Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Pothole Diatribe

Starting back into training slowly……two runs this week and Total Immersion swimming clinic tomorrow with Celeste (which is great for showing me how much I DON’T KNOW about swimming.)  Coach said to run a few times a week when I feel like it, and do some cross training with other sports – mountain biking, hiking, etc...It’s hard to not start itching to really start TRAINING!!!  Especially when I am reading on other triathlete’s blogs that their base training has begun.  I have to trust in coach’s plan and recognize that the off-season is long and I will be burnt to a crisp by July if I jump back in right now.   In my head I understand, but my heart is saying “GET OUT THERE AND CRANK!”   Thankfully my bike is getting its end of season clean-up/tune-up.

Even if I could start training again, the craziness of school this past week would never have let it happen.   Progress reports, parent teacher conferences, PSATs, department meeting, flooding that closed the school last Friday --- ridiculous!

I almost don’t want to go here right now because it makes me soooooooo freakin’ mad!  But I think I will get up on my educational “soapbox”!

This “documentary” Waiting for Superman has boiled my blood for the past few weeks. Every news network, magazine, newspaper has focused on the issue of education and how much teachers are failing the students and ultimately the country.  It’s funny how all of these panels put together on MSNBC and such all have these education “gurus” who have spent little to NO time in a classroom but seem to have ALL the answers.  Especially that one idiot who said in his closing remark, “If only teachers would give FIVE more hours a week to students….”  Are you freaking kidding me?????  You want to give five more hours in addition to the sixty plus hours I already give?? 

You know what?  I am a damn good teacher.  I don’t mind saying so.  I work hard to engage my students; I work hard to make sure my students LEARN what is expected; I work hard to develop rapport with my students and make my classroom climate safe, and respectful, but still academically challenging.  I DO MY JOB!  And I actually love it.  Did you hear that?  I don’t just like my job – I love it.  But when the measure of my teaching ability comes from a standardized test that was NEVER intended to assess my teaching ability or a student’s knowledge, but was designed to measure  a student’s potential aptitude in college – I FUME!!! Yes, in Maine we use the College Board’s SAT as our state assessment.

I’m not opposed to using standardized tests to give a “snapshot” of a student at one moment in time.  But what I am opposed to is using that type of assessment as the SOLE means of determining the quality of a teacher or a school.  There are plenty of ways to show learning and teaching ability.  I wish someone in Augusta would ask ME!  I could give them a list.

I can’t make all my students care about the SAT.  Some do, some don’t.  And it’s not even care, it’s more like even try.  Some kids know that the SAT does not mean squat to anything – not their credits, not their graduation, not their report cards, not anything.  I have personally seen kids open the testing booklet, write their name and promptly put their head on their desk and close their eyes.  Yes, the kids who are college bound do take it quite seriously, but some kids, whose post-secondary plans do not include a four-year college, do not try at all.  I can talk about all the reasons they should try until I am literally dead – but to some kids it doesn’t make an iota of difference.  Yet, our schools are measured by this. 

Maybe I am way, way off in left field.  Maybe I am the one failing these kids.  Maybe if I was a better teacher, these kids would care and pull themselves out of their generational poverty, substance abuse, fifth grade reading level (don’t get me started on this point), and horrific familial dysfunction and begin to try on the SAT.

Just tell me this.  In what other profession are practitioners held responsible for performance of their charges when the only thing they can control is 75 minutes out of their day?  Are doctors held responsible if their patients do not choose to lose weight?  Are banks held responsible if their customers bounce checks?  Yet, we are held responsible if kids don’t do their homework (or can’t for a variety of reasons), or don’t study for a quiz or don’t bring home notices (we have to call home to make sure parents at least know there was a notice) or try on the SAT.

Of course all can kids can learn.  I'm not one of those teachers who are so totally jaded and close-minded that every educational initiative is scorned and sneered at almost immediately.  

But this is what I believe. 

We expect most babies will learn to eventually walk.  Notice I said eventually.  Babies do not learn to walk at all the same time.  They don't hit twelve months and automatically let go of the coffee table and toddle precariously over to mom's outstretched arms.  Some do it at ten months.  Some do it in fifteen.  Do we categorize moms and dads as "ineffective" parents for the lack of upright mobility?  Of course not.  Babies learn to walk at all different ages, but with practice most do.  Shouldn't we believe the same in our students?

Grade level expectations and standards are arbitrary.  Some random person decided that all kids must be able to add and subtract fractions by fourth grade.  Some random person decided that all kids must be able to recognize run-on sentences by seventh grade.  

Some students enter high school with a fourth grade reading level.  How the hell am I supposed to get them to reading at an eleventh grade reading level in less than three years?  That's eight years of education compacted in less than three!  And for this --  I am held responsible. 
Why am I diatribing (I’m definitely making up a verb here) about this and who the hell cares?  Well, for one it’s my blog.  Love that.  And second, if I am a good English teacher, and I do what I say to do with my students, I need to bring this all around to the beginning and find a thread that runs between it all.  Okay, I am a good English teacher.  I even began writing this post without thinking about where it was headed. But now I need to find the thread.

Third, (about why I am diatribing if you have already forgotten), with all this lack of training hours – I no longer have hours and hours to obsess about all of this educational b.s. on the bike or in the pool.  It’s not all I think about, but it’s a terrific time to just settle into an idea or situation and let it all play out in my head.  Instead of in the water or the road, my internal crap played itself out on the page. 

It seems just a tad safer than forgetting to watch out for potholes.  And yes, the potholes in education and in tri-training SUCK!

How’s that for tying it all together?


  1. Actually, you tied it together VERY well at the end. I'd say a nice, tight diatribe! and also...
    diatribe = good SAT vocab word--. :)
    On a different note: I'm sure I have run by your road! I often run through that neighborhood that is nestled between OP Road and Rt. 9. You know how Cumberland connects those two roads?
    Back to your post: It's not internal crap. It's important crap. And I hear you... though I worked in a super wealthy district (Wellesley) in which 99.99999% of the kids were college bound, and the SAT's caused such enormous anxiety that kids literally began studying for them in 6th grade. In Wellesley you are not judged according to the standardized test. Our kids do well b/c they would likely be turned out by their parents if they did not do well. Instead, we were (are) judged by the parents. I could diatribe a bit on that... :)

  2. My hat goes out to teachers! My husband is one and have seen the hours he puts into teaching, the weekends, the extra stuff. I completely get what you are saying! And I get what Mary is saying, too. You either deal with the parents (in the super wealthy areas), the parents/kids + behaviors + SAT(in inner city and mainstream). Hopefully you'll be able to get out on a fast bike ride to channel those feelings soon!!!

  3. No bike ride outside till spring! :( But I did get in a pretty fast 2 miles today. In shorts and a t-shirt no less. :)

    It's funny -- I get both! There is an inner city social service population and the Biddeford Pool coastal parents at the complete other end of the spectrum.

    I'm mostly off my soap box today. Whew -- too much energy!