I became a teacher to change the world. I saw in teaching the opportunity to reach the toughest students, a way to tackle the enduring effects of poverty, racism, and other forms of oppression that continue to wrack so many of our communities.
In teaching I saw a powerful profession, one in which I could develop meaningful relationships with people. To me, teaching was work that would allow me to resist the rampant injustice I saw in the world and to avoid becoming just another cog in the machine. I still see teaching this way, and this vision continues to guide me as a teacher of teachers at the university level today.
I worry about the teachers, future and present, in my education courses. Most of them are young, in their mid-20s to early 30s. Although most are working on their credentials, I also have many who are already classroom teachers returning to get their master’s degrees.
No Child Left Behind and its draconian test regime started more than 10 years ago, and in many states the testing juggernaut was already well under way. My university students took high-stakes tests through elementary, middle, and high school. Most took high-stakes tests to get into college. They take tests to become credentialed teachers. Almost always good test takers by the time I see them, my students are members of the tested generation.
I worry about the toll that these high-stakes, standardized tests have taken on the educational consciousness of my students. The cumulative effect on their commonsense understanding of education and teaching is profound: Even if my students do question the tests and see the detrimental effects of high-stakes testing on teaching and learning, they often have a hard time envisioning classrooms that could be or should be any different. Their horizons are limited because they have mainly known and experienced high-stakes testing in their educational lives.
The conspiracy theorist in me thinks that maybe this was the intention of the test pushers. Get one generation as the “tested generation,” and we’ll have a bunch of educators who cannot effectively imagine an alternative.
Unfortunately, due to a combination of their own constrained vision and current educational policy, in most cases my students have this testing-is-the-only-option pedagogy reinforced when they get into classrooms. Whether they are student teachers or classroom veterans, the refrain they hear from district, state, and federal officials has been maddeningly consistent these last years: more standards, more tests, more pacing guides, more scripted instruction, more administrative threats, and more students in the classes they teach—all with fewer resources, fewer rights, and fewer protections.