By Colleen Mannion, Teacher and Sean Mannion, Student
How often do we reach out to our students and ask them how they feel? I’m fortunate enough to have an incredible 15-year-old brother who I absolutely adore and for the first time the other day, we really talked about school. Not just your typical “good”, “okay”, “nothing”, “yeah” that you get from a teenager, but an actual conversation where I asked more meaningful questions that really made him stop and think.
To really dive into this story though, you have to understand something, Sean and I have a very special bond. We’re not your typical brother and sister duo; our eight year difference has made me the third parent he never wanted. With that in mind, you also have to understand that we talk almost daily and let me tell you, 15 year olds have a lot more to share in this world besides lame memes that they think are hilarious.
During my last phone call with Sean we talked about the usual- funny things my students did that week, some venting about life, and touched base about school. When I talk about school I get to share the fun things we do like having the students pie me in the face to raise money, going out to the playground, or the latest classroom transformation that I’ve put together college admission essay writing service. Whenever I talk to him about school though, the immediate response normally has to do with his grades and he’ll dive into detail about how many assignments he has or the full breakdown on how they will affect his current grade.
For some reason during this phone call, I decided to change it up and ask him what exciting things he’d been doing at school since the year is coming to an end.
I should not have been surprised to hear “nothing”, but it still bothered me. Then I started asking him what he enjoyed the most and least about this year. Immediately he said the most miserable part of the year is regents review, which, of course, is the last few weeks of school. Knowing that my brother was ending his year in this state really stuck with me.
Sean…Being 15 and in a public school honestly sucks. The hardest part of the transition from Middle School to High School is the fact that I don’t get to interact with my friends like I used to.
Instead of having time to blow off steam like we did during intramurals or recess, our time is now filled with practice regents and more state exam review. Schools are constantly shoving testing down our throats and teachers are focused on test prep. I feel like high schools are more focused on relationships with the regents than allowing teachers to form real relationships with their students.
Looking back at the final weeks of elementary school, it was jam-packed days filled with fun. Fast forward to high school and regents week is right around the corner and I have four coming up. Five years ago I was having the time of my life, now I am stuck inside studying for these standardized tests day after day. On behalf of the students that are forced to practice regents and to prepare for them, all I have to say is, we don’t actually benefit from the tedious work. When the teachers think that they are helping us, they are really just hurting us.
Our teachers think that we’re doing the work to help prepare for the regents when all of us are just trying to survive to get to the weekend. When the teacher gives us work to complete, most of us are just procrastinating because we know that google can answer those questions and we don’t have to. Siri could give me the calculations and Alexa could find me the teacher’s manual for any past regents, but they can’t tell me if I understand anything about the content. So would you rather say “OK Google” all afternoon or would you rather hear your teacher say “let’s go outside and hang out together”?
I recently read an article by a colleague whom I am lucky enough to call a friend that focused on the end of the school year.
It really hit home for me and went on to explain how important it is to give all your love to your students, especially as we near the end and get ready for the summer. There are students who are not excited for the summer because of the lack of predictability, responsibilities, expectations, and attention that they get from us. Our students depend on us, no matter their age or grade. The article reminded me that I needed to slow down and forget about cramming information and just talk to them, connect with them, and love them. I wondered when the shift happened from just being present with your students to focusing on data and standardized testing.
Sean…I can pinpoint the exact moment that it switched from fun to competition. I find myself and other students stressing more than ever because of these standardized tests. Everything from waking up way too early to going to sleep way too late in order to pass. Conversations turn into how long we’ve been studying or the lack of nutrition or sleep we’re getting. YOU try to find a teeneager that has had 10 hours of sleep because bedtime happens well after your midnight snack.
During the last few months of school I usually stay at home, avoid social media, and focus in on grades like most high schoolers do. This not only affects our physical health, but also our mental health. The beginning of summer doesn’t exist for us, it just feels like we’re stuck inside for another month of winter, which is just another month of hell. We don’t want to be told what to think and how to think it. We want to figure it out with guidance from our teachers and not just be thrown into adulthood without any real experience or advice.
