The “X”odus Files: Andrea

the truth is out there

So don’t say “We have a teacher shortage.” Say “we can’t convince qualified people to take this job”: or “we won’t try to make these jobs attractive enough to draw in qualified people.” Stop pretending this is some act of God; even the dust bowl turned out to be the result of bad human choices and not nature’s crankiness. Peter Greene

Hi. My name is Andrea and I went into teaching very idealistically. I loved working with children. I loved helping them learn. I loved the challenge of teaching them to read an write. I loved getting to know families from around the world and felt called upon to become their advocate in a new country and culture. I’m an EL teacher and have been for almost 30 years.

Teaching has changed dramatically over the last 30 years. Data collection and moving kids “achievement” numbers has become the definition of the purpose of teaching. When I started teaching we had curriculum GUIDELINES but now we have absolute standards that ALL children must attain by a certain point in time REGARDLESS of their developmental readiness or other factors such as trauma or systemic racism. How can children learn when their basic human needs are not met?

Another thing that has changed is tying student test scores to teacher evaluation. This has placed a level of stress on kids and teachers that has compromised the development of caring and nurturing relationships. And the constantly changing curriculum at lightning speed to try to make sure there is “rigor” within the “high standards” has created kids who are anxious and uncertain and losing faith in their own abilities.

Let me also say that I am now required to test all students regardless of their English proficiency or time in the country. I’m told that I need to push in and co-teach with classroom teachers regardless of teachers’ willingness or students’ ability to benefit. Why? Students who are new to English need time to acclimate. Being expected to keep pace in a regular classroom setting is hard on them. They benefit from pull-out because the environment is smaller, generally quieter, the pace is slower, less stressful and they get more opportunities to talk without feeling embarrassed or nervous. There are more resources in MY specialized classroom to use than I can carry with me like a pack mule to help kids learn. Pacing schedules are rough when too much content is stuffed into too short a period of time. And there is never enough time to reteach what students may not understand without falling behind. How can any of this be good for children?

I find myself thinking “how much longer can I do this” on a regular basis. I had a superintendent who developed a teacher evaluation system tying teachers to student achievement. The evaluation system kept changing every single year in response to our local union’s questions and complaints about its flaws and unfairness. Then our state passed legislation that required a teacher evaluation system linked directly to students’ test scores. Then the legislature passed a bill that also changed job protection from straight seniority to a complex mixture that started with teacher evaluation ratings. As an EL teacher who had kids who couldn’t “achieve” at the same level as native English speakers, I worried every year if I’d lose my job. I wasn’t close enough to retirement and I was the head of my household, paying bills and carrying insurance with a son who had serious medical and mental issues. I developed chronic back and nerve pain and tried all kinds of treatments. Eventually I ended up on medication to help cope both physically and emotionally. I’m still on it today.

It is imperative that we put teachers back in charge of teaching and learning before the profession is destroyed. We need to redefine what it means to be educated. We need to teach kids in the context of the world around them. Teachers have to empower our students to become critical and learn to build a more just and peaceful world. Children are not cogs for the wheels of corporate greed masters.

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