Category Archives: testing

Failing Our Students: Assessment Success

Boy Covering FaceEach year for the last fourteen I have stood at the front of the room reading from my Virginia SOL manual’s script.

I have been told to never veer off script. Which does in fact make sense if an education official far away is trying to get every teacher across a state to give the same directions without fault.

No unintended advantages, no intentional pauses, no giving secret signs that students’ answers are incorrect. It makes sense.

The whole prospect of testing every students across a state must certainly make someone at the top mighty nervous. When national nightly news reports that teachers have been found guilty of signaling to students in some predetermined way that their answers were incorrect, more testing documentation, parameters and scripts need to be written. It makes sense.

Except for one thing.

We’re dealing with humans and in my case, children no older than nine.

These are the ones that officials want to test in my take-everything-off-the-walls classroom. I even had to take down my clock so that no advantage would be had by looking at it. I tore down my classroom schedule. I had colleagues concerned about whether numbered coat hooks were worthy of covering.

Do you remember nine? I can’t say I remember much more than doing tie-dye during Art Class. I remember Recess where one day I sat on a warm piece of gum while swinging — that’s some serious trauma for a third grader who had to stand up on the bus all the way home. I remember my teacher’s name and where my class was in my elementary school. I don’t remember what happened for those one hundred eighty days I sat at my desk. Do you?

Fast forward to the present and I now stand in front of my students during a test session unable to encourage, unable to give a thumbs up, unable to lean down and convince them it will be ok.

If their little bodies require a bathroom break another adult must lead them to the restroom and determine that no other students are inside — ensuring that no conversation will occur having anything to do with testing.

Welcome to our present state of education and how we have chosen to assess our children – regardless of age, regardless of their fear and regardless of how fair or insignificant questions might be. I can’t bring a sense of calm or even introduce a pleasant you-can-do-it smile, because that would be a testing irregularity and that could send me to prison.

No really, it could.

I’ve been obligated to sign a paper that spells this specific consequence out.

What do I do? What should we do?

I would like to tell you I’ve got the magic dust and I’m ready to share.

I don’t.

Like many of you I continue to be amazed (well, disgusted actually) by what we’re asking little people to accomplish on a given day or two.

The expectation is that they will be amazing, be proficient, and use strategies that have been reinforced to the point that why we do math or read has long since been forgotten. Students will do exactly that which would make any adult nervous – choose the right question when given the answer, interpret a question in math that has more to do with one’s reading ability than computation skills, and choose all the multiple correct answers to one question in order to advance to the next confusing question.

It would make adults nervous. It makes me nervous and I’ve been doing this over a decade now.

Just yesterday we finished our last SOL. We’ve been doing a LOT of math earlier this week. It was like a factory in my classroom with all the worksheets flying from student to teacher, back to student and back to me to assess their success, and mine, at remediation.

For fourteen years I have done this. For most of those I taught fifth grade. Now it’s third.

That’s a Science, Reading, Math, and Writing SOL for most of those years. At an average of 25 students for 12 years, that’s about 300 SOLs plus another couple of years at 3rd grade equaling well over 400 SOLs under my belt – some years I had over 30 students.

That’s a good amount of worry for both student and teacher.

That’s a huge amount of focus on the importance of a few numbers each year that supposedly defines my success as a teacher.

Those numbers are also intended to define a student’s knowledge in a specific academic area. It’s all quite backwards, in my humble opinion, because how can one day’s assessment sum up a year’s worth of learning?

Regardless though, I and my colleagues around me, have all bought into the importance of these numbers because we stress, we worry, we do our best to motivate, and we remediate right up to the last day hoping that each students’ scores will be what we hope.

We know if our scores aren’t acceptable, next year we will have a microscope placed upon us to determine what we haven’t been doing “right.”

Whether students came to us prepared by those that taught them previously, whether students come from homes in which education is valued, whether students’ lives outside of school is a place where the importance of character is reiterated — those aren’t assessed or taken in account at the beginning of the state assessment.

Regardless, we teachers do not want our efforts to disappoint.

