Serenity, A Personal Essay on Standardized Testing
By Mary Chesshire
“I went into teaching so that I could help children perform well on standardized testing,” said no teacher, ever.
And yet, we allow our self-esteem, our feelings of efficacy, even our very reason for being, to hinge on those numbers and percentages that come in at the end of each year.
If the scores are higher than we expect, we’re rock stars; we’re wicked awesome educators. We have found our calling in life and aren’t we lucky, aren’t the children of our community blessed to have us as their humble servants?
But what if the numbers disappoint us? We’re scum. We should have become accountants. We hate our community, the administration, and the government. We blame No Child Left Behind, we blame immigration, and we blame parents and other teachers and the children. We’re fighting a losing battle and we’re rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. We’re hopeless all because of those numbers.
I started this piece wanting to rage against the mental image of standardized testing as a gigantic, expensive, gilt mirror that crushes the institution it was designed to reflect. Perhaps that’s a bit melodramatic, don’t you think? Instead, won’t you join me in Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer?
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
The fact of the matter is that we must have accountability. If it’s not the devil we know, then it will be the one that we don’t. Testing of one kind or another is here to stay.
“Grant me the serenity…”
No profession attracts a higher quality of people than teaching. Teachers are caring and generous to a fault. They freely give of their time, their resources and their hearts. Even the least of them stands head and shoulders above the general population. It’s then no wonder that their hearts break when they see the children they’ve worked with all year, struggle and fall short of the imaginary line.
“Grant me the courage…”
We are people, nonetheless, and in being such are never perfect. This imperfection gives us the opportunity to look into ourselves and ask, “What is within our control that we can change to give our students more chances at success?”
I’m preaching to the choir, you say?
I’m preaching to myself, feel free to listen in….
God, grant me the passion I need for my content area. Let me model the joy of discovery, even when it’s the same lesson that I’ve already taught five times today. Help me to remember that this is the first time that these students have experienced it, and if I am not excited about my lesson, then how can I expect them to be?
Lord, grant me the strength to resist the temptation to use Tim and Mobi to teach my lessons for me, not even to activate prior knowledge. Remind me to never abdicate my position, even for five to seven minutes, to a cartoon robot.
And Lord, help me to maintain a climate in which each learner feels confident and secure. Help them to believe that my subject is important and that the lesson will be both valuable and fun. Remind me that laughter relieves stress, even when they are laughing at me instead of with me. Remind me that cross lateral activities involving the arms and legs help those who are sleepy, frustrated, or overwhelmed. And that this works for students, as well.
Help me to provide an environment that is both stimulating and calming, engaging to all the senses and, optimal for all learners.
Help me to follow the teachings of Bloom and Vygotsky, but also lead me to the most relevant new brain-based research.
Finally Lord, thank you for giving me the opportunity to work with the children you place in my care. Walk with me every step of every day so that I might model the actions and attitudes that you would have me do.
Mary Chesshire has been a Special Education teacher at Dumas Intermediate School in Dumas, Texas for the last three years and has accepted the position of High School Art teacher at Dumas High School for the upcoming year. She earned her Master’s in Art Education at Texas Tech University in 2009 and is certified in Art, Special Education, and general education.