Yesterday afternoon I received a pre-recorded phone message from my school, cancelling classes again due to this extreme cold snap we are having in my area. The temperatures are dropping well below zero, with wind chills falling below -20.
The schools worry for students who walk to school, with weather personnel reporting the onset of frostbite after just two minutes of being outside improperly covered. It is unsafe for the students to be outside, even for very short times, so they cancel school.
This is the fourth day this school year that has been cancelled for this reason. One of my colleagues, a 31-year-teaching-veteran, commented that this was the most days he had ever had cancelled in a single school year.
I am not writing to complain about how we will be making up these days in the spring.
I am writing because our state-wide exams are starting to bear down upon us. We have about four and a half weeks until our kids have to sit for a couple of weeks and answer questions about everything they have learned this year. They have to be smart, and careful, and eloquent.
I am writing because every day that we are out of school is another day that we don’t have to get ready.
Now, let me say that I am not a teacher who lives and dies by these tests. I know that the pressure to do well on these exams can be ridiculous. I also know that my students do not typically do great on these tests. It is difficult as a special education teacher to get excited for tests that do not showcase my students’ abilities or growth from our time together. I get worried thinking of how these test scores impact their placement, how they may eventually impact my role as a teacher, too. They are expected to make 12 months of growth in a period of less than seven academic months, and that time is growing shorter every day that we are not in school.
As a teacher, you feel the pressure to finish certain lessons and move on to new ones on a schedule. That schedule becomes ever-import as you try to fit in as much curriculum as you can, to get the students as ready as possible. I am an inclusion teacher, so I have a stake in how the rest of my class does as well – the ones who may perform very well.
My team and I have been discussing how well we thought we have done this year. We have been pushing the kids so hard this year.
Their writing has improved so much. We have modeled how to write paragraphs with main ideas, details and support. We have drawn skeletons and outlines. Students have learned to “flip” questions into statements and write with some maturity. Writing is so difficult. I feel very proud.
We have decorated the room with anchor charts for things like Inferences, Cause and Effect and Evidence-Based Writing, and I will tell you that the students are using these posters. They are using the strategies we have been practicing for months in their work. I have seen wonderful things from this group of students.
I have never felt so positive gearing up for the state exams. I say this even knowing that the tests, being modified to fit the Common Core, are more difficult than they have been in years past. I say this even knowing that my students may do poorly. I am proud of what they have learned.
I feel lucky because I get to be with them when they take the tests, and I can witness their work. As a special education teacher, some students are accommodated by having portions of the test read aloud to them. This can take a very long time, but it allows students time to think clearly and carefully. It allows me to watch them try their very best. I consider this my privilege.
So, this afternoon, while I sit inside feeling the icy draft coming in through my windows, I am trying to ignore the stress I feel for my students who are missing a day of instruction. I am hoping that we are ready.