Sunday, March 9, 2008

Thoughts that Spring Ahead

Sunday afternoons always pose an interesting series of contradictions. I am often torn between wanting to embrace the final weekend moments—lounging, seeing friends, yoga—and preparing for the week ahead. Preparation is, of course, always necessary, but it also seems to cast a long shadow over the course of the week. In the next few days my students will sit for the New York State Math Exam. This test, coupled with their state English exam, will determine whether or not they are promoted to the next grade and whether or not our school will remain open.
As you can see, a test is never just a test.
The toughest challenge is not the test itself; it is instead the hoopla that accompanies such a stressful day. The children come in anxious, the staff is anxious, and we ignore it. In our school it is best to deny the actuality of any given situation and instead paint a picture of control. For example, the preparation for the test has been long, but none of the teachers actually know who will be administering the test, to which students, and for how long this will happen. I can presume that I will spend the entire morning with my homeroom. (When I say entire morning, I literally mean from 8:40 am until 11:15am when they go to lunch.) I shall then see them for our regularly scheduled class time, from 12:00 to 1:30pm. This results in a whopping 5 period day with the same group of students. Anyone who has ever spent 5 periods with a group of seventh graders knows exactly what I am talking about, and while I love them, no one person should ever be subjected to that.
This also means that once again, my abilities to teach will be compromised. Though we are in desperate need to move forward through out fiction writing unit, one of my most favorites to teach, we won’t be able to. Instead our work will be pushed back a few more days simply because the kids will be bouncing off the walls in a mixture of frustration and hyperactivity. Simply put, we can only prepare them so much for the test, and the truth of the matter is they are too far behind. It is not that they can’t do the work; it is that we rob them again and again of opportunities to catch up. When I think back to the amount of time spent learning math, or learning anything, it is interrupted by any number of issues. These range from extreme behavior problems that my school is unequipped to deal with, to ice cream parties, announcements, ballroom dancing, announcements, teacher-meetings, suspensions, schedule mishaps, class changes, teacher changes, and bureaucratic nonsense.
It seems as though we are always about twenty paces behind, no matter what we teachers try to do, and on Sundays you really begin to feel it. The potential for the week lays out before you in a Word doc, and yet you know that to there will be approximately five things that will interrupt it. I have six new students, boys in my now disbanded all-girls class, (because when you go wrong with same sex groupings it goes very wrong) who have ostensibly spent the first part of their year learning how to cause trouble rather than how to be students. They are so far behind I’m not sure how to catch them up. Now they will sit for a math test that will prove to them, yet again, that they are not good enough to try. As I said before, Sundays pose contradictions. This week I have to find another way to lift them up, knowing that I am a part of a school that is more interested in looking like we are supporting our students rather than actually giving them the tools they need for success.

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