On StateImpact, Jeremy Glazer writes about Ms. Roberts and an experience she had teaching her first year. A student asks why their class doesn’t get to read “little” books (novels) like the other classes. Ms. Roberts’ students feel like second class citizens because rather than reading “real” books, they are stuck reading pieces and parts of stories from a heavy textbook. So she gets a set of novels for the class, and reading that novel together changes the culture of the classroom. Glazer’s point in sharing Ms. Roberts’ story is that hard, cold, standardized assessments don’t measure the warm fuzzies students get from feeling respected and cared for by their teacher.
But he’s wrong.
Ms. Roberts’ story is my story. Check out this post about my first year teaching. A small group of my eighth graders were, quite literally, plotting to overthrow me. Kids acted out just to see my reaction, and lied to their parents about what I did or said to them. The result—I was constantly frustrated, and they weren’t learning a thing.
But thanks to the advice of a teacher friend, I treated them like adults, and they responded like adults. We put our chairs in a circle and discussed literature like graduate students, rather than middle schoolers. No raising hands, no worksheets, no multiple choice questions. They felt respected, valued, loved. And in turn, they respected me back. Just like Ms. Roberts’ experience, it wasn’t a magic pill; however, there was a dramatic shift in the culture of my classroom from that point on.
Glazer’s assessment of the situation is that the benefits of the “touchy-feely” stuff (as he says we reformers would describe it) cannot be captured in a standardized test or a Value-Added Model. That is simply not true.
Making students feel loved and valued is not just about a teacher’s need for control in the classroom or a desire to raise everyone’s self-esteem; it’s about building a relationship between a teacher and her students so that she can teach them the academic stuff. There’s a saying that teachers and principals use all the time: “they won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Okay, its cheesy (really cheesy), but it’s true. We learn the most from people we respect and admire.
So, no, the FCAT won’t ask Johnny how many times his teacher took a moment to look him in the eye and ask him about his parents’ divorce. It won’t measure how many times she let a student interrupt class to discuss the tragedy he saw on the news last night, or how the story they are reading in class is kind of like the video game he played last weekend. And no, it won’t assess whether the class got to read “little” books or “big” books.
But what standardized tests do measure are skills which struggling students won’t achieve without the touchy-feely stuff. Once you have students’ trust and respect, the learning will happen.