Category Archives: From My Past

Don’t Fail Kids With First Impressions

“First impressions count,” or so they say. But should they?

In my career, I’ve encountered many types of children. They’ve been funny, studious, shy, noisy, sad, boisterous, unmotivated, driven, intelligent, average, overweight, generous…

Most of us are drawn to a particular type of person. If that person doesn’t fit our vision of an ideal individual, we may be less inclined to want to get to know them. In our heads, we will form a series of incontrovertible beliefs and convince ourselves that every last one of them is accurate.

I know I have made the mistake of assuming the worst of others based on my initial impressions. You probably have done the same, maybe of your colleagues or other peers.

The great fault is not in having first impressions. The mistake is holding onto those impressions and convincing yourself they’re right.

Have you done this with students? I have. There have been kids I’ve had – and even have now – that I made my mind up about before giving them enough of a chance. I’ve written them off as lazy, rude, or beyond help.

And I’ve never been right.

We need to be sure not to hold on to the first impressions kids give us. Even if it takes months to be revealed, there is always more than meets the eye. Every child wants to learn, be successful, feel proud and have others be proud. If we understand this, then we can work past our first impressions and work toward figuring out who the child really is, instead of assuming the worst.

When we give our students a chance to let us get to know them and show us who they really are, only then do they have their chance to shine and be valued. We need to let kids show us who they are before we decide.


Driving off from work yesterday, I spotted a goofy looking teenager waving excitedly through my passenger window. I recognized immediately who it was – one of my favorite students from four years ago – and waved back. I was trying to enter traffic so I couldn’t stop, but the fleeting greeting gave me a chance to reflect on that year with what is certainly one of the most special classes I’ve had.

That brings me to today. What a horrible day for parking. I was marooned on a street several blocks away. At the end of the day, trudging to my car under the weight of a chest cold that had my students asking me, “Are you OKAY???” after every cough, I was a mite exhausted. I approached my vehicle, and who should I see bounding down the street shoveling pizza in his face but that same bespectacled teenager from yesterday.

He obviously hadn’t lost his wry sense of humor. An anecdote from the past: when he interviewed me for a project in fifth grade, he dramatically pulled out a pen and pad and opened with, “Sooooo, can I call you Matthew?” That still cracks me up and it’s one of my favorite stories!

Taken aback today by how tall he’s become, I said, “Man, you’re almost as tall as me!”

Without missing a beat, he said, “Well, I am 13.” Classic.

Much to by amazement, he is looking at prospective high schools for entrance next year. He’s a great kid and I certainly hope and expect he will become something special.

After our brief chat (13-year olds are terribly awkward sometimes), I got in my car all excited to have seen one of my old charges making good. And then, a rapping came upon my passenger window. My instinct was to tense up, but I figured it could be someone looking for help – or telling me to move – so I loosened the grip on my steering wheel and looked. And what do you know? It was another student from that same amazing class!

This was one of my success stories, in fact: a boy who was embarrassed by his Chinese lineage in an overwhelmingly non-Chinese neighborhood and school. His English was markedly improved by the time he left my class – and my Chinese was markedly improved as well. (May I say again, by the by, “Xie xie” for that!) He’s doing well, too. Also heading to high school next year. He filled me in on some other kids from that awesome class and made me laugh when I told him something about one of his former teachers. His response: “Who?”

I’m grateful that’s not the response these two superstars have when they think of me.

Making a Positive First Impression

Periodically throughout the upcoming school year, I will be referring to a recently published Eye on Education book, Making Good Teaching Great: Everyday Strategies for Teaching with Impact. Its authors are Annette Breaux, whose ideas I have written about extensively, and Todd Whitaker, who is one of my favorite guys on Twitter.

Although I got this book late last school year, I put it away until now. The book is written in a way that provides you with daily strategies to use throughout the school year to make an impact on students. It is a 180 chapter book, each one providing a new activity to try. I’ll write about selected chapters as the year goes on, focusing on those that present new ideas or ideas for which I am passionate.

I’m going to start with the book’s day one activity, called, “First Impression, Positive Expression.” The authors write:

The fact is that students need happy adults who serve as positive role models in their lives. You cannot help your students by being yet another negative influence in their lives. Therefore, it is vitally important that the first impression your students form of you is a positive one.

I was one of those teachers, in my first year, even my second, where I wanted it to be crystal clear that I was in charge and NOT TO BE MESSED WITH. I actually shudder to think back on my opening day lectures, which could have been titled, “This is How It’s Going to Be: NO QUESTIONS ASKED.” What must have these poor kids thought of me? I was their first male teacher, and there I was reinforcing all of their preconceived (and highly misguided!) notions.

