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Wednesday, 13 June 2012 18:57

Teachers get sympathy from readers, peers

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You never know what subject in a column will incite readers and friends to open up and express their feelings. Last week’s piece about the madness that the end-of-year testing brings to public schools certainly led to an onslaught of opinions.

I was at the gym when a regular whose name I don’t know approached me and said he liked my column.

 

“I don’t have kids in school anymore,” he said. “But I feel sorry for the teachers who have to put up with so much crap.”

That was a common theme from the feedback — it’s the teachers who are suffering through the regimen of standardized testing that forces them to test and re-test the last few weeks of every school year. My column (http://www.smokymountainnews.com/component/k2/item/7259) focused more on how the testing mania creates a boring, wasteful environment for students. They watch movies and generally get a license to screw off for days while their teachers deal with testing and all its ramifications.

Three teachers wrote me with their own opinions. As I suspected, all three asked that I not use their name in any subsequent article. Their comments, though, are interesting, and telling. Here’s a heartfelt response:

I hate how the tests create a pervasive feeling for students that nothing else matters. Remediation at our school was 6 days (double the usual) for the students who were below grade level. This group of kids had probably already had at least 9 weeks, maybe 18, of intensive remediation already. Principals just expect teachers to push these students to perform. It's like sprinting to the finish of a marathon. Teachers are worn-out from stress and fear of failure. I wish the school administrators could take daily lessons as seriously as they take EOGs and EOCs. State legislators should sit through a 4-hour test before they make any laws related to testing and funding of schools related to performance of students on tests. Test scores are often a deciding factor for retaining teachers or dismissing them. So sad.

The revealing part in this, to me, is that the teachers feel helpless. They are pushed from the top to get students to perform, yet there is only so much that can be done.

I also like the jibe at legislators. That would be fun: force lawmakers to take any test they decide students should take. It’s not in any way a reasonable demand, but something about the idea just strikes a chord.

Another teacher answered each of my points with his own. It was very well-written and the arguments were supported with facts. Interesting was his take on why testing has become so important:

And it is driven by the U.S.  Dept. of Education, which provides about 7 – 8 percent of education funding in this country. States can choose not to do this kind of testing, but the central government can then withhold federal education funds. We can talk another time about the constitutionality (or lack thereof) of federal involvement in education, but the fact is the madness you mention is driven by federal politicians and bureaucrats.

I agree. My wife’s a teacher, and I know how hard she works to help her students succeed. And she’s not alone. As long as politicians make teachers the problem and not the solution to what they think ails public schools, the battle is already half lost.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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