Thursday, July 26, 2012

What's With the Lack of Blogging

I have been a lame blogger the past couple of months. By way of explanation:

1) I've been applying for jobs. By "jobs" I mean work that I care about and like and that is paying. When I decided to take a break from the classroom to write, I gave myself a few years to study and be an apprentice of sorts. That time is up and, shockingly, I have received no offers to come be a master writer. I will certainly remain a writer and that will mean being a perpetual student of writing, but the apprenticeship is done. Unless I am doing it for my own edification or for someone or a publication that also does not make any money, I will not work for free or near-free. It just doesn't feel good and won't help sustain the profession for anyone.

Anyhoo, this all means I've been tweaking resumes, getting people who barely remember or know me to write me recommendations (sounds like a winning strategy, no?), struggling to write professional but not boring cover letters, and filling out the same information over and over again. This all takes time, especially when the process is punctured by rejections. Then I have to get through those and resolve to just work harder and to shut down the discouraged voice in my head. 

2) For both my husband, and our families, education is akin to religion. This past school year, we navigated as parents for the first time high-stakes testing. I hope to write more eloquently and in more detail about this at a later time but for now I'll say we felt powerless, helpless, and angry as we watched our children feel angry, anxious, and wiped out from the testing experience (despite everything their school and teachers did to make it as humane and positive an experience as possible), for the first time counting the days until the end of school. It's worse than what I remember experiencing as a teacher, though this may be because I have taught mostly high school and high school students are more equipped to deal with the long, boring, stressful tests than are eight-year-olds. Needless to say, I am more convinced than ever that high-stakes testing must go. I'm done with being nuanced here. High stakes testing is awful and it stinks and it's making my kids hate school. It's awful for the teachers, it's awful for the students, and it's awful for students' parents. The only people it's not awful for are those in the testing industry, those in the testing-as-education-reform industry, and those politicians who rely upon one or both of those industries . My husband and I both see great value in assessment and testing and tell our children that part of life is being bored and anxious sometimes and doing things you'd rather not. We believe that for the right reasons, that anxiety and stress can be productive. But McTests are not one of those reasons. Our children are smarter than those tests, are more curious than those tests, love knowledge more than those tests, and they deserve better than those tests, and so does every other child who is having their education ruined because of them. 

3) People close to you die, they get hurt, they end relationships, they move, they have celebrations. In light of those, your little old education blog and happenings that seem unrelated to your life become much less important.

4) Victoria Young once made the comment on a post of mine that: 

To have a conversation about how to "fix" what is broken with the education system, we actually have to put ourselves in position to have real dialogue. That doesn't happen when it takes place online only.....
I don't think she meant for me to, but I really took that personally, and it helped give me a good kick in the direction of re-prioritizing.

I took me a few months but I realize that I have grown tired of hearing myself talk and talk about the same things over and over again. I feel like I need to read more and to listen more and absorb more and think more and to do more. At a certain point all of this talk about education and education reform gets too meta, like I'm just talking above all of what's actually happening while it's happening without really knowing what's actually happening. Deep thoughts, I know. I love to think, talk, write education, but I'm not sure what or how much I'm helping any more. I'm trying to do a lot more reading and reflecting.

This is not to say I will not be blogging any longer. I have at least few more things to say, which I am working on, but I want to spend more time being useful, doing education rather than just talking education, and also perhaps find some time to focus on a bit more again on some of this writing and some of that writing.


10 comments:

  1. You helped me put high stakes testing of special needs students into clearly perspective. Because of one of your guest posters, I was inspired to write about the experiences my students with special needs have had with high stakes testing. I had no idea that I even had so many stories until I started writing them, and adding them to her collection to be sent to the DOE.

    While I can't opt out my student out and keep my job, I realized that there are some things that I can do to minimize my participate in what I thing is truly wrong. I stopped doing practice testing, which I realized did not reduce student stress by making them "familiar with the format," which is what many teachers at my school reason. I've also eliminated any sort of multiple choice type goals from IEPs in favor of authentic materials that come from reading real books, and actual problem solving.

    I know that it is tiny, but it is a start.

