if winter comes…

Last weekend we went to the lake. We hadn’t been there in a while and we needed to check on things. It was cold, overcast, and brown or gray everywhere. I had a stuffy head cold and didn’t want to do anything but lie around and rest. So this dull environment was the perfect place for me to be.

We have been blessed to have the opportunity to own this cabin by a lake. When we first purchased it (we were the only bidders at an auction), it needed a lot of work. So we went there almost every weekend. The house was drab, and moldy-smelling, and definitely in need of help. But it was ours, and we were excited about the possibilities held there within its walls.

We hired two local men to do remodeling jobs for us, so each of our weekend trips was filled with either the work we ourselves were doing, or cleaning up after the men’s projects and getting things ready for their next week of work.

This was back before we installed gas logs, and before we knew how a heat pump worked (“We don’t need to turn on the auxiliary heat.”) So we were cold most of that winter, and tired from the seemingly endless projects. But we looked forward to the summer, with its warmth, and water activities, and completion.

That was five years ago, and now when we go, we can relax and enjoy the place. Well, there is always some work to do, just as with any home. Because of work schedules, winter weather, and other obligations, we haven’t traveled there as many weekends this winter as usual.

So last weekend – dreary as it was – we did go and spend one night. Several weeks ago a tree had fallen on an outbuilding – a garage we never really used – and we needed to check on that. We had been previously and had seen the damage, and since the garage had been knocked off its foundation as well as sliced through “like a stick of butter” by the falling tree, we hired someone to tear it down to its block base.

Thankfully everything was in very good shape, including the remains of the demolished garage. The house heated up quickly and the local food was still good and we had a nice, restful time.

But it was so lifeless without any leaves on the trees or the green grass of the warmer months. It was a bit muddy and also very, very cold. It brought to mind all those cold weekends of a few years back. I left feeling no urgent need to return quickly.

Then as we were pulling out of the driveway to go home I noticed, over in one of the planting beds, a beautiful sight. The daffodil foliage was starting to emerge. There was about two inches of gorgeous green.  I paused and looked also at the forsythia bushes, and they were swelling with anticipation of warmer days to come.

“Wonder when we’ll get back?” I asked my husband, with a new outlook. “Next time we come we might need to bring in the patio furniture.” (We do this during pollen season, when everything gets covered in a layer of spring green dust.)

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

(Ode to the West Wind by Percy Bysshe Shelley )

teachers, not testers

from a recent email I sent to teachers:

Dear Teachers,

I am resending these scores from our recent screening and benchmark testing before our data meetings only because some of you asked to see it again. Please don’t take this as a reinforcement of its value. These test scores are only a measure of how your students performed on that day, at that hour. Neither of these or any other assessments paints a complete picture of your students. You know that.

I hope you know that. We are so besotted with technology and easily scored tests these days. And so much seems to be riding on these test scores – student placements, teacher evaluations, and in turn, lots of self-esteem. This is so wrong.

Please remember that you provide the best portrait of your students. At best, these tests should confirm what we already know about our children. Or perhaps, if the scores surprise us, they might cause us to wonder about why.

YOU are the piece of this puzzle that knows what your students’ strengths and weaknesses are. YOU know the determining factors to decide what is best for these children.

Let me be personal for a moment. One of my own children was a talented and determined student, yet did not test well. At best, these multitudinous tests showed this child to be a careful and methodical worker (who didn’t always have enough time to show all that was known).

My other child was much more lackadaisical in studies and school work, but always shined on assessments. However, the tests did not point out the gaps between knowledge and application of that knowledge.

Did they both have the skills that were measured in these tests? Yes. Did they both have the work ethic and fortitude to get the most from their educational experiences? Thankfully yes – but it took one much longer than the other.

I know that some people believe that numbers don’t lie, and that is true. However, the extrapolation of scores, and the predictability formulas, the value-added pieces, and the correlation to other state tests: these are human uses of numbers that may or may not hold truth. And we know that numbers are never a full measure of any person’s life.

So I urge you, as you look at these test scores before our meeting, to remember that these are a guideline, and not the be-all and the end-all. Let’s talk together and figure out how to help each child reach his or her potential. Let’s be teachers, not just testers. Let’s do the work we were called to do.