As I read the article “Beyond Standardized Tests – Teaching Empathy” I found myself smiling and nodding my head in agreement. I have been a middle school teacher for 10 years and during that time I have had to administer a variety of standardized tests to monitor and measure student progress on a set of standards that is continually changing a being redefined. I have often found it difficult to change/bend/adapt my curriculum and instruction to try and hit a target that seems to be continually changing in size, shape and dimension.
While I believe there is a place in education for “traditional” forms of assessment we can’t expect all students to cross the finish line at the same time if they don’t start the race on the same day or location. Teachers need to understand where each student is starting the race (and if they have had a good night sleep and a decent breakfast) in order to provide adequate nourishment and support to get them to the finish line. Without understanding who our students are and anticipating their needs/levels of support along the way, many of our students will struggle and potentially give up because they don’t know where/how to complete the race.
While there has been many changes to our state/national standards, curriculum and teaching environment in the last 10 years, I believe my primary purpose for coming for teaching 12-14 year olds has remained the same. When people ask about my profession and I tell them I am a middle school teacher, many people cringe and say “ohhhhh . . . I am sorry” or “ohhhhhh . . . I could never do that!” I always smile and laugh because I love my job. I am fortunate to work with students who are just trying to figure out who they are and where they belong in this world. I get to watch students try on different “hats”, personalities and styles in an effort to discover what works for them. I get to have the “tough” conversations about racism, sexism, bullying, stereotypes, drugs and alcohol with students who still open to listen to adult opinions and ask the hard questions that will help them make sense of the world around them. This is the age where they can gain a greater appreciation for diversity and gain valuable insights from listening to a variety of perspectives. I get to teach my students how to be “humans” and navigate their world with grace, honor, and respect.
If we only look at growth in regards to test scores, then we miss learning about who our students are and how we can best prepare these individuals to be successful in the world outside the classroom walls. Teaching students to really listen, make connections, and work collaboratively will be a valuable skill set in any profession that cannot be measured by a standardized test. If we are truly going to prepare our students for life outside the classroom we need to listen to their stories, value the experiences they bring into the classroom and provide experiences where they can gain the skills and confidence to be a productive member of society.