Illustration: Diana Craft
It is a cloudy Wednesday afternoon in January, and I am at a critical juncture in my teaching. As a first-year teacher, trying to hold on to my passion and initiative, my developing professional compass is spinning.
Our weekly staff meeting is coming to an end. My 4th-grade cohortall teachers on temporary assignmentstays seated at our table to finish a discussion with the principal. The day before, our principal met with us during lunch to ask if we would pilot a reading regroup project. Our assignment is to look at each students level for a specific reading standard and create homogeneous skill groups across the whole grade level. To accommodate teaching these new groups into our schedule, we need to find time for an additional 30 minutes of instruction in our already test-driven academic day. Our principal is very clear that this reading time comes in addition to the guided reading groups we already facilitate in our classrooms.
As my principal approaches the three of us, the inevitable result of the conversation is already sitting in the bottom of my stomach. Due to top-down pressure to improve test scores, the students in our school are increasingly looked at as data, not multidimensional human beings. If it is not tested, it is usually not taught. The untested subjects (social studies, science, art, music, PE) always get the short end of the stick.
Today is no exception. Our principal proposes we use our social studies and science time for the extra reading block, arguing that our most struggling readers cant read the information from these two subjects textbooks. Even though I expected this, it is no easier to hear. The argument makes no sense. Questions fill my mind and disgust grabs my chest. Isnt there a different way we could build reading skills without eliminating subjects that engage students and evoke critical thinking?
On that Wednesday, I desperately need to discuss the events of the day with an experienced teacher. In fact, I am part of an induction program, BTSA (Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment)a California state program that is meant to offer support to new teachers as they exit the credential program and begin a job in a district. But I wonder what type of support my induction program will offer. Will the induction program foster my passion, initiative, and growth as a reflective professional educator? Or will the induction program be one more agent to promote the present testing agenda?