Thus endeth another year….

This morning, I finished my duties for 2008-2009 by taking a qualifying exam for MELA-O administrators.  I have to wonder why I bothered….. the MELA-O qualifying test requires that I determine where a LEP student’s language acquisition lands when compared to Native English speakers of the same grade level.  Here’s the catch: I am certified to teach grade 1-6, but 60 percent of the QMA exam was an assessment of 7th grade and up!  As a teacher in a multi-lingual school district, I truly believe in the process of language acquisition and determining a student’s language leve is part of the process. However, it seems the process  to become a QMA is destined to ensure that I will fail.  I am expecting to have to take a retest in order to qualify, but it seems unfair that the original qualifying test is so skewed to grade levels that I am not certified to teach and never will teach.

The local school committee recently finished what can only be described a draconian cuts.  At one point in the budget process, there was a need to cut over $9 million dollars.  An entire middle school will close this year. Teachers and students ended their year with trepidation about the future.  But not just the teachers in the school which has closed — the “bumping” process has impacted nearly every school in Lowell as teachers who had not yet received professional status found themselves at risk for displacement.  Add to job insecurity from a closed school the ritual of pink slips that must go out by June 15 when the budget is uncertain,  the agenda of the local daily newspaper in portraying any spending on schools or teachers as a waste of money, makes for morale in the hopper.

The energy has been sucked dry.

Trauma and the classroom

Like many teachers in urban districts, many of my students come from backgrounds that are less than idyllic.  This year has been no exception and in many ways, it has been worse. Is it the economic upheaval? Is it the learned selfishness of our society? A social scientist may have answers – all I know is that a good percentage of my students are in crisis most of the day.

We come to teaching with the optimism that we can change things, we can make a difference.  While I still feel that passion, I also feel the exhaustion from waves of crisis each day, all day long.  Can I really make a difference? Does what I say or do matter at all?

Getting ready for a summer self-study on the ways violence in its many forms and trauma effect students, I’ve come across a term I had not considered before – compassion fatigue or secondary trauma.  Do we get so wrapped up in our drive to change the unchangeable that we become dysfunctional adults? What can be done to avoid burnouts?

Lots of questions, not many viable answers. And making matters more intense is the current economic crisis and the impact on my beloved profession.  As of today, any teacher with less than professional (tenured) status — that’s less than 4 years experience — is receiving a pink slip.  Now we worry about job security, overloaded classrooms, no materials, while we attempt to teach children who may come to us from unfathomable home situations.

Teaching is hard. Trying to support students who have experienced trauma in its many forms is hard.  Summer vacation will be a welcome respite and perhaps a time to figure out a way to manage my own secondary traumas so that, come September, I am better able to help my students.

Testing….testing…..

In the last week I’ve administered three district-mandated tests to my third grade students.  Everyone is collecting data!  There have been 2 benchmarks – one each in reading and math — and a newly mandated math unit test.  We’ve administered our individualized reading assessments from Fountas/Pinnell. Having completed the MCAS barely 2 weeks earlier, my students are burnt out with testing.  In fact, going out on a limb here, they are burnt out on school.  It’s over. As far as the kids are concerned, third grade is visible only in the rear view mirror.

I like data, but I have so many issues with the testing being distributed by administrators who don’t know test writing.  Number one at the top is the quality of the district made math tests.  It seems that every time we administer them, there is at least one major flaw in the question.  Sometimes one of the multiple choice possibilities is on the next page, sometimes the question posed has more than one correct answer.  Listen up people!  Test and measurement is not for amateurs.

This time of year is pretty tense with all the wrapping up and testing.  This year is particularly intense as budgets are being set (or not) and money is disappearing.  The LPSD is facing a 9 million dollar shortfall.  Obviously that means cuts in staffing, cuts in program funding, larger class sizes…. and makes for a very sad ending to the year.  Our future is hazy at the very least.

Ten days…. and then what?