(Video: Thoughts for Your First First Day)

Needless to say, that’s no longer my modus operandi. My goal now is to build the community from the get-go, a community that doesn’t revolve around me, but the students (novel, eh?) I shake the kids’ hands when I go to pick them up, introducing myself and asking for their names. I greet the parents. I make chitchat. The happier the kids are to start the school year, the better. It is actually quite thrilling to see their fears yield to excitement, positively bursting out of their uniforms as we begin the ascent to the classroom and I give them an idea of what’s waiting inside. Bottom line: I don’t need the power trip anymore.

Last year, I had five students for the second consecutive year, so there was lots of catching up to do. This year, I have one student that I had two years ago, and I know a few of the others only distantly. So they are undoubtedly going to be intimidated and it’s on me, first day jitters and all, to make them feel comfortable.

I can’t imagine ever going back to the way I once was. Our students want respect and care. They have enough people in their lives putting them down, ordering them around, telling them they’re worthless, etc. I’m not going to be one of those people.

I don’t think you should be, either.

Being the Shuffle in Our Students’ iPods

How do we motivate our students? In the face of boring curriculum and test-driven lessons, there is no panacea for making kids want to do (Hey! Overturning the system as it is just isn’t an option!!) Every child has their own unique motivations to do or not do work. But first, a personal story.

Back when I was a junior in high school, I developed an urge to drop some pounds. My motivation was vanity. It is hard to believe thinking back, but there came a time when I hit a size 38 in the waist. The next size up was 40! And I was like, “HECK TO THE NO, THAT IS NOT HAPPENING.”

So I stopped eating ice cream (frozen yogurt in my parents’ house) and candy, and I began walking to and from school (three miles each way). I went for long walks on the weekends (like 14-miles-long long). I never hit the 40 waist and, in fact, by the end of high school, had dropped all the way down to a 33. Man, I was svelte.

I see a vision of myself walking with my blue Memorex CD player (the newest model that could play CD-Rs!) and a pocket full of slim cases so I could switch music on the go. How thoroughly modern of me. Lots of times, the music kept me going. I liked the changes in pace and adjusted my strides to match the beats. Plus, I found that ear buds shoved deep into the ear canals gave me a chance to hear more layers of the songs than I previously had, and also appreciate the lyrics more.

In college, I maintained a similar regimen, and with a beautiful gym on campus, I took advantage (but to be fair, weekly $1 Yeunglings and $.25 wings are a bit of a detriment to the fit lifestyle). Following a few months of a local gym membership after graduating, I let myself become a stagnation station. Walks were all too infrequent and, you know what? The 33 waist pants no longer fit!

Meh. I had no motivation. But, I wasn’t approaching that 38 special again, so I was cool.

Now, however, I see family members working to whip their rears into gear – prompted by health issues and eye-openers – and I say to myself, “That should be me, too.” This summer, I’ve been telling myself to move more. The problem I have is motivation. Yes, once I’m into the groove of a walk/jog/tennis match, I feel the endorphins and the sweat and feel good. But it is just such…a…drag…to…get…out…there…and…do…it.


Everyone finds motivation in different places. This week, I went to the park with my sister. She wanted me to run alongside her, but I had had enough. So she told me we were going to run to the top of the hill. I said, “Have fun with that.” I had no motivation. Making it to the top of a hill didn’t matter to me. Her saying we were going to do it didn’t matter. Her motivation was to get to the top of the hill and be able to say, “I ran up that.” Mine was to walk it.

I had a hunch I knew what could inspire the urge, though. So I went home and ordered my first new iPod in 10 years. With it, I became the third person in my immediate family to own a pedometer, and that in itself was exciting, too. I told myself when the iPod came that I would get out there for a walk, and maybe a jog.

To my excitement, it arrived less than 24 hours after purchase. I created a “Music to Move To” playlist and loaded it up. Then, as the sun was setting and I was getting stir crazy, I started the pedometer and the music and hit the pavement. All it took to get me moving was a new toy and a surprising shuffle that brilliantly segued from gems by Britney Spears into gems by Bon Jovi (no joke). I felt like my old (young) self again!

How does this apply in the classroom? Let’s say my sister is a teacher (okay, she really is). Like she told me we were going to run to the top of the hill, she says to the student, “We’re going to do this math problem. Come on!” The student has no desire – it’s a stupid math problem that means something only to the teacher. So, if the student does it at all, he does it half-heartedly. No motivation to do it and so no real investment in personal betterment.

