I love using really hot water. To me, there is nothing better than letting the scalding hot water burn the chill out of my bones. And as I adjust to the temperature, I think, “Just a little bit hotter,” and turn the knob a little more to the left.
It occurred to me this morning that this is the perfect analogy of what I’ve allowed to happen to myself by staying in 3rd grade. I’ve allowed myself to be boiled alive with the stress of testing. I am the proverbial frog in the pot. The temperature increasing ever so slightly so I didn’t really notice that much how bad things were getting, until it’s as bad as it can possibly get now.
When I first started teaching 3rd grade 9 years ago, I barely paid attention to the test scores. It was typical bell curve for the most part. A few students would be in the unsatisfactory/limited knowledge range, a few in the advanced range, and most in the proficient range. I was also vaguely aware of scores due to the fact I was just desperately trying to adjust to the teacher life.
As I adjusted, and as I worked to grow as an educator to be better for my students, I watched scores, but knew that it was just a one day picture. I was feeling more confident of the fact that I knew my students. I’d do my best to make sure my students were ready. I’d work with my students on their areas of weakness in math and reading, just as I was working on my own weak spots of teaching certain concepts in those subject areas.
But then the state decided to up the ante on testing for 8- and 9-year-olds and tie the scores of the reading test to retention. That had my attention real quick, as well as everyone else. The pressure was now on. The temperature at school had just been kicked up big time.
As I worked to make sure students were ready that year or two before the retention law went into effect, I was keenly aware of how unfair this whole process was. No matter how hard my students would work, for some it wouldn’t be enough to satisfy the testing gods. No matter how much I worked to shore up their self-esteem that they were capable of things that were difficult for them, this test would ultimately tear them down.
Teachers in kindergarten through 2nd grade were told to start warning parents of this impending law. Panic was riding high throughout the school. You could feel it. This was all anyone could talk about. All eyes were on the 3rd grade team. The temperature was rising.
That first year of testing was tough. I’ve never felt so much stress and pressure before as a teacher. Worst of all, neither had my students. They were scared and I was scared for them. This had been built up for years to them. This one test was going to make or break them. It was horrific.
The first year’s results were pretty good. Not perfect, but good. We breathed a sigh of relief for the most part. But we knew this was just the beginning. The second year, last year, devastated me. I had too many miss proficient by just one or two questions, putting them in the limited knowledge range. I spent the weekend in tears. I had let those children down. Sure, I can speculate and give reasons as to why they didn’t hit proficient, but to what end? I’m ultimately responsible, so the blame rests on my shoulders.
And I’ve carried that blame with me heavily this year. As I await the results of this year’s test (to be released at the end of this week, I’ve heard), I wonder just how much longer I can stay in this boiling pot of water. I’ve applied for and been offered other positions, but here I am…still in 3rd grade. I’ve wondered if staying in this grade could be holding me back. This is all I’ve ever taught and I’ve wondered if it has stifled my growth as an educator. Am I hiding in the familiar or staying because of my true love and dedication to these kiddos? I’d like to think it’s the latter. I really do love this age group of kids.
Next year, the temp goes up even higher…now students that score unsatisfactory and limited knowledge (the worst descriptors to use for anyone, but especially a child) will be retained. Yes there are exemptions, but it’s little comfort if a child doesn’t meet those exemptions, but has still put forth significant effort to reach either proficient or those exemptions. And if this test was so great, then why does it need seven (count ’em, 7) exemptions?
How much longer are we going to allow this to go on? How hot do things have to get before we say enough and fight to get our children out of the pot of boiling water?