F. Scott Fitzgerald said,

"There are no second acts in American lives."

Most people think he was crazy.

Monday, January 24, 2011

So, why the change? Why now?


In a nutshell? Teaching isn't fun anymore. Kids can't have fun learning anymore.

Instead, we're looking at "Value-Added Measures"--basically a series of standardized tests--in order to judge students and their teachers. Why?

Well, one thing I know for sure--it's a lot easier to give a standardized test than it is to go into classrooms. We don't really want to see what a teacher is doing to get the students jazzed--no one cares whether or not my students feel safe, their opinions and insights as individuals valued--and never mind that I introduce them to things they never even knew existed; things like the parallelism between "West Side Story" and Shakespeare, "Weird Al" Yankovic and parody, and the shootings at Kent State and political activism.

First, let me tell you why I became a teacher.

I became a teacher because I had great teachers. I had teachers who were not afraid of standardized testing. I had teachers who did not have to worry about having their names published in the paper for having "failed." These teachers: Dorothy Johnson, Norma Crane, Hilde Griggs, Bob Strong, Betty Nelson, Ginny Johnson, Bill Reilly, Norma Gunkler, Steve Murphy, Mike Savage, Nancy Compton, Carm Pascarella, Nancy Bauer...even Betty Coman, despite the fact that she didn't give me the English prize, though I was CLEARLY the best English student in the class of '78 (and to her credit she admitted such many years later) are remembered for making my educational experience important. I remember every single one of them for different reasons--they may have challenged me, or enriched my life in some way--but I am fifty years old. To remember these teachers after all these years is to affirm their lives as teachers.

On the other hand, I have had over a thousand students in my career, and I doubt if even one of them can say I made an impact. I have had to spend the bulk of my career "teaching to the test," and worrying whether or not my kids will "make the numbers." They end up hating school, and who can blame them? Several days each quarter are used up by testing, and kids are having to sit quietly for hours on end, focusing on multiple choice questions, sometimes with no right answer, filling in scan-tron bubbles.
Because if we're being completely honest here, we'll admit that it was really hard to concentrate for more than thirty minutes at a time. For some of us, it was hard to focus at all.

Honestly? I don't want the responsibilty any more. When my principal tells me that if I don't make the numbers, he won't go to bat for me--and 52% of my 8th graders have to make the 99th percentile--it's time to do something else, because this is statistically impossible. I can do a lot of things--like get kids who've never read for pleasure to VOLUNTARILY pick up a book--but I am not magic.

Administrators ask us to "create a safe environment" for our kids. They ask us to monitor our charges and report any bullying we might see. Yet, they are creating a climate of fear and distrust.

And it's not fun anymore.


  1. Have you looked into teaching private schools? Maybe their standards are different?

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  3. Hey there,

    I felt exactly the same way once upon a time. I left teaching back in 2004 and thought I'd never look back. I always taught the kids no one else wanted anything to do with - behavioural and emotional disorders, 2-5 grade levels below their peers...

    I really loved it, but teaching lost its lustre when I felt a gross lack of support from administration and alienation from my colleagues. I was a trailblazer, I suppose. I was not conventional. I was not popular with parents because their kids complained. That's what happens when they have a teacher who cares enough to expect their best.

    Seven years I started a consulting firm providing writing services to Alberta Canada organizations (www.finishedbyfive.ca). I have loved running my own business and it has been exceptionally rewarding. But then I landed a teaching position a year ago in a post secondary institution teaching 1st year B.Ed. students. It was thrilling to be back in education and I was disappointed that budget cuts meant my position had to go.

    That gig prompted me to pursue my Masters of Science in Education. I'm half way through now and I'm really quite eager to get back into teaching. I suppose this might even be Act III for me. We'll see.

    I just wanted to write and tell you that there is someone out here who 'gets' it. I just wanted to share that although you'll run into the negative, harping, 'better-than-the-rest' people, they haven't lived in your shoes. Whatever your decision, don't let anyone make you feel one ounce of yuckiness for leaving...or staying... Teaching is a tough job and when the good ones are fed up, it doesn't make them any less of an educator. It just makes them human.

    Take good care!