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Though I have loved teaching and have always felt it was what I was destined to do, I no longer wake up motivated, excited, and eager to start a
new day. I cannot begin to tell you how the “Race to the Top”
and “No Child Left Behind” has undermined our profession
and has taken away our professional autonomy. I am sick and tired of
educational elitists like Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, John King, and
our own elected officials, pointing their fingers at the teachers for
what is wrong in education. We are not what is wrong. Yes, there are
exceptions in any profession, even in politics, but most of us are
hard-working, dedicated, intelligent professionals.
Here I am, yet again, unable to sleep because I know I have today’s
responsibilities on my mind. I’m at the tail end of my career, but I
still care enough to be up at 2 am. to prepare for my teaching day.
One only needs to look at Finland to find out how to better improve
education. They have it right. High stakes testing and targeting
teachers is not what they do. They value and respect their teachers.
How about taking a look at how all of the externals affect students’
performance, like the poverty level and students’ behaviors? How
about improving discipline in school? How about making the students
accountable for their learning? Students are more than aware
that if they don’t do well, the teacher will be held accountable for
their lack of progress. The teacher will have to get more
training, not them. How about encouraging more parental involvement
outside of school? I am the teacher from 8-3. The parents are the
teachers the rest of the time. I cannot do it all. My parents spent a
great deal of time with me after school hours helping me learn what I
might have not learned well enough in school and felt it was their
responsibility to do so. I am lucky enough to work in a district
where there is a high level of parental involvement, but I have heard
story after story from colleagues in other districts who do not have
that level support and are treated very disrespectfully.
I just finished my formal observation lesson plan whose format was the
equivalent of a college term paper, as I tried to make sure I linked,
and cross-referenced, the NYS Core Curriculum Standards and the
Danielson rubrics to each part of it. It took me seven hours to
write one lesson plan. Is this really necessary? I have letter after
letter from parents appreciating my teaching abilities. Yet I have
to prove day after day to others that I am good at what I do.
I have a partial solution to the observation expectations. Do you want
to see if I’m doing a good job? Just put a camera in my classroom,
and watch me all day long. Watch me as I differentiate instruction
for the multiple levels of academic needs in my inclusion classroom.
Watch me as I dance, sing, smile, and try to inject humor into my
lessons so the children are not leaving school as defeated and
demoralized as we teachers are. Watch me as I hug the children who
are on the verge of tears because they are overwhelmed, tired, and
frustrated because what we are teaching is not developmentally
appropriate for most of our seven and eight year olds. Watch me as I
try to hold it together, mentally and physically, when I am
functioning on interrupted sleep, often waking up at two and three
am. thinking about how my day can unfold seamlessly, and perfectly,
in case I have an unannounced, evaluated walk-through.
In what other profession does one have to be perfectly “ON” all
day long? We are not automatons. We are human beings. But then, I
remind myself that these evaluations make no difference, really.
After all, our own governor has told us that we have far too many
effective and highly effective teachers, and we just cannot have that
happen again this year. Can you imagine that? Yes. Governor Cuomo
has made it abundantly clear to us that this CANNOT and WILL NOT
happen this year. So, I remind myself not to worry. After all, I’m
just one of the bunch. I’m ORDINARY or, perhaps worse, developing or even inept. Imagine if I started my school year telling my students that? “Boys and girls, we had too many top students last year.” “That doesn’t make sense.”
“There shouldn’t be so many high scoring students.” “So, just
know that there cannot be as many this year.” “Do you
understand, boys and girls?” What’s the message here? Where’s the
motivation to excel?
I have two years left to go. I don’t know if I’ll make it intact. It’s
a shame that I have to leave my profession feeling this frustrated
and disappointed. Yet, I try to go in everyday with a smile. We do
because we know these 6, 7, and 8 year old youngsters deserve to have
us at our best. Speaking of deserving, I’d have to say I deserve the
teacher’s version of the Academy Award for best classroom actress. We
teachers are all actors and actresses everyday when we go in feeling
tired, defeated, and miserable while making every effort to infuse
our classrooms with the joy of learning.
Then there is the standardized testing component. Students are being
tested on material that has not been taught because what is being tested is not in our curriculum. And, if they are unable to answer those questions, we teachers may be deemed “developing” or even worse, “ineffective”. Understanding that thousands, and perhaps even millions of dollars, has been spent on purchasing these tests and the companion on-line test prep
programs, I doubt if school districts, nor the state, will be willing
to listen to the public and end this lunacy. Imagine the money that
has been wasted when it would’ve been better spent positively and
proactively on inspirational, motivational professional
development workshops, teaching materials and supplies, improving the
physical workspace, and building self-esteem. By the way, self-esteem comes from being successful. It certainly does not evolve in a punitive atmosphere in which highly experienced, hard-working teachers’ actions, decisions, lessons, and motivations are continuously questioned and dissected. Where is the trust? Do I feel valued, appreciated and protected? No, I do not.
Our cultural, governmental, economic, academic, and educational
institutions each need a miraculous rebirth and reincarnation. Who is
courageous enough to take a stand and lead us to a morally and ethically
higher ground? Oh, and before our politicians started pointing their fingers at us, they might have better served themselves by fixing their own profession. Imagine if they held themselves to the same level of rigor and performance outcomes?
A Very Frustrated, Highly Experienced NYS Teacher