Thursday, January 17, 2013

Exam Tears

I entered my 9th grade class yesterday to slumped shoulders, red eyes, and despondent faces. The students had just finished taking a GDS exam, a 160 minute, 160 multiple choice question exam. The students take one of the high-stakes exams 4 times per year and tremendous weight, including the distribution of scholarship money, is placed upon the outcome of these exams.

One young girl said she just wanted to transfer to a school where she could be at the top of the academic list instead of the bottom. (Trust me, she's very far from from the bottom, but in the eyes of a teenager, even a few points from the top can feel like the bottom.) As added pressure, I can imagine that many of these students will go home to questions like "How did you do?" "Who is above you?" "Why didn't you do better than him or her?" "We'd better buy more practice books and sign up for more after- school and Saturday tutoring so you can be at the top of the list." and so on...

Anyway, after all this, I knew a lot of learning was not going to take place. In essence they had just completed an SAT test in terms of time and brain power. So I felt some talking, reassurances from a teacher, and fun could be in order. Plus, I love these students and it was breaking my heart to see their despondency.

I started like this: "Don't let yourself be defined by a number. When I look around this room I see intelligent, creative, curious, enthusiastic and hard-working students. I see kind, generous, honest and loving people. You have wonderful futures and bright opportunities ahead."

Then I related an anecdote about one of my favorite administrators in Maryland. He used to tell the middle school students that he left law school after 2 years. He always started his pep talks with "someone has to be at the bottom" and that "bottom of the list" was him.  He was a  "B" student in a competitive law school environment and that just wasn't good enough. Lucky for me, he found his niche in education. I went on to explain that he was amazing with students and an amazing role model. He taught me how to relate to adolescents and how to make learning fun.

The amazing thing is the students listened. You could hear a pin drop. (I never get this kind of quiet in Turkey.) Then they clapped at the end. They dried their tears and started laughing especially when I explained how my Maryland administrator used to dress up to demonstrate the school dress-code.

We ended the class with a fun speaking lesson using maps from around the world about "asking for" and "giving" directions. Many will head abroad, including New York City and Boston, for the upcoming semester break and their iPhones with Google maps will be too expensive in the absence of WiFi so the conversation was fun and practical. And, they have another skill that is not necessarily measured on a standardized test.

No comments:

Post a Comment