so far…or worse, you just see empty soil.
Do not give up!
You have a fresh start coming up!
Your seeds may still just be dormant.
You just need the right conditions for growth!
I do not know what growth or the right conditions look like for you, but you do. What will it take to make that happen? What do you need? What do you need to focus on?
Stop whining about what is going wrong this year and work on what is going right! Give yourself and your students the light, water, and nutrients needed for growth! Reflect, regroup, and regrow!
You can do it!
You know what it takes!
You have what it takes!
It time to get growing!
It is grow time, Teacher!
You are awesome and I know you have what it takes to get things growing this year. You are an amazing teacher. You are making a difference. Don’t give up! Keep on teaching, Teacher!