“I teach for higher test scores,” said no teacher ever. Well, at least, no teacher had those sentiments when they first decided that they wanted to become a teacher. Most teachers that arrive at the decision to teach do so for numerous reasons that reflect the positive impact that they can have on students and communities. I decided to teach to help empower students, specifically students in lower socioeconomic environments.
As you go on in your careers, I would recommend that you reflect; why did you become a teacher? That answer can give you fuel and help you through the mandates that can feel confining and can drown out creativity.
We must not forget that the act of teaching is reciprocal in a lot of ways. You are not just teaching, but you are also learning on a daily basis. If there is one thing that sticks out to me about my learnings is the fact that I have become a more patient person due to my daily interactions with children. My sisters will be the first to tell you that I was not the most patient person growing up but being surrounded by children whose future I was directly impacting made me reflect and refocus my energy on building more positive traits. We are always learning and growing with our students.
The act of teaching is an of act social justice in the sense that we are responsible to give our students opportunities that society might not deem possible for a person in their socioeconomic standing. Students that are poor deserve the same opportunities as students who are born into wealth. No student chooses their environment, and as teachers, we must be mindful of the environment we are providing within our classrooms and schools.
This onus that we must have within our classrooms and schools leads me back to the thought about testing. As we get closer to the end of the year testing (in Hawai’i, our students take the Smarter Balanced Assessment), we must reflect on the preparation that we are doing with our students. Like any other teacher, I want my students to be successful, because it shows that they have learned and are on grade level as measured through these assessments. But, let’s be real, we did not get into this profession for good test scores, and for the sake of our students’ environments, we must not glorify these assessments as the be-all and end-all for the work that we do and have done with our students.
Your work, as a teacher, and their learning, as students, can not be measured through an online assessment, because that work goes beyond reading, writing, mathematics, science, and social studies. Yes, all of those things are important, and yes we want all students to succeed in all of these subjects. I ask this with only love in my heart – at what expense do we want our students to succeed in these assessments? As we get closer to testing, what types of learning experiences are we creating? Of course, we want our students to be prepared, but we must be mindful of our daily lessons and our end goal of teaching kids how to love learning.
As a kid, I remember the state assessments we took in grade school, and I even remember that they were called the Standards of Learning (SOL) in Virginia where I grew up. I do not remember one piece of information from those assessments, and the only reason that I remember the name is for the simple fact that I had a deep disdain, like many children, for these tests. However, I do remember other small acts that shaped me and have had a deeper impact on who I became as a young person. From the teacher who gifted me a book on ancient civilizations to the teacher who taught me about Franz Kafka, these were the learning opportunities that ignited my curiosity and helped me become a lifelong learner. What type of learning experiences do you remember? What type of learning experiences are you providing for your students?
To the teachers – I wish you all success with your end of year assessments, but what I wish for you goes deeper than that; I hope that you are able to make connections in this last stretch of the school year that will positively impact you and your students. Don’t stress the tests. I know it’s easier said than done with the immense pressure you must feel, but always remember the real reasons you became a teacher. I will continue to try to empower my students, and I hope that you will attempt the same. I will continue to try to spark curiosity and a love for learning within my classroom, and I hope that you will attempt the same. All children deserve that.
by Kevin Argueta