Testing My Sanity…

Today we begin testing. It’s all we’ve heard about for the past month. Drilled into the kids, and us, constantly is how important these tests are. I do see it as much a weight on the teachers as the students. Sure we need to know their progress and these tests help determine where they are academically (to what extent testing like this helps) and where they should be placed in the next year. But each year feels like a giant referendum on the teachers and the strain is palpable.
There are better ways to do evaluate how schools are run. We all know them. They just cost more and are tougher to standardize. Why? Because we well know now that there are a multitude of ways in even more varied degrees that people are capable of learning.

So we’re left with trying to bridge the gap with technology. More and more testing is done via computer. Fine. There’s some good stuff out there, tests that actually adapt to what the student is able to answer and adjusts questions accordingly.

My end of the preparation for such testing can be a tiresome nuisance, certainly. And there’s something of an anti-productive feeling to it. I’m not building up a better computer system to aid in educating; it’s just loading up software to test on and not taking on large projects for the sake of being able to jump in at a moment’s notice to fix something.

That should show something of a red flag right there. A testing system should not be high-maintenance. Why implement something unstable when you are trying to gauge an accurate reading?

But there’s something bigger. If we’re testing academic prowess and intelligence, why do we treat these students as though they are idiots?

The new testing system we have here, thanks to the new computers we got for it all last year, is pretty good I will admit. Glitches are few and far between, and frankly the worst we’ve had to deal with is kids kicking out power cords underneath the computer table. (Yes I could fasten cabling to the underside of the tables, but we move things around enough to make that impractical.)

However the program itself, some committee has determined, is far too difficult to walk in and just take. Oh no no no. These kids who never knew a world without Google and Wikipedia and a cell phone in every pocket that had universal access to both couldn’t possibly take a basic Flash-based test on an 18-month-old computer.

So we have the program go through its own self-explanation. When you start the test, you put on headphones and listen to the program show and tell you how to manipulate a couple of its tools. Nifty. A couple of quick sample questions to make sure you’ve got it down? Alright, on with the test. See you in a couple of hours.

No, now wait a minute. That’s nowhere near enough. Before you even see the test, let’s get you primed with a PowerPoint presentation created by the testing committee’s PowerPoint sub-committee. You will have scratch paper. This is where your mouse moves. Don’t worry, if you miss something, it’ll be explained to you again as soon as you begin.

There. Done. Covered. Let’s get back to teachin’ and learnin’ so they can be well-rounded indivi– woah there! I just realized, we can’t blind-side these kids with a test they’ve never seen before except annually during their previous five years of public schooling. We know full well they don’t remember anything from year to year.

So let’s take them out of class before the testing to show them how the testing software works. That’s the ticket! It’ll be a couple of days worth, for sure. We have some short sample tests that explain how the test works, what objects can be used, etc. Great, now they for sure know what to expect.

Now we’ve done all the preparation we can. There’s no way these kids will do poorly on these tests due to anything we’ve forgotten. What? You see topics on the test that we’ve never covered in class before? Just do what you can. I’m sure we’ll cover it later. Or next year.

My Project…

I apologize for my lack of deep posting this week. I have actually been working on a project at work on top of my normal duties, so my attention had been focused on that.
My project has been to come up with three 25-minute sessions teaching the basics of html. A big portion of the school is doing home-room swaps for three Fridays, and I got volunteered to come up with something that I like to do that I’d want to show students.

It’s actually a neat concept, and everyone seems to like it. It’s all supposed to be based around what teachers like to do, not what they think students would like (though most can’t help but think in those terms). So there are classes on golf, four-wheeling, raising chickens as pets (giant WTF there). And me doing Basic HTML Coding.

I had come up with a three-part series on creating a basic page, adding a CSS page, then lastly creating a four-page website on the computer. To speed up the process, I was going to have ready-made text to fill in the sites, they were just going to provide the code. What was the text? Beatles lyrics. Sgt Pepper, Eleanor Rigby, Yesterday, and Yellow Submarine.

Friday went fine, though as always I had assumed more of the kids than I ought to have. But I also hate to be going so slow as to bore others. All in all, it was good. I had nearly twenty students. Most were able to keep up, a couple had small troubles, and there’s always the two kids. One kid being the one so advanced he’d be able to show me a couple of things, the other who only knows how to say, ‘you’re going too fast.’ The latter kid, though, took 3 minutes to just type his name. His first name. I let Darwin take care of him.

