Dear Teacher About to Give Another Test

Dear teacher about to give another test:

First of all, thank you for what you do. I’m an educator myself and I have many friends and family who are as well. I understand your sacrifice, dedication, and commitment. I’m also a mom. So I truly thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you do.

But I’m also here to beg you to reconsider your methods of evaluation.

Let me give you a little background…

Not long ago, a student left my office. Defeated. He’s 26 years old. I teach at a university and this student has dreams of becoming a teacher one day. Actually, he eventually wants to become a counselor. He wants to help students the way a counselor once helped him. And he’ll be amazing. I taught him. I know him. I believe in him.

But tests…

You see, in our state, we have a requirement that future teachers must pass certain tests in order to be certified in teaching. This is true of most states. While this student’s scores soared in two areas, there is one area in which his scores are not enough to pass…by two points. He has taken this test so many times. He just can’t do it anymore. He can’t afford it anymore. He’s given up on himself. Again…defeated.

Some students, most students in fact, just don’t do tests well. I’m actually one of them. Fortunately, most of my instructors throughout my schooling were very willing to let me write about my knowledge instead of taking a test over it. Just because a student doesn’t test well doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t know the information. So please, I’m begging you. As an educational society, we have some work to do.

Students should be allowed to showcase their knowledge in different ways. Some students are good at writing…let them write. Some students are incredible artists…let them create. Some students have beautiful musical ability…let them compose. Some students have business minds…let them present. Some students have mathematical or scientific gifts, let them experiment and solve. Some students have research running through their veins…let them investigate. Some students are natural born teachers, just like you…let them teach.

The concept of traditional “testing” needs to change to “showcasing knowledge” using a variety of methods.

Teach them to use their strengths. Teach them to embrace their talents. Teach them to think beyond a test. Challenge them to achieve their own best…not somebody else’s.

And again, thank you.

