Don’t interrupt, my students are taking a test

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My children attend a private Catholic school that provides a safe and loving environment, which is very comforting.

A recent visit reminded me of what I don’t like about this highly-traditional institution. If you’ve read much of my work, you know that I preach progressive student-centered education. I favor a classroom that is a bit messy, where kids move about, converse freely and collaborate. A place where the teacher is almost invisible.

When my daughter forgot her snack at home, I returned to school to give it to her. I was greeted politely in the office and I said that I’d like to deliver the snack to her classroom and speak to her (we had argued in the car about her minor indiscretion and I wanted to make amends).


A parent visit to a classroom is strictly forbidden, I was informed in no uncertain terms. “We can’t interrupt a teacher; the students might be taking a test,” a secretary announced flatly.

My blood began to boil.

“When I was teaching,” I replied, eyebrows furrowed, “my class was interrupted all of the time. I just kept going.”

“Oh, we just don’t do it,” she emphasized.

The problem here is twofold. First, if a teacher can’t stand a mild interruption from a parent who wants to pull his daughter aside to calm her nerves, I must wonder about the teacher’s effectiveness. Second, if on any random day, the secretary’s response is that there might be testing, then, there is far too much testing.

Testing, in general, is bad. The effects of testing are deleterious at best and harmful at worst. Yet, my kids are tested no less than several times weekly, and this isn’t including any kind of standardized testing, and there is plenty of that.

If I can’t interrupt my child’s class for 10 seconds to pull her into the hall for a 30-second discussion, the school’s administrators need a moment of pause.

If the concern for the interruption is that students might be testing at any given time, the moment of pause should become a daylong planning session, in which a major change in philosophy is discussed.

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Mark Barnes is the Founder of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series, The uNseries, and other books from some of education's most reputable teachers and leaders. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Connect with @markbarnes19 on Twitter.

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