Why I’m happy not teaching

Other people seemed to love me being a teacher. They thought things like, “Oh how nice,” “The kids are so lucky,” “You’re a miracle worker,” etc., etc. But for the last few years, I couldn’t stand going into a classroom.

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Do you know what this means?

You probably don’t recognize a lot of those terms and honestly, neither do I. But that’s what teaching has become. And it’s not for me.

I can take criticism. I’m the first to admit when I’m wrong, or when something isn’t right. A large part of my resentment to teaching is how teachers are judged. Teachers can tell if their students aren’t getting it. Can one high-stakes test determine whether the teacher is doing his job well? The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 makes states develop assessments in basic skills to get federal money, but lets the states make their own standards! Are Massachusetts and Mississippi’s requirements anything alike? How does that help?

from Jeb Bush's Facebook page
from Jeb Bush’s Facebook page

Jeb Bush also thinks highly of student testing to judge teacher performance. (On the other hand, I think it should be one consideration out of several. New York is debating that right now. Do we judge doctors on their success rate if their patients smoke? Or dentists, if their patients eat candy and don’t brush?)

Last November, the Wall Street Journal’s Beth Reinhard blogged: “As governor of Florida from 1999 to 2006, Mr. Bush tangled repeatedly with unions over his efforts to link teacher pay and job security to test results, as well as to award grades to schools based on their tests scores, to expand charter schools and to give private school vouchers to struggling public-school students. After leaving office, he advocated those policies across the country as leader of the foundation (the who-could-be-against-it Foundation for Excellence in Education).” Bush won.

The teachers’ union is suing over the voucher program, saying it violates the state constitution by diverting money from public schools to religious institutions. I think, except for a few unusual circumstances, students should go to the school nearest their home and it should have the programs students need – before, during, and after school. A properly funded public school is a constitutional mandate in most places, and the right thing to do in all.

June, 2012: receiving my "Apple" for winning Teacher of the Year, the first to say Hubert O. Sibley K-8 Academy
June, 2012: receiving my “Apple” for winning Teacher of the Year, the first to say Hubert O. Sibley K-8 Academy

Charter schools run for money aren’t better. By definition, the almighty dollar is their priority. They pay rent to the owner of the campus (which could be the same person, or a family member) and pay teachers what they want. They’re less expensive. Many can even choose who they admit, and we all know they don’t want special-ed, disabled, and non-English speakers as students. They would hurt test scores. Proponents use positive names, like National School Choice Week, which just ended. Check out what this Washington Post blog says was just learned about charter schools in Ohio.

Jeb Bush’s FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) has been feared by 3rd through 11th graders since 1998 and about to be replaced with new assessments. It was designed to measure student progress on the Sunshine State Standards (SSS) benchmarks. Then came the NGSSS, the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards Then we were trained for the Common Core State Standards, which were pretty-much nationwide and probably better than most of what 50 different states require. Then the state of Florida decided against the Common Core. Many conservatives (but not Jeb Bush) say the CC takes away rights from the states. Either that, or lawmakers in Tallahassee wanted to pay supporters to come up with new standards. Anyway, the new Florida Standards were born. They’re apparently not too different from the CC. With the new standards come new tests: one for each class in each grade. (Kindergarten students already have to hold #2 pencils in some places, including where I used to work, even if they can’t write their names.) This year, the testing is going through its transition. Click here to see what teachers have to work with, by grade level and then by subject. Try to figure it out.

August, 2012: retiring teacher Sheila Cohen (no relation) helping me set up my new 3rd grade classroom, the one she'd vacated the previous fall
August, 2012: retiring teacher Sheila Cohen (no relation) helping me set up my new 3rd grade classroom, the one she’d vacated the previous fall

I’ll never forget the year I taught 3rd grade. Students have to pass the reading portion of the test or be retained. It’s state law (and multiple choice, because computers can do the grading). They get some second chances but most repeat 3rd grade, the year they’re supposed to stop learning to read, and start reading to learn.

One day, the assistant principal interrupted all the 3rd grade teachers’ lessons to hand over the results. Students’ names were listed alphabetically for the whole grade, not divided into classes. I had to slowly go through and let them know what the biggest part of the future of their young lives held. There was screaming all up and down the hallway, coming out of many rooms. I couldn’t tell if they were happy cries or sad. In my room, the inclusion class that had several students in special-ed, the results were mixed. I let the students who passed call home to tell their parents the good news. The others were clearly distraught. This was the only thing that matters in 3rd grade in Florida. (But try getting a class set of reading workbooks!)

The schools and administrators look better if more students pass the tests that were handed down. And teachers get bonuses if their students do well enough. (Late last week, I got a W-2 for $1200 from Miami-Dade County Public Schools that I had forgotten I received last February. These things take time. I hadn’t worked for the district in more than a year and a half.) You can bet the FCAT-tested subjects are given more than their share of teaching time, to the detriment of others. And 30 minutes of physical education every day? In many places, forget about it!

(Unfortunately, the problems go on and on. Tomorrow, click here for more, and details on why I left teaching and don’t regret it one bit.)

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10 thoughts on “Why I’m happy not teaching

  1. Great writing, Lenny! Although your experiences in education weren’t as positive as you had hoped, you are left with valuable insights. You are now able to use your skill as a writer to enlighten the public and, hopefully, bring about positive change. Thank you for writing.

    Liked by 1 person

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