Repeat any mantra long enough and it slowly becomes both understood and heartfelt. Tell teachers that scores matter and reiterate it through countless workshops and school wide endeavors and we believe. When we believe it enough, we both unconsciously and intentionally pass on this importance to students. Goals have to be met, we’re told, and we tell to those that sit in our classrooms.

First goal: pass. Second goal: pass advanced. Ultimate goal: perfect score of 600.

Students, teachers, principals, specialists, school divisions and states all celebrate when those scores hit passing and above.

There’s cheering when it goes well, and downcast eyes when it doesn’t. There’s serious anxiety, walk down any school hallway this time of year and tell me you don’t see it on the faces of both students and teachers.

All of it outrageous. Just go ahead and let’s call it child abuse of the testing variety.

Perhaps these thoughts convey to you that my students didn’t do well and therefore I need a place to express my frustration.

Actually they did an excellent job. As students finished, their scores were posted for our administrator to view who in turn shared them with me. Impressive pass rate. Had some pass advanced scores too.

I was relieved, administration was complimentary, but for me, I’m not happy.

My frustration isn’t that students can’t do well or even that there’s an assessment. My frustration is that our educational system has gotten to the point in which a whole year’s worth of teaching, student success and challenges overcome comes down to one assessment.

How have we gotten to the point in which students’ scores are valued more than students themselves?


Overcoming Teacher Frustration

If you don’t get frustrated, then you don’t care.

I keep saying it like a mantra, it makes me feel a little better.

It’s the first week of December and I’m frustrated.

As the holiday music blares from the car radio and we feel compelled to sing about the wonderful time of the year, we’re also now into the not-so-wonderful part of the school year.

Assessment time. The first quarter has passed and people want numbers that will indicate our success at the front of the room.

In my county, we use benchmarks created by someone I don’t know in a far away office. This person has created a series of questions that will determine whether my students have grasped what I have taught them these last few months.

All of this is really important to some really important people I suppose.

Of course you could just ask me and I could tell you who has grasped the learning – no lengthy, confusing test is needed I assure you. I’ve been at the front of my classroom, after all, since early September.

Regardless, computer schedules have been determined, class schedules have been rearranged, and then the hold-our-breath begins as the scores roll in.

It’s then that percentages appear, heads are scratched, eyes are rubbed, and groans are heard throughout the building.

Each of us then finds our colleagues we trust enough with which to have a candid conversation. We lament, we commiserate, we voice our displeasure, we let our colleagues know how our students could have done so much better.

We carry on the way we do, because, well, we care about our students’ success.

Even if those computers keep shutting down and booting off our students. Even if my third graders, who have enough of a hard time concentrating, now have to sign in to their assigned Chromebook like it’s Fort Knox. Even if they can’t remember where their pencil just dove off to when they turned their head.

These same 8 year olds have to remember multiple procedures to begin an assessment that often aren’t even developmentally appropriate.

I care about my class’s scores, I care about my team’s scores, and I care about how our school is doing. The problem is that I only have control over one of those populations.

Well, control is a relative concept.

I’ve done my best to motivate my students.

I’ve logically explained why strategies work. I’ve highlighted to my students the future and why doing one’s best is in their best interest.

I’ve even talked about real estate values once or twice and how they’re tied to a school’s scores – I know, I know, that was probably over their head, but I couldn’t help myself.

I repeatedly tell my students, because again I can’t help myself, that each of them has the ability to overcome any challenge. I share that I care about them as soon as they were put on my class role. I tell them that I believe in them.

So what to do when you’ve taught all the right strategies that worked in the past, yet the students fail to do as you’ve asked?

What to do when students rush even after you’ve told them to double check – at least a hundred or two times?

Where to turn when it seems that all that time sharing life lessons seems to have fallen on deaf ears?

Here are some solutions worth considering.

1) Beat your head into your classroom wall until the result is that you’ve passed out and awaken later to only vaguely determine the square footage of the ceiling tiles – holding true to your desire to bring creative approaches to teaching state standards. Arise and continue.

2) Go home and refuse to return until all assessments have been cancelled for the foreseeable future. Wait for all computers to be adequately equipped to work properly when called upon. This waiting will of course continue into the very foreseeable future and your students will progress into the next grade without your influence.

