What would happen if all the teachers who want to teach their students become so bogged down by “teaching to test” that they decide to leave and pursue other career choices? In the state of Georgia, a teacher named Susan B. Barber has written an open letter to new George State School Superintendent Richard Woods discussing her frustrations about the “teaching to test” method that has started to suffocate her school and many others across the nation. In one paragraph Ms. Susan Barber even suggests that the “good teachers are starting to leave.” What could she mean by that? In a system where we are constantly taught in order to be able to pass the EOGs, EOCs, SATs, ACTs, exit exams, GRE, and many more like them, we’re taking away from the craft of real teaching. Any student can open a book, memorize a few lines, and regurgitate them back on paper in order to pass a test. This is not what we need! We need to be able to think critically, learn to solve problems in new and innovating ways, learn to research and give counterarguments, we need to learn how to stand up for our beliefs and in this system of standardized testing we don’t get a lot of time to do that. Ms. Barber sums it up best in one sentence, “The system today is defined by terms such as CCSS, TKES, LKES, CCRPI, GHSGT, GAPS, SACS, CRCT, GMAS, SGAs, SLOs, yet all I want to do is teach SCHOOL.” Why are we handicapping ourselves by making teachers more and more unable to do their jobs? It’s important to test our students and our teachers to ensure that they are doing what they are supposed to be doing, but the system currently in place is just leaving students and teachers feeling more and more forgotten about when it comes to policy making and frustrated when trying to do their work.
I remember being in 10th grade in high school and having to do a project about our future lives. The idea behind it was to really think about what we wanted to do and how we could accomplish it realistically. I won’t discuss the teacher’s name or the course subject. Our teacher had us research jobs, houses, cars, and child costs among other things. I had decided I would research what being a teacher looked like in terms of time spent at the school and compensation received for those hours. When my teacher saw I had chosen this career path, she quickly dissuaded me by saying that “Teaching isn’t what it used to be.” She told me how you could go with the instruction your classroom needs to a certain extent, but too much time couldn’t be spent on any one topic because the end-of-course exams would have more than one topic on it. She told me how frustrated it made her and how at times she felt like a failure for having to move past a topic before her entire class had the opportunity to firmly grasp it. She discussed with me the mountains of paperwork she had to do before and after each lesson and how she wondered if at the end of the day she was actually teaching her class something they could use later on in life. I was determined to pursue a different career before I even got started.
So what can we do? What would be a better system to put into place that we can agree is better than our current “teaching to test” method? We should be encouraging our students to learn for the sake of learning instead of learning to pass a test most of them could care less about. I don’t know of a remedy for our current situation, but we have to try something. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” We need to try something else to help our students and our teachers.
On May 1st, 2015 there will be an online protest against the current state of standardized testing. For more information, click here.
There is also a petition going around the internet in hopes of reducing the amount of testing students are currently subjected to and teachers must teach to. For more information or to sign the petition, click here.