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Poet laureate sees no rhyme or reason to testing

April 01, 2006|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

HAGERSTOWN

Of all of the challenges teachers face, the one that Maryland's poet laureate presented Friday was one they welcomed.

"I think we all got into teaching because we believe in developing a great human being," said Michael Glaser, the state poet laureate. "Sometimes, it's hard to remember that in the face of all this testing, which is never for the quality of the student's life, but for how well they take tests."

Glaser, who teaches at St. Mary's College of Maryland, read and discussed his poems for students, teachers and literature buffs on Thursday, said Martin Potash, coordinator of secondary English for Washington County Public Schools.

On Friday, Glaser addressed English teachers from across the county at the start of their daylong professional development training day. Students had the day off and teachers graded benchmark tests and discussed teaching strategies, Potash said.

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Glaser urged teachers to remember and stay true to what made them want to become English teachers.

"I don't presume to have anything to teach you, but I do perhaps think I can remind you of things you already know," he said.

Glaser was critical of mandatory testing and the federal No Child Left Behind Act. He said that the pressure on teachers and students to pass tests often overshadows the importance of creative and critical thinking.

"It's not about answers and it's not about tests," Glaser said. "It's about the lifelong journey of examining who we are."

Jeffrey Farr said Glaser accurately portrayed the reality he faced as a 10th-grade English teacher at Antietam Academy.

"So many of the students come to us with their enthusiasm for reading extinguished by misuse or by constantly being told they have to find a meaning," Farr said. "So we have to reignite the relevancy of what they read and write."

Throughout the year, Washington County high school students take benchmark tests, which Potash said are used to measure how well students grasp the material.

In addition, high schools are gearing up for a week of mandatory tests at the end of May, as required by No Child Left Behind.

The federal law requires that schools improve each year. Schools that fail to make adequate progress risk losing federal funding.

Glaser's appearance was part of the Maryland Humanities Council's speakers series, said Judy Dobbs, the council's program officer.

When asked why Washington County Public Schools sought out Glaser, Potash said, "In part, as a reward for the teachers, they work so hard."

"Teachers need a good reminder - this is why they got into the profession," he said.

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