Yesterday I attended the UPRA Conference and promised myself I would make time to blog this weekend. Listening to Ralph Fletcher, Troy Hicks, other fellow writers and teachers, I felt a pang of guilt for not writing. It’s not as though a lack of ideas is the problem or that I dislike writing or I haven’t been near my computer where I prefer to write; it’s just getting started.
What a familiar phrase, “I don’t know how to start.” How many times do I hear that as a writing teacher. My students look at the blank paper and say, “I’m thinking.” My typical response is, “Think on paper.” They roll their eyes (they are middle schoolers remember), pick up the pen or pencil, and now stare at the blank paper instead of the classroom’s ceiling. “Just write,” I tell them. So easy to say, yet so difficult to do for some. Sometimes my prompting works, others times I give them a starter, “Write ‘Mrs. Diedrich is making me write right now and I don’t want to.’” Giving them the freedom to complain (again they are middle schoolers) usually gets words on paper.
Then comes the state standardized MEAP test in early October, just six weeks into the school year. My only tasks are to distribute the test materials and read the directions aloud as the students follow along silently. I cannot define any words or help them understand anything other than the directions. I can check to make sure they are filling in the correct bubble section, but I cannot help them get started. What an agonizing time. One reason I became a teacher is because I like to help others, but during the MEAP test, I’m not allowed.
I understand the rationale of disallowing teacher assistance, and luckily, my students almost always “think on paper.” It still pains me though, to just sit, watch them complete the test and not be allowed to discuss it even when they are finished. As a test proctor, I must be just like any other test proctor and not be a teacher. This is one time I’m not allowed to wear my hat of many colors; I must wear a monochrome one. Even though my students are not monochrome widgets living in a monochrome world, standardized tests of this sort, certainly try to make them just that. Many others feel the same way as I do, and are working to change the testing. For now I continue to be thankful I can wear my hat of many colors all but two hours 4 mornings in October.