As the calendar turns to April, I typically end up asking myself the same question every school year—“will they remember?” In my case, that question is a result of transitioning instruction to reviewing for the AP Exam. After a full year of hard work and my students’ best efforts, I become increasingly anxious as the date of the test approaches. By that point in the year, I am fully confident in my students’ knowledge and abilities, but as any teacher who has worked in the post-No Child Left Behind era can tell you, it is impossible to completely shut out the fears that—under the crucible of a high stakes test—a student won’t remember what they need.
For this reason, I wasn’t completely shocked when a friend shared her experiences as a parent with distance learning. Her child is in need of remediation in several content areas, and as a result, he is struggling to keep pace with the at-home materials the school has assigned.
In response, my friend asked the child’s teacher if it might be possible to focus more on addressing existing gaps in knowledge and skill instead of adhering to the set pacing guide. The teacher’s response? “No, that’s not possible because the student will be tested on the grade-level material, so that has to remain the focus.”
In any other year, I would find this response sad, troubling and pedagogically unsound—but as a teacher, I could also understand the pressure felt by my teaching colleague to “prepare” kids for the all-important test. However, this year, I can’t even offer that level of understanding for two key reasons.
First, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has granted waivers to all 50 states from the testing requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Simply put, teachers have no excuse for engaging in pedagogical malpractice in the name of testing this year. For the first time in seemingly forever, instruction can be more fully driven by the needs of the learner instead of the demands of an accountability metric.
Second, and far more importantly, teaching in the name of the test would be inappropriate right now, even if the waivers didn’t exist. Meaningful and appropriate accountability systems are needed in education (even if most states are lacking on “meaningful” and “appropriate”), but those systems are never paramount to the health and well-being of a child. And in this moment—in the midst of a global pandemic—the focus on child wellness is more essential than ever. What matters right now isn’t whether or not a child misses a question on a test. What matters is that too many of our students are missing the normal experiences of childhood, the security of a steady income at home, or the health—or even life—of loved ones.
What Will They Remember?
So, in this moment, I would challenge my fellow educators to take a moment to move past the question of “will they remember?” The answer to this question is unquestionably “yes.” It is simply inconceivable that every school-aged child in America won’t remember the year the world seemed to grind to a halt in the face of a virus. So, instead of asking “will they remember,” I hope educators will have the courage to ask “what will they remember”—and then structure their work with students accordingly.
For the rest of this year, I will continue to teach content where and when I can, but my primary focus will be on ensuring my students remember the deeper, more profound, and more important lessons we are learning as a society in 2020. When I look back on this school year, here is what I hope they remember:
I hope they remember that their value never has been—and never can be—defined by numbers, grades, ranks and scores.
I hope they remember how fragile and precious a gift life is, and how it is up to each of us to treat that gift with the respect and honor it deserves.
I hope they remember the power of relationships—not the types of relationships that are defined by followers and “likes,” but the types of relationships that leave you feeling empty when they are absent and fully alive when they are present.
I hope they remember that life is full of uncertainty and there is very little we really control, but we can alwayscontrol how we react to our circumstances and to the circumstances of those around us.
I hope they remember that life isn’t measured by the size of your investments in yourself, but in the many ways that you invest in the lives of others.
I hope they remember inequalities and inequities are real in our world, and it is the responsibility of each new generation to push our story one chapter forward in the human endeavor of bringing those injustices to an end.
I hope they remember we are all interconnected and the actions we take have a ripple effect on the dreams and futures of others, making the well-being of the individual inextricably tied to the well-being of the whole.
For the remainder of this school year, I pledge to focus on ensuring these are the types of lessons my students will recall in the future. In this moment, instead of being driven by a test, I hope my fellow educators will seek to do the same.
Patrick Kelly teaches AP U.S. Government and Politics in Richland School District 2 in South Carolina, while also working as the Director of Governmental Affairs for the Palmetto State Teachers Association. He was a finalist for South Carolina Teacher of the Year in 2014 and served as a teaching ambassador fellow for the U.S. Department of Education from 2015-2017. Patrick is a National Board ...