Posts Tagged ‘teachers’

Students Bored to Tears

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

By Jeffrey Page

Not all cases of child abuse involve physical violence inflicted by an angry adult on a kid who somehow violated the rules of the house. Sometimes, in fact, the abuse is more subtle and physically painless, and is meted out by the people and in the place where you least expect it. That would be administrators making life temporarily miserable for pupils in school.

If you’ve got a child in school and if you happen to be one of the growing numbers of moms and dads who are opting their kids out of the New York State grade 3-8 English language arts exams and state math testing, you have to read this story. And possibly, you might have to take action.

Here in Test-Happy New York, parents have the authority to exempt their children from the endless rounds of testing – testing that, in the minds of some officials, apparently passes for education. Thus, a question: How does a school district care for the needs of students who are not taking the tests during the periods when testing is being administered?

In its May-June issue, NYSUT United, the bimonthly publication of New York State United Teachers union, reports that the policy in 72 districts holds that kids not taking the test remain in the same room with those who are. The policy is called “sit and stare” because that’s all that the opted-out kids are allowed to do.

Read a book? No. Write an essay or compose a poem? No. Invent a game with a pencil and a piece of paper? No. Walk over to the window and follow the antics of a squirrel? No.  This is the kind of torture that some school administrators are inflicting on children.

In fact, the kids not being tested are not allowed to do anything other than the words dictate: sit and stare – and possibly be bored out of their minds. Which seems like a doubly moronic policy since it would appear to annoy and distract test takers knowing that the lucky kids – the decliners – are seated just a couple of rows away.

What the “sit and stare” policy means for a third-grade test decliner seated in a room where testing is being conducted is that she must gaze at the wall for the 70 minutes a day (for three days) allowed for the English Language Arts test. You really have to wonder when was the last time any official of the State Education Department sat still and quiet for that long.   

NYSUT also reported that the policy in 93 other districts allows the students not taking the test to read quietly, a slight improvement. But still, those being tested and those who are not are lumped together in the same room.

Another 157 school districts do the only sensible thing by finding space in for non-test takers in rooms where testing is not being conducted so that they can participate in alternative educational activities.

It goes without saying that if you’re not allowing your daughter or son to be tested it is essential that you contact the school and find out what your kid will be doing during testing. If he or she is going to be ordered to gaze at a blank wall, you might want to make your voice heard at the next meeting of the school board. Clearly, an administrator who makes a kid sit motionless and speechless doesn’t know a thing about children and ought to be doing something else for a living.

Incidentally, if you decide that your kid will not be tested, you may be happy to know you’re in growing company. NYSUT United reports that 34,000 children have been exempted from testing by their parents. For a wealth of information about testing and opting out, check the New York State Allies for Public Education website.

My 60-Minute Teaching Career

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

By Jeffrey Page

To listen to some presidential candidates and their radio lapdogs tell it, the country is going straight to hell because taxes are too high, services are too available, morals are too loose, gasoline is too expensive and, oh yeah, the teachers have teamed up with Barack Obama to bring America down.

Teachers have it easy, the absurdist right says. Their pensions are killing us (suggesting they got those pensions not through collective bargaining but by out-and-out theft). And the ultimate slander: Teachers are lazy. I can tell you this is false based on my one-hour as head of a class of young primary grade kids.

A friend who is a veteran teacher had asked a scientist she knows to talk with her early-grade students about asteroids, comets, planets and the solar system. She told the kids to write essays about their meeting with him.

Now she wondered if I would spend an hour with a small group of children, look at their writing and make some suggestions. I had done this for her once before when I covered transportation for The Record in Hackensack, but that time she was in the room and in charge.

This time, she’d be outside at the school garden with some of her other pupils. I would be in charge in her classroom.

What could be less complicated than tending to six kids? So, on to asteroids. I asked them to write about the most important thing they’d learned from their scientist.

I wasn’t prepared for a bunch of young people all speaking at once. But as soon as one said something it was as though someone threw a switch and they all chimed in – on various topics of interest. They weren’t listening to one another. The noise grew.

“One at a time,” I said, but they never heard me. They just kept going. Don’t get me wrong. They were sweet kids, with a lot on their minds. Except for the one kid over on my left who just stared out the window. He put his hand to his face. I wondered if he was all right.

“Problem?” I asked.

“Just thinking,” he said casually and I noticed that he wrote little but seemed to have the correct answers most of the time when I asked a question. Now my question was, “What is an asteroid?” I wasn’t testing them. I just hadn’t considered the universe lately.

One of the girls wrote about their guest from science and I suggested she include his name. “Good idea,” she said and was about to say something else when one of her friends informed me, “She’ll write his name now.”

A boy said he wanted to write about an asteroid belt. “An asteroid belt?” I asked. He assured me I would understand just as soon as he wrote his paper. He spoke loudly and dominated our study area. I found myself paying more attention to him than to the others. He found his own banter most amusing. No doubt, a bright kid.

Just as I was wondering how a professional teacher would restore some order and calm, one of the girls leapt out of her seat, ran across the room and returned with a bell. “Ring this,” she said. “It will be quiet.”

I rang it. It had a nice shrilly sound. Instantly the room was quiet. The calm lasted for a minute or two, and then the kid interested in asteroid belts said something that cracked everyone up. And again the question rose in my consciousness: What do I do now?

I didn’t have to think for long. The hour had flown by even if each minute seemed to drag along at tortoise speed due to my ignorance about what to do next.

They flew outside to join their teacher at the garden. I wish I knew where she gets her energy — I was exhausted. Before they yammer about the easy life of teachers, I think critics of teachers ought to spend a day maintaining order while teaching kids how to read.

They were a great bunch of uninhibited kids even if I never got that promised explanation of an asteroid belt. I was tempted to ask my friend how she does it hour after hour, day after day, but remembered the response from a professional magician when I asked “How’d you do that?” after one of his tricks.

“Very well,” he said, and my friend would be justified in saying the same thing.

Any teachers – or their informed critics – reading this? How easy is teaching?

jeffrey@zestoforange.com