The end of days

Or at least, it feels to me like the end of days.

Teaching public school is officially impossible as of today.

No, scratch that.

Teaching public school in a way that satisfies the bureaucrats, meets the needs of the children and allows one to behave in a way that is moral and kind is officially impossible as of today.

I love my students.  They are joyful, funny, engaging, humorous and curious. They make me laugh and they challenge me to keep growing. If it was only about being with them five days a week, I would teach until I couldn’t walk any more.  I would gladly take on the correcting, the xeroxing, the conferences, the colds, the bus duty and the scraped knees.

What I don’t think I can keep doing is forcing myself into an ever tinier box, with ever more rigid sides, and pretending that I can breathe or think or love anybody while I’m contorted into the shape of a perfect cube.

For the first time since 1982, I have to say: if I could only afford to do it, I would retire this year.

I am not a rigid cube: I can’t quite force myself into the corners this way.

What do I mean?

Well, for one, I’m not allowed to choose interesting, exciting, rich literature for my class to read.  We used to all read the same book, with different readers getting more or less support to read and understand the material. In this way, I have guided groups of fifth graders in discussions of the Holocaust (“Number the Stars”, “The Cay”), the future (“The City of Ember”), the Revolution (“Fever,1793”). I’ve watched struggling readers fall in love with characters and with storytelling. I loved it.  But I am not allowed to tap into one of my best strengths as a teacher, because now every classroom must use the “Guided Reading”, “Reading Group” approach, and every kid is labeled and group according to his or her official “reading level”.  The weak readers are officially clumped together where they inevitably feel bad about themselves.  Progress.

Writing must utilize the “6+1 Traits” of writing, and you have to use the attached rubrics to score everybody on everything. Science is a kit in a box, complete with a script that says “Say this to the students……”  History is the same.   Math is worksheet followed by worksheet followed by worksheet.  And we test, and we test and we test and we test again.

I would love to simply buck the system and continue to rely on my good instincts, my 25 years of experience and the hundreds of hours of professional training that I have done after earning my Master’s degree.

But I can’t.

From now on, I am going to be evaluated and given a label by my district based on how closely I conform to these rigid rules, AND how well my students score on the countless hours of formal tests that I will be giving them all year long.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to follow the cookbooks, use the damn kits and teach to the test 6 hours a day.   I could do it if I wanted to.

It’s just that I won’t be able to feel proud of myself for one single minute of my school day if I do it.

I just can’t stay in that damned cube.


7 responses to this post.

  1. Amen, sister! It’s funny how many teachers have issues with the system rather than the students. You’re not alone in this.


    • So incredibly demoralizing!!!!
      Even worse for me, since I am in the last few years of working, is that I have a daughter who is a new teacher. What kind of future waits for her?


  2. Posted by Louisa van der Schyff on October 3, 2012 at 10:11 am

    Bad school systems are where great teachers go to die!

    I love your writing, thank you!


    • Oh, thank you!
      What is so incredibly sad is that I work in a great school system, by all accounts. I have loved my job for 19 years. Its the horrific efforts by the bureaucrats to “fix our broken schools” and to “improve schools” that has made the lives of teachers truly miserable. Please come back, though, I promise to write something more positive soon (as soon as I finish all the reading/writing/spelling and math assessments)……


  3. Oh Karen, that completely and absolutely SUCKS! Why oh why have we evolved into politicizing education to this degree? It’s such a stupid tug-o-war between the waring factions and the kids end up suffering. But Karen, know this. There is a kid in your class today who years from now is going to praise you to his/her friends at a cocktail party/professional gathering/random meeting because you are a special teacher. I just wish you didn’t have to deal with all this bureaucratic bullshit.


    • Thanks, Auntie T!
      I’m really sinking this year, and the strange part is, I am getting glowing reports, emails, letters, comments from the kids and parents. I know that I am a good teacher; those little guys tell me that every day!
      But administration at all levels (school, District, State, Federal) keep pounding on this drum of “more teacher accountability” and “fix our failing schools” so that all of us are painted with the same brush, put through the same evaluations, trainings, rubrics and observations. Right now I am able to hold onto what I know to be true; when they link my pay to the kids test scores (in the very very near future), I won’t have that freedom.
      I want desperately to find a voice to express what every teacher in the US is feeling right now……:-(


      • I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but it has happened at the college level as well — the rise of the professional administrator. It used to be faculty stepped into administrator roles for a brief time then stepped back down. Now there’s a whole professional class of administrators who have no teaching experience at all and who cast aspersions on those who are teaching and rise up the ranks because THEY are not accountable.

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