Friday, June 19, 2009

Is Standardized Testing Creating Criminals?

As I perused the CNN website to soak up the big headlines around the world, I came across an article on the WSB-TV (based in Georgia) website. The title of the article was- “Principal, Assistant Principal Arrested in Cheating Investigation”. The title alone intrigued me, so I read more. In a nutshell, the principal and assistant principal allegedly altered students’ answers on a state mandated test. The school was audited by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievements in Georgia because of an unusually large number of eraser marks on the tests. The higher scores achieved by allegedly altering the tests helped keep the school from failing to meet the state standards.

After picking my jaw up from the ground, I began to wonder if this is to what it has all come. Are educators and administrators under so much pressure to meet standards that scores must be altered? What lesson does this teach our students about integrity and honesty? I am not the biggest fan of standardized tests but I hold much value in the integrity that all educators in the field should have. If you have a problem with the test, work on fixing it rather than scheming to get around it! How does one motivate students to do well when their own principals go behind closed doors and change their answers? What I would really like to know is who you think is at fault here. Is it the administrators for forging scores, the students for not doing well on the test, the education system forcing accountability, etc? Is the accountability movement breeding criminals!?!?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

You'll Sleep When You're Dead!

Call me a nerd (and trust me, many people have!), but I have been trying to do everything I can to get ready for student teaching. This 3 month period before school starts in August is beginning to feel like an eternity!! I know I should be cherishing every second of mindless free time that I have, but urge to “get ready” is about all that is keeping me from busting! I have been organizing the teaching materials I have accumulated over the last 4 years, been catching up on my readings and blogs that deal with education…as you can see I’m trying to make sure all of my bases are covered!!

Well, the most recent addition to my self-established “student teaching readiness program” is my conversion to “Early Rising”. By early rising, I mean starting the day before noon! I was never one to actually sleep that late but I most certainly wouldn’t be up before 10am! Nonetheless, I know that as a teacher, this will more than likely be a thing of the past. So, I have now committed myself to getting up by 6:30 am every morning. Although I am only 2 days into it, I have found that there is actually quite a bit that can be accomplished because I am adding a few extra hours to my day: working out, praying, reading, and NOT RUSHING TO GET READY IN THE MORNING!! I’m not even going to lie- it has not been easy, but I really think that getting up earlier will help me to be an even more productive person and make the most of every second of life. One of the best gifts I can give my students is to be healthy, happy, and full of life- I think this early rising thing my be exactly what I need to round of my holistic approach to student teacher readiness.

I end this post with a quote that I have heard many times before- “Don’t waste time sleeping; you’ll sleep when you’re dead!”

- I never really believed this quote to be true…in fact, I’m not sure if I even believe it now! Hopefully, writing it here will move it a little deeper into my spirit. Well, I think I’m going to go to sleep now….6:30am is going to come quickly!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Is There a "Best Way" to Organize??

At the beginning of August, I will be moving to another city, the one in which I will student teach for the upcoming school year. I am soooooo excited about living in a new city, but now I am navigating through possibly the most dreaded aspect of moving- PACKING!!! I know I do not move until August, but I do not want to be a last-minute packer. I want to have time to sift through everything I own and make sure that I’m only bringing what I need (even though it seems like I need EVERYTHING in my apartment!!). The first stage of packing has been to organize all of my books, notebooks, and folders and handouts that I have saved from my instruction courses. After beginning this daunting task, I have realized that I saved basically everything!! This, of course, is a double-edged sword! I have an unbelievable amount of material to sort through, but I also know that there is quite a bit of useful information in there somewhere.

So, to make a long story a little shorter, I am now faced with a dilemma: now that I have weeded out all of the unnecessary material, what is the best method of organizing what I decided to keep? I have lesson plans, graphic organizers, test writing tips, information on classroom management, handouts on the Big 5, and other classroom-related materials. I think my organization will go in one of two directions:

1. Organize based on the course in which I received the info (ex: C&I 232- Urban Education, C&I 222- Reading Assessment, etc)

2. Organize based on topic/theme (ex: Comprehension, Fluency, Classroom Management Strategies, Writing)

I definitely think I’m leaning more toward option #2 or organizing based on topic/theme. Although this seems like it will take the most time to organize, I think it will best serve me in the end. If I organize based on the course, I will still have to sift through that specific course material to find the graphic organizer that dealt with Comprehension. I’m sure these are not the only two ways to organize material, but they are about all I can come up with!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Frustrating Situation

