Want to Appreciate Teachers? Stop Treating Their Students Like Dirt
Photo Credit: Mike Flippo | Shutterstock.com
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This week is National Teacher Appreciation Week. You can celebrate by reaching out to one of your teachers from childhood and telling her how much she meant to you, or by taking your teacher friends to a bar and buying them drinks till they can’t see. (As a teacher, I can assure you either would be equally appreciated.) On Web sites created in honor of the week, you can find lists of famous teachers throughout history, gift suggestions and even lesson plans for teachers.
My guess, though, is that not many teachers will have the time to offer their students lessons on appreciation. They are too busy preparing for the next round of state standardized tests.
Take a look at the New York City Department of Education’s calendar for May of this year, and you will see a test scheduled for nearly every day of the month. Granted, not every kid will take all of those tests, but from third grade on, every kid in the system has a full schedule this spring. From English Language Learners to children with special needs to Gifted and Talented students, the children are busy. And they are tired.
I teach drama at an after-school arts enrichment program at an elementary school in the Bronx. Our overall emphasis is on community building, and the sense of camaraderie among our students is generally incredible. In addition to offering drama, dance, poetry, and visual arts, homework and academic enrichment is a regular part of our program, and our students have reading test scores 55 percent higher than their non-after-school classmates (35 percent higher in math). Yet a few months ago, our collective, productive routine was undermined when large numbers of students were pulled out of our program to enroll in test prep courses instead.
We have one more week until we get our kids back from the test prep program, when the state tests are finally over. Unless you’ve been a teacher it may be difficult to imagine how disruptive this going and coming is to a class, but consider: I’m trying to produce an entirely student-written play and half of my students are gone – but will return and need to be engaged. Our sense of routine and community has been replaced by a revolving roster of overworked, overtired kids with half-finished art projects and weekly schedules more confusing than mine.
I recently asked a third-grader how he felt about the upcoming tests. “I pray to God,” he said, “because I study really hard, but I still don’t know if I’ll pass. So all I can do is pray.”
The night before the tests began in the last week of April, I waited with a fourth-grader at dismissal for her mom to pick her up. “I’m tired,” she said, and flopped herself on the cafeteria table. I told her to go to bed early that night. Sprawled out on the table, she laughed, “I could go to bed right now.” I reminded her to eat breakfast in the morning, but she told me she doesn’t eat breakfast.
This past week was even worse. One kid fell asleep in his chair, another fell asleep face down on the floor of the library. Kids who have never misbehaved were snapping at me and arguing with each other. At one point I asked a third-grader if something was bothering him, and he looked at me and said, “I’m sorry, I’m just tired.”
As a teacher, I feel appreciated when my students are taken care of, when they come to me in good condition and ready to learn. Since I’m an after-school teacher, though, I’ve never had to deal with the pressure of preparing my students for these tests while simultaneously planning lessons, adhering to benchmarks and state standards, and accommodating whatever special needs and English Language Learners are in my classroom, some of whom require additional, more complicated assessments. I have never been told that how my students do on the tests will serve as a public referendum on my ability and dedication as a teacher. I have never known that my student’s test scores may be used as an excuse by Mayor Bloomberg to shut down the entire school, depriving the generations of students and siblings and parents of the school community in which they have grown up.