Saturday, July 4, 2015

What You Fear, Comes Upon You - The Meek Moose Reflects

Here we are, two weeks in to summer vacation, and I'm still having teaching nightmares.

I can't say that I have a variety of teaching nightmares- they all involve the same elements.
1) I'm not wearing a shirt
2) I can't find a bathroom with a door on the stall
3) I cannot control the class

I get the last one.  It makes sense as to why I would have anxiety over that situation.  Who doesn't?  I think this is what the parents who visit our classrooms and whisper "I could never do what you do!" are referring to.  Maintaining control over 20+ personalities that could mutiny at any given moment.

The other two- yeah, I don't know.  I guess I need a dream analyzer for that one.  Although, thinking over number two (pun completely fortuitous), ever walk in to a place and just think "I cannot poop here!"?  That one might just be universal.

I can remember watching some sort of documentary on dreams where someone said they believed nightmares were only rehearsals for a real life crisis we imagine we might experience.  And therefore the purpose of the nightmare was to figure out a solution so that we would be best prepared when the real moment came.

I'm going to tell you right now- I do not want to show up to work without a shirt.  And I don't see how that could happen anyway.  If I really want to come to terms with the no door on the bathroom stall, I suppose I could go to a roller rink (if they even have those anymore) because I remember that being the norm in the 80's.  For some reason, no door made it easier to go when you were wearing skates.  I guess.  I'm not buying it though, thinking about it now thirty years later.

The controlling the class problem - now there's the sticky wicket.

I know why I'm having the anxiety.  I'm leaving my comfort zone for the past seven teaching years of being in second grade.  I was told in May that I would be teaching fifth in the fall.  During the meeting I tried to keep upbeat.  I did mention my reservations of teaching that grade level- but I remained calm, nonchalant, if you will, during the meeting.  I had decided to not show fear.

The car ride home however- seeing as I have a commute of over an hour - I had plenty of time to really work myself up. I like second grade.  Second Grade is my favorite.  I'm good at teaching second grade.  I like what I teach in second grade.  I'm taller than second graders.  I feel successful with second grade.  I don't have a standardized test in second grade. Second graders accept me as an authority figure.

And that's the heart of it there.  The testing and authority issues.

I've taught fifth grade before.  My first four years I was a fourth grade teacher.  And then I taught fifth grade for two years.  Now, granted, this was over ten years ago, and "back then" tests were taken with pencil and we taught an entire lesson on correct bubble filling techniques.  But the crux is still there - I'm not good at teaching to a test.  I taught with colleagues who had very high pass rates every year.  They knew how to teach directly to the standards and get the results they wanted.  I can remember this one man I taught with one year - he was revered as a great example because he always go the highest pass rate in math - "I don't tell them anything that won't be on the test."

But...but..BUT! There's gaping holes in those standards- things that are important to know!  Things that make life more interesting and meaningful and who cares if no one asks a multiple choice question about it? This is why I don't get great scores.  I am a dang hippie when it comes to standardized education.  I don't care about making the standards fun or enjoyable - I care more about the other things that make us people.  I care more about who the kids end up being later rather than right this moment.  And I'm not saying that teachers that get good passing rates on the test don't also feel this way - I hold out hope that somehow they just found a way to balance it out.

This little ditty has been circulating a lot on the web.  For folks like me that are intrigued and inspired by the STEAM and Maker Movements - this becomes a bit of a salute the flag anthem moment.

Now- I should clarify that I don't dislike standards. Standards, after all, help us make decisions all the time.  According to my standards, should I date this man holding an AK-47 for his on-line dating profile? No.  According to my standards, should I feel comfortable using this public restroom that has obviously been sterilized recently? Ummm, well, ok.  According to my standards, should I eat this delicious gourmet cupcake rolled in bacon? YES.

But I also don't mind standards when it comes to curriculum design - it does not bother me that second graders learn about the forest, or that fifth grade learns about the ocean.  It does not bother me that every grade level learns about George Washington. I do not mind that standards progress in difficulty in mathematical concepts over time. I AM bothered when gaping holes in understanding are left, or that the pace is too quick for child development, but having a road map in general does not bother me at all.

As artsy fartsy as I am, I'm not the type of person that does well with "Today Koalas! Tomorrow Zucchini!" sort of thematic teaching.  If you want to be dragged down dark alleys in search of interesting restaurants not mentioned in the travel guide, my sister is the one you want.  We would make quite the duo on the Amazing Race, I'm sure.

