22 January 2012

Read up! Speak up! Team up!

Tips for surviving public education’s focus on test preparation

Friends and colleagues frequently tell me “it’s so good to know there’s a voice like yours in public education.”  But really, where does that get me?  Not that I’m trying to get somewhere, but I do tend to take my job personally, as noted in my post on January 2nd.  I need to remember why I entered the education profession in the first place (hint, it wasn’t to practice for tests.) I want to make a difference, and I want vision with action.

The heavy emphasis on high-stakes standardized assessments in public education weighs heavily on me.  Though I don’t have to administer tests in my current job, I do work with teachers who feel the pressure of tests, and I am also the mom of two boys who bring home practice tests on a regular basis.  Don’t get me wrong, I understand there is a time and a place for some standardized tests, but ongoing and frequent test preparation is detrimental to the lives of students who deserve opportunities to learn for the sake of learning.

Here are a few of my actions for enduring all the test prep.

Read up! 

Staying current with education news inspires me to continue in the profession.  While there’s much in the news that can be discouraging, I intentionally seek balance in my reading list.  I am a member of several professional organizations which send weekly or daily updates with links to educational news around the nation.  I follow education agencies and colleagues who tweet links to interesting and engaging articles to ponder.  Reading research provides me the foundation of information I need when I have an opportunity to use my voice.  I also read novels, poems, and non-fiction because I believe the humanities are essential to life.

As a parent, I read articles written about parents by parents who also find themselves frustrated at the focus on test preparation in public schools.  This article by parents in New York was telling and served as a good reminder that the test prep madness is nationwide.  The thought could have been overwhelming had I not remembered to focus on what I can do (which is not everything).  I can, however, continue to seek peace, and I can speak up.

Speak up!

 Sometimes my job offers me opportunity to speak up for the values, beliefs and best practices important in public education.  Other times, I speak up by posting links to interesting articles on my facebook, by tweeting, or by continuing my musings in this blog.  As a parent, I speak up when I attend local PTA meetings and events in our community.  Former colleagues, current colleagues, former students, friends and family comment on my posts and contact me with questions.  This is when I feel like speaking up makes a difference, even if it doesn’t change an entire system.  I can encourage and offer advice to those who ask.  Together, we can team up to make a difference in education.

Team up!

In November while at the NCTE annual convention in Chicago, I had the pleasure of seeing a long-time friend who lives in North Dakota but was in Chicago for the Chicago Toy and Game Fair.  This friend is a mom of two brilliant children who were not receiving the education they needed in their local public school system.  She chooses now to homeschool her children, but her interactions with public education have not stopped.  She regularly blogs about issues in education and even takes her children to educator conferences to showcase their talents as young writers, musicians and entrepreneurs.  In our short but full conversation over coffee, we discussed our families and the pursuits our husbands are taking in higher education. However, the bulk of our time was spent discussing education reform.   We decided then we would team up to begin taking more action to impact reform.  This collaborative spirit will help us all persevere. This final tip—teaming up, is essential not only to surviving but also to making a difference to impact the lives of students. 

Will you join me in reading, speaking, and teaming up to make a difference in public education?

“This labor to make our words matter is what any good quilter teaches.”
                                                             ~Kathryn Stripling Byer