In the name of the TRANSPARENCY that I championed in my “Open Letter to Campbell Brown from a Teacher on Leave,” and to test that theory about teachers truly not having their right to Freedom of Speech, I am republishing my first two blog posts from June, with a few tweaks because I ranted a bit too much the first time around. These are the ones that I was advised to take down, or I could be fired “on the spot.”
This is the first of the two, originally written in February 2014, when I was learning that teachers in my district were going to be tasked with writing SLOs and creating portfolios as part of our evaluation process, on top of everything else we already were doing. We were in the “Countdown to the Test.” We were near the end of a marking period. We were enduring schedule changes because of snow days and cold-weather days and two-hour delays. We were hearing more and more about the impact of the budget cuts and the possibility of the state changing the graduation requirement for the Keystone Exams. I was watching students give up after making it through so many weeks because they were hearing too much about THE TEST and not performing well on the practice exams. It was a bleak time. Even with all of my success and achievement in the classroom, and all of the students that I knew I had helped and made a connection with, I just wasn’t feeling it the way that I had in the beginning of my career. I found myself in the middle of weighing the decision to take a leave of absence to pursue this writing and blogging adventure and couldn’t bear the thought of not having health insurance for my family, but also knowing that I couldn’t bear the thought of another year in the “educational reform” clime. I came home, more on edge than normal, and after our boys were tucked in, I wrote this, wondering if it may appear on my blog some day:
The passion is gone. No, I’m not referring to my marriage. Heck, we’re going on ten years and things are better than ever. Unfortunately, I’m talking about my job. I’ve been a teacher for eleven years. You know, the job where you have to force teenagers to do something they absolutely hate for at least 50 minutes a day, 5 days a week, and make them so good at doing it, they can pass a test that determines your relative worth as a professional with a Master’s degree – all brought to you by government officials who have not set foot in a classroom or earned a teaching degree themselves.
But, I digress. Teaching is hard. No, teaching is damn hard. Teachers who actually put in the time to learn and hone their craft – rather than use the same lesson plans for decades – those who care about their students’ progress and success and mental health and wellbeing, who lend a helping hand or a supportive glance or a listening ear when all they want to do is FINALLY go to the bathroom, they’re the ones who know how hard it is to get out of bed and face an unsupportive, uncooperative herd of hormone-ravaged teens armed to the hilt with technological devices that allow them to text, Snapchat, Instagram, Tweet, update statuses, and Vine all about how much they hate YOU and your boring class.
But, again, I digress. In order to face those hordes of hormones each day, you have to know your purpose. You have to have a burning desire deep within your core to want to make them better, to want to make them reach their full potential, to want to make them actually read that 400-page novel that you just KNOW will change their lives if they would open themselves up enough to the words on the page. You have to have a passion for those kids and what you do on a daily basis, or you will turn into the person who can’t talk about those kids (and, yes, they are STILL kids at the high school level) without sounding bitter and disgruntled (or worse).
You see, I have spent hours upon hours upon hours on lesson plans. And games. And activities. And hands-on tasks. And technology-based assessments. And grading mountains of papers and then analyzing the scores and data from my own classroom assessments to find strengths and weaknesses and designing learning activities to build upon those and creating learning groups to help those who were struggling. I never did those things with a smile on my face, but at least I knew – or at least thought – that it was worth it. The kids would learn, I’d have another stellar score on my evaluation, and I’d have connected with more kids and helped them to see the value of a Mrs. Shawley education. They were damn lucky to have me!
Now, I have to follow ten-week plans to push kids into proficiency (and beyond, God willing!) on a test that I know is above at least ¾ of their reading levels. I have to convince kids that taking a three-hour-test that doesn’t determine their graduation status but does determine how I am evaluated actually is worth their time and mine, and that they should take it seriously and do their best. I have to attend data meetings with teachers who don’t have to give the high-stakes assessments, and so they nod and smile about being a team, but who know damn well their asses aren’t quite as on the line as mine is, thank you very much. And, I have to make all of the kids – all 100% of them – pass that test in three years, or I’ve failed, they’ve failed, our school’s failed, and our district’s failed. Forget that they came to me in August not knowing how to write a thesis statement or what a paragraph really is or what I mean when I say that they need to have evidence from the text to support their ideas. Forget that many of them have not read a book cover to cover (and don’t intend to, “so don’t even think about handing me a book this year”) since they were in third grade. Forget that so many of the reading materials in our curriculum are so far over their heads that we might as well make and fly paper airplanes all year. This is what my job has become.
The worst part about all of this is, if MY passion is gone after earning a BA in English literature and then a Master of Education in Educational Design, just imagine where the kids’ passion levels register. They’re the ones who have to sit through all of those standardized tests that mean squat to them in the long run. They’re the ones who have to take all of those practice assessments that REALLY don’t mean squat to them in the long run. They’re the ones who have to take double periods of math and English because they weren’t proficient the year they were supposed to be. Can’t read or write or do math well enough? Okay, we’ll make you do MORE of it. That’ll definitely make you good at it, kiddo!
So, I finally figured out that I should be asking myself, “What the hell am I doing here?” And I’m fairly certain I’m leaving my teaching career behind… at least for the duration of my one-year leave of absence.
Was every day like this? No. But, we have to realize that we are losing passionate, effective teachers in droves because too many of us feel this way far too often. Maybe we are not having all of these thoughts every day, but we are having enough of these thoughts on enough days that we wonder why we put ourselves through it. And, for veteran teachers, we leave and play right into the hands of the lawmakers and reformists and Campbell Browns who want us out of the profession. How’s that for a Catch-22?