I can remember being in English class in high school and learning the definition of the word epiphany. I loved that word from the moment I learned it. And I've always loved the feeling of having an epiphany...an a-ha...whether it was about something in my own personal life, something I was studying, a method of teaching or something about the gospel.
Well, I've had one of those today. I've been reflecting on work and some other things. My school is having a rough year. Our test scores were not high enough in language arts last year and we are under a lot of pressure to bring them up. We are being criticized, observed, persuaded and forced to change how we are doing things. Change can be a good thing, and I do think there have been a few positive changes that our school has made. But I also think there have been many changes that are not in the best interest of kids or of our nation's future.
Anyway, all the criticism and focus on negative test scores has made us all feel quite incompetent and demoralized (and there's been discouragement and anger and other feelings mixed in there.) Anyway, back to my a-ha. I have been reflecting on how no one likes to feel incompetent. It may just be one of the most negative feelings I've ever had...at least for me. To know that I am working so hard and that I care so much and to be told on at least a weekly basis that what I'm doing isn't working and isn't good enough. It's a horrible feeling.
Well, anyway, that got me to thinking about my students. What message are they hearing from me and from the school? In many ways, I did feel like I was having more success with kids a few years ago and so I've been thinking about why that is. Some of it is the program we are now required to use, but some of it is me. And here's what I think it may be. In the past (before the intense pressure of No Child Left Behind got so bad in the past 3 or 4 years)... I focussed mostly on showing kids where they were and how much they were progressing. I made a big deal about how much they were learning... and really celebrated growth...even if they were still behind the grade level benchmarks or standards. Even with my struggling students, I think I found a lot to celebrate because they were learning and progressing. But now, we are constantly showing students and their parents where they are in comparison with where the standards are. This isn't entirely bad...parents and students should know how they measure up to the district/state benchmarks and standards. But it seems like the focus is on the comparison between the two. And for many of my students, that is a regular reminder that they don't measure up. There is very little emphasis placed on growth and while I personally do try to celebrate it, I'm still constantly having to show kids where they are compared to the standard. And for many of them that probably makes them feel inadequate. And what a horrible feeling that is! I understand why people have implemented No Child Left Behind and I sincerely want to believe and hope that they did it with the best interest of children at heart. I think they were thinking of the children I teach and hoping that this would give them a better start in life. Unfortunately, I think the unintended consequences of this bill have been very different from the intentions. I hope we aren't... no, I hope I am not... sending the wrong message and telling kids that they are inadequate. So now that I've realized this, I think my mission needs to be two-fold (since I personally can't get rid of the current political climate and the negative consequences of this poorly enacted law)... first, figure out how I can help my students to feel competent and to be able to see their growth in a school that is totally focused on whether a child will pass the end of year test. And second, find a way to incorporate things into my day that children will be successful at. We/I need to find a way to build confidence and competence and celebrate growth. That is my new quest.