A Prayer for Teachers

It’s that time of year again. In Texas at least, teachers are reporting back to duty this week. Good-bye slow mornings with no alarms. Good-bye afternoon movie dates and post-lunch naps! (I’ve always been told to sleep when the baby sleeps, and even though my youngest is nearly three, I still live by that creed. Mama takes her sleep SER.I.OUS.LY.) Good-bye mid-week grocery shopping. Good-bye late nights with one more cartoon and a few more snuggles. Good-bye to my crush, Jimmy Fallon. We’ve had a hilarious summer and I’m pleased to see your finger is healing nicely, but now reality calls. Until next year…

From one educator to another, I want to say to you, Dear Teacher, that I pray for you this week. Leaving the luxuries of summer behind is a yearly adjustment for all of us. In just a couple of weeks, you’ll face a roomful of new faces and try without success to remember what it was like to wake up after the sun instead of before it. As you look into your students’ eyes for the first time in a week or so, I want you to remember that you were lifted up in prayer and readied for this moment.

Dear Teacher, those kiddos (even the big ole’ seventeen- and eighteen-year-old ones) need you this year. They need to hear repeatedly that they are worth your time, that they are capable of big things, and that hard work will eventually pay off. They need you to speak these truths to them so many times that your voice becomes their inner voice. When they tell themselves, “Yes, this is hard! But difficult does not equal impossible,” they hear you. They’ll give it a try… for you. Because they think you believe they can.

Teach, they’re watching you this year. Don’t forget that they’re learning important life skills, the ones that have nothing to do with Reading or World History. They see how you treat other staff members and how you deal with conflict yourself. They see how you face the day with work to be done while your personal life crumbles to pieces and brings you to the brink of emotional instability. They’re learning from you, every moment, just by being near you. How should I politely tell this person they made me mad? What do I do when I’m afraid to go home after school? How do I admit I need help? Be intentional with your integrity and your character this year, Teacher. Your students need you beyond your subject area.

Dear Teacher, I pray that you will be what your students need you to be this year. Maybe some of those boys need a patient teacher, one who can always greet them with a hug and a smile… even in April or May. Maybe a few of those girls need a listening ear or a kind word to speak louder than the belittling ones they hear outside your room. Maybe your students just need you to remember that they’re still kids. And inevitably, kids are bound to act like kids. It’s not always convenient when data demands need to be met. But we’re not raising a generation of numbers, are we?

Teacher, I pray you’ll enjoy your last moments with your family or friends before the year steals your time. I pray you will be fortified and ready for the students God will bring through your door this year. I pray you will have the support you need and the confidence you deserve to have an unforgettable year.

And because I know my prayers will never fall on deaf ears, I pray for the REALLY important things too: I pray there won’t be a line at the copier when you’re in a hurry. I pray it won’t jam when the line is seven people deep behind you. I pray you receive Starbucks gift cards at Christmas instead of another candle. I pray your name is accidentally left off the committees list. I pray your duty is minimal, and your raise is significant. I pray for extra hours in the day when you need to grade research papers. I pray for the rest of your assessments to be online multiple-choice quizzes. I pray for patience when you need it, rest when you’re weary, more laughter to share with your  students.

Here’s to another stellar year, Dear Teacher!

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.

monitoring pic

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.