The Power of Shared Experiences

As our girls get older we, as a family, tend to spend less time together. They have interests outside of us and our home. They also have devices that attract their attention at home. We still eat dinner together as a family most nights, but time beyond that isn’t as certain as it used to be.

This has made me realize how much I appreciate the shared experiences we have and how powerful they are. Some of those experiences are huge, like this summer’s trip to the Pacific Northwest and last summer’s trip to Harry Potter World. Other shared experiences are briefer: the Mamma Mia performance our oldest and I attended last week and the multiple Doctor Who episodes our youngest watched with her daddy while we were gone, seeing The Big Sick together, watching West Wing and Series of Unfortunate Events episodes, and reading. We still read books as a family. We don’t manage to do it every night anymore, but we still value that shared experience. (Our current read is Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive which is great fun as it’s divided into sets of three pieces, two of which are true and one of which is not. You get to try and figure out which one is the lie.)

Not my family, sadly – from David Mulder’s flickr

Reflecting on what these shared experiences have meant for us as a family has me thinking about the classroom. I read aloud many, many books throughout the year: some picture books, some nonfiction, some novels. Those experiences bond us as a group. We return to them throughout the year, referencing stories or things that happened as we read.

Field trips are similar. Sometimes it’s the bus ride that is remembered and recalled throughout the year. Other times it is something specific we saw or heard or did. Whatever it may be, that shared experience shapes our time together far beyond that day.

Some shared experiences are unexpected. A surprise visit from a former classmate. Snowflakes falling during a fire drill. A funny comment that hits us all at just the right time and place. A question that prompts a challenging or heartfelt conversation.

I think it’s a given that we, as a class, will have shared experiences throughout the year. We spend so many hours together I believe it is inevitable. I’m grateful for that. The shared experiences I plan, the read alouds, the field trips, will be important for us. But I think the unexpected ones might be the most fun and might bring us together as a class, as a group, as a family, even more.

Teaching is Like Driving, Part II

Our oldest daughter starts high school in a few weeks. It’s hitting me that there are some really big milestones coming up and one of them is driving. (Not that she is looking forward to it. She’s really hoping self-driving cars will be ubiquitous within the next two years.) As a result, I’m more reflective about my own driving as I think about preparing her to be a driver. I’ve been driving for almost thirty years. It’s a very different experience now than it was for me then.

I learned to drive in a manual transmission. My mom took me out to a church parking lot when it was empty and taught me. We jumped around that lot a lot. I think she may have chosen a church parking lot thinking a higher power might intervene in this process. Starting there gave me a chance to master the basics of shifting gears. By the time we drove in a more open space, I was ready to think about other aspects of driving. Which was good, because there’s a lot to think about!

From Andi Jetaime’s Flickr

Now that I’ve been driving for two-thirds of my life it’s tough to remember how difficult it was to think about all the things at one time. To know where other drivers are on the road. To be aware of my speed and how it compares to the speed limit and to other drivers. To think about where I need to turn. To decide if that yellow light means stop or not given my distance from it. To watch my rear-view mirrors. It’s exhausting to consider.

I feel the same way about teaching. I’ve been at this for two decades, not three, but it’s a different experience for me now than it was back then. Just like much of what I do as a driver is automatic now, much of what I do as a teacher is.

I don’t have to think so carefully about the language I use in my classroom now because I’ve been doing it for long enough. It is natural. I’m aware of what’s going on in different areas of the classroom without having to think about it. I have a sense of the foundational skills students need before they’re ready for the next steps. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I do as a reader, writer, mathematician, thinker, in order to understand the process my students are going through. I’m able to take all the work, thinking, and experiences of two decades into my classroom each day.

As a new driver it was terrifying (I totally get my kid’s fear). The same was true as a new teacher. Time and experience mean that it isn’t constantly scary now. And I can stretch myself as a learner and teacher because the basics are solidly there.

