Friday, April 10, 2015

When Things Get Loud, Remember the Power of "We"

By Lauren Scott

It’s April.

Good news, right?

It depends who you ask.  Or maybe from which angle.  

With signs of spring surrounding us: warmer temperatures, green on the ground, shades of whites and yellows returning to the trees, and last but not least, a ten-day break written into the New York City public-school calendar, how could there be anything but smiles on faces right now?

Ask an English and Language Arts or math teacher.

Their answer will be short, but will have tremendous implications:

“State exams.”

Starting next week, children in grades 3-8 across New York state will be testing for two consecutive weeks in ELA and math - six days of exams in total (three in each subject).  

The stakes are high.  And so is the anxiety.  Because just like our city, the volume of it all - the politics, the implications, the consequences, the constant back and forth between government officials, contracted corporations, administrators, teachers, teachers unions, parents, communities -  is just so...


With the risk of sounding rather blunt: I kind of don’t care.  

Because here is what I have learned and what I am continuing to learn the more I teach:

The outside noise will always exist.  The politics are not going away.  Reform movements will come.  And they will go. Or maybe they won’t - maybe standardized testing will be here for a very, very long time.  

So I don’t care about the noise.  I care about kids.  

I am not saying the “noise” is not important.  It most certainly is and I admire all those who are ready and willing to step up and challenge it and in some cases, even fight it.  
But what I am saying is that based on my own experience, I used to be the kind of teacher who too often allowed outside forces to have the power of influence over what went on inside of the four walls of my classroom.  The outside noise caused me to feel like a failure, to feel like I wasn’t good enough, to feel like my kids deserved someone better than me and that I should just leave.  

And I almost did.  Until I took that power back and realized I needed to learn and follow the same lesson I teach my students (ironically, during our “test-prep” unit): The goal is progress, not perfect.

Lisa Delpit once wrote, “When one ‘we’ gets to determine the standard for all ‘wes,’ then some ‘wes’ are in trouble!”

Whether the “one ‘we” is Pearson or Common Core or New York state or ________ that is trying and arguably succeeding in setting the “standard” for our kids and as a consequence, creating an abundance of noise that we just cannot seem to silence, I would just like us to remember the other “wes” in OUR classrooms…

Our kids.  

And us.

So during these next two weeks and beyond, let us remember and most importantly, use our power to create a culture of love and support in our classrooms and schools.  
Let’s ask our kids and each other:

“How are you?”

“How was your day?”

“Are you okay?”

“How can I help?”

Let’s say to our kids and each other:

“Good morning!”

“I’m here for you.”

“It’s going to be okay.”

“Thank you.”

Let’s remind our kids and each other:

“You are more than a test score.”

“Some things (including some of the best things) just can’t be measured.”

“We will get through this!”

“Progress, not perfect.”

We all need each other.  Especially in New York City. After all, it’s really loud out there.  

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