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The Reflective Teacher: A Fine Lineby Stephanie Blackburn

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As the second quarter drew to a close, I sat back and looked at the calendar. "It can't be February already," I thought! "I need more time. State testing begins in a couple of weeks."

I could feel the tension burn inside me and my anxiety heighten...."They get it! No, they don't! I know they can do it! Why are they making it more difficult than it is? What can I do to make sure they get it?..."

Stephanie Blackburn

The question "What am I doing wrong?" consumed me. I knew that my expectations were clear. Yes, they are set high, but I have faith in my students. "I know I need to get them to think for themselves," I thought, "but it would be so much easier to just give them the answers....NO! I won't spoon-feed them. They are capable individuals and deserve to learn how to think."

I was driving myself nuts. I was stuck. Having taught fourth grade for seven years, I have some proven strategies, but I felt as though my entire bag of tricks was depleted. I stopped into other classrooms to find out what was working for those teachers. Some gave me good ideas, others simply said, "I know! I'm having the same problems."

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One evening, as I browsed through one of my professional magazines, I came across an article about the pressures of mandatory testing and its effects on student motivation. Then it hit me! Maybe, just maybe, I was caught up in the pressures of upcoming testing and was subconsciously allowing it to drive my instruction.

"What a fool you are," I muttered to myself. "You have seen this before." Right there and then, I pledged to stop worrying about the test. "Just keep the course, keep your expectations high and clear, and they'll get it," I reminded myself. "All the research and your own experience say they will.... Right?"

A colleague always reminded me during times of distress to take a step back and look at what the students were doing. She assured me that when I did that I would see that they were meeting standards and learning to think. After all, that is my primary goal as their teacher! Even though it was going to be hard to do that this time, I vowed to consciously make that a priority. But I could certainly use some reassurance that something was going well!

Then it happened! One day, during our regular morning meeting, my administrator stopped in our classroom. My students were reviewing ordering fractions -- a concept they had just learned. I explained the activity and then some students demonstrated it. After the demonstration, the administrator wrote a sample problem on the chalkboard; it was one he had observed a sixth grade class struggling with. I cringed when I saw it:

Which is greater; 2/3 or 3/5?

"That's it," I thought. "I'm doomed. My students are only familiar with halves, thirds, fourths, sixths, and eighths."

I was ecstatic when the majority of students answered "2/3." There it was -- my reassurance! They actually understood the concept and were able to provide a reasonable explanation of their thinking. My students reveled in their accomplishment. Smiles covered their faces from ear to ear; after all they were only in fourth grade!

A sense of calm fell over me. I was reminded of the fine line we walk as educators. Teaching is not just about "the test." It's about setting the bar high and helping individual students reach their potential.

I will keep my student's interests at heart as we continue preparing for the upcoming state assessments. I will continue to teach them the skills they need, and expect them to do their best. That is all that I can ask of them -- or of myself.

How will they perform on this measure? We'll have to wait and see! My fingers are secretly crossed, though -- just for a little added help!

Previous Teacher Diaries

Be sure to see Education World's previous teacher diary features, The First 180 Days: First-Year Teacher Diaries and A First-Year Teacher and Her Mentor.

Article by Stephanie Blackburn
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