I’ve worked with brand new teachers who were phenomenal and far exceeded anythign in was doing in my first few years. I’m not saying one needs experience to be a strong teacher; I’m saying it sure does make the job easier.

Teaching Is Like Driving

My husband and I took our honeymoon to Spain. We balanced our contributions to that trip: I spoke Spanish and he would do all the driving (he was 25 by the trip and I was not so this was required for the rental car). The problem we faced, aside from my lagging Spanish, was that he didn’t drive manual transmission. I did. The months leading up to the honeymoon involved him, at 25, learning to drive all over again. At one point he said to me, with great frustration, “I used to be a good driver and now I suck!” (For the record, he had no trouble driving us all over Spain, even with getting directions in my limited Spanish. And the next car we bought for him to drive was a manual transmission. Not only had he mastered it, he’d come to love it.)

My own children getting to ‘drive’ with their aunt.

When, after ten years of teaching fourth and fifth graders, I switched to teaching first graders, I completely understood his feeling. I can remember thinking, “I used to be a good teacher and now I suck!” I had felt, at that point, like a highly proficient teacher. I was National Board Certified. My school had nominated me for teacher of the year for my district. I was mentoring new and pre-service teachers. I knew what I was doing. Then, suddenly, I didn’t.

Just like my husband and the manual transmission, however, I kept at it and found I loved it. This time it didn’t take ten years for me to feel as confident as I had before.

At this point, I think I could learn to drive just about anything: motorcycle, motor home, Maserati, and more. It would take time, at first, to figure it out, but all of my driving experience would make that process easier. The same is true for teaching. I’ve taught fourth graders, fifth graders, first graders, kindergartners, and third graders in the past two decades. I’ve taught adults as well. If I suddenly were teaching high schoolers it would be difficult and would take time, but I think I could get the hang of it and do it pretty well. All of my experience would support my growth.

Project? Check!

I have a long history of having a great idea, jumping in without enough forethought or preparation, and ending up abandoning it. There are good ideas I do manage to complete, but the percentage is not impressive. Today I managed to improve my batting average. Of course, that’s mostly because there was outside influence pushing me to pull this one off…

About a month ago I created a GoFundMe campaign as a part of their Teacher Appreciation Week promotion. My goal was to create summer bags for kids with things to help them keep learning all summer. Many of our students do not have summer camp or travel or similar experiences during the summer. We often see summer slide with our students and I was looking for a way to make that less of an issue.

Thanks to generous donors we were able to create bags for 55 kids today. We gave bags to students in 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades. The thought was to aim these at students who were old enough to be independent in their use of the materials.

We had books for readers who are just getting started up to middle grade novels and nonfiction.

Every student got a spiral notebook, colored pencils, a pen, and a drawing notebook.

Every student got a bag they could use to gather their goodies. They got to decorate their bags if they wanted.

Two bookmarks for every student.

Two pencils for each student.

Every student got two ten-sided dice and directions for math games using them.

More books

Even more books

Several of the math games work best if recorded. We laminated them, in English on one side and Spanish on the other, and gave the kids dry erase markers so they could use them again and again.

This morning we brought the kids in by grade level to create their bags. They decorated. They picked out four books each. They picked a spiral notebook and a drawing notebook. They got copies of the math games and picked out dice and dry-erase markers. They got bookmarks and pencils. They walked out with a tote bag full of fun (I hope).

It was a bit crazy, but two colleagues were fabulous and gave up their time to help out. The kids were thrilled. Multiple kids said, “This is fun!” which is what we hope they’ll keep saying all summer. One fifth grade girl cracked me up as she was picking out dice and markers and said, “I feel like I’m shopping at the mall!”

