SOL 21/15 Holding Two Truths in Our Heads and Hearts

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“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.


					
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5 thoughts on “SOL 21/15 Holding Two Truths in Our Heads and Hearts

  1. My fourth graders, nineteen unique, amazing nine and ten-year old children, will take the new Common Core Assessment next week. They don’t all have access to computers at home and barely know the basics of word processing, but they are expected to take this rigorous, developmentally inappropriate test on a laptop. They are young. Tears flow freely when a jacket zipper is stuck, when a math problem is too hard or when homework is forgotten at home. They haven’t learned how to regulate their emotions at the tender age of nine or ten. Yet they will be expected to navigate new tools on a laptop while solving a math problem. They will be expected to find the best answer to questions that have more than one possible answer. They will be taking a test that is so incredibly challenging that every adult in our school struggled to answer the questions.

    It doesn’t match the way we teach. It will take up six hours of classroom instructional time. It is unfair and goes against everything I believe to be true and right and good for our children. We will never see the results. We will never be able to use the information in any way that will benefit the student or the teacher. It is a test that sets my students up for failure. Did I mention that my nineteen students are all reading and writing below grade level? They have worked incredibly hard this year. All have increased their fluency and comprehension. Most have the stamina to read for 20 minutes in the classroom without becoming distracted and looking around. But they are still struggling in literacy and many struggle in math.

    I have spent many sleepless nights thinking about my students and this test and how I will ever prepare them. We have practiced with the math tools so that they know how to solve a math problem on the laptop. We have practiced reading the passage on the split screen and have tried to answer the questions correctly. The reality is that next week, my students will sit in a room with a laptop, on their own, and take this test.

    I have come to the frightening conclusion that I cannot prepare them for this test. I can only make them as comfortable as possible with the tool that they will be using to type their answers.

    In my mind, I compare taking this test to taking my child to the doctor’s office to get her first shot. I know it’s going to hurt, but she doesn’t. Yet. I can’t tell her that it will hurt because I don’t want her to be anxious and afraid. It will be over soon and the pain will subside. I can’t really prepare her for the pain of the needle in her arm just anymore than I can prepare my students to answer questions that are above their level of comprehension. I don’t want my students to be anxious and afraid of this test but I know they will experience pain and frustration. At least the shot from the doctor, although painful, will ultimately help my child. The tests won’t.

    As a parent, I’ll never forget when my husband and I took our daughter to the doctor for her first shots. She knew she was going to get them but she had no idea how much it would hurt. I’ll never forget the tears and her wide-eyed look at us, as if to say, “how could you let him hurt me like this.” Tears rolled down my cheek as I imagined her perception of this experience. Her parents, people she had no reason not to trust, let this man hurt her. She had been betrayed.

    I anticipate tears next week when my students take the test. I feel the same about these nineteen children that I love and teach everyday as I do about my own daughter. She trusted me. They trust me. It makes me sad to know that they trust me, as their teacher to guide them and do what’s best for them and I will let them down.

    C. Lovendahl
    March 22, 2015

  2. I love this quote, “(We teach…) Kids who want desperately for us to remember they are more than testing learning machines.” So glad you had an excellent week. So sorry for your loss.

  3. Yes, yes, yes! We must hold those two truths always. I am so glad for the week you had with your children. And the loss of a fur family member strikes so hard. That day will come for my family as our one doxie will be 19 in 2 and a half months.

    • We do try to hold on, don’t we? Thanks and your Doxie is one old doggie. If that doesn’t constitute a family member I don’t know what does! You obviously take good care of her.

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