April 11, 2013

I Will Not Quit

You've probably seen at least one, if not several of the letters teachers have written to publicly announce why they cannot abide the direction that teaching is heading in and so feel that they must leave the profession. The Washington Post shared another letter today, but this time it is a teacher resolving not to quit. That's making a statement in a way I can stand behind. In fact, I think we should do even better; how great would it be to show we are all standing next to Christine by writing our own letters? (Credit for this idea goes to Jason who commented with his intent to do just that when I shared the link on Facebook.) Mine is below. You can find Secretary Duncan on twitter and facebook, email him (arne.duncan@ed.gov), call his office (1-800-872-5327) or use good old fashioned snail mail.

Mr. Arne Duncan
Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue,
Washington, DC 20202
Dear Mr. Duncan,
This year has been my most challenging yet.  I have been teaching for six years and never have I felt so micro-managed as I have in the past 7 months.  You see, our district was categorized as Level 4 last year, which means that we are on warning and risk state takeover if there aren't drastic changes in our test scores.  While there would be several plans available to the district if we don't improve, all of them include firing the administrators.  They are feeling pressured to do something, which can result in the decision to do anything and everything to change, and fast.  The culture of the school has changed and the students know it; anxiety abounds and at an assembly before the state test a student asked what will happen if they don't do well enough.  It's bad enough to have their own diplomas depend on the results of three tests, but if students are feeling that the success of the district is sitting squarely on their shoulders?  That's a burden that no one should have to bear.  This comic shows exactly the situation we are facing now, which isn't helping anyone to improve:

SOL testing: No pressure, by Chris OBrion June 18, 2012
Despite this label of Level 4, there are amazing things happening in our schools.  Just after the designation, the high school was awarded full accreditation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).  What's the difference between the state designation and NEASC's?  NEASC asked the school what is going well and what we need to improve on.  We compiled evidence and interpreted data pulled from a variety of sources (not just tests!). Then, after our self-assessment, teachers and administrators (currently working in schools throughout the region) visited our school.  They walked around the building, spoke to students, interviewed teachers and attended a weekend reception so that parents could participate.  Finally, they sat down with the evidence we provided and looked at it all, asking questions and requesting more examples or information as they needed it.  You see, NEASC looks at all aspects of a school, including students' "collaboration, systems thinking, empathy, communication (including reading, writing, speaking, listening skills), technological skills, civic engagement, intrapersonal intelligence, and problem-solving."  That list shows concern with the well being of students and the skills that will carry into their future regardless of the path they choose to take.  Based on these criteria, including ones that a test cannot assess, our school is succeeding.  Which criteria do you think are more important?

The life of a teacher is a challenging one on a good day.  Many of use work with over a hundred students and each of them needs our attention.  There is never enough time during a school day to complete the most basic of teaching tasks.  When you add on extra requirements you'll see why most of us work more than the 35 hours some claim we "get away with," more than the 40 hours of a 9-5 job, until you see that we work 6 or 7 days a week.  Some teachers wanted to share exactly what it is that teachers are asked to do and they came together to create "Day in the Life of an Educator" where you can read about a typical day from the perspective of teachers around the country.  These narratives give you a glimpse of what it is that teachers are asked to do.  Our jobs are about so much more than test scores; basing our pay or evaluations on test scores alone devalues the entire profession.  

We are teachers.  We are professionals.  Give us the respect we deserve and ask us what we need.  I can promise you the answer won't be "more tests."

Tina Cardone

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