Every so often, we at JCPSForward strive to connect people from outside of JCPS. I would like to introduce Nick Tutolo, a colleague who hails from Pittsburgh. Nick and I met at a Center for Teaching Quality retreat last summer. He is a man who is an inspiration to me. A passionate believer in creative and equitable education, Nick spends his time speaking on how to make education more “real” and more accessible to all students. Please read his work because it speaks to the deeper learning movement in JCPS. If we are to reach all children, shouldn’t we remember what true education looks like? -Noah Klein
by Nick Tutolo
As I think about this past year of teaching, I think about the opportunities lost in an effort to pass the state assessments. In an effort to increase test scores, we have overemphasized content retention and have forgotten about the rest of the child. We have turned students from people to merely moveable numbers on a spreadsheet. We have pushed worksheets as a substitute for real learning. In an earlier post, I warned that if we continue to maintain such a high focus on student data, that even the most student-centered teacher will begin to see students only as numbers to be manipulated— even me. From our school’s move to Eureka Math to the push for greater MTSS support, we crammed more academic time into an already crowded school day.
From our school’s move to Eureka Math to the push for greater MTSS support, we crammed more academic time into an already crowded school day. Unfortunately, this is a practice employed by schools across the country who are struggling to keep up with the high stakes assessments. I will not place blame on my school so much as to say that our school is simply working to meet the constraints of a broken education system.
When schools are forced to teach to a test, it isn’t just the teachers who suffer. Those who are done the most harm are the students. Students miss out on the opportunities to have their needs that extend beyond the content met.
Here are just a few opportunities that are missed when we choose to pack a day full of academics without leaving time for to focus on the rest of the child.
Joy in Learning
When teachers are forced to teach to a test, there is little time for the creative opportunities— the time to take the deep dives into the content that allow for the joyful learning experiences in the classroom. Projects are shortened or cut entirely. As it is has been said many times, students will not likely remember how they learned to divide fractions or solve equations, but they will remember the experiences. When many of these experiences turn up missing, what will our students take out remember about school?
Purpose of Education
Directly related to the constraint on instructional time, students are shortchanged on the time to understand why the content matters. As we progress higher in the mathematical trajectory, the content seems further removed from the reality of the students’ lived experiences. The question: “Why do I need to know this?” becomes almost a daily thing. As we are forced to move at a breakneck pace toward covering the required content prior to the test, there is little time afforded to addressing this question in any manner. Many teachers are left saying: “Because the state thinks that you should.”
Mentorship of Teachers
The mentorship of teachers is one of the opportunities that I am most saddened that students miss out on. As we cram the student schedule with academics from the moment that they walk into the school building until the moment they leave, there are fewer opportunities for teachers to engage with students on a personal level. In other words, there’s less time to mentor students through life’s problems. Many schools have eliminated any off-time for students and teachers for that matter. When the entire day is focused on academics, we begin to forget about the humanity of the students whom we set out to serve. In the past year, I have watched even the most student focused teachers struggle to find time in the day to mentor students in a meaningful way.
When we fill the entire day with academics and expect teachers to maintain a rigid pace towards covering the academic material, we eliminate the time needed to engage in meaningful learning experiences that can come out of times when a student has done harm to the community. Teachers are forced to move towards punitive measures that are expedient, but do little to address the deeper issues at play. My team has been one that has always utilized restorative practices, but we find ourselves without the time needed to do it effectively. Without time, discipline issues are relegated to the office— a place where little good results.
Our country continues to push for more rigorous content as a solution to our woeful educational system. Although we have certainly raised the bar in terms of academics, we have done little to address the underlying causes of academic failure in our schools. More often than not, the cause of the problems is not even found in academics at all. I know that we can do better. Actually, it is a moral imperative that we do better— for our kids.