What a weird and transformative time education is in right now. What a weird time for this college instructor turned high school teacher. I am being berated every day with terms and situations that I never even considered as a college instructor. The biggest is the massive amounts of time spent with my students. In college, I spent 3 hours a week with them. And maybe another three to four working for them grading drafts, conferencing and what not. I never gave a test…ever. What I taught my college students was hard to assess on a test. It was better in paper form.
I actually struggle with testing some on this level but I do. I do for a few reasons. Tests = data and data to public schools is important. But I realistically know that a test is one moment in time on a day. That is all. I also do it to create accountability. The first mistake I made as an 9-12 teacher was not test and I realized students accountability to themselves and me went right out of the window.
But one thing remains the same…If a student wants to fail you have to let them. You can inflate their grade, you can not put something in the gradebook or you can proclaim that they do work for you but not for someone else. I work hard to save the students who seem unsavable. I believe in them when they really don't believe in themselves. But I know my limits too. I know ultimately I am their teacher, not their friend/parent/enabler and the decision must be theirs.
Our government equates our success as teachers to how they perform on a test. And honestly so does our society because look at the fact that we take tests to achieve status (teacher certificate, drivers license, PhD). It isn't so much that I rebel against that idea either.
But I do struggle with this idea that I am a successful teacher if I get little Johnny to turn in his homework in my class and he isn't doing it for anyone else. That isn't success. That is the magic formula that is often not reproducible in another and if it is can you get it across multiple subject areas or disciplines? I am hesistant to believe so.
I am a believer in the good will prevail. I always have been. But the hardest and roughest lesson I have had to learn is to let them fail. Sometimes that failure will teach them more than I ever can. They need to look failure in the eye and decide if it is worth it to get back up. Now can I be the hand that is held out to get up? You better believe it. I do. I have.
Remember that story of my university student? My first ever problem student who continually did stuff to fail my class. I saw her potential but she didn't show up. She didn't participate. She lied bad and she barely passed. She passed because at times I saw her try. Well I saw her earlier this fall. She was unrecognizable to me and it was clear she recognized me. But she shared with me that it was my "tough chat" that set her life on a very different path (her words…not mine). She turned her life around and she is graduating with honors this spring. That is offering a hand. I told her I could not help anymore. She had to decide to do college. I told her I knew she could, but she had to know she could. She went out there and made it happen.
But I know that isn't always the case. I have seen a few fail in my short tenure as a teacher. It is especially hard when they are in the 9-12 arena because they are so young and have so much ahead of them. At the end of the day I can say, "Is my class fun?" "Do they like me?" And none of that will matter because that is NOT teaching. What matters is that they decide to be a success and move on from me and that when they do they can recall what they learned. Some of those lessons should be about writing, some about reading strategies and maybe just some of them are about not failing.