Sincerely,

A teacher. A parent. A citizen.

~~~~~~~

Follow Jeremy and Bailey Koch on social media. Jeremy, a five-time suicide attempt survivor, and Bailey, his wife, primary support person and special education professor, have two children with disabilities. Their oldest has High-Functioning Autism and youngest has Epilepsy. The family fights hard to advocate for individuals with disabilities and mental illness.

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When God Says “No” and I wanted “Yes”

Well, my pride is hurt. My feelings are hurt. I’m all out just bummed right now. I’m kind of on a pity party. I know I’ll get over it but I don’t really want to yet. I just want to be mad right now. Thankfully, I know how to not take this out on my husband and kids (mistakes made in the past have helped me move past that aspect of my pity party), but I still just need to be mad.

You see, here’s the deal. Let’s go back in time to August of 2013…

I knew I needed to leave my job and secure paycheck as a public education teacher; I knew it because God made it obvious. I was terrified to go to Jeremy and tell him that this is what I felt I needed to do for our family. To my surprise, Jeremy had no hesitations. None. Sure, honey. We are small business owners who often rely on your paycheck during the winter when we can’t always pay me, but quit your job. I understand and support you completely. I believe in you and what we are trying to do together for our family.

That’s awesome. My husband is amazing. So when am I going to start believing in me the way he believes in me?

So I did it. I quit my job. I left with stellar recommendations from my administrators and co-teachers. I was working on my doctoral degree and holding fast to a 4.0 GPA. Everyone I knew said to me, “Oh you’ll find a job immediately. Anyone would be lucky to have you.” You can likely tell that I didn’t only leave with these qualifications and amazing references, I also left with a giant I’m awesome attitude.

Well, God has a way of humbling us when we try to take on the glory ourselves rather than giving it to Him. I’ve learned my lesson…and am still learning it.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of good has come from me leaving my job. Like…a lot. God has provided for us when we needed it, and I know He will continue to. We have even had family members who believe in us so deeply that they give and give of themselves. Do you have any idea how hard it is to accept financial gifts from family? Holy cow…there’s a lesson I didn’t ever think I’d have to learn. But now I know how God works; He is teaching me how He wants me to be for my future generations. I am working my butt off right now to set up our family financially for the future. And will I give as best I can to my kids, grandkids, parents, etc. when I am able? You bet your butt I will…because I know what it feels like to need it.

Our retirement is draining because we have been living off of that, but one day it will fill up again. We are learning to live without truly knowing how God is going to provide. I do love our life, but sometimes hearing “No” from God when I wanted “Yes” is hard.

So here is what has happened since I left my job. I had applied for over 70 positions without even getting a call-back. When I finally did get an interview, the entire thing was in Spanish. Yep…the entire interview. While I do have a degree in Spanish, teaching the alphabet to 7th graders for 7 years has its way of limiting higher-level conversational skills. I felt so stupid. I immediately started reading my old Spanish textbooks to brush up…but I wasn’t shocked when they never called me again. Lol…actually we got a good laugh out of it and I stopped applying for any Spanish teaching positions where I would have to converse face-to-face. Reading…great. Writing…good. Speaking…well, crap.

But I did get to be home with our youngest son during his last year before starting Kindergarten and be there 100% for my husband as we learned how to more effectively manage his depression. I got to finish up our book and get it published. “Never Alone: A Husband and Wife’s Journey with Depression and Faith” became a reality in March and is our life story. I know that is the main reason I was supposed to leave my job, because we focused on that and our story has helped many understand the reality of mental illness. I know that I will have more time now to help our book reach more people who may be struggling with truly understanding what it is like to either live with severe depression and suicidal thoughts (or another unseen illness) or to be the primary support person for someone suffering. I cannot even begin to explain the joy we feel when we realize that God has used us, yet again, to help somebody accept help with mental illness. It is so humbling and has truly helped us understand that God is in control and we are not. We wrote because God told us to. We shared because God put it on our hearts. And we receiving healing, understanding, and support as a result of sharing. God is so good.

I also got to focus on my doctoral degree being unemployed. As I type, I literally have three assignments left before I am in complete dissertation mode. And yes, I’m still holding onto my 4.0 GPA. Don’t be impressed, it’s freaking hard. I am up most nights until midnight or later just praying for the strength and knowledge to complete my assignments correctly. I sit at my desk and try to concentrate while also trying to balance my life as a small business owner, writer, wife, and mom of two young boys. I spend around 45 hours a week on homework alone. Now that I realize it’s not me, it’s God, it has become easier. I won’t lie. God made me passionate about special education, about students, and about writing. He gave me talents and I am putting them to use for this degree. I do believe He will make the work worth it because I believe I have the power to do good for future educators and students, but I’m ready now. Apparently He’s not.

