Saturday, April 18, 2009

Spring = Assessment

In education Spring is a time of stress. According to my Yoga instructor the same is true for our spiritual energy. Apparently growth and renewal are hard work in any venue. Spiritually, the hard work of discipline and self assessment will result in a stronger, more centered life. Educationally, does this mean we can expect to experience gains proportionately equal to the pressure we've been experiencing? Will the result of all this tension be a better environment in which to teach and learn? Well...I'll keep an open mind.

Thanks to "No Child Left Behind" (more accurately as No Child Can Be an Individual) school districts are under a mandate to show an increase in test scores each year (Adequate Yearly Progress). Fail to meet the mark and you are branded a "Failing District"; within the failing district there are specific "Failing Schools"; within the failing schools there are specific "Failing Subject Areas". When this happens in a district like mine (affluent, priveleged) the result is a melee similar to Chicken Little screaming "THE SKY IS FALLING!" So for the past several weeks pressure has been applied by the superintendent to the principals, from the principals to the teachers and from the teachers to the students to make sure this doesn't happen again. Yes, we have been branded a "Failing District". Hmmm...the results of all this seem to be counterintuitive. I was under the impression that as a teacher, it was my goal to promote student growth in a positive environment. Apparently that's all well and good as long as it doesn't interfere with the test scores!

Coinciding with all the "Happy Happy Joy Joy" feeling we've been getting as a district we also get to take part in the annual "Formal Observation" ritual. This process allows the supervisor to observe a teacher for 40 minutes and based on this "snapshot" assign a value to multiple skills the district feels a "Distinguished Teacher" should possess. Can you say "Dog and Pony show"? My observation was last Thursday, I feel it went well, students actively engaged, working together, demonstrating "higher level thinking skills". Stay tuned, Monday I find out how I measure up on the teacher ranking scale.

Thanks to tenure, and having never lost control and physically abused a student, neither of these "Spring Assessments" will really impact my job. In 2 weeks tests will be over, my formal observation written, and I can go back to doing what's best for my students, teaching. Until next year, that is!

Meanwhile, I took my Yoga instructor's advice and did a little "spiritual" reflection and self-assessment. What turmoil am I going through that will allow me to emerge a stronger, more grounded individual? My thoughts turned to the birthdays of my 2 youngest children, affectionately known for years as "The little guys". Yes, we were a house divided, but not in the sense you might think. Being a "blended family", our offspring were grouped; The Big Girls and The Little Guys. "Guys" in this case being gender neutral, since one of the little guys is Emily! Having this division, made it somewhat easier to let the big girls leave the nest, we still had the little guys.

Well, in the past month Steven turned 18 and Emily turned 20. No more "Little Guys"! This is a difficult transition for me as it signals a move into the next phase of adulthood, one which I'm not sure I'm really ready to admit I belong to. However, reflecting on getting to this point did give me a sense of pride in my accomplishments.

The "Little Guys" have become people I am proud to know. Emily is a sensitive, intelligent young woman who is driven to succeed without compromising compassion. Steven has a wonderful sense of humor, creative spirit and an ability to connect and appreciate the best in people. If I were able to develop an assessment that measured the qualities of character, they would both be "Distinguished". So, my personal turmoil translates into a gift to the world. I feel good about that!