But if the student figures out a way to trick himself – or the teacher finds a way to trick him – into getting the work done, like making it into a game or a nice real world application, motivation might strike. There’s a big difference between being told, “We’re going to do this!” and thinking, “I’m going to do this!”

This is where a teacher needs to be flexible and embrace differences in students’ personalities, values, personal expectations strengths, and learning styles. Every child comes with their own motivations (or lack thereof). Our goal must be to motivate all of them thoroughly, but it’s very often the case that more than one try is needed. They need different beats, different sounds, different singers. They need a shuffle in their iPod!

If we can be the shuffle in our students’ iPods, we will surely watch them walk for miles!

Tips for Avoiding a Nightmare First Day

Is this your nightmare?

What you planned is way too easy for the kids. You don’t have easy access to the supplies you need. The phone hasn’t stopped ringing and conversations are tricky because of all the static on the line. New students who weren’t on your register to begin with are sauntering in on their own schedule and you have no space for them. You realize the desks are positioned poorly and start to rearrange them. The kids are disinterested, disrespectful, and oblivious to you. They’re chatting here and there, turned around in their seats. Not even five minutes in, you’ve already had to address a student refusing to attend to the lesson. The other adults in the room are either totally disengaged or are trying to run the class.

You feel like you’re drowning, so you break out some great strategies from last year. Only problem is, no one’s listening. You don’t want to raise your voice on the first day of school, but if no one’s listening, how can you not? You need to do something to get their attention, to restore order. You climb up on a wobbly blue chair in front of the room, and bellow, “Um, EXCUSE ME?” knowing full well that now those kiddies will have to respect, have to listen, have to take notice of you.

And when they don’t, you wake yourself up. You’ve just suffered a school-mare.

It’s amazing the things that find their way into dreams. In each of my four years teaching, I’ve never had a first day like the one I described above, but without the proper amount of thought and planning, it’s easy for any of those damaging scenarios to throw you off from the start and doom you for the rest of the year.

Here are my thoughts on how to minimize those types of occurrences and begin the year successfully:

  • Where is it? I can’t find it! This is very real for me since my second year started one week after the kids. I replaced someone else in their room, so I didn’t have things organized the way I wanted. It’s hard enough when you need to look for something when kids are engaged, but it’s much harder when you need to look and every single eyeball is following your every single move. As long as you’re not hired the night before school starts, there is plenty of time to get the room set up before the students arrive. I don’t know how some people come in the day before school and just start then. My first year was so crazy that the room looked like a warehouse on the first day. I didn’t leave myself enough time to set up. Never again. I like to have everything organized by the middle of the week before we go back so I can go home, relax, and enjoy the last few days of summer. When school does start, organization and neatness make for a smooth beginning. (Side note: If you’re like me, your room will never be as organized or as neat as it is the minute before the kids enter for the first time).
  • There goes the phone…again. In a school my size, it’s inevitable that there will be interruptions throughout the day. It’s probably true in your school, too. So much is happening on day one that you need to just roll with the flow. There will be announcements on the loudspeaker, visits from the administration, calls from the nurse, and colleagues coming in asking for supplies because they can’t find them! (See above ;)) The key is that the kids are engaged.
  • They’re bored already, I must be the worst teacher ever. Kids love to come back to school. Sure, some are anxious, but it’s a time to see their old friends again, as well as their old (and getting older) teachers. The first day should be fun. I always start with community builders and independent activities that allow personalities to come through, but it is also a day to begin informally assessing the students. When I taught first and second grade, one of the first things I did was have the kids write their name on an index card, just so I could see if they knew how to spell it, what their handwriting was like, etc. Other ways to assess students informally include doing a shared reading or other oral reading exercise and posing a real world math problem using the previous year’s learning and seeing if they can solve it. (I linked here last year and will revisit again this year for a great list of first day activities).
  • Who’s the boss? Working in special ed, my class is entitled to a paraprofessional. As long as the para is well-meaning, I feel I can engage them to become a vital member of the team. It is of the utmost importance, though, that the para goes along with the teacher and that the adults speak in one voice (the teacher’s). One voice makes it clear to students how things are and makes them realize they can’t play adults in the room against each other. This is a conversation that needs to happen before the kids come in and whenever it becomes apparent that there is discord in the message being delivered.
  • No one’s listening! WHY IS NO ONE LISTENING? Routines need to be established from the get-go. One of my first this year will be one that worked phenomenally with last year’s class. It is so simple and so effective. To get the students’ attention, the teacher raises his hand. When kids see it, they raise theirs and give their attention. This filters through the room and gets them silent and attentive quickly. No standing on chairs and yelling when you have something so effective!

