They Need Us to Remember Why We’re Here

The following post is actually the introduction to the first chapter of my project, so it is a little shorter.  But, I feel that it belongs in this series and lends weight to the other posts.  The final post in the series, “They Need Us to Prepare Them,” will come along soon.

Let’s go back in time a little bit, to when we were all brand new teachers.  (If you are a brand new teacher, or a pre-service teacher, this applies to you as well.)  When we started, when we graduated and walked into this journey fresh and ready to use our skills, there was one thing on our minds: making a difference.  Those three words may have meant many different things for many different teachers, but the sentiment was the same: we wanted to make a difference in the lives of our students.  That passion will never die because it’s what we all believe in.  But how many times does a teacher now get sidetracked from that mission to make time for meeting deadlines, keeping up with district mandates, learning new standards, and making sure that her students are geared up, practiced, and in solid form for the upcoming high-stakes state assessments?  How does this prepare our students for their futures and, more importantly, how is this making a difference in our students’ lives?

Our students need us to be leaders and advocates for their futures.  This sounds automatic and relatively easy, but anyone who’s spent any amount of time in the job knows that there are challenges today that never existed before.  These challenges seriously impact the way our students learn and the way that the future will be laid in front of them.  They need us to do what we do best.  These challenges have also changed the way we need to teach in order to help them make the most of their potential.  This is going to take commitment and courage and dedication and hard work.  Most importantly, we have to do this together and we have to do it now.

The main driving force in education these days—other than politics—is data.  In order for any movement or program to gain attention, we have to be able to show that what we’re doing is working.  When we know something is working, it’s one thing to brag about it, but the power comes from being able to show it.  If we are to be the force behind true middle school reform, we have to be ready to show that what we’re doing is helping our students achieve, perform, and master.  That doesn’t always have to involve cold, hard, numerical data either.  In fact, several teachers will attest to the idea that the qualitative data is better than the quantitative.

Paradoxically, it’s been shown by brave educators all over the country (both qualitatively and quantitatively) that “opting-out” of the types of instruction that are prescribed by their districts to pass standardized tests eventually leads to successful performance on those tests.  In other words, putting the end-of-year tests out of mind and out of the playbook for the year will end up resulting in acceptable performances on those tests anyway, and has the added benefit of leading to real learning, engagement, and achievement in our students.

So, maybe we can start by simply forgetting that high-stakes assessments even exist.  Period.

Then, we can start making that difference that we all signed up for.

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About Kris Nielsen
Kris L. Nielsen has been a middle grades educator and instructional leader for ten years in New Mexico, Oregon, and North Carolina. He is a graduate of Western Governors University’s Master of Science Education program, with emphasis on child development and instructional technology. Kris is an activist against corporate education reforms and has had his writing featured in several online magazines and blogs, including those of the Washington Post and Diane Ravitch. Kris currently lives in New Mexico with his young son and beautiful wife.

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