Today is the last day of our fall semester. After passing out study guides, we had some extra time to reflect on our time together, much like an end-of-the-season episode of “Family Matters” or “Saved By the Bell.”
I asked the students, first, to talk about the goods, the stuff they liked, the “roses.” They remembered days that I had forgotten, a walk that we had taken when it was just the right amount of hot outside and the air smelled of freshly cut grass; *special* moments that had passed me by (one student talked about the moment Leonardo DiCaprio came onscreen when we watched the first scene of act one in William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet); and particular texts that stood out (usually short stories - “Harrison Bergeron” - or novels that we read at a quick clip - Of Mice & Men).
Then came the thorns. The bads. The inevitable failures of the teaching/learning relationship. It felt surprisingly good to talk about. The flopped lessons that sat on my shoulders like multiple layers of football pads started to peel off as students brought them up. “I feel like my vocabulary book didn’t get too much use. Why did I have to buy it?” One student begged me not to subject any more freshmen to Fahrenheit 451. They picked up on most of the failures I would have counted up myself. There’s a magic of the last day of a class, and I’m left feeling like I want more time with them. Just how I felt about Steven Quincy Urkel, Screech, and Lisa-No-en-Casa.
This is an article from WBEZ regarding Illinois’s manner of reporting of data on its schools. Collecting and reporting data to keep the public informed may seem like an important practice, but the preparation has a stifling effect in the classroom.
To report on this data, they have to collect it from the classrooms using an exam. This requires the teacher to have those bubble sheets in mind as a goalpost. Much of what she has to do to gain yardage toward a touchdown is preparation for analysis of a question. When the goalpost is something meaningful to the teacher and students, the team wants to work harder, the coach wants the players to improve and can tell them how to do it. This kind of a teacher wants it, just as bad as the students do. Teaching in a private school, I am afforded the freedom to determine what is important for my students to learn. Aligned with my school’s mission statement, I can craft the essence of my classroom with a statement of my own devising.
This is the ultimate possibility for creativity in the teacher. Instead of preparing teachers to prepare assessments, teacher education programs should be sparking the creativity in future teachers. This current trend in teaching merely prepares students to answer questions and complete tests, not to think about the larger connection between all information.