I just don't like the testing part.  It doesn't show growth.  It doesn't show how much work a child put in to their year, or take in to account how they might be feeling that day.  It's a one take selfie photo.  Horrors!  I take at least twenty before I pick one that is acceptable.  I know I'm not the only one.  I also don't like how the testing is turned into a spit to roast a teacher on.

What does any of this have to do with the nightmare I had about controlling a class?
Because I wasn't very good at it ten+ years ago.  I was the kooky Aunt who they knew loved them and it didn't matter.  Why did they need to do what I said?

Here I am, young me.  In the midst of a rocky marriage that will be failing in the next two years.  Coming to terms with the autism in my oldest - watching him in a preschool play where he's an elephant at a circus and he leaves his troop behind to come stand at the edge of the stage and just stare into the audience.  I can remember this girl I taught, Brooke, asking me why that upset me so much, and I remember I told her "Because I know all those things I imagined him doing when he got older aren't ever going to happen."

I can remember my last year in fifth grade, sitting down with my principal, a man I greatly love and respect even to this day, and him telling me I would be going to second grade the next year. "You'll just be a better fit there." He said.  My scores had just come in.  They were the lowest out of eight 5th grade teachers.  The kids liked me.  Some of them still talk about the projects we did that year - the movies we made of being Native Americans, the plays about the revolution.  The book report projects where they made a robot.  But none of that was on the bubble it in test.  Second grade was to be a "better fit" for me.

And it was.  Without the fear of a test looming over me- I taught them to read, and write, and understand numbers.  We performed plays, and made dioramas, and thrilled at science experiments.  All the pressure was gone.  And I was taller, and just had to use a mommy voice to bring them back under my wings.

And I am terrified of going back to fifth grade.  I am terrified of losing what I know is me and giving in to the test.  But I am also terrified of not getting good scores. It will be me, a seasoned fifth grade teacher, and a brand new teacher.

I will not necessarily be taller.  Some will be just as tall as me, and some taller.  I don't know if ten years of teaching experience under my belt has made me less of a Kooky Aunt and more of a Commander-in-Chief.  Will I be able to celebrate the growth and change in my students and not give in the the pressure of the test?

I just don't know.  Further reflection necessary.


  1. Those damned tests are so not worth it. If you are teaching children that you taught in grade two I think you will enjoy grade five. It is a great feeling to start the year with students that already know your expectations. I hope you can enjoy your summer. You sound like the kind of teacher children would love to have-maybe the stupid tests will just fit in with what you do! Jodi

    1. Thank you, Jodi.
      I am happy that I am going to have some of my past students again. And it was a year that I loved very much. There are twelve of them still at my school (very transient population) and I hope to have all of them, although I have not been guaranteed that. But I hope!

  2. I feel your pain--those would be my exact thoughts. With the exception that I have NEVER taught an intermediate grade. I have been moved out of first grade and into second for next year. I am happy with that change now, but would have rather had stayed in first when I was first told the news. I have taught 14 years, all in first grade. Let yourself get used to the idea and "own" it. Think of it this way: your principal is more concerned with test scores than you are and he/she would not "jeopardize" the school's scores by putting you in a testing grade if you aren't capable. Think of it as a compliment and vote of confidence. After all, we are most often our own worst critics! You will be great--your quirky personality (and I mean that as a compliment!!) will surely win over those scary fifth graders. They will actually "get you" more than the little ones. And those fun things you want to do--you'll find ways to squeeze them in, AND older kids can do that stuff so much faster so it won't take as much class time to have some academic fun. You will be GREAT!

    1. Thank you, Terri!

      I am hopeful. I always accept quirky as a compliment. I'll get my head into the game here soon. I can't wallow forever. And I hope you come to enjoy second grade. I know I did. It was so easy to teach them to be independent. They were ready for it. And you're right about older ones being able to do things faster. I am going to capitalize on that as much as possible.

  3. I just stumbled across your blog, and have to say I love your writing style. I for one am thrilled that you'll be moving to fifth grade so you can share your ideas for this grade level with the rest of us! :) As far as testing goes, you may find it's not as bad as you remember. I think a lot of us are starting to realize that all that test prep, drill-and-kill stuff we used to do was pointless. If you want kids to be better test takers, obviously they need to be taught the standards, but more importantly they need to learn to be critical thinkers. Those kinds of skills are developed through the types of student-centered learning experiences that it sounds like you do in your classroom. So don't worry about test scores! Do what you feel is right for kids and your scores will be fine.

  4. Your fifth graders will be so lucky to have you...a teacher who doesn't teach to the stupid tests but instead gives them experiences they'll remember forever.
    You'll rock it!