So, I’m not supposed to use the S– word in my classroom?

I cryptically repeated the exact same statement for the third time, trying my absolute darndest not to use any inflection that could be deemed “inappropriate.” “If you would like a dictionary, please raise your hand.”

Surely the third time will be the charm, I thought to myself. Nevermind that this was a READING TEST, of which new vocabulary makes up a sizable percentage of the score. Obviously. Nevermind that the kid I was hoping would catch on and raise his hand already owned the specific dictionary I was offering him. I mean, it’s his. He bought the electronic dictionary from Best Buy himself. He wrote his name on it in permanent marker. Forever until the end of time, or at least for two more weeks before this technology becomes obsolete, it’s his personal dictionary. So, why didn’t I just hand him the darn thing? FOR THE READING TEST?

Because this is the STAAR test, and state testing rules trump common sense.

Rules that govern how to administer the dreaded S- word, the Standardized Test, dictate that I may NOT hand out dictionaries to each student in the testing room, but I may OFFER them. FOR THE READING TEST. Apparently automatically passing one out to each student would be demanding a certain reading strategy be used. FOR THE READING TEST.

It is this kind of ridiculousness that makes me question my role as an educator. The state of Texas has taken micro-managing to an entirely new level. If I wasn’t so frustrated, I would be impressed.

As a classroom teacher for 13 years, I can assure you, the state has lost its collective mind in terms of uniform, standardized testing. Not my specific school district, not my campus, not the teachers on my hall.

But for your viewing pleasure, here are some more rules that prove standardized testing has completely lost sight of the Big Picture in education:

1. During testing, students may not wear sweatshirts with front pockets. They may not wear hoodies or jackets with hoods or jackets with pockets. (Hey, at least we let them keep their pants.) And please point me toward the section at Target that does NOT sell sweatshirts with front pockets or hoodies or jackets with hoods and front pockets for teenagers and preteens. When you find that store, you should buy them out. Just take out a small personal loan and go home with the entire stock. It’ll be a worthwhile investment every spring when testing days roll around.

What if one of our students tried to cheat on the state assessment? Some have, and undoubtedly more will. But slow your roll. Are we raising a generation of students who are so adept at cheating that they’ll spend more effort on cheating than on actually thinking? If that’s the case, shouldn’t we be more focused on the problem of an entire generation of dishonest humans?

2. Common testing supplies (like highlighters, dictionaries, scratch paper for the math test) may be requested by the student but cannot be initiated by the test administrator.

3. Teachers may only actively monitor during the assessment. All attention must be focused on the students at all times. For four hours. Teachers are expected to circulate around the room, never spending “too much time” in one location.

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4. Teachers are also expected to check on the students while they are working by double checking that each student is working on the correct part of the test and that they are bubbling their answers on the appropriate section of their scantrons, without leaving any questions blank.

5. At the same time, teachers are forbidden to look at ANY. PART. of the test. Somehow, we are to check the students but not actually read any of the words on the page. Don’t stare too long!

We’re molding a generation of teachers who are perfecting the art form of looking without seeing, which is a useful skill to have exactly 0 other times in life.

Keep in mind, naive reader, that our public schools are currently in “Stage 1” of a three stage system, built to increase the rigor of our state tests…er… I mean, instruction. Surely, the end purpose is to increase the rigor of classroom instruction statewide. But if that’s the case, then why was the passing requirement of tests like 6th grade math set at 34% and 8th grade reading at 56% in 2014? Even the lawmakers are admitting, “It ain’t gonna happen!”

* Should educators in Texas be held accountable for their effectiveness as teachers? YES! A resounding yes!

* Should students be held accountable for mastering age-appropriate educational concepts? Absolutely!

* Is a state-wide, one-size-fits-all assessment the best way to accomplish these goals? Doubt it.

But this is what has become of our public educational system in Texas. It’s not exactly what I signed up for when I first tried on those rose-tinted glasses my first year of teaching and embarked on my journey to change the world, one adolescent heart at a time.

I certainly never dreamed I’d witness a Facebook uproar as teachers banded together in an attempt to shoot down state legislation that has the potential to create a mass exodus of employees out of the field of education. (I am not a political guru; I have no business quoting legislative topics. But I can tell you everything you need to know about HB 2543. Scary, isn’t it?)

Do doctors get paid according to how many patients they cure?

Are preachers earning their paycheck based on how many people they convert each year?

Do collegiate professors earn their salary based on how many students earn a degree within the field in which they are being taught? (The instructors from my glory days of college sure are glad that isn’t the case. How many times did I change my major?)

