Saturday, October 31, 2009

New Teacher Tip #10

Continued from "Things I wish someone had told me before I started teaching (or maybe they did and I just didn't listen)"

10. Understand the political climate and decide how to deal with it. Without question, the hardest thing for me to deal with starting out was the realities of No Child Left Behind and the ever-looming presence of standardized testing and Adequate Yearly Progress. In some ways, I think of my experiences as a college undergraduate as being stuck in this grand ivory tower where I learned about how education should be, not how it often is. It was incredibly daunting to have so much of my success as a teacher measured by an annual multiple choice test, and I grew to resent the constant school mandates for more testing in preparation for standardized testing. Some schools spend so much time testing kids that it makes you wonder when they actually find the time to teach. What I eventually realized is that my idealized teacher education classes prepared me incredibly well for this climate. The best way to prepare students for standardized tests is to teach the material well in the first place. When you create and implement inquiry-based science units that really develop the students' understanding of the material, the stripped down standardized test questions will seem easy by comparison. I think too many teachers give up and cope with the demands of testing by trying to teach to the test. It's neither necessary nor effective, and to be honest, it's just not fun for you or the students. Stick with what you know, remember what your courses and instructors have taught you, and don't give up the idealism that I know you're starting your career with. The current political climate toward education is not sustainable, and over time, best practices like those you've been taught will prevail. Standardized tests are important and they have a role to play, but they're just one tool in a much larger assessment toolbox. The more you remember that and teach with rigor for conceptual understanding, the better off you and your students will be.

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