“Why can’t people hold two truths in their heads at once?” Bob Costas. As I listened to him state this question on TV last night it hit me as true in so many areas. But particularly it hit me professionally. A gifted teacher from our state of Maine just won the 1st Global Teacher Prize. Her beliefs and practices are in direct contrast to the current educational pedagogy. Granted she runs a very small elite school compared to the school I teach at which is at the exact opposite end of the spectrum. But the contrasts are startling. Small class size, overwhelming parent and community support, no standardized tests/no need to chase the federal dollars…the list of contrasts are perhaps infinite. But it’s more than the contrasts that stand out as we educators reflect on her award and as I also reflect on Bob’s question.
The reality is we need federal dollars to run our school. Without them we would perish. Our neighborhood children need our school. It is their ticket to a future they try to visualize. So in a sick and dysfunctional way we need standardized tests. But do we need to give them the power to guide all our decisions? Do we need them to run our programs? Maybe and maybe not.
This week my children, (Yes, that’s what I call my class of students because they are like my children in that I care for them, watch over them, and educate them. That’s what adults in a community do for children in their care.) and I had a fantastic week. When a friend and guider of our program told me that she saw my spark this week I could do nothing but reflect on why and where it has been all year. If we are to reflect, and I do believe all good teachers reflect, I must be honest and say part of the struggles this year were do to personal loss and exhaustion caring for a dog I loved. I realize how silly this may sound to some but to me the loss was real and true. Understanding that realness helps us understand the realness of loss our students may also encounter. Those emotions dance in and out of our day whether we want them to or not. Similar emotions may be behind why this week was so successful. You see, this week I was able to educate the whole child. Where has that belief to “educate the whole child” gone? Because it is gone. And I believe it is the grief over that loss that took my spark this year. While we are told not to worry about the tests, not to let them consume us, we are also judged on those tests. We are held highly accountable to the results of those tests. It doesn’t really matter that one boy draws a face with the dots on the graphing question rather than fill in the graph properly, the question will be asked,”Why isn’t he on grade level?” And we darn well better have a good answer.
So why can’t we hold onto two truths at once? Why can’t we know that testing is here and we need to deal with it and prep our kids for it but at the same time remember they are just kids. Kids with hearts as well as minds. Kids who need to create, to move, to explore, to wonder why and search for those guiding questions. Kids who struggle as much and more than we do. Kids who want desperately for us to remember they are more than testing learning machines. This week reminded me of that.
This week we sang, we recited poetry, we researched a country we never heard of before, we danced, we did art to learn a math lesson, we Skyped, we read, we wrote, we spoke, we listened, we made spring flowers to celebrate spring (vernal equinox is what it’s called because vernal means spring and equinox means equal, so vernal equinox or the first day of spring means equal day length and equal night time length), we learned about a state first hand rather than only through a future reading, we heard and listened and spoke in Russian, we saw happiness when we said, “dobro pozhalovat’, welcome” to our Russian guests.We were happy, we were successful, we had fun learning, we remembered, we were kind, we were fulfilled.
Why can’t we hold those two truths in our heads and hearts? We may have testing to do but we also have whole children to educate.