Hello, beautiful readers! Today is Day 11 of the #RRBC 30-Day Blogging Challenge, and I haven't missed a day yet. I woke up to see this beautiful certificate in my e-mailbox. Who doesn't enjoy getting a little recognition and motivation! Thank you, RRBC!
My body seems to have adjusted back to my teaching morning routine: wake up, wash up, make breakfast, slowly enjoy my meal while reading/commenting/promoting fellow author/poet blogs, wake up my son, get ready for work, drop my son of at his school, arrive at work, get in an hour at my online part-time job, and teach until 4pm. So, what do I teach?
I have been teaching for 26 years, and though the grade level and materials have changed over the years, I have always focused on reading, writing, and test preparation. When I first started my career, teachers had autonomy to teach what they wanted and how they wanted, and our students became functional and productive members of society. Unfortunately, for the past twenty years, we have had governors who have decided to use education as their punching bag. They claim what we do is never good enough. These governors have turned our state exams into high stakes test. Our students are now expected to be college ready, even though not all students need to go to college to be successful in life. Student scores are used to grade teachers and schools, lowering the morale of everyone involved. Test anxiety is at its highest ever.
Because tests have become so important, districts have adopted textbooks that teach the skills on the test. Teachers have lost their autonomy in classes, and the fun, exploratory lessons have almost been eliminated. My class is one of those that has been affected.
I teach intensive reading, which is a class that was created to remediate students who have failed the high stakes state exam. At the surface, one would think it's helping students who truly have difficulty reading. The reality is that students who are great readers are stuck in my class simply because they don't test well. Yes, I have many students who truly struggle with reading, but I have another large group who read at, or above, grade level.
To assure that the schools get good grades in their state evaluations, the district has adopted a reading program to use. It is very structural and leaves no room for the teacher to bring in his/her own unique lessons. I do miss that autonomy, but I have to say the program we are using right now is the best one so far (every five years, a new program is adopted). It uses a whole group-small group rotational system that allows students to work on their individual levels and progress at his/her own pace. Here's how it works.
The class has four 20-minute rotations. I start the class as a whole group to introduce the skill being taught/practiced during that day. After twenty minutes, a timer goes off and the students rotate to one of three groups. One group goes to the computer station where the online reading program teaches them skills at their reading levels and provides them practice activities. One group goes to the independent reading station to read a book of their choice (at their reading level), write daily summaries, and take a book quiz when they finish reading the book. The last group is a small group with me where we continue practicing the lesson for that day. The timer goes off every twenty minutes to move the students from one group to the other. We use the last five minutes to wrap up the lesson and clarify any misunderstandings. And then, I repeat it again for the next three classes that day and the four classes on the following day. I am nonstop all day every day.
It is very structured. It is also scripted, though I do not use the script. I focus on what I know my students need. I also incorporate stress-reducing strategies. I teach them how to manage their breathing and stress levels by practicing a one-minute meditation at the beginning of the class. We also read aloud positive affirmations, statements that many of them don't fully believe yet but I'm hoping they do before they leave my class (see my affirmations below).
I love what I do. I love watching my students learn a new skill or expand their understanding of skills they've already been taught. I especially love reading with them. The hardest part of my job is trying to convince them that reading can be enjoyable. For their whole lives, they have been told that reading is connected to failure because of their inability to pass the state exams. By 8th grade, that message has been ingrained in their brains, but I refuse to allow them to leave my room thinking of themselves as failures.
I share with them my love for reading and writing. I also make my classroom a safe place for them to take chances. I have competitions between the classes to keep it fun and interesting. My students know I genuinely love each and every one of them, and they know I accept them as they are while still seeing the potential of all they can be. I set my expectations high so they can learn to reach even higher, and every year, they do. :-)
As for the rest of my day...
I got home at a decent time since I didn't have any after school obligations. I spoke with a friend who needed to vent and knew I would listen. I worked out, stretched, and caught up on blogs and comments. Then, I cooked and had dinner with my son while we watched our show.
Does your state have the high stakes exams that my state has? Do you have any children suffering from test anxiety? I'd love to hear from you.