Last night I attended Parent-Teacher night with my eighth grade son. It was depressing.
For two hours, I, my son, and several hundred other parents were herded from classroom to classroom where we were introduced to the variety of TEKS tests our children would endure this year. TEKS, the acronym for the assessment “Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills,” will measure students’ ability to take tests. Honestly, that’s what it boils down to. The four areas of “knowledge” they will assess are math, science, history, and social studies. Writing, and critical thinking, apparently, are not deemed “essential.”
Now, I realize teachers only have ten minutes to address each class. They were dead tired, as was I. But you know, in each ten minute session, ALL I heard was due dates for tests and the breakdown of grades. In not a single class was there any excitement about the curriculum, no discussion of new ideas or interesting projects… nothing.
First we went to his science class. Perhaps we will get to hear about interesting experiments! Perhaps I am a starry-eyed idealist. After eight droning minutes, I pondered my decision to forego the stale, store-brand chocolately-chip cookies while the teacher showed us how exactly to track our child’s scores online.
How about history? My son adores history, especially American history. Maybe this teacher will have something to offer, show some passion… Yeah, no. We did, however, get to hear about how she also coaches three teams, and watched her go Madden-like with a pen on an overhead telling us what time tutoring would be available in-between directing children to whack balls of various shapes and sizes.
And there were no cookies.
My son and I wound our way down to the art room, where he has “Advisory” (which is sort of like homeroom). The teacher here was warm and enthusiastic. She was also the art teacher. When I told her how unhappy my son was in the elective he’d chosen (Business and Marketing, which he felt coerced into taking as it offered a high school credit, whereas art, his preference, did not), she said she’d be happy to let him transfer in to her art class. Collin’s face lit up.
We went to speak to the principal to ask if he could be transferred. Her warm smile faded immediately. “No, we do not allow that. They knew when they signed up for an elective that there was no changing.”
Not one to back down easily, I argued, “But it’s not even four weeks in. My son is unhappy and this is an elective. The teacher has room and is willing.”
Here was her actual reply:
Last on the docket was Collin’s English class where I learned they are reading a total of two novels in the entire year, but both are wonderful works: The Giver by Lois Lowry and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. The Giver challenges notions of authority and conformity. Roll of Thunder brings to life the terror and hardships of the Civil Rights Era in this country. Not a word about the content; only about how the assignments would affect their grades.
The good news? They are also required to select one book on their own to read over the course of the year, with parental approval. Collin picked 1984. Mother heartily approves.