Aussie Friends of Treehorn
encouraging adults to think sensitively, to care for kids, to make wise choices….with their hearts in gear, their pens active and their votes available .
Below are two letters found amongst the BAT literature. Both originate in the US, which has heavy-duty high stakes testing such as schools in the South Pacific have. Thousands of quality teachers resign each year in the US because they cannot tolerate the damage that such testing is doing to children. You, dear Reader, will have heard of numerous colleagues who are doing the same down under. NAPLAN and NZ’s National Standards are schooling stupidities, which should never have been allowed. You know that the system can ill-afford to lose the kind of teacher whose principles exceed their pay-check.
If you are thinking of resigning this year, these two letters might help you make your decision. .
1. I resign
To: The School Board of Polk County, Florida
I love teaching. I love seeing my students’ eyes light up when they grasp a new concept and their bodies straighten with pride and satisfaction when they persevere and accomplish a personal goal. I love watching them practice being good citizens by working with their peers to puzzle outproblems, negotiate roles, and share their experiences and understandings of the world. I wanted nothing more than to serve the students of this county, my home, by teaching students and preparing new teachers to teach students well. To this end, I obtained my undergraduate, masters, and doctoral degrees in the field of education. I spent countless hours after school and on weekends poring over research so that I would know and be able to implement the most appropriate and effective methods with my students and encourage their learning and positive attitudes towards learning. I spent countless hours in my classroom conferencing with families and other teachers, reviewing data I collected, and reflecting on my practice so that I could design and differentiate instruction that would best meet the needs of my students each year. I not only love teaching, I am excellent at it, even by the flawed metrics used up until this point. Every evaluation I received rated me as highly effective.
Like many other teachers across the nation, I have become more and more disturbed by the misguided reforms taking place which are robbing my students of a developmentally appropriate education. Developmentally appropriate practice is the bedrock upon which early childhood education best practices are based, and has decades of empirical support behind it. However, the new reforms not only disregard this research, they are actively forcing teachers to engage in practices which are not only ineffective but actively harmful to child development and the learning process. I am absolutely willing to back up these statements with literature from the research base, but I doubt it will be asked for. However, I must be honest. This letter is also deeply personal. I just cannot justify making students cry anymore. They cry with frustration as they are asked to attempt tasks well out of their zone of proximal development. They cry as their hands shake trying to use an antiquated computer mouse on a ten year old desktop computer which they have little experience with, as the computer lab is always closed for testing. Their shoulders slump with defeat as they are put in front of poorly written tests that they cannot read, but must attempt. Their eyes fill with tears as they hunt for letters they have only recently learned so that they can type in responses with little hands which are too small to span the keyboard.
The children don’t only cry. Some misbehave so that they will be the ‘bad kid’ not the ‘stupid kid’, or because their little bodies just can’t sit quietly anymore, or because they don’t know the social rules of school and there is no time to teach them. My master’s degree work focused on behavior disorders, so I can say with confidence that it is not the children who are disordered. The disorder is in the system which requires them to attempt curriculum and demonstrate behaviors far beyond what is appropriate for their age. The disorder is in the system which bars teachers from differentiating instruction meaningfully, which threatens disciplinary action if they decide their students need a five minute break from a difficult concept, or to extend a lesson which is exceptionally engaging. The disorder is in a system which has decided that students and teachers must be regimented to the minute and punished if they deviate. The disorder is in the system which values the scores on wildly inappropriate assessments more than teaching students in a meaningful and research based manner.
On June 8, 2015 my life changed when I gave birth to my daughter. I remember cradling her in the hospital bed on our first night together and thinking, “In five years you will be in kindergarten and will go to school with me.” That thought should have brought me joy, but instead it brought dread. I will not subject my child to this disordered system, and I can no longer in good conscience be a part of it myself. Please accept my resignation from Polk County Public Schools.
Wendy Bradshaw, Ph.D.
Now take a look at this one.
2. I won’t quit
Wednesday, November 4, 2015
A Not Quitting Letter
It has become its own internet genre– the “why I am quitting” teacher letter. It is apparently on the rise again, because lately lots of folks have been forwarding examples to me. And I don’t want to seem unsympathetic– it has to suck to feel so backed into the corner that quitting looks like your best option.
