Wrestling with Myself

Marcus Aurelius said, “The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing.”

No time of the school year feels more like wrestling than testing season.  Between analyzing benchmark results and the looming high-stakes tests, it feels like the perfect storm.

So I wrestle with myself.   My inner turmoil sounds (and feels) something like this:

“Teach to the test.  33% of your evaluation is tied to these results.  Your job is on the line.  You’ve got to teach to the test!”

“No, my students have learned at a high depth of knowledge all year – they are sure to do well on the tests without any soulless test prep!”

“You just spent 6 months in rehearsal for the school musical.  Some things require rehearsal.”

“But testing shouldn’t be one of them!”

Like all things that require serious pondering, I give the issue what I call “The Mom Test.”  Instead of thinking as “Mrs. Maloney” I think as “Mama.”  Do I want my child’s teacher spending valuable in-class minutes teaching her “to the test” at the expense of real learning?  That answer is a resounding NO.

I settled for what I usually do at this time of year – a mix of teaching authentically helpful test-taking strategies while building positive motivation – for my students and myself!  The strategies included how to navigate technology-enhanced response items (TEI) found on the new AZMerit online tests. TEIs are computer-delivered response items that require students to interact with test content to select and/or construct their responses to questions.  This can be a tricky concept for kids who are used to filling in bubbles on answer sheets and for kids who may not be accustomed to navigating on a computer.

I increased the amount of favorite relaxing classroom mood-enhancers, like music, focused deep breathing, brain breaks and aromatherapy.  My partner and I planned special breakfasts before school on testing days, and gathered motivational “top secret” letters of encouragement from family.

My favorite letter went like this:

Dear ******,

As you prepare for your testing just know that dad and I are so proud of you.  You are smart, pretty, kind, smart, pretty, kind, smart, pretty, kind.  Did I say that already…I can’t think of anything else so I started repeating myself;)  But seriously we love you more than you love Llama’s!  Take your time and read the questions and you’ll do great.

Below is some Llama inspiration just for you!

llama llama3 llama4 llama5


We all came out the other side.  The parent letters were a hit.  I had sore feet from walking the room.  While circling the room for the thousandth time passing out mints and tissues, I realized that proctoring a test is a strange combination of extreme boredom and nervous tension, perhaps for all people involved.  My students told me they were so tired they fell asleep in the car on the way home from school.

Now, on to inspiring my students to make the most of our four weeks left together.  Hopefully without any mental wrestling matches.


Beth Maloney

I am in my twentieth year of teaching and enjoy every minute of my time in the classroom. I have taught kindergarten, third grade, and currently teach fifth-grade science and social studies in Surprise, Arizona. I am an enthusiastic public school advocate. I am a National Board Certified Teacher and a Candidate Support Provider for the Arizona K12 Center, where I coach and mentor other teachers undergoing the rigorous National Board certification. I am the past president and co-founder of the Arizona National Board Certified Teacher Network and president and founder of the Arizona Chapter of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. I am honored to be Arizona’s 2014 Teacher of the Year and appreciate having the opportunity to represent the teachers of Arizona. I love talking with and learning from other teachers around the world. I strongly believe that teacher voice in the public education dialogue is the best way to make change for the better for all students.

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