My First Mea Culpa of the New Year

5751534-mea-culpaBy Nick McDaniels — Happy New Year, my friends!  I’m glad to be blogging in 2015.

The New Year as a teacher is a funny thing.  We talk about years often times differently than non-teachers.  My mental calendar runs August-June, not January-December.  Nonetheless, I try to spend a lot of time in early January reflecting on my practice and resolve to make necessary adjustments.

And though it wasn’t a resolution, I have found myself, as a teacher, apologizing more this year.  And I’m sorry for that too. You see, my students are being tested to death.  This is nothing new.  Some of the tests don’t matter.  Some of them do.  Some of them are relevant to what students are learning.  Some of them are not.  This year, however, because we are in between regimes of testing, instead of choosing one or the other, the State has decided that all students will do both sets of high stakes tests.  Additionally, there are district tests, diagnostic tests, and classroom tests.  Some of my students will spend two straight months having instruction interrupted in some capacity by testing.

What do I do about it?  Apologize.  “This isn’t my fault.”  “I’m sorry.”  “This is messed up.”  “I wish I didn’t have to, but it’s my job.”  “Let’s just get it over with so we can go back to learning.”  As I handed my students a mandatory midterm exam that does not match the mandatory curriculum, what did I do?  Apologize.  What cowardice!  Throwing my hands up in the air as if there as nothing I could do!

I was reminded of one of my favorite scenes in Cool Hand Luke. Luke, played by Paul Newman, as he is being thrown in “the box” for another night, responds to a boss’s apology by saying, “Calling it your job don’t make it right, boss.” I know better than to think that those who really have the power to curb over-testing of children do not and likely will not have the political courage to stand up and stop the nonsense.  They will continuously throw up their hands, call it their job, collect their six figure salaries, and ruin education for students.

For me though, Luke was right.  There is no excuse for my part in the over-testing of students.  No apology is enough for my kids.  Where testing doesn’t make sense (which seems to be most of the time right now), I must be more vocal than I have been.  Then, instead of apologizing, at least I can explain to my students that I am trying to do something about it.

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