A Maryland reader passes along a piece that ran not long ago on the Washington Post site: a putative resignation letter from a seventh-grade language arts teacher in Frederick, Md. Why is she leaving the profession? A sample:
I became quickly disillusioned when my title of teacher did not in any way reflect my actual job. I realized that I am not permitted to really teach students anything. When I was in middle school, I studied Shakespeare, Chaucer, Poe, Twain, O. Henry, the founding fathers, if you will, of modern literary culture. Now, I was called to drag them through shallow activities that measured meaningless but “measurable” objectives.
Forced to abandon my hopes of imparting the same wisdom I had gained through my experiences and education, I resigned myself to the superficial curriculum that encouraged mindless conformity. I decided that if I was going to teach this nonsense, I was at least going to teach it well. I set my expectations high, I kept my classroom structured, I tutored students, I provided extra practice, and I tried to make class fun. At this point, I was feeling alright with myself. I quickly rose through the ranks of “favorite teacher,” kept open communication channels with parents, and had many students with solid A’s.
It was about this time that I was called down to the principal’s office with a terse e-mail that read only, “I need to speak with you.” Clueless, I took down my grade sheets, communication logs, lesson plans, and sat down as an adult still summoned down to the principal’s office. “I need to talk to you about these students.” She handed me a list of about 10 students, all of whom had D’s or F’s. At the time, I only had about 120 students, so I was relatively on par with a standard bell curve. As she brought up each one, I walked her through my grade sheets that showed not low scores but a failure to turn in work—a lack of responsibility. I showed her my tutoring logs, my letters to parents, only to be interrogated further. Eventually, the meeting came down to two quotes that I will forever remember as the defining slogans for public education:
“They are not allowed to fail.”
“If they have D’s or F’s, there is something that you are not doing for them.”
What am I not doing for them? I suppose I was not giving them the answers, I was not physically picking up their hands to write for them, I was not following them home each night to make sure they did their work on time, I was not excusing their lack of discipline, I was not going back in time and raising them from birth, but I could do none of these things. I was called down to the principal’s office many more times before I was broken, before I ended up assigning stupid assignments for large amounts of credit, ones I knew I could get students to do. Even then, I still had students failing, purely through their own refusal to put any sort of effort into anything, and I had lowered the bar so much that it took hardly anything to pass. According to the rubrics set forth by the county, if they wrote a single word on their paper, related or not to the assignment, I had to give them a 48 percent. Yet, students chose to do nothing. Why? Because we are forced to pass them. “They are not allowed to fail,” remember? Teachers are held to impossible standards, and students are accountable for hardly any part of their own education and are incapable of failing. I learned quickly that if I graded students accurately on their poor performance, then I have failed, not them. The attention is turned on me, the teacher, who is criticized, evaluated, and penalized for the fleeting wills of adolescents.
There’s much more. I have heard this kind of thing from people who teach and administer in public schools, and from a friend who works in a posh private school.
UPDATE: From reader Charles:
Everything this woman said is in line with my wife’s experience teaching in a horrible public school. Students undisciplined, causing distractions, fighting one another, being grossly disrespectful of one another, not doing their work, not studying? It’s all the teacher’s fault, according to administrators. Never mind the fact that there is no meaningful discipline or disincentive applied to any of the students… If the kids aren’t doing their work, it’s the teacher’s fault for not providing proper motivation. How the hell do you motivate the sort of kids who are preparing themselves to be featured on the next episode of COPS or the billboards of drug dealers and deadbeat dads? All the administrators cared about was passing as many as they could get away with, prepping for the inane national testing, and keeping their student count high to receive more money from the grants and federal funding pouring in. So, the fault is twofold: First, the horrible parents who destroyed the lives of their children who, by the time they reach high school, are adults fast on the track to incarceration. Second, the bureaucrats and administrators who won’t do anything to actually help these kids.
There are usually options even when don’t see them at the time. i am disappointed more by her choice to quit.
When your life is threatened a few times a year, when you are physically assaulted by a student who then reappears in your classroom a week later after being neither expelled nor incarcerated, when you are subjected to day after day of racist insults, when you hear young men constantly demean and insult young women and see the scars those young women bear that naturally follow such talk, when you have a student arrested for murdering an illegal immigrant and his peers express surprise over his arrest because the victim “wasn’t even a citizen,” when you fear that your students will discover where you live and come burglarize your home or harm your family. . . . When you deal with all this on a daily basis, then you will have the right to question those who quit.
All of those who want to outlaw homeschooling or restrict parents’ educational options in other ways, herding children like cattle into public schools, this is what you are condemning some children to live with every day.