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  2. Thank you for your comment--it means so much.

    What you're doing is no tiny thing at all. I don't want caring, knowledgeable, and experienced teachers to lose their jobs. I want you to hang tight. We need you to be there for our children through this insanity. Change or do as much as you are able to and, please, stay in the classroom. That's more than enough.

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  3. Sorry about my poor editing skills. I was getting rushed out the door by a certain someone, and did not have time to proof read.

    You helped me put high stakes testing of special needs students more clearly into perspective. Because of one of your guest posters, I was inspired to write about the experiences my students with special needs have had with high stakes testing. I had no idea that I even had so many stories until I started writing them, and adding them to her collection to be sent to the DOE.

    While I can't opt out my student out and keep my job, I realized that there are some things that I can do to minimize my participation in what I thing is truly wrong. For instance, I stopped doing practice testing, which I realized did not reduce student stress by making them "familiar with the format," which is what many teachers at my school reason. I've also eliminated any sort of multiple choice type goals from IEPs in favor of authentic materials that come from reading real books, and actual problem solving.

    I know that it is tiny, but it is a start.

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  4. I'm not sure I want to know what it's like to navigate high-stakes testing as a parent of an elementary-aged child. Just thinking about it makes me want to hide in a closet.

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  5. I would say that most parents have no idea what it is like for their children, or even what the questions are like. Parents are not allowed to be in the room with their child during testing, and they do not get observe the varying levels of effort, stress, or confusion of the other kids. Parents do not see the child who returns his test 12 minutes after the directions are given, or the one who takes the entire school day (lunch in separate room and no recess to prevent discussing the tests with other kids.) Parents do not get to observe students asking for help, and teachers not being allowed to provide it. Parents have not observed students melting down or shutting down or doing just fine. Parents are also not permitted in other classrooms during testing either. Maybe it is different in other states, but that the rule here.

    I asked my principal if parent volunteers could be trained to help with reading the non-reading tests to students with reading disabilities. (Reading the non-reading tests is an IEP accommodation that must be provided, and a large number of kids qualified, as do ELL kids) Providing that level of coverage meant that every ELL and Sped teacher and IA would be pulled away from normal duties, and non-testing taking students would not be served during their regular times. (That's another issue that parents might not realize.) My principal told me that using parent volunteers was not permitted, and the school's tests could be invalidated. Parents have no chance to learn for themselves what the various questions are like.

    --Sorrel

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  6. @James I really had no idea. I somehow thought that only kids who struggle with passing the tests would have a bad experience with them. It took me a while to take my own kids' problems with them seriously.

    @Anonymous I think you are right that many parents have no idea about what happens with testing in school. Or they are resigned to it. Although my kids' school is very good about keeping parents informed about exactly what will happen when and how--they really do as much as they can to work with parents. And this post http://nycpublicschoolparents.blogspot.com/2012/05/results-of-survey-from-8000-parents.html about a survey of parents in New York State certainly indicates that parents see changes in behavior at home as well during testing. What those parents and their children experienced certainly mirrors what we experienced in my house.

    I've been spending all summer trying to avoid thinking about testing next year.

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  7. Rachel; thanks for this. I had a meeting w/ an education power broker last week who tried to blame all the stress and distress kids were experiencing over testing to unnecessary pressures placed on them by teachers & parents -- ignoring how the emphasis on high-stakes testing imposed by people at the top were actually the primary cause. We need to watch out for this propaganda line by the #corpreformers as testing expands even more in our schools.

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  8. Thanks for all of the comments & interest, all. I will be writing a few more posts about high-stakes testing soon.

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  9. Rachel, I understand your ambivalence about blogging, or some of it. I hope you do continue from time to time--and that you continue writing in any case. You're one of my favorite education bloggers.

    Yes, it's true that education needs real dialogue. But it also needs people who think things through as carefully as you do and who pose problems in interesting ways.

    In any case, I look forward to your upcoming posts.

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  10. @Diana Thank you. I am honored to be one of your favorite education bloggers. I admire you and your work very much.

    I will definitely continue to blog--I just posted today, in fact.

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