I do get to start at the University of Nebraska at Kearney in August as an adjunct instructor. While I thought the possibility of full-time employment was there right now, it’s not. And I just found out today. So I’m bummed. But even writing has helped me practice what I preach. God is in control and I am not. While my plan is wrecked, I have to focus on the good. God has opened a door; I’m still getting to teach. It’s just not full-time. I’m still being given an amazing opportunity to begin my new career. Someday, it will be more. But right now, God says no. He has something more planned for me in the present moment that I don’t yet know about.

So I’ll begin my new career slowly, enthusiastically, and gratefully. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for us. Because if it’s anything like what He did for us since I left that comfortable life, bring it on. We may have little money, but we have more love and understanding than we ever have; and you can’t put a price on that.

This Is Why…

The decision for me to leave education after seven years as a Special Education, Spanish, and Business teacher was easier than you might think. And today, again, I was reinforced in my decision.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved Gothenburg. We do have amazing students there, and the administrators (especially Mr. Evans…shout-out) do the best they can with the situation that they are in because of what education has become nationally. So don’t take this or any other posts about my feelings on education to be about Gothenburg, it’s just where I was at. Gothenburg, just like every other school, is under so much pressure from the government (mainly testing and budgeting) that they have no choice but to “teach to the test”. Yes, you’ve heard it a million times. And you may be thinking, “Yeah, yeah…teach to the test.” But it’s true. And it’s sad.

I truly don’t believe that education was always like this. In fact, when I began in education I was completely fired up for it! I was very fortunate. The general education classes that I taught were not courses that were assessed with standardized testing; this left me with a lot of freedom. I created the curriculum myself for 7th grade Spanish, 8th grade Spanish, and Entrepreneurship. And it was fun! My administrators were wonderful in supporting me with different activities for reinforcement. I had a blast teaching. Why? Because I was able to get to know my students individually and teach them in their own unique ways. I tried very hard to do just that as it was always my goal…to connect with kids and give them someone responsible whom they could trust. I was honest. I made mistakes and I called myself out on them…it made me human to my students. And I have made wonderful professional relationships with kids to this day. Will I friend those kids on Facebook now that I am no longer their teacher? You’re darn right I will. And why would I do this? Some of these kids just need to know that somebody cares. And when they feel sad or depressed, where is the first place they turn to anymore? Facebook. They put it out there on the Internet just hoping somebody will notice them. So I do. I want them to know that I will always be their teacher. I will always support them. And I will always believe in them.

Leaving my students was the hardest part by far. One the last day of school, they threw me a surprise party in our co-taught English class. I was unbelievably blessed to co-teach 7th grade English with, by far, the most amazing teacher I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and now calling a friend. Mrs. Clark (another shout-out) has a way of getting students to understand material while having a blast and learning respect. She’s absolutely amazing. Kids give Mrs. Clark and I memories that we treasure forever. And on that last day of school this year, I was a blubbering mess. I was ready for my new adventure, but I wasn’t ready to not see those junior high smiles and get those hugs and high fives when kids come running at you so fast that you have no choice but to hug back or you’ll fall over. I’ll miss that. Kids are amazing.

So why isn’t education about kids anymore? We make kids sit in a blank room because “colors and too much on the walls distract from learning”. Crap. We make everyone be completely silent because it’s easier for everyone to learn. No (not for everyone). The danger is in believing that every kid learns in the same ways; and that is what education is about now.

Let’s use me for example…yes, I’m 30. But I have the maturity of a 7th grader so I count as a fabulous example. I’m going to be a doctor of Special Education soon (hopefully by May 2016). Not once…ever…have I actually read an assignment. Not. Once. I have a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Spanish, Business Administration, and Secondary Education. Did I read the assigned chapters one through four for any week? Nope. I have a Master of Arts Degree in Special Education. Did I read the entire article assigned for that big exam? No…didn’t do that one either. Don’t get me wrong, I do my work. But I don’t learn by sitting down and reading an entire chapter or article. In fact, I’ll read a paragraph and have no idea what it said…so I’ll go back and read it again. Still no clue. I figured out how I learn…and that’s why I can keep going with my education when everyone thinks I’m crazy. I read parts of assignments and skim. I highlight. I make note cards. I have others read to me. Yes, I said that. I learn better when someone reads to me. It doesn’t make me worse or any less smart than anyone else…it makes me a different learner. Just like you. Just like him. Just like her.

I’m not done. When I study or write a paper, I have music blaring. I have “Friends” on in the background. My husband just shakes his head when I appear to be concentrating super hard on a sentence typing and I will bust a gut laughing at something that Rachel or Chandler just said (my two favorite characters). Jeremy says, “How on earth can you do that?” It’s my brain! I can double, triple, and quadruple task to no end! Lol…but I cannot concentrate on one thing at one time. Doesn’t happen. I like that about myself. I’m very random. I’m sure you can already see that. It can be annoying (sometimes I even annoy myself), but God made me this way. Diagnosed with ADHD? Yes…self-diagnosed. I am almost a doctor of Special Education; trust me, I know the disorder. I have it; and that’s okay. The key is to learn how to deal with it if it’s not diagnosed! Medications help many. Honestly, I like my ADHD. I get a lot done.

