Thursday, March 06, 2008


In the last couple of years I have become my school's go-to guy when it comes to standardized testing. Don't ask how or why. But when someone in the building has a question about the ACT, I'm consulted. When the students need a pep talk or some last-second strategies, I get called, like a volunteer fireman to the rescue. I'm not sure who to feel sorry for--the school, the students, or me.

Today, I felt sorry for me.

The real ACT is in about six weeks. In preparation for that, all juniors at my school will take a practice ACT tomorrow. And in preparation for the practice test, all juniors met with me today for a 45-minute strategy review session. So, instead of my usual five classes, I was privileged to give a presentation seven periods in a row. Seven periods of telling the same stories, reviewing the same strategies, watching students not care, nod off, sneak off text messages when they thought I wasn't looking. It's enough to make an English teacher wonder why he signed up for this profession.

The thing is, the students need to improve their scores. Not for my sake, as I said seven times today: no matter what they get, I still have a job. I won't get a bonus if their scores go up, and I won't lose my job if their scores go down. Well, I suppose the school could eventually get shut down if scores keep going down, but honestly, I'll be gone way before that happens. They need to improve their scores for their own sake.

As I said, they have a practice ACT tomorrow. This will be their second practice. Two months ago, they practiced. And the school's average on that practice was a 14. Yup. Fourteen. One-four. That's well below the state average, way below the city average. That's definitely not good enough to get into college. So, yeah, they need something. But ...

... how could I show them how to improve their scores if they weren't even listening?

... how could I convince not to be nervous if they weren't even awake?

... how could I motivate them to try something they don't care about?

Good questions, right? But those are the questions one considers every single day, during every single lesson, every single activity.

A few times today, when I was in the middle of my presentation and I looked around the room and saw half the kids totally ignoring me, I swear I almost quit. Almost walked out. I swear, being responsible for making the ACT interesting and important is too daunting. This is not why I became a teacher.

But each time I reached my frustration threshold, something happened. I noticed one or two kids really paying attention. Taking notes. Asking questions. Trying out some of the strategies on practice problems. Getting it. Actually, dare I say, engaged.

And that's what keeps a teacher going.

About halfway through the day, one of my colleagues stopped in and asked if I wanted lunch or something. No, I told her, I just wanted to get it over with, I just wanted to go home. Then, after my seventh consecutive presentation, two things happened:

1. I realized it was over. Huh, that was fast. It really wasn't that bad.

2. One student stuck around. A "typical" basketball player, a guy who always acts like he doesn't care, just sat there looking at the ACT booklet. "I don't get it," he said. "Why? Why is it D and not A?"

I looked at the problem he was talking about. Explained the reason. And reiterated the strategy I had used to get the D.

"Damn," he said, closing the booklet and getting up to leave. "This really isn't all that hard."


Anonymous said...

Great story. This is why I keep reading your blogs. This is why you need to keep writing. This is why your kids stick around after school...

Anonymous said...

i got an average 18 on it bc of you xD but you left =[