House of Mirrors

Teaching is a profession that is all about beating the clock.  Every day I want to accomplish way more than my 3rd graders’ brains can absorb.  I have been trained that more is better. You know the phrase, ‘Shop Til You Drop’?  Well, teaching is a lot like this, you ‘Teach Til You Drop’.  This is why teachers need a winter, spring and summer vacation.  We never stop thinking about the next math lesson, saving our paper towel rolls for an upcoming project, hoarding recycled materials, like small glass containers, for the Mother’s Day gift (It will happen again in May, even though it’s only September,  I must give myself time to collect 25 glass containers) or buying the next round of stickers and seasonal 99 Cent Store cluttery to match the season’s festivities.  Everything we do relates back to making our classrooms an environment where kids want to learn.

Then there is state testing.

If you’re not aware, I will school you on the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) (I had to look this up because I couldn’t remember what this acronym stood for.  All I remembered was how my students laugh every time I have them type in PP*, *pee-pee as we enter the website.)  (Kids, there ain’t nothin’ funny about this website once you enter.)    It’s like entering a House of Mirrors at a carnival.  You think you are getting through the maze to the exit, but instead— face plant into a mirror.  Over and over again the face-planting occurs. After much anxiety about whether or not you’ll find the exit, finally, you see it—the path to the exit.  That’s what it was like when we exited the years of No Child Left Behind, measured by the California Standards Test (CST).  Now we have reentered a much more complex House of Mirrors, the CAASPP assessment.  This House of Mirrors is in a commercial warehouse on 50 acres.

I complained and fretted year-after-year about giving the CST to 2nd graders (when I taught 2nd) because I thought they were far too young to be bubbling anything—other than blowing Mr. Bubbles through a wand.  For the past several years, state testing has been for grades 3rd and up. (Yay, now I teach 3rd!)

You guessed it, the results are in, and our test scores are in the gutter, the ditch, the sewer.  Here’s my first reaction: tears. “I work so hard, but my students don’t seem to show what they know on the test.”  Next reaction: anger. “Why do we have to be measured by these kinds of tests anyway?”  Next reaction: shame. “I’m a bad teacher. If I were a better teacher, my students would better equipped to achieve.”  All these phases of grief came in the first 5 minutes of seeing our test results.

I do not like it CAASPP I AM. I do not like state testing glam.  I will not fake it with a smile. I will not take the same shit pile.  I will not ride the wave of shame.  I will not play this insane game.   Shout out to Dr. Seuss.  Thank you for the joy you bring to my classroom, Theodor Seuss Geisel.

This is my personal opinion about jumping onto the next testing bandwagon without time to reflect and analyze WHY I’m doing what I’m doing.  I do not think teaching to the test is going to serve our students well.  If we’ve learned anything from recent history, simply teaching to the test did not prepare our students for lifelong love of learning nor did it make it so that No Children Were Left Behind.  Just sayin’.

So, how do we maintain a LOVE of learning in the midst of high-stakes testing environments?  Answering and grappling with this question is my ultimate goal. My goal is to create learners who persevere and want to continue to learn beyond the classroom. Tragically, all too often, we have lost the bigger picture as educators about WHY we teach.   How do we prepare our students to exit the Hall of Mirrors without sucking the life and joy out of teaching and learning?  I refuse to go back to the extreme heaviness I felt as a teacher during the CST years.

images.jpgWhat is my role now, in 2016?

Being in an underachieving school is a huge burden and gift.  I believe I am in my school for a reason.  There are a ton of expectations put on the teachers about making students achieve whether or not they come from homes that expect them to achieve.  Essentially it is up to the school environment, specifically the teachers, to carry these students to a place of achievement.  The assumption is that there should be NO EXCUSES as to why students that are from disadvantaged environments should not achieve.  I still struggle with this idea…if I’m honest.  I know it’s not popular amongst my colleagues.  I’m willing to be the dissenting opinion.  I do believe that home environment directly affects a child’s educational experience.  Those expectations that their parents have directly impact the child’s belief in their ability or inability to learn.  Sure, the teachers and school environment have a huge impact on achievement.  Huge impact.  However, the people that birthed them and feed them, make a huge impact too.

If I’ve been doing this for 19 years, and if I’m still at a loss for how to make my students achieve better on these standardized tests, then there is a problem.  Either the problem is the target, or the problem is the process of getting to the target.  Or the problem is me.  I have a hard time believing it’s just me, when I look at the data on how the rest of 3rd grade students are performing on these tests in CA and the US at large.  Their results aren’t that much more stellar than mine.

All this data analysis just makes me want to crawl in a hole.  This will be the focus of many of our meetings this year.  Data. Data. Data.  I’m not opposed to data, or analyzing it, but I am opposed to analyzing it without a purpose.  I want to be purposeful.  Ain’t nobody got time for a purposeless education or purposeless analysis of data.

So what’s next?

I will continue to collect my glass containers and paper towel tubes.  I’ll add a lot of heart and love to my lessons as I have all these years.  If this doesn’t get them out of the House of Mirrors, well, at least they’ll still love to learn.  Love can’t be measured on the CAASPP.

No apologies.

SBAC/ CAASPP data 2015  Reading for pleasure (…in your spare time).

Until next week.  Love you loves.

Gastric Bypass Update:

Eating froyo gave me a bit of a dump today.   I think it had too much sugar and I had to exit promptly and head home.  Dumping is the term used for, not vomiting, but the OTHER direction.  Your food dumps too quickly from your smaller stomach to your intestines and it moves quickly so you MUST MOVE PROMPTLY to the bathroom.

So there you go, the long and short of it, (intestines, that is).

Achieving my 5 days a week of 10,ooo steps has been my goal.  So far, I think I’m going to make it to my 3rd week of 10K steps at 5 days.  The Fitbit has been a huge motivator for me, even though I hate to admit it.

Did you know you can buy bling for your Fitbit?  Yes, you can accessorize, like the old Swatch watches.  You can change the sleeve to match your outfit.  <<<<insert valley girl voice here>>>> “I totally love it when my Fitbit matches my outfit.”  Priorities.  Fitbit love.






2 thoughts on “House of Mirrors

  1. Great article. I taught for almost a decade, under No Child Left Behind, and I remember having to sign all these papers that we would keep the test contents secret, wouldn’t talk about the tests to anyone. What were they hiding? Stop blaming yourself! We’re in the midst of a hostile takeover of education by self-serving, profit-driven interests. It has become common practice for people to make a lot of money sitting in an office somewhere creating standards and assessments for others who they will never meet or interact with. Those teachers who remain in the classroom, who fight every day to provide direct face-to-face education for their students — you are the only true educators worth keeping employed, in my opinion. I have no respect for the “educators” who sit at a computer checking email all day, making decisions about matters they won’t ever handle in person. I worked with several principals who were like that. Our culture has become enamored with this “distant drone” mentality. Everywhere I go, I find these people who are not willing to get their hands dirty, but then want to wield the power of directing others and telling them how things should happen. Distant, hands-off managers. Absentee landlords. Far-off educations czars. Unavailable building code inspectors. Top-floor CEOs behind locked doors. It’s pathetic. Meanwhile the only real education happens when a teacher remains in the room and interacts with the students directly. It is my opinion that we have lost our way, as a culture. Joy, you have nothing to be ashamed of. Keep up the good fight! Use that tenure system to do what you know is right, whether or not the well-fed overlords approve.


    1. Thank you Adam.
      I appreciate the encouragement so much.
      I am very hard on myself. I gradually learning to function and thrive
      in an imperfect environment. I keep fighting for my students.
      Sending love.


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