“We need to look to interim steps for dealing with student, parent, and educator anxiety being brought about by the Common Core initiatives. We need to acknowledge that how we are going about raising standards is part of the problem, and we need to acknowledge that our obsession with standardized testing as an efficient method of appearing accountable is part of the problem.”
“It is not OK to accept that kids will be upset by excessive testing, that crying, freaking-out, making confetti out of and/or and vomiting on their tests is standard-operating-procedure when conducting assessments.
“Let’s stop the insanity and let’s start with a decision to reduce the debilitating anxiety being generated in our schools every day…it will not be easy, but your decision should be”
A CURE FOR THE COMMON CORE?
There’s a “bug” going around schools these days.
The symptoms are not serious at first. It starts out as a slight headache but quickly becomes a stomach ache, and before long everyone is reporting high fevers, feeling worn out, having trouble concentrating, just plain out of sorts. It seems to affect teachers the most, but every few weeks the kids catch it, parents are starting to report concerns about sending their kids to school on certain days, administrators report they have never seen anything quite so severe, and even school board members are starting to receive lots of anxious telephone calls. I’ve heard experienced educators explain that these things happen in schools and, while troublesome, it’s OK, these trends only last about a decade! Ten years???
You and I know that ten years is not necessarily all that long, but it’s going to mean consuming a lot of chicken noodle soup. There really must be something we can do without waiting 3,650 days for a cure. Let me share a story that leads up to a recommendation I’d like to make.
Donnie Dunlop and I were sitting on my parents’ front porch in upstate New York one late August afternoon. It had been a typically warm, humid, week and we were just shooting the breeze, as ten year-olds sometimes did in those days. It was 1951, so we didn’t yet have TV, video games, X-boxes, organized sports, the world-wide-web, or many of the wonderful distractions our kids have today. Donnie was becoming quite animated and really into the idea that when we grow up we needed to make a difference in the world. We started arguing about what would be the biggest contribution we could make to mankind, heady stuff for ten year olds! Donnie was good at inventing things, making up stories, being overly dramatic, and he liked magic tricks. He was convinced that being the best magician in the world would make the greatest impact as he could amaze and entertain people world-wide, bring laughter to young and old…he sounded like the original side-show barker! I thought that was fine, but I was convinced that, thanks to Ms. Gilbertson, my third-grade teacher who had an intense interest in science, that a cure for the common cold would be the medical break-through of the century. We were rudely interrupted by three very loud whistles, like a train was going through our backyard, but it was only Mrs. Dunlop calling Donnie home for dinner…she would have loved texting!
Donnie went on to become a most successful lawyer and worked his magic in the courtroom for many clients. I went on to be an educator, not a scientist, and as you know we still don’t have a cure for the common cold. But in 1971 I did discover a more modest “cure” while doing the original research for my doctoral program. I was interested in identifying effective ways to prepare future teachers, and I bumped into a good deal of research indicating that how one deals with anxiety can play a major role in a beginning teacher’s success or failure.
My work looked at the application of a muscle relaxation system process called systematic desensitization. Today it is a commonly used strategy for self-relaxation, but then it was a novel approach to dealing with anxiety as applied to teaching. I asked future teachers to write down a list of situations they thought might cause them anxiety once they were in the classroom (finishing a lesson before the allocated time, dealing with an angry parent, being observed by the principal). I taught them to literally relax almost every muscle in their body in about 20 minutes, using systematic desensitization. In the relaxed state, they re-visited the list of situations that might produce anxiety. The theory at work was the body cannot tolerate anxiety and relaxation at the same time. In the relaxed state, they began to think about and to visualize the potentially anxiety producing situations. It was very effective…well, not 100%, but every future teacher reported feeling more confident about how they might handle the situations, and they reported feeling remarkable better about themselves and their chances of being successful when the anxiety producing situations came up.
It may not be a cure for the common cold, but with supporters and critics alike saying things like the roll-out of the testing for the Common Core is potentially a “disaster,” and thinking it could turn out to be a “train wreck,” anxiety is running rampant throughout school systems. We need to look to interim steps for dealing with student, parent, and educator anxiety being brought about by the Common Core initiatives. We need to acknowledge that how we are going about raising standards is part of the problem, and we need to acknowledge that our obsession with standardized testing as an efficient method of appearing accountable is part of the problem. We need to introduce a series of systematic strategies to deal with the anxiety being caused by the incredibly insensitive and educationally inappropriate roll-out of the Common Core. Hopefully, the manner in which we are going about implementing the Common Core will soon be modified, but for now we need to be cognizant of the fact that anxiety, especially to the degree we are seeing it emerge today, needs to be addressed. It is not enough to just say “relax” and get used to the 21st Century; it is not enough to say it’s just an adjustment period, we’ll all be fine; we will not be fine!
Our kids are less than 15 % of the population but they are 100% of the future. We owe it to them to stop the insanity that a few esoteric university experts, one major for-profit corporation, and multiple mis-guided state legislatures are causing, a daily illness that is not only sad but unnecessary. The long-term “cure” for this illness lies in stopping this assault on our kids and our profession, but the short term fix requires a direct infusion of anxiety reduction strategies so our people can at least deal with the turmoil being created.
Whether it is traditional transcendental meditation, yoga, systematic desensitization, or some combination of relaxation strategies, individual teachers and, in some cases, an entire school (http://www.edutopia.org/stw-student-stress-meditation-overview) have been successful by acknowledging anxiety and addressing it. It is not OK to accept that kids will be upset by excessive testing, that crying, freaking-out, making confetti out of and/or and vomiting on their tests is standard-operating-procedure when conducting assessments. Accepting the knowledge that teachers and administrators will feel pressured into cheating on the scoring, that our profession will eventually lose some of its finest educators and inevitably fail to attract the best and the brightest for the future, that education in the 21st Century requires winners and losers, that anxiety is somehow OK and can be an effective motivator, absolutely mystifies me!!!
I know I’m old-school, believing that an effective teacher working at the developmental level of the student, engaging and challenging but not threatening, fostering creativity, having fun, loving right and wrong answers, measuring progress by individual growth, and looking forward to arriving at school every day is the kind of teacher we all want. Right now I’m having trouble finding that kind of teacher. There’s a very serious epidemic going on and it’s connected to the Common Core, how it’s being implemented and how it’s affecting our people. We need to step in with a temporary prescription and buy time for a medical breakthrough that will eradicate this insidious disease. I think it’s critical that we make a serious commitment to a comprehensive anxiety reduction program at every school in our country.
I’m old-school enough to remember Marshall McLuhan reminded us that the “medium is the message”–how true it is today, as having goals is fine but how we are going about reaching them is the real message. I remember Albert Einstein’s caution that “not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted”–he would be appalled at what we are doing today in the name of accountability. I remember when Art Combs wrote that “the most important ideas people have are those ideas they have about themselves”–he would be outraged by how our students and teachers are perceiving themselves and their schooling today.
Some sixty years ago, on my parents’ front porch, on a late August afternoon, Donnie Dunlop and I were young, idealistic, and excited about learning how to make a difference in our world. I’ve come to accept the fact I’ll probably never see a cure for the common cold, and maybe that’s OK. Right now the Common Core needs my attention…and yours.
Let’s stop the insanity and let’s start with a decision to reduce the debilitating anxiety being generated in our schools every day…it will not be easy, but your decision should be.