Getting all the materials actually went pretty smoothly. The math games, however, were my snag on this one. I ordered the dice and the markers, but procrastinated on putting together the games. Luckily we have fabulous folks at school who translated the games for me quickly (for which I totally owe them). I made the copies of the games and laminated them yesterday. But I didn’t have time to cut them out before leaving school for an event. This morning I was beginning to panic. Getting everything set up before my students arrived (as I wouldn’t have free time between their arrival and our distribution) would be time consuming enough without needing to cut out hundreds of laminated pages. I got one game done but knew that was it. So I cut the other games into sets of eight and enlisted the help of my 3rd graders.

At least fifteen of my kids started their day cutting out laminated pages. They thought it was fun. Thank goodness.

Now if I can just remember how good it feels to actually complete a project the next time I get in over my head…

Just Getting Going…

In my first few years of teaching, before I had children, I spent the first week after school ended sleeping and reading. I needed to catch up on both those things. (When my children are grown I plan to return to this. Sleeping and reading are precious.) Most of what I read that week each summer was light, fun. After about a week sleeping and reading would bore me. I needed more. So I began to read the professional books I’d been eyeing all year but hadn’t been able to tackle as I tried to keep my head above water as a new teacher. Then it would get ugly. I’d read these books and reflect on the previous year(s) and I’d fall into a funk. All I could see were the ways in which I’d failed my students by not doing this, that, and the other.

Now, as I am wrapping up my 19th year in the classroom, I am having a bit of a flashback. For the past fifteen years or so I’ve done a better job of reading professional books during the school year (my summers aren’t quite as open and free as they once were, a result of a variety of choices I’ve made). I no longer hit the summer and beat myself up for not being the teacher I want to be. I can read professional books, reflect on them, try things, reflect some more, try some more, and so on. But I just finished reading Lost at School: Why Our Kids with Behavioral Challenges Are Falling Through the Cracks and How we Can Help Them by Ross W. Greene, Ph.D. And I’m doing a bit of berating myself for not reading it sooner. (It was published  in 2008.)

The big idea of the book is kids do well if they can (also the title of the second chapter). Greene’s premise is that children aren’t challenging because they’re lazy, or seeking attention, or trying to manipulate us. They are challenging because they lack certain skills that would help them do well. Their behavior is maladaptive because they do not have the skills for adaptive behaviors. As a result, rewards and punishments are not going to help these challenging students. If they just needed the right motivation or consequences then their behavior would change. For some students we’ve been trying rewards and punishments for years without success. And yet we continue.

I’m having a flashback because reading this book makes me feel the way all those professional books did when I was a new teacher. It shined a spotlight on how I have failed students. I got rid of any sort of structured reward or punishment system from my classroom years ago. I knew I didn’t believe in that. But that didn’t mean I had a better plan. For the majority of my students, the ones who have strong skills that allow them to be successful, having or not having a reward system doesn’t matter. For my challenging students, having such a system would just be a constant reminder of all they can’t do. Yet.

Lost at School is structured in an interesting way. In each chapter Greene lays out or reinforces the philosophical beliefs behind his ideas. He then explains how to implement them. There’s a Q & A section that is informative, as well as sometimes humorous. Finally, each chapter ends with The Story Continues… In the very beginning Greene starts a story with a specific student, teacher, and administration. Throughout the book that story continues, widening to include more of the people in the school. I found it quite helpful to have all of these pieces woven together.

I’m sorry I read this book in the last month of school. I’m sorry I waited almost ten years to read it. (Full disclosure, Greene also wrote a book titled, The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children. It was originally published in 1998, the year I began teaching. I wish I had read it then. I’m reading it now.) But I’m glad I’ve read it now. I will reread it, maybe many times. I’m starting to try some of the ideas. Even without that, I’m finding myself responding to students differently. The kicker is, the way I’m responding now? It fits my beliefs about children. The way I’ve been responding for years didn’t. I’ve only begun this journey but I’m looking forward to next year and continuing to problem solve with my students.

We’re All Giving Our All

It takes all kinds to make a school work. from Kevin Hodgson’s Flickr

Tuesday was one of those long days. Our 3rd graders were testing, which alone makes a day feel long. It also means they don’t go to specials (like PE, music, art) so we teachers don’t get a break during the day. Needless to say, by the end of the day I was pretty wiped out (as I’m sure were they).

