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!
You have had a tough couple of days (or weeks…or months…or whole school year). I get it. Teaching is one of the hardest jobs in the world…and people who have never been in the classroom (or haven’t been recently) do not understand that. On top of that, some years are worse than others. It just so happens that this year is one of those years.
You are tired. You are exhausted. You are burned out or right on the edge of burnout.
You are starting to lose your edge. You are starting to lose heart. You are starting to wonder what other careers might fit your skill set.
Trust me, I have been there. It sucks. It really does.
But there is one thing that you can do about all of it. It is not a magic key to unlock teaching happiness, but it is something.
You can ask yourself one question.
What are you going to do about it?
You can’t really change your circumstances. You can’t make your students be different. You can’t control all of your classroom dynamics. You can’t force your administration to be different and you can’t stop the system from being what it is.
You can change one thing.
You can change you.
I wish I had the words to explain what I mean by that, but I would rather quote Maya Angelou who said it better than I ever could.
If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.
We can control how we are affected by our situation. We can adjust the way we react to things. We can check our feelings before we make a decision. We can change the way that we let things affect us.
I think the best way to do this is to refocus on why we are teaching in the first place. We need to remember why we started this journey we call the teacher life. What brought us here? What brought you to teaching may be what helps you stay with it.
I do believe that answer is probably close to the same for all of us. It is all about students and trying to make the world a better place for them.
I know that reality has made that difficult to keep a view of, but you can start over every day and find that target again. We can ask ourselves, “How will I make today better for my students (even the tough ones)?”
I am not saying that we forget about standards and curriculum, but I do think it will help if we double-down on putting students and what they need in front of those things.
I don’t know. Am I making sense here?
Anyway, the best way to survive is looking at ourselves and how things are changing us as teachers. Are we doing what we are doing for the sake of students or for some other reason? If it not for students how can we change our practices (within the system) to make sure that they are the priority. When you and I can do this, I think how the toughness of any given day or year affects us will change.
I will close with another quote. This is from Jaime Escalante (a teacher hero of mine who I think lived out what I am saying here).
You don’t count how many times you are on the floor. You count how many times you get up.
Rough days and years come and go. What matters is what you do about it. How will you learn and move on?
Get back up, Teacher. You are great teacher. You are getting through to your students. You are making a difference. I think you are pretty awesome! Keep on teaching, Teacher!
I bet you might be thinking that the title of this note was just a gimmick to try to get you to read it. It wasn’t. Not that I don’t want you to read it…I do…I just have a point to make using the it. However, not yet. I want to tell you a little story first.
My little family and I had the awesome opportunity to spend Thanksgiving Break at the beach with my wife’s family. I am not much of a beach person, but there was something pretty great about being near the water, hearing the crashing waves, and being able to walk the beach with my sons and wife. I did, unfortunately, became a little obsessed with finding shells (and shark teeth).
There were plenty of common shells (clams, scallops, and the like), but I was after other game. I really wanted to find conch or nautilus shells…oh, and did I mention shark teeth? I kept looking for all of these, but all I found was a few broken pieces and thousands of common shells. I would see something out of the corner of my eye, veer of my path, and find it only to see it was more of the same.
I outlasted my boys and wife with each trip out. Still I couldn’t turn down the inner call to keep looking. I just knew I would find something!
I kept chasing the bits and pieces that I saw in the distance sure that I would find something rare and worried that I would miss out on it if I didn’t go after what I saw. No matter the disappointment, I kept chasing.
My oldest son kept asking me to go back. He wanted to just play in the sand. I could see the other family members down the beach having a good time together…and off the other way there was something that I just knew had to be what I was looking for. I had this moment where I knew that I just had to choose. Chase something that was not assured or savor the moments with my family.
A thought came to me…
There will always be another shell.
I talked back to that thought (not aloud, of course)…what if I miss out on something good.
There will always be another shell.
What if this is the shell I am looking for? What if it is a shark tooth?
There will always be another shell…and shark teeth aren’t that big, idiot!
I made a conscious decision to turn and go back. I go spend the quality time I always want to have with my family when I can’t have it. I went back with my son and had some fun on the beach. I dare say it was much better than not finding shells!
It hit me that this is something similar to what happens to us in education. I can only speak from a teacher’s perspective, but it seems like sometimes we are always chasing something off in the distance. The latest strategy, the newest assessment-style, or the latest book that will change everything in education. Not that any of these things are bad…they definitely aren’t…but it can be something we are constantly looking for all the while missing out on what is right in front of us.