Here in NYC, the first day is still about seven weeks away. Still, I’m sure many others are already having school-mares about the first day. No need! Everything will be fine as long as you’re prepared.


Don’t Smile Until Christmas? I’ll Pass.

You Know That Old Saying About Respect?

Classroom Management Tip: Getting Your Students’ Attention

Community Building with Books

When You Know Something’s Wrong

In our minds, we like to think kids will be forthcoming about all their issues, willing to confide in us the problems they’re dealing with just because we tell them we care. Some kids are comfortable doing this, but in my experience working with the elementary-aged set (as a teacher and camp employee), most are not.

I don’t advocate pulling each child aside and asking for their entire life and home stories, but when it seems that something is bothering them and they don’t want to open up, I do feel we have a duty to help them through it. Here are some ideas that I’ve found encourage kids to open up.

  • Silence is golden. This is from my journalism days. Silence makes most people uncomfortable, and their desire to have someone say something will cause them to talk. If you have the luxury of sitting quietly with a child after saying something like, “You can let me know what’s bothering you,” then chances are they’ll open up because the silence makes them.
  • Encourage note passing. Lots of times my students are too scared to say something out loud, either because of embarrassment or because they fear retribution. I always offer kids the option of writing me a note letting me know what’s up. Sometimes they won’t discuss the note with me under any circumstances, and other times, we will write to each other back and forth trying to work toward a solution. Either way, the child is unburdened of thinking they have to deal with something alone. The words on the page are less scary than the words coming out of their mouths.
  • Choose your words carefully. We want the message in a difficult situation to be, “It is safe for you to talk to me. You won’t get in trouble. I can help you if you talk to me.” Unfortunately, sometimes our impatience masks that message in a harsh tone: “Just tell me already! Can we get this over with and get back to business? Ugh, you know I’m just trying to help you!” We need to tread lightly around kids’ emotions if we want them to be able to trust us.
  • What’s minor to us is major to them. I remember one year in camp, one of my campers was upset about something at least once a week. Usually, his issues were ones most adults wouldn’t give more than a second’s thought. But for this kid, the issues felt huge and all-important. We have to acknowledge these feelings while helping kids keep them in perspective, too.

When Are Rewards Okay?

I figured out I didn’t like giving out rewards before the end of my first month teaching. On the first day that year, I outlined a system for the class in which they would earn five marbles in a jar every time they got to the meeting area in under a minute, every time they behaved properly during a fire drill, etc. Pretty mundane, pretty conditional, pretty stupid.

There were subsequent times in which I said, to individuals and the whole group, “If you _____, you will get _____.” This, I learned, worked best when dilly-dallying was taking the place of productivity and time was running out. Not perfect, of course, because kids would soon figure out that anytime they wanted what I gave them, they could dilly-dally!

Last year, at the end of my rope with a certain student (do you remember Donald?) I wrote, for the first time in my career, a behavior intervention plan. It was based on conditional rewards, and my expectation was that, eventually, Donald would, in essence, respond to the bell regardless of whether the reward was coming. (Two rounds of sticker charts and he was set for the rest of the year).

Today, I kicked off a grand plan to help an easily distracted, seemingly unmotivated, often defiant student. I wrote it last week and presented it to his mother so she would be on board. Per the plan, the student gets a sticker from me every time he: a) focuses for five minutes; b) asks a question or shares an idea with a partner or the class; and c) accepts assistance from a peer or adult. At home, he gets a sticker for: a) allowing his parents or older sister to help him do his work; and b) reading for 15 minutes with one of his parents or his sister.

Upon receiving 20 stickers, the student has the opportunity to choose something he enjoys: computer time, art supplies, time playing with ocean animal toys, etc. Wouldn’t you know that today he earned 22 stickers and went home with a set of watercolors?

These are all items in which the child needs to improve. He is frequently disengaged and hardly ever interacts with other students. With the guarantee of something tangible for engaging in positive behaviors, my expectation is that this student’s attitude and achievement will improve.

This is not something I would consider for all students. For those who say it’s unfair, I ask if it’s something they really need in order to focus and do well. Universally, they say it isn’t.