I am the perfect example of what is not happening in schools anymore. It can’t. Teachers can’t teach to my style of learning…there’s red tape everywhere. English, Reading, Social Sciences, Math, and Science are all assessed to the level that teachers have zero freedom. You may be thinking, “Oh, poor Bailey. What would you know about teaching these subjects? You’re a Special Education teacher.” Darn right I am! We SPED teachers are the family practitioners of education. We aren’t specialized in one area; we have to know a little bit about a lot of areas. That is why tutoring is a great fit for me. I’ve been in almost every type of junior high and high school classroom there is as either a co-teacher or a support for a student with a disability. My job, as a special educator, is to assist general educators in providing accommodations and tailoring instruction for students with disabilities. You can imagine how difficult this can be. Even with two teachers in the room, it isn’t easy. But it can be done! It takes planning time (wait…what’s that?…we’re always in meetings). It takes specialized training with follow-up (huh? Workshops that actually result in improvement?). It takes time to adjust materials and schedules (hold on…this is getting out of hand).

So this is why…none of this is happening. This is why I’m leaving. Education is not about students anymore. It is about what is easier because of so many “have tos”. We “have to” have a workshop about this. We “have to” budget for a new gym floor. We “have to” concentrate on teaching students the material on the standardized test. We “have to” only do what is necessary to keep us from getting in trouble.

Well here is my top 20 list of what we “HAVE TO” do…mine’s different from what we are told we “have to” do:

1. We HAVE TO recognize that every student learns differently.

2. We HAVE TO learn what students need. (Ask them…they’ll tell you how they learn best. And guess what? You just taught independence and respect for oneself without even trying)

3. We HAVE TO try different methods of instruction rather than relying on “what used to work”.

4. We HAVE TO make time to work together and make it about students.

5. We HAVE TO treat our educators with the respect that they deserve. (They have no motivation to do more…drained…overworked…underpaid…exhausted)

6. We HAVE TO realize that we don’t always have the right answers. (Look in other places, to other people…including parents, caretakers, other teachers)

7. We HAVE TO learn evidence-based strategies and employ them. (Most of the evidence-based strategies that I have learned about or tried have been very geared toward differentiated instruction…trying different methods than the typical talk and take notes type of teaching…they can be very fun…no wonder they actually work for students)

8. We HAVE TO find different ways of teaching that will help all kids learn. (It’s easy to teach the easy kids)

9. We HAVE TO focus on strengths of kids and stop constantly telling them what they are doing wrong! (This one is a must…focus on the positive. Yes, I get that we have to teach kids differently if they are misbehaving, but why is that always the first thing we notice?)

10. We HAVE TO take the time to learn what accommodations will help kids and figure out how to implement them DAILY! (Many students with disabilities require even more changes in the classroom…it’s not easy…teachers need time and support to sort out how to make it work)

11. We HAVE TO build the time and money in to supporting KIDS in their learning.

12. We HAVE TO recognize that while one environment is great for one learner, it may not be great for another. (It isn’t hard to allow a kid to listen to music while taking a test…oh I know…but what if they are cheating?!?!…You do realize that there are controls on most devices…have them available in your classroom so you have more control over what they are able to do)

13. We HAVE TO stop with this standardized testing testing testing. (It doesn’t help kids…at all.)

14. We HAVE TO give teachers more planning time with other teachers (even including students and their parents/guardians) to help one another.

15. We HAVE TO shift budgets to focus on creating an environment where individual learning styles are nurtured and encouraged.

16. We HAVE TO help kids learn how they learn.

17. We HAVE TO show kids that we care by being respectful of their needs and learning styles. (It doesn’t seem right to demand respect from them if we aren’t willing to give it back)

18. We HAVE TO learn to remove our own frustrations about education and remember that it is not the fault of our students.

19. We HAVE TO express what we see education becoming and try to change it!

20. We HAVE TO do the best we can for students in the situation we are in. (I’m working on moving up the ladder to try to do something about the governmental pressures and I know many are…but it won’t happen overnight. For now, we get to be the positive driving forces behind helping students learn the material they “have to” know in order to test well…but we can do our part in helping them learn it in their own ways. It’s a powerful position to be in…and one of the most important.)

Am I an expert on education? No. But I am a teacher. I am a parent. I am a student. I am a business owner. I am almost a doctor of education. Maybe I am an expert (at the very least…I’m trying to be). Maybe that’s the issue. We are allowing people to run education who have no experience what-so-ever with actually teaching. So take it or leave it, but I don’t like what education has become and I believe these are things that can be (need to be) done NOW to make the best of what we have!

Bottom line…make education about students again. It’s not about adults. It’s not about what’s easier. Make it about kids.