English Teacher Jody Podl Speaks At Sherrod Brown Press Conference

Podl talks about experiences as a teacher with state mandates


Mimi Ricinati

English teacher Jody Podl speaks during the press conference June 8.

Thank you Senator Brown for being here today. We are honored.

Our group, Test Mania, was created this year to inform and to advocate for change, because the latest testing regimen has stymied us all, to say the least. The tests are too long, cutting into time that could be better spent; they siphon away resources; they are questionable in terms of their validity and their appropriateness; they have been muddied by constantly changing directives and policies.

That’s a long list, but it doesn’t really get at the core of the problem: the fact that these standardized tests, which are being used to direct instruction, to evaluate teachers and to decide the fate of schools don’t measure all that matters. And even though they don’t measure all that matters, they have become all that matters. That is a discouraging paradox, for sure.

In today’s world, filled with complex problems and overwhelming quantities of information, we cannot narrow our vision of education; we need to grow it. Now, more than ever, we need all of our students to be involved in their learning–like when my daughter came home from school after a day in second grade with Mr. D and was so curious about something she’d learned in class that she had to “get on google” right away. Or like my students who couldn’t stop their arguing — even after the bell rang — about whether Darnay or Carton is a better match for Lucie Manette or about how inequality impacts society and the individual..

I also recognize that not every student is having these kinds of enriching and challenging experiences in school. And that is a very real and concerning problem that we need to address. But let’s face it; the testing obsession seems to have driven our students even further away from meaningful and appropriate learning opportunities.

Let me tell you about my colleague Joe Houser. Teaching is his second career; he came to Shaker 15 years ago dedicated to his students and to teaching them the importance of understanding history –and life–through multiple perspectives. He’s the whole package: calm, caring, inspiring, firm when he needs to be. Year after year, he takes pride in seeing his students develop skills and habits and realize the value of being educated. However, this year, after his kids had been subjected to the SLOs and the PARCC and the OGT, he shared that in his eyes, his students have grown less than usual. Worn out and discouraged from testing, his students became disengaged. And Joe felt unable to do what he knew was right for them. It is one of the main reasons why Joe’s decided to retire.

I’m not saying that testing is bad. But, I’d argue that the testing culture has diminished not only our ability as teachers to reach students, but also our students’ ability to learn and grow. Excuse the metaphor, but I am an English teacher. I liken what’s happening in our schools today to finding morning glory growing in your garden. It looks pretty at first, but then grows so quickly that it overtakes everything in its path, ultimately damaging the plants that it wraps itself around. The only way to protect the plants is to carefully untangle and remove it. It’s a difficult task, but if we really want our students to become informed, responsive, responsible, and passionate citizens, then we all need to get weeding.

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