It’s Not Preparation For Life.

Last few weeks I’ve been asked a lot “Why do you teach science?” It’s odd because until recently I had not been asked that question. The reason has a lamer (is that a word) and less deep than the answer to why I enrolled in education school (it was an accident, I was pre-law and they messed up my schedule). So I’m a science teacher because 3 yrs ago I was beyond stressed. I teach 6th grade, which in state of Alabama is technically elementary. So I could teach any subject because I have elem certification. Could, but it’s not wise for anyone to make me an ELA teacher. Reading, I can do, but it’s the rest of it I cannot wrap my math/science/tech brain around, I do well just to send a tweet without a typo. Anyway I was a math teacher. I really love math so I was excited to teach it. But after a couple of years the stress of meeting all requirements, testing, kids who already hated math, and a group of complaining parents during my tenure year when I had just had a baby and was finishing my thesis for Ed.S. was too much. So my principal gave me the option of teaching science the next year. Took me 3 weeks into the next school year to realize I just got the break of a lifetime.

You see, there is only one science standardized test in Alabama and that’s in 7th grade. Doesn’t weigh heavy on AYP either. Now don’t get my wrong, if you’ve read my blog over this past year you know my job is not stress-free. I (un)fortunately I care whether or not they learn but it’s just a little easier without that stupid test hanging over my head. Without the test being my focus I get to have a new focus: Teach my students to be scientist & ask questions, teach importance of space exploration, teach students to preserve our Earth for future generations, and last teach them survival on this Earth.

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So this week we are at the beach. Those that know me know that the ocean is my real home. Like Buffett says “the sea’s in my veins.” I’m not a son but I am a daughter of a son of a sailor. Close enough, right? When we walked the kids out on the beach the first thing I looked for was the sand bar & breaks in it. You see, rip currents are caused by breaks in the sand bar. Water is trying to get back into the ocean, it finds a way back out through that break. Think pulling the plug in tub, all water rushes to drain. So anyway first thing I do is point out the break to my kids and explain to stay away because of rip currents, they know this stuff because its common discussion. I see a family swimming in the area of the broken sand bar and out of mouth flies “Didn’t their 6th grade teacher teach them about rip currents?” Of course all adults standing there said probably not and looked at me like I’d lost my mind.

I take a day every ocean unit and discuss with the kids rip currents. Odds of my students going to beach are pretty high so to me it’s important. To me if just one actually listens and remembers how to look for them as well as how to escape one, my job is awesome, right? May not be solving for X or finding the main idea, but X could be death or main idea could be surviving vs drowning.

April 2011, I made my students blog about their safe place during a tornado. They complained it was lame. Mostly because many of them didn’t know. So they had to ask their parents, middle school kids aren’t fans of talking to their parents. On April 27, 2011 at 5:30 a small tornado came within a few miles of school and caused damage to a few of my students’ homes. By the end of the night our state had been hit by 59 tornadoes, the largest outbreak of EF5s, well tornadoes period, in history, and 238 people had lost their lives. A week later when we finally got back to school, students blogged about that day and the majority of them blogged about being in that safe place that day. I remember reading the posts and literally breaking down at their reflections of that day (as well as the volunteerism they participated in in the days afterwards).

You see when we take away the stress and the pressures of the tests out we get to do so much more. We get to focus on life. Yeah it’s easier for me because Earth/Space science does effect their lives more but I could just make it about facts. I could ignore the human part of it. But I choose not too. I hate when teachers focus so much on “preparing students for the future” mostly because when they say that they are referring to tech, and we all know tech we are using today is not even close to the future. But also because why can’t we just prepare students for life? Life today. Life tomorrow. Life later this month. Then eventually life in the distance future. In the hall outside the front office at my school has this quote:

“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” – John Dewey

Kids live today. They don’t live in the future. We need to focus on both. If we educators spent as much time worrying about our students instead of what’s on the tests they will learn so much more. I also can bet it may not be obvious at that moment but they are listening and they are learning exactly what they need to. I’m glad I don’t teach math anymore because if my focus was on finishing standards on time & preparing for tests, I sucked. And you really shouldn’t do things you suck at unless you have a plan to grow & get better. I know if I taught math next year, my focus would be completely different than it was last time. I’d totally chill out more & take the time to nurture the students’ learning as well as focus on their “today” lives not their “future-you-must-know-this” lives.

I don’t know, maybe I’m off base with this. If I am, I’m sure someone will call me out. I’m ok with that. And hey, who knows, none of my students may even remember my rip current lessons.

