Saturday, March 21, 2009
The first year that students had to take the high school exit exam, the state gave the exam to 9th graders to beta test it. If they passed, they would not have to take the exam again the following year, when the permanent testing of all 10th graders began. I was teaching two double-period sections of 9th grade English, both "honors," which at my school meant any student who came to school almost every day, didn't cause trouble and was willing to do some work. It did not mean that the students actually functioned at grade level. The reading range in the two sections ranged from 5th to 12+.
The students worked hard, read hundreds of pages each semester, wrote every day, and generally did a great deal of deep thinking. When it came time to respond to practice prompts, I taught them a sort of formula that they could use to give the evaluators what they wanted on the essay. If it worked, the students could be done with the test and be able to move on to more interesting work in 10th grade.
Everyone bought into the idea that they could "do the box" without "becoming the box." Everyone except C, who had to do everything her way. Everyone took the test, and when the results came out, everyone had passed, everyone except C, because doing it her own way had turned out not to be the best choice.
One year later I transferred to an alternative school, and used the story of C as a cautionary tale to "do it Ms. G's way." At my new school, the pass rate on the exit exam was 100% for the students who did it my way. Only one student in four years outright refused to do any of the work I gave her to help her prepare; she failed to pass the test, and did not graduate as a result.
Last year, I was shopping in Best Buy one day after work when I heard someone call my name. "Ms. G, you used to teach at JHS. I'm C..." and I said, "C" plus her last name, "You're famous. I tell everyone about you." Then I told her why, and how her story had helped me to convince students to give my methods a chance.
The epilogue is actually sweet. She did graduate on time, and completed an AA degree at the community college. She's transferred to a four-year to become .... (drumroll)..... an elementary school teacher!
"I always felt I'd failed you, because I couldn't get you to 'buy' doing it my way. Now I don't have to worry about you anymore, and my story has a better ending." Big hug. "Please tell your students your story." I think she will.