March rears her head in just a day or so, and with her, she brings the state testing for which I’ve been preparing my students. The only thing I’m confident about is that I am more concerned, more prepared, and more focused about the testing than any of my students appear to be.
I am pacing myself through grading the piles of practice essays, forcing myself to stop when I grow inattentive instead of rushing through the last ones in the pile just so I can say I got it done. No, I step back, exist under the nagging sense that grading is waiting for me and return to it with a fresher eye the next morning. This kind of discipline grows from my belief that careful, specific grading on my part will inspire students to careful, specific editing on their part the next time they write.
My students’ attendance grows increasingly spotty at this time of year; there’s not much on the calendar to look forward to besides our testing dates, and I suppose I grow more serious and disturbingly earnest around this time, too. I might do a mini-lesson here and there of something fun or interesting, but the major thrust of each lesson now is test preparation; we administer it in two weeks time. Things students do frequently, like working on an out of class assignment while I’m reviewing a lesson, upset me more as we enter this phase of test preparation. I get tense—“Listen! Pay attention! Please trust me that I know what you should be doing!”
If history repeats itself, the majority of my students will do fine, and I will relax again. It’s just that saturation point in the semester. I’ve taught them the test skills. They’ve gained much of what they will gain. I can’t move on yet—the test is nigh. I need to hold them here, reinforcing, emphasizing, (sometimes) begging. It’s not the time of year that made me want to be a teacher, but it is one of the required elements, at least at this point in educational politics.
It’s the time of the year when I feel like my students should know certain things, and when they don’t, I take it personally. (If I really link my mental health to students’ mastery of the semi-colon or apostrophe, I could be doomed.) It’s the time of the year when the end seems merely theoretical. It’s the time of the year when we as teachers need to breathe fresh air into our own lungs as people beyond the classroom because until the testing is over, the air at school has gone a bit stale. I’ve hit my saturation point. It’s time to meet my classroom responsibilities while casting my horizon outside the school door. An art project, a new fiction author, plans for a weekend trip—there are various ways to remind myself that while I use teaching to define who I am, teaching doesn’t have to define my entire life, especially when it becomes so test-preparation centered. This weekend, I’m going to try to focus upon the things I really like about being a literate adult. Sometimes teaching writing makes me forget the joys of reading and writing; without that joy, I know I’ll lose the spark that makes teaching worthwhile, and that’s too high a cost for any test.
co-posted on Between Classes: Living a Balanced Life as a Quality Teacher