After school I was on the phone with my mom, trying to make some plans for our summer travel, when our custodian came in to vacuum. He came in quietly and was clearly trying to figure out how to do his job without disrupting me. When I realized what he needed to do, I scooted out of the room and talked with my mom in the empty hallway.

A while later, as I was turning off lights and gathering my things to head home, I realized we had forgotten to stack the chairs in our classroom. Two of my students do this every afternoon, but Tuesday wasn’t a typical day and we all forgot. Of course, that made our custodian’s job harder as he had to vacuum around the chairs.

On my way out I passed him and apologized for our forgetfulness. At the same time, he was apologizing for vacuuming when I was on the phone. He explained that as it gets humid outside our floors get sticky and the big, flat brooms won’t sweep up debris well so he needs to use the vacuum. I headed home with both of us apologizing and thanking the other.

As I drove home I got to thinking about how easy it is for us to make assumptions about others. Our custodian could easily have assumed I didn’t value him or the work he does because we didn’t help him out by stacking our chairs. I could easily have assumed he didn’t care about me if he was willing to disrupt my phone call. Instead, partly because we have a good working relationship, we each assumed positive intentions of the other (and I believe we were both correct).

Teaching is, as I’m sure you’ve heard, a challenging job. People in a school building are all doing what they can for the students there. Every role in a school has different challenges. When we assume that another’s job is easier or less work we are very likely wrong. We can’t know another’s job the way they do so we won’t see the totality of what they do. When we assume another person is being lazy or not doing all they should, again, we are very likely wrong. We have no idea what all they are doing.

I catch myself thinking primary teachers don’t understand how tough our job is in the upper grades with high stakes testing. Even though I know, after 8 years as a primary teacher, how hard that job is. I catch myself wishing I had the free time specialists have because they don’t have multiple collaborative team planning meetings every week. Even though I know how many other things they do have on their plates that I don’t. I catch myself thinking it might be easier to be an ESOL or special education teacher and not have recess duty or kids arriving early for breakfast. Even though I am aware of the extra testing duties they have all year, among other things.

Everyone has their part. from Julien Harneis’s Flickr

Every one of us in a school building has a job that requires us to give our all. Sometimes things might be slightly less busy for some and crazier for others, but our jobs are all tough. The best thing I can do is to remember that.

  • To remember that the primary teachers are working their buns off to help kids learn how to be active participants in school and learn to read and count and more.
  • To remember that the specialists spend so much time ensuring our students have a plethora of opportunities to participate in things beyond the core content areas.
  • To remember that ESOL and special education teachers not only work with students, meet with families, and do a ridiculous amount of testing and paperwork, but they partner with us classroom teachers in every way possible.
  • To remember that instructional assistants turn on a dime and are as flexible as Gumby (look it up if you’re too young). They are with students nonstop and still manage to treat everyone with grace and patience. They are often paid the least to work with the students with the greatest challenges.
  • To remember that our custodians not only clean the school but encourage students, help us with mechanical challenges, and make sure our rooms and halls and spaces are welcoming places ready for learning every day.
  • To remember that the office staff communicate with families, whether for positive or not-so-positive reasons, make sure that we have everything we need for our students, and generally are there to take care of whatever balls we might have dropped.
  • To remember that the folks in the cafeteria put together dozens of coolers for breakfast every day, stock our salad bar for the kids, prepare lunch after lunch, and still smile at our students and us.

None of us are working along, thank goodness. We’re all there for the students and for each other. Everyone giving all they’ve got.

Math and Kids

I love math. I loved it in elementary school and then lost that love for a while during middle school, high school, and college. I found my love of math again when I began teaching elementary school students. I love thinking about why things work in math. I love trying different strategies. I love looking at a problem from a different perspective. I love the puzzle that is math.