The good new is this: I have, quite literally, taught my way across Texas, from the piney woods of East Texas all the way to the frozen tundra I like to call the Texas Panhandle. And in every district I’ve been a part of, I have met, learned from, and been challenged by REALLY GREAT TEACHERS. The state hasn’t totally ruined us. Not yet anyway. Teachers all over this great state are working innovatively and creatively to both prepare your student for Life and for the dern test. For the most part, teachers have found a pleasant balance. They are offering engaging, relevant, often project-based lessons. They are fiercely holding on to the responsibility of raising your student to become a productive, contributing member of society one day, not just really great test-takers. But make no mistake about it, teachers are also making sure your student is ready to pass the test. But, deep down, you’re actually pacified by that. Admit it: you’d complain if you felt your student wasn’t prepared for the test.

The take-away is this: Teachers are doing the teacher thing WELL. Your student is learning. The state assessment itself seems to have grown too big for its britches, and that creates a lot of friction. But regardless of what craziness the state creates for our public school classrooms, teachers are still in the business of loving on your children and providing for their educational needs.

Because Jen Hatmaker Told Me To

Things I love: sarcasm, the smell of books, children (yours, mine, the loud one in the next aisle, any and all of them), sleeping, using the restroom without interruption, laughing so hard incontinence becomes an issue, and WORDS.

Things I hate: loud noises, multi-tasking (how have I made it so long as a teacher then?), questioning myself (oh, see what I did there?), arguing with my husband or children, the dark, and waiting for feedback after clicking “publish” on my blog.

Jen Hatmaker posted some valuable advice on her blog last month, and in it she encouraged quiet writers like myself to force ourselves to write, write, write and publish, publish, publish.

Easy for her to say… She’s sitting on the sunny side of publishing, with a few or a dozen or a million or so books penned in her hand, something like 8 trillion followers on her blog, and pretty entertaining appearances on HGTV. But, I think she is pee-your-pants funny, so I’ll at least humor her and force myself to write, write, write and publish, publish, publish this week.

Writing for a public, knowing actual eyes that belong to actual people will read your words and will form actual opinions of you is HARD. You feel vulnerable and oddly defensive. You know that most of what you publish will fall on deaf ears. But… you know in the deepest parts of your heart the power found in words. “Words are power” they say. And when it’s your words that resonate with readers, you feel like you’ve hit the grand slam of publishing. Every once in a while, you print something really worthwhile. And it’s satisfying… and exhilarating… and terrifying all at once to understand the impact you’ve had on another person because of your words.

I think that’s why I so deeply cherish my love-hate relationship with writing. Much like my relationship with Grey’s Anatomy, which is obviously past its expiration date, submitting myself to an affair with Writing will inevitably be painful, but I just can’t quit it.

To the other Quiet Writers out there like me: it’s intimidating, this publishing process. However, let’s agree we owe it to ourselves to keep writing, even when we cringe at the thought of hitting “publish” and our dismal stats stare back at us from the dashboard.

No matter how busy we find ourselves or how demanding our “real” jobs feel (10 school days until my STAAR test! EEK!), let’s vow to keep publishing.

Even when you are so exhausted, you fall asleep at 7:45, foolishly thinking you’ll just lay down for a minute to pat your son’s back while tucking him in for the night.

Even when your schedule is so tight, the only pedicure you can swing is soaking your feet in the baby’s bath.

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Even when your kids’ lunch consists of an eclectic mix of gogurt, pop tarts, and fruit snacks because saying “a trip to the store is long overdue” is a gross understatement.

Even when your gourmet dinner is courtesy of Sonic.

Even when date night means you’re still awake when your man changes the channel to the 9:05 late start baseball game.

Even when you’re so pressed for time, your Quiet Time consists of a quick scroll through Instagram for a brief reflection on Priscilla Shirer’s inspirational quote of the day. (That makes it Biblical, right? That’s basically like reading the Bible.)

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Even when some days leave you so frazzled, you utter a not-so-silent prayer instead of losing your mind on your 8-year-old who asks about his video game time for the 64859964.5 time in one day, even though you created an elaborate video game schedule to avoid this exact conversation.

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Even when you create a new version of the messy bun because you realize in the haste of your rushed mornings this week, you’ve already worn your hair up every day. And now it’s Thursday.

And when you’ve typed an ENTIRE 700 word post using only your index finger and an iPhone because your computer is on the fritz and your last shred of sanity is hanging on by a mere thread… (Not that I’ve done that. Not that I’m doing that right now. Not that I’m DYING INSIDE waiting for our tax return so I can get a working laptop!)

And finally, when you know in your head that hard work pays off, but you’re growing impatient to see the proof.

Those are the times we push ourselves, Quiet Writers, and keep writing. Our words need to be published! We can leave them screaming in our heads, or we can disclose them to the public. Who knows? Maybe your next post will be your grand slam.