I’m trying my best to maintain sanity amidst testing.

Yesterday was the first day I spent the whole day in my classroom in weeks. It was kind of a strange feeling knowing that I had been displaced due to testing. I had my observation with the principal first thing Tuesday morning, which I think went really well (yay!). My kiddos are working on this fantastic little reading project in which they are taking what they know about paraphrasing, summarizing, and retelling and applying it to a social justice article about Latino immigrants. First, the kids have to tell me what paraphrasing, summarizing, and retelling is, and then they need to tell me what those things are in relation to the article. The students are working in pairs to create scripts for what they’ll say, and then they’re filming one another with iPads. One of my professional learning goals this year is to integrate more technology, which will be even more important come Christmas when the third graders have one-to-one technology (fingers crossed!). These last two days have been great since I’ve had the in-class support of the technology specialist (who is just lovely), and I’m really seeing a ton of engagement with almost every child in all three of my classes.

However, here’s the thing: I’m seeing a ton of engagement with ALMOST every child in all three of my classes.

19 out of 20 students engaged is great, but 1 out of 20 students disengaged isn’t going to work. My job is to reach every child, and y’all, that is HARD. In just one of my classes, I have kids on reading levels ranging from RB (‘reading behaviors’ — essentially a pre-kindergarten/emerging kindergarten level) to >U (fifth grade and beyond). It’s basically like I’m teaching Pre-K to 5th grade reading AT ONE TIME.

I had a wide range of reading levels last year, but honestly the range was smaller; it started low, but not as low as RB, and it ended high (one student on U), but the majority of those higher level readers were reading on an end of third grade or fourth grade level (Q-S).

Differentiation is something I know I can work on in my teaching practice, but how exactly does a teacher teach effectively with such a range of reading abilities? I fully believe that reading is a continuum and that not every child learns to read the same way or at the same pace. So, with that being said, how does one spend time teaching children how to read but then also challenging children who already think school is too easy? All and any ideas or suggestions welcome!

See, I think there are a lot of people who have misconceptions about Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. I think there are a lot of people who think CHCCS is a district where kids don’t fail because the population is mostly white and these kids have parents who are doctors and lawyers and professors and its population is pretty well-educated. Well, let me disbar that myth for you: yes, there are students who have parents who are doctors and lawyers and professors, and yes, there are white kids in the district.

There are also kids who live in run-down trailers with their families of eight, whose parents work the night shift as janitors, and who are children of color. Proficient students aren’t just white or well-to-do. Proficient students don’t always come from the best home situations. I see this every single day — I watch kids fight their odds and overcome problems that I couldn’t have ever imagined as an eight-year-old (I mean honestly, how would you feel and what would be going through your head if your father was arrested and then deported?). I was blessed enough to have two parents at home regularly who supported my educational endeavors, both in and out of the classroom, but there are kids who don’t even have one parent at home for them regularly. Some of these kids are so motivated and want to learn and can clearly see that they want a better future for themselves and their families.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that CHCCS isn’t perfect, and no school district is or ever will be (especially at this rate). There are always students showing proficiency and there are always students performing below grade level. That’s real, that’s life, and this is what teachers deal with in their classrooms every single day. There are kids in high school who can’t read past a third grade reading level right now. How can we, as teachers and adults of this country, expect them to find success?

Cue core reading instruction.

I know I need to test so that I can give my kids the best instruction I possibly can, but it’s so hard with the mCLASS process being so slow. It’s time consuming to keep bumping students up or dropping them down over and over again. There’s also copious amounts of paper everywhere, all the time, scattered about my table, and I, as the neat freak I am, can hardly handle it by the end of the day. I had a meeting with the literacy coach today and we talked mCLASS testing logistics, and I openly admit to shedding a tear over it. I’m testing 60 kids by myself without much support (in regards to having another body in the classroom), and these tests are long! It’s just a tedious process that’s a necessary evil. Like I said, I need to know this information and ultimately want to know this information so that I can properly put students in strategy groups to help them become successful readers; however, the road to get to that point is a bumpy one.

Despite the testing annoyances (I promise I’m done complaining), there are glimmers of hope for the future where I won’t have to deal with iPad technical difficulties with the mCLASS app. I’ve been working on planning these really great read alouds with the literacy coach, and I literally could not be more excited to do them with my kids! I really enjoy having in-depth conversations with my kids about all sorts of things, and the topic we’re currently working through is culture and community. I have a series of books selected (two of the three are already completely planned!) that will surely spark amazing discussion in class. One of the read alouds had me in tears the first time I read through it — that’s the only book I haven’t planned for yet, and I have so many emotions just thinking about all the things I want to discuss with my classes after reading it!

Have I mentioned previously that I was initially apprehensive about this year, only teaching reading? I realize now that I had found a comfort zone in math and science, and this year thus far has truly opened my eyes to how beautiful it can be to educate a child through a literacy lens. The meetings I have with the literacy coach are not only productive, but often challenging, and I feel as though I’m growing weekly just meeting and talking with her. I’m so grateful for her compassion and patience, especially during this time of the year!

Though my heart is breaking each day that I have to spend in that blue plastic chair in the hallway, I know it’s for the better and I have to keep reminding myself that when I finish these, I can be a better teacher to every single one of those kids.


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