3) Climb onto the roof of your building and take it upon yourself to strengthen the bandwidth of your building’s internet signal by erecting the largest set of rabbit ears conceivable. You will of course be labeled a hero (like Don Quixote attacking the windmill) although the monstrous antenna will certainly not be seen as an architectural adornment.

4) Lastly, and I think the most prudent solution is this: hold fast to who you are and your care for your students.

Certainly not all will take to our instruction regardless of our desire for our students’ best efforts.

Our students may not yet understand that we care for them as individuals. Our students may not yet trust that what we teach and desire for them to do is in their best efforts.

Hold fast to your efforts to continue down the path that you know will lead to success.

Let’s not let an assessment that unnerves students of all ages to change the course that we know will be effective.

Teaching is not easy. Teaching is not selling widgets. Teaching is a craft that takes more than a quarter of a year.

Learning is determined by untold variables and cannot be assessed by one benchmark alone.

Hold fast my colleagues. I will do the same.

13 Thoughts After 13 Years Of Teaching

Thirteen Thoughts on Thirteen Years of Teaching

Thirteen years have passed at the front of the classroom and I’m about to begin my fourteenth. Fourteen! That’s big WHOA for me.

Here are 13 thoughts I’d like to pass along to you. Whether a teacher, parent, aspiring teacher, all three, or none of the above.

No particular order, just important enough, I think, to know before you cross the classroom door threshold for the first time or you have yet again found yourself in front of the little people.

Here they are…

1. Unless you’re a teacher, a parent of a teacher, dating or married to a teacher… you’re just not going to understand what a teacher endures.

You might have heard a few things about the profession here and there, but you’re not going to get it.

I expect that all professions have their moments. I know doctors, nurses, engineers, call center representatives, salespeople. All important jobs, sure. It is my believe however that teachers, different than other professions, serve in a multiple of roles over the course of a day – it’s daunting.

It’s still daunting to me.

We console, prod, commiserate, care, reminisce, counsel, redirect, nurse, celebrate and encourage. We do all this with children – not adults. Additionally we have the added challenge of being expected to succeed regardless of whatever “roadblocks” we ourselves or our students encounter.

I will be bold enough to say we even do some parenting. We live in a time, I believe, when parents expect great things from schools – maybe even unfair expectations. We also live in a time when parents sometimes aren’t interested in defining right from wrong at home. That lesson has fallen to teachers as well.

I’ve encountered parents who are mystified that they need to practice lessons at home when their child doesn’t grasp it after numerous times at school. They’re expected to help their child academically, and they’re confused about why (see #7 below).

Therefore, if you’re interested in the profession, seek out an educator who will give you the real “skinny” on what happens in the classroom.

I often meet prospective teachers and invite them into my classroom. The best teacher preparation programs get students into the classroom early on in their coursework – imperative to ensure you’re ready for, and still interested in, the challenge of teaching little people.

2. It’s about motivation as much as it is about content knowledge.

Motivation isn’t something I ever remember being reiterated to me while I was in school. I don’t remember a class conversation and there definitely wasn’t a course. We spoke about reading, about math, about classroom management, about technology, and definitely about learning disabilities. What we did not cover is what to do when a student says they just don’t want to. Instruction didn’t cover what to do when a group of students decides they’re going to run the classroom or take over recess.

When to convince, when to prod, when to take a step back and when to step forward are skills worth knowing if you want to be effective.

Consider classroom management skills the life vests you grab when the ship is taking on water. You don’t want to drown surrounded by students looking right at you.

This skill set is going to take time and filling your toolbox, if you will, will happen through experiences as an educator. In the meantime, seek out colleagues who you see making strides in their interaction with their students and “borrow” what works for them. You can’t, of course, be someone you’re not and pretend to be them – but learning from others is a good start toward developing your own style.

3. It’s also about classroom management as much as it is about motivation and knowing your content.

I know I said motivation was more important than content in #2, but if your students are so motivated that they’re standing on your desks (like in my summertime nightmares you can read here) they’re not really going to learn what you’ve planned for them are they? They will learn other things of course, but not anything that’s on a state assessment.

