I'm up *way* too early this morning thanks to my toddler and have tried to transition from my bleary-eyed-morning-grogginess to some sort of state of alertness by enjoying a mug of coffee and some blog-browsing. My reading has included a posting at Schools Matter about the TAKS here in Texas, and how gee, surprise surprise, teachers are teaching the test at the expense of information about social studies, science, etc. Shared by Jim Horan, the commentary is from teacher Paula Whiteley, a teacher I'm seeing eye-to-eye with this year after moving to a bordertown in the Lone Star State.
TAKS has been impacting my daughter, an eighth grader since our arrival. Her stress and boredom with school has only been soothed by extra curricular activites like volleyball (somehow, this district allows students her age to have sports practice at five thirty in the morning- yes, five thirty in the MORNING!) and our reassurances that we won't be stationed here forever. When she does well on the TAKS practice tests (oh yes, we hear all about TAKS practice, which seems to have been happening since school started) and is acknowledged for it, some of her peers who haven't done as well target her with cutting comments, glares, and that silent-yet-deadly communication that many teenagers master early on.
Our daughter will always do well on the test, and not thanks to all of the practice and disregard for her REAL education that this state (and nation) has so blatantly put into place. She will score well because of her family, our resources, our ability to give her enriching life experiences, our care, and the choices we actively make for her education. She will do well because of those highly qualified, caring teachers that have found ways to do their job not *because* of NCLB, but in spite of it. In the past, we have felt that our taxes, our classroom and school donations of materials and time have been of some benefit to her economically disadvanted classmates.
Yes, there's obvious inequality. And NCLB doesn't appear to be making it better for those students who sit in classes with my daughter every day. After reading the introductory letters from her teachers the first week of school and sending them BACK to her teachers, corrected by me, I'm not impressed with the district's choices of who would be best suited to deliver a comprehensive curriculum, provide educationally enriching activites, and help to inspire my daughter's future educational endeavors. Oh wait, that's because they weren't hired nor expected to do those things- they are expected to get all students to pass the TAKS, no matter what.
It's the end of October, and my daughter has done one book report so far. One. She hasn't asked for chemistry help, hasn't asked us about current events for social studies, hasn't mentioned any meetings for National Junior Honor Society of which she is a member. Her band concert last week was... is there a word to describe "worse than mediocre?" She's been asking to go to the book store (yay, I'm glad she's continued this habit) to buy new books to read in school when she's finished the TAKS practice and her classmates continue to work for hours afterward. Yes, she's stuck in the room with them, having to be quiet, not rustle any papers or materials from her bookbag, waiting until they finish. I resent not only what TAKS and other nationwide tests are taking away from my daughter, but how they blatantly deny what disadvantaged students really need to get ahead: a quality, well-rounded, experience-rich education that yes, for whatever reason, might only be accessible to them at school.
Is anyone really going to be surprised when my daughter's classmates attempt to go to college and are denied admittance because of their entrance exam scores, which will hopefully NOT be fudged by proctors?
So without further ado: Thank you to Bev, for encouraging my daughter to experience kindergarten (and life) as a whole person, curiosity, apprehension, silliness and all, writing in pistachio or chocolate pudding, playing dress up, shaking her sillies out, bonding with boys more than girls, as she wore her girlie braids and dresses almost every day of the year. Thank you to Rich, who taught my daughter that no, she wasn't going to get in trouble for defending herself on the playground and that science was a hands-on, fun activity that anyone could do, even if they couldn't yet read in the first grade. Thank you to John, the teacher who built a relationship of trust with my daughter, quietly and calmly nudging her into the world of reading, recognizing she was a late bloomer, but knowing that she WOULD bloom, nonetheless, in the second grade. Tammy, our girl became more expressive, and really felt she could spread her wings in your class, even though I was in a classroom across the hall from you! To this day she remembers Fairbanks history because of the play your students presented. Lisa and Marilyn, you should see the chapter books/novels our daughter loves to read now! And you should see how well she navigates the web, knowing how to search for, locate, and apply the information she finds for her needs! She was able to have two teachers in the fourth grade thanks to you both, which helped her greatly when we moved and she was introduced to a multiple-teacher-per-grade-structure. Bryant, she's enjoying volleyball and tennis both in and out of school because early on, she wasn't made to feel afraid in P.E. class, and you told her that you knew she could do it. She still has her National Physical Fitness patches!
Terri, while snakes kind of gross our daughter out, she learned so much watching them, feeding them, caring for them while she was in your class. Her introduction to life away from Alaska was a smoother transition than we thought it would be because of your hands-on, humorous approach, and welcoming attitude toward all students. To the Kansas middle school staff, we never felt our daughter was just a number to you. She had her favorite teachers of course, but she felt she could come to any of you as resources for her projects, inquiries, and not only academic help, but social as well as she worked her way out of teenie-bopperdom to teenagehood. Thank you for grading her honestly, answering my emails, and teaching us how student-led conferences really don't have to be a way of teachers bailing out of talking with parents. Our daughter continues to "dialogue" with us and others because you helped to make it normal for her to do it somewhere other than home. To the band directors in Alaska, New Mexico and Kansas, thank you for helping our girl express herself through music, associating emotions and human diversity through notes on a page.
Who will I be thanking this year? Hard to say, considering I feel like I'm in mourning as my daughter and her classmates endure the "TAKS Nazis."
(Interesting, the images one can find on the web:)