But still, I long to read something different. Something feistier. Something more like this:
Dear Board of Education:
Just wanted you to know that I am not going any damn where.
Yes, a lot of people have worked hard to turn my job into something I barely recognize, and yes, I am on the butt end of a whole lot of terrible education policy, and yes, I am regularly instructed to commit educational malpractice in my classroom.
But here’s the thing– you don’t pay me nearly enough for me to do my job badly, on purpose.
I’m not going to make children miserable on purpose. I’m not going to waste valuable education time on purpose. I’m not going to teach them that reading is a miserable activity with no purpose other than to prepare for testing. I’m not going to tell them that these big stupid tests, or any other tests, or grades, even, are an important measure of how “good” they are or how much right they have to feel proud or happy or justified in taking up space on this planet. I’m not going to tell them any of that.
Most of these new education reform policies are wrong. They’re bad pedagogy, bad instruction, bad for students, bad for education, and we all know it. I am not going to spend another day in my room pretending that I don’t know it.
Am I God’s gift to teaching, so awesome that I never need to listen to anybody about anything? Not at all. It’s a big, wide, complicated world, and I’ll listen to anybody who thinks they have something to share about how children can be educated.
But here’s the thing. I am a teacher. I am an education professional. I trained to do this job, and I have never stopped training and learning since I started on this path. This is my world. This is the work that I committed myself to. I live here, and that means I know more about this work than the edu-tourists just passing through.
And the work I am committed to is the education of young students, the work of having them become their best selves, of finding their best way to be in the world as they choose to be. I am not committed to a year of narrow test prep and a tiny, cramped definition of success. I am not committed to a view of compliance as the highest human virtue.I am not committed to the work of trying to force them into some box that the corporate world has built for them. My first allegiance, my first obligation is to my students– not the board, not state education bureaucrats, not policy makers, not test manufacturers, not to people who think they need to know what’s going on in the school but can’t be bothered to get their butts here to use their own five senses to find out. I have no obligation to those who want to profit from my work, and I have no obligation to people who want to use my classroom to further their own political or financial agenda.
So I will stay here, and I will do what I consider– in my professional opinion– to do what is best for my students and my community. When I am told to implement a bad policy, I will circumvent it by any means at my disposal. I will disregard directives to commit malpractice. I will question, I will challenge, and I will push back. I will speak at every board meeting. I will talk to every parent.
If you find this not-very-team-playery of me, you can direct me to follow orders in writing, and if I choose to follow those orders, my students and their parents will understand why I am doing it.
The best bet is that in ten years, I will still be here doing the work I’m committed to doing, and meanwhile, the corporate reformsters and the edu-crats at the capital and most of my building administrators and you, board members, whether you were elected or appointed– all of those folks will have moved on, and I will still be here. Because– and let me be absolutely clear– I am serious about this work. This is not a stepping stone or a resume builder for me. I am in it for life.
Or if you like a sporty metaphor, try it this way– this is my house. And you do not stroll into my house and disrespect me and the work I do.
Quitting?? Hell no. If you want me out of here, you will have to fire my ass, and I will make it just as public and loud as I can, so that you have to step out in front of the community and explain why you’re doing it. Hell, we may all end up in court, going on the record about the crap you tried to force me to do to these children.
I mean, if I’m at the point of contemplating whether or not to quit, why not make my departure cost you a little something?
I came to teaching to work. I came to make a difference in children’s lives. I came to raise up whatever students were set before me and help them become the people they were meant to be. And I came to stay. You’ll have to decide how you want to deal with that. But I came to stay and teach.
Yes, I know. Not everyone is in the position to be this feisty and confrontational, and not every situation lends itself to this approach. I’m not advocating this for every single teacher up against it. And yes– lots of teachers have adopted this “stay and fight” stance– they just haven’t written a letter announcing it.
As I said, I am not unsympathetic to those who quit. You can only take as much as you can take. But still, it would be fun if somebody, some day, forwarded me a good, feisty “Bite me– I’m staying” letter.