Energy fills the room. Students are standing up, engaging in interactive activities. At one station, students are debating a poem; at another station, students are using the class set of iPads to create a video that represents and reflects the poem; some students are working on their own individual projects, and others are making a poster board.
Across town, a group of students are sitting in a computer lab. A teacher walks around the lab making sure that the students don’t cheat. The bell rings, and students who are finished leave the testing area. Those who are not done stay until they finish, missing parts of their other classes.
In a classroom across from the lab, a teacher makes sure students are quiet so they don’t disturb the testing area. As typical of ninth-grade classes, the students are reading “The Odyssey,” one of several pieces of literature that students are required to read in Virginia public schools.
Students are reading out of a textbook that is 15 years old and, because testing is going on, they cannot go to the computer lab to do research. A few students have their own devices that they brought, but most students rely on desktops at home or the resources at the school and local library.
As a future educator, I must decide where I want to teach. There are many options: wealthy private schools, underfunded private schools, wealthy public schools, underfunded public schools, private schools with a religious affiliation, and private schools that model their structure after the ideas of educational theorists.
Do I try to make a difference in schools that are suffocating due to standardized testing and measly budgets? Or do I go to a school that aligns with my educational ideals? If I go to a public school, am I feeding into standardized testing and accepting it as a reality that I can’t change?
I want to teach at a school where I can reach students that slip through the cracks of the U.S. educational system, and at public schools, I can try to reach those students. However, at the end of the year, they will still be expected to take the Standards of Learning (SOLs) and regional tests that don’t meet their educational needs and end up hindering their future. Would I be better off teaching at a private school where I don’t need to worry about SOLs? At the end of the day, I believe the answer is no. Despite my hatred for SOLs, I need to be in public schools to advocate for the students who are harmed by the system. I can be their voice and work to find ways that satisfy the needs of the state, but more importantly, the needs of my students.