What If? First Week Stories and The Time to Read Them

What if teachers had time set aside early in the year to truly analyze their pre-assessments?

The first week of school is invigorating or exhausting, depending on how you look at it.  There is so much to take care of: establishing routines, procedures and expectations; learning names and developing relationships; assigning things meant to pre-assess specific skills or knowledge; gathering student info. sheets with information about who these kids are.  At the high school level, we are talking about approximately 150 students to wrangle AND pre-assess at the same time.  Not to mention getting a jump on instruction.  There are a lot of standards to cover, after all, and only 36 weeks of school.

Every year I collect several things the first week: a student information sheet that lists activities, interests and prior educational experiences; a writing sample; some kind of reading activity that can serve as a pre-assessment; in some years, a grammar pre-assessment test; perhaps some vocabulary work.  Every year, I take the stacks of papers back and forth between home and work for way too long trying to find the time to really get to know my students’ work.  

I would like to read their essays mindfully: this first assignment always feels like an offering to me. They test the waters, seeing if they will get a personal response, a flicker of humanity, from me. The stories they tell me the first week often surprise me with their candor and trust.  How can I whip through them quickly simply to note who uses paragraphs, who can spell, how complex their sentences are, and whether they use concrete verbs?  I need to linger, but there is no time.

Often, I find myself two weeks into the year with the same stack of papers and folder of information sheets still unread.  And then the weeks continue.  Everyone has gotten their points, but they haven’t gotten validation for their work, and I have not gotten to know them as students. Every year I fight this battle. Some years I manage to get through the writing samples.  My attention to the other pre-assessments often suffers.

What if we had a day off after the first week of school?  A day to sort through everything and to really use all of that information to plan our instruction, which is the whole purpose of assessment, after all.  Instead, we are launched headfirst into the year.  But we do run into those unknowns eventually, no matter what.


Amethyst Hinton Sainz

I currently teach English Language Development at Rhodes Junior High in Mesa Public Schools. I love seeing the incredible growth in my students and being an advocate for them. I am a National Board Certified Teacher in Adolescent and Young Adult English Language Arts. Before this position I taught high school English in Arizona for 20 years.

My alma maters are Blue Ridge High School and the University of Arizona. My bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Philosophy led me toward the College of Education, and I soon realized that the creative challenges of teaching would fuel me throughout my career. My love of language, literature and culture led me to the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College for my masters in English Literature. I am a fellow with the Southern Arizona Writing Project, and that professional development along with, later, the National Board process, has been the most influential and transformative learning for me. I enjoy teaching students across the spectrum of academic ability, and keeping up with new possibilities for technology in education, as well as exploring more topics in STEM.

In recent years, much of my professional development has focused on teacher leadership, but I feel like I am still searching for exactly what that means for me.

I live in Mesa, Arizona with my family. I enjoy them, as well as my vegetable garden, our backyard chickens, our dachshund Roxy, reading, writing, cooking (but not doing dishes), hiking and camping, and travel, among other things.

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