Thursday, June 16, 2016
23 year veteran teacher has had enough with the war on kids
Another school year finished. It feels like yesterday when I embarked on my teaching career 23 years ago, filled with hope and the promise of truly making a difference in the lives of my students. I pushed myself so hard to graduate with high honors so that I could get my first teaching job with ease and be the most effective English teacher possible. I believed I could change the world for the better, one student at a time.
Teaching was all I ever wanted to do. I admired Annie Sullivan and Laura Ingalls Wilder and played "school" with my dolls all the way up to sixth grade. This future career as a teacher was more than that-- it was a calling to fulfill my Destiny.
Being a pawn in a corrupt educational system that is driven more by money gained from testing was not on my radar "in my younger and more vulnerable years."
I've spent years refining my craft. I earned an M.Ed. in Educational Leadership from Stetson, earned National Board Certification in '02, and was awarded the Disney Teacheriffic Award five times. I committed to performing at a high standard so that I might inspire my students to do the same.
My disillusionment regarding what is being done to children in the name of education has reached a crescendo. It is dubious, at best, that the rising flames of anger and frustration which have been ignited in the core of my being can be quelled by a paltry seven weeks of summer break, but I'll take the little "breather" I can get.
I look back at my younger, more optimistic self with heartache.
I look forward and I feel deep sadness, as I see no end in sight to the madness of public schools chasing the Federal and State dollars from the maligned and developmentally inappropriate Common Core assessments, for which districts are enticed to "sell out" their students.
What are we doing to children in the name of education?
I live by the words, "do no harm," but my faith in the belief that testing my students, ad nauseum, as an agent of the state, has not caused harm, is questionable, at best.
My heart breaks for my high school students, especially. I see the mounting pressure and stress caused by the fear of not graduating (based on one flawed assessment which is not a true measure of ability, usually graded by hourly, uneducated temp workers) after sitting at a desk for 14 years (pre-K all the way up to twelfth) at best, shake their faith in their abilities and cause undue emotional harm, and, at worst, destroy futures by withholding That Piece of Paper.
Beyond these obvious Common Core-related shortcomings, I have witnessed more and more students disengaged from wanting to learn for learning's sake. The fire of enthusiasm with which they enter Kindergarten is extinguished by the time most of them arrive in my English III classroom, dead in the eyes.
What message is Common Core really sending? Is it career and college readiness? Ha. What a joke! Learning, in the dead eyes of way too many high school students, now just translates into jumping through a series of unrelated and seemingly arbitrary hoops. These students see this meaningless, inauthentic game for what it is and have mastered playing it. Kids who don't think I see them snap photos of their work and share them in group chats all day long. Answer keys are bought and sold. Phones are recording without the teacher's knowledge many times, all in response to pressure to play a rigged game and try to win by any means possible or pay the ultimate price. I see it happen daily and what saddens me more than the cheating is the low worth this system places on engaging students in worthwhile, relevant, mindful experiences. Welcome to the "dumbing down" of America, where multiple choice tests and regurgitation of facts in an "essay" is more important than critical thinking, connecting deeply with subject matter through individualized exploration, sharing feelings, and developing useful skills to help one to navigate successfully through life as a happy, balanced adult who has retained curiosity and a sense of-self worth.
This is the essence of a balanced life and is, sadly, NOT one of the multiple choice answers of Common Core.
The effect of the nonsensical hodge-podge that is Common Core both boggles the mind and crushes the spirit of many of these once-curious young learners. They are forced to run a daily gauntlet between bells, which arbitrarily segments their days into, for example: math problems that require extra long, confusing rationales as to how they came up with the answer (when some just "get it"-- but that's no longer good enough), reading two dull, long articles in English on The History of Geocaching and then having to compare and contrast the articles without giving your opinion or any original thoughts on the prompt or you'll be marked down for being "off topic," to starting the US History book after the Pilgrims, so they don't fully understand how this country started prior to the Civil War. Our minds look for connections when we learn, and nothing fits together, creating confusion, discord, and ambivalence in these kids. There are no connections to their lives, and much of this seems irrelevant. All. Day. Long.
This crazy-making, dull, developmentally inappropriate Alice-in-Wonderland Common Core curriculum is robbing our hope for the future, our precious children, of their peace of mind and self-expression, and draining all creativity and inspiration out of teachers who are now trying to sell a useless product all day long.
The pressure to pass assessments removes an integral component to learning something new: failure. We learn from failing and making mistakes, and teachers used to be able to guide and coach students in a safe environment where failing just meant we need to keep trying until we succeed. High-stakes testing keeps students in fear of failing: the very element necessary for growth. In this warped system, created by non-educators, kids get the distorted message that failure is final. They quickly learn to fear failure. The pressure is so intense. It wasn't like this when I was in high school. I see more and more red, glazed, hazy-eyes and sad heads down and sweatshirts worn in 90 degree heat to mask self-harm attempts. Our children's mental health is at stake. Teen drug addiction is on the rise, and so is teen suicide and depression. I stand before dozens of once bright-eyed kindergarteners who are now teetering on the edge and ready to give up at seventeen, and I feel powerless.
All I can really say is: I'm so sorry you are a pawn in this game, kids. I have tried my best to create a safe, sacred space where beautiful, thought-provoking literature is still read, enjoyed, and internalized. I've tried to allow for opportunities to speak and write which require more than regurgitating textual evidence so that your authentic voices are heard and valued. Teenagers demand an outlet for self-expression in order to feel whole, and it was worth being a rebel to give you that outlet. I've tried to foster a sense of community and have given you as much creative freedom and independence as I could get away with. I have tried daily to deflect restrictions which would strip so many beautiful and worthy American classics from my curriculum and got in trouble sometimes for teaching them, anyway, because you are worth working around this flawed system, even though it meant putting my position in jeopardy by deviating from the Common Core. The workbooks filled with Common Core boring non-fiction articles still sitting in my back classroom cabinets are the symbol of my defiance. We enjoyed The Great Gatsby when we were "supposed" to be reading those dull Geocaching articles (not that there's anything wrong with Geocaching. That's not the point. In fact, it would have been much more relevant to TAKE the students Geocaching, but that field trip would not have been approved).
As a teacher, I took a vow to stand "in loco parentis," and I have taken It very seriously over the past 23 years. With every choice I've made on how to deliver instruction, I've always tried to stop and think about how I would want my own child educated. I just hope it has been enough.
Now, I'm just tired, sitting in a puddle of tears of defeat, and grateful for a break from the insanity. Both of my children will be enrolled in private school next year because I refuse to subject them to one more second of BORING, dry, uninspiring, confusing state-sponsored programming posing as education.
What am I supposed to do with my life now: keep trying to (not so) secretly sabotage a system that's broken by design and risk losing a career that I've dedicated over half my life to, or create a new Destiny for myself? I'll spend seven weeks contemplating this. I just can't see myself feeling like this another year.
In the War on Kids that is Common Core, nobody wins.