A few days ago I received a letter from an experienced teacher in an eastern state that recalled Yogi Berra’s observation, “Deja vu all over again.” Her story brought to mind the treatment that caused my older daughter, a talented teacher, to leave the profession, and it makes me grieve for students, teachers and the institution of public education.
Below is an excerpt from her letter, followed by my daughter’s story.
Let me tell you what a horrific day I had at work.
OK, so yesterday I had to spend the entire morning proctoring the state science assessment for 5th graders. Today I was called to the office and told I needed to proctor yet another test for the 5th graders, whose results would be used to determine what ‘track’ they will be on in middle school. The test had four sub-tests. I was told that I had to pick up all the fifth grade ESL students and get their tests and subtest answer sheets and bring them into another room. None of the classroom teachers knew anything about this test, either.
So my ESL colleague and I took the kids to a separate room and started the test. ESL kids get ‘extended time’…but while we’re giving the test, the noise level outside the room is unbelievable–the assistant principal is yelling to the secretaries because she won’t get off her butt to ask them a question but would rather yell from her desk. Talk about disrespect for the ESL kids.
We started at 9:30. The first two parts took until 11:30, then we had to dismiss the kids to their art, music, gym, etc, classes. After those classes they had to come back to us to be tested on math. Oh, and by the way, we needed calculators for them, but the administrators ‘forgot’ to tell any of the teachers about this. Then LATER we found out the kids were supposed to get a reference sheet about math terms, but the administrators said “just give them the test anyway…” Then came lunch and recess, and they had to come back again because they STILL weren’t done. When we finally finished, it was 2:30. Remember, we started at 9:30.
TOMORROW, I have to give them ANOTHER test. Friday, I have to give them ANOTHER test, then they spend the rest of their day finishing up the ESL test on the computer…and the computers keep crashing.
I called the ESL person in charge and told them about the proctor who was reading instead of doing his job. She told me that the only reason I was complaining was that I didn’t want the proctors there in the first place.
I’ve called in the union. I don’t think they will actually do anything, but this is child abuse and MY NAME is on these tests. And these scores go on MY evaluation.
Trader Joe’s looks better every day.
Reading this letter, I immediately thought of my older daughter’s experience teaching Italian in a middle school in Spanish Harlem here in New York City about ten years ago. She had been hired because she’s fluent in Italian and the school wanted the kids to learn a second language (most kids spoke limited English and Spanglish, but not Spanish). She had energized her 8th graders by challenging them: If they learned Italian to a certain (high) level, she would treat them to a meal in a real Italian restaurant in midtown Manhattan, an establishment with cloth napkins and real silverware, where they would order their meals in Italian! Most of her kids had never ventured outside of Spanish Harlem or been to a fancy restaurant, but they rose to the challenge. In fact, they were doing so well that she had begun a fundraising campaign to raise the money to pay for the restaurant meals.
At that point—roll of drums—her principal came in and announced in front of the entire class, “OK, Ms. Merrow, that’s enough Italian for the year. The tests are coming in three weeks, and I want you to put Italian aside and spend the time prepping for the math test.”
She protested, but he overrode her, dismissed her concerns and ordered her to get to it.
She did as directed. Of course, it did not work. And while the kids didn’t learn any math (or any more Italian), they learned THREE important–if unintended–lessons: 1) Italian was irrelevant. 2) Their teacher was equally irrelevant. 3) Only the test mattered!
The real world consequence of this idiocy was that, the day after the last test, about 2/3s of her students simply stopped coming to school. It was still May, and the school year did not end in NYC until late June, but the kids had absorbed the essential lessons from that brainless administrator.
I wrote the ESL teacher asking for permission to use parts of her letter. She gave her OK and added, “the testing mania has caused people to lose their minds and their ability to see that having students sit for hours and hours of testing does NOT enhance their abilities, other than their ability to take a test. Last school year I felt like all I did was teach kids how to game the test.
There is nothing intellectual going on in schools, just taking tests to provide quantifiable data that will be used to judge teachers, schools, districts, pigeonhole students into tracks and leave us with a generation of students who no longer find school fun, but find school a boring, frustrating place to be.”
My daughter left teaching, a real loss because she was and is a gifted teacher. I hope the woman whose letter I cite above will persevere. Perhaps her union will get involved, or perhaps she will share her story with other teachers, who will then speak as one voice on behalf of their students. Sadly, it seems more likely that she will choose another profession.
This is insane.