The “X”odus Files: Richard.

Trust No One

Frustration. Irritation. Anger. Despondency. These are the emotions I go through every time I read about some new “study” or “task force” purporting to take on the “teacher shortage.”

Study: Study what? Isn’t the data conclusive? New teachers are leaving classrooms within the first 3 years. More veteran teachers are leaving pre-retirement. And enrollment in teacher education programs is down 30%. Study done!

Task Force: Who makes up the “Task force?” Teachers? No. Parents? No. Then who? Academics, administrators, business people and politicians? Bingo! Why this composition? So the “panel” can travel around and “listen.” I’m sure we have all been “invited” to give testimony at some listening session or even better—asked to submit our thoughts. Do the organizers and people sitting on these panels know the disdain that teachers feel when a “task force” excludes the experts—teachers?

Or maybe the reality of the “study” and “task force” approach is just another slap in the face to the teachers leaving our classrooms. Think about it. Neither one of these approaches will actually do anything to dismantle the structure of imposed accountability. The real purpose of the “study” and task force” approach is a simple public relations gimmick that is directed at the general public to give the appearance that something is being done. That’s it. They make headlines as press release journalism. And these simple headlines lull the public back into a state of satisfactory disinterestedness.

Why not include teachers like Richard who went into teaching because…

After talking to an education professor about my desire to do more than write lesson plans, but to inspire learners and learning, he told me that’s exactly what the profession is all about. I wanted to work with explorers, thinkers, researchers and help them become even better at all of this. At first, this is what I did—engage learners.

In fact my classroom used to be a community of learners. We supported each other and didn’t label each other. However, things changed at some point. Instead of teaching learners, I had to teach data points. Then we started focusing on all of the deficits a learner brought to the classroom instead of allowing students to learn for understanding. As teachers we were constantly meeting to look at data and using that numerical data to supposedly create the best learning experience. I also noticed myself getting angry at kids who didn’t fit the mold because I felt that they would bring my teaching evaluations down. I fought these data points but we were constantly told that it wasn’t going to change. This was not another fad but was “here to stay.” But my biggest ah ha was when a frightened student—heading into the foster care system—came into my classroom on the first day of testing. While our classroom welcomed him with open arms, another teacher took me aside to see if he was taking the tests. And if so, would his score impact our school’s score? I couldn’t believe what we had become.

From that moment I realized that I was being asked to do things that did not benefit kids. I was expected to label them according to some assessment that collected data points. I was expected to teach kids how to read fast instead of for understanding. I was expected to spend all of my professional learning time looking at data instead of actual student work and then using that data to assess some more. I wasn’t allowed to teach and students weren’t allowed to learn. I tried to actually teach covertly while playing the data driven/accountability game. It became tiring and I realized the loss of part of my soul. This was not how I had started teaching.

I eventually made the decision to leave teaching—I was no longer inspired. I was doing double the work because I was attempting to still do best practice and fulfilling the mandates all while still swimming upstream. I was angry and depressed. My own children and spouse were suffering too.

One day I would LOVE to get back in the classroom. However this will only happen when teachers are allowed to teach and their expertise is valued and not ignored. I would go back when corporate entities and the likes of Bill Gates got out of education policy and communities were given back their schools. I would go back when teachers are allowed to be the experts and scholars. When their professional time is spent on understanding best practice verses standards and data points. Let me teach for learning—not for data points!

Richard has never been asked to be on a “task force” or participate in a “study.” I wonder why?