For many years now, ever since a math consultant talked about it, I’ve added the digits on license plates. My daughters know I do this and the ten year old frequently does it to. She’ll suddenly just pipe up from the backseat with, “24!” Then she and I have a conversation about how we each got to that number. Frequently our paths are not the same. It makes for some fun math talk.

We take our state math test next week. By we I mean my students. I worried that this would be the time I would hate math. That prepping for the test would kill the joy. That hasn’t happened. We’ve looked at problems and tried to figure out why someone would pick the wrong answers. The kids love trying to figure out the errors. I knew I would love that but I didn’t realize they would love it too.

Yesterday we broke our math time into 20-30 minute chunks and worked on different ideas. We started all together for a few minutes and then went off on our own. Part of the time we worked on number stories (word problems). I worked with kids who wanted help. One little girl practically knocked me over. (Actually, I accidentally knocked her over because I was so impressed with her I high fived her and she fell off her stool.) She arrived in this country over the summer to join her mom and older brother. An uncle brought her and they were detained at an ICE facility in Texas for more than a month. She was eventually sent up here and her uncle remained there (I’m not sure what happened to him). She spent a lot of this year in the silent period that many students do when they’re learning another language. But she’s always rocked in math. She didn’t need my help with math so I think she sat with me to help with the language in the number stories.

In the first problem she worked on she had, as one step, to add 99 and 94. She quickly did, accurately. Then explained to me that she took one from the 94 and added it to the 99 so that she had 100. So she knew it was 193.

She went on to this problem, adding 2,381 and 3,077. She added the ones. Then the tens, but she took two tens from the 7 on the bottom to make 100 with the 8 on top. So she knew she had 4 hundreds with 5 tens left over. Then she added the thousands. I love the way she notated it. The way she broke the 7 and wrote the 2 and 5. And especially the 100 at the top with the line going all the way around.

I love this. I love math. I love watching kids figure things out and grow their flexibility with numbers. This is small, all things considered. But it was huge in my day. Her confidence. Her knowledge that she had this totally under control. Her explanation to me in English. It was absolutely beautiful. Math and kids. Life couldn’t be better.

Striving for Better

For the past few weeks I have been unhappy with myself as a teacher. I’ve been chastising students for doing things that nine year olds should do. I’ve been yelling at kids (not raising my voice but yelling in tone). I’ve been controlling things. I’ve been a teacher I dislike. And I have been unable to change it.

I’ve known this for a few weeks. It’s not a surprise. Every day I go in with good intentions. Every day I fail. I do not want to end the year like this. We’ve got about a month left together. I want it to be our best month all year. Right now I’m afraid it will be the worst.

This morning continued in that fashion. It’s not that I didn’t have some great interactions with kids. It’s that the big picture, the overall way I’m responding to them, is not positive.

But then we got to writing. We’ve been reading Adventures in Cartooning. Today we took the ideas about how authors create cartoons/comics/graphic novels and made a list (panels, thought balloons, speech balloons, sound effects). We talked with a partner about ideas we might have for writing in this way. They talked about writing about their family and friends (like Cece Bell and Raina Telgemeier do). They talked about writing about talking animals being captured or folks going to outer space (like Ben Hatke does). They went off and wrote and wrote and wrote. They asked if they could take their writing home to continue working on it and if they could have more pages.

I have no idea why they get clipboards and then work at a table.

After recess today we spent the rest of our afternoon on math (we take the state test next week). I broke the afternoon into smaller chunks, spending a few minutes all together looking at an idea and then sending them off to do some independent or partner work around that idea. Each time I sent them off I sat at one table and allowed anyone who wanted or felt they needed help to join me. We’d work for 20 minutes or so and then return to the carpet for a new idea. It was the best time we’ve had together in weeks.

I offered them choices in writing that excited them. I gave them time to talk through their ideas and time to work on them. I walked around and asked them questions and shared what I was noticing them doing.

