I was on Darren Burris' (@dgburris) fantastic Common Core State Standards (CCSS) resource website today (Common Core Essentials), and a few clicks later I found myself at a post on Robert Ryshke's Center for Teaching blog.
First of all, warning: I'm about to go on a rant. It'll be a positive one, but, still, I think it qualifies as a rant.
Second of all, clarification: Ryshke's post is great, well-written, well thought out, well done. Ryshke is not the target of my rant, nor is his post, his website, his character, his family, any pets that he may have, etc.
Furthermore, we need people like Robert Ryshke to passionately advocate for solid policy. It's because of people like Robert Ryshke, who genuinely want public education systems to make sense and reflect what research shows — and who can argue that the type of assessment Ryshke proposes at the end of his post doesn't make sense and reflect research? — that people like me can focus on teaching and learning and mostly forget about the standardized tests. Their advocacy keeps my classroom from the abyss of senselessness. Thank you, Robert.
But Ryshke's posts did pose a question that got me going. It's definitely not the focus of his post — it's more of an opener — but here it is:
Will a national assessment based on standards motivate students to enjoy and appreciate school?
Now, I think Robert was asking this question rhetorically, but, just in case, here's the answer:
The day we look to tests to motivate our students is the day we might as well quit the job of teaching.
Part of being a teacher in the gigantic experiment called public education is accepting that your job requires motivating people. (Click to tweet.)
This is why books like Fires in the Mind are so important. This is why seeking to know your students is so important. This is why you can't just be an instructional expert — you've got to seek to become as expert as you can with your students.
I'm not saying that tests can't be motivating; I am saying that teachers have way more power than a test to affect student motivation.
Before I moved to Michigan, I taught in a Baltimore middle school that hadn't met AYP (adequate yearly progress) in multiple years. This school's life depended on getting to AYP, and as a result the kids were constantly taking “short cycle assessments” (standardized tests every 4-6 weeks based on district-mandated units) and sitting in Acceleration, Re-teach, Enrichment periods and attending weekend test-prep classes and after-school programs and on and on.
If it weren't for two people (okay, a lot more than two), my students and I probably would have defenestrated ourselves.
Thank God for Emily Douglas, one of my final instructors in my undergrad program, and Rafe Esquith, the author of a sick, awesome book Emily let me read for an assignment. The book is called There Are No Shortcuts, and it's about Esquith's decades of experiences teaching kids with a lot of obstacles in front of them in a district with lots of testing craziness.
Basically, Rafe just calls his kids to high ground (e.g., as 5th graders, they read more than 10 classics together, including authors like Twain, Steinbeck, Malcolm X, Dee Brown, and Harper Lee), loves the heck out of them, and frets not about tests.
- Kids work hard, are nice, and don't freak out about high-stakes tests.
- Kids do really well on high-stakes tests.
Teachers have a motivational power
Basically, all I'm saying is, “Hey, teachers, we got the power.”
We're motivators. It's in our job DNA. Teaching is an entrepreneurial profession, and part of being an entrepreneur is guessing at what makes people tick, acting on it, and using the results to become better at knowing what makes people tick.
When we know what makes people tick, we can motivate them. I'm not talking about manipulation; I'm talking about connection, about lighting fires in minds and watching them start other fires that ultimately end in explosions (which cool guys don't watch, according to below video):
I'm pretty aloof to what's happening on the testing side of the Common Core. I don't really know what's coming down the pike, and I, again, thank people like Robert who keep an eye on those things.
But whatever happens, the reason I'll stick with this profession for the foreseeable future is because it's a calling, and it's a powerful one. As a profession, we get to promote human flourishing on a massive scale.
Get pumped, teachers — August is almost here.