So you’re in charge. You have to be. How you do that will be easier over time. I suggest, like I do when I direct substitutes in my plans, to take the stern approach. Doing so from the beginning will help you sort through content and everything else that will be thrown at you, until you figure out what works for you.

My mentor my first year shared that she had seen teachers fail when they were either too stern or too lackadaisical. Being too much one way or the other was a recipe that resulted in students eventually not caring.

So you’re going to walk a tightrope on this. You’ll find that balance (pun intended) with experience.

Want a little more in how to run your classroom? Here are my Top 7 Classroom Management Strategies.

4. There are three rules I use to make my life easier when it comes to what appropriate behavior looks like in my classroom.

1) Does it keep me from teaching?

2) Does it keep the student from learning? or

3) Does it keep other students from learning?

When I started I spent a lot of printer ink money making my own huge posters that outlined my classroom rules. I was under the impression that if they were posted, I could point to each one and recite when necessary. I took my lead from The First Days of School by Harry and Rosemary Wong.

I’m a huge believer in the importance of making that first day and first week of school an example of what’s expected every day and week for the remainder of the year.

I was therefore convinced that posting these on my classroom wall and discussing them the first week of school would certainly result in none of my students telling me they didn’t know the rules.


I’ve since figured out that students know exactly what the rules are and don’t need a colorful, ink laden poster. They’ve been sitting in a classroom for years and are well aware of what they shouldn’t do.

Now what I do is review the three rules I listed above, however I don’t feel the need to point to a poster and recite them repeatedly – I find that it just wastes the time of those following the rules. It’s better to just have a one-on-one conference with the student privately and later.

If you’re up to it, a great classroom management book I would recommend is Teaching with Love and Logic. It was handed to me early on in my career and I constantly return to it when challenged by a student’s behavior.

5. A teacher can always make their lesson better, but when do you stop?

No lesson planning is ever complete. A teacher can spend hours making their lesson better, great, or the best that anyone has ever seen. I guarantee you there’s another approach out there that just might be better. You can beat yourself up making things great while you work late into the night – you’ll also be exhausted the next day though and your delivery will suffer.

At some point you just have to call it a day and teach what you’ve planned. Keep it in your files and make it better next year. Your students won’t benefit even the slightest if their teacher is incoherent because they are exhausted.

6. It’s ok when it doesn’t all go your way. You’re human. Give yourself a break.

Some days are just like that. Stop beating yourself up. Just like your students, you’re human and you definitely won’t be at 117% every day.

Think you can? Try it. I guarantee that you’ll be calling in sick before too long and it’s going to take quite a long time for you to recover.

Teaching is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

7. Students are little people.

They are not little widgets. They are going to be excited one day and uninterested the next – maybe even from hour to hour. Subject to subject. It’s normal. You, as their teacher, haven’t done anything wrong. The students sitting in your classroom are human.

Some students are going to understand your learning objective the first time, some of them won’t. Some of our students won’t grasp your carefully laid out lesson plan until next year –  a whole year after they have left your classroom.

That’a tough one to realize.

That’s frustrating, but that, unfortunately, is  not uncommon.

As you might expect, I often find myself at the copy machine making class sets of copies. I do this not because I like copies upon copies of work for my students to do, but because students need to practice what I’ve learned.

As I’m standing in line behind other teachers who may be teaching students younger than mine, I sometimes standards being taught that my present students haven’t grasped.

This is not because they’re not good teachers.

It’s because our state mandated learning objectives are so numerous and our county timeline is so fast. Students who might struggle, i.e.: aren’t awesome at everything, often don’t have the time to grasp what they don’t know and why.

Our students aren’t great at everything, nor should they be.

Regardless, it still bugs me to no end that I haven’t been able to correctly convey the material in a way that the student will understand it. It’s then that I remember and have to realize, mostly unsuccessfully to be frank, that my student is not a machine. He may not get it yet.

Our students aren’t robots and neither are their teachers.

8. For those of you just starting out, this teachin’ thing ain’t easy.

Just so you are aware: Year 1 is overwhelming. Year 2 is better because now you know what’s coming. Year 3 is when you feel finally start feeling comfortable.

