Monday, May 5, 2008

Of Classrooms on a Cart and Testing

What a strange couple of weeks this is shaping up to be! We're beginning the end (if you will) of A Long Way Gone, but due to security concerns that are greater than usual apparently, all the teachers have been teaching "on the unit", that is, in the common living space each unit comes equipped with here at the Detention Home. I'm not a fan, and have a new found respect for the Social Studies teacher who teaches there permanently! I can't imagine. It's been fine, but the distractions are doubled and the kids are antsy. I turned it into a writing prompt, asking them which they preferred: having classes "on the unit" or in the classrooms. Most of them, not to my surprise, preferred classes in the classroom. Some felt unfairly punished for the behavior of a few students; others said it was harder to concentrate or focus in a space they are used to having as their "living room". I've only been seeing about half of my kids, since the rest have been on room restriction, due to various infractions. Yikes! No one can really learn, especially when one is already starting with lower skills, in such a "stop and start" manner. Given rumors of riots, though, I understand the need. I look forward to some real critical analysis of how it came to this and the plan for preventing such problems in the future. And I was glad to hear the underlying (and sometimes quite explicit) racial tensions between the Hispanic and African American kids acknowledged. Addressing this will be key to security, peace and to learning.

Tomorrow should really be the last day that we're on the units, though, since we have another round of SOL testing coming up on Wed-Fri. This will be the third time this year that we've tested kids! That seems stunning to me. I can understand once a year, but especially given the limitations of standardized testing to begin with, what is this really accomplishing? It's funny, as I look over the testing schedule, I just finished reading an article about a local teacher who apparently inspires her kids. A real pleasure to read it--but I have to wonder, with articles like that, and yet a system that enforces teaching to the test, what mixed signals a new teacher must be receiving! No wonder the retention rate for new teachers is still so low, even after years and years of political and educational leaders trying to keep them! On a more positive note, it looks like a colleage of mine who was caught up in the war in Sierra Leone will indeed be able to come pay us a visit--something I hope will really bring the memoir to life as we finish it.

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