I am hopeful that as more positivity comes from this plan, the student in question will exhibit the desired behaviors regardless of the positive reinforcement, and that, at least for the rest of the year, he will be set up for more success than he has ever had.

This is the text of the behavior plan I wrote. It is stapled into a notebook in which I can write notes home. The notebook also has the sticker charts stapled in s we can monitor progress. The names of concerned parties have been changed.

School to Home Behavior Plan for Eduardo

Teacher: Mr. Smith

Parent: Mrs. Sanchez

April 30, 2012

Goal: To establish a plan for Eduardo to improve his academic achievement by: maintaining focus, accepting assistance from adults and peers, and working with others.

Analysis: Eduardo maintains focus in whole-group settings for less than 30 seconds at a time, requiring frequent redirection. He is disengaged for the majority of lessons. Because of his disengagement, he must have directions repeated for him and concepts retaught. He rarely works with a partner or in a group, regardless of whether the grouping is created for him to act in a supporting or supportive role.

At home, Eduardo refuses assistance from his parents and older sister, and therefore does not always satisfactorily complete his work.

Specific goals: In school, Eduardo will maintain focus in a whole-class setting for a minimum of five minutes. He will actively participate by responding to questions and sharing with a partner. He will accept assistance from others without shutting down.

At home, Eduardo will allow his parents or older sister to work with him when he does his homework. He will read with his parents or older sister at least 15 minutes every night.

Ideas: In school, Eduardo will sit in front of the meeting area, closest to the teacher. A paraprofessional will monitor his ability to focus for 5 minutes. He will receive a sticker for every 5-minute increment in which he focuses consistently. He will receive a sticker for raising his hand to participate and when he participates in a prompted situation and socializes with a partner (by sharing an opinion, answer, idea, or appropriate information).

At home, Eduardo will complete his homework with the assistance of his parents or older sister. He will receive a sticker upon completing the homework. He will read 15 minutes with his older sister or parents. He will receive a sticker upon completing the reading.

When he earns 20 stickers (between school and home), Eduardo will receive a reward of his choice from the teacher: a special pencil, time playing with a fidget toy, a sheet of stickers, 15 minutes of computer time on Friday afternoon, 15 minutes in the science center, art supplies, etc.

The sticker checklist will remain in his homework folder so it can be transported between home and school.

Communication: The teacher will provide short daily notes summing up Eduardo’s day. His family will praise him for doing what he was supposed to do in school.

Eduardo’s family will provide short daily notes summing up how Eduardo did at home.  His teacher will praise him for doing what he was supposed to do at home.

The teacher and parents will periodically communicate after school and via written notes to monitor Eduardo’s progress.


Fits and Starts

The Kid I Never Sent Out

And just like that…we’re back.

This morning, it’s back to school and therefore, for me, it’s back to the blog. I took a mental vacation from everything school-related this week. No Twitter, no blogging, no reading others’ blogs. I focused on myself instead. Can’t blame my students if they did the same.

The NYS English Language Arts test begins tomorrow (with rounds two and three coming the following two days). Despite that, I’m kicking off my return to blogging and school with a nice story from right before the break. Surely, by the end of today, testing will be the only topic on our minds, but I want to share something positive and exciting that’s been on my mind all week!

The Thursday we went on break, I wanted little more than to just get out of school and go home. I was required to be at school an extra two hours, however, because I teach after school. So by the time I dismissed the after school kids, you can be sure I was on the verge of a crabbiness that threatened to sully my otherwise cheerful demeanor. Why were the parents so late? Didn’t they know we had a vacation to start?

As these surly thoughts were throbbing against my skull, I heard my name called from across the yard, and bounding through the crowd of teachers, students, and parents came a gawky-looking teenager who I couldn’t immediately place as someone I might know. As he drew nearer, though, I could see behind the oversized glasses and braces and underneath the closely shaved head that it was not only one of my former fifth graders, but indeed, one of my greatest success stories.

When this young man was in fourth grade, he was made to visit my room (via the walk of shame) a multitude of times. Each time he came in with a purpose, sometimes expressed by his teacher: “He needs to refocus.” Who was I to deny? I welcomed him each time and each time he returned to his room “refocused” (and maybe not feeling quite as horrible about himself).

The next year, I was elated that this guy was on my register. Unfortunately, several days passed and he didn’t show up for school. I was very disappointed because he and I had struck up a rapport the previous year and I knew he was going to flourish in my room.

