They’re breaking teachers

A friend of mine has been crying a lot recently.
After more than a decade and a half in the classroom, my friend has been labeled unsatisfactory.
You may have heard about the schools my friend works for. Oprah loves ’em. Turns out the federal government loves ’em to. I’d be willing to venture neither Oprah nor Sec. Duncan would want to learn there, but they’re fine enough for other people’s children.
About a month into the school year, my friend had her first formal observation the other day.
We talked before. She was nervous.
Seems a rating of unsatisfactory could come as a result of not keeping her lesson within the timing framework of 10 minutes of introduction, 20 minutes of whole group instruction and 15 minutes of practice. This friend who guided and mentored me when I entered the classroom 8 years ago – this master teacher who has shaped thousands of lives – has been reduced to cookie-cutter teaching.
It is breaking her.
As it turned out, the timing of her lesson was not the point of contention. Content was the problem.
Her lesson introduced her learners to a key component of her subject area.
Without a mastery of this element of content, her learners would flounder in their further studies. Truly. In the list of basic things you need to know about the content of her course, this little tidbit sits near, if not at, the top.
My friend’s evaluator didn’t see it that way.
You see, this particular content is only featured in two of the questions on the quarterly benchmark tests her learners will be completing. And, they’re only comprehension-level questions.
The lesson should have been a mini-lesson, my friend was told.
Also, she should have waited for the learner who walked in tardy to the class to present her demerit card rather than moving on with the lesson and dealing with the issue when time permitted.
My friend – this resource, this veteran of the classroom who loves children and learning and igniting children’s curiosity and passion for learning – is being broken.
Something she loves is being molded into a pretty but deeply fractured system of homogeneity.
Other than these words, I’m uncertain what to do to help my friend. As the nation looks admiringly on, I can’t help but imagine others like her around her country who are finding themselves broken by the system.

27 thoughts on “They’re breaking teachers

  1. I am starting to see this kind of algorithmic thinking everywhere–that we can quantify and tick off a checklist all the moves that will lead to learning. When I started teaching in NC in the late 1980s, the state had a “Teacher Performance Appraisal Instrument” (TPAI) that did this. Observers were all equipped with stopwatches and expected to see the “Madeleine Hunter” six-step lesson plan enacted in EVERY setting. For every lesson. What feels new, however, is the overt shaming associated with these approaches. I wish I knew what to say to you and your friend.

  2. Free the world, liberate the educators. As a high school student it might just be my nature to ponder the systems of the world, but when it comes to the education system one would hope there was nothing to want to rise up against. With the chains pulling us backwards into the pit that engulfs us, preventing the frolicking in the gardens of knowledge, it is clearly established that this trap of chains has targeted the wrong animal. I am a pupil. I am a human. I am not an animal that needs to be targeted as unfit, but instead as a bee. I am a bee looking to share pollen with the flowers in the garden of knowledge. Commenting on this article is something I would not usually do, for I find my writing to be passive and circuitous; however when reading this article, my mind traveled down to times in history when people were in the engulfing pit before, and the connects made me jump. This piece is the voice of a people –not a person — but, we the people, I ask that we the people are no longer we the victims… (Yes, I did end in ellipses.)

  3. It's time to march on Washington! We teachers are being targeted for all the ills of society, ills that won't be solved by your friend doing a mini lesson or a full in depth lesson according to her expertise (which I imagine surpassed her evaluator's) Let the evaluator teach the class and while we are at it, let's get Mr. Duncan, Ms. Winfrey, Ms. Rhee, Mr. Gates in and then we'll evaluate them.

    • I plan on attending the SOS (Save Our Schools) March in DC this year.  I missed it last year, but I will NOT miss it this year.

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  5. It is this type of devalueing the professional knowledge and wisdom of an experienced teacher that ultimately aided in my decision to leave the classroom. In my case it was when a small district with passing and above test scores was closed and consolidated because our proof that the system of engaging students, creative teaching, and thematic based constructivist education experiences produced not only strong test scores but happy learners, it became a dangerous model….the district was closed within 2 years…the children bused over 25 miles to a supposedly superior district where scores have floundered since. We must stand up and use our voices to stop the ridiculous powers that be from continuing to “improve” education and return the power to the classroom and the parents where it belonged in the first place. Each community knows what its community needs for success of its learners and that vastly varies from region to region.

  6. Teachers need to take on the politicians at every level. The teachers I know are all sick of the world of “accountability” because accountability means more paper work and less time with students!!! Where are we headed????

