Here is the teacher’s piece:
Teaching used to be a fun job that I was deeply passionate about. I used my own creativity mixed with a healthy dose of perseverance, dedication and cheerleading to encourage my students, most labeled “special needs,” to believe in their own abilities and self worth. I believed in their greatness and I helped them to believe it, too. In my nearly 25 years of teaching children I have seen learning disabled, non-readers become college graduates; non-writers grow to be valedictorians; reluctant readers become bookworms. I’ve encouraged students to write, to risk, to think, and to try again all of my adult life. In fact, one performance evaluation stated that I was “a naturally gifted teacher with the unique ability to inspire greatness in my students.”
I was taught in teacher’s college that each student had an individual learning style, and that my job as a teacher was to discover each child’s pathway to learning and help them to embark on that path. My calling was to meet the needs of the child.
Some years I witnessed the growth in the year I actually taught the student. Many times I simply planted the seed that another teacher watered and yet another reaped the harvest. Teaching, for me, has always been about the children. Their learning. Their growth. Their future.
I used to do many fun, innovative projects with my students. My students have owned and managed their own businesses, written children’s books and read them to younger students, done year-long literature studies on specialized topics, hosted project fairs, and an array of other student-created, choice- driven projects. They have designed, researched, written and read beyond their peers. My high school students were required to read 25 novels per year…yes, even the ones with learning disabilities could meet this goal with the help of assistive technology. Meeting and exceeding standards has always been my goal.
Last year, however, my performance appraisal listed me as “satisfactory.” What has changed? I’m still me. I still bring the passion, dedication, and years of experience to the classroom that I always have.
What has changed is Common Core State Standards. I was given a curriculum and told by my administration to teach it “word-for-word.” In a meeting with my administration, I was reprimanded with “Don’t forget, standards drive our instruction.”
Standards drive instruction. Data determines effectiveness. Positive outcomes for students requires proof.
If I don’t supply that proof, I’m not an effective teacher. Period. And my administration has warned me that my job depends on this proof.
I can’t do projects with my students anymore because I have to teach the curriculum word-for word, and I am only allowed to use standards-based assessments (which I must create myself). It doesn’t matter how my students learn best. It doesn’t matter that the Common Core State Standards assume a steady progression of skills that my students have not been formerly taught. It doesn’t matter that my students arrive at my door with a host of factors that I cannot control…their home situations, their former schooling, their attitudes toward school and learning and themselves, the neighborhood they live in, whether they are English Language Learners or have special needs, or whether they have just broken up with their girlfriend in the cafeteria. All those factors also affect student performance, but none of that matters. What matters is how my students perform on the state test. (And I must STOP teaching for 6 weeks in the spring to make sure our students pass that test.)
I’m not opposed to standards, it’s the standards BASED part that I have issue with.
My students like to tell me that I’m old school. They are right. I’m from the school of teaching CHILDREN, not standards. I’m from the school of student needs, not student data. I’m from the school of thinking and discovery and choice; not canned, watered-down, one-size-fits-all, global curricula.
Like so many experienced, good teachers, I don’t want to be a teacher anymore. But where do I go? I need to make a living, but who wants a “satisfactory” former teacher with no advanced degree? I’ve dedicated my life to teaching children, but with CCSS, teaching children is no longer the point.
Standards-BASED education gets it all wrong. They assume the best teaching and the best learning can be quantified with tests and data. Yet I’ve never once had a student compliment me on my academic knowledge or my data collection skills. I’ve never had a student thank me for writing insightful test questions or for staying up late to write a stunning lesson plan. But students HAVE thanked me for being there, for listening to them, for encouraging them, for believing in them even before they could believe in themselves. Meeting our student’s academic needs begins with seeing them as human beings with worth and capability and gifting, not as research subjects.
Chicken Soup for the Teacher’s Soul is full of stories of teachers who made a difference in student’s lives through their care, their courage, and their dedication…not their student’s test scores. Judging the effectiveness of a teacher on only quantifiable data reduces the art of teaching children to a mathematical algorithm can that be performed more effectively by a hologram projected on the Smart board than by an old-fashioned, caring, humanly flawed teacher.