I clearly remember one afternoon during my first year when my principal looked into my classroom to check on how I was doing.

“Do you feel like you’ve been hit by a semi?” he asked.

Yes, yes it did.

He also did a great job of providing a forum for us newbies to gather occasionally and reflect on how we were doing. Our mentor described the first year in chart form which I found online and posted below.

First-Year Teaching.gif

So it’s ok to have some ups and downs. That’s normal. From anticipation early on to the same feeling as the year ends and some time away for the Summer is granted.

9. State mandated standards tested throughout a student’s life are important, they are not, please remember, the most important thing.

Too often teachers are drawn into the zaniness that is testing. Their results determine whether teachers are successfully imparting knowledge and whether principals are leading effectively – all wrong.

I expect no one teaching pursued the profession and jumped through all the hoops so we could impart test taking strategies and worry about scores.

No test proves learning that is given on one specific day when a child, is feeling overwhelmed, having a bad day, didn’t get enough rest the day prior, or failed to eat breakfast because there was no food in the house.

There’s a whole lot more going on in children’s lives that doesn’t include testing, preparation for that testing, or worrying about testing.

Additionally, no test shows whether a child has left our classroom a better person that when they arrived at the beginning of the year.

Isn’t that the point why we became teachers?

10. Once you have a year or two completed, rely on your previous lesson plans.

Don’t recreate the wheel. DO improve the wheel. Take one lesson a week and recreate it making the best it can possible be.

11. Today’s classroom is not the classroom you sat in when you were in school.

I believe most people are quick to critique the profession because everyone of us has been a student well before being a teacher, parent or voter – therefore people have strong opinions on how things should be.

If only it was that easy.

Too many variables exist at too many different times during the day. Use one approach and it might be ineffective before you have time to consider its effectiveness – being a teacher is not without variability.

12. You’re the teacher, but you aren’t always the one who should do the teaching.

We have all sat and listened to one person go on… and on… and we have all shut them out if they didn’t provide either amazing insight or we were spellbound by visuals or props.

No matter how awesome we think we are or we think our lesson is, it’s still us doing all the leading and talking.

Allow students to teach one another. Whether working in groups or from the front of the classroom, let students help each other better understand your learning objectives.

Check out Kagan Cooperative Learning if you haven’t had the chance. Putting your students into groups in which they help one another using various strategies is inspiring to see.

13. Have fun.

Remember the teacher you had that you hated to see at the front of the room? Do you remember them as having fun? Probably not.

If you’re not having fun in the classroom, when is it ever a better time to start?

Fun makes the history lesson come alive, helps math problems worth solving and who doesn’t like a funny story?

Another thing, it definitely makes my day go by faster.

Here’s a post I dedicated to the importance of having fun.

What pointers would you give to other teachers who are either new or returning to the classroom?

Will Bagby Answers 13 Teacher Questions

Will Bagby and I

For almost a decade I had the privilege of working alongside Will Bagby (the fella above in the background). When he arrived at my school and set up his room, I wondered where all the wall decorations were. Lesson 1: I would quickly learn that for Will, it wasn’t about the superficial. Lesson 2: The Most Important Lesson: Teaching is about love and care for the individual. Will has taught me more about what teaching should be than I ever learned in school – I count myself lucky. Below are 13 questions that might prove useful in your classroom and remembering why we teach.

1. Why did you become a teacher?

I was 36 years old and a project estimator for an engineering and machine fabricating company.  Up until that point, I had been a machinist/welder/millwright for years.  I was bored and feeling unfulfilled.  My wife was a teacher and I thought it would give me a chance to give back something AND be creative at the same time.

2. What was your biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge was that I was married and had three children.  So as you can imagine, with a wife making teacher’s salary, it wasn’t the best financial decision for us. I had to go back to school and finish up my undergrad in English and get a Masters in Education. So I had to work a part time job that was sometimes almost full time and take a full load of classes.   Luckily I have a wife who is supportive and loves me and doesn’t mind living a Spartan lifestyle.

