Teaching Was My Calling. I Am No Longer Able To Answer.
I knew in 8th grade that I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. My US History teacher, Marie McNeal, was a tiny, delightful, powerhouse of a woman with a New York accent who exuded kindness. She radiated compassion and accepted nothing less than your 100% best effort, even on your lowest day when teenage angst was coursing through your veins. She validated the angst, gave you a giant hug, and said, “Now, let’s get to work!”
My teachers at Hall High sealed the deal. They showed me what absolute perfection in educating students looked like. They were all masters of their craft. They were experts in their content area. There were many times I cried in their offices or on their living room couches. They handed me tissue and listened. Didn’t judge. Didn’t lecture. They waited for me to arrive at the solution. Whether I was vexed by a physics problem or was processing other personal trauma, they stayed by my side.
They did this for years. Quite often, the cars in the student parking lot were far newer and more expensive than the ones driven by the teachers. They endured the insult of going on a Saturday to take a test to prove they were capable teachers. They kept right on teaching.
My entry into the profession was a little rocky. But when I finally got my own classroom I was in heaven.
My first year, there were 7 periods in the school day. I taught 5 different subjects in grades 7-12. I took Friday nights off and spent the weekends lesson planning.
There were no frameworks then and we didn’t even have to turn in lesson plans. I definitely loved my students. My students loved me. I can say that with assurance because I still hear that from them today, more than 20 years later. I can also say with assurance that I was a good teacher, having earned a spot as a finalist for Arkansas Teacher of the Year.
During my career, I taught various subjects and every grade K-12. I lost sleep over students, spent thousands of dollars on school supplies, food, even Christmas gifts for students and their families who would otherwise have had very sparse holidays. I broke up fights. I got hit in the head with a cafeteria tray. I held a 1st grader while he trembled and sobbed through an active shooter drill. I sheltered students who ran into the building during recess to escape gunfire in the neighborhood. Luckily, I avoided having to participate in the Stop The Bleed training sessions. Current teachers report extreme anxiety and even trauma resulting from those PDs.
I’ve been to a few class reunions, college graduations, even some weddings. From time to time, I still offer advice when former students reach out through social media. Some I haven’t heard from in years. When they reach out, I’m transported back to our time in the classroom together. I can remember their young face, sometimes even their handwriting. Just this week, I’ve received Snapchats, Facebook messages, texts, and phone calls from kids I taught more than 18 years ago. I’m so lucky I got to be their teacher. That they still look to me for occasional support or advice helps me cope with the serious guilt and disappointment I face as an early retiree.
I taught without the internet or email or smart boards in my first years as a teacher. The influx of technology certainly made some parts of the job vastly easier, faster, more entertaining and exciting, and more challenging.
I taught through the advent of high stakes standardized testing. I administered the ACTAAP, then the PARCC. A few other iterations have rolled in and now students must sacrifice their daily routine and instruction several times a year to wade through the ACT Aspire, used only by Arkansas. No other state in the Union uses it. Entire school days and school schedules are re-arranged so that certified staff can assist with proctoring the exams. Almost all decisions are based on how the testing schedule or test scores will be impacted.
Critics claim teachers are afraid of accountability so the teachers soldier on, administering more standardized tests, more frequently. They even tolerate an absurd new assessment model for themselves. TESS. Short for Teacher Excellence and Support System. Designed by Charlotte Danielson, it’s a labor-intensive, near constant process of teacher evaluation. Even Danielson herself has issues with the way the system is implemented.I sheltered students who ran into the building during recess to escape gunfire in the neighborhood. Click To Tweet
Rigor, grit, fidelity. Say those words around a teacher and watch their eyes. Every 2-3 years, new curriculum will be rolled out with promises to raise achievement, to save our failing schools. The programs will require grit from students. The lessons will include rigor and schools must implement them with complete fidelity.
But, there’s a pandemic, you say.
Students will be held accountable for attendance, for completing all lessons, for demonstrating grit.
Because the school report cards are what matter now. If people can see how low the test scores are, they will be convinced our schools are failing our children. If parents lose faith in public education, then they will support charters and vouchers. This is all part of the design to privatize education.
Teachers were heroes long before the pandemic. They go to work everyday knowing their heart will be broken. They get up and they go anyway. They are certainly carrying more than fair share of the pandemic load now. More than 40 Arkansas teachers have died from Covid over the last year.[Teachers] go to work everyday knowing their heart will be broken. They get up and they go anyway. Click To Tweet
Many, like me, have resigned or retired early. We were willing to risk our own safety when the threat came from active shooters, but we were unwilling to endanger the lives of our families when the threat came from Covid. Many may be lured back, but only if there are some serious changes.
So, if you’re one of those people who think public schools are full of bloat, that the practically non-existent teachers’ union is up to no good, and parents should have vouchers to choose where their education tax dollars are spent, congratulations. The plan to destroy public education is gaining steam at an alarming rate.
On the other hand, if you believe in the power of a free and public education for ALL students, I will invite you to study candidates in upcoming elections–for every position from school board on up through state and federal offices.
The future for lots of amazing kids depends on it.