I had a vision for the work we’d do with math. I worked one on one with lots of different kids. I watched them struggle and then get it (at least sometimes). I was completely focused and present with them and thinking about what they were doing and understanding and how to help them take that and build on it.

I was, for a few hours, the teacher I want to be.

Tomorrow is a short day. They go home after lunch. I’m thinking through my vision and plan for our few hours together. Then I’ve got a three day weekend to think about how to keep this going.

Kids Are People, Too

It is so easy to do things the way they’ve always been done. I believe this is true for a couple of reasons. For one, the way things have always been done is comfortable and known. Doing things differently requires questioning the way they’ve always been done. It requires extra steps of thought and planning. Secondly, doing things the way they’ve always been done is habit. Most of the time we aren’t even aware we’re doing things the way they’ve always been done. (Which is clearly related to the first reason.)

If a kid can sleep in my room, they must be tired! So sleep is the most important thing right then. (This one is faking for the camera but it happens every year.)

I tend to pride myself of not doing things the way they’ve always been done. Quite possibly I pride myself a bit more than I deserve. The area in which I think this is the greatest challenge for me is in dealing with student behavior (actually, it’s a challenge for me as a teacher and as a parent). It’s both reassuring to know I’m not alone and painful to realize how many of us teachers are doing what has always been done in responding to students.

Yet even though today’s teachers are trained to be sensitive to “social-emotional development” and schools are committed to mainstreaming children with cognitive or developmental issues into regular classrooms, those advances in psychology often go out the window once a difficult kid starts acting out. Teachers and administrators still rely overwhelmingly on outdated systems of reward and punishment, using everything from red-yellow-green cards, behavior charts, and prizes to suspensions and expulsions.

I haven’t used red-yellow-green cards in fifteen years and behavior charts are a rarity for me. I also don’t do prizes. So I guess it could be worse.

Contemporary psychological studies suggest that, far from resolving children’s behavior problems, these standard disciplinary methods often exacerbate them. They sacrifice long-term goals (student behavior improving for good) for short-term gain—momentary peace in the classroom.

That’s what I think I do. I respond in the moment, too quickly, aiming for ‘momentary peace in the classroom’ rather than for what is best for the child. The piece I’m quoting here is from Mother Jones, What If Everything You Knew About Disciplining Kids Was Wrong? It goes on to discuss the idea that we should be helping students learn self-control rather than imposing our control on them. That’s where I fail far too often.

Which begs the question: Does it make sense to impose the harshest treatments on the most challenging kids? And are we treating chronically misbehaving children as though they don’t want to behave, when in many cases they simply can’t?

That fits my beliefs. Children will make choices that don’t show kindness, respect, or safety at times. They are human. Adults do the same. But sometimes, too often, we as schools and teachers are asking students to behave in ways that are completely inappropriate or even impossible for them, at least at that moment. Punishing them for that is unreasonable.

The article continues on to discuss the work of Ross Greene (I just checked out a couple of his books to learn more). The biggest idea is to talk with students when they are not behaving in respectful, kind, safe ways. Ask them why. Figure out what is going on with them. Making assumptions about a child’s behavior and choices will almost always lead us down the wrong road. Listening to a child can take time (which is one reason I think it doesn’t happen enough) but will give us invaluable insight.

The CPS (collaborative and proactive solutions) method hinges on training school (or prison or psych clinic) staff to nurture strong relationships—especially with the most disruptive kids—and to give kids a central role in solving their own problems. For instance, a teacher might see a challenging child dawdling on a worksheet and assume he’s being defiant, when in fact the kid is just hungry. A snack solves the problem. Before CPS, “we spent a lot of time trying to diagnose children by talking to each other,” D’Aran says. “Now we’re talking to the child and really believing the child when they say what the problems are.”

