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What Parents (and Students) Really Want

I haven't posted in a while because I've been in the process of tidying my classroom, preparing syllabi, and attending Reading Apprenticeship training--and that was before school started.  It's been an intense few weeks, but I am glad school is back in session. I missed my kids and the work that I get to do every day. The first week of school and open house really reminded me of how important my work--the real work that I get to do--really is.

This year's open house was my fastest one yet. An hour and a half flew by as I enjoyed seeing students I've had in the past and met fresh, new faces. I hope it served as testimony to the power of first impressions, as my quick response to every student was as follows: This year, we will read a lot, write a lot, think a lot, discuss a lot, and then repeat.

Now that open house and the first week are done, I've noticed that there are some commonalities between student and parent expectations for class. Some parents shared that their student is afraid of writing. Another parent shared that, much to his chagrin, his student hasn't read a book in years. Other parents shared their concerns about their children feeling comfortable in class because this is the first time in a public school setting. Other parents didn't speak English, and their student translated my expectations to her parents.

I've kept parents' expectations in mind as I continue to work through student letters to me from the first day. I asked students to tell me what they thought I needed to know about them as students, people, learners, readers, writers, etc. Their responses included these gems: "I need you to push me to do my work. I get lazy." "I haven't found a book I've liked since elementary school." "I hate it when I have to read aloud or talk in front of my peers." Standards alone will never help me address these needs, nor will a test ever offer real, relevant methods of instruction for every student.

But here's the thing that I want to let the de-formers know: Not a single parent or student mentioned a test. Students and parents expressed concerns about safety and what I consider to be real growth that isn't measured by a test. Standardized tests can't measure motivation to read and write, but I know that my parents support the goals of my classroom. Tests can't measure a student's voice in a paper, but I expect every student to find a unique register and to see that words have power. Tests can't measure students' willingness to ask for help or to engage in discussion with their peers to make meaning of a difficult text, but I expect that too.

As I look ahead to the next 176-ish days of school, I have to remind myself to not let tests get in the way of education. My students and parents deserve better than that.

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