Some Semblance of Normalcy

April 23, 2007 at 1:44 pm 2 comments

It seems nearly everyone on campus is a little tired today.  We’ve had a lot on our minds lately!  A brief recap:

1.  Last week was the ever-popular administration of the TAKS test.  Monday was a regular day – at least as regular as it could be considering the black cloud of high-stakes testing gathering ominously above our heads.  Tuesday I gave the math portion of the test to my sophomore PACE class (PACE can be thought of as our school’s version of homeroom).  On Wednesday, the juniors were taking the math section and the rest of us were on a normal schedule (though bell times were altered to accomodate testing).  Thursday and Friday, everyone took the science and social studies portions, respectively.  Naturally, I didn’t sleep well on Thursday night; I was too worried about my students and the history test.  I became further concerned when a large number of them missed the sample question on the test: Who was President of the United States during the Civil War?  They picked Thomas Jefferson.  Seriously?  Seriously?!  This is upsetting for several reasons: 1) The sample question is the same every year; 2) How many times have we been over this?  Civil War = Abraham Lincoln.  How many times?  3) This is 8th grade material.

2. As if TAKS week weren’t enough, Saturday was designated as a mandatory parent conference day on our campus.  Out of my nineteen students, I had three no-shows and two who couldn’t meet on Saturday anyway.  Five out of nineteen isn’t bad; at most parent conference events (Meet the Teacher, Open House, etc.), I’m lucky to have five show up at all!  Needless to say, we were really pleased with Saturday’s turnout.  Nevertheless, it’s tough to come back to school after TAKS week anyway, but when you only have one day to recover…. 

3. Obviously there is a lot of discussion concerning the recent tragedy at Virginia Tech.  Several teachers on my floor have talked about the value of intuition.  We read articles like this one, which mentions students who had joked with friends that Seung-Hui Cho was the kind of person they were “just waiting” to hear this sort of news about.  The more I think about it, the more I realize the value in lending action to those kinds of feelings.

Sometime around Christmas, I made the decision to start paying more attention to the little voice in my head, no matter how strange it seems.  (You can call it whatever you want, but Oprah refers to those moments as “God whispers,” and, being a spiritual person myself, I’m with her!)  Now I can tell you story after story – like the time I came across my mini Maglite flashlight during my morning routine one day, and decided I should throw it into my school bag.  I kid you not, in the middle of 8th period that day, a student raised his hand and said, “Do you have a flashlight?”  Why yes, yes I do.  🙂

Clearly, hindsight is 20/20 – or better – and I’d never dream of blaming those students who joked about the gunman for what happened.  In fact, I’m not sure I’d have done anything differently.  But now, with a week’s worth of reflection behind me, I am more convinced than ever that sometimes the line between creativity and reality is very, very fine, and I find myself resolved to be vigilant and unafraid to force the issue if necessary.

Craig Scott was on Oprah last week; he was in the library at Columbine and lost his sister in the shootings there.  Now, he travels the country speaking to young people about stopping violence in schools.  He said some things that really struck me:

“…The big concern that I have is the attention and focus that’s put on the shooter. [Reports say], ‘It’s the most bloody, the biggest, the record…’ and records can be broken. … Where you choose to focus immediately is very important. What you’re going to choose to spend your time thinking about. … We’ve focused on my sister, Rachel, who’s so compassionate and kind. And from that, that’s the opposite of that anger and hatred.”

I think he’s right in that that we should be intentional with our focus right now.  It’s easy to be negative, but what purpose does that serve?

So that’s where things currently stand.  The Big Test is over, there are only six weeks of school left, and the indomitable Hokies are back in class today.  Things are beginning to return to normal – even if our definition of “normal” has been cruelly put into perspective.

Here are four things that I wanted to include but couldn’t really find a place for:

  • I came across this site today while I was gathering URLs for this post.  It’s a live webcam of the drillfield memorial at VT; what a testament to the Virginia Tech community!  I am so impressed with how they have conducted themselves over the last week.  Their private grief has been made very public, and they’ve handled the situation so graciously.  I read a blog post from a CNN reporter who’d grown up in the area and was having problems maintaining professionalism and keeping his grief in check on the job.  It bothers me that we live in a world where NOT grieving is the “professional” thing to do.
  • In considering the value of intuition, I found this article about school shooting myths to be immensely helpful.
  • This post on empathy.
  • Despite the way it looks today, I almost never watch Oprah.  Really!

Entry filed under: Current Events, HighStakesTesting.

Hello. Greetings. Hi there. I have a confession to make.

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. wfryer  |  April 24, 2007 at 10:00 pm

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts in this post. I really resonate with the reluctance you’re feeling too about our focus on the Virginia Tech tragedy. When I presented in Michigan last week, I saw in their paper in the same section as the article about the VT massacre an article about a bombing in Iraq that killed 183 people. I don’t think many of us are maintaining perspective here. I also don’t like the sense that the news media and the American public are bathing in this event at Virginia Tech. It was a tragedy, it was horrible, but I don’t think it should become a defining cultural event for all of us, no matter where we live, and the news media seems determined to make it one. I also don’t think it should be a media circus, like the OJ Simpson trial. This reminds me of what Neil Postman wrote in “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” essentially that broadcast news is primarily about ENTERTAINMENT rather than informing a critical public about issues of note.

    Glad to hear the TAKS test is over for you and your students. The comment about the civil war President reminds me of the importance of depth versus breadth issues. Somehow we’ve got to change educational standards and expectations in our country so teachers can stop trying to teach a curriculum that is a mile wide and an inch deep. We can’t do it, yet the mandates and the testing pressures say we have to.

    Hang in there! Summer is almost here! 🙂

  • […] Fryer left a comment on the post I wrote yesterday, and I think he hit the nail right on the head when said that […]

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