Another Year: What Numbers Will Not Tell

As we prepare our rooms for the summer camp that takes over the school in our absence, even we right brain humanities types run a mental recap, remembering what worked and what flopped.  For teachers, it is always about “how can we be better?”  As we record exam grades and strip the bulletin boards,  we are all hoping that the year has been productive and positive for the kids who had seats in our classrooms, and we are already looking toward next year when we can make the learning experience even better.

We have been informed that education is all about data now, that the numbers will tell the true story of how well we have done our jobs, of what students have learned with us over the past 184 instructional days.  Standardized test scores and the point values assigned to Danielson’s four domains will be computed and we will soon know who has met the established goals for the year and who has fallen short.


Even my esteemed math colleagues across the country will concede that teaching is as much an art as it is a science.

A few things numbers will never show us:

Numbers won’t tell about the tireless principal whose kindness, honesty and civility daily demonstrate to staff and students how life should–and can– be lived.

Numbers won’t tell about the teachers who labor with quiet dignity on behalf of their students, always doing what is best for kids, not just what will boost their composite scores or FB ratings.

Numbers won’t show the students who have grown into themselves, whose new found confidence makes them willing and able to take the academic and personal risks necessary  for them to find success.

Numbers won’t show the strong collegial relationships that simultaneously  inspire and humble.

Numbers won’t show a staff whose collective generosity never falters.

I have forgotten the calculus I was forced to take in college and I never did get the hang of the slide rule, so please excuse my inexact computations. When my instructional box score for this year is finally calculated, I don’t know where I will stand; I don’t even know what the data will actually mean.

North White Plains Elementary SchoolBut I do know this: when we all rewrite the history of our own school days, it is the warmth, the enthusiasm, the excitement we remember, not the numbers.  I fervently hope that I have sent my students off for the summer with lasting memories and a passion for learning.

Power Up

No phone, no lights, no motor cars,
Not a single luxury,
Like Robinson Crusoe,
As primitive as can be.” ~ ~from Gilligan’s Island theme song

There is nothing like twelve days without electricity to remind you of your place in this world.

And if you are still not convinced,the power comes back on and you see the photos and footage of  devastation and human suffering.

At the height of Hurricane Sandy, just after the lights went out, the night sky glowed with green and blue and red auras, creepy remnants of transformers and live wires. The wind ruled the trees, snapping trunks. Surging tides devoured the shore.

And then there was only darkness and quiet. We live above a busy and noisy railroad crossing, but train service had been suspended. The parkway beyond the tracks was closed due to downed trees and flooding. Everything had come to a screeching halt.

For people used to instant results commanded by flipping a switch or tapping a screen, standing still is torture, being quiet a crime.  We have come to measure existence through perpetual stimuli: electronic beeps validate relationships and colorful icons convey emotions.  Our HD televisions keep us company even when nothing of interest airs.  Texts and emails keep us connected.

We want our MTV!

This is the only world our students know.  Their fingertips caress touchscreens out of habit. If they can’t contact any of their six hundred thirty-two Facebook friends, they are restless.  When cell service is disrupted, they are lonely.

Technology has given our students access to the world.  The miracles of microchips and fiber optics make it possible to introduce our students to places they would never visit, people they would never meet. In one class, they eavesdrop on surgeons making delicate incisions and take a walk through Anne Frank’s secret annex in the next. They can plug into a presidential town hall meeting and send the commander-in-chief a message about the state of foreign affairs.   Digital technology has shrunk the globe.

     Technology, though, has made the personal worlds our students inhabit smaller, too.  They spend as much time with their screens as they do in conversation and paradoxically, the same click of a mouse that opens the window to so much has closed our kids into isolated chambers where communication consists of abbreviations and emoticons..  Kids used to instant responses lose interest in tasks that require sustained concentration or effort.

Don’t get me wrong; I love my modern conveniences: my  cell phone, lights, motor car and most of all these days, I love my generator.

And clearly education has to adapt or die.  But finding the balance between instruction and entertainment has become a challenge.  Districts investing millions in technology demand to see their dollars at work  and too often what ends up in the classroom are bells and whistles, smoke and mirrors.  The kids are having fun, but are they learning? It is sometimes hard to tell the difference; far too often, it doesn’t even seem to matter anymore.

There are so many things technology can give and there is no doubt that our students must be skilled in using these digital gifts.  But there are so many times when learning isn’t about a link to somewhere or someone else.  If you don’t believe this, then you haven’t examined the Common Core Standards which are all about reading and writing the old-fashioned way: closely, slowly, for detail.

Twelve days in the dark have restored appreciation for what electricity has given us.  At the same time, twelve days in the dark remind me of the value of communication skills: reading, writing and, my favorite, plain old conversation.