Here’s a guest post by my mom, a former Teacher of the Year, who laments the effects education “reform” is having on students, teachers, and education in general:
I began teaching in 1973. I retired July 1, 2013. I taught every grade and every level of secondary English (yes, we called it English, not language arts or LAL) during my career, which I loved with a passion. I am so fortunate to have had a profession I felt so devoted to, one that allowed me to engage with everything I loved: literature, writing, and young people of diverse backgrounds, interests and abilities. I have often though that without my rich career and all I have learned from it, I might be a much different person, much poorer in my understanding of human nature, adolescence, history, sociology, the arts, the creative process, and the complexity surrounding every facet of learning and personal growth.
There was a time, a few short years ago, that I could not imagine retiring from this career I felt so devoted to. How sad to say that now I am glad to be gone, relieved of the burden of trying to conform to the current climate of “education reform,” the current practice of misusing big data and standardized tests, relying on arbitrary evaluation procedures, and meting out punitive consequences to teachers, administrators, and schools, all of which are being held responsible for conditions and outcomes beyond their control.
When I look back over my career, there are moments that stand out to me. Not one of these moments can be measured by a standardized test. And not one of these moments has been, or ever should have been, documented by an administrative evaluator. Here are some of those moments.
I remember a 15-year-old 7th grader for whom school represented repeated failure telling me “Mrs. Jolley, I wish you were my mom”— just because one day I asked her why she seemed so sad. No metric for that.
I remember ELL students, not very proficient in English, writing with a longing that could break your heart about how much they missed their native countries. Hmmm. Not the prescribed 5-paragraph “controversial issue” format. No formula there.
I remember an African American boy named Marcus who quietly came up to my desk after class to express his concern for me (a white teacher in a class of mostly black students) after we read a passage from Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry in which white characters cruelly persecuted the black protagonists. Marcus, who was 14, was showing empathy for ME. He didn’t want me to take it personally that white people were portrayed as villains. He knew I wasn’t like that. I was so moved. Does someone want to measure that? (By the way, we read the whole novel, not excerpts as the CCSS suggest.)
I remember 9th graders enthusiastically researching the law, writing scripts, dressing up, acting out, and filming a mock trial of the Friar from Romeo and Juliet. They charged him in the deaths of the two young lovers. At night they watched Law & Order to get some pointers. So cute!
I remember inventing assignments and projects (I-Searches, multi-genre pieces) that gave students choices to investigate subjects they were interested in, giving them responsibility, accountability, and investment in their own learning. So exciting even five years ago; today there’s no time for such things. What’s the point? It’s not on a test, everyone says.
I remember a time when department meetings, faculty meetings, and in-service days revolved around reading, sharing ideas, learning about our subjects—and not around the only topics that seem to matter today: lesson plan format, testing, rubrics, teacher evaluations and technological gimmicks. Watch your back! If you don’t conform it will be held against you!
I remember AP students who told me their lives were changed after reading Hamlet, or Beloved, or Middlemarch. Is there a metric for that, or is a score on the AP exam the only thing that counts? Yes, we did lots of close reading, but is that what students will remember?
Mostly I remember a time when I could be creative, do lots of research, veer off in different but related directions, have discussions, allow students to talk about how they feel (yes, David Coleman), and even lecture occasionally, without worrying if I covered every one of the myriad points in the Danielson model in EVERY lesson.
I am so sad when I read that students, teachers, and schools are labeled “failures.” I am bewildered when I read statements from “reformers” with no background in child development writing standards, arbitrarily setting cut scores, misinterpreting test results, making flawed comparisons with other countries, giving only lip service to parents, and blaming teachers for every ill in society. I am angry when I think of people with no background in education (i.e. politicians from BOTH parties and businesspeople) condescending to, insulting, and even vilifying teachers, whose job is more difficult, challenging, and complex than anyone who has never tried it can imagine.
I worry that teachers coming into the profession will never know the joy I felt as an English teacher. I lament that a noble profession has been co-opted by profiteers and business interests, by privatizers and by many who pretend they know what’s best for children. As teachers, and former teachers, administrators and former administrators, we must speak out, talk to each other, and talk to parents to turn this trend around. We have to do it for our children and grandchildren, so they can know that school and learning can be joyful and enriching—and that it is more than test prep, testing, canned lessons, and conformity.