7 thoughts on “It’s Not Preparation For Life.

  1. Rodney Turner says:

    Thank you for sharing these heart feelings. I know you are a great teacher because your students came back after the tornadoes and connected with what you taught them. You gave them the tools to survive the natural disaster and they knew it when it happened. Have you found a balance between preparing for the state tests and teaching them about life? After reading this post, I haven’t either. Keep writing and sharing.

  2. @8amber8 says:

    Amanda! I love this! I think amazing teachers are able to not only able to convey the content they have too, but also convey LIFE. How lucky your Ss are. Even if they don’t appreciate it now, they will. 🙂

  3. Miss Lifesaver says:

    It’s kinda perfect timing that you wrote this post. I was JUST telling my boyfriend yesterday that I want to finish my science endorsement this fall. You explained some of my reasoning perfectly… I need a position with less pressure!

  4. becca buzzell says:

    Hi!
    I’m currently taking a course called Rethinking Homework – one of my assignments is to discuss homework philosophies with other educators and see how they handle the issue of students not turning in homework. In reading your blog, I agree that we need to teach kids about the world around them – when you teach weather, absolutely – talk about emergency preparedness – I loved reading that you had your kids blog about their safe places – and you are so right – middle school kids in general hate talking to their parents!
    What are your thoughts on homework? Do you assign it? If you do, what do you do about the kids who don’t do it?

  5. Paula Naugle (@plnaugle) says:

    Hi Amanda,

    Being a fourth grade teacher in Louisiana, I know the pressure of “the test”. You see 4th and 8th graders in my state can’t pass to the next grade level if they do not pass the ELA and math portions of the LEAP test. Each year on the day the test results hit our school I have to deliver the news to some of my 4th graders that they did not pass the test. Usually this news is met with tears and heart-wrecking sobs. I am asked to contact the parents to prepare them for the news that will be accompanying their child home from school on this day. “Your child failed the LEAP test and therfore will have to attend summer school and retake it. If they can pass during the summer they will be promoted, if not, they will repeat fourth grade.” On top of that the 4th grade LEAP scores used to count for 40% of our AYP score each year. Talk about pressure, since I am the math teacher.

    For the last several years the pressure on 4th grade teachers has been lessened because now the AYP is equally divided among the scores of our third through fifth grade students, but is still a pass-fail situation for fourth graders.

    I decided many years ago that I couldn’t let the pressure eat me up. I was no good to anyone, least of all my students when I was a nervous wreck about test scores. I created tech integrated math lessons and was determined that math class would be one to look forward to, not dread. Well, guess what happened? My scores actually improved when I didn’t teach to the test, but I taught to the needs of my students.

    Now the pressure has increased in the state of Louisiana again on teachers thanks to our new teacher evaluation system. You see now my yearly evaluation is based 50% on my students scores. Yes, you heard me correctly. My evaluation is divided into two parts – 50% is based on the scores I earn on two formal observations and 50% is based on how my students do on their yearly testing compared to how they did the previous year.

    Luckily, I didn’t stress again this year. I just did what I do best – I taught my students math. While they didn’t all do well on their high-stakes test, I managed to get a decent score on my evaluation and I’m okay with that. You see I had even fewer students I had to deliver that awful news to this year. I didn’t stress and I did a better job.

    Amanda, you are so right in saying that “the test” causes much stress for many teachers. Many in my state chose to quit or retire this year, instead of putting up with more stress. It is sad that education boils down to standardized test results. What about all those wonderful teachers who taught so many students lessons they needed to be better citizens, to care about our planet, to have empathy for those less fortunate then themselves, and yes, even how to be safe in times of natural disasters? Those lessons are needed just as much as solving for x or finding a paragraph’s main idea.

    I say to all of those who feel the pressure of “the test” – Relax, teach lessons your students need to learn, do your best to engage all of your students, and teach with passion. The test should not determine who you are as a teacher.

  6. Melissa Fortenberry says:

    You are definitely going on my lists of sites to visit often. I will be starting my first year of teaching next month as a 6th grade math teacher. All of this after working six years for a major technology company, so I have similar passions! After reading some of your posts, I feel more encouraged about what is to come! Good luck completing your Ed.S.!!

  7. valreese says:

    Oh the pressures of testing! Not just for the teachers but students as well. It is very hard for me to not want to teach towards testing prep because soon my pay will be based on test scores. I will also be determined effective or ineffective based on the scores. It is hard to swallow the thought. This year I will take deep breaths and focus on what is important, the needs of my students. If I maintain my focus then my students are sure to be successful!

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