Posted in Personal History, Teaching Career, Testing

Thoughts about Volunteer Teaching and the Misuse of Testing

“If I was retired I’d be in Florida where it’s warm and sunny.”

That’s the comment I heard yesterday when I mentioned that, even though I’m retired, I enjoy being a volunteer teacher.

I began tutoring at a local elementary school after I retired because I missed teaching. I missed the challenge of working with struggling students. I missed the interaction with teachers who were trying to figure out how to reach a child who wasn’t “getting it.”

I am now in my fourth year as a “volunteer teacher.” I don’t like to say that I’ve “retired from teaching” because I still teach…I just don’t get paid by the school system anymore.

BENEFITS OF VOLUNTEER TEACHING

There are benefits to what I do, however. First, I get positive feedback through the gratitude of the teachers with whose students I work. I remember what it was like to have students in class who were struggling and I remember how grateful I was to have additional help. Second, I’m rewarded by the students themselves…by their progress, by the challenges they offer me and by their hard work and desire to learn and please their teachers.

I don’t have to worry about the enormous amounts of paperwork associated with “data gathering,” and worst of all, the constant interruptions to instruction from testing, testing and more testing. I use assessment when I need it to determine where a child is in his progress.

I don’t have to worry about the state legislature, the governor, and the US Department of Education erecting barriers to my attempts to help my students. I don’t have to worry about being given bad evaluations based on the test scores of my low achieving students. I don’t have to worry about being fired for no reason because I lost the job security of a due process hearing wrongly labeled as tenure.

I still consider myself a teacher, even though I’m just a volunteer. I’m still offended when people talk of failing schools because I don’t believe it’s the schools which are failing so much as the society around them. I’m still waiting for someone to show me how standardized tests measure a human being’s compassion or sense of wonder. I find it insulting that the measure of a teacher is being trivialized by using those same tests rather than focusing on the level of caring and nurturing in a classroom or the teacher’s ability to empower and inspire students.

It’s too bad that professionals, who spend many more hours a week than I do working hard for their students, get vilified for the low achievement of our nation’s children living in poverty. It’s too bad that people who know nothing about education have made standardized tests the only goal of public schools.

TESTING

Standardized tests don’t measure teaching or learning. Our national rank on international tests is irrelevant just like a child’s rank or a school’s rank on a state test is irrelevant. What’s relevant is the development of a child’s humanity expressed through her ability to persevere, collaborate with others, and develop relationships. Learning facts, processes and content is important, and assessment of that is necessary but it’s the application of those skills that is relevant to us as citizens of a representative democracy. It’s the application that provides services, helps in employment, and gives joy to life.

Instead of misapplying standardized tests by using them to judge children, teachers, schools and even nations, we should support public schools with full funding, extensive preparation of teachers and support personnel, and wraparound services for children in need. Instead of disparaging schools as failing, our policy makers should support communities struggling with underemployment, unemployment, drug abuse and crime.

Our nation’s health and growth is currently stifled because of contentious struggles for power and economic dominance between opposing ideologies.

Maybe if we had spent more time as children on the skills of perseverance, collaboration and developing relationships…

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All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

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Stop the Testing Insanity!
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Author:

Retired after 35 years in public education.

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