Elegy for a Master Teacher
One of my dear friends has decided she's going to try to call it quits in the classroom after this year, and I am mourning. If you care about students and about excellence in education, you should mourn too. She is a master teacher who has trained other teachers in methods to teach one of the most underserved subjects: math. She mentors and encourages and herds kids along the road of life with equal parts mothering and steel. She does countless tasks for her district gratis. She has further added stars to her crown in Heaven by teaching in a middle school, which I believe is one of the toughest places to teach, having done it for 14 years of my career. I have seen the grass on the other side, and let me tell you, the grass in the middle schools these days is sere and withered.
She is leaving because the middle school teachers have been told that if their district doesn't make AYP, it is THEIR FAULT. The TEACHERS' FAULT. I could speculate as to the reason why such a message has been handed down in such a preremptory fashion-- it could be the principals who have a collective five years in the classroom who are yes-people to the higher bureaucracy (also light-years removed from a classroom, much less one that faced the high-stakes testing game). It could be the final deathmatch of accountability versus the feel-good mentality of the middle school philosophy as practiced 'round here, which so stresses affective development over academic development. I remember it well: the accusative "don't fail the kids" by assessing their performance accurately; being constantly asked, "Isn't there any way you could have fewer failures?"(NOT that we retained students even if they failed every single subject!)-- I mean, did it ever occur that we fail our students by not holding them accountable? It could be the fact that since these students have never been held accountable for their actual performance, they don't give a jolly ding-dang about these high stakes tests and so do not actually try (if rotten grades on their transcripts don't faze them, do you think a standardized test matters?) It could be that the early adolescent has other fish to fry than to write a ridiculous essay about early washing machines. It could be the fact that it takes TWO FULL WEEKS to give these tests and that is too much for attention-span limited middle-schoolers to bear.
She and her colleagues stay at school until 9 pm, and then they take work home. They plan. They assess. They write assessments. They grade assessments. They learn new non-sequential ways to teach which fly in the face of reason and pedagogy just because some high-paid tsunami of consultants says so. When she has finally asked for some rationality to be utilized in the workload assigned to her and her colleagues, she has been rebuffed without a second thought from the
One just can't continue in this path and survive. And so she will be buying back years in the retirement system which she spent staying home with her own children so that she can retire while she still has her health and at least some of her joie de vivre. She does this with sorrow in her heart, but basically, she is gnawing off her own leg to get out of the trap. She loved the teaching, once. She loves the kids still-- and not just that, she attempts to hold them accountable to actually LEARN something.
She will be gone next year, playing with her grandbabies and finding less stressful ways to pay off that mortgage. And she's not the only one. And after this exodus, who will lead these kids through the wilderness of early adolescence? Not administrators who are either barely out of adolescence themselves or who are clinging to the frayed edge of senescence. Who will they get to take her place?
Who CAN take her place?