I had just given up hope after marking him absent for the umpteenth time when an assistant principal appeared at my door, seemingly displeased, with the young man in tow. A singsongy “Good luuuuuuuck” was wished, and I hastily arranged a makeshift desk for the boy, quite glad to be inconvenienced by his arrival. (I gave him a hearty pat on the back as he entered).

When he approached me last week, this memory came back to me. He truly was a favorite student and I reflect on his growth with quite a bit of pride. As we conversed, I was impressed by the purpose and politeness of his speech. He wanted to reminisce, asking me to remind him of the names of the teachers around us. I also wanted to reminisce, and the friends accompanying him offered me the opportunity.

Friend 1: “He always got in so much trouble.”

Friend 2: “He had to leave the room every day.”

Former student: “The assistant principals always used to yell at me.”

Me: “Ha, you never had to leave my room.”

Former student: “That’s right.”

Friends 1 and 2: “REALLY!?”

Me: “Of course. He was an excellent student, one of my best ever.”

Friends 1 and 2: “REALLY!?”

You get the picture. And I’m glad I got a picture of this guy as a middle schooler. I’ll allow myself the belief that I must have done something right with him. I’m thrilled he gave me the opportunity.

A Case for Plays

A post-play cast photo from our fourth grade production of Aladdin. I am barely visible in glasses and a black shirt on the right edge!

When I interviewed at my school way back when, I was very intrigued by the fact that all classes (in a school of 2,000 students) were expected to perform a play. The principal showed me masks from a recent production of The Lion King and my interest was definitely piqued.

When I was in elementary school, all classes in grades three through five were required to perform a play. I remember the excitement of getting a script, auditioning, practicing, creating scenery, getting into costume, learning songs, and preparing programs. I played the lead in third grade and had the second biggest role in fourth. Unfortunately, by fifth grade, our teachers had complained enough to the point that plays were no longer required or, sadly, expected.

So when I learned that my school indeed did require each class to perform a play, I was super excited. School days nowadays are not as flexible as they were when I was a kid, and it is often difficult to balance the need for practicing for a play with the need to focus on other enrichment, not to mention academics and tests. It is often stressful because everything needs to be done – preferably well! – and it never seems as if there’s enough time in the day.

This week, my class and their second grade friends presented their play. I felt tremendous pride watching them. Right from the outset, I had tears in my eyes when my shyest student – who is often paralyzed by her angst – strode to the middle to confidently and clearly introduce the play. Certainly it was one of the more special moments of my career.

The kids sang, danced, and looked fantastic in their costumes in front of the scenery they painted. Colleagues and administrators had such nice things to say about the performance. Everyone had a great time.

All the complaining I did about how there wasn’t enough time for the play ceased to matter. All that mattered was how proud everyone was at what they accomplished and how much fun it was.

The scenery from this year's play, much of which was painted by students.

The Evolution of Testing in My Career

Since my career began, here’s a sample of what I have heard from politicians, colleagues, others in school, and those joining in the discourse around the country regarding standardized testing:

As a pre-service teacher: Nothing.

I was left to assume the tests were an inconvenient nuisance at the end of the year that just had to be done – kind of like filling out a survey and receiving a prize.

As a first-year fifth grade teacher: “He took summer school because he failed the test.” “There are only __ days left until the test!” “Just do the test prep and don’t complain.” “We don’t even get the scores until July.” “The test doesn’t mean anything, they all get promoted, anyway.” “New York’s test scores are higher than ever!”

As a second-year fifth grade teacher: “This year is going to be really rough because we have one test and the next week we have the other one.” “We’re going to do a test practice passage every month so they know what’s coming.” “There are only __ days left until the test!!!” “These tests don’t show anything. It’s so easy to get a 3.” “We removed a whole class set of tests for having the exact same answer on an essay*.” “New York continues to raise test scores.”

As a third-year first/second grade teacher: Since I wasn’t in a testing grade, I’ve blocked it all out, except for me saying to colleagues, “I don’t miss the tests.” (Though this is the year I became a lot more keenly aware of the political dialogue around testing and the tremendous and unrelenting pressures of NCLB and Race to the Top.)

As a fourth-year third grade teacher: “We really have to make sure these kids do well.” “We’re doing six weeks of test prep and have to cover 50 indicators in math.” “We don’t want teachers teaching to the test.” “You know, this is important for your tenure and your job – you want to be able to show good test scores.” “Your test scores will count for at least 20% in our new teacher evaluation system.” “These test scores are so meaningless, why do they print them in the paper?” “It’s just not fair to the kids.”

*I heard this from someone who scored tests. In New York, teachers score tests from other schools.