3. What do you think made you successful?

I’m glad you considered me successful!  I’m not even going to front.  Being a man in elementary gives you an advantage in several ways.  That being said, I think my biggest asset was patience.

4. How did you start your first day, first week of school?

I’m pretty devious.  Since I taught fifth grade the most, I’ll talk about how I started that first day.  When the kids came down the hall and I greeted them at the door, they would ask where they could sit.  I would tell them to sit with whom and where they wished.  Then I would look them dead in the eye and say, “But be very careful.  This is your first test and my first impression.  Choose wisely.” Most of them did.  Then I would show them a powerpoint of procedures and expectations.  At the end of that first presentation, I would ask them if I could guarantee their happiness for the rest of their life, would they do what I told them?  They would say “yes” and then on the next slide it would say “Be a good person.”  I would then go on talk about what that meant.  It seemed to have an impact for most.

5. Did you have any daily norms?

I always stood at my door and said “good morning” and most of the time gave them a hug or fist bump.  After the pledge I would always say “Good morning” again and they would respond in kind (I miss that.) I would actually teach manners.  I know that sounds old fashion but I believe that manners are super important.   I would always read the most amazing and meaningful novels I could find that spoke to what they were going thru.  No matter how horrible a day they had or even if they hated me that day, I would fist bump or hug them before they left for the day.

6. How did you motivate?

I know this sounds corny but mostly I just loved them.  I’d let them know it’s ok to mess up now and then.  I would tell them stories of humanity and kindness.  When they were mean to each other, I would talk them through why they did what they did.  

7. What do you hope students remember about you?

The laughter and feeling of being loved.  The knowledge that whatever the number they scored on a standardized number was not the measure of their heart.  That’s what I remember.

8. Favorite subject / topic?

Reading…nothing even comes close.  Favorite topic – How to be a good person.

9. How did you teach challenging students?

If you’re are talking about students with special needs, it was with a lot of encouragement and acknowledgement of the other ways in which they were gifted.  I set the atmosphere where they weren’t afraid to raise their hand and get an answer wrong.  When the other kids saw how gentle I was trying to be these students, they would try to imitate that.  I kinda tear up thinking about how they did that.

10. Best memory teaching?

One time I had a girl, Emily, who had cerebral palsy that made walking difficult.  One of her legs would swing out to the side causing her to walk very slowly.  When we went down the hall to resource, lunch or whatever there would be two lines.  One line would be way down the hall and a second line would be farther back and moving slowly behind this beautiful girl.  One day, Emily was out to the resource teacher’s room and I was working with a group of kids.  They were talking about the “slow” line caused by Emily and I asked them “How do you think she feels about it?”  I said that and just walked away.  Before I walked away, I look at Jessica and saw her cornflower blue eyes start to tear up.  Jessica was the darling of fifth grade.  The boys were smitten with her long blonde hair and piercing blue eyes.  Her mom was the PTA presidents and Jessica was LOVED and lacked for nothing.

The next day when we walked down the hall, I saw the same two separated lines.  But at the head of the second slower line was not Emily but Jessica.  I saw Jessica cutting her blue eyes back to make sure she was going at just the right speed for Emily.

The day after that when I looked down our line, I didn’t see two lines at all.  Just one.  Just one very slow line going at “Emily-speed.”  That’s how that class walked all year – at Emily Speed.  Teachers would often remark to the kids that they look like they were going to some place awful because of how slow they were going and they would just smile to themselves.  The chicken nuggets would still be there.  The resource teacher wasn’t going anywhere and the playground would still there as well…even if we went at Emily-Speed

11. What did you learn while being a teacher?

That a little bit of love goes a long way.  That most parents are doing the best that they can.  That maybe I learned more than they did in a lot of ways.  That best that humanity has to offer can be found teaching in classrooms and even next door to you.

12. What do you think most people don’t know about the teaching profession?

I don’t think people realize that the really good teachers care about their kids as much as they do.  That the best lessons come not from a curriculum but from this small laboratory of life that the classroom creates.  I don’t think most people know that teaching is like swimming especially in the lower grades.  You really can’t stop to breathe.  You have to learn to breathe while you’re swimming.  That every day you have hundreds of interactions with the students and you have to get them all right with no margin for error.  That’s a ton of pressure.

