It was clear that L was having a terrible day. Despite the “bad, lazy one” label that One Ms. X imposes on him and the “don’t know what to do with that one” response from One Mr. Y, L is usually quiet and pleasant. And he was quiet, but he was clearly upset about something, and he didn’t want to talk about it with anybody. Fortunately for L, one of our Relevant Powers had noticed, and he was willing to open up and talk about the problem when the Power called and asked him to come down. He was in a much better mood, much more of his usual self, by the end of our time together. L would never admit it publicly, but I could tell that L was really glad to know that he, the Power, and I were all on the same side yesterday. L isn’t used to having adult authority figures on his side … or maybe I should say he isn’t used to feeling like adult authority figures are on his side!
It’s a very transitional time at schools in These Parts, and I’m sure that wasn’t helping L’s mood. Seniors practiced for graduation, cleaned out their school lockers for the last time, and had their annual picnic. Strange schedules begin today as seniors (and a few students whose families are moving) take Great Big Important State Tests. Ms. X and Mr. Y are in last-minute coverage mode, convinced that one last worksheet packet, one last round of PowerPoint Jeopardy, or one last set of Released Items from prior years’ Big Important State Tests will make all the difference for their students. Or maybe for a “bubble kid” or two … though I don’t think Ms. X and Mr. Y use that term anymore. Ms. X and Mr. Y would surely say they’re on the same side as “those bad, lazy, disrespectful, ungrateful kids.” After all, Ms. X and Mr. Y firmly believe, “they want to pass The Test, and I want them to pass it too. So we’re on the same side!”
Years ago, when previous sets of World-Class Standards and Great Big Important State Tests were still shiny and new, I read an article about how This New Thing would change everything in education. It was a clever argument, too, and I wish I could track it down. The main claim was that Great Big Important State Tests would ensure that students and educators were on the same side. No longer, the author claimed, would teachers with high standards be seen as The Enemy, while easy graders appeared to be The Friend. With the same standard for all, and with external assessment, Ms. X and Mr. Y would automatically (or automagically) move from the enemy to the ally, as they worked tirelessly with their students to achieve a common goal of Success on the Great Big Important State Tests.
I remember reading that article and hoping it would be true. But I also remember looking at Many A Ms. X and Mr. Y I knew then and feeling skeptical, at least in the short term.
It’s not that Ms. X and Mr. Y exactly want to be The Adversary or The Enemy. It’s just that Ms. X and Mr. Y were “good little students,” so they were encouraged to become teachers “because we need teachers like you.” And being the compliant, willing workers that they usually are, Ms. X and Mr. Y took the suggestions to heart. If they had a whole classroom full of “good little students,” Ms. X and Mr. Y would be delighted … and everybody would be on the same side. The “good little students” would “do their work” because they’d want to please Ms. X and Mr. Y; the “good little teachers” would grade the work, applying stickers and stamps and stars as warranted; and everybody would happily wait for the results of the Great Big Important State Tests. Ms. X and Mr. Y are really good at being on the same side as their “good little students” … but those “good little students” seem to be in short supply.
Great Big Important State Tests for elementary and middle schools started yesterday, and a friend wrote on Facebook about the stress and sadness she saw on her child’s friends’ faces as the school day began. The Boy and I talked about that briefly last night (we had plenty of time as we waited for The Girl at the dress rehearsal for her dance recital), and he reminded me that when he was in third grade, he felt stressed and sick at the start of Testing Season, too. After several years of experience and high scores, he’s a lot less nervous than he used to be … but how typical is his experience? Other friends described bizarre requests and claims from their children’s teachers and schools, or Relevant Powers who claimed to be unaware of a Widely Publicized New Policy allowing students to “read novels or other nontextbooks” after they finish working on The Test.
On the same side? Those friends and their children aren’t so sure.
I know some Powers who are scared of the New Policy, who fear there might be a “chain reaction” of “kids rushing through The Test so they can read.” The Girl and The Boy thought that was the most ridiculous fear they’d ever heard of. After all, they said, the importance of the Great Big Important State Tests is pounded home daily. Fail The Test, Many A Ms. X and Mr. Y will threaten and promise, and you’ll be sitting right here with me again next year.
On the same side? You have to wonder. Campbell’s Law suggests it might not be that simple. But at this hectic and challenging time of year, the power of joyful learning community is more important than ever. How will each of us work to build and sustain those communities today despite all the challenges that face us?