I occasionally get depressed about the state of the teaching profession. This past month, for example, it seems like my wife (who teaches in an elementary school) hasn’t been able to do anything but administer tests. First it was LAP tests (not sure what that stands for, something about English as a new language). Now they’re moving straight from that into ISTEP practice tests (that’s Indiana’s version of the high-stakes test), then they actually have to give the ISTEP itself, which will take them well into April. So from February to April basically nothing happens but testing. How can any teacher be effective in that kind of environment?
There was an education rally at the statehouse in Indianapolis earlier this week. I put it on my calendar but I felt totally unenthusiastic about attending. As I tried to figure out why, I realized that the rally was to support a Democrat who supports a ridiculous excess of high-stakes testing against a Republican who also supports a ridiculous excess of high-stakes testing. What’s the point?
Not all is lost, however. The same day of the rally, an email hit my inbox that reminded me that there are still teachers out there achieving great things despite the best efforts of our politicians to undermine them. So I asked for and received permission to share it with you here:
Dear Mr. Mullin,
My name is Lexi and I am 13 years old. Until I was 12 I hated reading and everything that had to do with it. I would never independent read or follow along in classroom reads. Last year, my class went to our school library to learn how to classify different book genres. My group was given Sci-fi. As we were classifying I saw the title Ashfall and read the back page. After reading the page I knew that I would love the book. I was very nervous because I didn’t think I could finish or even read a chapter from the book. I told myself that I will try to read it so I checked it out. Later that night I decided to put my computer down and read the book. Little did I know that I had been reading over an hour. I couldn’t believe that I read a book and actually enjoyed it! Everyday I just kept reading and reading until I finished the series. Ever since that one night I haven’t been able to stop reading. I am writing you this for a couple reasons. One reason I am writing to you is to thank you. Thank you so much for getting me into reading. I have seen improvement on many things in my English class. You are a very talented writer and I hope to be like you one day. A final reason that I am writing to you is for an autograph saying to Lexi From: (your autograph) I would love to hang it up in my room for a great memory to have forever from my favorite author.
Thanks so much for taking your time to read this email. You are a very talented writer! My address is:
Some wonderful teacher marched her/his class down to the library, exposed them to books, and allowed them to make a free choice of what to read. Some brave librarian put ASHFALL in a middle school library (not all can or will due to its content).
Also note from this email that Lexi had never done reading assignments, which brings up an important point. Teachers can assign “classics” or “challenging reading” all they want, but if the students don’t want to read the material, they wont. They’ll read the Wikipedia article on the book and fake it. If students are to become competent readers of long works, teachers have a far more challenging job than ordering them to read: teachers must inspire their students to want to read. In Lexi’s case, a teacher did exactly that. I don’t know who Lexi’s teacher is, so I’ll just offer kudos to all the teachers out there who are doing great work connecting kids with books. Thank you.