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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Invisible Outcomes

"In teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day's work. It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years." ~Jacques Barzun I was a teacher of 12th Grade English Composition for twenty-seven years. I loved teaching until it seemed to change so drastically from actual content teaching to record-keeping and endless evaluation of pupil performance. I do not blame this change in any way upon State Proficiency; in fact, I served on the Ohio 9th Grade Composition Rangefinding Committee for many years. I found proficiency testing to be very valuable for both students and teachers as a tool for analyzing weaknesses and strengths of student writing. Also, proficiency was aimed at just that--proficiency--and was often misinterpreted to mean a guide for excellence in education. I loved our committee's members and believed strongly in the work of evaluating performance. Though soon after proficiency began, a frenzy of new programs aimed at deficiencies and special needs swamped the system. Fear of failure seemed to press the need for most of these add-ons, and English teachers often received the assignment of instructing and managing any program remotely relating to language. Time being limited, teachers began to have less flexability to engage in old content-based methods and more responsibility to teach watered-down curriculum. Time quickly became my enemy and goal-setting, record keeping, and constant evaluation took up too much of my time. Barzun's quote speaks to me because of my continuing relationships with graduates of all my classes. I see the students now as doctors, lawyers, public officials, pharmacists, teachers, engineers, film directors, business owners, etc., and some of them thank me with wonderful compliments about how my writing instruction helped them in various ways to achieve success. Almost as often, the students remark about how something in my classroom made a difference in their entire lives. I usually don't know how to respond and thank them profusely for their impressions of my classes and me. Their words are golden, and I seldom forget their kindness. Their compliments usually make me feel very humble, but also their words make me feel very grateful that I chose to spend my career in teaching. I often wonder if students remember me because their senior year was the culmination of a coming of age. I hope grade school instructors receive such numerous, wonderful gifts from their pupils. They most often deserve kind words. The "fruits" of teaching happen so unexpectantly and derive their sweetness from unsolicited delayed reactions to things I evidently did right some long time ago. Whatever the content and however the most successful lessons occurred remain somewhat cloudy, yet I am certain they sprung much more from a natural, casual presentation and not from a forced, grade-based approach hysterical in its daily attempts to "leave no child behind." Yes, I used to love teaching. Toward the end of my career, I could barely stomach the changes in traditional education. The push away from the individual's curiosity to group accountability diminished my effectiveness in the classroom. As more organization forced its way into my daily schedule, I suffered. The strength of the school, to me, has always been the talents that the individual teachers have brought to their classes, if the classes allow for this individuality. I wonder?
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