Thursday, January 06, 2005

Take a look...

Mrs. Chew has a thoughtful post today about how to improve teaching, the dangers of relying too heavily on standardized tests, and more.

I also found this article on her blog. It's about the ways that testing influences what gets taught, and how. If reading and math are tested yearly, then other subjects - including science - tend to get cut, wholly or partially. I've seen this in New York. This means that many science teachers welcome science tests, because they put pressure on schools to focus on science as well as reading and math. I'm one of those teachers who supports the fourth and eighth grade science tests, because they increase the chances that students will actually get taught some science! I also like the tests because they have a mix of multiple choice, short answer (er, constructed response), and manipulative (hands-on) questions. Different types of knowledge and thinking are tested, and the kind of teaching that this test encourages is pretty good (although there is a HUGE amount of content knowledge included in the multiple choice sections). The pendulum can swing too far in the direction of tests, however, especially because yearly tests tend to be more content-focused and shift the focus of science teaching away from inquiry (doing science) to facts (knowing science stuff).

Tim of Assorted Stuff reminds us that 40% of new teachers leave the profession within 5 years. I'm in my fifth year of teaching. I like my job (previous posts notwithstanding). What could make me leave?

In four and a half years of teaching, I've already gone through several major changes in how the city, state, or federal government wants us to do things. I've done my best to consider each new idea with an open mind, figure out what is good about it, and learn to apply those things in my classroom. But I have to admit, I'm starting to feel some fatigue. If Bloomberg is out in the next mayoral election and the new mayor throws out all the changes in favor of another round of reform on a slightly different model, well, that will be really, really frustrating. I probably won't leave teaching due to any given set of reforms, but each "new" idea is another straw on the camel's back....

Lack of growth as a person could drive me out. I'm lucky to be at a school where I am supported by my administration and encouraged when I take on new challenges, enroll in interesting summer programs, or even apply for a Fulbright to teach abroad. I left my old school in part because I realized that every bit of improvement in my teaching was going to come from my own flailing efforts. I thrive on learning, but I can't do it alone. The need to constantly take classes in order to make more money, coupled with my discovery that many of the affordable classes out there are boring and not at all rigorous, is another straw weighing down this particular camel.

Those are the main reasons why I would leave. Another, I suppose, would be if particular reforms made it impossible for me to teach in the ways that I consider best for student development and science learning. Yearly content-only testing in science, or a scripted science curriculum, would be examples of the types of reforms that might make it impossible or extremely difficult for me to teach science the way it ought to be taught. I think that at that point, I would leave the profession, possibly for some kind of policy role.

I know some teachers, especially those in difficult "TFA-type" schools, just get worn down by the poor working conditions and the depressing amount of conflict and misery they see around them.

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