Tomorrow, thousands of New York City teachers return to work from a well-deserved extended break. For me, it just felt good putting my feet up, reading novels, sipping iced coffee, and spending time with my family without having to tell them, “Alright, time’s up, I got things to do now, move along now, thank you.”
Going back to work is bittersweet at best, headache-inducing at worst.
Teaching tomorrow is the reminder that, with only 15 days left until the New York State math test, I’m coming closer to officially being able to say, “I can’t do a damn thing about it now.”
As a newer teacher, I never knew what teaching was like when I didn’t have to worry about my students performing well. I might have wanted them to perform well, but I would have wanted them to learn something far more than I would have wanted them to achieve on this state exam. Instead of cramming a bunch of topics during the mad rush at the end of a unit, I would prefer to show them why the cool relationship between angles formed by parallel lines cut by a transversal. I might have assured my kids went to high school without having to add on their fingers, or rushing to the calculator box.
I would have asked my kids to stay on that one annoying question for just one more minute.
Instead, I’m in “testing” mode. Everything we’ve learned together, we’ve covered, we’ve struggled through gets a brush-up, akin to what Sal Khan does for a living, only with higher stakes. I’m not much of a teacher, but a cobweb sweeper, still learning to balance between “What do you MEAN you don’t remember this?” and “Ohyougotitgoodletsmoveon.” Every day brings a new topic to refresh, a whole lot of scribbling, and a little bit of sweating, knowing full well the implications of not reminding students what we covered six months ago.
What’s more, people who’ve rarely been in the classroom have the audacity to have something to say about what we do. Forget what you heard. As a matter of fact, use another word besides “forget.” Testing in the age of one-sided accountability is a monster whose teeth don’t chomp, they gnaw, in a slow grind rather than a big slice.
All the while, even with some of the issues I have with some of my students, I only wish I had more time and attention to dedicate to them, not less. So maybe it’s not that I’m reaching a point where I can say, “OK, we’re done here.” It’s more like, “The current system will never give any of you the time or pleasure to learn math in a way that makes you love it. At least not now.”