Our students are here. Our students are now. They are why we do what we do. Despite the latest and greatest trends, what makes some of the biggest effects on how students learn is us and our relationships with them. We need to talk to them. Learn how they learn best. Help them learn how to learn on their own. This has to be our priority. It is the only way that true learning, understanding, and growth happens!
This means some serious thought into what we need to let go of sometimes. It can be a mere change of focus. It can mean putting things on the back-burner. It often will mean that we have to not always chase every “new” idea in education…some books may need to wait until summer to read, some conferences may need to be unattended, and some blog posts may need to be bookmarked for later. This doesn’t mean that these are not important things, it just means that some of them will have to wait for the sake of our students.
So. Back to the name of this post. It is so easy to get caught up in what we are told needs to happen right now. We can be led to believe that we need to stop everything to investigate what we might be missing. Just like me and the shell hunt, there may be something back in the other direction that is more worthwhile – quality time really getting to know and work with our students on their level.
Hitting pause on the things that seem vital for our growth as professionals can be quite difficult. But it is a reality that does occur (more often than we would like). As an educator, sometimes the hardest thing is letting go…but often it is the only way to move forward for the greater good of our students.
There will always be another shell.
There will always be another book.
There will always be another PD.
There will always be another blog post.
There will not always be another year with the students you have right now. Don’t let it slip away!
If I know you, though, I am preaching to the choir. You do realize these things most of the time. That’s what makes you awesome and an amazing teacher! Keep on make your students the ultimate priority and keep on teaching, Teacher!
It is not even almost halfway through the year, but I am already tired. How about you? It gets busy fast doesn’t it? So much to do…
I think it is time for a little rally. There is a lot of year left and our students need us to be on our game. It is time for a theme song post, and I think I know the song we need right now. Click play and then read on.
Sometimes it feels so lonely as a teacher.
We are only one person, but we are trying to change the lives of our students each day. We are helping to shape and mold their futures.
We believe in them. We care about them. We know what we do matters. It is our nature, heart, and calling to do our best to make a difference.
We have ideas. We have plans. We have a drive. We are committed.
But we can feel so overwhelmed sometimes.
There is so much to do in order to do what we need to do.
Some of the the stuff to do is extra and not from us, but some of us is from ourselves because we want to do the best we possible can do for our students.
We want them to see how great that they can be. We want the experience in our classrooms to inspire them to move on and move deeper. We want them to become learners that never stop.
We can’t stop.
We have more to give.
We have more to be.
We have lives to change.
Teacher, you have fight in you. You have a warrior inside of you. You are a monster, in a good way. You have battles to wage for your students. They need you to keep fighting and keep going.
Find those reserves.
Remember why you are doing this…
You may only have one match, but you can make an explosion in the life of a students!
You have a lot left inside of you.
You’ve got this.
Never stop. Never give up. Never lose hope for the difference that you are making.
Keep dreaming. Keep moving. Keep going.
Don’t lose the part of you that realizes how important what you do is! I know that you have a lot to do. I know that you don’t love all of the aspects of your job…but your students need you! It is worth fighting through. It is worth doing all that you can to keep going. The little things you do matter more than anything. Remember why you a teacher…the students.
You are not crazy to keep doing this. Just focus on those lives behind the eyes that are looking at you. You have a purpose. You are needed. You are vitally important to the people in your classroom and the world.
Keep fighting! We all need you to! Keep breathing and keep going!
You’ve got this. I believe in you! You are amazing. You are making a difference. You really are. Keep fighting and keep on teaching, Teacher!
If you have been teaching for any length of time, you know one thing to be true above most others…there are no silver bullets. There is no “one thing” that will be able to fix all things in your classroom or for your students. There is not a magic teaching pill that will cause all students to learn, grow, and find success.
No, you no the very real reality that teaching, learning, and education take work. And I am not going to go against that. Not one bit.
There is much truth in the fact that you have got to be an active learner yourself and find out best practices and new ideas. You have to practice those best practices. You have to know your content. You have to be creative. You have to figure out new ways to plan and facilitate learning in your classroom. You have to keep up with technology and how to use it as a tool to help students learn more effectively. Speaking of students, you have to do the very challenging and messy work of getting to know them and building rapport and relationships with them. The same goes with your students’ parents, other teachers and staff, and administration.
Teaching is work. Difficult work. Rewarding work, true, but hard work.
Um, so far this post is pretty much the opposite of your title…where is the easy button?
Everything said so far is what we know in our teacher reality. But…there is one thing that does make all of this a lot easier and will increase student engagement in your class.
That easy button is….wait for it….
Oh no. Is this one of those times where you give the big build up and the one answer is me?
You guessed it. The easy button for making some of the hard parts of teaching and to increase engagement is, indeed, YOU!