13. Why did you leave the profession?

I left because I felt I couldn’t be as creative as in years past.  I didn’t like the de-emphasis on literature as sensory experience and the emphasis on reading as a clinical experience.  Teaching is more art than science but in recent years the art is being squeegeed out for a results based curriculum at all costs.  I’m not sure that the Emily/Jessica story would be as prevalent today as it was 10 years ago when it happened.

Will has a great blog you should check out. About teaching, parenting, children, and reflecting on what’s past. You can find it here.

We’re Not Making Widgets: Teaching Is Tough

Rubber Ducky

They arrive at 9 a.m. and leave six and a half hours later. Instruction, conversation, art, worksheets, questions, quizzes, homework, assignment pads, tests… what did we accomplish?

Sometimes we teachers drive home at night thinking… “great day! Yes.”

Then there are those other days.

Every new teacher is certainly told about those every experienced teacher has had. There are days when it seems no matter what was attempted, the end of the day brought frustration. All the planning and forethought… all the enlightenment we hoped they’d experienced… all the effort — to no avail. Those are the days we go “well that didn’t work… now what?”

But as a career switcher, I know from first hand experience that other professions have their ups and downs too. No matter what the workplace may look like, sometimes one’s drive home is happy… sometimes depressing. I think it’s fair to say that the difficult days make teachers say… “why do this?”

So I had a student teacher a few years ago now. She did a great job. Finished up her undergraduate experience in my class. What an ending it was for her. Watching from my desk and sitting on my hands, as they say, trying not to interrupt…

I realized all over again – teaching is tough. Why are we expected to do so many things well?

We plan outside of work hours. We grade then too. Teachers are asked to become experts in areas that they teach. In elementary school that’s defined as language arts, science, social studies, and mathematics. If every student doesn’t understand the concept, we’re asked to remediate until they do — regardless if the student even wants to understand. We need to both understand and identify learning disabilities. We are asked to differentiate instruction depending on an individual’s strengths. And of course we need to be sure that everything that occurs in class ties to district goals. And there’s lots more… but there’s one important lesson worth noting more than others.

You know… they don’t teach you how to motivate in teacher preparation courses.

They do mention that how your students do on the state assessments is how you’re evaluated.

Where teacher programs fail is that those assessments don’t have a check off box for that child to check off.

There’s no “I didn’t give it my all” or “I really don’t like math so I don’t care about my score” or “there are so many crazy things going on at home, I really couldn’t concentrate on school”.

Yes I know. Construction is tough. Accounting is tough. Firefighting is tough. Nursing is certainly tough too. I suppose everyone will argue that they’ve decided on a difficult profession.

But I’m molding human beings here. I’m not selling widgets. Determining success can’t always be quantitative. Saving lives as a doctor or rescue worker certainly is important work — rewarding too I’m sure. But for close to a year I not only meet the expectations set forth by the state, I try to also meet those of my parents, colleagues, administrators and… my students. It can be quite the tricky balancing act.

And there is no better feeling than when students return after continuing on to the next grade and they tell you how the zany things you did in class actually made a difference. How my origami lesson that frustrated them so much really showed them importance of details and perseverance. Or how a difficult subject was made easier because of something I said or did.

I don’t think a state assessment score really equates that I’ve been a successful teacher. Sure, seeing those pass advanced scores in print feels good. But after over a decade of doing this teaching thing, I think that’s just the beginning. What about the rest of the student?

Have I successfully encouraged them to go beyond what they thought possible?

Teaching is like overseeing 24 little nations (the current number in my class). Sometimes they get along, sometimes they argue and want nothing to do with one another. Sometimes they just want to be acknowledged. And each day is different.

I hope that when students leave my class after a year. They will remember me as someone who cared enough to be honest. Who was able to challenge them and they in turn met the challenge. Most of all, I hope I taught them that success is not determined by the degree of genius within. It is in fact determined by persistence and a desire to accomplish what they desire.

I call it a life lesson. Something that I think we definitely ought to be teaching. Can we please assess that too? Now how do they put that on a multiple choice form?