Hearing that as an educator (and as his big sister) really bothers me, but I know it is the reality that some of these students face and the pain they feel. I am lucky enough to be working in a district that focuses on putting students first.
We are a special kind of district that is lead by administrators that truly want the best for our students and know how important it is to create relationships. I know not all of us are as lucky as I am to have leaders within the district that encourage this, but it shouldn’t be a matter of luck, it should be the norm. I know that there are amazing teachers in Sean’s district because I was fortunate enough to have them, but they need to be louder and encourage change. The teachers in elementary school through high school who will push students to their creative boundaries, take the time to have a conversation, and see them as more than just a grade on a spreadsheet need to be heard and celebrated.
Sean…I’d rather be doing the things that I love to do with students and teachers rather than being crammed inside studying the same nonsense that my sister did eight years ago. I’m jealous when my sister tells me about the fun her students have outside together, when I can barely see the sun in some of my classes. Even though we’re let go before rush hour, we’re still on a schedule. I wish I could go back to elementary school in order to feel some sort of excitement again.
Since when did relationships with a regents become more important than relationships with students? Or a DRA score become more important than the child standing in front of you?
Why don’t we ask them more often about their day or what they look forward to the most in school? Why don’t we ask what their least favorite part of school is or how they think we can improve the education system? Why does the love for learning, being creative, or different change as they get older?
I don’t have the answers, but I know that students need and deserve more. 1st grade is a different world from 10th grade in so many ways, but the conversations and relationships don’t have to be. I understand how important regents reviews are,the high stakes of standardized testing along all grade levels, and I absolutely believe that there needs to be extra supports in place for those that are still struggling. I also understand that teachers are stressed out because we need our kids to produce, but there needs to be some sort of balance. There’s always going to be outliers, like the student who takes it too far or who makes inappropriate comments (it happens with our little ones too!!), but it shouldn’t ruin it for the rest of the students. When mutual respect is formed between student and teacher, anything is possible in that classroom.
Sean…I recently wrote an essay for school about the effects of standardized testing on students, teachers, and schools. It made me realize how much billion dollar companies are making off of students that they will never see, talk to, or understand. It’s so frustrating that the test they make money off of has a bigger say in our future than the teachers that teach us daily and understand us as individuals. These teachers help pave the way for us to be successful and allow us to understand what it means and looks like to be good human beings- to help others, to be understanding, to be kind and when needed, to put the needs of those you love in front of yours. I know that there are teachers that just want to help make the world a better place. We need more teachers like that, teachers that care. We need to allow them to do that.
We need to remember that we took on this job to be lifelong learners. We need to be flexible and adapt. We need to understand that our students are just as frustrated with testing as we are. We need to connect with our kids. We need to find out what’s “lit” and then not use that phrase because our students know when we’re trying too hard. We need to stand up for our students, better yet our scholars, and let them stand on their own two feet. We need to provide them with the platform to be heard and the support to feel confident in doing so. We can all get better, I know I can. For me, it’ll start with a walk outside, a conversation on the swings, a lunch date with my kiddos, or a break in class to just laugh together.
Sean…We want teachers who engage us and will allow us to move around. We want teachers who will give memorable lessons. We want teachers who won’t just make us take notes for 42 minutes straight. We want teachers who give life-long lessons and make connections. We want teachers that make us look forward to school again.
So have your kids (kids because they are more than just students) study, because they need to learn perseverance and patience, but also live a little with them. They like to laugh and know that we’re real people with fears, hopes, dreams, anxieties, and passions. Make sure your kids know how damn awesome they are. Make sure the relationship with your students is more important than their perception of your relationship with an assessment.
Sean and I are so grateful to have had the opportunity from The Teacher and The Admin to share our thoughts. This is my second year teaching 1st grade and I’m lucky enough to be working in a district that supports my excitement and passion for teaching. Sean is about to wrap up his sophomore year of high school and spends his free time on a baseball field. We are both lifelong learners thanks to our favorite teachers and biggest fans- our parents.