Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Testing My Patience

As the (soon-to-be-nonexistent-anyway) Regents exams approach, I cannot help but notice that we are starting to lose a lot of instructional time to test prep and practice testing, even in my fairly enlightened and rigorous school.  Entire halves of days are commandeered for mock Regents exams, on the theory that the kids need to see the tests at least once in their entirety before they actually take them and the results will help to inform instruction for the last few loosey-goosey weeks of school.

(Sidebar, Your Honor: WHAT DO YOU MEAN THE LAST FEW WEEKS OF SCHOOL?  Yes.  Go count if you don't believe me.  High school teachers have just about 20 days of instruction left.  Friends, we are almost there.)

Anyway, preparing my kiddies for the English Regents exam makes me wonder what kind of teaching, for eleven years, would have enabled my kids to pass the Regents with no test prep whatsoever.  The kind of teaching that demands lengthy, calm, focused attention on the part of the students?  Yes.  (Which, I realize, is well nigh impossible for some of our students.  Point taken.)  The kind of teaching that would have included wide and deep reading in multiple genres with extended time for independent reading and interpreting with meaningful feedback about tricky literary elements like theme, tone, and figurative language?  Yes.

I want to provide that kind of teaching, but it's not always possible.  Many of my students will rebel with apathy and/or disruption if they become bored or frustrated.  The kind of deep teaching about the difficult work of interpreting literature...well, difficult is the first problem.  It's hard to do well, especially for kids who still work to decode words or have such limited life experience that texts from outside their own time period, place, or culture might as well be written in Russian.  And then teaching them to persist in the face of that difficulty is its own work.

And then trying to do that kind of teaching, when I have to teach them how to take a test, when they could pass that test without any preparation if they had just been taught well (and prepared from home well) in the first place?  That vicious circle is the kind of thing that keeps me up at night and, well, tests my patience.

So good luck, Regents prep teachers.  Remember, if too many of your kids fail, you'll get fired and then you won't get that awesome Teacher Appreciation Week e-mail from NYSED.

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