Why Teachers Quit, A Teacher’s Life
THOUGHTS FOR THE NEW YEAR
A new year brings out the lists: lists of the best and the worst from the previous year, most important articles, 10 best books, 10 best New Year’s Resolutions and so on. Most items on such lists are written as short, tweet-length items so they can be absorbed quickly. Sometim
es, though, it’s important to look deeper.
One of my favorite teacher bloggers is James Boutin, a language arts and social studies teacher in the Seattle, WA area. His reflective essays are infrequent, but always well thought out. He recently posted his annual “Life Lessons” list reviewing his own learning of the year ending. Life Lessons 2013 is well worth the read in its entirety.
1) “You cannot have an atmosphere of respect given an impossible task.”
At the CES conference this past November in San Francisco, my colleagues and I were listening to Deborah Meier talk about the state of schools today. At one point, she noted, “You cannot have an atmosphere of respect given an impossible task.”
Ms. Meier is right.
Most public education workers have been given an impossible task. It is easy to hide that it is an impossible task because most of the American public is unaware of what’s being asked of those who work in schools. But, as I discussed in more detail in a previous post, the sum of tasks expected of the public school worker (from teacher to principal to paraeducator) is, to put it both bluntly and accurately, absurd.
The atmosphere of respect includes self-respect as well. How do teachers balance their own self-respect when they are asked to do things which they know are not good for their students? How can administrators ask their teachers to respect them and themselves when they are continually asking them to do things which are educationally unsound at best or, at worst, damaging? Corporate Education “reformers” have forced public educators into no-win situations. Educators who don’t comply lose their jobs…those who do comply lose their self-respect. The choice is no-choice.
1. Be active online, in the papers, and in your state capital. In the blogosphere, in the halls of your legislative bodies, in the letters-to-the-editor section, and during every single election, public education supporters can’t afford to sit back…
2. Be active locally. The corporate reformers aren’t merely interested in statewide and national elections. They have found more bang for their buck at the local level…This will happen in your state soon, if it hasn’t already.
3. Embrace your expertise…The teacher’s kind-if-firm voice is exactly the antivenin that our nation needs in order to counteract the poisonous greedchismo of the dominant voices in our current policy environment…
4. Join others. Relatedly, if you are serious about protecting the promise of public education, you have little choice but to join others in holding back the tide of corporate reform…
5. Be great…we have the opportunity day after day to go into our classrooms and our administrative offices and invest ourselves in activities that make a difference in children’s lives. When we do our jobs well, we win the support of our communities and our parents and students…
Another of my favorite teacher-bloggers. Peg-With-Pen expands on and adds to John Kuhn’s list. Again…this is just part of it. Read it all…
2. Open the door. I know the teachers reading this have been told again and again to shut the door and do what is right for children. I beg of you, begin to open the door. Open it and let the light burst into the hallways. Let them hear your children laughing, singing, learning and engaging in what is real and true. When the children are not allowed to do so, open the door and let the world see this as well – let them see what corporate education looks like. Invite the parents to come in and help. Let them see the truths – good and bad – the parents will watch, listen and many will act to ferociously protect the children from the dangers that lurk in our buildings…
5. Read. We must read and educate ourselves…Get the Reign of Error by Diane Ravitch immediately.
6. Align yourself with like-minded folks…
7. Use your teacher knowledge to deconstruct the madness of corporate education reform. For example, here I use the Conditions for Learning to let Obama know how ridiculous and harmful RTTT is. What do you know? How can you use it to debunk the corporate ed. reformers who know nothing about teaching and learning?
18. Ignore the mandates around you however you can. This is different for everyone so I cannot advise. I know what works for me. Find out what works for you – there are ways to ignore and refuse to participate in common core, test prep and more. I simply ask myself, at the end of day, did I listen to my students? Did I help engage learners and did they see how their learning will further the purpose of their lives? If I didn’t do that, something has to change. Make changes however you can and do not berate yourself because it wasn’t good enough – or you think you should have done more – you will always wish you could do more. Try again tomorrow. Nothing is forever. Change is always possible.