Three of the students in my classroom that have the greatest challenges at school when it comes to behavior rarely have those problems with me. I realized in the first few days of the year that they would face such challenges and worked hard then to build strong relationships with them. It has done wonders. All three are awesome kids but I’m not sure folks in the cafeteria or specials can always see that. I have one other student I didn’t identify immediately and didn’t spend the same time and effort on relationship building. I regret it daily.

Like the Long creek guards, staffers at Central were skeptical at first. When an enraged second-grader threw a chair at educational technician Susan Forsley one day, her first instinct was to not let him “get away with it.” But she swallowed her pride and left the room until the boy calmed down. Later, she sat down with him and Principal D’Aran, and they resolved that if he felt himself getting angry like that again, he would head for the guidance office, where he’d sit with stuffed animals or a favorite book to calm down. Forsley eventually learned to read his emotions and head off problems by suggesting he take a break. “Is giving him a consequence—suspending him, calling his grandparents—is that going to teach him not to throw chairs?” she asks. “When you start doing all these consequences, they’re going to dig their heels in even deeper, and nobody is going to win.”

Children are smaller than we are but they are not nearly as different from us as we like to think. Treating them as human beings rather than as something unrelated to us makes quite a difference. I think that’s really all it is. Take a moment to think about how you would like to be treated in a situation. Would it help if your boss yelled at you when you messed up? Would it help if you were removed from your peers? Would it help if you had a visible-to-all sign of how you were doing at work (the way red-yellow-green cards do)? if you stop to think about it you will likely decide it’s a bit too humiliating. Don’t do that to children either. I promise to keep trying to treat my students with respect. I expect to fail some, but I’ll keep setting that goal every day with every kid.

Walking the Testing Tightrope

For the past eight years I’ve taught first graders and kindergartners. This year I’m spending my days with third graders. I love third graders. They’re genuine, excited about everything, capable of tying their own shoes, and full of drama. Spending my days with them is pretty awesome.

Until now. Now we’re in testing season. High stakes testing season. Right now it’s too easy for me to lose sight of the trees that are my kids in the forest of testing business.

The greatest challenge, in my mind, is that my students have to take this test. So I want them to be prepared without being stressed. They’re taking these tests for the first time so there’s a lot of unknown involved, which is frequently stressful. I want to give them experiences that help them feel prepared, as they hear a lot about the tests from peers, other adults, family members, and such. But I don’t want the experiences I offer them to add any stress. Quite a tightrope we’re all walking together.

I try to frame our talk about testing through the lens of my own daughters. We talked about the kinds of problems we might face with the test and how to cope with those challenges. I explained that the first challenge here is one my oldest faces often. The middle challenge is one both my girls face sometimes. And the final one is a challenge my youngest has to face. Putting my girls’ faces on this makes it easier to take, I hope. It makes it feel normal.

(The bright spot in our week, for me at least, has been watching 19 third graders roll their shoulders in various ways after we talked about how we can roll forward or backward and both shoulders together or separate. Super cute and fun.)

We’ve looked at questions and explored the testing software. The kids are finding lots of it tricky. I don’t want them to see the test takers as out to get them. For those that are anxious I think that will increase the anxiety.

So I decided to try an analogy. Most of my kiddos are soccer folks. Even if they don’t play it often, they know it and love it. Tomorrow we’ll talk about what it takes to prepare for a soccer game. We’ll look at pictures of soccer fields with a soccer ball and a goal and nothing else and discuss how easy that goal would be to make. We’ll talk about the drills and practices soccer players do all the time to prepare for games because it’s never just the soccer ball and the goal on the field. We’ll talk about how soccer players are working to be successful in soccer games. That’s the end goal. Our goal is to be successful as readers and mathematicians. The test is like soccer drills. It has tricky parts but those are there to help us be ready to do this for real. Ready to be lifelong readers and mathematicians.

I’m not thrilled by this. I don’t like where I feel we’ve all been placed. Nothing I do will keep my students from taking this test. I’m doing all I can to keep myself balanced on that tightrope without accidentally knocking any of my kiddos off.