The best moment had to be before it even happened. On Thursday I was working on some machines in a classroom during home-room. The teacher was reading off where students were going to be for the following day’s festivities.

Teacher: Amanda, you’re in World Drumming. Bethany, you’re in Poetry Reading. Billy, you’re in Basic HTML Coding.

Billy: YES!

I don’t know whether to hope or weep for the future. Imagine if I had opened up a Dungeons and Dragons course…

Preemptive Failure…

I made the tough decision this week to end my master’s program. Since the number of children in my home doubled, my ability to keep up with post-graduate levels of schoolwork dwindled to nothing. I don’t blame the kids in any way, of course. It is a matter of knowing my limitations as well as my priorities.
For those who don’t know, I have been enrolled in a graduate program to earn both a Minnesota teaching license and a master’s degree in teaching since last Fall. Along with the master’s classes, I have taken on a few undergrad intro courses to beef up my content knowledge. Apparently, to teach Social Studies, they require you to know at least some of everything humans do or have done.

When I first began the program, my wife was only just pregnant with our daughter and our son had returned to his normal daily daycare schedule. The routine was simple enough that I could eke out enough brainpower and time to finish work and classes, though not without some stress behind it.

By Spring, our baby was born and our lives filled in more, unimaginable ways. So down the list of priorities school went. That semester, I was taking on two undergrad courses along with my graduate course. I ate an incomplete with the graduate, but managed to pull off good marks with the others. I tried again over Summer to finish what I left hanging, plus did a short class online. The online class again was undergraduate level so it was done simply. The master’s class, not.

And now beginning this Fall semester, with no undergraduate stuff to take for the time being, I kept on with just the master’s. Well, I tried. But the motivation and mental space for it simply weren’t there. For something I’ve wanted to do for so many years now, I now found myself not excited at the prospect of learning more. And for this level of schooling, if I’m not wanting it and not acing it, then it’s not where I ought to be.

This has been hovering in my mind most of the Summer as I was struggling the entire time. It just hit home now with getting the lad off to Kindergarten and then out of Kindergarten, with someone sick at any given time, with the return of full-time work, with so many other daily things.

So I am out for now. Taking time to evaluate what I was trying to achieve, I do still want it. I want the classroom and the students and the enlightenment in my life. But I must also weigh that with the needs of my family, which are always growing.

So while getting the master’s done at the same time as my license is ideal, I think it is better that I aim for one at a time. Getting the license first through a more accelerated program gets me in the door and into a much better pay scale (and a first-year teacher’s income being a big increase for me really says something about what I’m sitting on right now.) Then, once I have that groove, and I have kids a little more grown and autonomous, the move to get a master’s will be right. The circle will then be complete.

In the meantime while I’m working at getting into other programs, I will be looking for gigs to slip me cash on the side. Anyone know of any? I can always act as an editor to spruce/spice up someone’s writing. Or if the big wide world wants to hire a blogger, I’m game for nearly anything.

I Am What I Am…

I missed my class tonight due to a nasty cold that is going on its fifth day. However, it was a nice feeling to have completed my work on time and emailed it in this afternoon.
The course I am taking this semester is Education and Diversity. Part of the first class was to go over ways to introduce students to you and to give them ways to introduce themselves. This introduction is also an effort to get an idea of where they are coming from culturally. And culture, as in most cases through my program, is interpreted very broadly (to the point where nearly everyone has their own individual one).

So one project that we participated in was the creation of an ‘I Am’ poem. The idea being that people take cues from listing things around their homes, and just start a large number of lines beginning with ‘I Am’. It can rhyme or not, have rhythm or not. The bigger idea is to get students to reveal at least some of themselves. I, of course, made myself seem as obscure as possible.

“I Am What I Am”

I am a father always learning the ropes.

I am the son of a long-arm quilter and a cowboy engineer.

I am from a world of deserts and canals, of suburban lawns and dairy cows.

I am often surprised I didn’t turn out gay (too much plaid, I suppose).

I am a dude from the West with soul-kin across the pond.

I am a furry little hobbit who travels in an intergalactic spaceship.

I am caught between the serenity of the foothills and the energy of a city.

I am the son of a Renaissance Man; does that mean I am an Enlightenment Thinker?

I am a student of George Carlin, of Homer Simpson, of Calvin & Hobbes.

I am a wannabe Churchill, King, Jefferson, Orwell, and Arendt.

I am an old man who appears to be twelve.

I am a lame white guy, but I dig on jazz.

I am the stranger in the room wherever I am,

And I like it that way.