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Busting My Brain

For some reason, I figured a Pandemic was a good time to pursue additional learning opportunities. Yes, I’m working on becoming a National Board Certified Teacher, but that didn’t seem like enough. No, let me rephrase that. It didn’t seem possible this year with the mayhem we’re experiencing.

There are four parts to that particular certification, and three of those parts were not possible for me to finish without returning to the classroom for the final quarter of the school year. Fortunately, I was able to defer those sections, and move forward with the fourth. The section I’m (hopefully) completing this school year is a test. I say hopefully, because I have to actually pass the test. It’s on Saturday. This Saturday.

Now that doesn’t sound so bad, does it? I didn’t think so, so when I got the opportunity to register for two online graduate courses for free, I jumped at it. One was three weeks, the other four, and they overlapped by a week. That overlap week was last week. That was a little tricky. I did the final project for one, the first week project (that took a lot of time… it felt more like another final project) for the second class, and I did some test preparation in between. That’s when the email from my district came in offering an online class for salary credit. For free. Yes, I did that one too.

Back to the exam, though. It’s a strange type of a test, because there isn’t exactly a study guide for it. You have to know your subject (in my case all content areas for students ages 7-12) and you have to know your students. You have to understand child development, curriculum, pedagogy, and how to write short essays. There are three of those essays, in addition to multiple choice questions. Piece of cake. Maybe. I generally do ok on tests, and I’m hopeful this pattern will hold up here.

Salary credit is not that easy to come by, at least not for free. As a teacher, I have to re-certify every few years (the rules keep changing). To do that I have to submit a copy of all my professional development hours. Sometimes, though, that professional development time can be used toward increasing your salary. Those hours are generally hours earned, for credit, at a university. Which generally means university credit hours costs. In my school district it takes fifteen credit hours to earn an increase in pay. That’s five graduate level courses, give or take. Some are worth more, some are worth less. It’s a big commitment of time and money. Usually.

Apparently the shut-down was the catalyst to offering these free courses. For me the timing was just right. I had endless hours to spend at home and a mind that was itching for some stimulation. I also participated in two webinars (no credit for those, just some good information I can put to use), and I have an online conference coming up (7 recertification hours for that one). In the mean time, I have an assignment due Monday, an exam to prepare for on Saturday, and a few more facemasks to sew before the weekend. In between I’m watching the news and counting down the days until the presidential election. I don’t know what the future holds, but hopefully I’ll be prepared to meet the challenges head on.


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More Testing

Here we go again. Yet another round of standardized testing. We’re almost done with them. One today (reading), one next week (math) and then, NO MORE! At least not for this year.

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Teacher on Test Day

So what does this mean for my kiddos? Well, truthfully, not a whole lot. At least not for most of them. It does mean that they’re tired of testing. It also means that some of them are losing their enthusiasm (if they ever had any) for taking these tests. This overkill translates into kids who just don’t want to do it, and therefore aren’t prepared to invest the mental energy that doing their best entails.

And really, why should they?

Yes, everyone should always do their best. Or maybe they should usually do their best. Don’t they have to have something, some mental energy, left over for the pursuits of life that truly interest them? Why burn myself out on this test when I’d rather finish it and go back to the awesome book I’ve been reading? I’ll just answer these last few questions quickly… I’m sure I’m doing well, after all I took my time on the first half of the test…

When we do something too often it loses its power. Imagine having a birthday party once a month. It would lose some of its luster. Well, it’s the same with testing. Standardized testing used to be a BIG DEAL. Unfortunately for us, it’s become an even bigger deal for adults (whose job performance ratings are often associated with these outcomes), and more or less no big deal for kids, who have done so many of these it’s hard to keep count.

Yes, kids, I want you to do your best.

Yes, kids, this one counts.

No, don’t worry, you’re still going on to the next grade level.

No, it’s not going on your report card.

But it COUNTS. Really.

Please just do your best, but know that I love you and I understand if you just don’t have it in you today. I know you’ve learned a lot this year, whether this test shows it or not.


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Learning Patience

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How do we learn patience? How do we learn that sometimes things don’t happen as quickly as we would like them to? Is patience a trait that can be taught or does it develop naturally?

Infants, of course, have no patience. If they’re uncomfortable, they let you know. In return we take care of their needs. I think it’s natural that asĀ  kids grow they still have their needs met by adults, but perhaps not as quickly. Does that teach patience or just lead to irritability? I think it can go either way.

If I want your attention but you put me off brusquely I will probably feel hurt. If you tell me that you’ll give me your attention shortly, I’m likely to be satisfied. Does it work that way for kids too? I suppose it depends on a lot of things, like who the kid is, what they want, and what’s going on around them.

I’m thinking about patience because of our state testing. Can kids who are nine or ten years old patiently go through all of the questions and possible responses and evaluate all of them before choosing? Can they be expected to sit quietly for multiple hours at a time? How much patience are they supposed to have?

Some of my students are quite impulsive. Some of them are extremely high energy. Sitting quietly doesn’t come easily to them. They’re trying, though, and for that I applaud them.

I do think it would help kids learn a little more patience if we didn’t drop everything to cater to their wishes. I see it a lot. Out at the mall a kid whines about being hungry and out comes the bag of Cheerios. At the restaurant there’s a wait for the food and out comes the technology. A student leaves a paper at home and a parent drops everything to run it over to school.

I know this rant sounds all old and “in my day,” but I assure you my mother never carried around sippy cups and snacks, and if I forgot my violin or my homework? Well, that was on me. It would never have occurred to me to ask her to bring anything to school (or even to call her from school–only the nurse did that– and only if I was throwing up).

But did I carry snacks around when my son was small? You bet. We’re much more mobile now. My mom and I didn’t go far when I was a kid. Maybe to the grocery store, or the bank or the beauty parlor or the dentist. Wherever it was, we always went home afterward. We didn’t live out of some rolling second house on wheels complete with snacks, communication systems, and entertainment. Jeez, in those days there weren’t even cup holders. Can you imagine? Barbaric.

I’m not suggesting a return to the dark ages (I love my cup holders), but maybe we could use a little more patience and try to teach it to our kids. Maybe we can take our time on a project and not expect instant results. Maybe we can engage kids in something that isn’t instant and takes work. How about planting a garden or building a backyard obstacle course or writing and illustrating a book? Maybe even just reading a long book together, one chapter at a time. There is value in delayed gratification, and there is value in persistence. I wish more kids had opportunities to experience both on a regular basis.

When our kids mess up, we have to let it happen. No, I’m not suggesting you allow your child to set the house on fire, but you paving the way so that your child never experiences any discomfort is a disservice to your child. I know you want your child to be happy. I know you don’t want him to be uncomfortable. But do you want him to be independent? Do you want her to be resilient? Do you want them to be self-reliant? Or do you want to fix everything for them for the rest of their lives?

The “pay to get my kid into the college of my choice even if the kid isn’t qualified” folks don’t. Their message to their kids is, “Whatever you might be capable of on your own isn’t good enough, and you need me to step in so that you can have success as I define it.” Ouch.

Maybe it sounds cruel to a modern parent, but the phrase, “No, I won’t play with you right now, go find something to do, without technology,” can be a loving response to your child. Let kids explore and use their imaginations, and they will discover worlds that aren’t found in any app. Stop trying to fix everything for them, they will be okay as long as you let them fail from time to time. Being uncomfortable in the short run can have great benefits in the long run. And parenting isn’t instant. You have to have patience.