May 25, 2010
Dear Mr. Policymaking Man,
As a sixth grade language arts teacher for the better part of the past 16 years, I’ve tried to serve you well. I’m proud to have been a role model for my students—men who love reading, writing AND 12-year olds aren’t exactly easy to come by—and proud to have passed along skills that will help my students to be influential communicators in whatever profession that they choose.
That work has carried pretty significant costs, though.
Have YOU ever tried to grade 130 essays seven or eight times every year? Have YOU ever had to make choices between providing meaningful feedback to your students and spending time with your newborn daughter?
Have YOU ever worked to find ways to use digital tools to extend conversations beyond your classroom or to create new audiences for novice writers? Have YOU ever tried to pull writing out of students born to message or focused, concentrated reading out of a generation of infosnackers?
None of that is easy…And YOU’VE done all that you can to make it harder!
YOU’VE decided that my effectiveness will be based on nothing more than the half-baked end of grade exams that we give every spring. YOU’VE decided that the best way to prepare young readers is to bury them in practice exams given every few weeks.
YOU’VE panicked and provided heavily scripted curriculum guides that I’m supposed to adhere to. And YOU’RE working to institute merit pay plans that will link MY pay to YOUR silly tests.
Don’t you think that has an impact on ME?
Don’t you think that I’m jealous of my colleagues who work in untested subjects? Don’t you think that I’d like to be judged by observations instead of exams?
Don’t you think that I’m tired of having “effectiveness indicies” generated on me and being told that the “value” that I “add” to the lives of the students in my classroom can be summed up neatly by a number?
To be honest, I’ve spent the better part of the past five years wondering why anyone would want to teach language arts. Buried under stacks of papers and realizing that I’ve been sentenced to a high-pressure position with no additional time, professional development or compensation, I’ve started to crumble.
And I’ve decided to walk away. Next year, I’m teaching science.
It’ll be a beautiful gig. It’s not tested, so there’s no unfair external pressure—on me or on my students. To judge us, you’ll have to come and observe us, which means that you’re more likely to see that WE ARE more than the number you want us to be.
You can’t take your “multiple-choice cop out” approach to evaluation any more, can you?
And I can experiment and play with my students again. Sure, we’ll get through the curriculum—-but we’ll do it without the weight of the world sitting on our shoulders and a never-ending pile of multiple choice tests to take.
Maybe I’ll enjoy teaching again—-and maybe my students will enjoy learning again.
Is this the monster you were trying to create when you decided that standardized testing was the best way to judge teachers and schools?
One seriously burned out dude who you won’t listen to anyway.