thinking things through.

The past week of my professional life has been dedicated to meeting with teachers and reflecting on their writing workshops. The gist of our meetings involves discussing successes and general good stuff happening in workshop, as well as goals and hopes for next year. I’m touched by how driven many teachers are in the quest to constantly improve their practice for the students in their classrooms. It seems that in the face of No Child Left Untested, err Behind and the constant degradation of public schools, many teachers have found the will to continue doing what is best for kids, even if it appears out of sync with standardized testing.

Now if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’m all about balance. I tend to preach balance between standardized prompt experiences and pure workshop experiences.

However, if I were to tip the scales and choose a side, it would be that of workshop. I believe writing workshop does prepare students for standardized tests. I believe teaching according to best practices prepares students for standardized tests. I believe caring about students, reading a poem aloud because it reminds you of a student, sending a kid on a silly scavenger hunt prepares students for standardized tests. I believe sharing our passion for language arts prepares students for standardized tests.

What will happen if we take away our joy of teaching in order to prepare kids to get better scores? What will happen if we sacrifice building relationships in the name of more grammar instruction? What will happen if we crumble under the pressure to conform our instruction to standardized tests?

When asked, “What is your goal for next year,” a teacher answered me, “For my classes to get the highest score on our district writing prompt.”

I sat in silence.

The teacher continued, “Isn’t that what it’s all about? To raise scores? I suppose I also desire for all of my students to pass the ISTEP test.”

My silence sent the wrong message. The teacher thought I was judging, that I wanted some other answer. But all I felt inside was sadness.

I was sad that all this teacher has to offer — humor and experience and a genuine love and understanding of language arts — was reduced to helping students do better on some stinkin’ test.

Then I was angry. Angry that so much pressure has been put on teachers, that we believe our roles are reduced to that of “score-increasers.” Angry that this good teacher isn’t valued.

And I understand. I understand the frustration of having scores placed on a graph and put up on a big screen in front of the entire staff and being told, “If we don’t increase our language arts scores we will be a failing school . . . ” I understand the sinking feeling of getting class lists back with blocks of yellow highlight indicating all of the students who didn’t pass the district assessment. I understand feeling those above us don’t care about the growth and improvement students make unless it yields a passing test score.

I understand. But I’m sad. And angry.

And still trying to sort it all out.