One of my Facebook friends shared your writing on her wall several days ago with the note “Read all the way to the end.” So I clicked and started reading. Within a few sentences, I was sure I was reading satire. I smiled and smirked as I read through all of the ways you described your kindergarten classroom. As I got to the end, I was thinking that what you had written had hit all of the talking points; maybe you should send it to The Onion.
And then I read the last line.
“Bailey Reimer is a kindergarten teacher at Chicago’s CICS Basil Elementary and a Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellow.”
And I sat back, horrified, because now I knew that this wasn’t satire. This wasn’t written ironically.
You, Bailey, 100% believe every word you wrote is right and true and best for children.
That terrifies me.
I…I’m not even sure where to begin. There are just so many things wrong with what you wrote.
I guess I’ll do a close reading of the whole piece (how’s that for satire?). How about where you announce there’s “another” math test and their legs are swinging? Why does a five year old need that label of a test? I’ve seen test anxiety begin with kids as young as five and six. It seems unnecessary to use that word; it’s just going to make some of them freeze. As for their legs swinging, that tells me that your classroom doesn’t have furniture that fits your young students. I’m hoping that’s more of a reflection on your school administration or district than on you as a teacher. (I’m trying to give you the benefit of the doubt on something here. Anything.)
But then, Bailey, you wrote this.
In my class, testing is one of the best tools to get students excited about how much they are learning.
No no no no no no NO NO NO NO oh my God NO.
I’m trying to spare you all of the expletives that are firing in my brain right now. Let’s just say that there’s one in particular that’s getting used a lot right now.
How in the world have we gotten to a place where TESTING is supposed to get kids excited about their learning?
Ask any child, teenager, or even adult to tell you what they like about school. What helps get them out of bed in the morning to go to school? Who inspires them? What does that person do to inspire them?
Nowhere in those discussions will you find testing. Nowhere. Not standardized testing, and not even individual teacher assessments.
Things that have inspired my students:
Reading hundreds of books together.
Riding on the bus to and from the field trips.
Creating things with math manipulatives.
Playing reading and math games together.
Playing Heads Up 7 Up for inside recess.
Getting to be the line leader.
Going around the room conducting science experiments.
Having class pets.
Celebrating the 100th day of school and drawing about what we will look like when we are 100 years old.
Going outside and acting out the planets’ orbits around the Sun.
Writing a class letter to the President of the United States and getting a letter and pictures sent to us with a return address of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Those things inspired my students. Those things would inspire your students too.
None of those are a test.
You say that “5-year-olds don’t come to school automatically loving testing” so your job as teacher is “to build that appreciation and understanding.” No. Your students come to you loving to learn, loving to explore, loving to try new things, loving to be with their friends and be like their friends. Your job is to build on THAT and teach them, motivate them, get them excited about all that there is in this world to learn about. Your job is to teach the so-called “soft skills” of kindness, generosity, cooperation, sharing, empathy, and listening. You may think that you have succeeded because you helped your children appreciate and understand testing. In truth, you failed.
You close by sharing the “innovative ways to share test results with [your] students,” namely a data wall. It looks like flowers, but let’s call a spade a spade. It’s a data wall. Even those data walls that are supposedly anonymous aren’t. You know where your data is, and you know where your friends’ data is too. You know whose flower is up in the clouds (which might embarrass that student, who doesn’t want the word to get out that he/she is considered the smartest), and you definitely know whose flower is down on the ground. You think that data walls are positive and encouraging? Ask some adults. I’ve had conversations with adults whose names were on the wall or the bulletin board decades ago, and they can still tell you exactly how they felt. One woman, a fellow teacher, retold a story about how she was considered a low reader, and she started crying. This event happened about fifty years ago, but to her it was like it was yesterday. Your data wall isn’t innovative. It’s shameful.
Here’s the difference between my class and yours. At the beginning of this year when we discussed our Hopes and Dreams for the year, the majority of my students picked the same goal: they wanted to learn how to color better. After winter break I handed out Play-Doh to each child to keep at their seat. They squealed and exclaimed and talked amongst themselves while they built all kinds of creations (and then of course had to come and show me, their creation resting delicately in their small hand). In my class we sing and laugh and read and play, and I hope that’s what will come to mind when they look back one day and remember.
But that’s my class, Bailey, not yours.
Sadly, all your students will remember is how they liked to take tests.