  7. Right you are! These 'evaluators/ administrators/ facilitators' [whatever 'facilitator' means] are exactly the types of corporatist, authoritarian Yahoos who are going to be put in charge of our school systems and who are going to micromanage every class in every building, if they can get away with it. 'Teachers know nothing. The Great Leaders know everything' is their working motto, as though a school system were a corporation, and reminds me of nothing so much as the sort of Bolshevist elitism that Lenin promulgated when he took over Russia with a force of armed, antidemocratic militants in 1917. 'Anything except democracy' such managerial attitudes proclaim, whereas in reality our schools need nothing so much as a democratic management system in which every segment of the school constituency takes part in the voting management of the system, even students, secretaries, and custodians, as a matter of fact. 'But democracy is slower and less efficient than top down management' they will argue. If that is true then why do all dictator systems all come to such terribly destruction? But as Churchill noted, among his more intelligent comments, 'Democracy is the worst form of governance, except for all the others.' jim crawford Westwood NJ 09 29 10

  8. Wow Zac! What a truly moving poem. We have all read so many opinions about the current state of education in the US, but none come close to truly making the issues human as your poignant and cutting poem. The US educational system is diseased for sure, as evidenced by your friend's example, the question is will teachers stand up for what they believe or will they allow themselves to be pushed around by people who have no business with educations. Let me rephrase that- will they allow themselves to be pushed around by people who have only business in mind with education. I hope this post gets the attention it deserves. It gave me gosse bumps. Give your friend a hug and tell her she is not alone.

  9. It's important that stories like these get told. The great irony here is that the best teachers we have try their damndest NOT to standardize…that's what makes them great. A lot of not so great teachers can get better fast when all they have to do is teach to the test.

  10. Here in lies the very problem with education/teaching today. The prevailing mood at the moment is that we can make teaching a “science,” that anybody can do it if you just roll out a lesson plan and evaluation tool. There is, obviously, so much more that goes into it than that and that is the piece that the “reformers” among us want to elminate. Teaching is an “art” and good teaching is a “masterpiece.”

  11. Just a general view on educational system itself, not on particular situation — I attended a very good business seminar recently and connecting it to how government can argue on some topics, as well as applications of different student grievances: Teachers don't have the power. It is with the students — the students need to be empowered by the teachers' proper guidance, for a better and brighter future for all. Take notes of a wide range of subjects that power can be abused, thus the mistaken notion at times that teachers have the power. I've been a student and also a teacher for a while. It may not be a full-blown experience I had because a few classes cannot be totally considered as credible but one should remember, for teachers: Remember that you were students before. What you learned, bring it to the table as an exemplary model on how you want education to be a strong foundation for the new generation.
    — Soul In Motion from Southeast Asia region

  12. Very sad indeed! I am trying very hard to encourage my teachers to try new methods, think about content in new ways and develop unusual but effective lessons. Cookie-cutter teaching is never going to produce the people needed for the new reality of work. The world is changing quickly – why then do we want to go back to Victorian patterns of teaching dictated by bureaucrats?

  13. Oh my God- this sounds so familiar. These 'bad teachers' they keep talking about are so often great teachers like your friend that have been broken down, forced to teach in a way that doesn't work for them or their students.

  14. I am so sorry to read this post…….and totally not surprised. I think we are moving toward totally scripted teaching, with the goal being only to pass a test.I am so disappointed in the direction this has all taken, and very sad that Oprah doesn't get it!

  15. I am in my 32nd year of teaching in public schools and very happy to finally be retiring at the end of this school year and leaving, among other things, the evaluations behind. While reading this article, I found myself shaking my head as I began to recall similar evaluations. The reason I was not broken in all of these years is that I believed in my ability to teach. Most evaluations were good; however, still demeaning. Some were horrible and in no way reflected my efforts in the classroom. My validation comes from those that matter–the students. The dreaded annual evaluation which requires teachers to jump through hoops designed by state policy makers, county level personnel, so-called performance data, etc. does not and has not ever, even when satisfactory, adequately measure teacher performance. Yet, year after year, teachers endure this insult called an annual evaluation. I am saying to this teacher–do not let an annual evaluation validate you because teaching is a whole lot more than an annual evaluation. Press on!

  16. Can I cry for her? I sat with my principal this afternoon where we chatted about what my personal professional growth plan was going to look like this year. I finally get to focus on myself, reflecting on my “PLN”, jumpstarting my blogging, recording inspiration from my Twitter network and coach's listserve. I know what my curricula are, I get to teach them however I want, my students enjoy learning (most of the time) and I am one of the luckiest teachers in the entire world.

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  19. Sadly, it's often those of us who refuse to fit the “mold” that schools insist upon their teachers who are oftentimes the most influential for our students. As a teacher whose spirit has been broken many times before, I've come to the realization that my students are the only critics I care about. I believe in how I teach; content is something anyone can regurgitate from a designated lesson plan prototype designed by someone who probably spent less than 5 years in the classroom.

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  22. I agree, it's time to march, to strike, to refuse to be abused or to participate in this madness. I loved my teaching career, but left about six years ago, as a matter of personal survival. I'd spent the previous two years crying every day and on antidepressants – and I wasn't even being treated and your friend is – yet. I was lucky and found a way to continue being an educator outside the system, but it breaks my heart to see that all I feared would happen HAS happened. Resistance is not futile! Resistance is essential!

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