Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Apr 11 2012

Wednesday notes.

This week is state testing.

I’m going to be real honest here: I don’t care about state testing.

I realize only when saying it that I don’t mean it in the way it would immediately be interpreted. I would expect to mean it in that way, but I don’t. What I mean is I am not invested in test investment. I am invested in school investment, in learning investment, in class culture investment, but I am not a state test cheer leader. There will be no chants, no prayers, no speeches, no awkward emphasis on the scripted introductions to drop hints for my students. I believe in these tests about 12%, despite what I’ve spewed at interviews lately.

What I mean, more specifically, is that while I absolutely support the theory and purpose behind state tests, I vehemently hate them in practice. Do I believe my students are proving what they know when they write an essay in 45 minutes, one that is responding to a prompt that may more may not be culturally biased? That may or may not include vocabulary they do not understand due to low reading levels? That may or may not be aligned with the prompts the test-prep company we buy access to (The Learning Insitute) gives us? Do I believe they are proving what they know when they are tested in an entirely different format than what I was told as their teacher, like what happened last year (I expected Benchmark; I got ITBS)? Do I believe I am at all adequately trained or prepared to “teach to the test” in an effective way, that can produce results? Do I believe that is a valuable way to spend my time?

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

We test for at least three hours every day for four days, and the last test is always the essay. The grammar was eight questions. This determines my value as a teacher. Eight questions. Two essays. Twelve hours of testing for my eleven-year-olds. Right.

Note #1

Bathroom break, homeroom, one hour after testing:

Girl 1: Ms. L, you gonna have babies? You want babies?

Me: I guess, eventually?

Girl 1: Oooooh, they gonna look like you. They gonna have your nose! (puts finger on her own nose, looks at the other girls in line with her)

Girl 2: Yeah, they’ll have your nose!

(Four girls agree with complete seriousness)

WHAT?! It was as if they have discussed my nose before. Is there something special about it I don’t know?

Note 2

Talent show meeting, after school. Ms. L plus three black girls. The girls are talking about another student (white) who used to be good friends with one of them but has “dated” enough boys in the sixth grade (many simultaneously) to lose her reputation.

“…and her mom said she can’t be dating any more black boys.”

“Yeah, her mom is rude. She was rude to me on the phone!”

“And she be texting from her mom’s phone! She texted ‘You my enemy so I’m gonna keep texting you’ Then she come to school and I just keep my mouth shut”

I pause them to, as causally and humbly and no big deal as possible, ask, “What do you think about that? About race and people dating? Is that a big deal?” I’m asking because I can’t figure out, really, the reality of my school or district. Despite blatant segregation in most groups of friends, recess, etc, there are enough surprising pairings with friends and dating that I don’t want to say my kids, school, or town is racist when in reality it’s under-cover-progressive.

“Ohhhh, that’s everywhere. My class talks about it! But the teachers, they take everything wrong. Like sometimes we serious when we want to ask something and they say we can’t talk about it. Or you’ll ask ‘Are you racist?’ and they send us out the room.”

It was an interesting discussion, the shock was when I mentioned the concept of white privilege and Lisa said, “Yeah! YEAH! I mean we– We just dumb.”

She said it so quickly, so matter-of-fact, like it was something everyone knew. The other two girls said nothing and were totally unfazed. No backlash? No defense?

I stopped her immediately. “Lisa! What?! Look at what you just said. You think you’re dumb? That all you girls are dumb, because you’re black?”

There wasn’t an answer. The conversation naturally moved forward, but it’s the kind of statement that gets me more and more angry as it marinates. I wish I could be as articulate and researched and profound as a lot of bloggers on here (Tony), but all I can do is say what happened, and say that again, this is why I’m teaching. This is why I am advising this talent show, this is why I want to be a teacher. To dig out these mindsets and I won’t just say “change them” because that’s ridiculous and optimistic and TFA-sickening… It’s that I want to dig them out and turn them over, add to them, expose them to controversy, make them think about what they think, see if they can change them for themselves.

Part of me doesn’t believe Lisa said that. Wants to take it as a casual joke, which is in retrospect probably how she meant it. But even through sixth grade slang and silly banter it’s ridiculous that it came out of her mouth– or am I being ridiculous for being stuck on it? Am I so race-conscious and lately race-obsessed that I’m grabbing small moments like that. Is it the same as another student saying about herself and a group of friends “We’re just dumb!” after a goofy moment?

I don’t know. I try to be aware without being hypersensitive, but it’s a difficult thing to do. After two years of teaching primarily black students, I’m still not sure I should call them “black” on my blog, still not sure if I should write exactly how they speak or correct their subject-verb agreement when portraying them in my own writing, still not sure if I subconsciously show racial favoritism in my classroom.

Note #3

This blog, I’m still– considering how the format will change as I enter my third year. Transitioned into an alumni, will I feel as pressured to show TFA in a always-positive-spin? Not that I’ve been forcing this, but there are things I intentionally leave out–. I don’t know.

Spring means all is in new growth and change. Imma embrace it and stop the analysis.

One Response

  1. els

    I FEEL THE SAME WAY about state testing, and I was feeling guilty about it today.

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