GRADE RETENTION – AGAIN
Here is yet another group of ignorant state policy makers who don’t know anything about education and then make rules about educating kids. Next they’ll legislate leeches for illnesses. The National Association of School Psychologists has a good handout for parents including alternatives to retention. Unfortunately, alternatives cost money and the US has become the land of the cheap.
Question 1…have Iowa’s reading scores really stagnated or are they simply in line with poverty levels?
Third-graders who fail to meet state literacy standards may be held back under new rules being considered by the Iowa State Board of Education. But some experts say that’s not the route to go.
Under the proposed rules, parents of a struggling reader in third grade would have the choice of enrolling the pupil in an intensive summer reading program. If the parents refuse summer school, the child would be held back. The board plans to cast a final vote to accept these rules early this year.
“We really aren’t looking at it as being punitive,” said Dave Tilly, deputy director of the Iowa Department of Education, “but we really want to get parents to take their child’s literacy development very, very seriously.”
Not punitive? Policy makers have failed to invest in education for all children. Retention punishes students for the adult failure. Support struggling schools, don’t close them. Provide wraparound services for all schools. Lower class sizes. Address issues of poverty and inequity in funding. Saying it’s not punitive is either a lie or the comment of someone who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Question 2…why not have an “intensive…reading program” before the child fails?
WHY TEACHERS QUIT
Another experienced teacher decides that she’s had enough of the Corporate Education Reform Industry.
Originality, experimentation, academic liberty, teacher autonomy, and origination are being strangled in ill-advised efforts to “fix” things that were never broken. If I must prove my worth and my students’ learning through the provision of a measurable set of objectives, then I have taught them nothing because things of value cannot be measured. Inventiveness, inquisitiveness, attitude, work ethic, passion, these things cannot be quantified to a meager data point in an endless table of scrutiny…
I would love to teach, but I refuse to be led by a top-down hierarchy that is completely detached from the classrooms for which it is supposed to be responsible…
I would love to teach, but I will not spend another day under the expectations that I prepare every student for the increasing numbers of meaningless tests that take advantage of children for the sake of profit…
I would love to teach, but I will not spend another day wishing I had some time to plan my fantastic lessons because the county comes up with new and inventive ways to steal that time, under the guise of PLC meetings or whatever…
I would love to teach, but I will not spend another day in a district where my coworkers are both on autopilot and in survival mode…
I would love to teach, but I’m tired of my increasing and troublesome physical symptoms that come from all this frustration, stress, and sadness…
I would love to teach, but I’m truly angry that parents put so much stress, fear, and anticipation into their kids’ heads to achieve a meaningless numeric grade that is inconsequential to their future needs, especially since their children’s teachers are being cowed into meeting expectations and standards that are not conducive to their children’s futures…
A TEACHER’S LIFE: GRADING PAPERS
Finally, most teachers have carried that tote-bag of papers to be graded around with them to various places. Below, a Facebook response to the question, “What is the most unusual place you have graded papers?” Here are just a few. The last one says it all…
- Mine is probably in a sleeping bag, by flashlight, on a Cub Scout camp out.
- while bartending….
- in the cheap seats, during batting practice, at an Orioles game!
- While cooking dinner.
- Sitting in the emergency room with broken ribs.
- While riding on a golf cart between shots
- Yankees game.
- Hotel room.
- On the tube in London, on the beach in Brighton…. Best Spring break ever.
- in a courthouse waiting to be called for jury duty
- At a Detroit Red Wings hockey game at Joe Louis Arena.
- At church (Wednesday night).
- In a dental chair… with the dentist’s tools in my mouth.
- Bowling alley while my son was in his league, and during webeloes meetings and on my back deck when it was 35 degrees outside…
- in the car while waiting for really long freight trains to pass.
- during chemo and waiting to go into surgery….the life of an English teacher!!
- While getting an infinity TATTOO on the top of my foot!
- on a flight. I labeled each paper, “graded at 32000 feet”
- Basketball games, on a bus going to a basketball game, on the beach, at the hairdresser, I am in the hospital now and wish i had my papers to grade
- Fifth floor veranda of Disneyland grand California hotel.
- In an auditorium during an all day dance competition.
- On a sailboat
- This makes me sad. All of us not being able to really be present because the workload is overwhelming and never-ending.
All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.