Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Welcome to The Machine

by Kathleen Hagans Jeskey

originally posted on her blog http://www.teachertalkstruth.com/

As I discussed in my last blog post, I requested at a recent school board meeting that I be excused from administering the Smarter Balanced Assessment due to my personal and professional objections to the test. This week, I met with my superintendent and the president of our local association.

I told our superintendent that I had come there for help, that I wanted him and our school board to please speak out about the problems with all the so-called “school reforms”. The superintendent was very understanding about the problems with SBAC and high stakes testing in general. In fact, he had already prepared a resolution to present to the school board. In my opinion, the statement could be stronger, but it is a good start.

What didn’t change in any way is the fact that Smarter Balanced starts on Monday and I am set to administer the test, unless I want to “be subject to discipline up to and including dismissal”. Which I do not: I really need to work at least three more years to have a secure retirement.

So now I’m trying to decide who I am. Am I one of those people who’s just following orders? People have told me I shouldn’t do anything that would get myself fired because I can do more good for my kids and the school being there than being gone. Am I the captain of a lifeboat, there for people to climb aboard, or maybe just hold onto? Or am I the captain going down with the ship?

I’m not sure. I could be a little of each of those things. But one thing I know that I am is someone who will speak out about what’s happening. Right now, I am keeping notes about all the things my students are losing, all the ways our schedule and plans are being jerked around, all the things we could have been doing instead of the test.

This coming week, if we were not taking the test, we would have been studying about how different groups of people interpret historical events differently based on their perspective. We would have read three different pieces written about Christopher Columbus and talked about how hard it is to know what went on in the past without going to primary sources, not just looking at secondary sources, and especially not at one single source. We would have learned how to find reliable, quality sources. I would have asked the students to look at those sources, find evidence and tell me which interpretation they agreed with and why; or if they had come up with a different interpretation. I would have questioned the perspective of each student and made them defend their ideas to each other with reasonable arguments from those sources.

That sounds like critical thinking! I’ve been doing this activity for a quite a few years, pre-The Super Critical Thinking Maker Machine that is Common Core. And activities like it for decades. Huh. So weird. Imagine that.

The other thing we would have been doing is starting a literature study.  A few years ago, our district chose as a 6th grade novel one of my favorite books: “The Giver”, by Lois Lowry. I’ve taught that story in 6th grade on and off for (again) decades, but not every year, because I don’t like to do the exact same thing every single year. Every class is different. Sometimes there’s a great new novel that comes out that I’d like my class to read. This past year, “The Giver” came out as a movie. After three of last year’s students who really loved the book saw it over the summer, they had to come back this fall and tell me all about it: the good and the bad, how annoyed they were by some of the things that changed in the movie. I loved that.

Anyway, my teaching partner and I have been developing some new, additional lessons around “The Giver”. We are a dual immersion school: while Spanish speaking students are learning English, English speaking students are also learning Spanish. I teach “The Giver” in Spanish while she teaches short stories in English. We developed a unit about dystopian futures. There are many short stories with such a theme by authors like Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut; all about dystopian futures, where everyone is required to be part of the machine and submit to some form of control by their government that hinders their ability to be individuals and do things like run and play or express themselves through art, or speak freely; where they are made to do things they know are wrong until they finally break, or rise up and make a change. Or don’t do anything and become part of the machine.

Huh. So weird. Imagine that.

I may not know who I am in some ways, but in one way I do: I am a teacher who will be there for my students. And I am not going to break. I hope I’m not one of those people who’s becoming part of the machine. I’m trying. I’m doing what I can. I’m doing SOMETHING. Maybe some people wish I would be a little stronger. Maybe someday I will be. Maybe others will too.

What will your students miss while they are testing? What will you do about it?

Thank you to Clyde Gaw for the image used in this blog post.


  1. thanks for putting into words what many many teachers are feeling, and for sharing your life with us....

  2. Great post. Thank you for being strong and caring so much.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.