Monday, October 7, 2013

Failure, Evaluation, Starting Over and Saying 'I'm Sorry'

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Wow.  What a week this last week was.

We took our first content exam this past week.  It covered quite a bit of standards, but I felt relatively sure my students were ready for it.  Now keep in mind, for the first time in my career, I spent the entire first 5 weeks of school NOT teaching ANY test formatted questions and we did ZERO worksheets.  Last year I did the same thing but didn't start until mid October.  This year it was from Day 1!

We took the exam, and scored 37%.  Terrible, right?  Out of the 5 elementary schools in my district we were also the lowest (though not by much).  I have never been the "lowest" elementary school.  To say I was devastated would be an understatement.  I cried on my way home, got angry, and felt defeated.  I have never felt like such a failure.

The next day, I spent the class time going over the test.  And what did I learn?  I learned that my students actually do have a firm grasp of the math I've been teaching.  What's the issue then?  The issue is their reading skills.  They don't know how to read and comprehend what a question is asking.  Then I realized....every single activity that we had done leading up to the exam, were math activities with NO reading involved.....there was my mistake!  How could I have missed that?

The other "positive" about this exam was it gave me a clear view of who I need to keep an eye on these next few weeks before our next exam.  But as I worked with kids I started to become a little less upset about the scores.  Now I know the percent passing was 37%, but my average grade was in the mid 60s. So that gave me a little more promise.

Was I happy after everything? No.  I am a perfectionist.  I want every single student of mine to be successful no matter what we do.  Whether that be an exam, or project, or even just watching one of their flip class videos.  I want my students to feel proud.  And I think they felt as upset as I do.

We didn't have any students on Friday, thank goodness.  I was broken, I was hurting and I need to re-evaluate things.  After I finished some parent conferences in the morning, I sat in my room wondering where it all went wrong.

I knew what I needed to do.  I needed more reading, I needed more deep evaluation of the math, I needed more period, but most of all I need to be better.  So I went away for the weekend.  My wife and I took a trip to a resort and just kind of disappeared for a few days.  Laid by the pool, went shopping, watched the sunset on the lake, that kind of stuff.

And as I came back I felt rejuvenated, and I was ready.  Ready to start over.  Ready to say to my students "I'm back.  I'm sorry I wasn't my best.  I'm sorry I didn't prepare you enough.  I'm sorry I let my own disappointments threaten the education you should have been receiving.  I'm sorry there were many days I emotionally disappeared because I felt so broken. I'm sorry, but I'm here now.  And together we can do this".  It's not going to be easy to apologize to my students, but I know I must.

I know my students must see me take my part in them not doing as well as I had hoped.  I had become complacent.  I had become lazy, and and I had thought it would just "come".  It didn't, and I know I didn't put in near enough work.  And that blame does not fall on the students.  It falls on ME.  I'm the one who started the year broken, and never could seem to get my act together enough to give them the best teacher they've ever had.

But guess what kids?  I'm back, and I'm ready.  I've failed, I've re-evaluated, and I'm ready to start over.  So let's go!
Argus (c) Poster


  1. Sounds like you're right on track with the students' needs. Not sure you ever left that part behind. Naysayers have the ability to make us question our beliefs. Stay strong, buddy. Naysayers and just jealous people unwilling to put in the necessary work to get to the level you're at.

    1. Thanks Scott!! Appreciate the support. It's been a long tough road, but we're still trudging along. Today was a great day with the kids, and that's what matters most :)

    2. It is refreshing to hear you say what you know about yourself instead of playing the blaming game. Reflective teaching is a powerful thing and you seem to be great at it. I wish most teachers be like you.

  2. What was the reasoning for no test formatted questions? I would bet if you gave your students smaller, formative assessments along the way, you would have had DATA that told you if they were ready or not, and which skill they needed help on. I feel like I'm missing a key element in this post. The teachers that have embraced this type of assessments not only have a clearer picture of where their students are in their mastery of the concepts, but they (students) embraced little failures along the way and become responsible for their own mastery. There are a few videos on that speak to this.

    1. Hey Mike! Thanks for your comment! I have set out over the last two years to prove that you could have your students be successful on standardized exams without ever teaching a test formatted questions and just focusing on hands-on, PBL style learning.

      Last year I had GREAT success with that on our state exam. This year was a little different so far, as I stated above, I've just been emotionally weathered by other things things year.

      I did do some formative quizzes along the way, and thought I had filled in the holes with different activities. But again, as the post states, I clearly missed the reading deficiencies in my students. I am a data nerd. Anyone will tell you I always study the data. I have completely redesigned my next week because of what the data showed.

      I don't hate formative assessment. That was never the goal to relay that information. I actually really appreciate the holes that formative assessment makes you aware of. I was just pointing out that I can get my kids to be successful on a formative assessment test by allowing to create and get their hands dirty in learning the math instead of always shoving test formatted questions down their throats.

      Again, the post never stated that assessments were a bad thing or that I was against them. I don't like that formative assessments have turned teachers into "test strategy" teachers. I want my kids to learn deeply and have fun!

      And again, like the post stated, I learned from the data. I apologize to my students for failing them in the fact that I was so emotionally disconnected. I hope this makes things make a little more sense.

  3. Todd, two things leaped out at me after reading your post. First, you carefully analyzed your results, found the problem, and determined the correct course to take. Reflect, monitor, adjust. That's teaching at its best. Second, I wonder if your approach might produce excellent results long-term, but not so much in the short term. Time will tell. What I love if that you did not blame the kids, their parents, the system... or anything else over which you have no control. You took ownership of the factors you control and are making the appropriate changes. I can't wait to read the good news after the next exam!

  4. Wow. This was such a powerful, honest piece. Todd, thank you so much for your bravery as a teacher. Your students are fortunate to have such a thoughtful practitioner who is willing to reflect in a meaningful way. Quick question: Was this a standardized state test? Has TX been giving these tests so early in the school year? We have never given them so early in CA at the elementary level, but I was just in a meeting where I learned it will be coming the the ccss testing. I'm more curious about how the testing impacts your instructional day and your students' motivation so early in the school year. Thank you again for your honesty. -Christina

    1. Hey Christina! Thanks for leaving a comment!! This exam was not a state test. We give a content based exam about every 3 weeks. It's created by the district and addressees the standards we are teaching at that time. It's built for us to use the data to better our teaching practices and to get the kids ready for our state exam in April! I always tell the students that these tests are just there to help us along our journey to success, so that they don't stress too much. Hope this makes sense. Again thanks for leaving a comment :-)

  5. Todd - your transparency and vulnerability are to be commend.
    I recall a time I apologized to my class. It drew us together and greatly increased our trust level.

    You taught your students so much by your actions!

    It's powerful that you realize, admit and make adjustments based on your findings.
    I look for we're to an a future post when you share future results.

  6. Thank you for posting such a honest piece of writing.

    This might sound kind of strange, but I'm glad that more experienced teachers have struggles too. So often I read blog posts from experience educators that are so positive - not that there's anything wrong with that, but I feel like they don't post the "bad" experiences!

    The way you've approached the situation to rectify it is inspiring! Thanks for the read :)