As a reading tutor, I have encountered various ranges of reading levels and abilities. However, recently I was faced with one of the most frustrating experiences. I was tutoring a student who will be entering 3rd grade in the fall. She is one of the most adorable kids I have ever worked with!!! She smiles from ear to ear, is full of energy, and appears to get great pleasure from reading. In conducting my assessments of her reading ability, I had her read books that were of different levels. She did a great job with all of the books, reading with great expression, pace, and self correcting. My conclusion was that she is a great reader, but could work more with incorporating multiple cueing systems when decoding a word. So, why is this situation frustrating?

The child’s teacher, during the recently completed academic year, suggested that she be retained due to a deficiency with reading. WHAT???!!!!?? This did not register with me because I couldn’t see how a child who reads so well could be told that she did not know how to read. I also learned that she was even recommended by her teacher for Special Ed. Services….how could this be??! The questions that I have asked myself over and over again are what did the teacher see that I didn’t? What other factors could be affecting her very distinct performances with me and with her former teacher? Could the classroom environment, instability at home, disinterest in the texts being read in class have played a role in her supposedly poor reading ability? As I prepare for student teaching, this situation has really opened my eyes to the dilemma that teachers face. There is no one observation or assessment that should be the determining factor for labeling students as under-performing. I am not trying to undermine the knowledge of her teacher, who obviously has more experience in the classroom than I do. I am, however, concerned with the effect that a failure to assess the whole circumstance has on the child. What if she had actually been retained but really shouldn’t have been? What effect would that have on her socially/emotionally/academically?? These are some of the questions that are plaguing my mind right now. All I know is that children like this one need to be able to trust that the teacher is advocating for their success and well being at all times. If this is what her teacher was really doing….KUDOS to him/her! However, if not, this shows that there is still more work to be done. This experience has pushed me to critically analyze what I can do to make sure that I am assessing the WHOLE child and keeping in mind the various external and internal forces that may be impeding a student’s success at reading?? How do I make sure I am advocating for students and seeing the best in them at all times?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

So....What Are You Gonna Do??

Perhaps one of the most exciting times for me during my college career has been during the last few months. Within this time frame I have learned not only what school I will be doing my student teaching at, but also more about my cooperating teacher, school principal, and the overall school demographics. My biggest priority during this process was making sure that I was placed in a school of economic and academic need. I feel that all too often, these schools are forgotten about, to say the least. I have talked to many peers who would rather go back to life in the ‘burbs and teach at the “better” schools. I guess one could say, “to each their own”, but it is this very notion of running away from the children who need quality teachers the most that keeps them from becoming one of those “better” schools!

I am in no way placing blame on those who would indeed rather go back to the schools to be closer to their families, but when will we start to put human needs over individual preferences? Even in the stereotypical comfort of the suburbs, there are often schools of need located minutes away in the nearby urban city. So, I ask, why? Why do some see the dire need of certain students and turn a cheek in the other direction when it comes time to apply for jobs? Is it the students, parents, or neighborhoods? The students we work with cannot help into what SES they are born, nor can the dictate where they live or who will raise them. Why are some educators content with perpetuating the cycle of educational inequality by widening the gap between students who have access to the best of the best and those who are constantly given less than? Again, I understand that there are different factors that may motivate someone’s decision to work in a more affluent area. However, from interactions with my fellow pre-service teachers, I understand that many of those influences are based in a fear of the unknown, an unwillingness to see that even “those” students need good teachers too, a dangerous ignorance to the fact that educational disparities are not the fault of the children or parents but rather the institution of education as a whole.

We cannot continue to punish the students for a system that they did not create. We may not have created it either, but as adults, we all play a major role, whether we acknowledge it or not, in the continuation of this system of disadvantage. The question is…what will YOU do to make a difference? Even if you decide to work at a school that is not struggling academically or economically, your support is still needed to help other schools, teachers, and students who may not have what you do. We do not live in a bubble and our actions much show the compassion and concern that we have for other educators and students all over. I know I am young and lack much of the experience that many of you out there already have. However, if I have already started thinking about what I can do to make a difference, I know you can too! We’ve got a lot of work to do….so let’s get to it!!