25 April 2010

TAKS Season (not to be confused with the equally frustrating but mostly unrelated "tax season")

It is once again time for educational institutions across the country to prove that minority students have not succumbed to the "soft bigotry of low expectations," and can answer multiple choice questions as well as their white middle class peers. In Texas that means it is time to administer the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

In an effort to prove to the federal government that our high risk students have an equal opportunity for education and aren't getting left behind, we interrupt their normal curriculum and instruction for two weeks to conduct TAKS review.

TAKS review is not my favorite part of the year. I look forward to it about as much as I look forward to (insert some type of universally agreed upon unpleasant activity here.) The only thing about teaching that is more unpleasant than TAKS review is the TAKS test itself. (Which, I am fairly certain, I will have something to say about next week.)

For a few excruciating days I followed the prescribed review format, and decided that it was actually making my kids dumber. When I am bored to tears and the kids aren’t learning a single thing it’s time for something to change. So I handed out markers told the kids that we were going to make an illustrated history of the United States. They were kind of confused at first. Several students reminded me that it was TAKS review week. Some kids asked me if I would get in trouble. After I convinced them that the new assignment was still part of TAKS review my kids did some excellent illustrations including the bombing of Hiroshima, the Spanish American War, and the Civil Rights movement. This picture of the 1929 stock market crash made me giggle.

17 April 2010

One small step for man...

I wrapped up our unit on the 1960s by teaching the kids about the moon landing. Since NASA is not that far away, and they just made a big deal out of the 40th anniversary, I thought it would be a relatively simple day. I probably thought that because I temporarily forgot that I teach teenagers at a public school.

Every day Roger drags himself into first period 10 minutes late, stands at the door and asks "Miss, what we be doin' today?" I used to think that this habit would drive his English teacher crazy. I met her last week, and she seemed quite sane, but she did mention his poor punctuality. If my response to his query sounds interesting enough he comes into class and participates. If my response doesn't meet his standard he pouts a little. He makes a face, stomps his foot, and asks "why?" (Which is apparently appropriately pronounced in 2 very distinct syllables.) When he does this I tell him it's because I'm trying to make him miserable, and I was up all night trying to think of ways to ruin his life. Then he shrugs, comes into class, and sleeps.

When I told him that we were going to learn about the moon landing I was entirely unprepared for his response. He proudly proclaimed "I already know all about that. It's that Buzz guy. Buzz what'shisname." I was quite proud of his knowledge, and particularly impressed that he didn't throw out the name Neil Armstrong. He was an informed student. He knew that Armstrong was not the only astronaut involved in the moon landing. Anticipating that this meant that Roger was deciding to participate in class I responded, "That's right. It was Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Michael Collins was there as well, but he didn't actually walk on the moon."

Roger looked at me for a minute. I really think he spent an entire sixty seconds trying to figure out what I just said. I could see the wheels turning in his head and I thought I might have thrown him off a little by mentioning Michael Collins. Then he said, "Miss, what are you talking about? I was talking about that movie. You know...the one with the toys. It's Buzz...Buzz...Buzz Lightyear! Yeah. That's his name."