A Little Teaching Fantasy

You never know which random moments will stick in your head forever. There’s a day from my AP US History class that still haunts me. It was my junior year of high school, so that would have been in 2000 or 2001. (In a pre-9/11 world… That’s not actually relevant, but I just have this general sense that it was an entirely different era.)

For some reason, our teacher showed us this video from…. Dateline? 60 Minutes? Something in that genre? It was all about the standardized testing culture in Texas. Their students had to take a test called the TAKS, and it was a big deal. We watched clips of pep assemblies to hype kids up for the TAKS. We watched cheerleaders jumping around with their pompoms and cheering about doing your best on the TAKS. We watched walk-and-talks down hallways covered with motivational TAKS banners and posters full of test-taking strategies. We watched glassy eyed teachers explain all the ways they’ve been getting their students to practice for the TAKS and incentivizing them to do well…

It was terrifying. And completely bizarre. My 16-year old brain couldn’t wrap itself around what I was seeing. I was used to taking fill-in-the-bubbles tests every year, but I’d never for a moment thought they mattered. I knew there was some sort of connection between our test scores and our parents’ property taxes, but that wasn’t enough to make me care about those mind-numbingly boring tests. I couldn’t fathom what kind of kool-aid could have convinced the entire state of Texas to get so worked up about filling in bubbles! I’d known since early elementary school that standardized testing was the most meaningless waste of time all year. Who managed to fool an entire state into wasting even more time and resources??

Little did I know….

I couldn’t have imagined what was coming. I didn’t understand that No Child Left Behind was being passed at the time, and that it would force-feed the same kool-aid to the whole country. I definitely didn’t imagine that I’d become the glassy eyed teacher administering these pointless-at-best, harmful-at-worst, and misuse-of-resources-in-any-case tests year after year. And every year, I have flashbacks to watching that video in US History, blissfully unaware that my future was playing out on the tv screen.

(I won’t go into all the reasons our testing obsessed culture needs to be stopped. There are a million articles and videos on the subject. But for a quick refresher, I’ll direct you to John Oliver.)

As we enter another year’s testing season, I find myself retreating to a dream world. I have this fantasy about a world where teaching and learning were treated with the same respect and reverence that we give state testing. What would that be like…?

Imagine the emphasis every day for every kid to “get a good night’s sleep and eat a healthy breakfast; you have important learning to do.” Snacks might even be provided.

Students would treat every class with the best focus and effort they could muster, because this matters.

There wouldn’t be interruptions over the intercom. Ever.

Nobody would get pulled out of class.

Fire drills and earthquake drills and lock-out drills and lock-down drills would never cut into class time.

We would be extra certain that every student with a disability or other need was getting every accommodation necessary for their success. Not just on paper.

Those who need small groups to focus, would get all of their learning time in small groups.

When a student needed more than the allotted time, somebody–a learning coordinator, an administrator, somebody besides the teacher–would give them as much time as they needed. Students would be encouraged to go at their own pace.

All necessary materials would be provided. Teachers wouldn’t be paying for their own supplies.

Speaking of dollars, all the money going into the testing industry would instead be coming into both our classrooms and our pockets.

A teacher’s professional judgment would be utilized as a valuable resource and prime piece of data.

Phones would never be in students’ possession.

Cheating in any form would be a BIG DEAL.

Curriculum and materials would be developed around teachers’ stated needs and desires.

Basically, I’m dreaming about a world where everyone cared, like, really cared, about teaching and learning. Didn’t just care with their words and with memes on social media, but cared with time, dollars, and respect. I’m dreaming about a world where teaching and learning never had to compete for a place on the priority list in school.

The crazy part is, if we could convince everyone–children and adults–to invest as heavily in the learning as the testing, guess what? The testing would take care of itself! If you want better output, you have to focus your energies on the input. How is that not obvious?

Put down the testing kool-aid, America. Those cups are full of poison.

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