Just like all of the other times I have set you up for a big secret in education, the key is you. Something inside of you and about you can unlock the easiness to making tough things seem less tough. One of my favorite quotes of all time is from Maya Angelou:
If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.
There is so very much that we can change about education and what needs to happen in our classroom. We can’t change the content we are required to teach. We can’t change the students (not directly, at least). We can’t change their parents. We can’t change their home environments. We can’t change expectations from administration, districts, and the state (again, not directly). We can’t change what needs to happen for teaching and learning to truly happen in our classroom.
No, there is not very much that we can change in education…but we can change ourselves.
There is a lot of ways that we can change our attitudes as teachers, but I want to just focus on one…above all else, we need to love what we do!
I am not saying that we have to love all of the bureaucracy, paperwork, and struggles with the harsh realities that our students have to deal with…no, I am not sure that anyone should love that. I am saying that we need to love the fact that we get to teach students and open them up to wonders of the world and the awesomeness of fighting to understand something new and the thrill of the moment when it all clicks. We also get to have the hope of being a part of changing the lives of our students for the better and helping them realize how learning new things changes possibilities! That is what we live for. That is why we teach.
We need to love what we do!
We have to be excited about what we are teaching in our classes. If you don’t love all of your content, be excited about the way that you are teaching it! Don’t love how you teach something? TEACH IT DIFFERENTLY! You are in control of that. You have got to find a way to love what you teach and how you teach it! You have to! This is what makes students take notice and want to be engaged in the process of learning.
It is our passion and love of the teaching/learning process that draws students in. That is the key. That is the easy button. Our engagement in the process makes them not want to miss out and be a part of whatever has you so excited!
Think about the great teachers you have had or that you know…they were passionate about what they do, weren’t they? I bet the answer is yes.
Teachers who love and are passionate about teaching breed students who love and are passionate about learning.
Teacher, love what you do! Let it show. Make it obvious. The students will want a sip of what you are drinking, I promise! They will be engaged!
You are awesome. I bet I was preaching to the choir the whole time, wasn’t I? You do love what you do. You aren’t afraid to show it. Remember to keep that passion for teaching and learning going! Help students be ignited by your fire and their passion for learning will be contagious to others! Keep on loving what you do and keep on teaching, Teacher!
We live in an interesting time to be in the field of education, do we not? This is not a set up to talk about the trials and tribulations of being a teacher or administrator in this day-and-age, though there are a lot of difficult and harsh realities for us right now. There is another side to being an educator right now…
We have some of the most amazing resources available to us. Some teachers have more than others, but we all have more than teachers had at any time in the past. We have the internet (if not readily accessible to student, you have access to it for planning…you are reading a blog right now, aren’t you?). We have technology (very few teachers do not have the availability of some kind of tech). We have each other (we can connect with educators around the world and collaborate and learn from each other). The list is endless.
We have so much.
Yet, do we have more great teachers than ever before? I am not sure about that. It seems like we should, but there is probably the same average amount of great teachers as there ever has been (which is a large number…I am not saying this to knock education). Great teachers will always be great teachers…no matter the resources.
So how do great teachers become and stay great teachers?
There are A LOT of factors here…
Studying education and the latest research
Workshops and staying in touch with other great teachers
Focusing on students more than content
Knowing when to teach more and when to teach less
Mastering the art of facilitation
And so many other things…
But there is one secret ingredient that I think matters the most and is common among most of the great teachers in history, and it is amazingly simple.
The secret to you being a great teacher is you.
Great teachers know themselves. They know their strengths and weaknesses. They work on the weaknesses and play to their strengths. They do not deny who they are as people, and this lets their passions for teaching and for life play themselves out in the classroom. Their zeal for what drives them pushes students to strive harder and become interested and engaged. Because great teachers are keyed into who they are, their dreams are big and they fight to achieve them. They also know what they need and go after those things…for this reason fund-raising seems easy for them and “personal PD” is not a new idea because it has been a theme of their lives!
Great teachers are aware of themselves and this makes the more aware of their students and what needs to happen in their classroom.
Resources are not what make great teachers great…great teachers make all resources great because they are keenly aware of how to use them. The type of resource or school “realities” are not limitations…they do not really know limitations!
Great teachers know who they are and do not hide it.
Great teachers share their passions and interests and make them a part of their instruction.
Great teachers have a sense of what they need and this gives them a sense of student needs.
You are a great teacher…you just have to get to know yourself to bring the great teacher out!
You are the key to you being a great teacher!
You are a much greater teacher than you think you are! We can all be greater…so lets work on it. You are amazing! I know you are a great teacher! You are making a difference because you are completely awesome! Keep working at your greatness and keep on teaching, Teacher!
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!