Last Thursday, was like any other typical day at school for my students. They read their independent reading books at the beginning of class, and some went next door to the library to check out another one. They continued working in the library computer lab on their This I Believe narrative essays. Some began filling out their self-evaluation notes to share how their writing process went. The difference was that I was not with them. I was in school, but not with my students. I had another “curriculum day”–the fourth of the school year with four more to go–so I would have to have a substitute teacher with my students. Living in Western New York, we have already lost many days because of snow or the frigid temperatures. This is also my first year teaching in a block schedule where I only see my 9th graders 4 days in a 6-day cycle. My point? I don’t see my students enough. If I don’t see them enough, am I truly an effective (or highly effective) teacher?
Every day I worry about my plans for each class. I feel I have to get them just right. They need to be memorable and helpful so my students can learn effectively. I know they need time to read and write, as well as time to share and discuss. I know they need to see me model reading and writing strategies. I’ve read the research time and time again. I don’t think I am being a know-it-all when I saw I know what works for my students. My formative assessments show me these techniques work. I see the improvements!
Unfortunately on those curriculum days, I am constantly reminded that I must get my 9th grade students ready for a test they will take in June of 11th grade. I must constantly make parallel tasks that mirror that test. I must have my students “practice” multiple-choice questions that technically have two or more right answers. How am I told to do this? By simply doing a lot of them time and time again. I must use literature with a high Lexile level, no matter the topic. I must get my students reading that difficult literature independently. The list goes on. What is not mentioned is that the majority of my students are reading at two or more grade levels below where they should be.
Here is my conundrum: I don’t see my students enough as it is, and when I do I am supposed to teach them in a way that I don’t believe is effective. I know I must prepare students for summative assessments like midterms and final exams, but do they really need it all year long? I don’t think so. My job as a teacher is to not only prepare my students for the rest of high school, but also for life. They will not see another test like the Common Core assessments after high school. Instead they will be going to college, writing articles and journals, reading various books and magazines, making discoveries, going into the army, traveling the world, and who knows what else. The possibilities are endless. I should be preparing them for a lot more than just one test that is taken on one day of their lives.
So what do I do? As of right now, I still don’t have a “great” answer to this question that will make everyone satisfied. Until these tests go away, and I truly hope that someday soon they will, I still have to do some parallel tasks. My midterm and final exams will mirror the Common Core exam. I will review strategies to answer difficult (awkward) multiple-choice questions. The majority of my precious time with my students will be preparing them for everything else. With my book talks and large classroom library, I will turn many of them into readers. My one-on-one conferences will help me discover more about my readers that can help me make recommendations and suggestions. We will continue to write not just essays, but narratives, poetry, research papers, free writes, journals, etc. (I say “we,” for I will write with them.) We will discuss topics that we read and write about in groups, with partners, and as a whole class. We will have projects that incorporate inquiry and enjoyment like author Skypes and book trailers. Yes, I plan to still work my hardest to make learning FUN for my students.
I may call what I have a “conundrum,” but when I am with my students it’s not much of a conundrum at all. I have always tried to do what’s best for them. Going back to last Thursday, I did just that. Every break during my curriculum work I popped into my classes. I checked to see if they had concerns with their writing. I asked who was proud of their narrative essays, and many responded with a loud “yes” and asked me to read theirs. (All I can say is, WOW!) During one class, the library media specialist told me some students reserved the library computer lab for me after school. She said they told her, “Mrs. K will want it for us.” They were right. I did. I want everything for them.