Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The start of something

Who says teachers get three months off every year. Those who say that are obviously NOT teachers. We in the profession know the startling truth: we get MORE than three months off. In fact, this week is really the last week of instruction of any practical value. As I mentioned in yesterday's blog, many of the students have already begin to "shut it down," if not completely turned off. Senioritis is beginning to trickle down to juniors and even sophomores. Only we teachers have still maintained our energy and focus, but one cannot singularly sustain that indefinitely. Do you know how hard it is to drag 90 students by the nose across a finish line every day? I'm exhausted. Luckily, after this week, we get to follow the suit of the students.

That's because next week is TAKS week. Can I get a high five out there? Yes, TAKS is the high-stakes test mandated by our great state as the measure of whether one can legally obtain an diploma. This year, there is more at stake for students, teachers, and administrators alike to do well, and not just very well, impossibly well. We have been teaching the heck out of the math portion of the test since the semester began. We're all growing very sick of it. Even my "good" academically motivated students, at the incentive of reaching the covetted "commended" status moan and groan when we do TAKS. The task of having to find volumes of cylinders, areas of polygons, and simulating drawing marbles from a bag has not become worth the GPA padding "free" 100s many have been earning on their pre- and post- objective assessments. They'd almost take the "free" zero that comes from NOT having to do it.

Even my at-risk kids, who are borderline passing, with whom I have been working for 21 minutes each weekday since January have grown immune to the sound of my voice. No longer can I entice them with bonus points on a quiz, cajole them with candy, nor appeal to their sense of pride and accomplishment for having passed the test. I'm starting to think that the recent absences are due to a legitimate sickness: sick of TAKS. Is there a prescription to it? But of course . . . It's called . . . the TAKS test! Just as antivenom is made from venom, and one is vacccinated with the actual disease one is trying to avoid, the best cure for the TAKS ailment is to actually take the exam and get it over with. That's why I'm looking forward to next week. I can fill the energy of anticipation flowing through my veins.

But the TAKS test also means we "can't" teach. Aside from the obvious instruction time lost to the test-taking itself, the afternoons, which are regularly scheduled classes, are a loss as well (so the thinking goes.) Students are just too mentally fatigued and physically exhausted to be expected to focus on anything serious after such a grueling exam that spans the entire morning. Forget about assigning homework. Students are expected to go home and rest, eat well, and get ready for the next test on the following day. Teachers who actually try to teach, do so above commotions so loud and discordant, you'd think you have asked them to eat rotton sauerkraut covered with dirt and trigonometry! Rather than use the argument of asking students to harness the new-found energy to complain into productive energy of study and note-taking, most oblige (remember, we're tired too.)

The next two weeks after next are AP exam weeks, which means juniors and seniors will be out of some to most part of their classes to take tests. Class sizes are usually reduced anywhere from 50 to 100 percent. It has become so onerous for teachers to have to "reteach" the lesson 25 extra times as the 25 students who missed your class come in one-by-one to "get what they'ved missed (they're AP kids, remember!) that we just rather fill the time with academic fluff (a.k.a. worksheets.) For three of my classes who test take their AP exam that first Wednesday, having met our target, we typically take it easy after that anyway. I might have them write a letter to next year's incoming class or give them a chance to independently study some fascinating branch of mathematics, but mainly we play a lot of "heads up 7-up" (that is if we have a class of at least 8, but even then, the game is too predictable.)

After AP exams, the schedule is so chopped up with end-of-year events, meetings and other distracting fanfare, that no one can concentrate. We feel the saporous, sallying, seductive sounds of summer singing their songs, and start watching the calendar like we normally watch the clock. Everyone is just going through motions at this point.

Indeed, next week signifies the beginning of the end of the school year and the end of the beginning of our anticipation of our three month furlough. The only problems is, I don't know how NOT to teach!

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