Thursday, May 05, 2016

Marcus McArthur on Test Prep and the UFT Election

I'm very proud to be running for High School Executive Board with Marcus McArthur. In the video below, Marcus talks about the difference between teaching and test prep. This hits home with me. I spent several years helping ESL students prepare for the NY State English Regents Examination.

Actually, my students ought not to take that exam at all. It's the height of ignorance to think that both native and non-native speakers of English have the same language needs. I mean, it's great for students to read To Kill a Mockingbird, but if they don't speak English, they have other priorities. Still, the geniuses running NYSED decided my kids couldn't graduate high school unless they passed, and my supervisor asked me to help, so I did.

I worked out a formulaic approach to essay writing that satisfied the requirements of the rubric. A lot of students passed. But I was acutely aware that all I'd taught them to do was pass a single test. I did not teach them to love or appreciate writing, and I certainly did not teach them anything whatsoever about my approach to writing.

It was a shame, because many of the students I taught would not be able to pass, say, the CUNY writing test. They would surely be identified as non-native and forced to take expensive, non-credit remedial courses to get their English where it needed to be. I actually taught these college courses and was perfectly capable of giving my high school students what they needed while they were in high school.

Instead, I had to prep them for a test. My Chinese-teaching friend recounted and translated this conversation:

Student A: Man, I don't know what to do. I have to pass the English Regents and it's really hard.

Student B: Oh, you should take Goldstein's class.

Student A: Really? Is it good?

Student B: No, it's terrible. You will hate it. But you will pass the English Regents.

I guess I can take some small degree of pride in that. But I'm a teacher, and as a teacher, it's my goal to trick students into loving English. That's a lot more important and helpful than simply preparing them for a single test.

Listen to Marcus, look for a ballot in your mailbox, and for goodness sake vote for MORE/ New Action.

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