I’ve been a teacher for 31 years.
Never in any of that time was it not the case that students wanted me to teach to the test. “Is this going to be on the test?” is the single most asked question I have received. If I were to tell the students the material was not on the test, the majority would have tuned out immediately.
There have been the few…a very thin layer indeed…who have actually wanted to learn the material deeply, who asked, “Why?” and weren’t content with “Because.” as an answer. I have cherished each of those students. They are the reason I have been able to come back to teach every year. It is for them that I refuse to give up.
I still cling to my old ways. While I am in no stretch of anyone’s conception what could be called a traditional type person, I trust in the fact that thousands of years of human endeavor have taught us how to teach one another. It is not a new skill. Trying to reinvent it, as has been done in recent years is absurd, to my way of thinking. We might as well pass initiatives to reinvent breathing.
Last night about how it came to be that I had such exquisite handwriting, I posted
When I was a graduate student…
…I decided to learn mathematics the old way. I took notes in my classes and when I got home, I copied them carefully into book blanks…sort of like how mathematics was learned by the monks who copied the old words over and over during the Dark and Middle Ages.
If I didn’t understand something, I didn’t write it in the book until I did.
Effort. I succeeded through effort…with a modicum of inspiration. It helped that I had some special gifts. I can’t deny that being smart helps. But I succeeded because I was willing to learn what was being taught. That meant I was willing to learn more than was going to be on the test.
I would never have dreamed to utter the words, “If it’s not on the test, why are you wasting time teaching it?” It has always made me cringe when those words have oozed out of one of my students. They are the mark of the beast, the neon sign floating above that student which says, “I am not willing to work on this subject unless forced to do so. I am willing to fail.”
As my heart sinks, I try to patiently explain to my students that I do not know what is on the exam, if indeed there is going to be one, until a few days before it is given. I explain how it has come to pass that I don’t believe it is fair to them for me to know what the questions are going to be beforehand. I tell how it is my job to tell them the story they need to learn in order to be able to pass any test on the material…and that I take this responsibility seriously. I bear my soul. Most of them roll their eyes. I know I am speaking to the few.
What makes it so hard to struggle onward is that the question, “If it’s not on the test, why are you wasting time teaching it?” If not in those precise words, that has been the interpretation I place on No Child Left Behind and the present higher education initiatives. The difference with now is that the question is coming from On High.
This administration is not filled with such knowledge-seekers. When I look at George W. Bush, that neon sign is flashing above his head. “I am willing to fail.”
Good job, George. You have succeeded.
What is sad is that he has managed to bring the rest of us down with him.